Thursday, December 31, 2009

Birthday Mallard

I am 50 years old today, and what a way to begin the celebration with a mallard in the front yard! Sibley caught a duck and got soaking wet in a tiny slough trying to drag it out onto the ice. Immediately her feathers froze solid and rattled as she shivered in the 15 degree morning. Back in the living room, I broke out the handy hairdryer and she enjoyed the blast of hot air. Cracks me up.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day

A stunning view of Missoula, looking north to the Rattlesnake Wilderness, taken from the hills above Lolo. Our webmaster and good friend Steve Palmer and wife Mindy hosted their annual Christmas Open House, great fun!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays from Raptors of the Rockies

Best wishes for the holiday season from all of us at the Raptor Ranch! We celebrate 22 years of programs since our "humble beginnings" with a beater Datsun station wagon and four birds back in Clinton. We became a non-profit and started this web site in 1999 (thanks Steve Palmer.) By far the biggest improvement of all was our move to the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula in 2001. All new enclosures were constructed on ten acres on the banks of the Bitterroot River, heaven on earth if you ask me. This year was another excellent year with 52 programs (hey, one a week!) and heading to 1300 total since the start. Our 15 raptors make up a fantastic collection of teaching team birds, from Max and Chesty that will be 21 years old next year, to the new Red-tail Alisa that turns 1. We look forward to 2010, and wish you all a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shot O' the Day

Jay Sumner's Peregrine Marlis chases a duck right past me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

See Her On the Radio

Alisa the Red-tailed Hawk had her grand debut on Montana Public Radio yesterday, tens of thousands "seeing" our new bird from their home, work or auto as they listened. Alisa was perfect, stepping onto the glove then perch with host Annie Garde in the control room, safely behind a big pane of glass. We always have our first presentation for new birds live on the air, the "Pea Green Boat" children's program a daily staple for over 25 years and going strong; a wonderful start for what looks like a long career as an ambassador raptor for this big, beautiful hawk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sunday's Snows

We spent some time digging out of the first (finally!) snow storm of the season, and faithful dog Rudy has a dry spot on the deck, by the Barn Owl sculpture and underneath Chesty the Harris's Hawk's "nest" on the arbor. Bird buildings in the background needed some digging out too, a pleasure after all of the dry weather and bitter cold. Next - dig out the ski gear, somewhere around here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ansel Gets a Roommate

We have just been approved to keep a hatch-year Red-tailed Hawk that has been residing at the Bitterroot Wildlife Rehabilitation Center since early July. The youngster was standing on the ground under the nest, and after several days, was retrieved by a a neighbor. We determined that she was totally blind, and rehabber Judy Hoy hand fed her mice with cell salts and electrolytes, confident that her vision would improve. With monthly visits to our veterinarian Dr. Doug Bower at Florence Veterinary, we were encouraged to find that her right eye was showing pupil reaction and it appeared that she could see, distance at least. We were happy to find that she could feed herself and was very calm (and beautiful) so should be a great program bird, and roommate to Ansel the falcon. Notice the brick-red tail, but a she's a young of the year. She dropped all twelve tail feathers at once in July, and they all came back with adult coloration. Her name comes from my friend, Alisa Clancy, jazz aficionado, KCSM 91.1 FM Jazz radio, San Mateo and live on the web. And friend A'Lisa, different spelling! Her first program is also a radio-event-this Thursday on Montana Public Radio's childrens' program, Pea Green Boat, 4 to 5 p.m. on the left side of your FM dial.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Loon-er Landing

This bird was in our living room yesterday morning, a Common Loon that was found at a neighbor's house the night before. Darla Cotton recovered the stranded loon in a driveway after it probably landed there thinking it was water. This occasionally happens on big parking lots, the asphalt making a sheen like a lake. With their legs situated far back on the body, they require a runway of water to take off and fly, so we just had to get this guy into a waterway. Easier said than done, with the sub-zero weather lately, but we found a nice backwater of the Bitterroot River at Lee Metcalf Nat'l Wildlife Refuge. Darla said that the bird was attacking her kids in defense and the razor sharp bill poked a hole in the cuff of her pants. She had him in a big plastic container with cargo netting over the top, and he got in one quick stab wound to my forehead before swimming away. If he sticks around, it will make a first for the Christmas Bird Count next week!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Raptor Round-Up 33 Is Up!

Raptor Backers, check your mailbox today or tomorrow, as a few hundred of these newsletters are winging across the country right now. AND check it out on our web site in glorious color. Lots of great stories and photos.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Potomac Program on the Coldest Day of the Year

When we scheduled this assembly months ago, we had no idea the temperatures would be negative 22 degrees in Potomac. One bank sign displayed minus 196 degrees, but I think they misplaced a decimal point. We arrived to find "indoor recess" in the gym, as it had just warmed to ten below. Then we had the automatic bleacher installation = 7th and 8th graders. The youngsters from Bear Creek Day care joined us (bottom right.) Our teaching team birds and students were exemplary, and we love Potomac! Been doing programs there for twenty years.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hang a Hawk for the Holidays

Sure, that 45 inch high-def plasma TV would look great on the living room wall, but how about a photo of one of our teaching team birds also? Every year at this time, we encourage people to Adopt A Raptor and support the program as a gift to a loved one for the holidays. In return, the lucky soul receives a matted photo portrait of their chosen bird, and you have a nice tax-deduction receipt and thank-you card. The suggested adoption fees range from $50 to $1000, but of course for a million bucks you get the whole crew. Donations like these make up half of our revenue and keep us going!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ice Capades

This weekend's duck hunting with the falcons was especially challenging, with frigid temps and ice everywhere. In this photo, Sibley knocked a drake to the very edge of the ice in a shallow slough, and tried bringing it to the bank but kept slipping. When she began plucking I had no choice but to retrieve raptor and prey and laid out flat on the ice scooting forward. Right as reached for the duck I plunged through, but had a chance to sling the birds back to the shore. Fortunately the car was a short distance, and I drove home in long underwear and socks and headed for the shower. I'm glad it was relatively mild that day, compared to the 8 below zero right now!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chesty Is Back At It

Chesty the 20 year old Harris's Hawk is back collecting sticks in the yard, and building a nest (or trying to) over the arbor on the deck. She flies around the property up to a few hours a day, for the last three years, and every now and then she gets the nesting idea. With a red 100 watt bulb in her building for heat all winter, her photoperiod is out of whack. That would tell her the proper season to molt and nest, but now she'll do both at the oddest times. I let her build away now, and she'll let me know when it's time to go back to her building for feeding- she flies circles around he house! In this photo she is trying to pull sticks off an oak tree that my Mom planted when we moved to the Bitterroot, back in 2001.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shot 'O The Day

Yesterday, Sibley stooped 400 feet right through the woods on some ducks in a slough by the Clark Fork River, all of which escaped in a dash for deep water. Here, she signals that she is ready to go home.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Barred Owl Released

Yesterday the latest rehab Barred Owl took off into the forest, near the spot she was found hanging in the fence two and a half weeks before. She gave us one parting glance and disappeared, to hopefully put this chapter in her life behind her. No more lab mice, Missy!
ps: This looks really nice as a print, matted and framed; a nice gift for the holidays for the bird-lover. Let me know and we can have Custom Digital Imaging "blow one up."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vital Ground Friends

We are thrilled to be included in a gorgeous two-page spread in the quarterly Vital Ground Newsletter, just out. Their headquarters are here in Missoula, and earlier this year Sib the Peregrine and I paid them a visit. Executive Director Gary Wolfe suggested that we could be featured in their upcoming issue as "Conservation Colleagues." Vital Ground is dedicated to protecting and restoring North American grizzly bear populations for future generations through habitat conservation. "Where the grizzly can walk, the earth is healthy and whole." Christine Paige wrote the story, with Randy Stekly's clever layout, and 6000 copies are printed. I especially like the inclusion of the photo of Jay Sumner and I with our falcons along side John Craighead, the pioneer of grizzly research, and wife Margaret. John is an honorary board member of Vital Ground, as is Jennifer Aniston, Jeff Bridges, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jack Horner, and Brad Pitt. Hey, you folks are invited over any time, and let's have a board meeting at my house!
Check out Vital Ground at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Battle of the Penguins

We delivered my penguin sculpture to mentor, Bill Ohrmann's on Friday, and now our birds are standing side by side. When I showed him the sculpture of the Great Horned Owl in June, the eternal question came up, “Whatcha gonna make next?” I whipped out a photo of some penguins with a laugh. Bill studied the birds on the card for a long minute, then told us, “Well, we could use stainless steel for the front...” What started as joke became a friendly competition, five feet tall, metals of your choice, on your mark, get set, GO! We conferred a few times on the phone and he wrote me a letter when were were welding away:
“I made mine leaning forward as if about to dive into leopard seal infested water and so have a fatalistic look on its face.”
“Say, I think we should now make a leopard seal- can’t you see it- made of stainless with brass spots and green marble eyes-?"
Now here they are displayed with a myriad of other majestic animal sculptures and paintings. And how cute. The Ohrmann Museum and Gallery is 2 miles south of Drummond on Scenic Highway 1, and they will have their annual Open House on December 12 and 13th, always a highlight for the holidays

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Collaborative Effort Owl

This adult female Barred Owl was found hanging in a barb wire fence last Saturday in the Blackfoot Valley, wings splayed but head held high. Keith Koch recovered the bird and had her in his hunting camp, saving her life and feeding her until the transfer on Monday. Then, Dr. Sandy Moore at Ancare Veterinary did a quick x-ray to find no wing breaks. And on the way home, Kelly at the University Labs gave us some much-needed mice. So we'll watch this bird with hopes she will fully recover for release to her old haunts. This bird is the bitey-est animal to ever come into our care, so what a great attitude for survival!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Our" Rob Wins Big

Rob Palmer, our Falcons of North America book photographer just won big worldwide, with two gigantic awards and one pending. Check out the next National Wildlife Magazine issue, as he has three images included, especially this one of a Bald Eagle catching a Red-winged Blackbird - Best Image of the Year for NWF 2009! The second huge honor is the BBC Best Bird Photographer in the World, for which he was wined and dined in London and around the UK. While there, he of course spent many days in the field with his camera and falconers. He is in the running for Best Photographer, National Audubon, and we'll keep you posted. Along with Nick Dunlop, we are working on our next book with Mountain Press Publishing and these images will be included, for sure. Way to go, Rob.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Montana Wildlife with JB

We just spent two hours with the University's Montana Wildlife Class, our first program for them in many years. Joel Berger is the instructor and we had him out on a falconry trip up the Blackfoot the week before. JB (as the students call him) is the John J. Craighead Chair of Wildlife Conservation, so he and Jay had a lot to talk about as he worked for the Craigheads for 25 years in grizzly research. My goal in the class was to get someone, anyone to laugh and a long first 15 minutes of trying my darned-est. They finally came around though, and a tough crowd. I told them that when I was a zoology student at U of M, we had to write papers rather than buy them on the internet, an observation that was lost on the class. Thanks JB and good luck in Tibet!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Road Trip to the Matador Ranch

Jay and I just returned from three days of flying and fun near Zortman on the Nature Conservancy's Matador Ranch. Guests of Montana TNC Director Kat Imhoff and her husband Jeep, we were in heaven on the Highline on northern mixed-grass prairie. The Matador is a 60,000 acre "grass bank" where 13 families graze their cattle in exchange for practicing conservation management on their own ranches. We found our favorite spot right away, a Sharp-tailed Grouse and pheasant paradise, with ducks in ponds nearby. Pictured here is Jay's 1 1/2 year old Peregrine Marlis in a close fly-by ( I meant to cut that wing off, yea, that's it.) The grouse proved hard to keep a foot on, and we have great respect for this new and slippery quarry. Special thanks to Barbara Cozzens, TNC Director of Northern Montana Prairies for her amazing hospitality and cooking, and especially stories that kept us all spellbound. We'll be back, as the area is surrounded by cliffs that surely hold some Peregrine eyries!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Birds And Art For Our Bitterrooters

Yesterday we joined 30 youngsters for an afternoon program of Birds And Art at nearby Lone Rock Elementary School. Sibley the Peregrine showed off her flight feathers, then with Miles the Great Horned on a glove on my left hand, I went through the steps of drawing an owl on the board. They all joined in and took home some precious artwork. Here a student proves that he is not afraid of color, and even put a hat on his subject!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wildlife Photographer, Jay Sumner

Jay gets a close-up of Sibley the Peregrine on a duck today. With stealth and a Canon camera, he captured the action as Sib plucked the mallard drake.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Falconesse

When Allyson Cowan was 11 years old, she accompanied her Mom to a Raptors program at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, where Julie worked on Bugle Magazine. Allyson decided right then and there that she would study birds and certainly one day be a falconer. Her senior project in high school was on the sport, and as an apprentice she trained a Kestrel (several photos in the Falcon book,) a Red-tailed Hawk, plus used our Prairie Falcon in her final presentation to the school. Today Allie got her first bird as a General Falconer, a female Richardson's Merlin, and high hopes for the hunting season. We made up the word, but it seems really appropriate and it is what she uses as her email address - The Falconesse.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Big Day! Program Number 1200!

For at least ten years, we have presented to the Missoula Chamber of Commerce group, Leadership Missoula, folks bettering their skills in workshops ranging from business management to awareness of natural sciences. Today we celebrated our 1200th educational program since we started in 1988, and what better audience than these long-term partners. With the venue of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula, we filled the closing hour from 4 to 5 p.m., with sponsors bringing in treats for attendees to enjoy at the end. I was delighted to find that appetizers were provided by "Hooters," and their gals posed here with Jillian the Great Horned Owl. A few Leadership folks timidly admitted that they didn't at first understand why I thought that was a great idea, but then saw the reasoning. Cracks me up.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

If You Don't Like the Weather, Wait a Week

We've had a 65 degree change in the temperature in one week, with record-breaking lows last week, 14 degrees lower than ever before in the state. Monday was the coldest with 5 degrees at our house and 70 yesterday. That's Fahrenheit. We winterized the Harris's Hawk buildings with heated perches and 100 watt red light bulbs, but unplugged everything mid-week with the balmy temps. Today, Sib had a big flight in the Bitterroot, heading over here from an irrigation wheel to continue hunting for nearly and hour and half total. I now why they say "lucky duck."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our Last Program With The Bug Man

We just fished an hour with the Florence first and second grade, and our favorite teacher on earth, Byron Weber. Since we moved to the Bitterroot in 2001, our birds have made the quick trip across the road for a visit to the elementary school, and this will be the last with Byron. He is retiring after a lifetime of teaching, from high school to first grade and even preschool. His love and knowledge of the natural world and his passion for journaling have been absorbed by thousands of students. Appearing once a month on Montana Public Radio, he discusses his number one interest, entomology, with host Annie Garde. Asked him today if any "bugs" ever got loose on the show, and he said maybe once or twice!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eagle Enclave

Yesterday the rehab Bald Eagle joined the three Golden Eagle boys in the 40 foot enclosure for a test of her skills. We wanted to see how well her balance and flight abilities would be after her slight injuries and so far, so good. She immediately jumped up on the big horizontal perch and stood tall surveying the river. Max, our 20 year old Golden Eagle was a bit put out (below), but he'll get over it. Rescuer Shane reported that the place he picked her up on the railroad tracks was impossible to reach by car. Instead we plan a release at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge on Friday. Join us if you would like, and I can fill you in on the details.
UPDATE 10/16: Released and flew away just fine!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Heroics on the Railroad Tracks

Fast thinking and ingenuity saved this Bald Eagle, found on the railroad tracks near Nine Mile by Shane Baertsch. Shane has worked in maintenance on the track department for Rail Link for 15 years, and admits he couldn't pass this bird by yesterday, standing to the side and unable to fly. Shane caught her fairly easily then had to come up with a way to restrain her until his shift was over and he could get her to a rehabber. Despite the frigid weather, off came his thermal undershirt and he fed the neck and head through one sleeve. The eagle body inside, he then wrapped legs and dangerous feet with the other sleeve, secured with "the handyman's secret weapon," duct tape. Here his is at delivery with the rehab building in the background and inside after a big meal this morning. This is a hatch year female, slight concussion and wing droop, and should be back in the wild in no time; and I must say, the most clever thinking of anyone to deal with a big predator!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Elk In the Foreground

Jay Sumner and I spent the day on another hunt with our Peregrines, and this time I got a photo of a herd of elk with the backdrop of the Bitterroot Mountains south of here. A great time with new friends and big storms predicted for tonight so don't know when we'll get back and have such fun. Huge winds and snows, but we love this time of year!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Action in the Distance

Another photo from our pheasant hunt at the Rocky Mountain Front, and here is the tiercel about to hit a hen after a 300-400 foot stoop. It's hard for me to judge height with the smaller male Peregrine which I'm not used to seeing. Anyway, he smacked this bird with a loud whack, and she disappeared in the brush. Up went the falcon again and he caught another hen that he rode to the ground. When we got back to the truck, we discovered that one of the transmitters attached for radio telemetry was missing. We always install two tracking devices on the anklets of our birds in case they decide to fly off. With receivers in hand we traced the beeps back to this spot. About to give up, Jay finally found the tiny black (!) transmitter with antenna in a bush, the cable tie to the falcon's anklet broken in the impact with the pheasant. Skip immediately put some bright orange tape on the transmitter, so we can find it easier next time this happens.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Boy, Did I Blow It

Our great friends Jeremy and Gretchen Puckett and their 5-year-old daughter, Lydia just visited for a few days and we had a ball. The couple were my photography mentors twelve years ago and moved to Paonia, Colorado where Gretchen works for High Country News. The four of us went out to "shoot" some birds at nearby Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge where we talked Nikon cameras and told stories. After a half hour of duck-watching, this bird flew in and landed in the cattails. It was an American Bittern, the first one I have ever seen at the refuge, and where were our cameras? In the car! When it flew again I messed up those shots, then followed the bird, running down the road heading west. Just as I spotted the signature camouflage of Bittern in the weeds, it flew directly across twenty yards away. Up went the camera and what's this? I had replaced the lens cap before the run and blew the shot of a lifetime and instead got this lousy one, flying away. We told more stories on the way back, including how the day before, Jeremy and Gretchen missed an otter family photo, also twenty yards away, because they had their camera on timer mode. It happens to everyone, I guess.

Friday, October 2, 2009

So What Is Happening Here?

Jay Sumner and I just spent two days hunting with our Peregrines and our pal Skip Tubbs in Choteau, and I grabbed this shot in the afternoon. Skip was bringing his tiercel (male) back to the truck after the bird had clobbered a Ring-necked Pheasant. Skip was thrilled to see his English Setter, Dizzy, holding a point in the grass, and when we got close he flushed the hen. This pheasant was the luckiest of the batch, to fly off after the falcons had scored their game, and a beautiful sight.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bye Barred

Our friend Sue Reel released the rehab Barred Owl today near St Regis, and he flew off after a little hesitation to leave the comfort of the travel box. She offered to make the long transport and was thrilled to see him make his way through the trees of his nesting grounds to perhaps rejoin his family or make it on his own. Sue's family has long ties, as her husband Dick Hutto of the Avian Science Center and Professor of Ornithology at the University of Montana was my advisor when I started here in zoology in 1978. He immediately put me to work as a taxidermist, and I prepared study skins for the museum, to be reminded that I could just "stuff" all of the raptors, and had to work on songbirds too. Their oldest son Rusty graced the pages of our Raptor Round-Up with a Harris's Hawk on his glove, and Paul had the honor of a close encounter (flying by his head) with Sibley the Peregrine on a falconry trip last year. Theirs is a bird family, as is ours.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Bird "Way Out of This World"

I got this shot of a shorebird on the Bitterroot River beach behind the house while lounging with a friend, and sent it to local bird expert Wayne Tree for ID. He informed me that with that "unmistakable spangled back" it was a hatch-year Sanderling, quite rare for this area. "I was floored when I opened that email," replied Wayne. He has the distinction of starting a monthly ritual of people submitting their Best Back Yard Bird. Jim Brown of Missoula Audubon started emailing Wayne his selection at the end of each month 11 years ago, and after a while Wayne decided to expand the inquiry to 50 people at first. Now he gets species-of-the-month's from up to 220 people from around the state, 132 lists so far. After we send in our BBYB, Wayne posts the list in a mass email, always a treat to see what other birders are observing. A questionable sighting might be critiqued by Wayne, but his goal is better bird identification and to keep everyone informed about what's out there. Is anyone else in the world compiling a Best Backyard Bird list? "Not that I'm aware of."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Everyone Loves a Barred Owl

Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Mike Fegely recovered this Barred Owl at the work center in St. Regis last week and we figured he must have bounced off a window and had a concussion. This is a young of the year, which we know because all of the feathers are the same age and the tail feathers are pointed on the tips. And male because he is small. He has been recovering nicely and thankfully eating mice on his own. Sue Reel, educator for 20 years with the Forest Service (and in the last blog) is taking him back to his natal origins, i.e. the work center, for release and we hope he won't get into more trouble. This kind of rehab is sure easy!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hawkwatching with Steve Hoffman

I was lucky to spend two days with the Director of Montana Audubon and founder of Hawkwatch International, Steve Hoffman. On Friday, he and I scouted out some Bitterroot flyways south of Darby and Saturday were joined by about 20 hawkwatchers from Aububon for a field trip to Sula Peak Lookout. What started as a dismal flight and no birds for several hours turned into beautiful views of a wide range of species when the wind kicked up at 1 pm. Before that, Steve said he thought the birds were just too high to see, several thousand feet overhead. We were treated to Sharp-shin and Cooper's Hawks flying together so we could see the difference (the "flying mallet" and "flying cross") plus Taiga and Richardson's Merlins. We also watched Golden Eagles, Turkey Vultures, Harriers, a Swainson's Hawk (which was an adult female dark phase - thanks Steve!) and Kestrel, and finally, the most common hawk around here, a Red-tail. We were one happy group and a memorable day with friends, Sue Reel and Deborah Oberbillig pictured here with Steve.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Earth Care Meeting Tonight

Amy Cilimburg kindly hosted a gathering of women at her Rattlesnake, Missoula home this evening, with a great crowd of 22 gals concerned about the environment, politics, and issues important to us all. Our Number-One Raptor board member Deborah Richie Oberbillig organized this group 7 or 8 years ago and they have held friendly meetings of the minds every several months since. In this photo we discuss ways to recycle aluminum and plastic bottles, and host Amy topped off the discussion with her recent battle of bringing climate change to the forefront with her role in Montana Audubon. Lively conversation, great energy, optimistic outlooks, and more than one bottle of wine! We all look forward to the next Earth Care Circle, and contact Deborah if you would like to be included:

Raptor Round-Up 32 Is In the Mail

The latest Raptor Round-Up Newsletter is in the mail and on the web site. I write three of these a year and since we started this blog page, it is easier to recount the activities of the last four months. As a matter of fact, I had to edit some longer stories to fit it all in! Heritage Printers in Missoula produced this one, and I got a tour of their business, including a few antique off-sets presses that still work; great fun for a printmaker like me. In this edition - Our visit to the World Center for Birds of Prey, Penguin Sculptures, DotCom, Montana Peregrine populations, Missoula Art Museum workshop, Riverside Osprey, Bald Eagle babies and more. In Color!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Turkey Vulture Migration Begins

A quick shot from the front yard minutes ago, as I noticed these Turkey Vultures all rising in a thermal. Then, as if on cue, they all headed south in a line, "streaming" like water in a stream bed. They will lose altitude then all find another thermal to get back high, and continue on this way through migration. These northern birds end up somewhere south, where the food of carcasses isn't frozen for 5 months a year.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It Ain't Over Yet

The Kootenai Creek fire across the valley was just a little column of smoke like a campfire at noon, and I had a great view while flying Sibley in the Sapphire Mountains. When I got home, we witnessed the biggest plume yet from this lightning-caused wildfire that started on July 12th. High winds really pushed this fire Saturday evening, and it may force some evacuations at Kootenai and Bass Creeks. We sure hope not, with cooler weather Sunday. This is a photo looking up the driveway west into the Bitterroots from above the welding studio (formally the garage.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Shot of the Season

Despite my advice from Rob Palmer to "always have your camera" I have been reluctant to bring the Nikon up on the hill to shoot Sibley the Peregrine flying, as she is still molting. This morning I got this photo of her chasing a homing pigeon (they always escape and beat us back to the ranch.) So as you can see, she still needs to drop a few feathers. The first shot of the season, and many more to come.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Birds And Art, Hellgate Style

Yesterday Miles the Great Horned Owl and Sibley the Peregrine were perfect models for an hour with 35 art students at Hellgate High School. Teacher Marvin Pauls arranged the visit, and met us in the parking lot to help haul birds and reference materials. In what seemed like a mile of hallways carrying a hooded falcon on a glove, we heard at least one hundred exclamations of "dude!" My art teacher Jack Walther was one of my biggest inspirations in high school, and we are still in communication. I even named a bird after him, JayDub the American Kestrel. Marvin gave me a beautiful gesture drawing he made of Sib, which is currently hanging here in the office.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Faces For the Voices

We hosted a "company picnic" yesterday for our friends at Montana Public Radio, some of the staff at KUFM. After a tour of the teaching team birds, we retired to the beach for a barbeque. Standing in the center are Cherie Newman and Zed, sitting is Annie. On the far right are John Meyers and John Floridas, with Program Director Michael Marsolek hiding in the background. We were also joined by Joe Korona and Joan Richarde, and did we talk music! Thanks to my old friend Susan Jamerson for organizing the now annual event. The brother and sister team of Rudy and Peanut did a pretty poor job of living up to their name Retrievers, and you could probably hear Rudy's splashing and barking in Missoula.

Friday, September 11, 2009

We Really Do Take Birds On the Radio

Montana Public Radio children's programming host Annie Garde and I set sail on the daily show Pea Green Boat yesterday, birds in tow. We are guests every couple months for the hour-long live broadcast, and some people wonder if I really bring real birds to a radio program. There was no doubt yesterday, as Evita the Swainson's Hawk and Margo the Sharp-shin flapped wildly when they came out of their travel boxes. The last guest, Ansel the Gyr/Peregrine hybrid shown here with Annie, was quite vocal, and even called (okay, screamed) as if on cue when the closing music started up. Annie is always on the other side of the the glass in the control room, where it's safe. All birds on their best behavior with tasty rewards when they got home. We sure love KUFM!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Yesterday I was talking with Nick Dunlop about what photos we would still like to get for our new book Raptors of the West, and we agreed a few more Cooper's Hawk images would be nice. Five minutes later, look what was in the back yard, this young male checking out our birds. We also need some California Condor photos, but I'm not holding my breath, at least for Florence, Montana. Not a chance.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why Is This Man GRINning?

I recently roped Lloyd Kiff into a tour of the library and specimen collection of the Peregrine Fund at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise. Here he displays a drawer of Peregrine eggs from their breeding project to restore the species. Lloyd is the coordinator of a very ambitious collection of literature and researchers interested in the Falconiformes - hawks, falcons, eagles, and ospreys. The Global Raptor Information Network, or acronym GRIN makes available tens of thousands of papers and contacts from around the world, available at no cost through the Peregrine Fund website. Lloyd graciously invited me to join the esteemed list of researchers on their home page, so check it out, along with the species accounts. Their quest is endless Lloyd admits, with the multitudes of papers and ongoing projects globally. You might be on that web site for a while, if you're like me!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Artists' Reception Saturday

Come see what all the commotion is about at Caras Nursery and Landscape, 2727 S. 3rd Street W. in Missoula. The artist's reception coincides with their Caras Bucks, so come see the Outdoor Sculpture Show and pick up a nice oak tree or fountain. The sculptors will be there to discuss their work on Saturday, Sept. 5th from 10 am until 1 pm. My brand new King Penguin is on the right, then the new Jillian the Great Horned Owl made out of 18 gauge cold-rolled steel with copper eyes, and on the left, two cool fish by Greg Chambers. I bought one!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

THE Season Begins

Falconry season opens today, and Sibley has been flying up on the exercise grounds across the street for a week. The tossed out homing pigeons have evaded her and they head back to the loft a mile away. After 6 months off to molt and hang out in the house and her enclosure (here, with vines) she was back on the wing last Monday. We were both a bit rusty, and finally she is ready to chase some pheasants tomorrow. My mentor John J. Craighead once told me, "If falconers relied on their birds to put meat on the table, we all would have starved years ago."

Monday, August 31, 2009

Long-Distance Raptor Friend

We recently met a raptor fan that has made the last two public programs, the Bannack ghost town gig near Dillon and yesterday's Community at the Confluence in Bonner. The remarkable part is that she lives in Polson on Flathead Lake, so her round trip miles are about 560, lots of road time. Pat Salmon is a true friend to the raptors, and yesterday she presented me with this photo she took at Bannack on August 1st, a winner. Buster the Northern Saw-whet Owl is also in the "leave me alone, I'm molting" stage, so has some time off. However, Sibley accompanied us for a discussion of the near-by Bonner eyrie and the 4 fledglings this year. Jillian the Great Horned Owl was on her best behavior and a portrait of Nigel the Golden Eagle even made the Missoulian newspaper. Thanks to Pat Salmon, and Judy Matson who organized the great event at the site of the former Milltown Dam, now gone and Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers flowing free.