One of five Snowy Owls tagged over the winter in Wisconsin -- one of the SNOWiest on record with an estimated 280 documented here — has wound up delivering one of the biggest surprises of the season.
Although Project SNOWstorm scientists had suspected the tracking season already was over, they got a great surprise on Memorial Day when Austin checked in for the first time in almost three weeks — with almost 900 backlogged data points, a real treasure-trove.
The last time trackers had heard from this juvenile male, trapped at Austin Straubel Airport in Green Bay and relocated to the Buena Vista Grasslands with a transmitter funded by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, he was just over the Canadian border in southern Manitoba. Since then, he continued to move northwest, traveling 735 miles along and across Lake Manitoba and Cedar Lake May 15-20, and on May 23 overflying the mining center of Flin Flon on the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border. On May 28, he was just 12 miles from the McArthur River uranium mine, the largest-producing such mine in the world, and connected with a cell tower.
On his current heading, Austin is just 165 miles from the Northwest Territories, but any further news is going to be a matter of luck. Project SNOWstorm had suggested a week earlier that it was at the finale of the 2017-‘18 winter season, with only a single Snowy Owl checking in and 8 to 10 days since they had last heard from any of the more than two dozen others moving north.
Sadly, Arlington, who was tagged Jan. 4 at Madison Audubon’s Goose Pond Preserve, was found dead along a road near St. Cloud, Minn., on April 29, apparently the victim of a vehicle collision — and the third such loss this winter. The Minnesota DNR recovered Arlington and the transmitter, sponsored by Madison Audubon.
After holding tight to a farm near Freedom, Wis., all winter, Badger took off May 5 and flew up to Lake Superior, and two days later had reached the Keweenaw Peninsula.
At the same time, Bancroft (with a transmitter funded by WSO) was crossing the western nose of Lake Superior from the Apostle Islands to the northern shore, a 36-mile overwater flight, and by May 11 was northeast of Atikokan, Ontario.
Straubel, the fifth Snowy tagged in Wisconsin this winter, moved well to the northwest and crossed into Manitoba. At the last report on May 10 Straubel was at the southern tip of Lake Winnipeg.