Monday, October 5, 2009

Skreech and the full moon

"Skreech," the first of this year's owls to be radio-tagged. (©Hannah Panci)

Poets, lovers and songwriters like full moons. Owl researchers, not so much.

For whatever reason, the number of owls caught drops dramatically during a full-moon period, which may explain (along with the lovely, mild weather) why we're 0 for 4 with saw-whets - having opened our 2009 banding operation four nights ago, we still have yet to net our first saw-whet owl.

This isn't unusual - it's often pretty slow the first week of the season, and the migration doesn't peak until about Halloween. In each case, though, the crews at our three sites had plenty to divert to their attention, even in the absence of owls. At Hidden Valley Saturday night there was a fireworks display in the valley, while at Small Valley (where the caretaker has been seeing three large black bears) the volunteers were just glad nothing went bump in the night.

At King's Gap, we actually did catch an owl last week - not a saw-whet, but I'll let Hannah Panci, one of our research interns, pick up the story:

"Meet our red-morph eastern screech-owl (a hatch-year bird, sex unknown), given a gangster name of “Skreech.” After many tries over the course of three nights, Scott, Drew, Kim and I managed to lure it into the net last Wednesday night. Fitted with the newest model of radio transmitter backpack, it was released, and our little research team tracked it until 3 am. We found it again yesterday, sneakily roosting in the open about 30 feet off the ground. We’ll be tracking Skreech throughout the fall, both as telemetry practice and to see how its movements may affect any tagged saw-whets we are following. So look for more updates!"

That's Hannah's photo of Skreech, which we aged as a hatching-year bird - meaning it was born earlier this year, and is entering its first winter - by looking at its feather molt, and the pattern of pale scalloped markings on its primary wing coverts, among other clues. Unlike the migratory saw-whets, we're expecting Skreech to stay fairly close to its banding site on top of South Mountain, although as a young bird, it may still be drifting about, trying to establish a permanent territory. Once it does, though, the bird should sink down roots and stay put for the rest of its life.

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