Woodworth Joins the Flock

Scott WeidensaulUpdates9 Comments

Woodworth, a second-year male, is the latest tagged snowy on the Great Plains of eastern North Dakota. (©Matt Solensky)

One of our goals this winter is to get more movement data on snowy owls in the Great Plains, to complement the larger data set we have for the Great Lakes and Northeast — which is we’re especially pleased that our colleague Matt Solensky just tagged the first owl of the 2018-19 season in eastern North Dakota.

“Woodworth” — named for a nearby town — is a second-year male, his age evident from the pattern of fresh, new flight feathers mixed with a lot of faded, retained juvenal feathers from his first plumage in the summer of 2017. Matt says Woodworth was the second owl he saw on Saturday, Dec. 9. “The first was a rather dark bird that I suspect was a young female. She never showed any interest in the bait though she no doubt could see it,” Matt said.

“Woodworth was perched on a very tall, all-metal power line and I could see him, with binocs of course, from a mile away,” Matt reported. Last year Matt was able to catch an adult female in exactly the same spot, luring her from that extreme distance. Woodworth proved to be a near repeat of that situation.

“For the first half-hour he pretty much just sat there and looked around, not really too interested in the pigeons. It was not very windy and there were no clouds and being 10:20 a.m., I thought I was going to be there a while” — snowy owls often ignore a lure until late in the day, as Matt knows from experience.

“After about 30 minutes, though, he cast a pellet and 10 minutes after that he moved some waste out of the other end,” Matt said. “I thought it was go time after that, but he waited another 10 minutes, then jumped off the perched, cleared the power lines and barreled straight into the bal-chatri. He was caught immediately.” (A bal-chatri is an ancient falconry design, a mesh cage containing a lure — in this case, a couple of pigeons — with monofilament nooses that snare the owl’s foot, and a light weight just heavy enough that the bird can’t fly off.)

Woodworth’s map is up, and it’s a new style, about which we’ll have more to say momentarily.  The area where he was caught is close to where Matt tagged Pettibone last year. And speaking of that owl, he’s been checking in regularly from central Saskatchewan near the town of Melfort, where he’s been for the last month. The other owls that have already come south — Stella, Island Beach and Wells — have been offline, probably because their transmitters are still recharging from transmitting huge slugs of backlogged data.

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9 Comments on “Woodworth Joins the Flock”

  1. Are there any snowys tracked in the vicinity of Newton ,MA?

    I would be very interested.

    Thanks!
    Alice Jacobs

    1. While none of our tagged birds have been near Newton, there have been several at Logan Airport not far away in Boston, and reliable sightings at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (Plum Island) near Newburyport.

  2. Please let me know when Island Beach heads back to Island Beach. I live about 30 miles away. I will watch for him in my huge oak tree where I saw a snowy a couple of years ago. Keep up the terrific work. This is exciting. I have “stolen” lots of pics from your blogs to make myself a Project Snowstorm calendar with Shutterfly. Awesome calendar.

    1. The last we’ve heard from Island Beach, he was up in a remote part of southern Quebec. Remember, snowy owls are highly nomadic, and while some do come back to the same place each year, as Hardscrabble and Baltimore did, others move widely from one season to the next — like Stella, who was on Lake Ontario last winter and is in Saskatchewan this time.

  3. I thoroughly enjoy and read each “story” on each “tagged participant”. I have an 8 year old granddaughter, who is homeschooled, interested too. Keep up the good work. (Years ago, when we had our farm, I took a picture of a white bird perched on our high tensil fence line. I’m not sure if that wasn’t one of these “Snowies”. We did have vanities and chickens which routinely were decimated but “flight invaders”).

  4. So awesome, Scott! I wish you guys could tag some from Cleveland, Ohio! We get a good number of them every year on the Lakefront! Could there be a chance that could happen?

    1. The Greater Cleveland Audubon Society has for several years offered to underwrite a transmitter on a snowy owl in northeastern Ohio, and last year I spent several days near Fairport trying to trap a large female that ultimately evaded us. We’re on the lookout for a good candidate this year again.

  5. Do you have an update on Lenape and Island Beach yet? Do you know if any of the owls that are “tagged” are wintering at the Jersey Shore?

    1. No word yet this year on Lenape, while Island Beach came south into a fairly remote part of southern Quebec in late November and transmitted his spring, summer ands early autumn data. He hasn’t reconnected since, which may be because he’s in an area with no cell reception, or because his transmitter (which lost a lot of power sending us 8,800 GPDS points) is low on voltage and needs time to recharge. Remember, as we’re seeing with the three Alaskan juveniles that are still north of the Arctic Circle, not all snowy owls come south each winter. There’s also the chance that Lenape didn’t make it through his northbound migration and summer — though we obviously hope we hear from him again. We’ve had owls in the past that skipped a year coming south.

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