Despite multiple attempts and close calls since February, Maine wildlife researchers have been unable to capture and outfit a Snowy Owl with a GPS transmitter. The possibility of tracking one of these majestic raptors of the Arctic flying over Acadia National Park will have to wait.
“No, we did not have any luck before the winter window ‘closed’ on 3/15,” said Lauren Gilpatrick, permit and band manager for the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) in Portland, in an e-mail. “We are waiting until next winter to try again.”
Gilpatrick, along with BRI colleague Chris Desorbo and USDA Wildlife Services’ John Wood, have been stalking airports in Portland and Brunswick, hoping to relocate a Snowy Owl out of harm’s way, while also outfitting it with a GPS transmitter as part of Project SNOWstorm, a national volunteer research effort to better understand these mysterious denizens normally of the Arctic tundra. Their efforts are detailed in Project SNOWstorm’s blog.
“These owls are very intelligent, powerful, and absolutely gorgeous. It has been an honor to spend so much time watching them,” Gilpatrick said in an e-mail. Younger owls may linger into May in Maine, but the adult owls tend to head north by early March, and would have provided the most valuable data for better understanding their wintering habits, Gilpatrick said.
Beginning with the 2013-2014 winter, Snowies have migrated into the United States in such record numbers – a result of a population explosion up north with plentiful lemmings, a favorite food – it prompted the founding of Project SNOWstorm. Nationwide, more than 30 owls have been outfitted with transmitters since then, providing insights into the bird’s winter ecology, according to the project’s Web site.
March 27 was the last day to donate to Project SNOWstorm’s Indiegogo campaign, to fund more GPS/GSM transmitters and other aspects of the research.
Although there are no plans to capture and tag a Snowy Owl in Acadia National Park, according to researchers, it’s possible that any owl that may be captured next winter at Portland, Brunswick or any other Maine airport, outfitted with a GPS transmitter and relocated, could very well fly over the park.
But even without GPS data for a Snowy Owl in Maine yet, it’s evident that Acadia National Park is a hospitable environment for the birds. A record number of Snowy Owl sightings, 17, have been reported so far this season to the online eBird database this winter, with Sargent and Cadillac among the hot spots.
What name will the first Snowy Owl to be GPS-tracked in Maine have?
Initially, the Maine researchers planned on giving the name of Orion to the first Snowy Owl to be outfitted with a transmitter in the Pine Tree State, in a nod to Orion the Hunter constellation and the P-3 Orion planes that used to fly out of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
But Project SNOWstorm protocols call for using a name based on the location of capture or release, such as Sandy Neck for an immature female Snowy that had been captured at Logan Airport and released on Sandy Neck Beach on Cape Cod (which unfortunately drowned after apparently being swamped by high winds and waves in the wake of a nor’easter, while crossing open waters off Martha’s Vineyard).
“We gave the question of owl names a lot of thought at the beginning of the project. We wanted to avoid human or pet-like names, to minimize anthropomorphism, but using transmitter or band numbers makes it hard for the public (and, frankly, for us) to keep all the birds straight,” said Scott Weidensaul of the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in Pennsylvania, one of the founders of Project SNOWstorm, in a response to our initial blog about tagging a Snowy Owl in Maine.
That’s when we suggested in a blog comment to Weidensaul the name Acadia, if by chance researchers find it makes sense to relocate an owl there.
The national park is favorable territory, judging by the record Snowy Owl sightings reported to eBird,org, and far from busy airports that could pose a danger. The broad open summits of Sargent and Cadillac certainly can be reminiscent of the Arctic tundra that Snowy Owls like so much, especially during a winter in Acadia like this past one.
And imagine all the fans of Acadia National Park – about 2.5 million people visit each year – who might become fans of Acadia the Snowy Owl.
We won’t know the name of the first GPS-tracked Snowy Owl in Maine until it’s tagged, hopefully next winter.
What moniker do you think it should have, and why? Let us know in a comment below, and we’ll share the results with researchers.