Author Archives: Arthur Sanchez

Owl Banding: End of the Season

Hello Again,

MSRW blog followers, Arthur and I would first like to apologize for not informing you as to what has been happening  these last few weeks with owl banding. We have been busy with owl banding and diurnal raptor trapping.

One of our last blog post featured some amazing release videos but had failed to mention the owl activity that occurred during the last week of April, which brought Arthur and I some exciting stuff! First, between the nights of April 29 – 30 we caught two long-eared owls (Asio otus). Both were aged as Second year birds and each of them were recorded as unknown for their respective sexes.  We were also excited to have two more recaptured Saw- whet owls. One of these birds came all the way from Brown County Indiana, which was our second bird of the season that came from this area. We aged and sexed it as a second year female, and it was banded last fall as a hatch year female. Thus Arthur and I were correct with both age and sex, but this is usually the case. Then a few nights later we had another recaptured Saw-whet this time a familiar bird that was banded by MSRW last fall at Point La Barb on the Upper Peninsula. This bird was originally banded as a hatch year female. We aged and sexed it as a second year female. God we‘re good, 2 for 2 or 100 % on our recap birds! The remainder of this week included some more Saw-whet captures but nothing out of the ordinary.

Long – Eared Owl Captured April 29 SY, Unkown sex

As we entered May, the main trend we saw was that owl migration was beginning to slow down as we were only averaging 1 to 2 owl captures a night, if we were lucky. From May 3 until our closing day which was May 15 we caught a grand total of 15 owls. 14 of these were Northern Saw – Whet Owls and thrown into the mix another Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio asio) which is the red morph sub-species. This was very cool, not only to catch our second Eastern Screech, but also that both individuals were the rufous morph, which is uncommon in Northern Michigan.

Megascops asio asio – Second Year, Uknown sex

As the last week of Owl banded carried on we started having what seemed to be long nights but in actuality only felt long because of the absence of owls. Throughout this last week we even had a few nights with no owl captures. Then on May 10 at 11:00 p.m. we had a treat, we netted a recaptured Saw-whet owl, and like the other recaps, we were super curious to see where this bird had came from. It turned out this bird had flown all the way from Arrow Rock, Missouri and more specifically from Saline County, quite the flight for such a small owl only weighing 86 grams. In conclusion we closed nets for the last time this morning and it was bitter sweet. We have had a great season with an abundance of astonishing birds. We really enjoyed our time with the MSRW and we are sad that we must depart. We hope you enjoyed our blogs and until next time, good birding my friends!

Season Totals:

Northern Saw-whet owl – 164 – (157 newly banded), (7 Recaptured Northern Saw-Whet owls)

Long- Eared owl—5

Barred Owl- 4

Eastern screech owl- 2

Total Owl Captures- 175

Facial Characteristic Variation of Northern Saw-whet Owls

Photo credit: Arthur Sanchez

Owl Banding: Hawk Time


This blog post is a little treat that Arthur and I thought we would share that we are sure all you loyal MSRW blog followers would enjoy. As mentioned in the previous blog post the few weeks we banded owls in May was super slow. Thus this somehow gave Arthur and I extra energy we had previously not had due to staying up all hours of the night.Then our boss and the chair of MSRW Ed Pike offered us the opportunity to do some diurnal raptor trapping with him in Mackinaw city. This was super exciting and was a lot of fun as many new skills were learned on the few outings that we were able to take part. Here are the species of hawk that were captured while trapping. Sharp-shinned hawk, Red-tailed hawk, and Rough-legged hawk. Our totals for each species were as follows:
5- Sharp shinned hawk
9- Red tailed hawks
1- Rough – legged hawk

ATY Female Sharp-shinned Hawk

Chairman of MSRW, Ed Pike and Naturalist Frances Whalen comparing tail morphology of different age classes among Red-tailed Hawks. On the left is a SY RTHA and on the right is an ATY RTHA

Owl bander Nick Alioto with a Rough-legged Hawk

This form of trapping is very exciting as we get to see the birds fly into the nets. Handling these big powerful hawks is truly incredible and you gain a lot more respect for these majestic avian Apex predators of the air. We hope you enjoy some of these awesome photos of some pretty neat birds.

Owl Banding: Slow Motion Release


As we promised, here is a couple of slow motion release videos of a Barred Owl and a Long-eared Owl.

The first slo-mo video that we recorded was with our second Long-eared Owl capture. This LEOW was an SY female captured on April 5th. Banding, extracting, and processing is amazing, but releasing an owl back into the wild is definitely one of my favorite aspects of the operation. Watching these owls fly and vanish into the forest makes me want to learn more about their elusive lifestyle.

The second slo-mo video that we recorded was with a Barred Owl. This was the night that we had a big night with BDOWs and was one of the last captures. We were stationed at a different cabin that has a slightly alternative view. We were right on the shore of Lake Huron and recorded the BDOW flying back into the forest with the moon just peaking above the treeline.

Owl Banding: Amphibian Encounters


As we open and close nets, walk net round after net round, we have the opportunity to witness nature in it’s most amazing moments! Whether it’s Sandhill Cranes flying in or Hermit Thrushes singing in the morning, it’s always a beautiful sight to see.

On April 2nd, as we were walking in some owls for processing, Nick noticed a salamander on the side of our cabin. When we took a closer look, we were able to identify it as a Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale). Blue-spotted Salamanders are in the family Ambystomatidae and are native to the Great Lakes. These salamander are primarily found in deciduous hardwood forest but will also occupy alternate habitat types. They usually prefer vernal pools that retain water through the summer to ensure access to suitable breeding habitat.

Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale)

On April 9th we had another encounter with a much bigger Ambystomid salamander. As we were closing net three, Nick noticed another salamander walking along the sand. We decided to snap a couple of pictures for later identification. After we captured some photos, we witnessed the salamander swivel it’s way into a tiny den at the base of a Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis). The photos that we captured are distorted and pixelated but good enough to confirm ID. In this photo you can make out the costal grooves which are present in most Ambystomid and Plethodontid (lungless) salamanders. Costal grooves have various functions from water retention to osmoregulation,and also aid in keeping their body moist.

Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Our last amphibian encounter was the night of April 14. This was the night after we had captured three Barred Owls. On our way back from the 10 PM net run, we stumbled upon a Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) in the middle of the trail that leads us to our nets. Leopard Frogs are a part of the true frog family Ranidae. In the photo we captured, we have a clear visual of the tympanum. A frogs tympanum functions like an eardrum, transmitting sound waves to the middle and inner ear, permitting the frog hear in air and under water. In some frog species, you can determine sex by the size of the tympanum. Male’s usually have a larger tympanum, sometimes bigger than their eye, opposed to female’s, where it is equal to or smaller than the eye.

Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens)

If you couldn’t tell, I really like amphibians. If I couldn’t work with birds, they would be my next taxa of choice.



Owl Banding: Foreign Recapture


Nick and I hope all of the MSRW followers are doing well. Today the nets will remain closed due to a storm moving through the area. This past week of banding has been rather slow and odd, but we figured we can sneak in a blog since we are not opening nets tonight.

The last couple of banding nights have been oddly slow. Sunday night we opened nets and we didn’t have any captures! This is the first night we’ve had a banding night with no owl captures! The proceeding banding nights captures ranged from 1 to 3 birds. Monday we had netted 3 NSWOs. Tuesday we had one NSWO capture and yesterday we had another 3 captures. The storm moved in early in the AM and we had to close nets early. The 3 birds that we captured last night were moving in front of  the anticipated storm. We are expecting another big push of owls the last week of April and the first week of May. Long-eared Owls should be moving north so hopefully we will be capturing more LEOWs. The weather this weekend should be good for banding and we are expecting the owl numbers/ captures to increase again.

Last week we had mentioned that we had a foreign recapture on April 14. We aged this NSWO as a SY female. We just received the information on this bird and it was captured and originally banded in Brown County Indiana. It was banded on October 25, 2016 as a HY female. Once again, it is gratifying to know that we are correctly ageing and sexing the birds that we are capturing.

SY female, foreign recapture from Brown County Indiana.

Next time we will report encounters with our amphibian friends and a separate post for our slow motion soft releases of a BDOW and a LEOW. Until next time my raptor loving friends, good birding!

Owl Banding: Big Hoots

Greetings again,

Nick and I wanted to update our blogs, since we have had some good nights of owl banding. On Wednesday night, we were pleasantly surprised to have MSRW chair, Ed Pike, running nets with us. In the first couple of nets rounds, we had captured 6 Saw-whets. Nick went back to the banding lab to process some birds and Ed and I were at the net extracting birds. As we were extracting our last bird in the net, we heard the hoot of a Barred Owl, the classic, “Who-who, who-cooks-for-you.” Some owl hoots or passerine songs are described through mnemonics, hence the “who-cooks-for-you.” I quietly asked Ed if he heard the BDOW and he did. Jokingly, my next statement was, “We are going to catch that Barred tonight!” Ed and I walked the rest of the Saw-whets to our banding lab for processing.

Soon enough it was time for another net round. Nick and Ed remained in the lab processing birds, so I was off on a net run by myself. As soon as I walked up to net 1, a big owl hung low in the bottom pocket. I was very excited to extract our first BDOW capture.

First Barred Owl (Strix varia) capture of the season.

The following night, April 13th going into the 14th, seemed to be a promising night. Cheboygan State Park doesn’t have any resident Barred Owls, so we figured the BDOW from the night before was making it’s way to Canada. Usually when BDOWs make their presence known, all of the smaller owls either hunker down for the night or move out of the area to avoid predation. We predicted good movements of Saw-whets migrating through. We started the night with 5 NSWO captures and this was quite early in the night. After we had captured these owls, it was super slow and didn’t capture anymore Saw-whets for the night. As we were on a net round in the middle of the night, we encountered a Barred Owl near the triangle. We figured this is probably the reason why Saw-whet captures have slowed down. On our way back from net 7, our furthest net, roughly 600 meters west of net 1 (the triangle), we had a visual of 2 more Barred Owls. Throughout the night, we encountered a minimum of at least 6 BDOWs in the area. We figured that they too were making their way back to Canada. By the end of the night, we had captured 3 of the 6 Barred Owls that we had encountered. Capturing big owls definitely makes for a fun night of banding.

14 April 2017 12:34 AM, first BDOW of the night.

Last two BDOW captures for the night.

As the banding nights keep on rolling, our goal is to reach 200 newly banded Saw-whets for the season. Right now we are at 133 total owl captures:

121 newly banded NSWOs

4 recaptures NSWOs

4 newly banded BDOWs

3 newly banded LEOWs

1 newly banded EASO

Nick and I will be out of internet access for another couple of weeks, but we will try to maintain our blogs for those who are following. Next time we will report where our foreign recapture came from, amphibian encounters, and a slow motion soft release of a Barred Owl and a Long-eared Owl. Until next time, good birding!

Owl Banding: Recaptures

Hello Again,

A few blogs back, we had mentioned that we had a couple of NSWO recaptures that were banded in previous owl banding operations. We just received the information and we are very excited to share the news with you.

The first recapture that night was a bird that was previously banded at Hilliardarton Marsh Education and Research center. This station is located in northeast Ontario, in close proximity to the Quebec border. This bird was banded on October 14, 2015 as SY (second-year) female. When we captured it in Cheboygan State Park, we aged and sexed it as an ATY female. It is gratifying to know that we are correctly ageing and sexing the owls we are capturing.

Recapture ATY female Northern Saw-whet Owl. Banded in 2015 at Hilliardarton Marsh Education and Research Center in Ontario, Canada.

Our second recapture for the night (29 March 2017) was also an ATY (After-third-year) female. After receiving the information for this bird, we discovered that it was originally banded at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, Minnesota. This bird was banded as a HY (Hatch-year) female in 2014.

Recapture ATY female Northern Saw-whet Owl. Banded in 2014 at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, Minnesota.

The night of April 13th, going into the 14th, we netted another foreign recapture. We submitted the band number and we are waiting for the information. We can’t wait to find out where this bird was originally banded.

Owl Banding: Uncommon Capture


Nick and I would like to apologize for the delayed blogs. We are stationed in a rustic cabin in Cheboygan State Park without electricity or running water. This makes it difficult to blog when we don’t have internet access.

Anyhow, owl banding has been quite fun these past two weeks. After we attended the Raptor Fest banquet, we returned to the park for a night of banding. Our first couple of net rounds were not too busy, but we did have one or two birds in most net runs. We ended the night with 12 captures and one of them was a very special guest bird celebrity. In over 10 years, we managed to capture the 2nd Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio) in MSRW history.

When we netted the EASO, we were pleasantly surprised to have captured such a cool bird. Not only was it an uncommon owl for the area, but also an uncommon plumage for the bird. EASOs exhibit polymorphism which entails the presence of genetic variation within a population upon which natural selection can operate. Basically this means that EASOs has two different plumage types dependent on genetic recombination. The result of these combinations comes a gray morph and a rufous morph EASO. There are lower encounters of rufous morph EASOS in their northern range, which includes Minnesota, North Dakota, and the Lower Peninsula of northern Michigan. This is one of the reasons why we were so ecstatic about capturing this owl.

Newly banded Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)

Owl Banding: Busy Busy


Once again, Nick and I just had three consecutive days of banding. Last night was April 2nd going into the morning of the 3rd. As we are comforted by our routine of opening nets, the sounds of spring arriving is inspiring, giving us hope for more Northern Saw-whet Owls migrating through.

Our predictions from the other night were a tad premature, as the past three banding days proved us right. Last night we encountered peak movements for the season thus far. In only a few net runs, we had a few NSWO captures. In the middle of the banding night, we captured our second Long-eared Owl, also a NSWO in the same net. These birds were captured in net 7, approximately 600 meters east of the triangle. On our next net round we were pleasantly surprised to have netted 10 NSWOs in net 1. These captures kept us busy until the proceeding net run. The following net round, we captured 10 more Saw-whets. As we were extracting the owls that were already netted, more Saw-whets kept flying into the net! Coming from a station that has a low capture rate for NSWOs, this was overly exhilarating! These are the moments I look forward to and thrive on! Its go time! Now, we must extract, band, and process as efficiently as possible. Micro-ageing can be difficult at times, but there is no room for indecisiveness. In moments like this, banders must work quickly and make accurate decisions based off of their knowledge of ageing and sexing birds, something that I find to be extremely fun. Like I mentioned previously, these are the moments I look forward to. 21 Saw-whets and 1 LEOW is not to shabby for one night of banding.

After this banding night, this brings us to a total of 72 newly banded Saw-whets, 3 recaptured Saw-whets, and 2 LEOWs. We are now at 77 total owl captures, and I believe that we will break 100 in the upcoming banding days. Will you be keeping up with us as we break 100 captures? Until next time, good birding!

Owl Banding: April Fools

Hello again,

The night of March 31st, going into the morning of April 1st, it seemed that we were going to have a promising night of banding. As we began to open nets, Sandhill Cranes were stopping over and the Song Sparrows were singing loudly. Coming from the western United States, it is extremely interesting to hear the regional dialect among taxa. The Song Sparrows here seem to have a much higher frequency song compared to the SOSPs in California. Even the Red-winged Blackbirds seem to sing at a different frequency opposed to the ones west of the Rockies.

The night started slow with no captures on our first net round, which is usually at 8:30pm. On our third net run we had 4 NSWOs in net 1. Net 1 is a triangle formation of mist nets, typical for NSWO banding operations. We attract the owls by broadcasting an audio lure in the middle of the triangle. Anyhow, at this point, 4 Saw-whets in a net has been the most we have encountered during a net round. We were exceedingly excited and predicted some big movements for the night. It seemed that April 1st definitely played a trick on us. We ended up with two more captures for the night, totaling 7 NSWOs captures. Our prediction had proved us wrong, but did we reject our predictions too soon?

The following night was a bit more busier than the previous night. Our first capture was at 10:30pm with only one NSWO. As the night progressed, more and more started to fly into the net, leaving us with 12 NSWOs. Although this banding night started the night of April fools, we were presented with a gift from the sky! We captured our first Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) of the season. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush of capturing such an astonishing owl.

Our first Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) capture of the season.

This was a great night of banding, leaving us with a total of 13 owls. We are excited for more to come. Stay tuned.