Many Snowy Owls are being reported in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin again this winter, although it’s nothing like last year. Not yet, anyway.
Project SnowStorm, the owl tracking effort that began last winter, is back in business, its blog on-line and available (http://www.projectsnowstorm.org). The blog is keeping track of current sightings.
One recent post was written by Jean-Francois Therrien, senior research biologist at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. He’s been studying Snowy Owls in the Arctic for years with Laval University in Quebec. His report documents a 2014 owl breeding season that surpasses the 2013 season believed to result in the mass movement south last year.
The study Therrien is doing is on Bylot Island in Nunavut, Canada, above Baffin Island. The core study area covers 39 square miles. Previous record number of nests found there was 13, in 2004. This past summer the team found 20, a high density.
Expanding the count area brought the total nests found to 116, far more than the previous high count of 33, from 2010 in the same area. Lemming density was lower this past summer than in 2013, however, so it is expected that fewer young Snowy Owls fledged. “Nonetheless,” Therrien wrote in the blog, “we are expecting to see some Snowies this winter, but we’ll have to wait to see if the numbers get close to what we had last winter.”
It also was reported that some of the owls equipped with geolocaters last winter are beginning to move south into cell-phone range. This is important because the data collected on the devices, strapped to the owls’ backs as they spent their summer in their Arctic breeding territory, record and store the information, downloading it when the birds get within range of a cell-phone tower. Analysis of the information so far available is underway.
Owls coming down this season also will be tagged when possible. The study continues. Stay tuned.