The “Amazing Criswell” wasn’t that good either…

Observation date: 16 April 2014

For the last ten years or so I have been observing and trying to predict the day of hatching of young falcons. I do this by watching to see “this” and then “that” in their behavior. I thought after I retired in 2008, I would really be good at it because I could watch every day. For the first four years, I was 2 for 4, .500 in baseball. The last six years, I’m 0 for 6. It seems I’m always one, two or three days off. This year has been my worst. Four days off ! Yes, you guessed it. They hatched today !

Food for chicks

Bringing in the prey                                        Photo by Cleve Nash

I had predicted the 20th of April and twice today the tiercel brought prey to the nest site then left immediately. The female did not come out either time. This all took place around noon. At 2:30PM he brought another prey item. She still stayed in the nest. I left at 3:00PM. He was still sitting under the “mantle” with bloody talons and a feather stuck to the side of his beak.

If they are feeding young, as I believe, and not filling the nest site with carcasses, you should be able to see them the 1st of May. This is when they come out to the edge of the nest site to defecate. I remember when she used this hole in 2010, the young had to climb up to the opening, so it took a little longer for us to see them. Stay tuned.

Happy trails, Bob

Item: Other nest sites being level, the young appear sooner at the edge. This nest site is more difficult.


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Feathers drifted down…

Observation date: 8 April 2014

With 13 more days of incubation to go, action has picked up around here.


Juvenile female peregrine                             Photo by Cleve Nash

Yesterday, a large juvenile female falcon or “brownie” followed the resident male who was returning to the rock with prey thinking it was going to get a meal. Boy, was it surprised! The tiercel began screaming as he approached the rock. The female left the eggs and made a bee-line for the young intruder. The male dropped the prey at the nest edge and joined the battle over the bay. The resident pair hammered the young bird time after time. You could hear a different scream from what must have been the young female. There was nothing that I could do. Who knows…it could have been one of theirs. A few feathers drifted down and the pair returned to the rock to brood. The young one faded into the haze long over the sand spit.

One of the other eyries that we watch in Shell Beach have hatched their young. Cleve Nash has been seeing the tiercel take prey into the nest site for the last three days. No young visible as yet. You can bet you will see photos right here. Stay tuned.

Happy trails, Bob

Item: “Brownie” or juvenile. Note dark brown plumage and narrow yellow band on the end of the tail.

juvenile attacked

Hammered repeatedly… Photo by Cleve Nash


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Rain, yes, but not in the eyrie…

Observation date: 2 April 2014

So far so good on the incubation of eggs. Today was the sixteenth day on the scrape*. Incubation intervals are anywhere from two hours to three and a half hours. Brooding puts a real kink in their eating schedule with only the tiercel hunting. I’ve seen a couple of times where she had to take her turn on the eggs with an empty crop. She was not really happy when he came back with a half eaten small sandpiper. As he made his landing at the edge of the eyrie, she stopped him cold with her chest, ripped the prey from his talons as she was berating him and flew off to the butcher block where she finished the prey in a half a minute. She let him sit for nearly 4 hours that time on the eggs.

During her off time she hangs around the rock, takes a dust bath, exercises a bit and perches, but not him, when he comes off the nest, he’s gone for two hours nowhere to be seen.

Wet rock face

Shining water drips down the rock face into the eyrie                                 Photo by Bob Isenberg

For the last few days, we have had more than a half inch of rain. You can see the peregrine in the hole we call the “mouth.”  Water flows from this hole into the large hole below which is the nest site. A lot more rain and the eggs could be floating. Most years, this nest site is dry at this time. Keep your fingers crossed.

Cleve Nash, our local photographer, was at the Shell Beach eyrie today. The falcons there are brooding, also, as is a very large Canadian Honker (Canada Goose) nearby whose chicks will be in great danger when they hatch. Stay tuned!

Canada goose tending eggs

Canada goose tending eggs                                                      Photo by Cleve Nash

Happy trails, Bob

Item: Scrape is a depression in rock or gravel in lieu of building a stick nest.

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Oriole spring…

I know spring is here, not by the calendar, but because I saw my first oriole at Morro Rock today. A beautiful male in breeding plumage. I got off a dozen shots of him with my Canon 70 D, but he was so elusive in the willow thicket all I got was a lot of foliage and a little color of him. When my “beach chair” birding buddies* arrive here from New York,  they will take care of him.

The south side falcons are in their fourth day of incubation. The female has lost her wide girth after laying this clutch of eggs, but she has been stuffing herself these last few days and at times, she looks as though she ate a tennis ball.

A very full crop     Photo by Cleve Nash

A very full crop                                      Photo by Cleve Nash

If our calculations are anywhere close, the chicks should hatch around the 20th of April. We will know for sure, when we see food for the chicks go into the nest site. However, the young won’t be visible for another two weeks. At that time, if they are strong enough, they will come out to the edge to defecate. Stay tuned.

Happy trails, Bob

* See archives: June 2013, “Birding by lawn chair.”

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A woman’s prerogative…

Observation date: 14 March 2014

Morro Rock

The “Rock”                          Photo by Bob Isenberg

It seems as though we have a change of venue this season. The resident female falcon has selected a nest site other than the “diving board” hole which she has used 9 out of 12 seasons. This year she chose the “waterfall” hole. She has only used this once before, that being in 2010 when she raised three young there that year. This is not unusual for females to make these changes as most men should know; it seems that they have a license to do this !

Morro Rock, peregrine nest site

Female in “waterfall” hole, male above in the “mouth”                      Photo by Bob Isenberg

I believe egg laying has begun.  The routine for the last two days is as follows. Female in the eyrie for 60 – 90 minutes, while the male perches nearby. When she leaves the nest site, she flies to a breeding rock, where the male soon follows and they copulate. He then returns to the nest site and disappears for 15 to 30 minutes. Then he will appear at the edge of the nest and stand there for nearly an hour while she stretches or exercises or eats something that he may have brought her. This scenario is repeated through out the day.

What I believe we are seeing is her trying to lay an egg,  then resting, while he guards the clutch when she leaves. She will not begin brooding until all four eggs are laid. This is so they will all hatch at the same time. If we are close in our observations, incubation should start late next week. At that time the eggs will not be left unattended for more than half a minute.

Happy trails, Bob

Item: North side falcons at Morro Rock are a couple of days ahead of the south side pair, we believe.

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Access restricted…

Observation date: 3 March 2014

Morro Bay Inlet

Stormy waves across the inlet Photo by Heather O’Connor

Video:  February storm 2014

Access to Morro Rock has been severely restricted due to extreme weather conditions with gale force winds. Not only was the gate locked to the south parking lot, but a police officer with flashing lights and loud speaker kept everything and everyone out, even to foot traffic. The waves coming into the harbor entrance were three to four feet high half way to Target Rock about 1/4 mile into the harbor. At high tide neither north nor south jetties were visible most of the time.

The gate was opened at 2PM today, Monday. Before that I was able to ride my new recumbent trike out to see the birds.

Bob Isenberg, ICE trike,

Bob with very new trike                                 Photo by Heather O’Connor

They seemed to be where I left them four days ago. The female standing on the “diving board” and the male on the lip of the “waterfall” hole. The rest of the week looks good for observations. I should have something better to write about than the weather.

Cleve Nash, Pacific Coast Peregrine Watch photographer, visited the Shell Beach falcons and said, “After a brief interlude with the tiercel the female retired to the nest site. Incidentally, this is the same one she used last year.

Happy trails, Bob

Item: Buy the time Heather posts this, Clara will have laid her second or third egg at San Jose City Hall. San Jose City Hall falcon web cam:

About the weather:   After three years of drought, we welcome the blustery winds and deluges here in California. It is a well needed gift that we appreciate and would like more of!

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Clean and dry…

Observation date: 21 February 2014

Soon after my last posting of February 14, I started noticing the female arriving with prey at the “rock” landing on the “chimney” or “butcher block” where she would plume and eat it. I have not seen her bring prey to the “butcher block” since last summer.  Previously for the last few months, she will kill and eat her prey away from the “rock.”

peregrine with prey

Peregrine with prey. Note tomial tooth and bloody talons                     Photo by Cleve Nash

But what I hadn’t noticed, until a few days ago, were the tiercel’s feet and talons covered with fresh bright blood from a very recent kill. The tiercel being one third smaller than the female cannot carry nearly as much as she can. The male after capturing a prey will bend over while flying and sever the head of the live bird in flight so as to lighten the load. This explains the bright oxygenated blood on his talons.

What I’m trying to tell you is that he has been feeding her for the last week. I just haven’t seen the transfer until yesterday. It was not an inflight transfer but one that took place at the nest site. As I watched her eating the prey, we all got a good view of her vent which appears clean and dry. It should not be long now before she starts laying eggs. I’d give it two weeks at most.

Happy trails, Bob


Tomial tooth and nare                                  Photo from Adirondack Wildlife

Falcons are equipped with a tomial tooth on either side of the beak, which fits nicely between vertebrae to sever the head.

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