Sunday, February 02, 2014

New blog!

We have a new blog!  From now (2014) on, all blog posts will be in the International Owl Center's blog at

Monday, December 16, 2013

Patience Goes to Wisconsin

I was getting very worried about Patience since her signal hadn't moved off the bluff behind the alpaca farm south of La Crescent for over a week.  It was a weak signal to boot.  Given that we found Patrick's tail feathers with his transmitter on the ground, that's what I was expecting to find for Patience too.

Hein had already tromped the hillside on Saturday on one landowner's property, with no luck.  This morning we went out on another person's property in the snow to see if we could find her transmitter there.

We didn't even take a bearing on Patience from the road...we just headed up into the bluffs where her signal has been forever.  It was a very weak signal, but we plodded along in the increasing snow on the hillside that got steeper and steeper.

Finally up near the top, out on a point, I got a good signal.  But I really, really thought it was coming from across the road in the marsh.  So we slowly made our way back down the hillside, to the truck, and to a gas station to use the restroom and get something to eat.

Then we stopped by the house of the person who owned the marshland across the road and she gave us permission to go out there.  That involved wading through a lot of tall grass, but also a nice mowed area.

It was snowing pretty good.  We kept walking toward the far trees, and the signal was still faint...fainter than up on the road.  I finally realized that our gal was a long ways away!

So back to the truck again, and I slapped on the rooftop antenna.  We drove down the busy road between La Crescent and La Crosse, pulling into a couple of parking lots to get signals.  Very surprisingly, we got a GREAT signal where the old Bikini Yacht Club was...across the road, not out into the river bottom.

So we headed across the road to Pettibone Park.  I chuckled as we drove in, since the sign said it was also a wildlife refuge.  I thought that would be a good place for Patience to go.  I wondered if she could read.

As we drove around, her signal got really strong.  Finally I got out and walked.  At one point in time I thought I must be standing on her because the signal was so loud.  Hein was watching the trees to see if she flew, but didn't notice anything.  But abruptly, the signal moved.  I headed in that direction while Hein went to get the truck.  Sure enough, as I got closer I saw her fly.  Woo-hoo!  She was doing fine, transmitter attached.  Not what I expected to find when we set out this morning.

I checked the state line, and I see she has officially entered Wisconsin.  Without permits.  I get a kick out of that, since to bring Alice into Wisconsin to do a program I need a health certificate from a veterinarian, a 'temporary wildlife exhibition permit' from the DNR, and a 'circus, rodeo and menagerie permit' from the WI Department of Agriculture.  I am not kidding.  Go Patience...without the permits!  Ha.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Finding Patrick's Transmitter

I have been feeling queasy lately since Patrick and Patience's transmitters haven't been moving.  I went out at 7 AM a few mornings ago to scour the bluff with my receiver, trying to locate him.  Although I got good signals, I simply couldn't pin it down exactly.  This morning Hein and I went out just after 7 AM for another try.

It's cold, but I realized after last time that climbing snowy, heavily wooded hillsides works up some body heat, so I dressed in lighter layers, but very obviously not for fashion or to look nice in a photo!!

We climbed and tried not to let gravity return us to the bottom of the hill, or to the ground.  I took very frequent bearings with the receiver (as I am doing in the photo.)  Finally, after quite some time, I got to the point where it was so loud and so directional that I had to be just about standing on it.  Sickeningly, the antenna beeped loudest as I pointed to the ground.

Hein was on the uphill side, and when I said that the transmitter had to be on the ground, he simply pointed and said "There it is."  Thankfully he was not pointing at an owl-shaped bump...he was pointing at the receiver poking out of the snow.

We picked it up and found it was still attached to the central two tail feathers.  I cleared the snow to make sure there were no other feathers, and there weren't.  It had simply broken off, leaving Patrick without his middle two tail feathers.  (They do this when the molt every year, so it shouldn't be a big hindrance to him.)

I was much lighter in my heart as we carefully negotiated our way down the hill.  Hein did the "butt slide" part of the way.

When we got back to the house we looked at the feathers more closely.  Hein said he made sure not to pinch the shafts when he tied on the transmitters, and the shafts had broken exactly at the leading edge of the transmitter's base plate.  

I'm guessing what happened is that the transmitter's base plate was big enough that it didn't allow the flexibility the tail feathers needed, so instead of just bending when in dense cedar trees like this, the central two tail feathers kinked and eventually broke off.

Hein went out looking for Patience later, without luck.  I suspect we'll find her transmitter too.  This isn't an unusual type of mount, and I think it's used on Peregrine Falcons.  But perhaps Great Horned Owl feathers need to work in a different way??  Not sure what happened here.  But at any rate, Patrick's free and unable to be tracked, other than his begging calls.  He was in the yard begging early this morning again, so I set up the two swimming pools the owlets used for rat catching outside, complete with dead gophers.  I hope he figures it out if he needs it.

We'll try again on Monday on a different landowner's property to find Patience's transmitter.