Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shot O' The Day

A quick photo of the male Peregrine cruising a cliff on the Blackfoot River, Bighorn Sheep in the foreground. We'll be on constant vigil starting next week with the expected salmonfly hatch on the Blackfoot. These Peregrines and ones in a nest upstream feed on these aquatic insects when they take to the wing. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

That's What Happens When You Live On the River

A spring ritual is removal of the bridge that crosses a slough behind our house and allows us to walk to the river. This year the Bitterroot waters rose so quickly that Tom had to wade out and grab the cable that staked it down, the bridge bobbing downstream in the current. Our pal Mark Nanke gave us a hand, and normally this is a little channel ten feet across with an island in the background, then the river. The floodwaters have remained steady so far, thankfully. Twice in the last eight years we've had water flowing across the driveway and resorted to a kickboat to get in and out. The weather experts are saying that it will cool off next week, so maybe we've "dodged the bullet."Last year the crew from Ducks Unlimited Television re-istalled the bridge in July to film in the beach. Hey, you're invited back! 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hellgate High School Birding Adventure

Our favorite teacher, Dave Oberbillig led two days of bird watching for his high school students from Hellgate and the weather (and birds) cooperated. Armed with binoculars, scopes, and a Golden field guide, the 60 students were challenged to identify the myriad of birds on their own. Dave's wife Deborah and I gave some hints, but basically they learned what field marks lead to an ID. Pelicans, cormorants, Wilson's Phalaropes, Pied-billed Grebes, and lots of species of ducks were spotted on the water, and Sandhill Cranes, Northern Harriers, and Red-tails in the sky. The resident nesting Ospreys showed off their fishing skills, well, the male did anyway, and Wild Turkeys lined the road on the way out. The "dickie" birds were also looked up in the field guide - Eastern Kingbirds, Marsh Wrens, and Song Sparrows. A fun day at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, a paradise in our own back yard.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Montana Peregrines

Jay Sumner, director of the Montana Peregrine Institute and I spent afternoon looking for Peregrines on the Blackfoot River and got this photograph of the female near the nest, we presume. The male was perched nearby on a snag, and they behaved as if the young were hatched and well enough along as to not require constant brooding. Jay informs us that the median times for nesting chronology of Montana Peregrines is as follows:
April 23rd-25th - egg laying
April 25th-27th - incubation begins
May 27th-July 6th - young in eyrie (nest ledge)
July 6th - young fledge (leave the nest)
These times were revised and the dates are a bit earlier than the past. Jay has been observing Peregrines since a kid in Livingston and officially and intensively for the last ten years. Check out their site:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Owlie Day at Franklin

The students at Franklin Elementary in Missoula celebrated their nineteenth annual Owlie Day, with teacher Ron Ramsey in attendance every year. Activities fill the day, from a reading of Owl Moon, to pellet dissection and re-articulation of the mouse bones glued on cardboard. Teacher June Brown began this event, and has since retired to observe birds in her free time. We have been providing programs in Ron's room for the last thirteen years, and always a highlight of the school year. The kids collect pennies, 20,000 to be exact, and adopt Graham the Barred Owl in an assembly in the gym. Then an hour and a half program on owls for the 4th and 5th graders, pictured here, peering at Graham in his new travel box. At the finale, we all promise to go outside over the holiday weekend and then learn to hoot like a Great Horned Owl. One young man informed me that instead, he would be playing video games, thank you, so we can't win them all!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Baby Red-tails Relocated

Yesterday morning I received a call from a fellow Bitterrooter reporting that a Red-tailed Hawk nest had blown down in the strong winds the day before. Chris Hoff  discovered the three downy youngsters under the tree, half a ground squirrel nearby so the parents had fed them since their unexpected expulsion. When I pulled up, mom and dad were flying above, screaming and perching in the treetops. We decided to relocate the chicks and Chris and his brother Tracy quickly made a wooden platform, added  material from the ex-nest, and secured it to a low limb in the tree. Apparently hawks had occupied it for the last 9 or 10 years and with sticks added every year, it was enormous. So I fed each of the young a mouse and climbed the ladder to place them in their new home. Lastly, we wrapped the tree trunk aluminum flashing to prevent a raccoon raid, and sat back to see what would happen. With appointments in town, I returned at 6 pm to find the young chowing on another ground squirrel, so our plan worked. No one can raise a raptor as well as their own parents, so we avoided imprinting the young on people, the best kind of rehab.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Great Horned Owl Shoot

I am now officially spoiled. Yesterday, a 40 feet ride up in a bucket truck allowed me to photograph a Great Horned Owl nest high in a spruce tree in a friend's yard. Lindi Vishoot alerted me that she had a family on her property, and as luck would have it, Bob Gentry just happened to be over working on some light poles. So Paulson Electric donated an hour of Bob's time to find just the right angle to see the female and one baby, photographer in a safety harness in the bucket. Bob even turned off the engine to eliminate vibration to the camera! Thanks Paulson, and a print of mom and youngster on the way. Plus we have a photo or two for the new Mountain Press book in progress, Raptors of the West.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bill Harley Show on Sunday

One of my all-time heros kept a University Theater filled with kids and adults enthralled in another show for Missoula. His songs, stories, and books are captivating and hilarious, and bridge a generation. Bill's latest CD won a Grammy award (his second), along with a DVD recorded in 2007 in this very spot. Montana PBS producer Danny Dauterive proudly displays his Grammy Award, and the two payed a visit to the Raptor Ranch to get this shot of Bill the Falconeer. People will ask me how a certain school program went, and quite often I answer, "Well, did my Bill Harley..." I try to add a little of Bill's animated storytelling in every program, for kids and adults. In my copy of his latest book, Night of the Spadefoot Toads, Bill wrote: To Kate - partner in story crime. Check out his web site,

Saturday, May 16, 2009

San Jose Peregrines Banded

Yesterday, Glenn Stewart, Director of the Santa Cruz Predatory Research Group rappelled down to the nest ledge of the famous San Jose Peregrines and banded the young. Clara and Estaban's every move has been observed and recorded by throngs of falcon fans, from a nearby building top and on web cam. The four young were cooperative, but the parents cacophony was captured by the camera on his helmet. Glenn writes, "At one

point on the helmet cam, you can see the image lurch forward and me exclaim, "whoa" as I felt the "breeze" Clara created as she whooshed close by the back of my neck. Matt Morley yelled down from above, "You big baby--She missed you by at least 3 inches!" Nick Dunlop got this photograph of Glenn in action. Check out the YouTube films, and more news on the way:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lee Metcalf NWR Remodel

Nearby Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is a undergoing ambitious improvements by rebuilding the levies on the south end. Seen here are White-faced Ibis's with earthmoving equipment in the background, a shot taken on Tuesday. In a partnership between a private donor and Ducks Unlimited, the Hollingsworth Wetland Project is just a week from completion. The goal is to create ideal habitat for shorebirds and ducks, allowing water levels to be lowered and raised. Right on Waterfowl Lane, the results will be easy to watch, and should be a model for other wetland management. Check it out, just north of Stevensville, our favorite place, and join us for a free public program on June 27th for the Bitterroot BioBlitz.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Timo is Back

Imagine my delight when I spotted a Red-tail in the eagle enclosure yesterday afternoon. Our Red-tailed Hawk Timo has been out on his own in the Bitterroot for just over two weeks, and I feared the worse after not seeing him hanging around the ranch. He remembered where he was fed and came home for a quail. We'll keep you posted, as he continues to be "hacked out" (see blog April 25th.) Right now he is standing and preening on a high perch in the corner, bucket of mice by the door and feeding time! So far, so good. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Five Valleys Audubon Program

Last night four of our birds were on their best behavior for a program at the monthly Audubon program at the University. Starting with DotCom the Northern Pygmy-Owl and finishing with Jillian the Great Horned, we discussed two very different strategies for life as an owl. Pygmy-Owls are daytime bird hunters, while Great Horned's exploit just about anything from insects to skunks, active at night. Sibley was on hand for a segment on Peregrines and their remarkable story of being on and off the Endangered Species list (and their 200 mph stoops.) And pictured here is Nigel the 15 year old Golden Eagle with our friends Nancy and David Tyrell and their thoughtful gift - a book about Nigel Mansell, his namesake. This eagle is one of many birds named for Formula One race car drivers, our first was Mika Hawkinen the Northern Harrier. Not many people get the humor, oh well. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Max Turns Twenty

Max is now 20 years old, the most famous Golden Eagle around. He was found by the side of the trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, unable to fly and newly fledged. He was packed out on horseback for two days and initially treated at the Bitterroot Rehabilitation Center, a mystery as to his injury. Perhaps he suffers from nerve damage due to starvation or poisoning, but that has never impaired his appetite! He was kept by John Craighead for his first two years, our mentor at the Wildlife Wildlands Insitute, then was placed on our new Eagle Exhibition Permit in 1992. He and his roommate Nigel inhabit a 40 foot enclosure next to the Bitterroot River, and share responsibilities in about 65 programs a year. Max joins us tonight at a program for Five Valleys Audubon, after which he will enjoy a nice big lab rat.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Big Week for Bill Ohrmann

Our pal Bill Ohrmann was in the limelight this week, culminating in a sold-out, standing room only evening at the Crystal Theater last night. He made the cover of the Independent newspaper, a wonderful story about his art and philosophy by Erika Fredrickson, "Bold Strokes." A new documentary about Bill by Sean O'Brien debuted at the Crystal, with two capacity showings, and we were treated to a viewing of many of his paintings upstairs afterward. The whole Ohrmann family was in attendance, and a line of admirers waiting to talk to the man himself. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of touring his Museum and Gallery, pencil it in - Scenic Highway 1, 2 1/2 miles south of Drummond, "right in the center of the universe." Look for the giant metal polar bear, rhinoceros, and wooly mammoth. Can't miss it. He and I just made this sculpture of Sibley the Peregrine out of polyform. It was too cold to weld.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Montana Peregrine Institute

Some people are not afraid of heights, like Mac Donofrio hanging off this cliff in the Bitterroot. Earlier this week we took advantage of the only nice weather to look falcons, and scored on a Prairie, and perhaps a Peregrine seen at a great distance heading over the valley for a hunt. Otherwise we have had rain, snow, and fog and will have to wait now for the young to hatch and more frequent prey deliveries to locate the nests. MPI director Jay Sumner has still been out non-stop, and has discovered ten new Peregrine territories this year, two of which were historic eyries, not used in the last 40 years or so! Two nests are located up Rock Creek on cliffs that we've checked for years. "They'll be nesting here some day," Jay said each time. And he was right. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ospreys at Riverside

In February of 2007, we installed an Osprey platform at Riverside Health Care knowing that the elderly residents would enjoy watching the fish hawks nest, an excellent view from their day room and patio. The project was about ten years in the works, and we partnered with Karen Wagner whose mother had passed away there the year before. NorthWestern Energy erected the pole and circular nesting platform made from a wire spool, nearly getting mired in the mud with snow falling. Not only was this a kind gesture for them, but a safety precaution as an Osprey pair had tried to build on some dangerous wires just downstream.  Karen and husband Alan attached a plaque at the base, "Osprey Nest: In memory of Mary Torgrimson Olson, for all to enjoy."And now, the spectacle had started!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ohrmann Documentary Debuts

Our dear friend Bill Ohrmann will be in Missoula this Saturday, May 9th for the world premier of a biographical documentary, screening at the Crystal Theater at 7 pm. The 30 minute film celebrates his amazing accomplishments in the arts - painting, sculpting, welding - the latest a huge stainless steel Mountain Goat completed at his 90th birthday! He made this quick study of a Peregrine Falcon out of his head, and only later saw a card I had made of Sibley in that exact scene! So he's physic as well... Bill will display many of his latest paintings after the film, upstairs at the Crystal. And don't forget the Raptors of the Rockies program at the spectrUM Discovery Center, University of Montana campus Skaggs building at 1 pm that afternoon. A busy day!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Salish Language School Visit

We recently hosted a tour for our friends at the Nkwusm Salish Language School, from the Flathead Reservation in Arlee. Unlike last year it wasn't pouring rain, but was quite chilly. The students taught me some bird names in their language and gave me a book, Birds of the People's Land, a field guide in Salish. Here they are huddling around my metal sculpture of a skwalsin, or Sandhill Crane. Learn more about the Salish Language Revitalization Institute at  Much of Montana was covered in snow earlier this week, with over 5 feet in Saint Mary's near Glacier National Park and 10 and 12 foot drifts. Two feet of snow remained on the ground in Great Falls yesterday, where they had the second snowiest season on record with 109 inches! And it ain't over yet.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Photography Show Opens Today

If you are in the neighborhood of San Jose, California, check out the photography exhibition at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library downtown. Entitled "Falcons of North America" (ring a bell?) it celebrates the third year running of Peregrines nesting on the City Hall building next door. As if Evet Loewen doesn't have her hands full as Chief Deputy City Attorney and monitoring the pair of Peregrines and their four babies, she put together this art show as well. Three of my photos are featured, including this one of the irrigation wheel, and several images by book photographers Rob Palmer and Nick Dunlop. Other regional favorites include Glenn Nevill, Mary Malec, Eric Rosenberg, Brandon Powell, Cinda McCann and Evet herself. The show runs through June 30th, so try to make it. If only those resident birds Clara and Esteban knew what a stir they have caused, and what interest in raptors and nature they have perked!