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5.2.17   My friend cjflick was helping me with the Prairie Falcon nest site, confirming some facts and shared some historical falcon nest sites with me.  As we looked at this particular site we spotted a Peregrine Falcon in flight with prey, so followed it to see where it landed.

We were practically dancing with delight when we saw it land on this former Red-tailed Hawk nest and watched its mate fly away.  Peregrines typically lay their eggs on bare rock, called a scrape; or take over an old nest and parents share nest duty.  Incubation takes 29 to 32 days.

This nest is high on a cliff ledge, the furthest distance of all the nests I follow so please forgive my picture quality.

5.4.17  I watch the Peregrine Falcon flying in toward the nest with prey in its talons.  They generally eat birds and surprising to me, bats!  The pair mates for life as do many raptors and return to the same breeding ground each year but not necessarily the same nest site.

The parent lands in the nest with breakfast.  The falcon blends in with background cliff rocks.  Nest sites are generally on high cliffs, away from predators.

5.11.17  Today I don’t see any Peregrine Falcons but that doesn’t mean she’s not on the nest.  Incubation period is 29 to 32 days if she’s laying on eggs.

5.15.17   I see a Peregrine Falcon adult on the nest, not incubating according to its posture,  so I’m guessing we has chicks!

5.19.17   I can see a FUZZY WHITE CHICK but barely!!  His head pokes up toward the left middle part of the nest and stands out against the dark rock background.

5.23.17   Today I can clearly see three Peregrine Falcon chicks high up in their nest!!!  Nestling period averages 38 days.

5.25.17  Peregrine Falcon chicks are still difficult to see, but their fuzzy little white heads are peeking up just above the rim of the nest.

5.27.17   A downy little Peregrine Falcon chick is oh so close to the edge of his nest, just beginning his young life.  The average life span of these raptors is 7 to 15 years.  The oldest banded Peregrine was close to 20 years old according to Cornell’s All About Birds.

 

Even though my day began at 4am I chose to stay up for the Aurora Borealis prediction and am so glad I did.  I must tell you that if my eyelids could have stayed open another 5 minutes I could have shown you pillars and waves but alas I needed sleep so headed home.

5.28.17  A Peregrine Falcon parent sits in a tree high above the nest while I listen to the chicks calling.  Osprey also loudly call and fish nearby.

The kids must all be asleep, I see no activity.

5.30.17   I’m trying to remember to show my surroundings while ‘nest-watching’ and this is another early morning start to see as many nests as possible in a day.

Even though I’m far away, I can see dark feathers growing on the nestlings.  Like Prairie Falcons, chicks are called Eyases….a fellow raptor enthusiast suggests Falconette, which I like better.

Peregrine Falcon chicks stretch their little wings, showing the dark flight feathers growing in!  I’m guessing they’re about 5 weeks old based on what I’ve read.  Peregrines are the fastest bird in the world, diving over 200 mph in pursuit of prey, with a normal ‘cruising’ speed of 24 to 33 mph.

6.3.17  Another very early morning to check my nests, starting with the Peregrine Falcon.

The chicks are quickly growing, compare this shot to the fuzzy chick’s first wing stretch just a few days ago.  I can hear them steadily call for their parents.

6.8.17  In five days time most of the remaining white feathers have turned brown on this trio of Peregrine Falcon chicks.

Rain with gray sky ~ not the best background, but still happy to see the falcon parent hunting overhead.

6.10.17   The Peregrine Falcon chicks explore the rim of their nest and surrounding rocks and crevices.

They race back and forth across the nest.  Look at those wings!  It makes me think they’ll fledge sooner rather than later!

6.13.17   The trio matures at a fast pace, exploring more outside the nest.  Parents place food farther away, luring the chicks farther beyond the nest.  Eventually parents will exchange food with the fledglings in flight, training them to catch flying prey.

I wonder how much more time I’ll have with this little family as the chicks gain maturity so quickly.

The Peregrine Falcon parent is easy to spot in the sky, but difficult to catch as she’s so fast.  Like most raptors, the female is larger but it’s difficult to tell them apart when not together.  According to Jim Watson, Wildlife Research Scientist at Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the wing beat for a male in powered flight is more rapid and Kestrel-like, whereas with a female you can better distinguish individual wing beats… also the male is bluer than the female.

6.15.17   The Peregrine Falcon Chicks have a quiet morning.  Many fledglings do not live past 2 yrs old.  Several reports I read indicate until they grow wiser, they run into buildings, windows, fences, and airplanes while aggressively chasing prey.  DDT is banned in the US, but not in every country this raptor travels to, so pesticides are also a cause of death.

6.17.17  One chick is completely out of the nest!!  A fledgling!!

Look how high he can jump, as he returns to the nest.

Grabbing onto sticks to further propel him back in while his siblings watch and learn!

6.19.17  The chicks are gone!  They fledged so fast!  I stop by the nest every few days, then once a week while on my other nest checks but I saw no more of this Peregrine Falcon family.  My friend cjflick has monitored Peregrines for years and says  they usually traverse the fields over Catherine Creek as they grow stronger, learn how to hunt and improve flight skills.  Hope I get to watch them next year, I’ll keep a closer eye on them.

If you’d like to learn more about Peregrine Falcons, Cornell’s All About Birds, Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy for a great start.

The introductory post in this series where you’ll find links to my other nests as I write them is Empty Nest

 

3.19.17 I saw a Prairie Falcon sitting high on a cliff while doing my raptor survey for East Cascades Audubon Society.  I knew from experienced friends to not directly look at, point to or otherwise make myself known to him so I slowly slid the tip of my lens out my barely rolled down window, took aim & quietly grabbed these shots.

He perched for a bit at this nest site, then back up to the cliff.

He flew overhead several times then landed below the nest, looking around as if determining whether or not this was a good spot.  I didn’t want to discourage him, so quickly left, hoping he’d choose that spot for a nest.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day in the Gorge.  This nest will be “the western-most PRFA scrape we know of on the Washington side of the river”, according to wildlife research scientist, Jim Watson of WDFW…I’m ever so grateful for his sharing of information with me.

3.23.17  A few days later I was thrilled to see the Prairie Falcon IN THE NEST!!  He seemed to be skittishly looking around and I hadn’t seen a mate so didn’t know if this would be the final nest choice yet.  Again I quickly left.

3.28.17  Prairie Falcon sitting in front of nest on cliff, I was excited to see him still here!

4.9.17   He’s still there!

4.20.17  My day began with a sunrise at Catherine Creek.

Darn, no Prairie Falcon today…..

4.25.17  There was no one home again at the nest, but I spotted a Prairie Falcon close to an historical nest site a couple of miles away from the nest I’m watching.

I only observed him a few minutes before he flew.

5.2.17  My friend, cjflick joined me at the nest site to help me confirm whether or not the Prairie Falcon was indeed using this as a nest.  Typically falcons don’t build nests, they use a ‘scrape’ (bare rock) or cliffside dwelling previously made by other raptors.  Once again there was no Prairie Falcon at the stick nest site that I’d found.

5.4.17   No sighting again, but I’m learning more about these falcons.  They begin breeding at about two years old.  During courtship the pair visit potential nest sites together for about a month.  They eat small mammals, birds and insects and on average only live 2.5 to 5 yrs in the wild. Why do they not live longer?  Sadly the top three causes of death are gunshot, hit by cars and run into fences.  Fourth is owl predation.         

5.11.17  No action in the nest again today….should I give up on this one?  cjflick encouraged me to keep watching.

5.19.17   After not observing any activity for a month, I am thrilled to see a Prairie Falcon on the nest today!

Later, when I zoomed in on today’s photos, I saw a parent’s head in the far back of the nest!  Had they been incubating all this time?  I learned they incubate for 29 – 39 days, so my answer is YES!  You can barely see the falcon’s head behind a front stick that stands up at an angle.

5.23.17  today I see one parent at the edge of the nest.

5.25.17  I spot a Prairie Falcon on a ledge near the nest.

I can’t see any action IN the nest.   If only my camera could zoom UP and IN!!

5.27.17  was an exciting day.  I watched a Prairie Falcon take off from a cliff above the nest…..

He flies down towards the nest…..

It happened so fast I couldn’t keep my camera focused on the raptor, but I think what happened is he grabbed a rodent, took it to the nest and now the mate is flying out of the nest with said rodent.

Then she repositions the rodent from her beak to her  talons while in flight!

She now has the rodent in her talons, while still in flight, and heads back up to the cliffside perch above the nest.

Her mate stays back at the nest, presumably with the young chicks…or Eyases as their technically called (if used for falconry).  I’d rather call them Falconettes.

As if that weren’t enough excitement, an Aurora is predicted tonight.  I decide to stay up and watch it despite my 4am wake up call this morning.  I had to quit about midnight but heard that I should have waited for the better show only 30 minutes later.

5.30.17  LOOK!!  WE HAVE CHICKS!!  Another exciting day for me in my ‘Prairie Falcon Nest Watch’!!  You can barely see their fuzzy white heads above the sticks.  The ‘nestling’ time is 29 to 47 days.

Looking at their size and comparing them to other chicks I’m watching, they are probably the same age as the Peregrine Falcons.  I’ll share a link to that page as soon as it’s written.

Falconettes stretch their wings while a parent gets out for a breath of fresh air.  Just kidding.  The nest stays clean because they eliminate out the front door ~ you can see the white stain on the front rocks.

Trying to remember to post pictures of my surroundings while I am enroute to or at all my ‘Nest Check’ locations.

6.3.17   THREE Falconettes in the nest!  How adorable they are!!  At three weeks brown juvenile feathers poke through the white fuzz, so I’m guessing they could be four weeks here.

6.8.17  Did I say three?  We have three Falconettes and what a difference five days make!  At 5 to 6 weeks old, the white fuzz disappears and their brown feathers have grown in.  I’d better check in on them more frequently.

They flap their wings and race from side to side of the nest.  What fun to hear them call to one another or their parents.

It was enough to make this parent fly out the front door!

6.10.17  Two days later, they’re still racing back and forth across the nest opening.  Their wings are darker and as you can see they’re taller!

Yes, they can be still.  They settle down for a short while….

…then resume practicing future flight techniques.

6.13.17  The triplets call and wait for a parent to bring lunch.

A parent must be getting closer, the Falconettes act excited and race across the nest opening.

The parent is closer, the Falconettes race toward the direction of her arrival.

She drops off lunch then leaves immediately after feeding.

Back to hunting for the family.

6.15.17   omg the kids are out of the nest!  Technically, when they leave the nest, they’ve ‘fledged’.

I did not see them go further than the front porch and they scramble back into the nest when a parent flies in with food.

The parent stayed long enough to deliver lunch, then took off again.

Back to the job of hunting for a hungry family.

6.17.17  A beautiful sunny Gorge day.

When I arrive at the nest I find it EMPTY!!  Falconettes have Fledged!  Where are they???

Movement caught my eye up on the cliffs.  Oh just look at them outside practicing flight techniques together!

I watched the fledglings practicing their take-offs and landings on this cliff and a grassy spot nearby.

Perched high on a cliff, they also appeared to chase down prey but I couldn’t tell if they caught anything.

They appeared to feed each other….licking lunch off each otter’s beaks?

I wondered where the third sibling was, then found him nearby on a grassy slope near the cliffs.

6.19.17   I’m told the Prairie Falcon fledglings will hang around as their muscles further develop, perfecting their flight and hunting skills for a couple weeks.

I found all three today, this one is practicing take-offs and landings.

This one was racing around the neighborhood.

6.22.17  Falcon fledglings still hanging around.  Only found two today up on the cliffs but the third is probably nearby.

6.23.17   Prairie Falcons practice hunting skills!  They had bloody beaks, so they must have caught prey themselves.

6.24.17  Prairie Falcon fledgling practicing flight skills.

He takes off, flies a bit, then lands not too far away from where he started.

Taking a little rest in the shade while his siblings are beyond the edge of the cliff.

6.27.17   Prairie Falcon fledglings were difficult to find until they moved while hunting on the rocks below their nest.

As the morning wore on they were easier to find when the sun lit them up.

All three are still near their original nest.

6.29.17  Prairie Falcon fledgling taking off in flight below their nest. They’ve become more graceful in flight.

Another Prairie Falcon fledgling in flight above the cliffs…

Third fledgling hunts in an area also near their nest.

7.2.17   Prairie Falcon fledglings chasing each other across the cliff.

They’re still so much fun to watch.  Like kids, having races, calling each other, and generally having a good time learning life skills.

7.4.17   Prairie Falcons are still near their nest, practicing, learning, and maturing.

This was my last visit but I may go check to see if they’re still there once I finish this series of blog posts.

If you’d like to learn more about Prairie Falcons, in addition to All About Birds I found more information at

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology and Seattle Audubon

The introductory post in this series where you’ll find links to my other nests as I write them is Empty Nest

Empty Nest

July 20, 2017

Empty Nest….a phrase with multiple meanings, but in my case quite literally.

I followed seven raptor nests from birth (incubation) until graduation (fledge) this season.  An arduous task barely completed, but I’m ready to show you my journey.

I followed three Red-tailed Hawk nests, (Nest #1, Nest #2 and Nest #3)

…a Great Horned Owl, (link to post here)

…Prairie Falcon triplets (link to post here),

…Peregrine Falcon triplets  (link to post here),

…and a Bald Eagle (link to post here).

I’ve followed nests before, but not this consistently or with as much determination; and never from beginning until end.  I did a ‘nest check’ every 4 to 5 days in the beginning, then every 3 to 4, then 2 to 3 days until the raptors were close to fledging when I checked every other day….and sometimes every day!

Starting mid to late March with a couple of nests, I picked up more as I went along.  My last day was July 4th when the Bald Eaglet fledged (I now call him ‘Freedom’, of course!)  Some days I shot thousands of photos, some days only a few, depending on circumstances at each nest site.

What got me started you ask?  I participate in a raptor survey each winter for East Cascades Audubon Society.  This winter I noticed empty nests through branches of deciduous trees and decided to keep my eye on them.  I also noticed a Prairie Falcon perched at the opening of a ‘stick’ nest high on a cliff that was likely occupied by Ravens last season.  A couple of people gave me leads for other nests when they heard about my project and I followed up on those.  Only one location was on private land and I’m grateful for owner permission to enter that gate.

Special thanks to mentor cjflick on this project.  She showed me many historical falcon sites and while together one day, we observed Peregrine Falcons flying into a known location that was formerly a Red-tailed Hawk nest.  She is also instrumental in my education as I travel through this wondrous adventure, always available for my many questions!

Also thanks to Rowena Wildlife Clinic who I called on several heartbreaking occasions.  Leigh put my mind at rest, told me what to expect and how to handle what I observed in the morning before most of my friends were even out of bed.

If you want to learn more about these amazing raptors there are many sources.  I used Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds,  The Crossley ID Guide, took a fabulous Raptor ID class from Dick Ashford at Winter Wings, followed up with many questions to mentors cjflick and others; and chased down each bit of information I came across.  I’ve learned much, but mostly learned I still have much to learn.

I tell the story of each nest as I lived the adventure.  I tend to personify or anthropomorphize so forgive me if I call ‘my raptors’ he or she, Mom or Dad; or even suggest a human relationship action that may not be accurate in the real world of raptors.  I appreciate corrections for any mistakes, comments, and additions that you care to give.

Just so you know, I use a 150 to 600 mm zoom lens and my photos are all cropped.  Most of my nests were photographed from my car without disturbing the raptors in any way.   It’s unethical to bait, lure, flush or otherwise disturb wildlife and in some situations illegal … especially when nesting or raising young.  I also don’t use bird calls from my phone apps to lure or engage.  My goal in this series of posts is to share the stages of each nest with the hope of educating and building respect for these creatures that we share the planet with.

All my photos are now loaded, I simply have to add written content…a task that would be so much easier if I could read my notes.  And if I’d dated my notes.  And if I hadn’t let them get rained on….you get the gist!

 

 

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