We’re at the point in the winter where we have a sense of the personalities — and I use the word advisedly, because individual birds certainly do have personalities — of the owls we’re tracking. Some of them habitually find a spot and stick like a tick; others, at least as evidenced by their GPS data, have wandering wings.
We have a few of both this winter. The transmitters on all five of our 2022-23 cohort checked in this morning, as they are supposed to the first of the month regardless of how low their battery may be. Newton, our adult male tagged in southern Ontario last month, is using an area barely 2 sq. km. (0.77 sq. mi.) in extent just east of Listowel, ON. Similarly, our old veteran adult female Columbia is using a somewhat larger but still fairly tight territory south of Carman, SK, where she’s been since she migrated south in November.
Otter, who spent his first weeks back south circling the thumb of southeastern Ontario, below the Ottawa River and west of Montréal, has decided he likes the farmland near the town of Alfred, where he’s set up shop since mid-January.
On the other hand we have Salyer, the adult male tagged last month in northern North Dakota. He’s been on the move ever since, following a winding path of more than 100 miles (163 km) south, skirting widely around Minot, crossing the Missouri Escarpment and entering the Missouri Coteau, a region rich with thousands of prairie potholes and marshes. The past few days he’s been a few miles southeast of Ryder, in southern Ward County, ND.
Finally there’s Huron, the adult female tagged in early January on the shores of Lake Huron in Bruce County, ON. She’s moved 230 km (140 miles) south in the last few weeks, and for the past two weeks has been south of Tilbury, ON, not far from Lake Erie.
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They say turnabout is fair play, but one snowy owl in Ontario that briefly became the target of a predator with an outsized opinion of its abilities might disagree.
Ginette Kew was photographing a snowy earlier this winter in Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto, along the Lake Ontario shoreline, when the bird leaped into the air with what appeared to be a mink dangling from its talons. A gutsy choice of prey, since mink are pretty ferocious — but Ginette quickly realized it was the mink that had actually attacked the owl, and was clinging to the bird’s rump as the owl tried to escape.
Now, mustelids (as the weasel family is known) are famously willing to punch far above their weight, but this was taking ambition to a whole new, slightly insane level. This was actually the mink’s second attempt; 10 minutes earlier Ginette had seen the mammal approach the owl, flushing the bird up to a tree. No doubt the owl, later nursing a weasel bite on the butt, wished it had just stayed up there.
Many thanks to Ginette for sharing her amazing photos and story.