Tom McDonald, one of our Project SNOWstorm founders, lost a close friend and longtime collaborator in his snowy owl research this past year. Here is Tom’s tribute to his friend Bob Gallagher.
During the busy snowy owl season, you’ll usually find our blog post regaling our readers and followers with exciting adventures and stories, highlighting the trials and tribulations of our active researchers in the field. Some posts welcome new, white feathered members to our ever expanding family of owls outfitted with high-tech transmitters. Others detail the amazing travels and exploits of transmitter owls that we are actively following on their journeys to and from the Arctic Circle.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement, and all too often, the long and busy winter season becomes just a blur — obscuring to some degree, the efforts of the real unsung heroes behind our long-term success: the farmers, landowners, rehabbers, veterinarians and snowy owl lovers who go above and beyond the call of duty to help with Project SNOWstorm’s research.
High on the list of these heroes is Bob Gallagher, from Three Mile Bay, near Cape Vincent, NY. Ironically, my relationship with Bob started on a poor foundation, stemming from an unfortunate misunderstanding many years ago. A friend and I were road trapping rough-legged hawks near Bob’s home back in the late 1980’s, and we placed a bal-chatri trap ( a small wire cage with monofilament nooses on top, and a mouse inside) just off the shoulder of the road and adjacent to Bob’s property line. Bob came tearing out of his long, gravel driveway and parked his big pickup truck right in front of our car. As much as we tried to explain what we were doing, he unceremoniously threw us out of the area altogether.
Some years later, after trapping a snowy owl on a side road near Bob’s home, he just happened to be passing by and was instantly spellbound by the snowy I was preparing to band on the tailgate of my truck. It was cold and blustery, and he graciously offered his heated garage as a better alternative for work space. For the love of snowies, we bonded and became good friends from that day.
Over the last 27 years, Bob and his wonderful wife, Cathy, have unselfishly shared their home, facilities, meals and delightful homemade baked goods (and an occasional bed) with this road-weary snowy owl man. We have worked on close to 80 snowy owls in that heated garage, including a handful of owls that were outfitted with transmitters. He and Cathy went so far as to have a sign made, declaring their home as “Snowy Owl Central.”
Sadly, Bob passed away suddenly in early June last year. He is sorely missed by his family and many friends, the local birding and hunting community, and all of us here in the Project SNOWstorm family. Many thanks, Bob, may you rest in peace — and happy snowy owling on the other side.
(Tom McDonald has been studying snowy owls in upstate New York for three decades, and is one of the founders of Project SNOWstorm.)