Tag Archives: Fall 2019 Owl Banding

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:


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.


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.


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.

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,


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,


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,


Owl update: highs and lows (Oct 5-9)

The weather has brought some mixed results this past week.

mmmmm wind, delicious wind

On October 5th and 6th, the station was paralyzed due to high winds. However, the following night a gentle west wind brought 22 owls, as well as the first barred owl of the season. Ed and I were very busy!

Ed preparing to release the first barred owl of the season

Since then it’s been eerily slow, despite the aid of the new net array bringing in a few more owls. On Tuesday (Oct 8) we had six saw-whet owl visitors and another barred owl visitor to the station. Last night we encountered 9 more owls, but 6 of those were new; two of the others were banded a few days prior, and one was banded back in September! Most of the repeat birds had put on weight; evidently, they’re unwilling to migrate and are opting to fuel up on prey. I suspect the low movement has something to do with unfavorable southeast winds and the incoming storms.

Tuesday night we had some extra human visitors to the station, Rob’s cohort of students from Sault College. It’s always a joy to share an upclose encounter of the secretive and highly nocturnal saw-whet with folks.

Thus far we have encountered 69 newly banded saw-whet owls and four foreign recoveries, owls which were originally banded outside of our fall station. Two of the birds were banded at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory back in 2017: one was a hatch-year then (she hatched in the spring of 2017) and the other was a second-year, so re-capturing them in fall 2019 has confirmed their ages to be about 2.5 years and 3.5 years, respectively. We’re still waiting to hear back on the other recoveries.

Alas, the weather looks uncooperative for the foreseeable future. We’ll see how it goes.

I played with this bird just this morning!

Until next time,


Owl update: a steady stream (Sept 29-Oct 4)

Some tools of the trade: banding pliers; rulers for measurements; black light torch; Lucas the Spider plushie guarding the bands; coffee cup; bowls that serve no utility purpose but I like looking at them.

Welcome back to the banding station. Since my last update, owls were at a paucity, but now over the past week, movement has been picking up.

Back on Tuesday (Oct 1) I enjoyed the company of six owls, which was the season’s best night. This isn’t a particularly impressive number for early October, but I still felt like a lucky lady rich in owls after nearly two weeks of effort running the banding station with hardly any activity. Thursday night was similarly bountiful, at five owls.

Thanks to special permission from TC Energy and a little extra funding, last night we manned a new saw-whet owl audio lure net array one mile northeast from our original site. There was certainly some difficulty in running a second productive net array, but it did pay off with higher numbers of saw-whets and the first long-eared owl of the season. October 4th now holds the season best at 14 saw-whets, one long-eared, and one woodcock.

Forgive my anthropomorphism, but something I like about long-eared owls is how they carry this perpetually bewildered expression.

Sooooo~ we’ll see how this new net array goes! The habitat is open woodland, so there’s higher potential for the nets there to yield long-eared owls and barred owls.

Season totals are as such
Other guys: 1 woodcock, 1 whip-poor-will

Until next time,


Owl update: a lackadaisical trickle (Sept 25-28)

I suspected that Saturday night would bring a big push, as conditions were optimized for migration relative to these past warm and windy nights; at last, a night with temperatures dropping into the crisp 40’s and a gentle wind blowing from the north.

Instead, the most productive night of the season occurred on Wednesday, the 25th, with three owls. Since then, it’s been just a wee smattering of an owl or two each night, bringing our current total to eight owls.

Apparently, it’s been rather slow for other stations in the great lakes region. I wonder if the saw-whets are biding their time at a stop-over site somewhere, fueling up on prey items. Or have they hardly budged from their breeding grounds?

Monitoring movement trends over time is why dedicated biologists run banding stations. I look forward to learning more as fall migration unfolds.

Until next time,


The owl inside

Owl update: of all the woodland creatures (Sept 21-24)

I am happy to introduce our first netted critter of the season: an eastern whip-poor-will, met Monday night.

A delightfully peculiar critter.

This one hatched this spring, indicated by its set of juvenile flight feathers and wide buffy tinge to tail. I found it at the net array where the saw-whet owl audio lure is place – I wonder if the nightjar was attracted to the call as well, or just happened to amble along into the net by happenstance.

I must take a moment to profess my profuse adoration for nightjars, goatsuckers, frogmouths, nighthawks and the myriads of quirky common names.

Anyway, without further delay, I am also happy to introduce our first saw-whet owl, a girthy female (102 grams, an excellent weight) who also hatched this spring and is undertaking her first migration.

Noble and fierce little predator, the saw-whet owl.

Alas, these are the only two captured avians to report as of late. I believe migration is delayed this season due to the balmy weather, but perhaps a few more owls and friends will trickle into the station before cold fronts come and migration can start in earnest.

Last fall, there was speculation that it was a poor reproductive year because of regional population crashes of the red vole, which is a major prey resource for small owls. However, last night I encountered a small good omen:


I hope to see a higher proportion of healthy young owls stream down through the Straits.

Until next time,


Fall 2019 owl and hawk banding

Hello again everyone!

September 20th was the first night of my second season running the MSRW owl banding station. I am very glad to share what I see and hear here at Point la Barbe until the fall migration season comes to a close on November 10th.

That said, it was an owl-less night. Dropping temeratures caused the 100% humidity index to descend upon the land as a soupy mist. This sort of weather is not ideal to the travelling saw-whet owl, who must take great care to prevent its poorly water resistant feathers from getting soaked. I got drenched just wading through some tall grass and juniper.

This afternoon I woke up to Ed preparing the diurnal raptor luring station, which was a nice surprise. A few hours of sweltering in the blind later, we were treated with 7 female sharp-shinned hawks and 1 red-tailed hawk.

Adult sharp-shinned hawk in her second year of life.
Young red-tail who hatched this spring is on its first migration. Good luck out there!

There are lots of things to look forward to this autumn, such as mushroom and berry hunting, monarch butterfly tagging, ogling at hawks, and of course the owls. Perhaps even milking goats if Ed and Anne will indulge me.

Storms are forecasted for the weekend, but maybe there will be opportunity to open the owl nets in between intermittent showers.

Let’s see what the night brings.

Until next time,