Point LaBarbe is an important geographic location for southern migration in the fall. It’s the very southern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and birds funnel through here on their way south, before crossing the Straits. Why risk flying over large bodies of water when you can migrate over land?
As the owls are migrating south at night, they’re listening and looking around for maybe a place to roost for the day to rest and finish their migration the following night. Or they’re looking for a snack (probably a small rodent) to give them the energy to keep moving. Most saw-whet banding operations use audio lures to draw in these birds as they pass through on migration. The audio lures play their “toot” calls on repeat. Whether the saw whets are drawn down to the audio from some sort of breeding aspect, or because they think the calling saw whet knows something about that area being good habitat, it’s not really known. Either way, they end up in our nets! We process them as quickly as we can, and release them to continue on their Autumn journey south.
We have 3 nets set in a triangle, with an audio lure in the middle. Our other net arrangement is approximately a mile away on the other side of Point LaBarbe, and it consists of 6 nets, in a sort of T-shape with the audio lure at the center. We also have 2 “passive” nets without an audio lure set up in the middle of the point, between the two audio arrangements, for 11 nets total. We extract the owls and take them back to our banding trailer on the west side of the point, where we quickly band and process them before releasing.
In the last few days we’ve dealt with some unfavorable weather for banding, including rain and lots of wind, which caused us to close nets early or not open them at all for the night. But we still managed to catch our 300th Northern Saw-whet Owl of the season, on our one night of good weather!
Species totals September 18th through October 12th:
Northern Saw-whet Owl: 311
Long-eared Owl: 2
Barred Owl: 1
Eastern Whip-poor-will: 1
-Kandace Glanville, assistant owl bander