Wednesday, October 31, 2012


A photo from Jillian's very first program, NINE years ago at an elementary school in Hamilton. Ah, I remember it as if it were just yesterday...sort of.
Don't forget to tune in your radios tomorrow, Thursday,  at 4 to 5 pm Mountain Standard Time, for the kids' (and grow-ups') show Pea Green Boat with host Annie Garde and three special birds. Left of the dial on Montana Public Radio and streaming around the world on line, at KUFM and hit "Listen Live."And let me know if you did listen on your computer!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Butcher Watchman

Question: What songbird is most like a falcon? Answer: The Northern Shrike. This one was perched in the yard today, a quick shot before it took off toward the mountains like a little Peregrine. The Cornell Laboratory BNA account by Tom Cade describes them perfectly: "the Northern Shrike appears innocuous and non-predatory. Often tame and unsuspicious, it sometimes sings a feeble though pleasing and rhythmical song, even in winter, utterly belying its true nature, which it reveals the instant a mouse or small bird moves within its range of attack." Their scientific name Lanius excubitor means "butcher watchman," a great name for a scary Halloween movie. And check out that falcon-like beak, made for cracking vertebrae of birds and mammals which are often impaled on thorns and barbed wire for "butchering." What a bird!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fog Bank and Ferocious Predator

This from a few hours ago across the river and up in the sage brush. Sib was in perfect position high overhead for 20 minutes, and here she is watching a flock of Hungarian Partridge fly away. Right when she landed...what a sport. Then that fog suddenly rolled in with zero visibility, so back home safe and sound, with the dogs that were "hunting 'em up," mostly.

Friday, October 26, 2012

An Osprey?

We just had a great assembly for the kids at DeSmet School, west of Missoula and on the way home I spotted an Osprey flying down O'Brien Creek as it headed toward McClay bridge. I had just driven by the two nests there, reflecting on their long migration and tough life. Shocking, as I thought all of the Ospreys were outa here by now. This photo is from the archives, from the Hellgate nest last year. Then, when I pulled in the driveway to put the Teaching Team away, a flock of 44 Sandhill cranes flew by, accompanied by 6 Snow Geese, all vocalizing as they headed straight south over the Bitterroot River. Migration has to be one of the most demanding spectacles that we can observe. Imagine the diversity of habitats these birds travel to get to the place they'll spend the next half a year, and we just hope their return trip will reward them with the same nesting opportunities they just left behind.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

25 Years of Education!

Check out my new Facebook profile picture...just kidding. It was taken about 23 or so years ago by my brother, releasing an owl that was starved, found eating earthworms in a neighbor's garden in Clinton. Hit by a car and sprayed by a skunk, he weighed about a pound and was fattened up on mice. Lucky the Owl. No more rehab for me, just education and we are at the 25 years celebration!  I came across this photo while putting together a Powerpoint and it's in my first book, Raptors of the Rockies, out of print for a while now. Hey, I still have those gloves.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Winter" is Just Starting

Just as I finished plugging in the heated perches and heat lamps for the two Harris's Hawks, "winter" began at 5 pm! This photo out the office window and more snow on the way, hurray.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Today a great Peregrine flight, Sib up and chasing game for over three hours, a record.  Jay and I loved having Rio and Mookie the dogs along, "hunting 'em up." Plus aspen trees nearby. Snow on the way, and thanks for the great weather, Mother Nature.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Yesterday at MPG

Observant folks will notice the broken primary on Sib's left wing, number 9. Molt is such an important process as all or nearly all of the feathers are replaced over the spring and summer - worn, frayed and broken in the process of flying and hunting. Sibley has kept those last two primaries on each wing the last two years, and doubt she'll drop them this late in the season. But hopefully next summer. Our Harris's Hawks molt all year 'round, and the eagles will take three years to replace all of their feathers, so have a checkerboard look on their back of old faded and new dark feathers.
ps: Flying Sib just now she dropped her first (innermost) secondary feather, so there is hope! 
pss: She dropped that nearly three year old primary a few days later. Whew.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October Flight

The leaves will be gone soon, but yesterday in full brilliance flying the Peregrine between wind gusts at One Horse Creek. Sib knows that she's just out for exercise and no game to hunt, so she typically flies around above the trees and fields for about 15 minutes, swoops at the dogs a few times, then circles waiting for the lure and food. Fun for all four of us, every day!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

UFO? No: Lenticular Cloud

This photograph from moments ago and everyone in the Bitterroot must have noticed this giant lenticular cloud, hovering over the valley. Lenticular meaning "lens-shaped." The smoke is finally gone with over an inch of rain on Monday night and a glorious autumn day. And thanks to Jan Burgess and the kids at Lone Rock School for a great program today and me going on and on. And on and on...Degas the Long-eared Owl was one of the heroes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Big Game Hunting Season

Just shot this photo looking east, and peak colors for the cottonwoods now. This reminds me that big game hunting season is coming up (and bow season is here) and often people have "old" meat in their freezers that needs a home. We can use any non-ground game meat that you can spare, as our eagles have quite the appetites. Roasts, steaks, stew meat and the like, but not burger as the fat makes them ill. Let me know if you have any meat to spare - - or drop it off at H & H Meats on South Avenue in Missoula with the label "raptor food."  Thanks and much appreciated by all of these carnivores!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fall Is Here

Tonight the faithful dogs at the river, and unbelievably, an Osprey flew by. We thought they were gone, and a great sight. Leaves are falling and will also be gone soon. Get your ski gear out, folks, and see you at The 'Bowl.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What Month Is It?

This shot from just after 4 p.m. today, our house and the Bitterroot Mountains in the backdrop. Fires still rage, despite cold nights, short days and heroic work by wildland firefighters. We have the distinction of a record setting drought, with 49 days without precipitation here, and rains scheduled for tomorrow. Thank you very much, Mother Nature. The last photo I got like this was in August, not October 12th!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tower of Power

Sibley in two of her eight trips to the top of the Tower of Power at the University Flight lab. This film by Bret Tobalski is 300 frames per second. The BBC's camera was shooting 1500 frames/second and in color, so we'll try to snag a bit of that footage as well.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sibley Superstar

Our Peregrine Sib starred in two days of shows this week with the BBC, appeared at the Festival of the Book program yesterday for two hours, and caught a duck today. Unbelievable bird.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Day Two with the BBC

Sibley did what she does best - flying high and catching game, all captured by the film crew from Britain and Bozeman. We were delighted to have her catch a partridge, filmed later in close-ups, complete with plucking and crunching sounds recorded in high definition. These cameras cost an un-godly amount and are now much coveted by all of us at the University of Montana Flight Lab, me and Jay Sumner who helped with the falcon wrangling. Thanks to our friends at the MPG Ranch for the opportunity to set up this hunt and for the beautiful natural backdrop. We'll let you all know when this airs on the Discovery Channel - prime time!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

BBC Lands

The Tower of Power was the hot spot for bird flight today, University of Montana Flight Lab, with Bret Tobalske reviewing one of the eight (!) flights Sibley took in this two story chamber. She exceded our expectations, cameras capturing her straight upward flight at 1500 frames per second. Footage will appear in a film made by the BBC for the Discovery Channel, and tomorrow - free flight in the Bitterroot and high speed cameras again, Sib catching a partridge. Stay tuned for footage. Man o man.