After having several terrifically cooperative owls like Isra, which we were able to track for more than three weeks, we've had a run of bad luck on the telemetry front. Fang and Feist, which we radio-tagged last week, both departed over the weekend while Drew, Kim and Hannah were enjoying a couple of days off.
So Monday night they tagged the only owl the King's Gap banding crew caught, a hatching-year female. They bandied around a couple of delicious food-themed names but thought better of it. "We were going to name it Meatballs, but we decided saying that name all night might make us hungry." Drew told me when he called from the woods around 9 p.m. with the news. "We figured it wouldn't be as big a problem with an owl named Tofu," so that's what they went with.
Instead, Tofu posed other problems. After tracking her for several hours near the banding station, the telemetry team followed her as she moved south over the ridge to Cold Spring Hollow, checking on her position every 10 minutes. And then around 3 a.m., between position checks, she simply disappeared. The crew fanned out for the rest of the night, checking from high points throughout Michaux State Forest, but Tofu had left the buffet.
Last night they tried for another telemetry owl at King's Gap, but came up dry - while we had owls at the other two sites, there were none caught at KG. We'll try again tonight.
We're up to 358 saw-whets and five screech owls for the season, still getting two or three a night at each station. In the past week we've had a number of foreign birds come into our nets ("foreign" meaning banded at another site), while several of our owls have shown up elsewhere.
Among the owls we've caught were birds banded at Tadoussac, Quebec in 2007; several from Glenn Proudfoot's operation at the Mohonk Preserve in southeastern New York; and three from Virginia - an owl banded in 2004 in the highlands of western Virginia, one banded in February 2008 in Shenandoah River State Park, and one banded in November 2007 at Kiptopeke on the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. We've caught several other owls for which there was no data in the Banding Lab database.
Our owls have shown up in the past week in South Hadley, Massachusetts; Elk Neck State Park in northern Maryland; and several at Lamb's Knoll in the Catoctin Mountains of western Maryland.
We've also - finally - reached the end of the line with our geolocator project. Last night, Guy Ubaghs deployed the last two at Small Valley - 178 of the tiny tracking devices, which are continuously recording data that will allow us to determine the owls' daily latitude and longitude once we start recovering some of them next year.
None of this would have been possible without an extraordinary effort on the part of our banding crew, especially the banders from Small Valley, who double-teamed most nights this fall so one person could band and the other deploy up to 10 geolocators per night.
A few geolocator-tagged owls have shown up in our nets, and Sunday night I got a call from Dave Darney, who bands saw-whets on the Allegheny Front in Somerset County. He'd just caught a geo-tagged owl we released Nov. 6 at our Small Valley site, about 110 miles to the east. After checking the owl (it and its harness were both in fine shape), he released it - we're hoping to get up to two full migration cycles from the geolocators, so there was no point in taking it off after just nine nights and a relatively short distance traveled.