Owl update: fall 2019 season summary

Now that I’ve arrived in my natal homeland of California after four days of driving, I can share the season summary. It is very odd to write this blog post outside of my usual spot at the St. Ignace Burger King.

The last night of banding occurred on November 7th, and contrary to the forecasted snow flurries, the sky remained clear and pristine. Three birds came to visit prior to the midnight hour, then activity abruptly petered out, leaving me to contemplate the cold night into the pre-dawn hours. However, at the final net check, I noticed a wonderful little feather-blob suspended in the net. It was strangely satisfying to receive a proper send off from this owl before closing up the nets for good.

Her expression reminds me of a kid trapped at an obnoxious family reunion and wants to go home.

Below are the fall 2019 season totals:

Northern saw-whet owls: 289 (273 newly banded, 1 recapture, 15 foreign retraps)
Barred owls: 4 (new)
Long-eared owls: 2 (new)
Eastern whip-poor-will: 1 (new)

Honorable mentions (critters extracted from the net and released): American woodcock, snowshoe hare, American toad, hermit thrush, myself

Since standardized fall banding began on Pt. laBarbe in 2014, the fall 2019 totals are ranked as above average. Here is a table of previous fall totals:

YEARNSWO%Juveniles%Adults
20142336040
20152503070
20165406733
20172804852
20181153565
20192895149

The adult to juvenile ratio was about 1:1, and similar ratios have been reported at other banding stations in our area. This means it was likely a so-so year for breeding success for saw-whet owl populations who utilized this migratory path down through the Straits. On average, breeding pairs successfully fledged 2 young; or, it could be there were some populations that experienced higher nest failures. At any rate, it made me happy to see a higher proportion of young birds as there were very few last fall.

I will shift gear and talk about some of our 15 foreign retrap birds. These birds are gold stars to saw-whet owl conservation because they link the knowledge and effort of all banding stations. 4 were confirmed to have been banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. Of the Whitefish birds, one was confirmed to be about 6.5 years old, and the other is 5+ years old. Considering saw-whets tend to live about 7 or 8 years in the wild (as far as we know!), these two old ladies have done well.

One was banded in Tofte, Minnesota. She is about 5 years old. Another was banded last fall as a juvenile near Hudson, Wisconsin. We’re still waiting to hear back from the other foreign retrap birds. We think most of them were banded this year at Whitefish but haven’t been entered into the Bird Banding Lab database yet.

We received news that a bird we banded at Pt. laBarbe on October 18th was trapped again in Wisconsin on November 2nd. Where in Wisconsin is a mystery for now, but the bird, after we banded her, likely kept traveling west along the northern shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Interestingly, there were 19 instances of birds we banded coming into the net again days (or, in one case, two weeks) later throughout the season. This is unusual and suggests the owls weren’t highly motivated to migrate out of the area.

Underwater morning, October 14

I immensely enjoyed learning from the many human and avian visitors, and my skills as an owl biologist have grown markedly thanks to the various challenges that running a banding station has to offer.

Tonight I will help out with saw-whet owl banding on the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, one of the few long-term owl banding sites here in the west. My goal is to establish my own owl research station in the Sierra Nevadas, where owl migration and dispersal is poorly understood. If I’m lucky and the owl gods are good, I may realize this goal as soon as fall 2020, so we shall see!

I hope you appreciated the ramblings of this owl hermit, because I certainly enjoyed sharing all that I saw and heard on Pt. laBarbe this fall!

Until next time,

Happy Owling.

Maycee

Owl update: sunrise (Nov 2-6)

Sunrise on the last full night of operation (Nov 6)

This morning, the sun rose on the last full night of operation. I will see about opening the set tonight, however more than likely snow flurries will shut the station down early. Tomorrow, Ed and I will disassemble the station, thus drawing the 2019 fall owl banding season on Pt. laBarbe to a close.

How have things gone the past few nights? Windy and frigid. Some owls were on the move, though; since Saturday night, we caught 15 saw-whets. It’s been frustrating to get stymied nearly every night this month by foul anti-owl weather, but that’s just how field work goes at times. At least the frozen-hard ground is fun to walk on. My other favorite pass-time when the temperature creeps down into the 20’s is to sit by the furnace drinking copious amounts of coffee.

In the coming days I’ll write one final post of the season summary and share some of my thoughts.

Until then, have a saw-whet from last night.

Maycee

Hawk Count-October 29th Through November 3rd

10-29: Total-42; Turkey Vulture-2, Red-shouldered-8, Red-tailed-30, Rough-legged-2

10-30: Total-71; Bald Eagle-1, Red-shouldered-10, Red-tailed-56, Rough-legged-3, Golden Eagle-1

10-31: Total-7; Red-tailed-7

11-1: Total-235; Turkey Vulture-3, Bald Eagle-11, Harrier-1, Sharpie-3, Red-shouldered-4, Red-tailed-204, Rough-legged-8, Golden Eagle-1

11-2: Total-139; Bald Eagle-4, Sharpie-4, Red-shouldered-9, Red-tailed-112, Rough-legged-3, Golden Eagle-7

11-3: Total-101; Bald Eagle-4, Sharpie-1, Red-shouldered-24, Red-tailed-66, Rough-legged-3, Golden Eagle-2, Merlin-1

Owl update: it’s cold and wet (Oct 27-Nov 1)

Looming wet weather always on the horizon

I’ll start off by saying that the night of October 27th was exceptional because it surpassed our previously most productive night of the fall (39 birds), with 42 birds. I think it is quite remarkable that so many birds are moving this far into the season, however it could be the birds were pinioned by rough weather and were forced to exodus en masse through our area when the weather cleared.

On October 28th, an incoming rain necessitated that I closed up the set around 10 pm, but before that I got to enjoy the presence of this barred owl. All of the barred owls captured thus far have been juveniles, presumably passing through the area as they search for a suitable territory to call home.

October 29th was calm and steady, at 13 saw-whet owls… until a snowshoe hare got tangled up in one of the nets. It was an awful doozy getting that animal out. But it came out regardless and we were both unharmed in the process!… except for the nets, the hare did some decent damage to the nets…

The following night (October 30) was a short night by virtue of the rain, but we still sent two saw-whet owls on their merry way.

Halloween was quite peaceful; I couldn’t operate the station at full capacity because of the off-and-on sleet, so instead I kept a watchful eye on the nearby nets. I captured four saw-whets; the little company was nice, considering no trick-or-treaters decided to brave the bitter winds of Pt. laBarbe. But that was probably for the best anyway, as I only had one piece of candy to give out. I guess I could have fell back on my supply of brussel sprouts, but I suspect that wouldn’t have gone over well.

And as for last night – the station was completely shut down due to wind and rain.

Tonight, weather conditions look… OK for movement, not ideal but hopefully the saw-whets will get their little feather-butts in gear before nightly weather conditions worsen.

Totals!
NSWO – 270 (256 newly banded, 13 foreign retraps, 1 Pt.laBarbe recapture)
BDOW – 4
LEOW – 2

As an aside, from my previous post I mentioned that barred owl waddling around my saw-whet owl set. A volunteer, Brenda Summers, was with me that morning and would like to share her photo of me taking this glamour shot (or a mug shot?) of the owl:

Photo by Brenda Summers

Until next time,

Maycee

Hawk Count-October 22nd Through 28th

10-22: Total-151; Turkey Vulture-36, Sharp-shinned-101, Red-tailed-8, Rough-legged-6

10-23: Total-18; Turkey Vulture-1, Sharpie-14, Red-tailed-3

10-24: Total-125; Turkey Vulture-14, Bald Eagle-3, Sharpie-15, Red-shouldered-18, Red-tailed-73, Rough-legged-1, Kestrel-1

10-25: Total-114; Turkey Vulture-33, Bald Eagle-9, Harrier-1, Sharpie-3, Goshawk-2, Red-shouldered-19, Red-tailed-40, Rough-legged-3, Golden Eagle-3, Unknown Falcon-1

10-26: Total-203; Turkey Vulture-12, Bald Eagle-4, Sharpie-6, Goshawk-1, Red-shouldered-7, Red-tailed-167, Rough-legged-5, Golden Eagle-1

10-27: Total-64; Turkey Vulture-8, Bald Eagle-2, Harrier-1, Red-shouldered-17, Red-tailed-36

10-28: Total-21; Turkey Vulture-2, Red-shouldered-3, Red-tailed-16

Owl update: a familiar face (Oct 21-26)

Not much has been going on at the station this week. The weather hasn’t been cooperative; the owls apparently aren’t big fans of all the wind, rain, and extra high humidity, and I can’t blame them!

On the morning of the 25th, I walked out of the station to check the nearby nets, and found a barred owl waddling around the set. When it noticed me, it took a fright and flopped into the net. I rushed over and grabbed it before it could shrug out of its predicament. Anyway, one band and a few measurements later, the barred owl was on its way. Hopefully it won’t be snooping around anyone’s saw-whet owl net arrays again!

Last Sunday (Oct 20), a saw-whet owl wearing an old band came to visit. The band number, 1104-43093 was familiar to me so I did a bit of sleuthing in the database from last fall. To my immense delight, this bird was actually the second saw-whet owl I banded. She had first arrived at the station on September 22 as a hatchyear bird. Now she is considered a secondyear bird, taking on the second southbound migration of her life. It is a very special experience for a bander to meet with a bird they previously banded. Of course when I release these young-of-the-year birds I wish them well and hope to see them again. The world is fraught with dangers for these small owls, and young birds learn through experiences they may not survive. 1104-43093 survived and even put on weight. I hope I or another bander will meet her again.

1104-43093 from fall 2018.

Until next time,

Maycee

Owl update: peak movement (Oct 16-20)

A perfect potato.

The past week of running the station has been a far cry from the listless early season activity.

Last Wednesday (Oct 16), some stretches of road were badly flooded due to the recent storms. Fortunately the banding station didn’t float away into the lake because it was quite a productive night for owls. I had 14 saw-whet owls and even a long-eared owl showed up. The long-eared owls have a tendency to appear when there’s nobody around but me to appreciate their unique beauty… ah well.

Second long-eared owl of the season. Such well-endowed ear-tufts.

On Thursday the point was swarming with owls. We caught 39! The station hasn’t seen this much activity in a single night for a couple of years. Luckily we had help from some experienced folk who run a saw-whet station in Ohio, so the night went smoothly.

The weather was pretty good on Friday, too; we were able to host a bunch of people from our local Audubon Societies for their annual owl field trip. Unlike last fall, we had a good haul of owls to show before it got too late. Then the lack of owls triggered a mass exodus event and Ed and I were suddenly left to our lonesome. I was pretty tired but managed to stay awake through the night by feeding upon the donut holes left behind.

Thus far we’ve newly banded 178 saw-whet owls, and movement still seems to be going strong as we captured 19 owls Sunday night (Oct 20).

Ohhhh and about Sunday night – we had a special appearance by previous fall owl bander, Selena Creed. I’ve been getting majorly spoiled by all these cool visitors.

I’ll wrap up this post with a lovely piece by Sid Morkert. He is a frequent visitor to the owl and hawk counting stations and a big fan of the wee owls.

Northern saw-whet owl.

Until next time,

Maycee

Hawk Count-October 12th Through 16th

10-12: Total-376; Turkey Vulture-324, Bald Eagle-3, Northern Harrier-1, Sharp-shinned Hawk-34, Red-tailed Hawk-5, American Kestrel-7, Merlin-1, Peregrine Falcon-1

10-13: Rain, sleet, and hail throughout the day

10-14: Total-194; Turkey Vulture-88, Bald Eagle-5, Sharp-shinned-80, Cooper’s Hawk-1, Northern Goshawk-1, Broad-winged-1, Red-tailed-11, American Kestrel-4, Merlin-1, Peregrine-1, Unknown Buteo-1

10-15: Total-158; Turkey Vulture-136, Harrier-1, Sharpie-19, Red-tailed-2

10-16: Rain throughout the day

Owl update: sunset rainbow brings lots of birds (Oct 10-15)

Monday October 14th, a sunset rainbow heralds great owl movement

Last Thursday (Oct 10) Rob brought along another cohort of his students from Sault College. Conditions weren’t looking good for owl movement given the blustery southeast winds, so in the meantime we poked around the bush for critters, and enjoyed the fire while gorging on candy. To my surprised delight, a saw-whet appeared at the midnight hour. One banding demonstration later, the owl fled into the night, donning a new band and the name “Licorice”

The following three nights (Oct 11-13) were quite dull. Either my efforts were stymied prematurely due to high winds/heavy rain, or the station was completely shut down. I did have a smidge of owl action on the morning of the 14th once the winds settled, with a single saw-whet. It only takes one owl to boost morale at the station in the face of fickle fall weather.

I pranced about and took many many photographs of the transforming colors.

I was relieved when Monday rolled around for a brief respite from the rain. After a spectacularly warm and gooey sunset with rainbows, the owls were ready to move. We captured and processed 18 owls.

Dawn develops a soft pink sky as I prepare to released the last of the owls
Releasing the owl in a dense, dark patch of timber

Now it’s back to waiting out the wind and rain.

Until next time,

Maycee

Hawk Count-October 6th Through 11th

10-6: Total-536; Turkey Vulture-294, Bald Eagle-34, Northern Harrier-2, Sharp-shinned Hawk-184, Red-tailed Hawk-13, American Kestrel-7, Peregrine Falcon-2

10-7: Total-597; Turkey Vulture-162, Bald Eagle-23, Northern Harrier-3, Sharp-shinned Hawk-368, Cooper’s Hawk-2, Red-tailed Hawk-31, American Kestrel-3, Merlin-3, Peregrine Falcon-2

10-8: Total-212; Turkey Vulture-94, Bald Eagle-8, Sharp-shinned Hawk-71, Broad-winged Hawk-1, Red-tailed Hawk-26, American Kestrel-7, Peregrine Falcon-2, Unknown Accipiter-1, Unknown Falcon-2

10-9: Total-164; Turkey Vulture-89, Bald Eagle-4, Sharp-shinned Hawk-62, Red-tailed Hawk-7, Merlin-1, Peregrine Falcon-1

10-10: Total-718; Turkey Vulture-281, Bald Eagle-7, Northern Harrier-1, Sharp-shinned Hawk-353, Cooper’s Hawk-2, Broad-winged Hawk-1, Red-tailed Hawk-54, Golden Eagle-1, American Kestrel-11, Merlin-1, Peregrine Falcon-6

10-11: Total-639; Turkey Vulture-201, Osprey-1, Northern Harrier-1, Sharp-shinned Hawk-424, Red-tailed Hawk-2, American Kestrel-9, Peregrine Falcon-1