FINAL EPISODE- SNOWY OWL RETURNS TO THE ARCTIC

Hello Friends,

Thank you to everyone for your very kind comments for this series. It has been a joy creating for such an enthusiastic audience ❤

Thank you to Jennifer Davis and her adorable daughters Ellie and Isla. They stopped by one morning to see if they could find Snowy Owl. The girls and Mom were being so good at watching her from a safe distance. I asked Jenny if she minded if I took a photo and some footage, too. Jenny very graciously said yes!

Some good news-

In the two years that have passed since our Snowy visited Cape Ann’s Back Shore, all of Boston’s North Shore has not seen the same tremendous numbers of that winter of 2018. I read though on ProjectSNOWstorm’s website of the possibility of an exciting upcoming winter of 2020-2021 because there has been a good population of lemmings in the eastern portions of the Snowies breeding grounds. Let’s hope for more visits by beautiful Snowies ❤

A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann was created for the kids in the Cape Ann community during this at-home school time. Please share with young people you know who may be interested.

Thank you again for watching!

To see all five episodes together, please go to the Snowy Owl Film Project page on my website.

Again, thank you to Scott Weidensaul from ProjectSNOWstorm for script advice.

 

A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann
Part Five: Snowy Owl Returns to the Arctic

Friends of Snowy Owl wondered how long she would stay before heading north on her return migration to the Arctic. Typically, Snowies leave New England by March or April, but some have stayed as late as July.

Why do people find Snowy Owls so captivating?

Owls symbolize wisdom and intelligence, and the characters they are given in popular culture and literature strengthen our associations.

We are provided a wonderful window into the world of owls through Snowies because they are crepuscular creatures, which means they are most active at dawn and at dusk.

There are only about 30,000 Snowy Owls in the wild. No one knows if their numbers are stable or decreasing.

Snowies face many threats, especially when they come south to us, including vehicles, planes, and toxic chemicals.

Research analysis shows that most carry some degree of rat poison, pesticides, and/or mercury in their bodies.

We can all be conscientious stewards of Snowies by not using poisonous chemicals and by keeping a safe distance when observing.

In early March, Snowy Owl began to appear restless. Migration is the most dangerous period in an owl’s life, but hormonal changes triggered by longer days were urging her northward.

Snowy Owl survived the fierce winds and waves of powerful nor’easters along with constant heckling by gulls and crows.

She ate well during her winter stay on Cape Ann.

Snowy Owl was strong and healthy when she departed, increasing the likelihood of a safe journey and return to her breeding habitat of Arctic tundra and grasslands.

Safe travels beautiful Snowy!

WONDERFULLY RARE FOOTAGE – SNOWY OWL TAKES A BATH

Hello Friends on this rainy, windy day. People’s holiday weekend ran the gamut from joyful to tragic and I so hope yours was not too difficult and you were able to find some light. It was such a beautiful day weather-wise yesterday and if there is one thing about the coronavirus is how wonderful it is to see so many families enjoying each other’s company while out in the fresh air.

Part four, Snowy Owl Takes a Bath, was filmed early one morning. I stopped by to check on Snowy Owl (her nickname at the time was Hedwig) and noticed her face was stained red from breakfast. I only planned to take a few snapshots when she hopped over to a rocky tide pool and began to wash her face. I ran back to the car to grab my movie camera and am so glad I did! For the next 40 – 45 minutes she bathed, preened, and fluffed.I am calling this rare footage because I can’t find anything else like it. Unlike most owls, which are nocturnal (active at night) Snowy Owls are active during the day (diurnal), providing a rare glimpse into the world of owls in the wild.

To see all four episodes together, please go to the Snowy Owl Film Project page on my website. These shorts were created for the kids in the Cape Ann community during this at-home schooling time. The last segment, part five, Snowy Owl Returns to the Arctic, is almost completed and will be posted later this week.

Thank you for watching!

Again, thank you to Scott Weidensaul from ProjectSNOWstorm for script advice.

A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann
Part Four: Snowy Owl Takes a Bath

After a snow squall and as the sun was beginning to appear, a Snowy Owl came out to take a bath. She found a watery icy pool tucked out of sight from dive bombing crows and gulls.

Snowy Owls, like most non-aquatic birds, take baths to clean their feathers.

First washing her face, she tip-dipped and then dunked. After bathing, Snowy fluff dried her feathers, pooped, and preened. During preening, oil from the preen gland, which is located at the base of the tail, is distributed through the feathers to help maintain waterproofing.

Washing, fluffing, and preening took about forty-five minutes from head to talon.

BE PREPARED TO BE GROSSED OUT- SNOWY OWL PUKING A GINORMOUS PELLET – PART THREE: A SNOWY OWL COMES TO CAPE ANN

Casting a pellet is a totally normal thing that Snowy Owls, and all owls do. You may even have dissected a pellet in biology class. I  just had no idea until seeing Snowy do this that they could be so enormous!

You can view the first three episodes here: Snowy Owl Film Project. All five will eventually be found on this page. Almost finished with Part Four: Snowy Owl Takes a Bath 🙂

A Snowy Owl Comes to Cape Ann

Part Three: Snowy Owl Casts a Pellet

Once or twice a day an owl casts, or regurgitates, a pellet, which is a mass of undigested parts of the bird’s food. Pellets form after an owl has fed. The owl often casts a pellet, and goes poop, shortly before heading out to hunt.

Pellets contain sharp-edged bones and teeth that could damage the bird’s lower digestive tract. Its presence prevents the owl from swallowing fresh prey.

 

SNOWY OWL LADY ON A SNOWY BEACH

This beautiful Snowy Owl female was left alone for the better part of a frigid and blustery morning. Although Snowies are covered in feathers from head to toe, during very cold weather they try to find perches low to the ground and blocked from the wind.

Snowy with her feathers fluffed for warmth

Morning foot bath

A cell phone photographer made her flush three times over a ten minute period before she gave up and left the beach.

Snowies don’t want to be disturbed and fly when they are resting on the beach. Flying makes them use up precious energy. It’s not just cell phone photographers that are harming the Snowies. Recently I watched from an adjacent road as a group of photographers with telephoto lenses chased a Snow Owl up and down a beach. The Snowy flew away and departed the area.

Snowy Owls that are visiting our shores are, for the most part, young and relatively new at hunting, are in unfamiliar territory, and basically just need to rest and conserve energy when they are not hunting.

Please respect our Snowies

Snowy Owls love both rocky beaches and the tundra-like terrain of sandy beaches, because both are similar habitats found in their Arctic breeding and hunting grounds. And, too, look how well disguised is the Snowy in the photo above.

A few more creatures found on the beach that morning, including Surf Scoters, and a Snow Bunting flying very near to the Snowy.

SNOWY OWL GOLDEN-EYED GOLDEN GIRL

We startled each other! 

Happy Birthday to PROJECT SNOWSTORM

By Scott Weidensaul

On this day five years ago, my phone rang not long after breakfast. It was my friend and colleague Dave Brinker, a biologist with Maryland’s Natural Heritage program. He was calling because of something we’d both been watching with growing interest and amazement — the almost unprecedented invasion of snowy owls coming south into eastern North America, which was playing out across birding listserves, eBird and other information outlets.

The numbers were incredible. Just a week earlier, a birder in Newfoundland had reported counting nearly 300 snowies in one small area at Cape Race — 75 of them visible in a single sweep of his binoculars. White owls were showing up as far south as Jacksonville, Florida, and on the island of Bermuda.

“None of us are going to live long enough to see something like this again,” Dave said. He’d been talking with another mutual friend, owl bander Steve Huy, and they had some ideas — recruiting other banders to try to trap and band snowy owls to help track their movements, or maybe soliciting photographs from the public, which would allow us to age and sex many of the owls to get a sense of where the different age- and sex-classes were wintering.

That was plenty to think about, but not long after I hung up, the phone rang again. This time it was Andy McGann, who in 2007 was an intern on my saw-whet owl banding project, and in 2012 had worked for me again as a research technician while Dave and I tested a new type of automated telemetry system for small owls.

Andy was now working for Cellular Tracking Technologies, a company founded by golden eagle biologist Mike Lanzone to build next-generation GPS transmitters. Andy asked me if I’d been following the news about the snowy owl invasion. “Because, um, we have a transmitter here that was built for another project — but Mike said if you can find some funds, just enough to cover our costs, we’d love to put it on a snowy owl instead,” he said.

That was the beginning of Project SNOWstorm — and it snowballed (no pun intended) was stunning speed. By the evening of Dec. 7, 2013, I had spoken with a longtime supporter of our saw-whet work, the late Jim Macaleer of West Chester, Pa., who had agreed to underwrite not one but five transmitters. The next day, anonymous friends and fellow researchers had matched that gift with one of their own. We’d reached out to our good friend Norman Smith in Massachusetts, who has been studying snowy owls since 1981, who enthusiastically joined the effort. Along with Steve, another former research tech of mine, Drew Weber, brought web savvy and know-how. Jean-François Therrien, a French-Canadian researcher who did his Ph.D. on snowy owls in the Arctic and who now works here in Pennsylvania at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, jumped in with both feet. The proposal we submitted to the U.S. Bird Banding Lab for authorization to tag and track snowy owls was approved in record time, since the BBL was already looking for someone to do just that kind of project.

Less than two weeks later Dave, JF, Mike and I gathered along the  Maryland coast, where we trapped “Assateague,” a juvenile male and our first tagged owl. It’s been a wild five years ever since, as this project has grown in ways we never could have expected. For instance, we had a research project but no budget, so Dave suggested we try crowd-funding. I was frankly skeptical, but many of you quickly proved that it’s possible to launch and maintain an ambitious scientific project with small donations from the general public and birding/ornithological organizations. (Our institutional home, the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in central Pennsylvania, has been a huge supporter from the start, not least because all donations to SNOWstorm are thus tax-deductible in the U.S.)

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