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GOT EEEM!!! Trapping a Snowy Owl

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The night before the trapping attempt, I laid out two amulets. One was my snowy owl, the other my Eskimo face. Both are soapstone, one of my favorite substances. I believe both to be powerful. Both were gifts.  I'm not sure about the owl pendant's provenance,  as I think it was purchased in an Iowa antique shop, but the face was carved by an Inuit woman in 1976, somewhere along Hudson Bay, way up there. They seemed most appropriate choices to lend their magic to the success of this hunt.

I've always worn them when I needed strength, like when I'd be giving an important talk in an intimidating setting; attending a home birth once; venturing into New York City. The Eskimo pendant's leather thong broke when I was very young and running across a street in New York, and her chin got chipped, and that, as well as a lot of other things about that place, told me I really had better get back to the country. I look at that chip and think about that moment every time I put the amulet on. I feel thankful that I live in a place where animals and birds are my closest neighbors.

Waiting for action. Photo by Michael Schramm, USFWS
With many other involved parties, including area birders who'd watched over the bird for the past week;  Michael Schramm from the Ohio River Islands NWR; State Ornithologist Rich Bailey;  Joey Herron, bird bander and photographer; Jesse and Vince from ACCA in Morgantown; and local law enforcement officials, Phoebe, Liam and I sat for several hours in the parking lot at Faith Baptist Church on 10th St. in Vienna, WV, waiting for the snowy owl to leave its post and go for the bait. That's Shila there in the pink hat! and Rebecca Young of USFWS's Ohio River Islands NWR just to her right.  We've got a battery of scopes, cameras and optics at the ready. It would be a 6 1/2 hour wait. The owl would fly when it was good and ready.

Our view from the church parking lot. Vince Slabe waits in the shadows to the left of the pole  (the second one back) where the snowy owl sits. And sits. 

 On the Winter Solstice day that we gathered in Vienna, WV, to trap the snowy owl, I believe both of my soapstone amulets were both working overtime, as that owl finally launched himself off the telephone pole and flapped down, headed for the trap. Of course the amulets may have had nothing to do with our luck. It was all up to the owl, and he took his own sweet time deciding he'd answer the call. But believing in them is part of their power. 

2:07:37 pm. He flies toward the bait.

From across Pond Run, I saw Jesse, the avian veterinarian, start running toward the trap site. It's 2:08:02 pm.

Then Jesse stopped dead.  It's 2:08:10. I couldn't see what was going on, but I stopped, too, and waited.  The last thing I wanted to do was to rush in and spoil things! What I didn't know was that the owl was on the ground at the bait, and Vince was struggling with the cannon net.

When Jesse started running again, I did, too, splashing through the creek, cradling my big lens in the crook of my arm. 

I found out later that when the owl took the bait, and Vince triggered the explosives, nothing happened.

He had prepared the net carefully. It had fired perfectly at least a hundred times before. But not this time. 

Vince, packing the net for its next firing. Which didn't happen. Photo by Michael Schramm, USFWS
 So Jesse grabbed a pole net from his car and snuck up behind him and dropped it over the owl, just like Elmer Fudd used to do to Daffy Duck.  Only a lot more smoothly and successfully. Bird bander and ace photographer Joey Herron caught and kindly loaned the moment that the owl's fortunes changed for the better.  
photo by Joey Herron
photo by Joey Herron

The net that finally caught him. It occurred to me, looking at it, that we might have been able to use that net on the owl over at the mall, when it was so debilitated that people were walking right up to it and trying to pet it. But that may be 20-20 hindsight. I'm glad Vince trapped the bird the old-fashioned way, asking it to come be trapped with food.  

photo by Michael Schramm, USFWS
The back of Jesse and Katie Fallon's car. In it you can see the cannon net, the black bow (clamshell) net and the (still perfectly fine) bright-eyed black gerbil who served as bait for the venture.

The next thing I knew,  at 2:10:28, Vince had that beautiful white owl in his arms, and Rich Bailey and Joey Herron were there smiling broadly. Jesse was back at his car, going through his medical supplies, getting ready to assess and rehydrate the bird.

I was so glad I had my telephoto lens, so I could close in on Vince, and capture the moment in his life that he first held a snowy owl in his arms. I don't know if he was trembling, but I could hardly hold the camera still.

The tenderness and concern on his face and in his hands moved me deeply. He has lifted it and felt how little it weighs. He knows this owl is in deep trouble. I know before anyone says anything what they have found, just from the look on Vince's face. 

And sure enough, when Jesse and Vince weigh the owl, it comes in at 1100 gm--400 short of the 1500 gm minimum for a healthy male snowy owl. He's lost 35% of his body weight. Did the emaciation occur over the two weeks since he was hit by the car, or was he already thin when he arrived in West Virginia? It doesn't really matter. All that matters now is saving his life.

And here I must stop, for goodness knows I have other presents to wrap! This story is my gift to you. In my next post, I'll have videos of the owl's first veterinary assessment, and news of how it fares in the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia's clinic in Morgantown, WV.  Hint: He's a real fresser!

If you'd like to send them a little Christmas love, hit this link. 

Thank you VERY much for following this story and helping ACCA care for this beautiful northern visitor.


Way to go, all of you! What great teamwork! And Happy Winter Solstice and many good thoughts to Snowy.

I can't think of a better last-minute gift-giving recipient! Thank-you for YOUR gift to us, Julie; Merry Christmas!

This story is your gift to us, Julie. I'n so glad that Snowy has a chance now. Can't wait to hear more!

Posted by Anonymous December 24, 2017 at 1:18 PM

Love this story, the teamwork and the passion. All of it. Oh yes, we will make a gift to this snowy with the hope he recovers and thrives. Already can't wait for the next post!

May that owl... and America... have a better 2018 than 2017. Crossing my fingers.

Thanks, JZ. What a story! What an account!

Grateful -- for all of it! The time of all involved during this busy Christmas season, your reporting and care. Awareness of a new rehab facility and veterinarian dedicated to birds. Best gift for sure. Still much good in the world, thanks for reminding me. And there is Love shining through. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Kim in PA

My eyes are swimming with happy tears... Thanks for the beautiful stories and pictures!!


Although it is hard to imagine an ingredient in this story more powerful than the perfect beauty of your snowy visitor, it might be the awe on the faces of the humans. Thank you for sharing the story with those of us who have not yet been blessed with seeing such a creature!

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