Author Archives: Laura Makielski

Foreign Recaptures and Big Owls!

It’s starting to feel like spring on our little peninsula, and we finally caught some big owls!

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

Every time we catch a bird in our mist-nets, big or small, we attach a silver ring to its right leg with a unique number—this is the ‘band’. All of these numbers are stored in a huge database, and when a bird is caught with a band on its leg, the bander can report a sighting of the animal and see where it was originally banded. This kind of data is very powerful for tracking movements of individual birds, and we can discover lots of cool information from it. Where do our owls migrate to and from? How do they disperse after they’re born? Do they return to their breeding grounds, or travel elsewhere? How long do they live? How many birds survive through their first winter? Second?

When we catch a bird in the net that has a band on it, we refer to it as a foreign recapture. These birds are some of the most exciting, but we don’t see them very often. Fortunately, we seem to be catching quite a few birds with bands already on them: we’re up to a total of 11 foreign recaptures out of 116 saw-whets.

A majority of the foreign recaptures we’ve caught were from the UP, some banded by Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, and even some returning MSRW birds (banded by Ed or Selena)! We also caught a bird that was originally banded in Ontario, one from New Hampshire, and one from Yellowwood State Forest in Indiana. We can also say that one of the birds is, at the least, going to turn five years old this year, and another will be four. We normally cannot age a bird after its third year, so to know definitively that these birds are that old is really neat!

Now, onto the numbers. We caught our first Long-eared owl right at the start of April, which was earlier than expected. Since then, we have been trying to call the birds in using a speaker that plays the Long-eared call, but it hasn’t pulled in too many birds yet. We caught two more Long-eareds early in the morning on 14 April, and were lucky enough to catch two male Barred Owls on 12 and 14 April, both a bit before midnight.

We’ve also seen a steady trickle of Saw-whets: low numbers, but we hadn’t gotten completely skunked until Wednesday night, when we had a very hopeful Audubon group out for a visit—go figure! We did get good looks at an adult Bald Eagle, though, and the sunset and Northern Lights were absolutely beautiful, so hopefully everyone had a good time.

Here are the day-by-day numbers:

31 March

2 Northern Saw-whet

1 April

9 Northern Saw-whet, 1 Long-eared

2 April

16 Northern Saw-whet

3 April


4 April

10 Northern Saw-whet

5 April

5 Northern Saw-whet

6 April

1 Northern Saw-whet

7 April

3 Northern Saw-whet

8 April

2 Northern Saw-whet (partial weather night)

9 April


10 April

2 Northern Saw-whet (partial weather night)

11 April

3 Northern Saw-whet

12 April

2 Northern Saw-whet, 1 Barred

13 April

1 Northern Saw-whet, 2 Long-eared

14 April

2 Northern Saw-whet, 1 Barred

15 April


16 April

1 Northern Saw-whet

Season Total:

116 Northern Saw-whet, 3 Long-eared, 1 Barred

The spring migrants are moving in, too: we’ve been hearing lots of cool things right at dawn, from Eastern Phoebes to Sandhill Cranes, Winter Wrens, Northern Flickers… And the Golden-crowned Kinglets have started singing! The American Woodcocks are going strong, and we even found a Blue-spotted Salamander. So if the owls are slow, we still have some great springtime life to keep us entertained.

Wishing you all a great weekend!

Birding the UP and Owl Numbers

Snowy Owl in Pickford

Snowy Owl in Pickford

It may still feel like winter in Northern Michigan, but we are not want for things to do! Saturday morning, the amazingly knowledgeable Steve Baker took the two of us owl banders and Kevin, MSRW’s hawk counter, for a quick jaunt up to the UP. We saw so much cool stuff—a stunning sunrise over the Bridge, Sharp-tailed Grouse on a lek, 16 Snowy Owls, Rough-legged Hawks, Bald Eagles, Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Bohemian Waxwings, what felt like hundreds of deer… and back in time for Kevin to take up his post at the Hawk Watch!

As far as the banding goes, the weather did improve for the weekend, but the owls were not moving much. We had a slow couple of nights, and then Sunday (29 March) we had another snow/rain/mush storm. But I heard my first American Woodcock of the season early Sunday morning, so I’m still hopeful that spring is on its way.

Here are the numbers we promised you:

21 March

12 Northern Saw-whet Owls

22 March

4 Northern Saw-whet Owls

23 March

6 Northern Saw-whet Owls

24 March

8 Northern Saw-whet Owls

25 March


26 March


27 March

4 Northern Saw-whet Owls

28 March

2 Northern Saw-whet Owls

29 March


30 March

9 Northern Saw-whet Owls

Season Total:

57 Northern Saw-whet Owls

On 24 March, a majority of the birds were captured between 3:30 and 5:30, and they may have been moving in ahead of the front that passed through the area and brought bad weather the following nights. Fronts might ‘push’ birds along in their migration, which is a pattern we will be looking for throughout the season. Another sentiment I often hear is that the birds must hunker down when it’s especially chilly, but so far, we haven’t noticed that being the case—these little owls are built for the cold!

In other news, we have been hearing a Great Horned Owl with some regularity, so perhaps it will be paying us a visit soon.

Next time: Foreign Recaptures. Stay tuned!

Owl Banding Update

Laura Makielski and Loren Taylor, the spring season’s owl banders, have arrived at Cheboygan State Park!

FullSizeRenderThe early melt seems to have brought an early start to the Saw-whet migration–we both arrived this weekend, a few days ahead of schedule, and since then have been adjusting to a nocturnal lifestyle and capturing lots of Northern Saw-whet Owls. Unfortunately, the nights of 25 and 26 March had high winds and snow, so we weren’t able to band, but things are looking up for the weekend ahead.

So far, 2015 has seen 42 Northern Saw-whets. Internet up here is sparse, but please check back soon for more detailed numbers and some observations about their movement. For now, though, please enjoy this photo of a delightful little Saw-whet!