Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bandings at Maasen's Bluff and Castle Rock by Guest Blogger Dot K.

As I drove to Maassens’ Bluff, the weather radio in the car was announcing severe weather warnings – flash floods, thunder storms, tornadoes – but they were all to the north and west of where I was headed. They made their way south and east fast enough that I had to pull into a Kwik-Trip before the bridge over the river at Wabasha, MN. The Fire Department across the street had their doors open and the crew was at the ready. Fortunately, the storm continued to pass with only very heavy rain and after a 10-minute delay, I was on the road again to Maassens' Bluff.

I got there a little before our 10 a.m. meeting time. Gary Grunwald, Doug Wood and several friends and people from the DNR were already there. Bob and Dan, Amy and Joan, and Dave soon arrived and we were ready to head up to the top of the bluff. We could drive most of the way along a track between the restored prairie and the woods. It is very beautiful – wildflowers and prairie grass.

We parked the vehicles and headed the short way up to the bluff face. The falcons were kak-kak-ing away when we got up toe the top of the bluff. Amy, Dave and Bob went over the side optimistic they would find young falcons in the eyrie. Disappointment set in when only one unhatched egg --- and a white on at that --- was found in the eyrie. Upon reflection, it was though that perhaps it was a pigeon egg since it did not have the coloration of a falcon egg. The rain had stopped, the sky was beautiful – we could see some sun. But no young falcons to band was disappointing.

We arrived at Castle Rock an hour behind schedule. It looked even more intimidating than I remembered, but somehow I felt I could make it to the top. Bob broke off a nice walking stick for me and we slogged up a wet, slippery and barely discernable trial to the top. It was tough – at one point, I wanted to just lie down and let the mosquitoes eat me. A lot of the way I climbed on all fours. We made it up to the top slowly, but by the end, Amy and Dave were doing most of the carrying. I was pretty wiped out. We got to the top Amy noticed that the sky was getting dark and it looked like rain was heading for us so she and Dave roped up and went over the side and quickly found the eyrie and the eyasses. Bob acted as the pivot point and Joan fed the rope to lower the carrier down to retrieve the eyasses for banding.

Just as the carrier came over the top, Bob said, “Is that a drop of rain?” It was OK, the raindrops felt good as we were hot and sweaty (or glistening). What started as a couple of drops got heavier as we were banding them. There were four big, feisty eyasses, two female and two male. Joan held the eyasses while Bob banded and I wrote down their band numbers. We got them back in their carrier and lowered it down to Amy and Dave, who waited out of the rain at the eyrie. They got them out of the carrier and safely back in the eyrie. Both then climbed back and just as Dave got over the top, the skies opened.

We packed up the gear as fast as we could and started down. The rain was like a torrent – I know I went down a good part of the way on my behind – we made very fast progress because we were slipping and sliding from tree to tree. Our clothes were soaked; the gear we were carrying was becoming increasingly wet and heavy with water. My glasses were sheeted with rain; I could barely see and because my hands and my clothes were covered with mud, there was nothing I could do but scrunch them down on my nose and peer over the top as I was slip-slided my way down that bluff using far too many four-letter words.

It was scary and fun at the same time. Both Joan and I were carrying ropes in backpacks. Amy was carrying the falcon transporter with the rope used to lower it and Dave and Bob were carrying their ropes and climbing gear so we were really laden down. We were so strangely happy to see the bulldozer that was clearing more land to build more houses in this beautiful, secluded area. The first time I went up Castle Rock in 2005, there were maybe one or two houses. Now there were another four or five big houses already built and the land was cleared for perhaps two more.

I said to Amy “see this stick that I’m using as a walking stick – well I’m going to keep this as a souvenir and if I say I’m going to climb Castle Rock next year, I want you to beat me over the head with it.” But, God willing, I’ll do it again next year. To end this on a positive note, the rain did clear away all the mosquitoes – we encountered none on our way down.
Dot K

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