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."