Thursday, January 31, 2013

Snow Goose Festival Owls!

Since 1999 we have conducted an Owl Monitoring and Banding field trip as a Snow Goose Festival event, occurring in late January.  It is a  perfect time to sample the area for wintering Saw-whets. This year we ran two different sites concurrently to see where the owls were.  My team, Steve, Jo, Sheila and Maureen, went to Butte Creek Ecological Preserve. Maureen and Steve took the group on an owl prowl to listen for Pygmy, Great Horned, Western Screech and Barn Owl.  Not a toot, hoot or screech was to be heard!  Meanwhile Jo, Sheila and I had set up nets for Saw-whets. While we waited, we heard a dueting pair of Great Horned owls across the creek. Steve brought the guests to our station and after lots of conversation and four empty net runs, a Western Screech Owl waited for us in the net. Our group was very happy!
Western Screech Owl: here I am measuring the owl's tail length to help determine its
gender- which I could not. The screech owls tend to be very calm during handling.
Steve King Photo

SGF group with Western Screech Owl, BCEP. Steve King Photo

Meanwhile up at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (BCCER), Mike, Raina,Nancy and Julie were running the OWL3 site, our typical fall migration station.  Their guests got a good listen to a dueting pair of Great Horned Owls, but there were no owls in the net.  As luck - or the odds of getting a Saw-whet during SGF-would sometimes have it - the team finally got one, on the last net run. Unfortunately all the guests had gone, with an invitation to return next fall during our busy season.  
A temporarily upside-down Northern Saw-whet Owl. The owl is laying
gently against the banders palm in the "bander's grip," a hold that safely
secures the bird. The bander is checking the molt on this bird. 

Here she is - a bird that was previously banded during migration in November 2012. Our guests enjoyed the evening, stories and facts and mysteries about owls. For us, any information adds to our knowledge of Saw-whets.  At BCEP no owls were detected - are they not wintering there this year? At BCCER at least one Saw-whet was wintering and has used the Reserve habitats for 2 months since she was captured. But the questions continue. Where did our 119 fall migrants captured during the fall go? Could our lack of detections be related to the moon phase? More on the moons influence and owl captures to come.........

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