Falconatics…

Observation date: 18 July 2014

A pleasant visit from two people that share the same passion and do the same thing that I do as volunteer interpreters for The Peregrine Fund through the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group… One of the few eyries that they watch is at the San Jose City Hall. Jon and Laurel Bianchi observe other pairs in and around the Monterey Bay area. They had never visited Morro Rock and were totally amazed at both the rock and what I have in front of me to share with everyone.

visitors to Morro Rock

Bob, Laurel and Jon Bianchi                                                  Photo by Heather O’Connor

“Stepping out of your car and seeing wild unbanded birds is something you find in very few places.” They spent the better part of the day with me, for the first hour seeing nothing all the while I’m explaining the perches and nest sites they have used. When it came to describing the “diving board” eyrie, they had heard of this historic nest site, but then anyone who knows anything about falcons has heard about it.

By one o’clock the juvenile tiercel arrived.

“It’s “Homie,”broken primaries, hanging left foot. Yep, it’s “Homie.”

Forty five minutes later, the adult tiercel landed on the throne, the highest regular perching site on the south side of Morro Rock. Now we have one bird in each scope and have acquired everybody’s attention. I told Jon and Laurel that for the last few days nothing happens until about 3PM. The adult male stayed only about 20 minutes. It’s 2:55PM and my guests are still here. I’m hoping the birds can tell time or I’m going to have to come up with a real good falcon story. At 3:20PM, all heads turn south to hear the unmistakable screaming of a falcon.

I yell, “It’s “Homie” flying out over the bay to meet some one. It’s the adult tiercel incoming, packing a prey item.”

On the second try “Homie” got the mid air food transfer. It seems with a bad foot, he tends to miss on the first try. Laurel got a photo. Jon and I watched with our binoculars. Although we never saw the adult female or the other two chicks, it was never-the-less a great day and there is always tomorrow.

Happy trails, Bob

Item:
The next day, I sat with Laurel chatting about how they got into this work. Laurel told me that she had been at Village Elementary School in the 4th grade and was asked to chose a research project. She was curious about falcons and with the help of her teacher, Sherry Stack, she made lots of fine connections with people such as Glenn Stewart at the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group (SCPBRG). It seemed her excitement was contagious and soon the whole family became interested in Laurel’s project.

She and her father are a part of a avid group who call themselves “falconatics” who monitor the San Jose City Hall falcons around town and by sitting on top of the 4th Street parking garage taking down the details of the peregrine activities. They are linked to other falcon watchers with radios/walkie talkies to keep track of the falcons.

From February to July, they go out on weekends to observe the falcons in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  During incubation, they aim to make the trip every other day to zero in on the hatch date. Eventually they are doing a “fledge watch” and have a party having recognized another successful season of the peregrine watch for SCPBRG. Lots of data has been collected and the value is inestimable. Numerous researchers use this data.

visitors to Morro Rock

Bob and Laurel observing “Homie”                                                  Photo by Heather O’Connor

Laurel’s father, Jon, has been excited about this type of work for years and has taken school children out of field trips to learn about the great out of doors. Both Bob and I could see the passion in the eyes of Jon and his daughter, Laurel, who has been doing this for 6 years. We are so glad that they came to visit us at Morro Rock.

Peace, Heather

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Hardships overcome…

Observation date: 11 July 2014

My last couple of entries have mentioned injuries concerning the adults eyes. For the last few days while observing juveniles, the resident south side chick referred to as “Homie” had been favoring his left leg. I thought it might be just a typical pose standing on one leg as they often do, but when he went to put it down it did not touch the rock and the talons were partially closed like a loose fist. Later that day after observing him fly, the leg would hang down and not retract into normal flying position. In the photo below, look carefully for the lowered leg hanging down.

 

peregrine with injured leg

Injured juvenile with hanging leg                                                     Photo by Bob Isenberg

I, also, noticed he had two broken primary feathers, one on either wing. Today he flew out to meet the tiercel who was returning with prey over the parking lot. The tiercel dropped the prey to the chick which he failed to catch. The tiercel caught it in mid-air and swooped up and gave him a second chance. The juvenile caught the prey on the second time and returned to the rock to dine.

These birds are active for 12 to 14 hours a day; I spend five to six hours a day so there is a lot I don’t observe. As to what has happen to this youngster is anyone’s guess.

Happy trails, Bob

Item: “Stumpy” is a White-crowned Sparrow whose left foot fell off three years ago. She will sit on my chair or hand and has raised a clutch of chicks every year. I know that because she fills her beak with cookie crumbs and flies off to feed her young across the parking lot in the brush above the willows.

"Stumpy" showing her left footless leg   Photo by Bob Isenberg

“Stumpy” on Bob’s chair showing her footless left leg                                             Photo by Gordon Robb

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Something worthwhile…

peregrine, Morro Bay, CA, chicks

Peregrine chick

We are creating a scholarship fund for college students in ornithology. Our first effort is to give you the option of choosing our organization when you visit and make purchases from Amazon.  We will receive .05% of your purchase price from  Amazon Smile. It sounds like a tiny bit, but many of you doing this will give students the benefit of helping hand in college.

 

All you have to do is press the button to the right and select “Pacific Coast Peregrine Watch” from their list.  We have our 501(c)(3) status as an educational nonprofit organization. We would be very grateful if you would choose us when shopping on Amazon.

Happy trails, Bob & Heather

Item: I am working on  getting the button to fit onto our web page a little bit better. Please be patient.  ~Heather

 

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Awestruck by maneuvers…

Observation date: 30 June 2014

Air shows by juveniles have been the theme of the last couple weeks. Visitors and friends that have come to view the peregrine falcon have been totally amazed and awestruck by the show of speed, maneuvering and antics of the three young birds.

Juvenile at speed   Photo by Cleve Nash

Juvenile at speed                                                                    Photo by Cleve Nash

The two young from the north side have for the most part taken up residence on the south side of the rock for the last three weeks. Even though the two are not offspring they are fed by the south side adults. In the last few days, the single chick on the south side who can be readily identified by the extra large creamy cheek patch and stays around the rock constantly earning the name “Homie.” He seems to give me always something to put a spotting scope on. With him, I am never without something to show the public.

When I think the two young have gone back to the north side because I have not seen them all day or the adults, around 3 PM all four return to the rock after a day of hunting over the sand spit and estuary. Meanwhile, ”Homie” holding the fort down has not eaten for 7 hours although he has been trying his best with the cliff swallows and white-throated swifts that abound over and around the rock. I have yet to see him capture one. All three of the young have seen the adult falcons chase gulls off their nests then swoop in and grab a fuzzy gull chick. The young are good at the former, but not yet at the latter. I have yet to discern why the two young did not stay with their own parents. With both nest sites having young at the same time, I could only watch one.

Happy trails, Bob

Item:
Concerning the previous story about the falcons’ eye injuries, both male and female injuries on opposite eyes have now healed. Eye injuries such as these are common mostly when aerial food transfers to chicks occur.

Nictitating membrane deploying   Photo by Cleve Nash

Nictitating membrane deploying                                              Photo by Cleve Nash

In the photo above, food is transferred from the adult’s talons to the beak so as to not entangle the talons on the transfer. The incoming chick reaches up to grab the food from the parents beak which makes the adult’s eyes very vulnerable. The nictitating membrane protects the eyes from damage.

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An eyrie full…

Observation date: 10 June 2014

A steady progression in learning flying skills is taking place on the south side of Morro Rock. All three chicks are flying very well, now that the big young north side  female has caught up in her flying skills.

peregrine, juveniles, sparring, in flight

Sibling juveniles flying high                                                  Photo by Cleve Nash

Yes, I did say three young on the south side.

peregrine, juveniles, in flight

Flying skills of the agile youngsters                                                       Photo by Cleve Nash

If you remember the south side pair only fledged a single chick, and the north side had two. The north side juvies had been visiting the south side and have not yet returned home.

peregrine, juvenile, feeding

Feeding time                                     Photo by Cleve Nash

The two adults on the south feed all the young, their own and the two adopted from the north.

peregrine, juveniles, feeding time

A fresh bite of shore bird for a youngster                                            Photo by Cleve Nash

I don’t know what happened on the north side to either of the two adults to send the chicks to the south, but I did see the same thing happen six year ago in reverse when the south side female lost her mate of six years and this new tiercel showed up when she had young in the eyrie. The day they fledged, the new male hit them very hard. The two young crying and limping to the north side and never returned to the south side and their mother. The north side pair fed and reared three of their own and two from the south side and one more from some other eyrie, six in all !

I have to dig into the mystery further to see what might have happened on the north side. I did see the north side male trying to herd his young female back to the north, but the south side adult female ran him off. He was last seen half way to Los Osos via the sand spit flying at full song.

Watching the adult female early this morning, I noticed she had an injured right eye. She kept closing it and when it was open she would continually squint. I don’t know if it could have been a fight with another falcon or hit by prey she was trying to capture in flight. Who knows?

Happy trails, Bob

Item:
To photograph the injured eye of the adult female is difficult because she perches with the injured eye towards the rock.

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A cheeky neighbor…

Observation date: 1 June 2014

The last few days were play days for the young juvenile falcon. The lessons can be fun. While chasing the mother across the face of the rock, he was trying to stay with her turn for turn. He was able to do this even at great speeds if there were a series of short quick turns in a relatively straight line. Where he fell a little short was in the long sweeping high G turns of 180° and more. He could not stay with her and mushes out in the turn. Even though he has broader wings because of the feathering of juveniles,* it is the lack of muscle strength in the high G forces that kept him from being able to stay with her. In time as his strength and ability grows he will be able to stay with her.

On photos that need enlargement, please double click on the photo to get a closer look.

peregrine, juvenile, Morro Bay, Morro Rock

South side juvenile peregrine                                         Photo by Bob Isenberg

For the last two days, he had been visited by one of the juveniles from the north side. We don’t know why he likes coming over other than to play and spar with the south side youngster. At two different instances, the north side juvenile had chased the south side adult female thinking it had prey for him to eat. He had given up chasing her and landed on the “butcher block.” I think she felt sorry for him, later retrieving a tidbit from a  stash she took it to him and fed him. Twice, in as many days. I have witnessed this in previous years and it’s not unusual for a female to feed someone else’s chick, however, the tiercel is not so sympathetic with the youngster from around the north side and had smacked him several times on occasion.

In observing the two youngsters, we have been able to identify the north side chick by the coloring on the head. The cream colored cheek patch which defines the malar stripe* is very large creating a thin mustache, pencil thin, like Errol Flynn. The patch giving him a very cheeky appearance. He does not fly as well as the south side chick as he must be somewhat younger. As of this writing, the south side juvenile has been flying twelve days. I suspect Errol Flynn has seven or eight days flight time, because I don’t know exactly when he fledged. The south side juvenile has already become adept at aerial food transfers. Yesterday, a few of us saw a food transfer which he accidentally dropped and flying after it caught it in mid-air. I think he surprised himself. He certainly surprised all of us watching.

These periods of excitement don’t last very long, but are well worth seeing to the enthusiast. There are long periods of sheer boredom when birds are just perching, digesting, resting, sleeping, etc.

If you expect to see any of this exciting activity happen, plan on staying at least two hours, unless you are very lucky.

Happy trails, Bob

Item: Six years ago, the new south side tiercel rejected her two chicks from another father. He ran them off to the other side where the north side female adopted and fed them with three of her own.

*malar stripe – A marking on a bird’s face that extends from the base of the bill to the side of the neck, usually in a downwards and backwards direction. It reduces glare. i.e. It is similar to the black marks that football players use on their cheeks.

*feathering of juveniles – Feathering of juveniles is longer and wider creating more surface area as to make it easy to fly, aka ”training wheels.” After thirteen months these feathers will be replaced by adult plumage.

peregrine, juvenile, Morro Bay, Morro Rock

Soaring peregrine juvenile fully feathered                       Photo by Cleve Nash

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Hallux…

Observation date: 23 May 2014

Holidays at Morro Rock in the spring and summer are not a lot of fun for me, unless I’m back home by 9AM. After that it is total bedlam. The south parking lot is long and narrow and when you have ten or more cars parked in the “NO PARKING” zone it makes it even narrower yet. The signs that say “NO AUTOS WITH TRAILERS” and “NO MOTORHOMES” might as well be in ancient hieroglyphics. The only thing I can compare it with is a boat launch ramp at a large popular lake on the 4th of July in a 100°F day. Both make for a good source of entertainment.

I apologize to the people who looked for me there over the weekend, but Friday was enough. That day many of the visiting people were entertained for the better part of an hour with the young south side juvenile perched 60 feet up the slope on a large rock within proximity to the path.

peregrine, juvenile, Morro Rock

The chick                                                Photo by Bob Isenberg

It is constantly used by people walking to the jetty, tide pools and beach area. The adult female was having a fit with the young one being so close to all these strange human activities.

peregrine, juvenile, Morro Rock

Falcon screaming protection calls                                   Photo by Bob Isenberg

She vocalized her displeasure incessantly for 40 minutes. You think she would have become hoarse. She was so upset, she cleared every gull perched or nesting within a hundred yards in any direction. A cheer went up from the many observers watching every time she hit one, continuing on to the next bird, many with an inside loop to pull feathers from the next victim in line. She would pause and stop for a few minutes and perch near the chick on a pointed rock.

peregrine, juvenile, Morro Rock

Mother’s protection                                       Photo by Bob Isenberg

When the gulls would return within a few minutes she would then start all over again, her screams never ceasing. I tried to warn people away from the young, but like dummies, they had to walk underneath for a closer look and until the female dove on a dog that a lady was walking, did anyone heed my advice. After that a few did !

To my astonishment there were many seasoned birders who had never seen this awesome display of guardianship at this close range. At times, she would make passes on the gulls 10 or 15 feet above your head. It was spectacular, especially the high speed ones.

An aside: The tiercel perched quietly in the “arrowhead hole” as the foray ensued. All this excitement and he never moved and inch to join in.

As of this posting the two north side chicks we have been observing have not fledged as of yet.

peregrine, juvenile, chick, Morro Rock

17 May 2014 – North side chicks                            Photo by Cleve Nash

Happy trails, Bob

Item: The lady and the dog were totally oblivious to the pass the falcon made as it was coming from behind her and out of the sun. This is when the most damage can be done to persons or prey. It is the hallux* that rakes the flesh or pulls feathers.

* hallux – The toe which faces backwards on most raptors. In hawks, this is the talon most responsible for puncturing the vitals of prey.

peregrine, juvenile, Morro Rock, talon, hallux

Right talon showing hallux                              Photo by Bob Isenberg

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