Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nighttime doings

Dusk in Weiser State Forest (©Scott Weidensaul)

The warm weather has absolutely killed the saw-whet migration, with no birds netted the past three nights. But we're making great progress on our nighttime radio-tracking, thanks to Dizzy, who remains a very cooperative owl.

At dusk Wednesday evening, research tech Anna Fasoli and I met up on Wolf Pond Road in Weiser State Forest, in northern Dauphin County, about half an hour north of Harrisburg, and a few miles north of our Small Valley banding site. Dizzy, who was apparently on or near the same roost she'd used the previous day, was coming off her roost as we headed into the woods at dusk, and for the next hour we followed her as she moved back and forth along a south-facing slope.

We walked back to the cars at 8 p.m. to meet longtime volunteer Alex Lamoreaux, now a freshman at PSU Mont Alto, and his college buddy Mark, and from then until 11:15 p.m. we continued to track Dizzy's movements within a fairly small area east of Wolf Pond Road, along the same slope.

Biangulation was made easier by the presence of a couple of old logging roads that allowed us to bracket her, and made harder by the dense laurel understory, which really blocked a lot of the signal, especially for Alex and me in the downhill spot. But we took bearings on 16 or 17 different locations, usually at 10-minute intervals - the first time we've been able to put our theory into practice, and it worked reasonably well.

We'll be tracking Dizzy again tonight, while Aura Stauffer will be on call to tag one or more new owls at King's Gap this evening, or tomorrow when Aura's banding. Once that happens, we'll probably shift our telemetry focus to Michaux State Forest.

Best of all, I expect that the cold front passing through right now, flinging maple leaves past my office window, will push our first significant flight of owls south. Temps this weekend are supposed to be 20 degrees chillier than yesterday, and that should act like a big push-broom, herding the owls south. We're more than ready.

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