…And the rest of the bunch

Scott WeidensaulUpdates8 Comments

Braddock's path up (and back down) Georgian Bay, Ontario. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

Braddock’s path up (and back down) Georgian Bay, Ontario. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

Two updates in one day is an indication of how much is going on around here — a lot.  The first update focused on Monocacy, but there have been some fascinating movements by some of the other owls, and a reappearance by a couple of birds that had been off the grid lately.

All these maps have been updated (a big thanks to Don Crockett and Steve Huy, who handle these constant updates every three days), so feel free to explore while I give you an overview.

The most dramatic move was by Braddock, who didn’t check in last Friday, but then downloaded 340 locations Monday night. In the preceding six days he’d traveled a whopping 571 miles — across Lake Ontario and north of Toronto, flying about a thousand feet in the air, then dropping low and cruising halfway up Georgian Bay over ice, a 207-mile trip that first night alone.

Braddock completed the flight up Georgian Bay the next night, hung out there for about 24 hours, then began moving all the way back to the southern end of the bay, almost 90 miles to the south. He dallied another three days there on the ice, then flew all the way back southeast to the shore of Lake Ontario and bounced north a bit before settling down on Lake Scugog, where he was Monday night when he checked in. Incredible!

Century, tagged March 15 after being relocated to Plum Island NWR from Logan Airport in Boston, has also been on the move in a big way, hitting five states in six days.

Since the 18th she’s looped southwest through Boston, clipped the corner of Rhode Island, skirted along the northern border of Connecticut, then flew up the Connecticut River valley from Springfield, Mass., north to Greenfield. From there she cut west, cutting through the corner of Vermont, and by Monday evening she was out on the ice on Saratoga Lake, south of Saratoga Springs, NY — a trip of 209 miles altogether.

Womelsdorf remains out on the ice in eastern Lake Erie, moving into the same area off Long Point, Ontario, where Erie spent so much time. Erie, on the other hand, is lingering griddle-flat farmland in the “thumb” of Michigan in Sanilac County.

Amishtown has moved up to the southern shore of Lake Ontario near Hamlin, NY, an area that both Braddock and Cranberry had been using earlier in the winter. Wiconisco, having flown north from Pennsylvania last week to Buffalo and the retraced his flight a bit, remains about 30 miles east of the city in Wyoming County, NY.

Millcreek, whom we’d last heard from heading offshore from Ashtabula, OH, into Lake Erie, also checked in, but only with a partial download covering the period from Feb 28-March 1 — we’ll likely get the rest when he’s in a better location. During that period he moved across Lake Erie on ice, almost to the Ontario shore.

Hungerford is another owl we hadn’t heard from since March 10, but she’s still in the same general location, in the back-bay saltmarshes around Avalon and Stone Harbor, NJ. Other owls that have been keeping close to home in this last period are Sandy Neck, still on Martha’s Vineyard; Plum, around Salem, Mass., and the Marblehead Peninsula; and Oswegatchie, who is utterly wedded to Ogdensburg, NY, on the St. Lawrence River.  (With the so-called “blizzicane” that swiped Cape Cod and the islands with snow and 80 mph winds yesterday, it will be interesting to see what Sandy Neck did during the height of the storm.)

In Wisconsin, Kewaunee has made a few short (10- to 12-mile) flights away from and back to his winter territory, while Marshfield has moved west to Chippewa Falls, some 65 miles from where she was tagged.

There are some owls we didn’t hear from on this cycle, and a few we haven’t heard from in a while. Our colleagues at CTT, who make the transmitters, keep counseling patience — the golden eagles for which these units were first designed are often out of contact for months at a stretch. But it’s hard to be patient, since it’s such an exciting gift every time we download a new batch of data.

March 27 transmission update
When an Owl Goes to Church

8 Comments on “…And the rest of the bunch”

  1. I cannot begin to emphasize enuf how fascinating this is. thank you guys so much from an ordinary birdwatcher who has always been in love with Snowies! Are these very different movements totally governed by food availability? Do they always return to the same home territory every year, nesting in the same place? when you say the bird stays on the ice, is s/he hunting anything since there is no open water for gulls, etc?

    thanks again; it is very exciting!

    1. It’s been fascinating for us, too, believe me. We’re not sure why some owls have wandered over great distances while others have stayed in very small winter territories; one reason may be food, although some of the birds that have moved the greatest distances have been along the coasts, where food is especially abundant. It may just come down to individuality. As for nesting territories, snowy owls are actually completely nomadic. An owl may move more than a thousand miles between one year’s nesting site and the next — they may be breeding in Alaska one summer and Siberia the following year. And when we say the bird is staying on the ice, that’s what we mean…even at the peak of winter ice cover, the ice on Lake Erie or Ontario was comprised of huge ice sheets that shifted and cracked with the changing winds. Between the sheets were areas of open water where, presumably, there were waterbirds like ducks and gulls to hunt. This is exactly the same behavior that many adult snowy owls exhibit, staying the Arctic pack ice for the winter, hunting sea ducks in areas of open water in the pack ice known as polynyas.

      1. Many thanks for your comprehensive answers! They add greatly to my Snowy knowledge, as does reading the other enthusiastic comments. we live in syracuse, so i was hoping one of them would head into our eastern Lake Ontario Flyway. You are our connection to knowledge…nothing more important than that role!! once again, thank you…and remember all of us who “read” your work and are silently thrilled by what you do. …almost magical, as Barry Lopez says!

  2. Thank you so much for your work in this area. I am learning a lot and developing a deeper appreciation of the migratory patterns of our northeastern birds. The photos of the Snowies were remarkable and actually, rather touching to me. How beautiful they are, each with his/her own owl-ness. (I did not want to say “personality.”) Sending very best wishes to you as you continue along!

  3. WOW! I know it’s not very original, but my husband just asked what I was exclaiming about, since he heard wow wow wow from the kitchen, and we don’t have a dog. Barbara Levy

  4. I can not tell you how wonderful it has been to follow the progress of the owls. My husband and I spotted Amishtown out in Lancaster last month. What a beautiful bird! The class picture really shows their individuality. They are so grand yet so cute at the same time!
    Love learning so much about them. Wishing you the best in your research.

  5. I check in on occasion to see what has been happening. I work at Presque Isle State Park, so we are “fans” of Erie the owl. I use this data alot to help educate the public. Recently I had ot go recover a dead snowy. We submitted the measurements to you guys. as I approached the carcass, I kept having prickly feelings, hoping this wasnt one of your tagged owls. We were all very sad that day, but we hope to keep up the hopes that your efforts provide valuable data for the future upkeep of this truly splendid animal.

  6. This project is amazing…I feel like cheering for the owls as they start to move back to their breeding grounds. The information you are gathering is invaluable.
    All the best

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