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.
"Ramsey, our Minnesota-tagged owl who spent the winter just outside the Twin Cities, definitely hears the call of the north. After missing a check-in on April 23, his transmitter phoned home on Saturday night -- from Saskatchewan!
"In the previous six days he'd left Ramsey County, N.D., flown across the southwestern corner of Manitoba the night of April 22-23 -- hitting speeds of almost 50 knots (55 mph/89 kph) along the way -- and stopped for the day in Division No. 16, the county-level equivalent in Manitoba.
"That's flat and empty prairie country, lots of grain farming and not a lot of people. The nearby town of Binscarth is noted for "the largest outdoor swimming pool on the Yellowhead Highway," I have learned, but I doubt that's why Ramsey stopped.
"The map below shows Ramsey's position and GSM cell coverage in Saskatchewan.
"We got lucky. One thing that part of Manitoba doesn't have is much cell coverage, though. When last Wednesday night came and his transmitter tried to call, it apparently got no signal, and so kept storing up data.
"By Saturday, though, Ramsey was sitting on the ice of Silver Lake, near the hamlet of Tufnell, Saskatchewan (population 10) -- and fortunately for us, he was just north of the Yellowhead Highway, along which runs a line of GSM cell towers.
"In all, he'd flown 337 miles (542 km) in the previous six days -- but depending on his route, this may be the last time we hear from him this spring, because those cell towers along the highway are about it.
"North of there, the only cell towers belong to Sasktel's network, and from what I've been able to tell they don't use GSM, which is the cellular system our transmitters use. Here's a map that shows the GSM coverage in the province, overlayed on Ramsey's position Saturday night -- as you can see, north of him there's nothing much, all the way to the Arctic. Unless he flies even farther west into Alberta, where GSM cell coverage is far more extensive and extends much farther north, this may be our last contact with Ramsey for this season."
On the map, Ramsey crosses into Canada from North Dakota as shown by the blue markers in the lower right corner.
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