Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kestrel Release Scheduled

A young American Kestrel was delivered to us nearly two weeks ago from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks warden Derek Schott, and we hope to have him "hacked out" tomorrow. This youngster still had some growing to do, and at first was housed in our 10 foot building, later in the rehab enclosure. Fortunately, he ate mice on his own without a problem, and is wild as a March hare with no problem of imprinting, or getting too used to people. This photo was a tough one to get as he flew around the building to rest for just 10 seconds in the sun. Tomorrow, he'll have the screen on his feeding shelf removed and away he can go, and hopefully return for more feedings. Either way, we have never seen grasshopper numbers like this, with millions in the fields at the Raptor Ranch. So we'll hope that he figures out how to catch this easy, high calorie prey, and that he hangs out for a while. Gotta love a Kestrel.
UPDATE 7/31 - It worked and he sailed away towards the Bitterroot River!
UPDATE 8/27 - I just saw a male kestrel perched on the roof over the window of that rehab building, and he flew around the yard when I approached. Him? Hope so!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Another Pigeon Loft Photo

Couldn't resist letting the pigeons out at dusk the other night, with these mammatus clouds to the south. After upper-90 degree weather for the week, we got nearly an inch of rain in Florence on Sunday night, quashing our fire season for the time being.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

We Lose A Dear Friend

DotCom the Northern Pygmy-Owl died last night and was buried next to our other birds that have passed. Dot was eating and bathing, looking great, and just had a program at the Missoula Library, so this was a surprise. But he had been with us for over 9 years and we didn't know his age when he came to us with a wing injury in February 2000. I doubt a Pygmy-Owl in the wild would live that long, over 10 years. He was the Teaching Team favorite for thousands of friends, young and old alike, and he was excellent in programs with his calm demeanor and striking beauty. I will really miss our smallest Raptor of the Rockies.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Osprey Chicks Banded

Yesterday I was the guest of Erick Greene, Heiko Langner, and Rob Domenech as they banded Osprey chicks, starting with the Riverside Health Care nest. Rob's uncle Dave Taylor kindly delivers the scientists to the nest in his bucket truck where the chicks are retrieved and brought to the ground for processing. A USGS band is fit on one leg, they are weighed, then a feather sample and small amount of blood is taken for testing. Heiko is finding high mercury levels, a contaminant from past gold mining in the area. The second Osprey nest shown here was on a light pole right in the middle of the log yard at Smurfit Stone Container in Frenchtown. How those birds pull of a nest every year with all of the round-the-clock human activity is beyond me. Both nests had three young which is the most common number worldwide, and Rob reports one nest that had four, and all fledged.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Montana Peregrine Institute Winding Down

MPI has been hard at it, surveying the state for breeding Peregrine Falcons since February. Director Jay Sumner has looked at hundreds of cliffs and has some good news - productivity has never been higher. The 87 known eyries in Montana resulted in 165 young with several yet to be reported. Jay thinks that numbers will top 180 baby Peregrines in Montana in 2009! This is up from 67 Peregrine territories with 125 young last year, and zero in 1980. I was lucky enough to spend one of the last survey days with Jay and Karen Craighead Haynam, and we observed some behavior that was new to all three of us. Young Peregrines were in play flights high over the Blackfoot River, chasing each other and dropping and catching objects for a solid 35 minutes. And the best part was that we had recorded two fledged at this nest, but here was four. A parent bird brought in what looked like a magpie for a noisy food delivery at the cliff. The season has winded down with the best results ever.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saw-whet Released

The baby Saw-whet Owl was released yesterday in some great Bitterroot habitat nearby. Fortunately he flew up high in a tree over a creek, and looked back once. Hope he makes it!

Friday, July 17, 2009

We Love Joel Baird

Yesterday we taped an interview on Missoula Community Access Television "What's Up Missoula" show, with Sibley the Star in tow. Plugging our up-coming week-long MCAT workshop for kids on film making, host Joel Baird raised interesting questions and put me on the spot more once. It was because of our MCAT instructor Ron Scholl that I had the opportunity to make half hour films for broadcast seven years ago, and I made six in all. Most people that saw them begged that I have a voice-over narrative to explain what was going on. I refused, sticking to my minimalist Jim Jarmusch roots (just kidding.) Anyway, the workshop will be August and call MCAT for details. And, if you are one of the 17,000 households in the area that receive MCAT, check out the show as we also broadcast three of our YouTube videos, fun to see on the "big screen."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Northern Saw-whet Owl Recovering

A young owl that was found on the floor of a house under construction near Polson appears to be recovering nicely. Dale Becker, tribal biologist and long-time friend brought the baby to us a few weeks ago, and his left wing droop has improved ever so slowly. The bird is in our big rehab room and his flights are looking more determined and successful, especially the landings. Fingers are crossed that he'll be released next week at the sight of another Saw-whet recovery two years ago.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July Storm

This shot at 7 a.m. yesterday is our front yard, the drainage with the fire photo from last week on the right with the rainbow. A huge rain storm that changed to hail hit minutes later, and the wet weather continues. Not very summer-like, and no forest fires to speak of so far. This could change, with 95 degree weather predicted for Saturday. AND make sure you check out our new YouTube posting, Birds And Art Workshop for Kids, Part 2. The week long program at the Missoula Art Museum produced a flock of paper mache raptors, and in this video the creative juices really flowed (as did the mache and paint and glue!)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hot-Air Balloons Land in Stevensville

Blacksmith Brewing Company just held their first annual Summer Fest in Stevensville, and what an event. Along with killer bands and food, a photography show and horseshoes, four hot-air balloons cruised the Bitterroot starting Wednesday, a new kind of aviation for me. They were at the mercy of the winds and made it north past Lee Metcalf Refuge yesterday, today south of town. I was on the "chase crew" for Jerry Cummings and The Spirit of Walla Walla, the last balloon to make it up on the right. Because it was such a huge success, they expect even more balloons next year, and we'll be queuing up for a ride. Pam and Eric at Blacksmith arranged that a beautiful hand-made quilt be raffled to benefit our program, one depicting balloons over the Bitterroots and a beauty!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Riverside Osprey Revisit

A quick survey of some favorite nests yesterday found the Ospreys at Riverside Health Care busy with two young, the first occupancy since we (and NorthWest Energy) erected the platform and pole in February 2007. We first noticed their claim to the spot on May 6th, and here the male is arranging the sticks after the female fed the young. One baby seems a lot smaller, so we'll keep an eye on these guys. And so will the residents at Riverside-the patio was packed with onlookers, which was our intention when installing it there. More fun than TV. The Peregrines at the second Blackfoot nest have fledged, and both "brownies" chased their parents around cliff in a raucous demand to be fed. Some of their flights looked more like play, as they hone their skills. What onlooker here wouldn't be envious!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


We had our first forest fire of the season yesterday, right here in the Bitterroot Mountains. And it was in the exact drainage where I spent the morning watching the Prairie Falcon fledglings. Coincidence? The answer is YES! My friend Mac pointed out that it was rather suspicious, being as there is no public access to that spot, and that my husband is a wildlands firefighter. I found out it was a lightning holdover from Monday and 6 smoke jumpers were in there on the 1/3 acre fire. And it looks like it's out today, so I'm off the hook.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Prairie Falcons Are People Too

An early morning view of what finally did nest in the drainage across the road, and a photo of two fledgling Prairie Falcons at a huge distance. (I might have to start saving for a 500 mm lens, or get closer!) We had a Peregrines nesting up there five years ago, and ever since, Prairies. Sometimes it's frustrating to find the "wrong" species of falcon on a cliff, but Prairies are cool too. And this is the only nesting territory that we know of on the west side of the valley in the Bitterroots. After four trips up, another mysterious falcon was spotted three times. One was a confirmed Peregrine way back, and the other two were fleeting, momentary glimpses. Now that is frustrating because it's possible that both species call the cliffs their home. So maybe one more early morning I'll have to check, and maybe I can borrow a 500 mm lens!

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Always have your camera"

This quote is from pal and photography advisor Rob Palmer, and he means it! Today I was in traffic at rush hour in Missoula, spacing out to some jazz at the stoplight of Brooks and Reserve. A bird carrying another bird landed on a power pole right at the intersection and I grabbed the binoculars from the back seat. A Peregine immediately began plucking a pigeon, divebombed by crows, so I pulled over first chance and fortunately followed Rob's wise words and had my camera. (Pure luck, actually.) Hundreds of commuters drove by, oblivious to the spectacle. We are used to seeing this on cliffs and snags, but not on Reserve Street.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Back To the Bald Eagles

Two of the three Bald Eagle babies I've been watch fledged last Saturday, June 27th, with this last one still lingering on Sunday. They will stick around their parents for another month, and in past years, they have roosted on a nearby roof. The inhabitants report three young from this nest for the last several years. The nearly black plumage will fade in the sun and weather this summer, and by the third year, beak and eyes start turning yellow. Not until the fifth and sixth years will the dirty white head and tail "clean up" for the adult pattern. Perhaps the sub-adult coloration lets other eagles know that they aren't a threat in breeding season, and maybe the older birds gain a little respect with the younger ones!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

YouTube of Birds And Art

The first of two YouTube videos was posted yesterday, and you can access it by our web site Videos page or the link at the bottom. This first installment is the two days of drawing raptors, first a few owls, then Sib the Peregrine and Nigel the Golden Eagle. Our 20 young participants really get creative in the next segment - making life-size paper mache raptors. Brought to you by our friends at the Missoula Art Museum.