Thursday, April 30, 2009

New Logo for an "Old" Organization

I just created this logo for the organization Coastal Raptors by modifying a photo taken by Rob Palmer in a recent visit to Washington.  Executive Director Dan Varland has been monitoring and banding primarily Peregrine Falcons on the Washington coast since 1995. He has begun the process of attaining non-profit status to pursue this passion full time. The bird in Rob's photo met a tragic end and was discovered dead April 10th in Newport, Oregon, killed and eaten by a Bald Eagle. These birds perch in a 20 foot tree on the beach and regularly prey on gulls, and unfortunately this falcon. Coastal Raptor volunteer Dave Murnen points out that this is a natural occurrence, better that being shot or running into a wire, and that she will "serve as best logo representing beauty, power, adaptability and flight that Nature has to give under her laws including... stuff happens."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Blast from the Past

 I just re-lived my former life as a taxidermist and mounted a pronghorn antelope for a friend. I began "stuffing" birds as a teenager at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, then branched to include mammals and fish at Bitterroot Taxidermy for about ten years. Our friend Steve Brett of Game Trails Wildlife Studio here in Florence, above with two greater kudu's, kindly let me finish up the antelope in his shop. I had a great time with stories and learning of new products and techniques since I gave up the vocation. I'm not entirely out of the loop, as Dale Manning of our Board of Directors and won the Best Taxidermist Worldwide award in 2007. He and Steve are encouraging me to get back into it, as it is an art. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hoot Up an Owl

Great Horned Owls are quite vocal this time of year, and nesting is underway, this one near Corvalis. New pairs have formed and old long-term bonds renewed. They don’t migrate, and more or less stick to their territories year ‘round and investigate sounds that they might interpret as an intruder (or potential mate.) We can imitate the owls’ vocalization and hoot up an owl or two, a wonderful outdoor experience. Just after sunset is a great time to try, and you can imitate birds that are already calling or try fresh with three to six hoots. The male call is a bit deeper and richer even though he is the smaller of the two. Often birds will get quite close out of curiosity.

Hans Peeters writes in his outstanding book, Field Guide to Owls of California, “The call is beloved of movie makers who wish to convey just how utterly lost the protagonists are in the dark woods...”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Photo Makes the Cover for the P Fund

My photograph of Jay Sumner's Peregrine flying through the cattails made the cover of the Peregrine Fund Annual Report 2008. With over 3000 members, this is great exposure. Taken in the 2007-08 falconry season, I shot this with a Nikon D200 and a 300 mm F4 with a 1.4 TC. My latest favorite "tool" has been the Nikon D700 and am still going through the photos from California. It looks like a bunch of shots from the egret rookery will be made into note cards, to add to the collection at Rockin' Rudy's. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Peregrine Surveys

Three trips out this week looking for Peregrine Falcon nests in the Bitterroot brought mixed results. On the first morning across the road, Sharon Fuller and I spotted a Peregrine nearly right away, as he flew up the drainage and perched on the highest cliff for 20 minutes. We anxiously tried to find his mate for the next three hours, scanning the rock with our scopes, but no female. The next drainage north offered no falcons, and hasn't for the last 5 years. Some day, though, as there are some beautiful cliffs up Carlton Creek. When I returned to our Peregrine site a few days later, a Prairie Falcon was perched on a lower cliff, and he escorted a Red-tail from the area. So as Jay Sumner predicted, both falcon species are probably calling One Horse Creek their home!
Yesterday I enjoyed a big hike up Bass Creek with Keith Fialcowitz, who took this shot and spotted some nearly invisible Mountain Goats on the distant rock with the binoculars. Great eyes, but no falcons. Perhaps they are all in their quiet month of incubating and difficult to spot. We''ll be back out in June, working with the Montana Peregrine Institute on nest productivity. Can hardly wait...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Timo To Be "Hacked Out"

Our program bird Timo Glock the Red-tailed Hawk will be free to come and go soon, and we began "hacking" him out yesterday. At first we thought that he had brain damage due to starvation as a youngster, but after housing him in the other hawks for a while, he seemed to fully recover. We've been waiting for warm weather and abundant rodents to hunt, and the first step was to place him in the 40 foot eagle building. All three birds will perch together, as seen here. Eventually he'll figure out how to get out through the larger fencing on the roof, and hopefully hang around for a while. This tactic has worked for several other hawks in the past, and one even came back years later and was in with the eagles, waiting to be fed!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Five Valley's Audubon Program

Just back from one our favorite programs of the year, Intermediate Birdwatching Class with FVA, hosted by Larry Weeks with Powerpoint bird ID by Kristi DuBois of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Participants learn the fine points of raptor identification in one night, to be tested in the field during subsequent trips. Pictured here are our new travel boxes, with Sibley in the back of the Subaru,  Timo the Red-tail on the right, Margo on the left (and Buster behind.) We are so glad to have these great-looking and comfortable boxes for their debut tonight, donated by Gretchen Albrecht of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and built by her very skilled boyfriend Pat. Thanks, Friends, All! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

San Jose Peregrines

As predicted by Glenn Stewart, Director of the Santa Cruz Predatory Research Group (seated here), the young hatched yesterday, atop the San Jose City Hall. SCPBRG installed the nest box in 2006, placed on a ledge after a pair of Peregrines showed interest in the building. Pictured are the so-called "Falconphiles" that monitor the nest of "Clara" and "Esteban." This is Clara's fourth year to nest here, and her third mate. He shared a lot of the incubation duties and we watched Clara fly from her perch (circled in the photo) and catch a huge white pigeon, that she plucked on a bank building nearby. Fifth from the left is Evet Loewen, Chief Deputy City Attorney and head of the monitoring project. Check out the nest camera, and watch the babies grow, exciting stuff -

Monday, April 20, 2009

Humane Society

At Saturday's annual Missoula Humane Society Benefit Auction, I was invited to say a few words by Mayor Engen. A tour of the Raptor Ranch was on the auction block, and I recounted how our two cats from the Humane Society learned the length of a falcon leash at a very early age! A generous supporter pledged $575 for the visit, and such a great cause. I'm still going through the photos from the California trip, and have this Black-crowned Night Heron shot from the rookery in Santa Rosa. Tomorrow- looking for Peregrine eyries in the Bitterroot with Sharon Fuller, so up before dawn. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thanks, Tom

All of our birds were very well cared for in my absence and thanks to Tom Davis for his efforts. I have been going through the photos from the trip to California, and not too many raptors, but a lot of other birds such as this Harlequin Duck. He was braving out the huge winds at Morro Rock on Tuesday by hanging in a side channel of water released from the PG & E plant. I was surprised to discover him there. I'll be photographing many of our birds as portrait shots for the new book, and got lots of tips from Rob and Nick, who are busy with their own "assignments."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Back Home to the Bitterroot

Mom and I made it home from our California voyage, and I am downloading and viewing the 1000 + photos from the trip. This one is of a Peregrine chasing Sanderlings in Morrow Bay, taken from my aunt and uncle's deck. I could have spent a month perched there, watching and photographing the ever-changing tides, birds, and weather, with Morro Rock on the horizon. Rob reports that he has been very successful getting images of raptors for the new book, after a week in Arizona. He scored on Elf Owl, Western and Whiskered Screech Owls, and Zone- tailed and Black Hawks. He'll be there several more days searching for other elusive species. Then he's off to Africa! We'll keep you posted and share more photos from California.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Last Day in California

We are heading home today after 10 days of photographing birds and visiting friends and family and what a trip, leaving just in time for the summer-like weather to hit this weekend. Many of these shore birds will similarly head north and return to their breeding grounds. Our favorites have been Sanderlings, Whimbrels, and Marbled Godwits, all in huge flocks in the bay. I did manage to see several sea otters hanging near The Rock, and we'll miss this maritime paradise. Back to the mountains!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"County Gets a Whipping"

That was the headline today in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, and 60 mile an hour plus winds blew trees into power lines, cutting electricity to 12,ooo customers. The winds kicked in at 9:30 am, right after I spotted the Peregrines at the north cliff eyie at Morro Rock. I was convinced the male would return with food, so stuck it out for two hours, huddled behind a sign for a wind break. I finally gave up and got a ride back to town from the east eyrie, where the male falcon was holding tight under a rock overhang. The photo is Morro Rock from the Bay. Back at the Bayly house, hundreds of shorebirds packed the banks of the estuary waiting out the winds, and today, not a breath and calm. I hope to get some more photos of Peregrines on the hunt, then back to Montana tomorrow. Hearty thanks to all of our hosts for a fantastic trip to the Golden State! In the words of their governor, "We'll be back..."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Morro Rock

I spent the day exploring Morro Bay and Rock, a beautiful place of historical significance to Peregrine breeding in the state. In 1970, only two Peregrine pairs were nesting in the state of California, one here at Morro Rock. It's a volcanic mass rising 579 feet from the water and dotted with sea birds such as gulls and cormorants. Attendants monitored (and guarded) the Peregrine nest around the clock for many years, and starting in 2002, two falcons nested on the rock. Today, an estimated 250 pairs of Peregrines breed in the state. I saw only one male at the east eyrie, but am heading back today for more viewing and photography. We have observed dozens of attacks on shorebirds in the bay, huge flocks turning and breaking with alternating flashes of dorsal and ventral plumage, a sight I will never forget! The goal is to get a good photo of this behavior, so "always have your camera ready." Above are Oystercatchers just below the rock.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Birds on the Bay

Rob and I had a fabulous two days birding and sightseeing (looking for Peregrine eyries) with Glenn Stewart of the Santa Cruz Predatory Research Group, and even photographed his two Gyr/Peregrines in flight in the hills above the ocean. We also visited Bill Murphy for a tour of his breeding facilities and met his new Vizsla 
puppies and falcon chicks. To cap off the visit, Glenn, his wife Anna and I met the Falconatics of San Jose, a dedicated group that monitors the every movement of famous falcon pair Clara and Estoban that are nesting on the City Hall. And dedicated is an understatement, all led Evet Loewen. Yesterday I arrived at Baywood Park, home of my aunt and uncle, whose home is on the estuary of a huge bird preserve, with Morro Rock in the background of the shot from the deck by Roy Bayly. Bird life galore!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tule Elk

Our second day of photographing here in California brought more rain, but between the showers we were able to shoot the egrets again, then a trip to the coast. At Point Reyes National Seashore we were treated to heards of Tule elk, with the ocean as a backdrop. With Red-tails and Harriers mixed with California Quail and even a lone bobcat, we shot hundreds of images. Our host Michelle celebrated her birthday with friends at Bodega Bay, which is incidently the site for the Alfred Hitchcock film "The Birds!" Quite appropriate.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Photo Shoots

For the first time in months, it's been pouring rain in northern California, thwarting our attempts to shoot raptors with Rob and Nick. Between rain storms, we did manage to get hundreds of shots at a egret rookery, or breeding colony that happened to be right in the middle of a condominium development! After dark, we began selecting photos for the raptor book, and are getting excited about this project. I must say, narrowing down the final photos will be tough. And we'll have a "shopping list" of species yet to photograph.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

We're Here

Mom and I made it to California safe and sound, Mom at her sister's in Baywood Park and I'm at Nick Dunlop's beautiful house in the hills of Sebastopol. Nick, Rob Palmer and I are on a mission to select photos for our new book and are starting our shopping list. We are off today to photograph some local raptors, starting with Red-shoulded Hawks and White-tailed Kites.

Here is a kite shot by Nick, taken on a sunny day in Petaluma. This is gorgeous country, and balmy compared to Montana.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

California Here We Come

Busy packing for the big trip, and putting together my collection of photos for the new book, Raptors of the West. This recent Rough-legged Hawk shot might make the cut along with the amazing photos from Rob and Nick. The three of us will sit down and figure out who has what and what we need. Then Rob is off to Arizona for a few weeks with a "shopping list" of species. We have 200 photographs in our Falcons of North America book, and will surpass that number this round with 41 species of hawks, eagles, falcons, Osprey and owls. I am hoping I can continue to blog while on the road.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

More and more snow

The birds don't seem to mind all of the April snow, and we got several more inches last night. The skiing is outrageous however, and we are enjoying the deep stuff up a Snowbowl, with an extended season. I'll miss the end, and instead will be photographing birds on the California Coast with Nick Dunlop and Rob Palmer! Here is a shot of Sibley and Graham's building on the left, the Great Horned Owls on the right.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chesty in the Snow

Our 20 year old Harris's Hawk Chesty flies around the Raptor Ranch every day and just pulled a new stunt. Apparently one of our cats had delivered a huge vole (like a mouse) to the back doorstep this morning, which Chesty found and stole. I was so afraid that with this huge food item, she would take off and not return her building. To my surprise, she flew back  to eat it in the comfort of her enclosure, and as a reward for being so good, also had a half quail. Here she is, flying in the snow that has been constant so far this spring.

On the road again

The eagles Nigel and Max look on with Davis Point in the background covered in snow. The snow isn't letting up any time soon, and that's what happens in Montana as winter lingers. I'll be in sunny California next week meeting with our photographers Rob Palmer and Nick Dunlop to begin work on the new book. In the meantime, Tom will take care of the birds, and hopefully not be forced to shovel a path to the buildings!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Another day of looking for Peregrines, this one foiled by blizzard conditions in the Bitterroot. Our annual trek south to Painted Rocks got a late start, and by the time we arrived at the nesting cliffs, the snow was coming down too hard to see! The image on the right has Peregrines on the cliff somewhere, taken last year: