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.