A few weekends ago I was trailing a bobcat around a lagoon at Point Reyes National Seashore, when suddenly I realized we were being watched. I looked up and scanned the sandy dunes, and almost immediately my eyes locked in on it. A peregrine falcon. Sitting on one of the highest dunes that surrounds the lagoon, watching us.
It allowed us to get pretty close as we followed the bobcats trail, then finally flew off across the lagoon with powerful wing beats. I was hoping to find some good tracks, but upon inspecting the dune there were none in the loose sand. What I did find however, was what appeared to be a regular dining spot for this bird. Strewn all across the dune were bones, feathers, and regurgitated pellets.
The pellets were very light, composed mostly of tiny, downy, under-feathers of what likely once belonged to some type of shore bird species. Compared to the pellets of most mammal-eating bird species, they contained virtually no bones.
Exciting day at Hawk Hill today by the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the great spots for seeing large numbers of migrating raptors. The Accipiters are coming through in high volume right now, and I was able to get out for a bit to watch. The fog started to roll in just as I got there, but we still had a good number of birds coming through (and visible, despite the low fog bank).
In addition to many sharp-shinned hawks and a few cooper’s hawks, we were treated to a few peregrine falcons that flew by. But not only did the juvenile peregrine fly by – it stayed a while to perform some antagonizing aerials on resident ravens, migrating sharp-shinned hawks, and one lone harrier! It’s hard to tell if it was hunting, just playing, or something in between. The ravens seemed to be having fun playing with it. The small sharpies … definitely not so much!
During this past two weeks I’ve had the fortune to see a lot of local raptor young and fledglings – peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, white-tailed kites, osprey, and even one black hawk / red-shoulder hybrid. I’ll have more detailed blog posts and the stories about each of these soon, but for now here are a few pictures.
The winds surged onto the coast
like a flood of oncoming water;
And seemed to convince even the water below
that on this evening,
they could together move the giant rocks around which they are usually forced to flow.
But as the wind and the water
danced with the rocks in their daily ritual,
debating who is mightier;
The falcons flew above and through it all.
I had nearly given up on seeing the falcon fledge(s) from this nest, located on the side of the sea cliffs – instead I was ready to yield to the winds that seemed determined to drive people and most living things to seek shelter elsewhere. I watched as cormorants and gulls flapped their wings so hard and fast, only to barely make headway in the gale. Instead of leaving though, I took refuge behind a lupine bush that afforded slight shelter from its relentless surge. The rock face that rose in front of me was glowing in a yellow light that made all the colors of the coastal plants seem to glow, with hints of orange starting to invade the palette before me, foreshadowing the oncoming setting of the sun. I was astounded how the small plants that made a home in the crags on the face of the rock barely moved in the 40 mph winds, and was a bit disappointed not to see the familiar form of a falcon hiding somewhere in the midst of it all.
My eyes shut for a few moments after an already long day, and when they opened I immediately saw that familiar form on the very top of the rock – a peregrine!
It seemed to look at me for a few seconds, then it jumped off its perch and floated into the air, a few quick flaps of its wings propelling it with speed right into the strong winds.
Soon it broke its relatively even glide with some quick dives at a few small birds in the chaparral – exuberant, youthful frolicking – and a bit ungraceful! It was happy to be alive and happy to be a falcon. Flying! It was definitely a newly fledged bird, and I was happy to see it had survived this long. Moments later it had disappeared.
I soon gave up my plan to watch the sunset over the waters, as the wind now was my only companion now and it seemed intent on its solitude.
On a whim, or an intuition (or an invitation?), I decided to drive a little further into the park instead of starting my journey “home” (though wasn’t I already home?). As I crested a hill, and the Pacific Ocean once again dominated my view to the west, the sun seemed to renew its invitation to watch its daily finale. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, two small darting forms caught my attention in the sky above the tallest hill over the cliffs of the sea …
There were two falcons playing in the updrafts of wind on the large hill side – chasing each other, diving at one another, flipping upside down to grasp talons – an aerial game of tag! I immediately pulled over, jumped out of my vehicle and ran to join them, shouting out loud into the wind and forgetting for a moment that I couldn’t leave the ground to join them.
In my previous trips to check out the nest, I had only confirmed one baby, but apparently there were at least two that survived. And now these recently fledged falcons were testing and honing their flight skills with each other in the sky above me. So amazing to witness, so fun!
I had no choice but to accept all the invitation before me, so I settled in on a deer path that cut across the slope of the hill facing towards the setting sun. The falcons continued to come back above me a number of times, and at one point when one of the two disappeared, the other left its hover in the wind and banked in my direction, and I could feel its eyes on me! I got a fly-by! They are inquisitive creatures, and especially at this time in their lives they are investigating everything. Or maybe it could tell I would have like to join them up there.
There are few things that are as fun to see (or be a part of) as young animals or kids playing, and I felt really grateful to have gotten to see this short moment of time, when these birds don’t have a care in the world and are just bursting with life and joy and excitement about being alive. Inspiring, and a reminder that we still have that in each of us if we can just take a bit of time to reconnect with it.
so many babies right now! in addition to the exciting black hawk / red-shoulder nest and eyas (in my last post), i’ve gotten to see some other fun sites.
the three eyasses at the fruitvale bridge have successfully fledged and are learning to fly. when i was there last week, they were still unsteady in their flight, and one was doing a lot of “practice flapping” while gripping tightly onto the bridge span. so fun to watch. he took a little time to stare down at the strange two-legged staring up at him. when the adult female showed up (empty taloned), one of the young kept harassing her and pushing her off her perch. they are a hungry lot!
i stumbled on a nest that i hadn’t ever seen before, after hearing the young begging for dinner. this red-tailed hawks nest near wildcat canyon should be vacant very soon – these young are looking ready to go. i saw their parents hunting until well after dark trying to keep their bellies full, not an easy job!
i’m still hopeful that i’ll get to see some young harriers soon, for surely the behavior of the the pair (pictured in some previous posts) in the marsh by the bay indicates they are around.
On this beautiful Spring-like (?!) morning, I had the privilege to see my old Falcon friends on the Fruitvale Bridge in Oakland/Alameda. Just after I arrived, Hiko, the tiercel (male falcon), came in to land on the Oakland tower with breakfast – which this morning appeared to be a Eurasian collared dove. Doing his part to remove invasive species today, I guess. Unfortunately my vantage point had the sun back-lighting my photos and I was pretty far away, but it was fun to watch as he really went to work on this bird, de-feathering it as we watched. Feathers floated down like a snow storm beneath him, he was working furiously to get at that meat!
After a little while, his mate came flying in from the northwest over the waterway, and she didn’t seem to see him as she landed on the other tower. She started to e-chup (vocalize), and he let her know he was there with a few response calls. Usually this time of year, the fella would be offering meals to his mate as part of the courtship process, but he seemed intent on keeping this meal to himself at that moment. It is just the beginning of the courtship and mating process, so maybe he’s just not feeling the love quite yet.
As Hiko was finishing his meal, Tremaine took off from her perch to investigate a little more into what Hiko was doing.
Tremaine landed back on the Alameda tower, and finally Hiko seemed moved to share his breakfast with her after being discovered hoarding his food. He took off with a portion of what was left and flew to her on the other tower. Typically, the tiercel would drop-off the food for the falcon as part of the courtship process, but at the last minute he had second thoughts about sharing and he veered away! Or perhaps he was flirting, falcon style. She immediately took off after him, and within seconds had “commandeered” her portion from Hiko in mid-air over the bridge! Good stuff.
She took the small portion of the dove that he had and did a lap around the towers with it, then headed back to the Alameda tower to eat.
Hiko then did a little survey flight around the area and settled in near Tremaine on the Alameda tower to do some preening after his crop-busting breakfast.
After Tremaine finished her portion, she flew over to the Oakland tower (interestingly the OPPOSITE tower that Hiko was on – I don’t think he won any extra points with his sharing “efforts”). The two settled into a mid-day lull as they digested their food and preened, and I left them to enjoy the sunny day.
This is a shot of Tremaine when she was eating that I took with my camera phone through a friend’s scope (digiscoping, it is called). Not great quality but quite a zoom. You can see Tremaine has a full crop, she must have eaten something on her own before getting this “gift” from Hiko.
These birds are so beautiful, watching them fly, with such quickness and grace, never gets old.
i don’t have a lot of words right now. one morning at a place like this is the same as reading 1000 books, combined with touching 1000 textures, smelling 1000 smells, hearing 1000 sounds, tasting 1000 flavors, seeing 1000 treasures and feeling a 1000000 heart strings of life.
we were treated at the beginning of the morning just after sunrise to the five resident Otters foraging in the lagoon, and a visitor that I have never seen before in this immediate area … a golden Eagle!
the above picture was of a creature foreshadowing things to come – this red-legged Frog (?) was a precursor to SO many Frog tracks in the sand, along with many deer Mice and brush Rabbit tracks – appearing in the middle of bare sand dunes for reasons unexplained. I surmise the new moon allowed some expanded forays for these normally reclusive species who stick to the cover of the plants on the edges of the dunes during most times.
brush Rabbit tracks
Frog tracks (likely red-legged Frog)
river Otter scent marking on the dunes
Bobcat (on right) and some type of amphibian (Salamander) tracks on left – perhaps an Ensinitas?
deer Mouse tracks with tail drag
beautiful clear front tracks of a red-legged Frog (right) along with deer Mouse tracks on the left
great-horned Owl tracks leading into a take-off spot
great-horned Owl trail …
WOW! what a find!!!! the trail seen in the picture from the left is a great-horned Owl coming in for a landing (final landing spot seen in the center of the picture). you can see it’s wing and tail feather imprints in the sand. also you can see a Raccoon trail diagonally across the picture from lower right to left (occurring after the Owl), along with faint Frog tracks paralleling the Raccoon, and some two-legged tracks at the top.
another view of the great-horned Owl landing spot (along with feather marks in sand!!), and its trail leading away from the landing point – ultimately to a take-off spot around 10 yards away. again, you can see the Raccoon trail across the center, and many other tracks in the background.
great-horned Owl tracks
a beautiful black-tailed mule Deer trail
Sanderling trail (?) … though I’m open to other interpretations … and some faint deer Mice, Frog and insect trails – this was found in the lagoon sand dunes, far from the surf
more Sanderling (?) tracks
another (!) great-horned Owl trail in the sand dunes!
one of my favorites to see live (but seldom a dependable sight), there were plenty of north american river Otter tracks around
the turkey Vultures are always hanging around for a meal, and this (faint) track (among smaller shore bird tracks) showed that they are quick to come in on the remains of shore birds who are predated at the lagoon by a varied cast of opportunists …
Bobcat tracks in sediment / algae
Bobcat trail in sediment / algae
Bobcat tracks (nice shot of front and rear) – based on the size and the shape, we decided it was likely a male
likely a Bobcat scat – it contained almost purely feathers!
Osprey – one of the NINE raptor species that we were treated to seeing on this day (Osprey, northern Harrier, white-tailed Kite, Kestrel, peregrine Falcon, turkey Vulture, Red-tailed hawk, Ferruginous hawk, and golden Eagle!). My friends also saw a Cooper’s hawk as they were driving out.
Red-tailed hawk on dunes
these snowy Plovers, a highly endangered species, were using human tracks in the sand as wind breaks from the increasing gusts coming in from the ocean – it was pretty adorable
this peregrine Falcon was not welcome company for the Kestrel who was attempting to escort it out of the area
the “mud hen,” or Coot – top of the menu for many predators at this time of year here. when the Otters come by, they move to the shore and band together, waiting for them to pass
for reasons still not understood (by me), the Ravens were harassing the Red-tailed hawks as usual. perhaps it is for fun or to prove social status … fun, being something that the Ravens seem to incorporate into their lives all the time, evidenced by their frolicking in the air lifts caused by the oncoming winds into the dunes. seeing them play in the air is like watching Otters in the water, the energy is simply fun!
lots of black-tailed mule Deer around in the fields, where we also saw lots of Badger sign
a cool shot of some black-tailed mule Deer tracks in the sand (with some two different bird tracks on the right of the frame)
the only animal signs that I might have expected to see and didn’t on this day were the grey fox and jack rabbit. grey Fox sign isn’t often seen right in this area, but jack Rabbit is. curious.
what a great day out at Point Reyes National Seashore, this place is such a gift – may it be protected for all this diversity of life to thrive, always.
happy equinox! the rains have come!!
The rains came down rather heavy today, for September – the first rains we’ve seen in months. It was wonderful. In the aftermath, the puffy cumulus clouds floated by as all life came out of their short rain hibernation.
All across the Bay area baby birds are taking flight, and many of the peregrine falcon nests in the region are already empty. Last week, the three peregrine falcon nestlings that are in a cliff side nest a few hours north of San Francisco were practicing their flapping when we stopped by. Tightly gripping the left-over sticks from the old raven nest that makes up their eyrie high on the cliff, they they pumped their wings as if ready to fly into the sun.
I always find it to be such a profound metaphor of our own developmental processes in life. In what ways are we flapping our wings but still clinging to the nest, afraid to let go and fly? To use our wings for their true purpose, to allow us to fly in whatever way is appropriate for the unique feathers that we each wear?
The winds were blowing hard, as they often do in that area by the ocean, but the fog was attending to its business far out at sea so we were treated to a rare sunset right into the waters as we sat with the birds and the thousands of small sand hoppers that had erupted to take over the tidal zone of the beach.
Saturday when I stopped by, one of them had fledged. I learned later that it was the male (based on his bands, the birds had been banded earlier to help track them – there is one male and two females). He had positioned himself on a nearby ridge to the north, but when the female brought food into the nest, he had a strong incentive to battle the high winds and make his way back. It’s an endearing sight to see the perseverance of this little being who is still trying to figure out how to work his own body, and I find myself cheering him on as he awkwardly makes the short journey in little flights and hops from one ridge to the next, then up the cliff face. It’s comical at times, because they are like toddlers learning to walk – and with the strong winds, it made the effort that much more challenging.
After a few stops and breaks, he finally made one last noble attempt, leaving the safety of the cliff side and doing a few circles in the air to gain some altitude to get into the nest for his final meal of the day. Just before he took off though, he seemed to gather himself in a dignified manner and assume a regal pose just before he leaped. Again, I was struck by the analogy to moments in our own lives, when we gather ourselves closely around that light inside us and recognize having the strength, courage, and belief in ourselves to make that leap. I was grateful to bear witness and share that moment with him.
One of the adults, it looked like the female, came into the scrape to join them for dinner as I was leaving for the evening.
It’s quite a privilege and a gift to get to witness this, and to photograph it and share it is an honor.
Haya was released successfully on Monday, it was quite a day.
Good luck Haya!!!
Happy news for our falcon friend from Oakland that was shot along with two of her fledglings a little over a year ago (see link and link) – she is scheduled to be released back into the skies! Whatever destiny is hers to follow, it will be on her own wings and flying free. Good luck Haya! Many many thanks to all the people who worked so hard to make her release possible.
From the Lindsay Wildlife Museum’s Facebook page (link):
“After spending a year and a half in care and going through three surgeries, a bone infection, countless radiographs and anesthesia, broken feathers and falconry training, it is with great pride that we announce that Haya has been evaluated
and will be released! We are hoping to release her in the next couple of weeks. Be sure to sign up for our release program for an opportunity to see her return to the wild!http://wildlife-museum.org/hospital/releasesThis has been a long and incredible journey for this falcon as well as for those caring for her. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to all of you who have been following her progress. Without your constant support we would not be able to help animals like Haya return to their wild lives.”
Her one surviving offspring, a huge female falcon named Marina, is unable to be released and will spend the rest of her life in captivity (and I seem to recall that she is being used as a surrogate mother for captive breeding ).
I took this picture the evening before she was shot – she was feisty as ever, yelling at some of the bridge workers (for whom she had developed a distaste, since they had escorted bird banders weeks prior up to her nest to band her fledglings – she always recognized their uniforms and was proactive in “defending” her nest area after that intrusion).