Sunday, February 8, 2009

Down in the Valley...

It's been a couple of weeks since we wrapped up the intensive tracking portion of our fall/winter research season (and since I updated this blog), but we still have one radio-tagged owl - Lexi - remaining on the study area. Although we're no longer conducting night-tracking, Aura Stauffer and I have been doing roost checks on her every few days.

Initially, Lexi was staying up in her usual haunts, high in King's Gap Hollow below Buck Ridge, but around Jan. 25 she shifted to the west, sometimes on private land near the park (judging from her signal location), sometimes on park property off the Boundary Trail. Then, after briefly returning to the Buck Ridge area, she made a dramatic move.

On Groundhog Day, Aura located Lexi's signal down in the valley more than three and a half miles from where she'd been roosting, and two days later, Aura and I located her sitting in a plantation of young white pines on private land along Yellow Breeches Creek. This is only a little more than a mile from a riparian woodlot where we tracked her hunting one night last month; maybe she got tired of making the commute. The farmer on whose land she's staying said he sees a lot of raptors there, and we flushed a red-tailed hawk and great horned owl as we hiked in that morning.

I just got back from checking on Lexi again today, and she's still tucked into the same grove of 30-foot-tall pines. I was accompanied this morning by Ohio saw-whet bander Kelly Williams-Sieg and her friend Lisa Ratcliff, who drove up to get some experience radio-tracking. I visited Kelly's terrific banding station in Chillicothe, OH, last winter, and was delighted to repay the hospitality. The fact it finally felt a bit like spring today -- mild temps, singing song sparrows and Carolina wrens, and flocks of ring-billed gulls migrating overhead -- only made the day more enjoyable.

The weather is supposed to stay mild through the first half of the week, and it will be interesting to see what Lexi does. I would expect the first push of northbound saw-whet migration to begin about now, and her move to the valley site might be a sign of pre-migratory restlessness. We'll be keeping an eye on her, and I wouldn't be surprised if she starts moving north in the next week or so.

We've only been able to follow two other saw-whets this late into the winter - a bird we nicknamed "The Grinch" in 2007-08, which we finally lost track of Feb. 2, and an unnamed bird in 2003 whose signal disappeared about Feb. 16 - whether because it migrated, or because the battery died, I can't say. If Lexi hangs in there, she may set a new record for us - but even if she leaves tomorrow, we've amassed a ton of roost and nighttime activity data on her.

Finally, it was farewell and good luck to our fall research technician Anna Fasoli and research intern Drew Weber, who both did such a fantastic job for us this season. Anna's going to be doing some volunteer work with her old love, whooping cranes, in Florida, then helping on some conservation work in Hawaii before starting a new position in Nebraska this spring tracking endangered plovers and terns. Drew, meantime, will be pursuing graduate school in ecology and conservation. We were incredibly luck to have both of them participating in this project, and they'll be missed.


Owlman said...

VERY interesting - thanks for sharing. Interestingly enough I found a Saw whet here in NJ in Feb in 2006, which I would assume is fairly unusual. Your tracking data must be very interesting.

Scott Weidensaul said...

Congrats on finding a saw-whet. While it's unusual to find one, I suspect they're as common in New Jersey in winter as they obviously are here in Pennsylvania - but without a radio transmitter to lead to them, they're tough to spot.