Oswegatchie’s transmitter is sitting on my front porch in Pennsylvania, soaking up solar energy, having made the trip back from Quebec last week with our SNOWstorm colleague Jean-François Therrien at Hawk Mountain. (J.F. was himself on his way home from summer fieldwork with snowy owls on Bylot Island, in the Canadian Arctic.)
Based on the transmitter data, we knew Oswegatchie died sometime around June 26 at the Mine Canadian in Malartic, Quebec, but we didn’t know why. So his remains were shipped to Dr. Guy Fitzgerald at the University of Montreal’s school of veterinary medicine in the hope that we might learn more. (Special thanks to M. Martin Provost of Mine Canadian Malartic for all their assistance.)
The photos we received from the mine suggested the carcass was still fairly intact, but Dr. Fitzgerald, who generously agreed to do a postmortem, reports that it was little more than articulated bones and feathers, and he was unable to determine a cause of death.
The transmitter seems to be working fine, though, and is in very good shape — a little yellowing of the white plastic case, but otherwise in near-perfect condition.
We’ll be redeploying the unit this winter on a new owl. And there may be a lot from which to choose, since J.F. reports a record number of owl nests on Bylot this summer. Whether that will translate into another irruption is far from certain — much depends on weather, and Bylot is almost 900 miles (1,400 km) farther north of the region of Quebec where the breeding boom took place last summer.
But we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed.
as always, thank you for any info at all…keep it coming if you can. your observations about anything having to do with snowies is fascinating to me…or any other observations having to do with arctic/northern species.
Was some sort of toxicology done to rule out poisoning from the mine? Thanks for the update.
Unfortunately, there was really nothing left to test — you need soft tissue (and fairly fresh at that) in order to do most toxicology testing, and there was nothing left except the skeleton and feathers. If we’d been able to recover the carcass sooner we definitely would have done so, but the transmitter didn’t check in for almost a month after Oswegatchie stopped moving (June 26 to July 18), probably because it was in a spot with poor cell reception. There’s no doubt that open-pit mines like the one at Malartic employ a lot of toxins, but it’s also possible he was struck by a vehicle, hit a wire in flight, came down with a respiratory illness like aspergillosis or a lot of other things. It’s a tough world out there.
Thanks Scott for the response. Keep up the great work!
Thanks for the update Scott. Too bad it wasn’t possible to determine what happened to Oswegatchie… We will be looking forward to the return of the snowies this winter.
So sad to learn of his demise, he was my favorite.