Friday, August 30, 2013


It's been ten years since I trained a falconry bird, Sibley the Peregrine, who flies 6 1/2  months a year, easy. Then the new Aplomado joins the family and I seemed to have forgotten one little fact: they need to be a tiny bit hungry to come back to the trainer. I started flying her free last Saturday, and she was perfect yesterday. But today Sonora chased dragonflies and stood in trees in the yard for two hours, was mobbed by magpies and then came over for a treat. Watching her fly brought tears to my eyes, absolutely beautiful, and the dogs Mookie and Peanut were guarding their new friend. Or hoping for quail scraps...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cover Shot

I just sent this photo off to International Falconry Magazine in the UK, and it will be the cover shot for the next issue. Don't feel bad if you are slow with the ID - it's a Teita Falcon bred at The Peregrine Fund in Boise. She's being flown by their amazing Bill Heinrich, and this photo was taken the morning I picked up Sonora, July 2nd. Just a little larger than a Merlin, they were named for the Taita (Teita) Hills in Kenya where they were first collected. Amazing bird hunters, they stoop from up high and sometimes fly past the swallow or swift and grab it from underneath. Sounds like a little Peregrine to me!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One More...

Man, this tree is a bird magnet. We know that birds have favorite perches, and when we visit a Peregrine nest cliff, right away we look this snag and that ledge, a contest to be the first to spot the falcon. Not fair when we take new guests that don't know the routine.

Same Tree, Different Day

I can't believe how many photos I have of that tree. A falcon was perched there last night, but couldn't get the camera out of the pack in time.


No eagles in their favorite tree tonight, but a flock of Cedar Waxwings instead. We often think of them flocking to berry trees, but these birds were "hawking" insects flying over the river. Lots of juveniles in there, with browner streaked plumage. An eagle did show up, to be attacked by an Osprey, but after dark, so no photos.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Last Night

Walking back to the house from the river last night and no smoke. I just got back from a program today at Lochsa Lodge, and drove through the fire zone, ground zero just west of Woodman School - a week after this whole thing blew up.  MAN, it burned right across Highway 12, fires all around some homes, and two that had burned - garages intact. I can't imagine, and hope it is all over for our friends and neighbors of Lolo Creek.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Audrey the Tortie

What a rain storm last night, and barely had time to get the clothes off the line it came in so fast. We got a half inch of rain like that. Great for the fires, but also along with the storm came over 100 lightning strikes in Missoula and Nine Mile. What did Mark Twain say about lightning? Something like thunder is cool, but it's lightning that does the work. Anyway, after the rain we took our walk to the beach, and Audrey joined us, what a poser. One time Tom was at the river with two dogs, a cat and our raven Danica flying around, and a fisherman walked away scratching his head.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Saturday's Smoke

This shot yesterday, west of Missoula at 5:30. Lolo fire kicking in again...we ain't out of the woods just yet. And thanks to the generous patron of the Humane Society at Friday night's Bone Ball in Caras Park. $1200 for a tour of the ranch! That should feed, spay and neuter a bunch of puppies and kittens.She said she was going to bring all of her grandkids, 18 or so, and what a great cause. That's where we got our cats, 9 years ago!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bioacoustics with Dr. Erick

Erick Greene had us along for a video shoot today by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. We met at our favorite garden spot,  Paul Loehnen's up Grant Creek. Film topic: Erick's study on alarm calls given by birds  in response to perched and flying raptors. They started with Erick's roboraptors, or his animated stuffed Great Horned Owl ("RoboBubo") and Northern Goshawk that turns it's head and shakes its tail. This got the chickadees, siskins, Stellar's jays, everyone, all riled up.  Then we perched the real McCoy, Margo the Sharp-shinned Hawk. PhD student Alexis Billings pointed out the various alarm calls by the jays, plenty excited and annoyed. Then Erick noticed a perfectly terrified response call by the Pine Siskins that soon fled the yard all together. What a great bird, Margo. I was about to say that it was a break from the fire vigil, but a helicopter with a water bucket raced through my back yard just now. Better go investigate.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lolo Complex Fire Rages

I took this photo last night, right after the winds picked up and the Lolo fire made a huge run. I was standing in the exact center of the Bitterroot River, water just up to my ankles, and shooting to the north. In the words of my friend Diana that lives on the top of Horseback Ridge, "This fire is bad." A monster and headed her way. Let's all pray for rain.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sonora Checks It Out

Our Aplomado Falcon watches the Lolo Complex Fire yesterday afternoon from the comfort of one of her window sill perches. Actually, she was watching hummingbirds and bees flying around outside.

Unbelievable Fire(s)

Here is a sequence of the immense fire blowing up yesterday. The Schoolhouse Fire up Highway 12 by Woodman School merged with the Westfork II  for spectacular smoke clouds, now called the Lolo Complex. The first shot was walking back from the river at 1:45, as I noticed a puff of smoke to the northwest. Then it blew up and the second photo at 4:09. It is now more than 5000 acres in red flag fire conditions, and another scary day today for firefighters and residents. It is a "plume-dominated"fire, creating its own weather and wind, and ran 2 miles in 15 minutes! We hope for safety for everyone, and please, no wind. Prayers all around!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ospreys Fishing/Attacking

Osprey Evening last night, with adults fishing and joined by the offspring to attack the adult male Bald Eagle when he hustled by, flying upstream. We have fishing restrictions in the Bitterroot River now due to the lowest water levels in over 30 years. No fishing between 2 pm and midnight to reduce stress on the trout. No fishing for humans that is. I walked across the river and barely got my kneecaps wet.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Two Flight Photos

Just now and wonder where the helicopter was headed for a bucket drop on a fire? Right over the river and heading west. Husband Tom is a wild land firefighter, working on the DNRC Helitack crew and has been on the new fire near Clinton since last evening, near where we lived for 13 years. There is a red-flag fire danger going on around here, scary. Then one of the Bald Eagle sisters pulled up across the river, so two flight shots...The fire smoke makes for nice light in photos, but keeps us on our toes.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

AMKE's Rule

(That stands for AMerican KEstrels)

Family from "Back East"

My brother and his three kids are here until Monday (not long enough) - the two girls on the left and seated son. They are pouring over some Phillips Family photo albums with my sister Betsy's kids. Brother Jon worked in The Industry in Hollywood for years, and now has his own business in New Jersey, busy as ever - he dubs animated feature films into forty-seven languages for world distribution. He's done all of the Shrek films, Rango, Despicable Me's, on and on. I always say he has to find someone that sounds like Eddie Murphy that speaks Cantonese. He told me that a recent addition to the languages is a dialect from India, a film that only hits about seven screens, but very popular!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

All in Five Minutes

Down at the river tonight and all shots within 5 minutes in the back yard. First an Osprey searching for a fish or an eagle to harass. Then the adult male, and I blew up this photo to notice feathers on his beak, ducks cowering in the river below. Then the female heading back to the nest tree. What a scene, and one fledgling Bald Eagle screaming on top of our eagle building the whole time.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Happy B-Day

Okay, not bees, but yellowjackets and unbelievable. I had to move the Sharp-shinned Hawk Margo, because her building had hundreds and hundreds, and they could eat a half a quail about as fast as she could. So I go around, feed the hawks in the morning then go retrieve what's left before the yellowjackets eat it. I'm talking a pound of deer meat, gone by dusk. Then all of the owls are fed well after dark, even the Pygmy-owl. I got stung twice in the hand, and one little villain chased me out of the hawk building and stung me in the leg. Infuriating. This photo of Margo in the snow is in the Bitterroot Audubon calendar this year, cool, and helps me remember the good seasons.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cranking On the Kestrel Book

I have been happily writing away, American Kestrel book project and it's all coming back to me. Get the reference books spread out all over, read papers on SORA (Searchable Ornithological Reference Archive, check it out),  inspiration from falcons perched in the house...and KCSM Jazz San Mateo 91.1 streaming on line over the speakers. With a quiet time for photography now, cranking out some text. Then the fun part is installing photos from Rob Palmer and Your Humble Narrator. Once you get the ball rolling, passages come into your head day and night, and run to write them down. Today's favorite in Chapter One was a quote from a book given to me by my friend Carmen, Birds That Hunt and Are Hunted, published in 1899. “Its charming hovering posture gives its flight a special grace…Every farmer’s boy knows the voice of the killy hawk.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Perching Birds

Sonora the Aplomado Falcon's new favorite perch is on top of a vulture sculpture I made twenty-something years ago, during my brief "clay period." Behind is a Nick Dunlop hunting Peregrine photo, a mallard to the right mounted by Dale Manning, and skulls all around. Keeps her out of trouble as she is learning to fly (or run) after a garnished lure. Then, I just missed both eagles perched on top of the hawk building out back. You can see how big the baldie is compared to the Swainson's Hawk in silhouette. It's a circus around here. In a good way.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What a Crop!

One of the fledgling Bald Eagles from the back yard has been pigging out lately, another huge crop last night (or craw as your grandmother used to call it.) That's the storage pouch in the throat, a sac off the esophagus that temporarily holds food on the way to the two stomachs. Eagles, hawks, and falcons (absent in owls) can gorge and go somewhere to quietly digest. One time after Sib caught a mallard, I let her eat as much of it as she could, as Jay's dog ran off and we had time to kill. So Sibley got more that her usual little taste of the head and neck, and then some. I swear, she couldn't see her feet until sometime the next day, a trophy crop!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sunday Night

An adult and one of the fledglings were hanging out tight in the foliage of a cottonwood tree right across the river from the nest, hiding (?). This made it harder for the Ospreys to take pot shots, but they tried three times while I was there, just flying by and couldn't resist. Below, the sisters on the next door neighbor's house right now, as we speak. Glad Bob's a good sport, as he now has an increasing number of white stripes up there.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Counting Their Lucky Stars

The family assembles for a discussion last night on the relentless attacks by their neighbors downstream.  The parents perhaps take solace in knowing that the Ospreys migrate in a month, but not the huge "babies" and their begging. Both are currently stationed on top of our 40 foot eagle building, hoping for handouts. Not gonna happen.

Bald Eagle Battle

Taking the dogs for a swim last night, we were rewarded with the whole Bald Eagle family rejoined in one tree thanks to a pair of hostile Ospreys. First, one of the fledged birds landed, then her sister, then this male after fleeing in terror from the Osprey. Then right at dark, the female came in with another Osprey hot on her heels. These eagles were seriously spooked, and the Ospreys fearless. A spectator sport on the beach, and I always root for the fish hawks.
UPDATE: Someone just asked me...The Reason = Revenge. With nests under a mile apart, I'm sure that the pirating, thieving eagles, kleptoparasites that they are, have stolen many a fish from this pair of Ospreys. Ooops, sounds like I'm taking sides again.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Kingbird Snacks

A few Eastern Kingbirds were on the prowl in the yard last evening, and these are the insect-hawkers, catching bugs in the air like the top photo. Kingbirds are known to be irascible and relentless, chasing hawks and eagles that dwarf them. The photo I really want to get is the kingbird riding on the back of a raptor. I saw one land on the head of our fledgling Bald Eagle the other day. Take THAT! Kingbirds are in the genus Tyrannus, meaning "tyrant, despot or king," and I wonder if that makes them the modern day Tyrannosaurus Rex?