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A tale of two trackers

Wadasé Zhabwé

Wadasé Zhabwé

Submitted by Jennifer Randell and Bree Dunham

As most of you may know, Sept. 20, we successfully released Mko Kno, the first eaglet that was hatched at Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Eagle Aviary this spring. He was fitted with a satellite GPS telemetry backpack much like Wadasé Zhabwé wears. We opted for an improved version that weighs slightly more than hers but has twice the solar panel surface area, which provides longer battery life and better overall performance.

Rob Domenech from Raptor View Research Institute, who placed the backpack on Mko Kno, has had problems in the past with the smaller trackers on eagles that live in areas that have extended days without good sunlight and harsh winters. Although we have had great success with Wadasé’s device here in Oklahoma, we trusted Rob’s experience with higher success rates of the larger device. Now we couldn’t be happier with that decision.

We have had to rely solely on the GPS to monitor Mko Kno’s progress because we have had only one positive sighting. A week and a half after he was released, we just happened to be out front when he came flying in from the river, low along the creek, just above the treetops. He didn’t stop; he just turned and headed east, back toward the Iron Horse Bridge, where he had been staying since his release along the North Canadian River. That was the closest he had been to home since. Wadasé was also in the area near the aviary off and on during that same week, and we hoped they might find one another.

As luck would have it, after checking telemetry, we confirmed Mko Kno and Wadasé had not only crossed paths but were, in fact, together. They stayed together over the course of the next few days, flying more than 35 miles as they meandered southwest before stopping near Goldsby, Oklahoma, on the Canadian River for the afternoon. The following day, they headed north to the North Canadian River, but they did not stay together long. Apparently, big sister was taking him on the Oklahoma scenic river tour, and he wasn’t impressed and had other plans. Just north of Mustang, Wadasé veered to the west, and Mko Kno continued on north.

It would be another three days before we had new telemetry data and we anxiously waited to see where he would stop. As the new GPS data loaded onto the screen the morning of Oct. 4, we nearly fell out of our office chairs in disbelief, as we continued to scroll north up the map, following his path out of Oklahoma and halfway through Kansas.

Once the initial shock wore off, we studied the data and learned he had stopped briefly at ponds and small streams along the way until he reached the Chaney Reservoir just northeast of Wichita, Kansas. He spent just over two weeks there, fishing his way around a good portion of the lake before continuing, again, further north. Another shocking round of GPS data came Oct. 20 as Mko Kno was on the move again. The new data cataloged his trek as he passed through Lincoln, Nebraska, and turned west before settling 20 miles from the Platte River. We have been fortunate to make contact with landowners and they are excited that they may have the opportunity to see him hunting from several very large reservoirs on their land. Landowners also confirmed the ponds have been stocked with fish. His movement looks great, and he seems to be staying in a good habitat where there is a good food source.

While we are surprised Mko Kno has gone so far from home so fast, we weren’t surprised by his ability to do so. He is a robust, strong, healthy eagle, and he showed great hunting instincts when presented with live prey before his release. His mother was hatched in Montana, so we aren’t sure where he’ll go from Nebraska, but we are thankful for the telemetry. As he heads north, the area he is in will see far more winter weather than Oklahoma. Last week’s cold front that moved through the area brought his first snow, so the bigger backpack with more solar panels is proving to be a wise decision.

We have a lot to learn as we follow this young eagle but one thing he has already shown us, if we weren’t already aware, is that the relationship we have with Wadasé Zhabwé is so rare, and such a blessing for our people. The fact that she comes back to the aviary after all this time is just amazing. It is truly a one-of-a-kind relationship. Although they each helped the CPN Aviary achieve two pioneering accomplishments, they are different. Wadasé was hatched in Florida, but she’s never left the state of Oklahoma since her release. In fact, her average distance from the aviary is 65 miles since 2013. Mko Kno is already 400 miles away. One thing is for sure; we check telemetry every three days and hang on to our seats as we get new data.

With the holidays just around the corner, things will be busy for everyone, including Wadasé. By Christmas, Wadasé should have chosen a nest site and a mate. Her first eggs should arrive shortly after the New Year. While we all hope she comes back to nest in the aviary, we can’t help but be reminded how thankful we are to see her and for the telemetry both eagles wear.

The data collected will direct how this program moves forward in its ability to continue to follow this path and honor the eagle. What we have learned from the data and our peace of mind knowing they are both thriving in the wild is priceless. It is an honor to continue to share their stories, and as always we look forward to sharing them with you.

We encourage you to keep your eyes out for Wadasé and Mko Kno if you are near the areas they frequent. For more information about the CPN Eagle Aviary in Shawnee, Oklahoma, or to read previous updates, visit potawatomiheritage.org. Share your encounters with Wadasé, Mko Kno or any other eagles in Oklahoma or wherever you may be with us at aviary@potawatomi.org.