Saturday, April 24, 2010

Budding Artists

Today we returned to Hellgate High School as guests of art teacher Marvin Pauls, this time for a program for MAI (Montana Arts Something-that-starts-with-I). This "Birds And Art" workshop was for students from around the state: Lewistown, Troy, Havre, Superior, even good ole Florence. Our tried and true team of Alisa the Red-tail and Miles the Great Horned stayed at their posts for the full two hours, models for sketches in many mediums. And they will no doubt be on dozens of cell phones for weeks to come. Here Marvin shows off some great giant gesture drawings done on butcher paper, as these students were not shy. I started the program with the story of my high school art teacher in Cincinnati, Jack Walther, who encouraged me, inspired me, and secretly entered my pieces in art shows. I named our Kestrel after him, in his honor, and we are still pals to this day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Mac Donofrio and I wanted to confirm the mystery birds, Peregrines spotted way back up One Horse Creek the last two years, and this time we approached from the north. Starting with a big drive up logging roads, the top still holding deep snow, we then had to hike to the canyon edge. We brought some homing pigeons that we planned to toss off the top to see if we could inspire a chase, had we not been able to locate the falcons. Instead, we spotted the pair within minutes soaring around the big air space, encouraged to see the male perch repeatedly on a sentinel snag at the top. He gave chase to a few of the pigeons (that were back at my house when I got home) then fetched a particularly attractive item from a cache in the rocks. For ten minutes he flew back and forth in front of the cliff face dangling the stripped pectoral girdle of what we guessed was a duck, bare bones and just the wing tips intact. It dragged below him like a banner, three feet in length and larger than he was. I'm sure the female was impressed, and he finally dropped it into the trees below. Too bad I just had the wide angle lens. So Peregrines are back to One Horse Creek, nesting over a mile back, Prairie Falcons at the mouth of the drainage. The best of both worlds.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

iPod the Owl

The new kid on the block just joined us, and is settling in nicely. Our Pygmy-owl DotCom was a program staple for over 9 years, and he passed away in July. We now have a "replacement" owl, one that came from Bitterroot rehabilitator Judy Hoy, and I swear, he's even smaller than DotCom. He got his name from our friend, Jurgen Knoller that owns Bayern Brewing in Missoula. We had our Raptor Backer Appreciation Party at Bayern a few weeks ago, and Jurgen was asking about the birds. "How's that little one, iPod?" he queried, mistakenly referring to Dottie. So that's how we got the name! iPod was struck by a car over the winter, and Judy kept him indoors as the feathers grew back. He lost that wing tip that was broken, so a keeper bird. His building is draped with shade cloth until he gets used to the sights and sound of the out of doors again. And sounds abound as his next door neighbor Buster the Saw-whet Owl is serenading us night and day.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Falcons In the Bitterroot

An early morning falcon survey across the road was fruitful indeed. I am a volunteer for the Montana Peregrine Institute and was "assigned" three cliffs in the Blackfoot and three in the Bitterroot Valley near our home, to determine if Peregrine Falcons had taken up residence for nesting. After a quick hike up the drainage at One Horse Creek this morning, I spotted a Prairie Falcon hunting the canyon, then two Peregrines soaring way back an hour later. Finally and after three hours, one Peregrine escorted two Red-tails from the drainage and I hope this means occupancy, or a nest in the works. This photo is from the Frenchtown eyrie a few years ago, and I wish the birds from today had been closer. Another trip up the drainage next week and hopefully courtship and prey deliveries, if I'm very lucky. We have thought that both falcon species, Prairie and Peregrine, set up housekeeping in One Horse Creek the last two years, and it remains to be seen. More news on the way!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

English Language Institute Day

Our friend, English professor from the University of Montana Josh Rosenberger promised it would be fun, but we had no idea how much fun! We hosted 40 multi-national students for a tour at the Raptor Ranch then picnic at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, and got this photo with the Bitterroots as a backdrop. The students represent nine countries, get this: Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea, Tajikistan, Burkina Faso, Kuwait, France, Iraq (Kurdistan), and Spain. One universal language we found is humor, with students and instructors alike cracking up. I found that the word for shy in Arabic is pronounced tee. No tee's here. Many will remain in the U.S. for several years, and others may return to their home countries and recount the story of a hawk (Chesty) catching mice tossed in the air. Or else, how the two Golden Reteivers didn't really retrieve anything.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

You Know It's Spring...

...When You Have Western Bluebirds On Your Penguin. This pair has been exploring the bird boxes in the yard, and are the most inquisitive birds we have ever seen. They even flit around inside the garage, perhaps deciding a nice nesting spot. These two have perched on every sculpture in the yard, including the big king penguin and 7 foot pheasant to the left.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sharp-tailed Grouse Leks

On a “business” trip to the Columbus, Montana area, I just met up with photographer Rob Palmer to shoot some grouse leks. The males pick a stomping ground to dance and spar with other suitors, and have a fidelity to a certain spot called a lek. I was surprised to see twenty birds in one little spot only 30 yards across, surrounded by the hundreds of miles of open grassland. Rob took this photograph of a particularly handsome grouse dancing. Unfortunately, the day after I left a Prairie Falcon blasted through the lek right as the sun came up, and scared them away before Rob could get any good images. We thank Kevin Thompson for his vast knowledge of the area and its avian inhabitants, and Ken and Lora Mesch for their hospitality.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

BirdFest 2010 at The Artists' Shop

Steve Thorstenson of the downtown Missoula gallery and artists' cooperative, The Artists' Shop invited me to participate in the April event, BirdFest 2010. I had Gale Johnson of Custom Digital Imaging (CDI) print up some favorites, and voila, instant photography exhibition. They even chose the flying Snowy Egret as the image for their cards and publicity. We had a great opening last night and the first piece to go was the flying Short-eared Owl. Check it out at 304 N. Higgins, and tell 'em you're a Raptor Backer!