Monday, December 22, 2008

The more we know, the less we know

Well, it was an eventful night Saturday, but not the way we'd expected. And an even more eventful Sunday morning.

Saturday afternoon, research tech Anna Fasoli checked on our beeping owls, and found them more or less where she'd expected - Maria and Lexi high up in King's Gap Hollow, and Gemini down along Tom's Run north of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, where she'd been all week.

At dusk, Anna, intern Drew Weber, volunteers Carl and Pat Leinbach and I met at King's Gap Park, aiming to triangulate either Lexi or Maria - and perhaps both, if they were cooperative to both stay in the hollow. But shortly after we split up and began hiking through the ice-encrusted woods, Lexi moved off to the west until her signal disappeared, while Maria moved downslope, shifting back and forth across the firebreak trail for an hour or so, sometimes very close.

And then she, too, headed southwest -- a flashback moment, since this was eerily like the night in November that both Quasi and Sacagawea moved out on us, right down to the massive movement of waterfowl overhead (huge flocks of Canada geese this time, instead of the tundra swans in November).

We headed back to the vehicles, and began what turned into an increasingly frustrating search. While Anna and Drew located Lexi somewhere high in Irishtown Gap Hollow (across private land with no easy access), Maria was gone - and when I checked on Gemini, I couldn't pick up her signal, either, not from high on Ridge Road or from the end of Old Carlisle Road, just a quarter-mile from her roost.

We split up again. Through the course of the evening we covered east along Cold Springs Road and almost to Mt. Holly Springs, and then paralleled each other south as far as Rt. 30 in Franklin County, running the ridges and coming up the valleys.

Nothing. By 11 p.m., with freezing drizzle starting, it was clear at least two of our birds had flown the coop.

Except that Sunday, Anna stunned me with a lunchtime call to say that she'd found all three owls, more or less where they'd been the day before.

What happened? Danged if I know. It's possible that the heavy ice cover on the vegetation had blocked the signals, but earlier on Saturday, Anna had picked up Gemini's beep from the same places where I tried that night with no success.

Saw-whets...a mystery wrapped in an enigma swathed in a riddle. The latest news from Anna is that Lexi was roosting yesterday in a tree that Morticia had used several times last month, another example from this season of different owls using the same roost - even though the pitch pines they pick look, to human eyes, exactly like every other pitch pine in the surrounding forest. We have more questions than answers, which is always fun for researchers.

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