Monday, June 09, 2008

Man, did it rain this weekend! We started the weekend banding on Friday, at the US Bank Building in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Now, I've ridden on coffin-sized industrial stack elevators, clambered up muddy hills, rappelled off bluffs, and squirmed my way through thickets of cedar and poison ivy just to band baby falcons. But this was the first time I ever strolled into a lovely lobby, stepped on a comfortable elevator, and walked over plush carpet on my way to an eyrie. I was almost disoriented by the time we got to the roof. Was I here to band falcons or make a deposit?

The roof of the US Bank Building was sunny, but very windy. Dave and Bob quickly retrieved the three young birds and brought them down to the lobby to band. You can read about the details in the LaCrosse Tribune. After LaCrosse, Dave, Bob, Dan Berger, Joan, and myself all headed to Homer Bluff, which was occupied by falcons for the first time last year. Well, the first time in 50 or so years.

Dan Berger banded the last falcons to nest on this cliff in 1952. We have something like apostolic succession happening here: Dan worked with the great naturalist Aldo Leopold. Bob works with Dan, a hero of his. Dave, myself, and the rest of us work with Bob. And so the tradition - and handshake - of Aldo Leopold is carried forward into the future. Long may it last!

Here is a picture of Dan Berger, on rope at Homer after 56 years. The eyrie isn't far from the top. Dan has just helped Dave Kester procure the babies and is working the kennel around so Bob can pull it up. Once we got the babies to the top, I worked on my banding skills and drew blood from a female. We then packed the birds up and headed to Decorah for the evening.

The next morning dawned sunny and clear. So what was up with all those rainy weather forecasts? Did the weatherman have a clue? We laughed and sucked down bagels and coffee before heading to the big river. Little did we know what was waiting us.

The sky turned dark about Hokah, and it began to rain as we headed upriver. Of course, the Winona Bridge had to closed this weekend - locals say that engineers were able to hammer through the gusset plates, they were so rusted - and we had to go up to Wabasha to cross into Wisconsin. Just about the time we hit Wabasha, the sky bucketed. We had inches of rain. We had hail. We had cupped inverted clouds with streamers that wanted to coalesce into tornados. I'd have a photograph, but I was too busy keeping my little car on the road.

I'd like to say that we found three or four healthy babies at Maasen's Bluff, but we didn't find any. They weren't in the eyrie we'd thought they were and we couldn't find them anywhere. Dave bounced around the rock like a monkey and I dropped down below the treeline and made something like a 200-foot ascent looking them. No babies. I do hope to get back there for observation before the season is over. Maybe we can find the eyrie if we see the female enter it.

After failing to find babies at Maasens, we left for Castle Rock. Castle Rock is a grueling experience. We don't have access to the top of the bluff by road, so we have to hump all the gear up a steep slope through mud, poison ivy, brambles, cane thickets, and mosquitos. Bob, Dave, Joan, Dot, and I all made the trip. Dave and I roped up on top, and off we went.
Castle Rock has a real serious pucker factor. It's a big rock bulge with an overhang immediately below. You know you have it on the line from the first approach.

Here's Dave at the top. The babies are located in an eyrie below a slightly bigger overhang, so it is a bit of a bear to get to. We did reach it, though, and pulled four healthy 28-30 day old babies for Bob, who was manning the kennel up top - a job that I think might be harder than going over. Once Bob had the kennel up top, we relaxed in the eyrie and watched rain sweep over the river valley. If it hadn't been for the occasional rumble of thunder, it would have been quite peaceful.

Bob banded the babies very quickly (see right) and sent them down to us. We got up top just before the torrential rains began. I've never been so wet in my life as I was coming down that hill. But we slipped, slid, and stumbled to the bottom. Props, crew - you all rock!

I'll tell you about Maiden Rock and Dave's near death experience in the next installment. In the meantime, check Dot's slideshow for pics or take a look at our forum.

Amy Ries

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