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A Snowy Owl update



by Scott Weidensaul

If your interest in Snowy Owls continues, here is an update from Scott Weidensaul of Project SNOWstorm. That is the effort to track some of the owls that came south out of Canada last winter. Tracking, as you recall, has been achieved by attaching to the birds a transmitter that collects, stores, and transmits, via cell-phone towers, location information.

The owls returned to Arctic nesting grounds months ago. One, however, made it only to northern Quebec, where it died on the grounds of a large pit mine. The mine had no known impact on the bird; it just died there. The owls were named after the locations at which they were caught and equipped with the devices. In this case, the device Oswegatchie was wearing was returned to Weidensaul for downloading. Here is what he wrote in a recent email post, including a comment about a bountiful owl hatch this spring.

"Oswegatchie's transmitter is sitting on my front porch in Pennsylvania, soaking up solar energy, having made the trip back from Quebec last week with our SNOWstorm colleague Jean-François Therrien at Hawk Mountain. (J.F. was himself on his way home from summer fieldwork with snowy owls on Bylot Island, in the Canadian Arctic.)

"Based on the transmitter data, we knew Oswegatchie died sometime around June 26 at the Mine Canadian in Malartic, Quebec, but we didn't know why. So his remains were shipped to Dr. Guy Fitzgerald at the University of Montreal's school of veterinary medicine in the hope that we might learn more. (Special thanks to M. Martin Provost of Mine Canadian Malartic for all their assistance.)

"The photos we received from the mine suggested the carcass was still fairly intact, but Dr. Fitzgerald, who generously agreed to do a postmortem, reports that it was little more than articulated bones and feathers, and he was unable to determine a cause of death.

"The transmitter seems to be working fine, though, and is in very good shape -- a little yellowing of the white plastic case, but otherwise in near-perfect condition.

"We'll be redeploying the unit this winter on a new owl. And there may be a lot from which to choose, since J.F. reports a record number of owl nests on Bylot this summer. Whether that will translate into another irruption is far from certain -- much depends on weather, and Bylot is almost 900 miles (1,400 km) farther north of the region of Quebec where the breeding boom took place last summer.

"But we'll be keeping our fingers crossed."

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