Monday, November 10, 2008

Lots of tracking

Our telemetry crews have been busy lately, continuing to track Quasi and Morticia in and around King's Gap State Park.

Susan Klugman hunting for Morticia on Sunday (©Aura Stauffer)

Over the weekend, both owls were staying in their previous haunts in King's Gap Hollow. Sunday, Aura Stauffer, Susan Klugman and Karl Kleiner were out, finding both owls on their day roosts. Karl was getting a fair bit of ribbing from Susan and their friends over a feature in the Carlisle Sentinel about banding at King's Gap.

Karl Kleiner taking a bead with the long lens on Morticia... (©Aura Stauffer)

...and getting the shot of her, pretending to be asleep while the humans collect all that bothersome data. (©Karl Kleiner)

Saturday night research tech Anna Fasoli and intern Drew Weber, with help from visiting botanist Ann Rhoads and her grandson Ben, tracked Quasi in an area below the Buck Ridge Trail, despite some technical glitches with one of the receivers and difficulty finding good positions from which to shoot bearings.

Last night, Anna, King's Gap staffer Kim Mihalek, volunteer Jennifer Smetzer, my 14-year-old nephew Connor and I were back up on Buck Ridge, hoping that being above the owls would help -- and it did. We split up at dark into two teams, positioning ourselves about a quarter-mile apart along the ridge. We took GPS coordinates for our locations, then every 10 minutes for the next six hours, we simultaneously took radio bearings on Quasi as she moved around upper King's Gap Hollow. We also picked up Morticia's signal, and were able to get some bearings on her, as well.

It's an odd experience, "following" a wild animal remotely like that, inferring its activities by the changing location and intensity of the radio signal. Both owls moved around quite a bit for several hours, though Quasi never left that relatively small area of the hollow before settling down by about 10 p.m. - "Sitting on a mouse," Anna pronounced, and I suspect she was right.

I'd use the receiver and antenna to take a bearing, then Connor would pull out the compass and determine the azimuth while I jotted the time, azimuth and signal strength on the data sheet. Both of our teams were positioned so that our bearings intersected at roughly a 90-degree angle, giving us a fairly precise location for the owl at that moment. Later, Anna will plot all the bearings and GPS locations into a program called LOAS (Location Of A Signal) that will pinpoint the owl's positions, then she will overlay that with GIS information and satellite images to create a highly detailed map of Quasi and Morticia's activity range for the night.

So far, we've only done dusk-to-midnight sessions, but as we get better at this, and get our crew trained up, we'll be doing some all-nighters before too long.

When we weren't taking bearings, there was lots of time to watch the stars and the racing clouds, listen to the distant toot of the audiolure at King's Gap, and talk about things important and dumb. We looked down past the inky black ridges of South Mountain to the brightly lit valley, wondering how many people even suspected there was a migratory miracle going on, right at that moment, over their heads.

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