coastal cliff peregrine falcons in NorCal
My week of amazing raptor encounters continued again on Sunday after the tracking fun on the beaches. I had seen a peregrine earlier in the day soaring in a kettle of turkey vultures and one red-tailed hawk over the beach, but I was hoping for a closer look. So I went to check on the peregrine falcons that are nesting on a cliff on one of the beaches a few hours north of San Francisco (my first encounter with them depicted here). The eggs should be hatching any day now, which means one of the birds is always on the nest (tucked inside a cave in a cliff, making it difficult to see in) and the other is usually away hunting – I figured it was likely that I wouldn’t see either of them, though the one I saw at a distance earlier was likely one of the pair.
As I walked onto the beach, I first heard, then saw, a peregrine as it whizzed by me in flight up towards the nest area. It brought a huge smile to my face. When I arrived there, one of them was high up on the cliff preening. I decided to keep walking for a bit then come back when perhaps there was more to see at a closer range.
When I returned, there was no sign of them. Just when I was about to leave, still feeling very grateful for an amazing day, one of them came flying in and perched low on the cliff right by where I was sitting!
I consider it a tremendous gift to be able to spend time with these birds, and when they allow me to be so close it is an extra special treat. As I mentioned in my golden eagle post, I always am very careful not to stress the birds when I am observing or photographing them. I want to have close experiences with wildlife, but only on their terms. This one seemed incredibly at ease with me just below, near the bottom of the cliff. I had the gift of watching him (I’m guessing it was the “him” of the pair) preen for almost 30 minutes before it was time for his duty to relieve his mate and incubate the eggs.
It was likely the strong winds and whipping sands are what prompted him to have his eyes partially shut as in the picture above, but the look certainly added to my sense that he was feeling quite relaxed. Hopefully he’s not tired, they haven’t yet had to start feeding their brood of always hungry eyasses (young falcons).
I knew that the other falcon was in the nest because on a number of occasions some turkey vultures had flown over and I heard her vocalizing in an agitated way at their presence (again, guessing it was the “her” of the pair). When the first falcon flew in to perch, he vocalized briefly and it seemed it was a communication to let the female know he was there. His preening time came to an end when I heard the falcon in the nest give some different vocalizations and she flew out, shook herself several times in mid-flight, then started flying away – evidently a not-so-subtle sign that it was his turn to take over keeping the eggs warm so she could hunt.
Spending time alone on the beach so close to an animal like this is one of the best gifts that I could receive. And after the encounter with the golden eagles just two days prior, I’m feeling very spoiled. I hope I can in some measure return to them and their kind what they give to me.