Monday, December 15, 2008

The Blitz

The Kline family, ready to head into "the desert" (you usually don't have to listen that hard to hear what's coming out of the audiolure speakers, Mary). (©Anna Fasoli)

Meet Lexi, Gemini and Maria.

Last night, in a final, Hail-Mary blitz, we opened nets in not one, not two, not three, but four sites around King's Gap and Michaux State Forest, hoping to get at least one more owl for the telemetry project. And we got three instead - all of them, as the saying goes, known to authorities.

Setting up and monitoring the nets, shuttling the birds back and forth across miles of windy dirt roads, and tearing everything down at the end of the night was a major operation. We had 13 people involved this little escapade - research tech Anna Fasoli, research intern Drew Weber and I; Sandy and Gary Lockerman, Matt, Mary and Katie Kline, Phil Witmer (who drove up from the Philadelphia area, a two-and-a-half-hour drive), and Alex Lamoreaux, Mark Mizak and two PSU friends, Lexi and Tim.

We met at 4 p.m., and got the first set of nets erected south of Ridge Road, which runs along the spine of South Mountain, in an area that had been heavily timbered in recent years; we nicknamed it "the desert" because there was so little understory cover, and we had to run the nets fairly high because of the knee-high carpet of huckleberry. Then we drove east on Ridge Road about three miles to the head of Cold Springs Hollow, where we set up two more nets in fairly dense forest. We divided up the crew, leaving two vehicles at each site so they could shuttle any owls back to King's Gap for processing.

Anna and I put up the final set of new nets and audiolure in King's Gap Hollow in the park, a stone's toss from where several of our owls roosted this fall. Then we met Drew and the Lockermans at the park headquarters and opened the main site nets, two and a half hours after we'd all started.

So did I have a chance to take more than a bite of my dinner sandwich? I did not; Mark and Lexi walked in with the first owl at 7 p.m., an HY-F recap first banded at King's Gap on Nov. 5. Since this was Lexi's first owl despite several visits to KG, we named the bird in her honor, processed the owl and got a harness rigged, while Mark and Lexi (the person) headed back to the site.
Lexi, all set to go. The small piece of index card on her chest keeps the glue on the harness knot from gumming up her feathers, and comes off before release. (©Anna Fasoli)

Drew and Lexi (©Anna Fasoli)

Before we were finished with that bird, Phil and Mary came in with another recap, this one from Nov. 6, an SY-U we named Gemini, in honor of the Geminid meteor shower the last two nights, some of which sprinkled the sky as we were opening.

Rigging the harness and waiting for the glue to dry on the knot takes about half an hour, so we were shuttling the first bird back to Cold Springs Hollow with Drew and Gary when I got a garbled cell phone call from Alex, saying they'd caught another NSWO and were coming in with it. This was yet another KG recap, an SY-F first banded Oct. 26, and recaptured Oct. 29. She's now known as Maria - Anna's middle name, which I thought was appropriate, since this final blitz was her idea.

Sandy Lockerman and Scott Weidensaul working on Maria's harness. (©Anna Fasoli)

All the running back and forth, shuttling birds, checking the KG nets, running down to the Pond, swapping out audiolure batteries at both Ridge Rd. and Cold Springs, made for a night that flew by. We closed up the KG nets at 10:15, took down the Pond nets, then the Ridge Rd. nets at 11. It was after midnight until we had the Cold Springs site down and packed, but everyone was still pretty jazzed.

Closing up Cold Springs at midnight. (©Anna Fasoli)

There are no guarantees, of course, but the fact that all three of these birds have been around for six or seven weeks already makes me hopeful they'll stay for a good while longer. We're back in business on tracking, starting tonight - and with luck, some or all of this new trio will hang around for the winter.

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