Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Our owl Ramsey last reported from N.D.

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird migration Updated: April 24, 2014 - 8:02 PM

The Minnesota Snowy Owl named Ramsey is slowly working its way north, most recently located in Ramsey, N.D., of all places. Here is yesterday’s report from Scott Weidensaul, coordinator of Project SNOWstorm, the Snowy Owl tracking project of which Ramsey was part.
    
From Ramsey, to Ramsey, by Ramsey
By Scott Weidensaul
 
Shakespeare said a rose by any name would smell as sweet, but what about an owl by any name?

We nicknamed our tagged owls for locations and geographic features -- a better means keeping them straight than easily confused band numbers, without needlessly anthropomorphizing them with human names. And we weren't always especially creative -- which is why the male owl banded in Ramsey, Minnesota became, well, Ramsey.

If you've been reading this blog all winter, you'll recall that Ramsey was the most localized snowy owl we had, scarcely moving half a mile all winter from where he was tagged. But since he started migrating a month ago, he's put some miles under his wings -- first south and west, and now northwest.

He's been AWOL for weeks at a time, hunting prairie country in southwest Minnesota with poor cell reception. He dropped off the radar again after April 5, and didn't resurface until Sunday night, having made a nearly 300-mile (480 km) flight up into northeastern North Dakota.

What caught my eye -- and stirred my memory -- was seeing his location just east of Devil's Lake. That's the heart of prairie pothole country, the fabulously rich breeding ground for waterfowl and shorebirds, a maze of millions of small lakes and marshes, and I'd spent several glorious summer weeks in the late 1990s exploring that part of the pothole region.

What I hadn't noticed was exactly where Ramsey was, until Steve Huy emailed me.

"Did you notice Ramsey is headed straight for Ramsey, N.D.?” he asked.

Actually, as Steve and I soon realized, he was already there -- shortly before dawn on Sunday he'd crossed the line from Nelson County to Ramsey County.

What are the odds? Pretty steep. There appear to be just eight towns or counties in the country named Ramsey...and he's found one of them.

(If he wants to make this an international habit, he'll have to make a big right turn -- Ramsey, Canada, is a mining ghost town, and it's 750 miles [1,200 km] to the east in Ontario.)

Kidding aside, Ramsey is following a decent track for maintaining cell reception as long as possible. Not that there are a lot of towers in North Dakota -- there aren't. But Manitoba just to the north has better coverage than western Ontario, and Saskatchewan to the west of it has even more towers.

The diminishing number of owls checking in every three days suggests a number of them may already have moved into country beyond the cell tower -- and contact with us, at least until next winter. 

(The location transmitters the owls carry can store up to 100,000 pieces of data, all available for download when the birds next come within cell-tower range.)

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