Thursday, 11 October 2012

Owls About That Then

Northern saw-whet owl
Last night I finally managed to find the time to go out and help out with the owl banding at Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO). Naturally, the catching and ringing of owls is a nocturnal pursuit and the shifts available to volunteers and experienced banders alike are pretty late affairs.
Given the distance to the site, and the fact that I have a half-hour morning commute I haven't really been able to figure out a convenient way of helping out during the week and of course weekend shifts are often fully booked.  But the organizers kindly offered a way where I could turn up for a partial shift, finishing at 11pm. That gives me time to drive home and get a reasonable amount of shut-eye.

I arrived at Rocky Point just before 7pm and once bander Jessie Fanucchi arrived, we headed along to the banding station. As we approached the parking area I noticed the distinctive silhouette of a great-horned owl sat on top of a snag.
Owl and Cheezy Brit Birder
They have been conducting owl banding sessions at RPBO for a decade now, with the sole target species being northern saw-whet owl.
Relatively little is known about this small owl, and until recently it was thought by many to be primarily sedentary. Night-time banding activities across North America seem to have put that flimsy theory well and truly to bed, as large numbers are routinely monitored every autumn. This isn't simply post-breeding dispersal but clearly seasonal migration on a significant scale. Research of this nature will hopefully help determine the destination and routes these owls take, and whether only birds of a certain age and sex are prone to long-range movements. 
2012 has been a remarkable year at Rocky Point with well over 600 saw-whets caught and processed thus far, smashing previous years' records. 
My role here was minimal, other seasoned volunteers and the chief banders Jessie and Anne Nightingale did all the real work extracting the birds, processing the data and ringing the owls. I did get to release a couple and joined in on the net rounds, but more importantly I got to witness first-hand yet more of the invaluable work being conducted by the band of dedicated ornithologists at Rocky Point Bird Observatory.

Please note that Rocky Point is located on Department of National Defence land and there is NO public access. For further details about the work being carried out at the observatory, and for information about volunteer opportunities visit the RPBO website.
You can also read the RPBO blog for more musings. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi there. Great pictures and story aboutthe Northern Saw-Whet Owl. I live in Toronto, Ontario, and this past Friday, my wife and I came upon an adult Saw-Whet Owl out in the bush. And no we didn't hold it. This was the first time as birders that we had ever seen a Saw-Whet Owl. Fortunately, we had our camera with us and got some good pictures and video. We have posted them for anyone interested at: