It’s always a little thrill when the cell phone vibrates and the text messages start coming in: “CTT Data Update: Unit #27236551 (Salisbury 4Y Male) has checked in.” And then another, and another, until we have the weekly report from our far-flung tribe.
The three amigos (well, two amigos and an amiga) were back together on Amherst Island this past week, and another snowy continues to flirt with airport trouble. Our easternmost owl likes the beach, and our westernmost is enjoying her big-sky horizons on the prairie. One is happily on ice.
We’ll skip Dakota, our newest owl — we just updated everyone yesterday on her capture in North Dakota. So let’s start with Salisbury. He’s continuing to play with fire, dropping by Boston Logan International Airport every few days. We knew he liked it there, as do many snowy owls passing down the Massachusetts coast; he was first banded there in 2014 by Norman Smith, and that’s where Norman caught him again several weeks ago before tagging and moving him north.
On both Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, Salisbury spent the day loafing on the roof of Terminal E, the international arrivals terminal; his departures were strictly domestic, however, flying off at dusk to hunt south of the airport, near Pleasure Bay and Squantum. (He did linger for a few hours on the Feb. 1 right next to the end of runway 15R, having been sitting at least briefly in the middle of a taxiway by Terminal E some hours earlier.)
Salisbury’s favorite spots this past week have been near Squantum, about four miles (6.5 km) south of Logan, and a traditional hotspot for snowies — Norman’s taken me there in the past to look for them. The utility poles along the edge of Squantum Marsh have been favorite hunting perches for him, but the owl’s been spending a lot of time on the immense roof of the Boston Scientific warehouse, right next to the Neponset River.
The roof of the warehouse is white, and it must make Salisbury feel at home — even when there isn’t a fresh snowfall, as hit the Boston area on Friday.
Farther up the coast, Brunswick continues to provide a well-behaved contrast to Salisbury. She makes an occasional flight north to Kennebunkport or south to Ogunquit, but spends the bulk of her time on Wells Beach, using the waterfront houses for day roosts.
Her movement pattern is complex, but my impression is she’s a surf-and-turf girl, splitting her hunting between the tidal marshes of Rachel Carson NWR and the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the shoreline and near-shore waters on the ocean side. The former should provide opportunities for small mammals and waterfowl, while the coast would be primarily a waterbird buffet.
(Check out the short digiscope video Derek Lovitch from the Freeport Wild Bird Supply got last weekend of Brunswick in the marsh near Wells!)
Wampum’s transmitter remained silent again this week; all we can do is hope that there’s been some problem with the unit (perhaps with its recharge rate) or that she’s hanging out somewhere with no cell reception. But it’s obviously worrisome, given the severity the nor’easter a couple of weeks ago, and her exposed location on Penikese Island.
Tibbetts, true to snowy owl tradition, has gravitated to about the only ice you can find this winter on Lake Ontario — Chaumont Bay. Unlike the past two winters, there’s very little ice on any of the Great Lakes, and the bay is one of the few frozen spots on Ontario. (Last year at this time, 30 percent of Lake Ontario was frozen — this year, it’s a miniscule 0.3 percent.)
Snowy owls love ice, and Tibbetts has been roosting up to a mile and a half (2.5 km) from shore, out on the frozen bay — though at night he’s been coming in to shore and making short forays from two small points of land at the southwestern end of the bay.
It’s a little hard to judge from the poor resolution on daily NOAA CoastWatch satellite images, but it looks like there may be some open water there — which would make sense, since it sure looks like he’s hunting that area, presumably for waterfowl.
Finally, there are what I’ve come to think of as the Three Amigos of Amherst — Flanders, Baltimore and Chaumont. Flanders moved back from the mainland on Jan. 30, and traveled around quite a bit — including pushing into Baltimore’s territory up by Stella. Midday on Feb. 2, they were within 1 km (.6 mile) of each other, and at about 4 p.m. that day she passed within a few hundred meters of where Baltimore was perched. As of Thursday night, though, Flanders was back on her old roost spot at the tip of Nut Island, where she’s spent much of the winter.
Baltimore, on the other hand, has really settled into a pattern. He’s using a very small range of about .3 by .5 km (.2 by .3 miles), almost as constricted as the neighboring territories used last year by Chippewa and Whitefish Point. During the day he stays well out in the hay fields far from the road, away from the many birders and photographers prowling this internationally famous owling hotspot. At dusk, he moves to a couple of favorite hunting perches by the Amherst Island Public School — but by then, it’s too dark for cameras or binoculars.
Chaumont is also staying well back from the road at the eastern tip of the island, in a generally inaccessible place. We’re still slowly downloading backlogged data from his transmitter, so we’re not getting his current, detailed location data (though his unit is still recording it).
But what we did get this week were stunning photos of Chaumont from photographer Ann Pacheco. She and professional photographer Melissa Groo (both of whom are enthusiastic SNOWstorm supporters) encountered Chaumont a couple of times during their sojourn on Amherst. Working with local bird guru Janet Scott, who has been very helpful to us as well this winter, they wanted to get us good photos of our tagged bird. Baltimore didn’t cooperate, but Chaumont showed off.
And speaking of photos, Laurie Kilpatrick was kind enough to send us photos of Flanders, which she took along the south side of the island last week. There are (depending on estimates) at least nine or 10 snowies on Amherst this winter, and most of the photos that visiting shutterbugs are taking have been of untagged owls. But it’s been great to get photo updates of our transmittered snowies, like those from Laurie and Ann, and we appreciate everyone’s efforts.
As always, if you’re interested in our work, we’d ask you to support us by sharing the news via social media and elsewhere. And, if you haven’t done so, please consider a tax-deductible donation through our Indiegogo campaign. It’s gotten off to a bottle-rocket start in the past week, and we have some really cool perks again this year.