Listening for owls this spring in NE Alberta

Owl surveys started way back in March, when the landscape in northeastern Alberta was entirely snow covered and all the lakes still frozen. The field work wrapped up in early May, and it was a successful field season. This year was a breeze compared to last year, when the snow was so much deeper and it took ages to snowshoe out to the points.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Snowshoeing down a seismic line

As part of my project looking at the effects of industrial noise on owls, I survey for owls acoustically using automated recording units (ARUs) at noisy and quiet sites. The best time to do this is between March and early May, this is the breeding season for owls and is when they are most actively calling. Since these acoustic surveys are passive, I don’t often get the chance to see any owls, but this year I was lucky enough to see a Great Gray Owl and a Great Horned Owl.


A recorder set up on an aspen; Great gray owl

It can be very challenging to conduct field work in late winter/early spring. It starts with snowshoeing and snowmobiling in pretty cold conditions. Then things start to melt, and it turns into that awkward time of year when neither a snowmobile nor an ATV seems like the best method to get around. The roads start to get all muddy, and roads that were totally fine to drive on earlier in the year become completely impassable. Despite the difficulties, it’s a beautiful and peaceful time of year to be out in the field.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hoar frost on a chilly morning

Now that owl season has wrapped up, I’m busy planning for the other component of my project, which will involve small mammal live-trapping to look at the dynamics of animals that owls prey on (primarily mice and other rodents).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



Red-backed vole

Photos and text by Julia Shonfield

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