December 31, 2011

2012 FRG Winter Bulletin

Snowy Owl Year
In November, it became apparent that this was going to be a Snowy Owl year, the first one in awhile. At this point, there are around 30 at Boundary Bay in BC, 9 or so at Ocean Shores, several over at Dungeness, a couple down by Stanwood, 2-3 up on the Lummi Flats and reports of individuals in Seattle (including the Woodland Park Zoo). So it is a good year for them but not a massive one like in the 1970’s.

First Known Record of a Snowy Owl in Hawaii
Hard to believe but a Snowy Owl has actually made it to Hawaii, a minimum of 2,300 miles off shore. In late November, the bird was observed and photographed on the runway at the Honolulu Airport. The best guess is that it hopped from ship to ship to make it that far across the Pacific. Incredibly and tragically, it was shot almost immediately by the USDA Wildlife Services branch, a totally unnecessary response. It is reportedly now at the Bishop Museum.

Odd Merlin Band Recovery
Jack Bettesworth reports that an adult female Merlin he banded at its nest in NW Seattle in 2010 has been recovered after hitting a wire in downtown Yakima on 11 December 2011. This is the first record we have of a known breeder leaving Seattle, flying east across the Cascade Mountain range and winding up in eastern Washington. It is surprising that a local Merlin would leave the food-rich resources of a major city and essentially fly SE. As always, we keep learning thanks to our colleague Jack B., one of the best raptor guys around.

Sea-Tac International Airport Raptor Management Program
It has been a very busy year for us at Sea-Tac. The primary goal of our raptor program is to reduce the number of bird-strikes involving birds of prey at the airport and we seem to be succeeding. As we enter the 11th year of the program, we are approaching the 400 tagged bird mark. In an average year, we catch and relocate around 35-40 birds. This year we are at 109 birds as I write this newsletter. We experienced a massive influx of juvenile Red-tails in both the spring but especially the fall season. In just 6 weeks, we successfully relocated 45 young Red-tails away from the runways. We have never seen this number before. On a single day, we caught and relocated 12 birds, including a double catch on a BC trap. Late night on that one.

Blue Tagged Red-tails
In January 2009, we began putting light blue numbered patagial wing-tags on all juvenile Red-tailed Hawks that we transported away from the runways at Sea-Tac. Our purpose was to assess what was happening to those birds. Was our program working?
Over the last three years, we have tagged 98 juveniles. Due to the conspicuous nature of the markers, we have received reports of 40 of these birds (79 sightings). Many have been seen multiple times, like Blue Left 15 (seven sightings). He has ranged from Bellingham to near Mt. Vernon. Other birds have been reported from Victoria and Surrey, BC to Whatcom, Skagit, Island, Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties in WA and two others in Oregon (PDX, Lexington and Hubbard in eastern OR).
Among these 98 hawks, only a small percentage (6 birds) has returned to Sea-Tac. Four of those were seen only once before moving on again. One more stayed for a month in spring, then left. The final bird was struck by a jet within a few days of returning. From these data, we can see that relocating young Red-tails away from the airport works well.
If you see one of these birds, please note the date, location, number on tag and the side where it is attached (males are on the left, females on right). Then call Bud (360) 757-1911, or e-mail your sighting data to

Annual Skagit Flats Winter Raptor Survey
Our traditional Skagit hawk census will be held on Saturday, 11 February from 9-11 AM. Route leaders will be hearing from Ed Deal soon if you haven’t already. If you are new here and would like to join the effort, please contact Ed at (206) 723-4742 or

Snowy Owl Lecture by Denver Holt at the Skagit Census
Denver Holt, a world class expert on owls and Director of the Owl Institute in Montana, will present the annual lecture at noon this year. He will be describing his extensive research on the Snowy Owls in the arctic and bring us all up to date on what is known about this engaging species. Good timing....

Remarkable Final Update: Island Girl Photographed in Chile
On the last day of her southbound migration in Chile, Island Girl was observed by Alvaro Jaramillo,(author of the Birds of Chile) and his tour group at an estuary near San Antonio, about 100 miles north of her final destination at Putu. Alvaro was even able to take two superb photographs which he has posted on his website, Check it out, especially her transmitter.

Ed Deal reports the following local peregrine band returns.
1.      A nestling (A-62) he banded at the famous downtown Seattle eyrie (1201 Third Avenue Building-“WAMU”) on 3 June 2011 has been seen hunting near Alameda CA on the shores of San Francisco Bay in November. Ed reports...”She was the only survivor of three eyasses. Interestingly, she was recently photographed hunting shorebirds on 28 SEPT 2011 near Hansville, WA (20 miles or so NW of Seattle). She is the second Washington Mutual bird to make it to California (a HY male was killed by a plane at LAX many years ago).”
2.      Ed writes...”A second WAMU female banded in the nest 24 MAY 2002, was picked up badly injured in Oakridge, OR (42 miles southeast of Eugene) 15 March 2011, taken to rehab, later had to be euthanized. Suspected to be part of a nearby breeding pair. Given normal reproduction starting at age 2, she would have had potentially 7 breeding seasons. So there are likely many grandchildren of Stewart and Belle in the central Oregon Cascades!”  This is so nice to know...

Hawk-watching Classes
We will be teaching our traditional Hawk-watching in Western Washington class in Bellingham, Mt. Vernon and Seattle this year. Sorry to date us all but this will be the 30th anniversary of this class! Please pass along the dates to friends, relatives and others to help support our work.

City                   Dates                                      Location
Bellingham     9 Jan-6 Feb (Mondays)     Whatcom Mid. School Library
Mt. Vernon     10 Jan-7 Feb (Tuesdays)               Padilla Bay Center

           11 Jan-8Feb (Wednesdays)              Discovery Park

The class will include the usual five sessions (7-9 PM) covering field ID, behavior and distribution of raptors plus an all day field trip to the Skagit Flats to look at wild hawks. Cost of the course is $150.00. To register, please send a check to Box 248, Bow, WA 98232. For information call (360) 757-1911 or contact

Annual Dues
If you like what we do, you can help support our work by donating to the FRG. Annual dues are just $25.00 per year. And, as always, thank you for your support.