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The following was forwarded to me by Larry Lade. I think the contents would
be of interest to all birders... It is long and is specific to owls in
Minnesota. Delete now if not interested!

Patrick

Hi Group,

The recent post here by Mark Alt about the sightings in Sax Zim Bogs,
Minnesota I would like to add some information to and add our own sightings
since I have just returned from a four day trip to this area myself. I am
rather surprised that there has not been any discussions of this in our
group since this appears to be one of the most incredible invasions of Great
Gray and Hawk Owls recorded from this area in recent history or in our time.

Invasions of this type seem to appear about every three to five years as the
vole populations fluctuate in their natural cycle in the north but a cold
and wet summer in Canada seems to have made this one unprecedented. Although
I am not seeing any reports of this magnitude from other northern states, I
question if it is being published how incredible and unusual this really is
turning out to be (although I have seen articles in both the Minneapolis and
Duluth news papers in reference to the unusually high numbers of owls being
seen).

As a preface to reporting the amount of owls we saw, I want to stress that
we were not looking for numbers or surveying the owls to make any
conclusions on how many might be present. We were photographing them to add
photos to owling.com that will hopefully start to appear in about a week if
time allows. Although I do not have the figures in my hands at the moment,
several hundred Great Gray (500+) and Hawk Owls (125+) are being tracked but
the numbers are certainly not even close to the true numbers invading the
state in my opinion. The area is extremely vast, largely inaccessible (or
private property) and available man power to truly evaluate what is going on
certainly low.

Our trip (friend Steve Metz and I) was a very quick one that consisted of
only four days, one of which it was extensively snowing and we saw very few
owls (3 Great Grays) in the five hours we braved the roads and 5 inches of
snow fall for the day in the Superior National Forest. The last day was also
spent doing business that I needed to attend to in Duluth so we only had a
couple hours to spend finding owls to photograph before heading back to
Minneapolis to catch our flight home. In the couple hours we had in the
middle of the day we still saw 7 Great Gray and 4 Hawk Owls (Agnew Rd and
Hwy 133 between Hwy 47 and Hwy 53).

The only two days we really got to look around were on Saturday and Sunday
(12/4 and 12/5/2004). We spent large amounts of time photographing the 20
Hawk and 27 Great Gray Owls that we saw on these two days both in the Sax
Zim area and along the roads to the east of Highway 53 (primarily along
roads 7, 52, and CR 319 on the west side of 53 in the Sax Zim area and along
roads 52, 59 and 15 to the east of 53). There are so many Great Gray and
Hawk Owls in this area that they could not be missed. Two of us walking up
within 10 feet of the Great Grays to photograph them was very common. The
Hawk Owls were usually sitting on telephone wires but typical of this very
bold owl did not seem to pay much attention to us as we approached them
either.

Both of these species of owls were very healthy and we watched several owls
at very close proximity catch prey. There was an abundance of prey and
several of the locals made mention of the abundance of rodents this year. We
have had an eye on this invasion for the last month and it was a pleasant
surprise to find the owls in such good condition and so well fed. The Great
Gray Owls were mostly very bold in their hunting and several times while
very close taking photos, the owls would dive down and grab a vole from
beneath the snow seemingly undisturbed by us being there (a couple times
dropping down within only a few feet away and beginning to eat before
returning up to their low perch)... it was a remarkable show. Although we
saw a total of more than 60 owls of these two species, I am certain this
number would have at least tripled if we were just watching the owls,
covering more area, and not spending so much time to photograph them.

Last is Boreal Owls... although we saw none we did go out multiple nights
and looked for them. The nights at this time of year are very quiet and we
heard no owls at all (although had a Great Gray dive at me... I duck very
fast). It was a long shot at this time of year, had no specific information
for locations, and there was no reports of any being seen. Contrary to this
the banding efforts around Duluth (Hawk Ridge) have had record bandings this
year (over 250 individuals banded this fall). As the snow begins to get deep
and prey becomes more difficult to find it will be interesting to see if
this owl also starts showing up in the daylight in good numbers around bird
feeders. I do want to note that the bandings are somewhat deceptive because
there has been a more concerted effort this year. The individual doing most
of the banding is using Boreal recordings where in the past this was mostly
incidental Boreals caught while using Saw-whet recordings.

Two other individual Great Gray Owls should be mentioned here that we were
very disappointed that we could not find. In the previous couple weeks to
our arrival both melanistic (black plumage) and leucistic (partial albino -
missing pink eyes/feet) individual Great Gray Owls were found. These are
extremely rare world wide and I hope that good photos have been taken of
these birds to document their presence. I am aware that Mark Alt has video
of the melanistic individual and very much look forward to seeing his
recording. With his permission we will hopefully add some of this video onto
owling.com so others may see it too. We did photograph one individual with
very large white patches on the shoulders that was very interesting (was
said to be partial albino?).

My thanks go to Ben Yokel, Mark Alt, David Benson and several others for
their help and responses to my posts on the Mnbird list prior to our arrival
and contacts during our visit. The next wave of Boreal Owl sightings I will
continue to anticipate and hopefully be able to return to this area if and
when these owls start appearing in this incredible northern invasion.
Comments here within our owling group regarding these northern invasions are
educational to us all and something I hope we can open further discussions
about.

Dan Lockshaw
http://owling.com <BLOCKED::http://owling.com>
http://optics4birding.com <BLOCKED::http://optics4birding.com>



  _____


Patrick Harrison
Instructor, Computer Applications
Hannibal Public Schools
Hannibal, Missouri


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