Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Most Excellent Owl

Lexi, enjoying a mild spring day. (©Scott Weidensaul)

Although I haven't posted an update in a while (I was away much of late February and early March), we're continuing to keep tabs on Lexi, that most obliging of saw-whets, who has broken all our records in becoming by far the latest-lingering telemetry owl in the eight years of this project. The previous late date for a tagged saw-whet was Feb. 21, and we're coming up on a month past that point.

I checked on Lexi yesterday, March 14, as we've been doing every day or so, and found her still roosting in a white pine thicket along Yellow Breeches Creek, about three miles northwest of the ridgetop portion of King's Gap State Park she'd used in December and January.

Last week, Aura Stauffer realized Lexi's radio signal was getting weaker - it had been almost exactly three months since we'd tagged her, and the batteries only have an expected life of 90 days. On Wednesday, Aura took advantage of Lexi's low roost to get a stepladder and hand-grab the little girl - such docility and tameness is typical of saw-whets, and Lexi in particular. Within a short time, Aura had replaced Lexi's radio with a fresh transmitter, so we should be able to keep up with her until she finally decides to head north.

When will that be? Frankly, I'm quite surprised it hasn't happened already. The peak northbound migration is usually around the beginning of March, based on our limited spring netting in years past, and we've had some perfect migration nights with warm temps and southerly winds. On the other hand, Lexi is a young bird, born in 2008, and doesn't have an established territory to which to return; adult birds of most species migrate more rapidly north in the spring than juveniles.

We're continuing to share Lexi with visitors. Last weekend, Aura took the 26 members of the Governor's Youth Sportsmen Advisory Council (who were meeting at King's Gap) to track her, and yesterday I had Hillel Brandes and Doug Miller of Penn State with me. Doug is the co-director of the university's office for remote sensing and spatial information resources, and he has some great ideas of how to combine extremely high-resolution mapping imagery with our telemetry data so we can better understand why the saw-whets are choosing the roosts and habitats that they use.


Owlman said...

WOW, very amazing - thanks for sharing! Maybe I need to get my butt into gear and see if there are any straddlers around here.

Scott Weidensaul said...

I've heard of one or two other NSWOs that have been found in this region in the past few days - they're definitely still moving through, although Canadian and New England banding sites are now reporting their first significant spring movements.