Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Styles of Owl Sculptures

I finished the welded owl sculpture yesterday and took it to my mentor, Bill Ohrmann's for his scrutiny. We got a thumbs up, and that owl by his shoulder is one he made years ago. Bill taught me to weld and make metal animals in 2004, and I was obsessed for two years. The last one I made was a big magpie for the Missoula Art Museum Auction in 2006, until now. He and I are using lighter gauge steel, and suffered with 16 gauge until we came to our senses.  Then it was time to see his new sculpture, photo on the right. Coincidentally, he had been working on an owl also, he wrote, "No special kind. Maybe a nightmare owl."At age 90, Bill shows no signs of slowing down, welding and painting up a storm!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bitterroot BioBlitz

We were thrilled  to present a program at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge yesterday for their huge event which brought in ecologists from all walks and ages. The Bitterroot BioBlitz enabled everyone to take a close look at everything natural that exists around them, from plants, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds.  With a discussion of raptor identification from world expert Steve Hoffman of Montana Aududon and a closing presentation with us, the ornithologists came out in droves.  DotCom the Northern Pygmy-Owl began the discussion in the amphitheater, then Sibley the Peregrine and a talk on the Bitterroot populations. Next was Graham the Barred Owl and finally, Nigel the Golden Eagle was a perfect ambassador as the children especially were treated to an up-close look, as seen here. Make sure to visit Metcalf Refuge if you are in the area, which is our favorite birding (and all things wild) hotspot.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nests Galore

Yesterday I surveyed some nests in the area, and found that:
a.) Those three young  Bald Eagles are STILL hanging in there. They are exploring the limbs around the stick nest, but my prediction of fledging over two weeks ago was way off. I am learning more about eagle nesting, and finding that they tend to stay even after they are "hard-penned" or in feather fit condition.
2.) Of the two Blackfoot Peregrine nests, those babies from Wednesday's blog have fledged, one young chasing his dad around the trees above the ledge. The second nest has well over a week to go, and I'll be camped out with my camera. I'm afraid I missed any feeding on salmonflies, with the atypical cool spring and early summer.
c.) Belted Kingfishers are pretty darn cool. Board member Deborah Oberbillig has been surveying this nest daily for nearly a month from a blind on the other side of a creek. Here, one of the babies is rattling to his (or her) parents and just about to fledge. Deborah is writing a book about kingfishers, and this nest has been truly inspirational and eye-opening. 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Birds And Art at the MAM

The incredible week for kids at the Missoula Art Museum drew to a close today, with 19 paper mache raptors and volumes of drawings home with the attendees. Bev Beck Glueckert and I have held this class at least a dozen times, and this was our second year at the newly re-modeled museum downtown, primo spot for learning about bird anatomy, making sketches, then constructing sculptures. We featured the Saw-whet and Great Horned Owls on day one, then Sibley the Peregrine and Nigel the Golden Eagle on day two. The students chose a bird to depict life-size, and the real creativity began on Wednesday, making paper mache birds that were decorated with paint and feathers and "googie eyes" today. This shot is on the MAM steps with my new welded owl sculpture on the left. Plans are in the works for holding a similar class at the MAM for adults, and two videos of the progress and excitement will be posted on our web site and YouTube by early next week. Parents, check 'em out! 

Baby Peregrines

I hadn't visited a favorite eyrie on the Blackfoot for over a week and and yesterday I half-way expected to find an empty cliff and fledged young. After thirty minutes, just as I was packing up the scope to leave, I heard the tell-tale wails of  baby Peregrines, and the male perched across the river. After a while, the young showed themselves, one by one, screambling all around the nest ledge. Getting a photo of all three youngsters has proven to be my big challenge this summer, between this and the Bald Eagle nest. These are the birds on the "Videos" page of the web site, and featured in the blog from June 16th. Any day now, they'll be racing up and down the river chasing their parents.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Raptor Ranch, Then and Now

The top photo was taken right after we moved to the Bitterroot in 2001, and bottom lush with shrubs and trees, a photo taken minutes ago. I fit all six of those Ponderosa Pines in my Subaru eight years ago. Constant watering and a very wet last month have really greened up the place! We thank Bitterroot Restoration, Caras Nursery and Marchies Nursery for the donated "shade." Three enclosures that were built since the big move are not pictured.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bald Eagles Haven't Bolted (Yet)

Today's photo has proven that our Bald Eagle nest I've been observing all season is keeping the young home a lot longer than I thought. The three chicks seem  reluctant to leave their sanctuary, with food deliveries continuing and sticks to play with. For hours they test their wings, hopping up and down from the edge.  Perhaps tomorrow the oldest will fledge. We'll see, so stay tuned.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Cool weather, rains and more rain on the way seems to have delayed the salmonfly hatch on the Blackfoot. I have been checking daily with hopes of seeing Peregrines feeding on these huge aquatic insects after they immerge and take flight. This photo is our pigeon loft after an evening storm. The Red-tails babies that we relocated into a man-made nest after they blew out of the tree have successfully fledged. The first one to fly  walked up a hill to run down with her wings out, hang glider style! Parent birds continue to feed them as they stray further from their nest. The Bald Eagle babies are hanging tight still and haven't fledged as I predicted last week. But any minute now, and still getting photographs. I am almost finished with a big welded Great Horned Owl sculpture, with advice from master artist Bill Ohrmann, my mentor. And working away assembling photos for the new book, Raptors of the West, brand new shots from Rob Palmer, Nick Dunlop, and me. Always something...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eyrie Action

An early morning visit to a Peregrine nest Sunday wasn't a typical sit and wait. The male was busy hunting for the three 30 day old chicks that begged on the grassy ledge in the sun. He caught a Robin and had a half dozen loudly and bravely mobbing him all the way back to the cliff, taking swipes at him while he was plucking. Fifteen minutes later, I was watching the youngsters in the scope when they all looked over the edge at once. I saw a shape heading right at me, the speeding adult. Before I could think, I snapped a few shots as he nailed another robin ten feet away. Although I didn't capture the action in a photograph, it was a scene I play back in my head and will never forget. And the soundtrack to that scene was a sudden powerful woosh and smack that gave me goosebumps. Not for the feint of heart.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Raptor Round-up On Line

Get a jump on the mail service and see the latest Raptor Round-Up in color. Webmaster Steve Palmer just posted the newsletter on our web site:
This was a fun one to put together, and of course one headline story is this new blog. On page 4 we re-cap some favorites, and have stories on Raptor videos, the San Jose Falconatics, Timo the Red-tail released, Great Horned Owl nest, the David Sibley Workshop, relocated baby Red-tails, and much, much more. Plus we have a  36 photographs in all, not a record but close, Glenn. It will be in the mail later this week. I write three issues a year, and print 500 copies mailed to friends and Raptor Backers, available at programs and from us. Collect 'em all, and be the first on your block to have all 31!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bald Eagles About to Bail

I've been keeping an eye on this Bald Eagle nest on the Clark Fork River near Missoula, and it looks as if the young are about to fledge. They leave the nest on average at 80 days, and the one on the left was flapping and hopping at the edge for ten minutes.  Typically, just one or two birds make it to this stage, as the youngest chick starves or is killed by the older siblings. However, Montana has a large number of nests that fledge three young, about 12%, and a few actually produced four! At one point, sighting a Bald Eagle would be a big deal, with just 12 nests in the whole state in the mid 1970's. Today, the Montana Bald Eagle Working Group is monitoring more that 400 nests, and it remains to be seen when these numbers will plateau.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Boise Peregrines Banded

Idaho Fish and Game biologist Bruce Haak sent his photo of a 21 day old Peregrine that he banded on Friday. She is one of three chicks in a nesting box in downtown Boise, which is wired with a web camera by the Peregrine Fund. On Friday she took a little stroll and fell out of the box, an event that was reported by phone calls from as far away as New York. The babies had been scheduled for banding on Monday, so when Bruce returned her to the box, they banded all three. This is an exceptionally large female, with an aluminum U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band on her tarsus. To better understand raptor biology, age, sex, and hometown are recorded to track migration routes, lifespan, and other behaviors. He reports of the "murderous intent" of the mother falcon.  "I have never seen a falcon both so fearless and so hostile. Had we not had two people watching and flagging her off the operation, someone might have been injured." 
 Watch the Peregrine family and learn more about the species at

Monday, June 8, 2009

San Jose Peregrines Successfully Fledge

Our friends in San Jose, California are finally off the hook and a job well done. The Peregrine nest on City Hall has been monitored by a fleet of  Falconatics since Clara and Esteban set up shop in February. Over the weekend, their four offspring fledged, or left the nest. Eric Rosenberg took this photo of one of the three female "juvies" Tierra, and he reports that only one youngster took the elevator ride back to the roof for safety. Glenn Stewart of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group supervised the Fledge Watch to ensure the babies weren't in harm's way in the heart of the city. He feels that the most dangerous stage has passed, as the birds hone their flying and perching skills. The constant vigil is nearly over, and congratulations to all involved, especially Evet Loewen - Head Honcho of the Falcon Fans. The auction of photos to benefit the project and SCPBRG has just begun, so check out the images and bid on line:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rocky Mountain Front

Sharon Fuller and I had a great cruise back from our David Sibley Workshop, and stopped along the way on the Rocky Mountain Front to take in the sights. We took a peak at one of our favorite Golden Eagle nests then discovered that the arrowleaf balsamroot was in full bloom, this photo taken near Augusta. We hope to head back and monitor the Blackleaf Peregrine eyrie near Bynum for productivity. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

David Sibley Workshop on the Front

We were just treated to a visit to the Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte Guest Ranch outside of Choteau, heaven on earth. This was our third year to share the stage with David Allen Sibley, creator of the Sibley bird field guides and namesake of our Peregrine Falcon. Sharon Fuller and I loaded the Subaru, Sib of course, and made the trek to the Rocky Mountain Front on Wednesday. The birds were on their best behavior, and we perched Miles the Great Horned Owl and Sibley on the lawn for photos and conversation. They joined the Saw-whet and Kestrel for a program after dinner, and a discussion of the similarities between the word raptor and the word rapture. Yesterday was spent in the field with workshop attendees and David birdwatching! We made our way up the North Teton River, seen here, stopping along the way for songbirds (Warbling Vireos everywhere) and finishing with a dipper nest. Sharon and I learned volumes and didn't want it to end. Make sure you attend the annual Audubon Bird Festival in Great Falls, where David will be the keynote on Saturday. More info at

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Relocated Red-tails Thriving

Our friends the Hoff's have been watching the baby Red-tails whose nest blew down two weeks ago in their yard, and looks like the two babies are about to fledge. Chris and Tracy built this quick platform which we installed in the tree the day after nest had blown down. Parent birds immediately resumed feeding their offspring, but unfortunately one baby died in the nest, probably from injuries due to the 60 foot drop. The other two have been enjoying Columbian Ground Squirrels and at least one four foot snake. Tracy reports that one squirrel that mom brought in was flat as a pancake, and he could almost see the tire tracks!

West Nile Monitoring

We are in our fifth year in a statewide survey of mosquitoes and testing for West Nile Virus. A trap is baited using dry ice in a container that puts out C02, the gas that attracts mosquitoes to humans. A battery-operated fan sucks them into a bag that hangs underneath, and they are collected after a nighttime of trapping. The Box of Bugs are sent to Carroll College in Helena for testing, and, so far so good for the Bitterroot Valley. West Nile Virus has not been detected here which could be lethal for some teaching team raptors.