For the third consecutive year, Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge collaborated with partners and volunteers to band northern saw-whet owls at Petit Manan Point unit (Sept 28-Nov 6, 2016). The Refuge has identified the peninsula of Petit Manan NWR and islands like Metinic Island as important stopover sites, especially for hatch year birds making their first migration.
Northern saw-whet owls breed in the boreal and northern hardwood forests of the US and Canada and migrate to lower latitudes for the winter, with the northeastern population having a cyclical increase in reproductive success and subsequent migration irruption every 4-5 years. The autumn of 2016 was one of those “irruption” years, and was a busy one at Petit Manan Point. The banding station operated 6 nets on 30 nights (265 hours) and captured 431 owls. The two busiest nights for migration were October 14 and October 27, when 66 and 73 owls were caught respectively. Nets were open daily from sunset to sunrise weather permitting, and audio lure of saw-whet calls was played to attract owls to the nets. In addition to capturing saw-whets, 6 barred owls were banded and released at a distance away from the Point.
Barred owls are usually thought of as year-round residents, with a territory size of at least a square mile per owl. During years when prey populations result in reproductive pulses of saw-whet owls, the same abundant prey also result in more young barred owls being produced. These young barred owls then disperse to find vacant areas where they settle in as permanent residents. During this autumn dispersal, barred owls are often captured at saw-whet owl banding stations, sometimes while attempting to prey on the much smaller saw-whet owl.
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The Petit Manan Point station is part of Project OwlNet, a continental network of more than 125 banding stations. Several saw-whet owls banded at Petit Manan Point from 2011-2016 have been recaptured at other stations in the eastern US (Figure 1). Saw-whets owls outfitted with small radio transmitters (nanotags) in 2014 traveled by Metinic Island and St. John, New Brunswick during migration that year. Project OwlNet is responsible for much of what is known about saw-whet migration routes and timing.
Volunteers and partners make this project successful! Dave Brinker, of Maryland DNR and the founder of Project OwlNet (www.projectowlnet.org), initiated the current Petit Manan Point station in 2014. Adrienne Leppold of Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is the co-director of the Petit Manan saw-whet owl netting effort. Adrienne assists with all local details of station operation throughout the owl season. Each autumn, Dave comes up to Maine to set up the station and get it operational while training a volunteer bander that will be on site all season.
In 2016, Dave recruited volunteer Nate Weyandt to run the station. Nate is from Latrobe, PA and just worked a greater sage-grouse research project in Utah. His main hobbies include fishing and bird banding. This was the first year he captured owls and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially because they are difficult to see in the wild otherwise. Nate was joined by volunteers Ed Conrad and Caroline Jordan for the last 3 weeks of the season after operating a passerine migration banding station at the Schoodic Institute. Ed banded saw-whet owls on the Refuge in 2011, when we first documented the importance of the Petit Manan peninsula to bird during migration. We now hope to establish a permanent migration station at Petit Manan Point. In 2016, 27 volunteers contributed a total of 750 hours to this project.
Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands NWR, the banding crew had a wonderful house to stay in after long nights of banding. The Wehr family donated the house to the Friends group, and who will soon transfer the property to the Refuge. The Wehr house was an immense improvement to living in the cramped banding station travel trailer with no running water. Without the Wehr house, it would have been very difficult to attract volunteers for an extended amount of time. Thanks so much to all of the Friends, volunteers, and partners for making this season possible!