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Ogdensburg Snowy Owl begins an online travelogue

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OGDENSBURG — A snowy owl spotted in mid-February behind the Ogdensburg Free Academy has begun a life online after being tagged with a tracking device that feeds his current location to a website.

Tagged by Thomas M. McDonald of Rochester, a snowy owl tracker and member of the crowd-sourced conservation effort called Project SNOWstorm, the owl has been named “Oswegatchie” and was determined to be roughly seven months old and male.

Mr. McDonald said Oswegatchie was likely hatched on the tundra and began his journey south, aided by this year’s cold weather, to find more food.

Weighing in at three pounds with a wingspan of between four and five feet, Mr. McDonald said Oswegatchie is fully grown.

After trapping the bird, Mr. McDonald enlisted the help of Ogdensburg City School District maintenance mechanic Jeffrey J. Bailey and Mr. Bailey’s daughter, fifth-grader Madison G. Bailey, install the GPS tracker on its back.

The tracker is attached to a harness that reaches around the bird’s chest without limiting the movements of his wings.

Madison said when Mr. McDonald brought the bird inside to tag him she immediately knew she wanted to be the one to release him.

Mr. Bailey said, after looking at the one-inch talons on Oswegatchie, he was hesitant to let her hold him, but then he realized that it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he relented.

“I had to put my index finger through his legs and hold on just above the talons,” Madison said.

Madison said she was nervous, but excited, to hold him.

“He was really, really warm, and he wasn’t really heavy,” she said. “He was looking everywhere.”

After Mr. McDonald fitted him with a tracking device, Madison let Oswegatchie go behind the school.

“It felt like he was fanning me,” she said of the gusts of wind that Oswegatchie’s wings created as he took off.

Mr. McDonald said the tracking device is solar-powered, and whenever it’s within cellular tower range it transmits the bird’s travels from the last three days.

The transmission is staggered to prevent photographers, bird watchers and hunters from antagonizing Oswegatchie, Mr. McDonald said.

Anyone interested in watching Oswegatchie’s travels may log onto www.projectsnowstorm.org and look for the interactive map of his journey.

Mr. McDonald said that once the bird gets far enough north and is outside of cellular service areas, the tracking device will store a log of his locations and will update the website as soon as he gets to another service area.

Anyone can use the information on the website, Mr. McDonald said, from amateur bird enthusiasts to university researchers.

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