Apr 012011

Back in February, when things were cold and snowy, this season’s raptor watch began. Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) organize closures and monitoring for a number for nesting species, and when I volunteered I was lucky enough to get Peregrines. I hardly knew that Peregrines were in Colorado, and now I get to watch them. Closely.

Peregrine Falcons by Andrew Baksh

Peregrine Falcons by Andrew Baksh @BirdingDude

Last year I watched a pair preen, feast on prey, mate, and ultimately fledge two chicks. Last week I heard a stoop (loud above my head.) This week I watched an unsuccessful stoop. I feel so privileged to be able to write those words. Peregrines are amazing creatures, and I am lucky to be able to get to know this species. The ‘scream’ of a Peregrine is now in my blood for life. :)

This week’s hike up to the birds was quiet. A belted kingfisher greeted me at the trail head. A few spotted towhee are back to claim the airwaves with their song. A small group of Scrub Jay were a nice bonus for the hike, as were the rafter of Turkey at the top.

Last week the millipedes were out in force on the trails, and this week they were joined by grasshoppers, wasps, butterflies and caterpillars. Luckily for them, the bluebirds have been, flocked, staged and moved on up into the mountains, but with these staples of the food chain here, the other birds will soon be back. Not here, not quite yet, but the Meadowlark are back in town. Bugs beware.

Here is to a nice long season, welcoming in both spring and summer, and to lots of Peregrines.

This summer (after the Peregrine chicks have fledged) I’ve signed up for the Bat Monitor program, and I’m excited at that opportunity. Volunteering is a great way to regularly get outdoors. Give it a try where you are.

Note: OSMP have granted permissions for me to write about my Falcon Watch experiences. I do NOT post locations nor timing details in an effort to preserve critter privacy.

Mar 252010
Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon photo courtesy Boulder OSMP

As I’ve mentioned, I am participating as a volunteer in a Falcon Watch program. I’d hoped, but never realized how much I would gain from it.

My assigned location is inhabited by Golden Eagles, Buteo (Red-tailed Hawks, Ferruginous Hawk), and Falcon (Pergerine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, American Kestrels) and more. Peregrine Falcons are special; from their awe inspiring hunting technique, to their precarious history, to their grace and beauty. Having seen my first Peregrine Falcon out in the wild (other than those protected by the RSPB at Symonds Yat in Gloucestershire) last summer in Cornwall, I was thrilled to find out they were here in Colorado, and even more thrilled that I’d be watching a nesting site.

Weeks of observation from our group of dedicated volunteers and rangers, through cold and snows, and finally we were rewarded with a sighting of a (likely female) peregrine. She’d made it back from migration, and was waiting (seemingly patiently) for her partner to return from his separate location. A week or so later, and the “honey, I’m home” moment was observed. So starts this season on the cliff face…

My luck has been running high on this program. I’ve religiously made my weekly visits, I go early (to catch the dawn wildlife traffic) and I’ve typically been blessed by clement weather. I’ve seen and heard birds I’ve not seen before, and birds I love to see again and again. Same for mammals, and as the spring kicks in I hope invertebrates & plants. I’ve learned from the rangers, from the other (many more experienced) volunteers, and much from regularly spending time in this wild place. Tracks in the snow, signs, sounds … it is so wonderful to spend four hours each week dedicated to nature, and to citizen science.

One of the experienced volunteers spotted a female peregrine (the same one, she believed, that she’d monitored last year.) None of the group had seen one until now, but this identification was solid and detailed. After a few weeks of seeing GOEG (Golden Eagle) — amazing in itself — but no falcons, and especially no PEFA (Peregrine Falcon), the anticipation was high, knowing they were in “in territory” and that I might possibly see one. An hour of up-hill, lugging binoculars, a spotting scope and full-length tripod on top of a pack full of back-country gear was decent exercise. Getting to the slope and getting set-up took it’s time, but I was there/waiting…

Without fanfare a PEFA flew into the canyon, gave an audible or three, then settled to top of the rocks. There I was, staring at my first Coloradan Peregrine Falcon, hundreds of feet above me on the cliff top. Thrilling. I was able to bring her into view in the spotting scope, view her adult horizontal markings, and really observe her. For 30 minutes she sat, casually observing the things around. Preening, resting on one foot, totally aware of all around her yet casually disinterested. Waiting.

The experience of watching this graceful bird, being able to watch her intimate behaviors was beyond a thrill. It was truly, truly exhilarating. That moment will last with me for a long time. A few weeks building to this, and a more than satisfying reward.

A week to the day later found me sitting atop some scree with views open to the skies, once again hoping to see this lady. I’d not been waiting long when not one bird, but two … two PEFA flew into territory. Together they explored the valley, cliff faces and then on to the cliff she’d been waiting at. Thirty minutes or more they spent poking around the cliff, the cliff that presumably they’d nested at last season. Some brief jaunts around the valley, but mainly cliff exploring.

Now I’ve seen not one but two peregrine falcons in Colorado. I’ve watched them, and am starting to connect with them and their year’s endeavors. I cannot describe how exciting this is, and how privileged I feel to participate.

If you enjoy connecting with nature, consider participating in such a falcon watch.


Note to those concerned: I’ve checked with OSMP on what I should (and should not) post on this topic, and now and during the nesting season will limit my comments to those that do not convey more information than can be found on the OSMP website.

Feb 152010
Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon photo courtesy Boulder OSMP

This year I applied to be a Raptor Nest Watch volunteer with Boulder Mountain Parks & Open Space. I found out about the opportunity on the Boulder county nature-net mailing list (from the Boulder County Nature Association) and found myself thrilled at the opportunity to monitor nests of eagles, osprey, falcons (and other species.) Bird of prey are so spectacular, and yet other than the few standouts like the eagles/osprey so hard to identify in the field (for the non-native birder, like me.) As such, ever since I applied I’ve been excited about what I’d learn.

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the program, and assigned a nest site not too far from my home, and in a beautiful location (not that they all aren’t around here.) I was assigned peregrine falcon, a bird I hadn’t even realized was around here. I saw my first Peregrine Falcon (at least first since perhaps in childhood) when in Cornwall, UK last year. I was hiking along the clifftops and a parent/offspring duo flew past me granting me a wonderful close-up. Having them here in Colorado, near my home, wow … awesome!

I’ve never been much of a joiner, and I like my nature empty (except for wild critters, my iPhone to record my wildlife, and my dog at camp) so this application was a first for me. Amusingly perhaps I’ve joined the volunteer program that suits this preference best, since observers perform their observation duties by themselves and exchange reports via e-mail. Still, I’ve met others in the team (for this site) at the orientation meeting and on a field trip, and both times enjoyed their company. It is nice to know who they are, to understand the pleasure we all share from the outdoors, and to get and share reports on the site. Working behind the computer of a day it is wonderful to be vicariously taken outside, to connect with this wildlife location.

My first solo trip for the weekly two hour observation duty met with decent weather, and clear skies. Falcons (other than Kestrels, which are partial migrants here) are only just returning to Colorado so there is not much falcon activity, however the Golden Eagle put in an appearance high above. A pair of these massive & majestic birds rode the thermals along the ridge-line (rising, tucking wings and diving to rise again as if having a roller-coaster of fun) before resting on the rocks above. Townsend’s Solitaire were the ‘dawn’ chorus, with American Robins soon taking over as the noise makers.

All in all a very pleasant time of putting the busy world aside for a while and sitting watching the natural world while contributing to natural science. I am so grateful of this opportunity, and am looking forward to the nesting season ahead.


Note to those concerned: I’ve checked with OSMP on what I should (and should not) post on this topic, and now and during the nesting season will limit my comments to those that do not convey more information than can be found on the OSMP website.