Saturday, October 30, 2010

Couldn't Resist

One last image from Padre Island, and a female hatch-year Peregrine about to be released. Can't you tell the jubilation of the Raptors of the Rockies Director?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some Serious Artists

Back from our now-annual Excel "Birds And Art" presentation at Lone Rock School, just up the road, and what zoologists and artists! We had Alisa the Red-tail (depicted here by three friends) and Miles the Great Horned Owl for a few hours, what great models. Thirty students got creative with magic markers, one even putting a French beret on the owl for which I announced he was saying, "Bonjour! Ca va?" to the amusement of librarian and pal Jan Burgess who arranged the program. Many of the students drawings now decorate the house, and even the principal tried his hand in the creative process. I love the colors and not a shy student in the crowd.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Padre Project 2010

The season just wrapped up this weekend, another phenomenal survey with about 170 Peregrine Falcons banded in just over a month. Very few adults, or haggard birds are caught, as they are a bit more savvy and "stuck up" as one biologist joked. Plus, very few males are seen, only about 10 caught this year, and a mystery as to where they go. Gregg Doney has headed up the project for ten years now, and has a new item on his list for processing the birds- checking for the presence of oil from the big gulf spill. So far clean birds, but they are anxious to see about falcons returning in the spring. Blood and feather samples are also taken to determine contaminant levels and geographic origins of these migrants from the arctic. These studies have revealed that concentrations of pesticide DDT (and it's breakdown chemical DDE) have declined dramatically since 2004. This from birds returning from a winter in South America where DDT may continue to be used. I'm still having Padre Island moonscape dreams, and will for some time to come. Thanks Greg and crew for an unbelievable week on the beach.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Odd Duck

With just half-day surveys, morning or afternoon shift, I had some time in Padre to also take in a local birdwatching haven on the north end of town. Here are four Black-necked Stilts (just like we have in Montana in the summer) with a new species for me. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are true Texas denizens, named for their constant calls in flight. This one held tight for a photo or two, even though I was whistling at him. Or her.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

On the Lookout

Willard Heck searches for Peregrines on the vast expanse of sand and "black mat" of a hardened algae bloom. Rich with other migrating birds feeding on invertebrates, the falcons appear from no where in hunting mode. We found ourselves in the middle of thousands of swallows, feeding just a few feet above the surface, fattening up for the long trip across the gulf. Male Peregrines, one-third smaller than the females, have been observed catching the numerous giant dragonflies, a hearty diet for their similar journey. The survey team sticks to designated "highways" to get from point to point on the Honda ATV's, and I actually started to recognize certain landmarks the second day, like "Green Well Head" in the distance. Talk about an other-worldly landscape! I was thankful to have camera gear safely stashed in the Pelican Case mounted to the front of the vehicle, lower right.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Don't Mess With Texas

I am just back Padre Island, Texas trapping migrating Peregrines on the sand, the most exciting experience and impressive science I have ever been involved in. The survey project started in the 1970's, sponsored by the Peregrine Fund and individuals that love these birds, headed now by Gregg Doney of Helena. Jay Sumner and I were fortunate to be invited to see it first hand, me along to take photographs. Willard Heck (here) has been instrumental in Peregrine re-introduction and monitoring since the beginning, and he is about to release a falcon that has been processed and banded. More photos this week and stories from the hotbed of Peregrine-Land!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Back to the Matador

Jay and I enjoyed three days of glorious weather and flights by the Peregrines, all above the native prairie grassland of the Matador Ranch near Zortman. The Nature Conservancy owns these 60,000 acres and we had a very enthusiastic TNC staff to help us kick up the game birds, led by Director Kat Imhoff. We also flew the birds for the grass bank ranchers that share grazing privileges with the Matador, Jay on the right with Kat and camera. On Wednesday we hunted with young members of the Montana Conservation Corp, but missed the quarry. When I reached in my vest to retrieve a pigeon to call a falcon back, one gal let out a shriek. The last thing she expected to emerge from a pocket was a live bird, and she wondered what else was in there. "Just like Mary Poppins' bag," she informed us. A magic trick or two, indeed.
Off to Padre Island, Texas. See you in a week!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Telephoto Lens?

...or, Never Bring a Knife To a Gun Fight. Unbelievably bad luck that this Northern Pygmy-Owl landed right next to me when all I had was a wide angle lens, 24 mm for photography buffs. I was involved in a migration survey up the hill, behind the house, and we heard the vocalizations of this bird. Friends Kerr and Kate work for the MPG Ranch, involved in excellent bird studies, and have seen Pygmy-Owls up there before. My camera had been acting up, not working well, so I brought the back-up and wide angle instead. Oh well, they got some great shots, but I had left the telephoto at home. Never do that again. We will fit this shot in the new book, as a reminder.

Friday, October 8, 2010

School Number 120

We had a great morning with the students at Ovando, up the Blackfoot River and a community that we love dearly. All 13 students from the Ovando School were in attendance along with parents and friends for a falconry demonstration with Sibley. She got up high, looked for ducks in the creek and ended up with a Chukar that we served her, all observed by the gang and photographed on cameras and cell phones. We thank sponsors, Nina and Pat Brock who have the greatest Peregrine eyrie in the state right next to their house at Chamberlain Creek. Hey, our 120th school, too! Jillian the Great Horned Owl was in attendance, as was Jay Sumner who discussed the sport and Peregrine recovery in the state as Director of the Montana Peregrine Institute. Major Fun!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rocky Mountain Front

We are lucky to pay a few visits each year to the Rocky Mountain Front at Choteau for falconry trips, guests of friend Skip Tubbs. Our birds had some great flights, and here Jay Sumner is anxious to get his bird started first thing in the morning. The weather was actually too warm the second day, as Sibley disappeared in a thermal in the 82 degree weather, and came back to a nervous handler 30 minutes later. It is a different world on the front, as Skip's friend told us that the night before he went out to kick a raccoon out of his garage, to find an adult grizzly bear staring him down instead.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Old Photo, Same Dogs

I was going through some ancient images today and just had to post this photo of the dogs at the river behind the house. There was a fifth dog but the stick was too short, no kidding. Our two Goldens are on the left, Peanut and Rudy. The next two in line belong to our friends Pat and Kelly, and always brings a smile to my face to remember that summer day. It looks like finally fall weather is on the way after this heat wave, trees turning autumn colors, firewood collection in full gear, and eventually some snow. Thank goodness!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Want To See A "Killer" Image?

Our pal Nick Dunlop got this photograph of Rob Palmer's young Peregrine in the hunt last week, while at the Raptor Research Foundation Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado. They went for a morning fly then showed up at the shindig with this printed as cards, and sold out in minutes. Nick reports that the falcon caught this duck a split second later by the foot and the two crashed to the sagebrush ground below. Rob dashed up and fed his bird a quail and hooded her, to release the duck unscathed, but all the smarter now having escaped from the fastest animal on earth. Okay, maybe not Rob's falconry bird, but Peregrines in general. What a shot!