We have a new tagged owl on the prairies of eastern North Dakota — and if you’re driving on Interstate 29 north of Fargo, keep an eye out for him, because he likes billboards.
Wildlife biologist Matt Solensky usually works the land west of Jamestown, ND, where he’s tagged several owls for Project SNOWstorm over the past few years. This year snowies have been scarce in that area, though, so this month — with the help of several birders in Fargo — he shifted his attention farther east. The birders had located up to five snowies in the Fargo area, so last weekend Matt tried to work two different birds. The results were less than ideal. After waiting for more than two hours to see if the first owl would make a run on his trap, Matt inadvertently flushed it while trying to move the lure closer.
At that point, without a lot of daylight left, Matt shifted his attention to the second snowy, a few miles down the road. “This bird sat for an hour and a half before it made one attempt at the BC [bal-chatri trap] and didn’t get caught. It went back to its stack of large hay bales and perched until it was too dark for me to see,” Matt said.
The next day, neither of the previous day’s owls were around, so Matt decided to try for a snowy owl that had been seen on a billboard along I-29. The only access was a frontage road, where Matt was concerned that the trap would be too far from the owl to generate a response. Not to worry. “I put the BC on the opposite side of my truck from where he was, and as I started to drive away he was already up and heading toward the trap. I had trouble driving and watching through my mirrors, but I don’t think he hit the trap.” (A bal-chatri, you may recall, is a cage with large, monofilament nooses that catch the owl’s foot when it tries to reach the lure — in this case a couple of pigeons — inside.)
“I decided to set out another BC with only one pigeon. Almost immediately he went after it and on his second pass got caught by the absolute lowest number of nooses possible — one,” Matt said. The owl proved to be an adult male that weighed a very healthy 1,735 grams (about 3.8 pounds). Matt nicknamed him Harwood for a nearby town — and his tracking data since his release shows Harwood’s been back on that billboard along the interstate. His map will be up shortly — in the meantime, wave howdy when you go by.