Last time, we puzzled a bit about the ways in which some of our tagged snowy owls were acting — Columbia moving due west instead of north; Huron making a gigantic loop around Lake Huron to wind up basically where she started; Otter, Salyer and Alderbrooke just sitting tight.
Well, within the past week migration got serious. Huron turned north again and meant it this time, while Otter bolted without warning and was halfway to James Bay at last report. Columbia, it’s true, was still heading west in southern Saskatchewan, and Alderbrooke was still hanging out along the St. Lawrence River in southern Québec on April 15, but even Salyer, who had been dinking around in eastern North Dakota for weeks, got on the road last night.
Let’s start with Huron, whom you may recall had been loafing around Southampton, ON, on the east shore of Lake Huron after her March circumnavigation of the lake. On April 6, though, she took off and made a beeline north, and over the next five day flew almost 800 km (about 500 miles) north to the mouth of Moose River at the southern end of James Bay, where she has checked in several times since through the cell network at the nearby town of
Moosonee. (known as the “Gateway to the Arctic” and the only saltwater port in Ontario).
Incidentally, before Huron left Southampton she was spotted roosting on rooftops in a residential neighborhood, and Marilyn Ohler was kind enough to share with us a couple photos she’d taken of her — thanks, Marilyn!
Last winter, Otter remained significantly farther north than this year, close to Lake Abitibi, and didn’t depart for the north until April 17, 2022. Perhaps because he was a good deal farther south this winter, near the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers, he got a slightly earlier start this time, and with no preliminaries. On April 6 he migrated north — which might have been the last we heard from him, because he was flying into a huge cellular dead zone, but Otter is unique among our owls in that he carries a hybrid cellular/Argos satellite transmitter.
That means that every Monday between March and September his transmitter connects with the Argos satellite system in low Earth orbit and sends his current location. It’s not cheap; we pay a monthly fee to the Argos system for the positions, but it means that unlike any of our other owls we can keep a general eye on his location regardless of where he is. (The exception is if he stays in the far north through the winter, as Otter did a couple of years ago. Like all of our transmitters his is solar-powered, and because there’s no direct sunlight in the Arctic winter, it eventually goes into hibernation.)
Thanks to his hybrid transmitter, we know that last Monday, April 10, Otter was 343 km (213 miles) north of his starting point, on the Gouin Reservoir west of Obedjiwan, a First Nations reserve in the Maurice region of Québec. (A note for those readers who like to check our tracking maps; these weekly Argos locations won’t show up on Otter’s online map, which uses only his cellular GSM data – sorry. But we’ll post a few updates through the summer regarding his general location.)
Columbia, for reasons known only to herself, has continued to push west. On April 8, the last day she checked in, she had moved 415 km (259 miles) from her winter territory near Carman, MB, and was just a few kilometers north of the U.S. border near Estevan, SK, in the Souris River valley. This almost exactly where our first Great Plains-tagged owl, Dakota, fetched up on his migration north in the spring of 2016.
As for Salyer? Well, until this morning (Sunday, April 16), he was still plunked down on the North Dakota prairie about 20 miles (32 km) south of Minot. But he hit the road just after midnight Saturday, and by daybreak today a little south of the Manitoba border, having covered 70 miles (113 km).
So, Alderbrooke — what are you waiting for?
Love these updates, thanks so much. Here’s hoping for a safe summer for our snowy friends.
Great to see some of the snowies are on their way home! Looking forward to hearing from Otter over the summer. Nice photo of Huron, thanks for sharing Marilyn!! Thanks for the updates as always, Scott.
My wife and I love your updates on the Snowies. Thank you.
Thanks for the update. Any information on these owls being affected by the avian flu? I know an owl was found north of Toronto in my area deceased and had been sick with green vomit.
Let me know.
My apologies for the slow reply, Kevin, I was out of town and mostly away from my computer. Yes, we know snowy owls have been hit hard by highly pathogenic avian influenza, and we suspect the low number of returning tagged owls this past winter (three versus the usual nine or 10) may have been a result of high mortality. Many others were picked up dead or ill in 2022 and confirmed with HPAI. As I noted in an earlier blog post, there is significant concern about the avian flu’s population-level impact on some species like bald eagles; the loss of 20 California condors this month is another grim example.