Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brookfield Zoo Wins My Heart

We just got back from our "gig" in Chicago last night, flying in at midnight under a full moon. The day before I traveled the other direction to present a program at the Brookfield Zoo for the fourth installment in their Spring Lecture Series. The zoo had just opened the new Great Bear Wilderness exhibit, and I was there to discuss the "pinnacle of perfection of the natural world, the raptors." My words and opinion but the program went over very well with a capacity crowd in the Discovery Center. It was a brand new audience, one that had never before heard my raptor versus rapture comparison, and thankfully it tickled the funny bones of many. I even had them all hoot like an owl at the finish, including Zoo Director Stuart Strahl, expert ornithologist from way back. Yesterday morning, I arrived bright and early at the zoo for a tour and got this photo of a Grizzly Bear about to plunge into the waters at the new exhibit. Shrieking children (and me) were amazed by this sight and glimpse of a behavior impossible to see, possible now thanks to the Brookfield Zoo. What a wonderful experience and let me know if you want a Raptors of the Rockies presentation at your zoo. Will work for a tour!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

20th Annual Owlie Day at Franklin

This was our 14th year in a row at Franklin Elementary School in Missoula in celebration of Owlie Day, and for that full amount of time, the 200 + students have adopted Graham the Barred Owl as their mascot, with an assembly in the gym. After weeks of a penny drive, they present us with a check for $200, rather than all of the pennies. Teacher Ron Ramsey came up with the idea 20 years ago, and every spring organizes a full day of activities for the 4th and 5th graders. They begin with a reading of Owl Moon, the classroom darkened and one spotlight over the principal as he tells the tale. They finish up in the afternoon with owl pellet dissection, gluing the mouse skeletons to sheets of cardboard, true art. This year, a reporter from TV station KECI was there, and she captured the "group hoot'" or students hooting like a Great Horned. Ron Ramsey promises this won't be the last as "with just a mention of the words Owlie Day, it puts a twinkle in the students' eyes." Well put, Ron!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

THREE More After This Shot

Sibley the seven year old falcon has a nice clutch of eggs, six now (as of Saturday), and looking at their beautiful markings you can see why Peregrine eggs were so coveted by egg collectors of old. No male so infertile, and they'll stay in there for another few weeks so she won't lay any more. It's a big energy expenditure, and for nothing, really. Falcon breeders can increase their offspring numbers by pulling eggs, either after they are laid at two days apart, or wait until the whole clutch is complete. If they are lucky, the pair will re-play the courtship and start all over again; double- clutching, and not the automobile variety. Interestingly, our six year old Swainson's Hawk has laid and egg, so we were correct about the sex, Rob D. !

Monday, May 17, 2010

Brookfield Zoo Program

If you are in the Chicago area next Tuesday, stop by the Brookfield Zoo for a Raptors of the Rockies program. No birds for this one, but a 40 minute PowerPoint I have been working on for weeks called "Conservation Education in the West," or There's An Eagle in the Classroom." (Okay, I lifted that second one from the Wild Sentry Program, but got permission from Bruce.) We are the speaker for their Spring Lecture Series this month, more info on the Brookfield web site. Gary Wolfe, Executive Director of the Vital Ground Foundation suggested that we speak, and lo and behold, the folks in Chicago went for it. Brookfield was my first zoo as a kid when we lived in Glenview, and I guess they had to drag me out of the Reptile House. This slide will be at the end, our young friends the Browders and Jack Petty in the Bitterroot.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Great Egret in the 'Root

Rumor was kicking around that a Great Egret had been hanging out a near-by Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, and sure enough, here it is. You can't miss it - the only huge white wading bird around. We had one of these in our yard last time we flooded, the only other time I've seen a Great Egret in the Bitterroot. Cool!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Audubon Birding Festival 2010

Believe it or not, Missoula has never hosted the annual Montana Audubon Conference, despite us thinking that we are the center of the birding universe! So join us all on June 4th through the 6th for "Wings Across the Big Sky," Holiday Inn Downtown at the Park. Starting with an icebreaker social then Raptors of the Rockies Program Friday night, the next two days are packed with speakers and dozens of field trips lead by the experts. The other two keynotes are U of M professor Dr. Erick Greene and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Steve Running. I designed the poster this year, Sibley flying over the Bitterroot Valley, a view from Sula Peak. This came from a field trip led by Montana Audubon Director Steve Hoffman last fall. For tons of information and registration, visit their website at or call 406-443-3949. And order a T-shirt! I'm trying to get them to print more...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Miserable Weather, But Happy Students

It seems like we waited until the worst possible weather for a tour of the Raptor Ranch, but no complaints from the eight high school students and three teachers from China today. They attend Shude High School in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, population 12 million. Over 4000 students go to their school, a tad different than what most of us are used to. Geography teacher from Hellgate High, their sister school, John Marks organized the trip to the Bitterroot. With umbrellas, raincoats, and ball caps we all braved the pouring rain and wind to see the birds, their animated teacher (3rd from left) translating at 100 miles per hour. Or kilometers. When back home in China, their photos will prove that in the United States, people keep falcons on perches in their living rooms, with stuffed ducks and peacocks hanging on the wall.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Incubation Time

A big drive along Rock Creek starting at the Skalkaho Road last Sunday confirmed our suspicion that Peregrines are going to be tough to spot for a while. During the 32 to 35 day incubation period, nesting duties are shared and the falcons lay low with a change of guard a few times a day, perhaps a quick food delivery by the male. This is quite a contrast to the spectacular courtship flights and outright aggression to anything that flies through their air space by the nesting cliff. Jay Sumner tells us that we have a month off now, and next are increasing food deliveries to the young, and my favorite, fledging. We did see a pair of Prairie Falcons and pictured here is a Golden Eagle nest, occupied for as long as Jay can remember. (A long time.)