And they’re off.
We’ve been wondering when the first significant push north would occur among this winter’s cadre of snowy owls, and it appears Huron, the adult female that had been wintering in southern Ontario, is the first out of the gates. Since late January she’s been hanging out south of Tilbury, ON, between Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, but Feb. 26-27 she made a quick looping flight about 45 km (26 miles) northeast to near Wallaceburg, then returned.
But not for long. After pausing for just a day near the south shore of Lake St. Clair, Huron lifted off at dusk on Feb. 28 and flew northwest across the lake, moving 82 miles (133 km) into central Michigan, where by daybreak March 1 she was in farmland near the town of Mayville. There was nothing half-hearted about this move, but we’ll have to see if she keeps it up or pauses for a while.
Out in North Dakota, Salyer was also on the move, but in the opposite direction. This adult male has for weeks been slowly meandering around pothole- and marsh-rich Missouri Coteau region of the state, but between Feb. 27 and March 1 he turned more directly south, and when he connected Wednesday morning (as did all the transmitters for their first-of-the-month check-in) he was just a few miles from Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River, the immense impoundment formed in the 1950s behind the Garrison Dam.
Newton, who had moved from his very small winter range in southern Ontario only to make a 190 km (120 mile) loop up to Lake Huron and most of the way back, closed that circle even more and is now just 25 km (16 miles) from where he started. But I have no doubt that exploratory flight was sparked by the same lengthening days that prompted Huron’s flight.
Otter and Colombia, in southern Ontario and southern Manitoba respectively, remain exactly where they’ve been all winter. But we did get more data — just a bit, but high-quality GPS locations this time — from Alderbrooke, the owl that only just reappeared on our radar last week. The rough triangulation we got from her her cell modem placed her original position near La Malbaie, QC, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. Assuming that was correct, she’s moved about 70 km (44 miles) west, because on March 1 she was on the Isle-aux-Grues archipelago near the south shore of the river, about 60 km (37 miles) from Québec City.
The archipelago seems like a perfect place for a snowy owl to hang out at this time of year. Isle-aux-Grues means “island of cranes,” and just to its north lies Île aux Oies, “island of geese,” surrounded by tidal flats and marsh that at low tide make them appear to be a single landmass. Famous for flocks of greater snow geese and other waterfowl that stop twice a year in migration, it is a quiet, lightly inhabited place of dairy farms where an owl might feel at home. (It’s a noisier place in autumn, when snow goose hunting is a big deal here.)
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Do we need an excuse to run a couple of egregiously lovely photos of snowy owls? Of course not!
We have Rich Bohn out in Woodworth, ND, to thank for these; he reported almost no snowies until mid-February, when he found nine in one day and figures he could have found more, all likely brought south by cold weather and fresh snow. Thanks, Rick!