Saturday, June 20, 2009

As our readers know, the falcon Bella died of Frounce earlier this week. Bob and I were scheduled to go up to Cohasset to band, but he stopped at GRE and removed the dead falcon. Brenda Hoskyns took it to the Raptor Center, which confirmed Bob's diagnosis of Frounce and gave her Spartrix to treat the rest of the clutch.

According to The Modern Apprentice, Frounce is "a highly contagious yeast infection of the digestive tract. Frounce is caused by a protozoan called Trichomonas which is frequently present in the crops of pigeons...The typical signs of frounce are white spots in the mouth or crop, often described as "cheesy" or "white plaques." These alone are not enough to diagnose frounce, but it is one hallmark of the disease. Other signs are head flicking, difficulty breathing, or even regurgitation of food. Green mutes may also appear."

Here's a photograph from The Modern Apprentice (who credits it to Eileen Wicker of Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky). The yucky white stuff on the lower mandible of the great horned owl is characteristic of Frounce. It looks like Thrush, a yeast infection of the mouth that human infants can get.

Think about how quickly young falcons grow. By the time they are roughly 40 days old, they've reached their adult size. They've increased their body weight over 10 times, grown two new coats of feathers (a second down coat by 10 days and flight feathers by 40 days), and gone from mostly huddling under a parent through walking, practice flying, and real flying. Bob believes that this is a very stressful time for them, which makes them more susceptible to Frounce. Furthermore, this accelerated growth rate requires a lot of food. Anything that interferes with a growing falcon's ability to eat will quickly impact it. As PLoS states, The conditions an organism experiences early in life can have critical impacts on its subsequent health and well being, both over the short and long term. Since a falcon's 'early in life' passes pretty fast, events and conditions can very quickly reach the critical point.

At any rate, we drove to Grand Rapids on Wednesday night. Minnesota Power put us up for the night and we banded at the Cohasset plant in the morning. The weather was cloudy and cool - perfect for a stack climb. I discovered this year that rests are better taken on the fall gear and not the ladder enclosure - those harnesses are almost as comfortable as an easy chair when you hang in them. Here's a video of the banding. We were joined by Darryl Councilman, a MN Power employee who got the nestbox installed, and Swede, another MN Power employee who has been a real champion of the Peregrine-utility project. The babies were healthy and both parents were unbanded. I banded them - I've been getting a lot of practice - and drew blood. The trick is to have a nice big vein, someone who can keep the falcon still, and the ability to disconnect the worrying part of your brain from your hands, which need to be worry and shake-free.

We left Minnesota Power, picked up my children in North Branch, and drove to Elk River to treat the rest of the GRE nest. Last year, three of four young falcons in Duluth died after eating a bad pigeon. We didn't want a repeat. We were met by Brenda Hoskyns and another GRE employee. They took us up to the roof, where Bob and the other guy tied off and got the falcons. Brenda and I held them while Bob gave them pills. Brenda had the great idea to bring some water up to help wash the pills down. After Bob got the pills in the back of the falcons' throats, he sprinkled some water from his fingers into their open mouths. This helped lubricate everything, and the pills went right down. One of the falcons had Frounce lesions in its mouth, so this treatment saved at least one more.

We'll banding the King Plant and Highway 95 Ospreys the week of July 6th. I'll provide more info when I have it. I'm hoping to learn pole spiking before then...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Here are some random banding pictures - enjoy!

Bob and Jeremy on Maiden Rock. It's nice to get a good ledge! This was Bob's 100th rappel on a river cliff. The rock was somewhat loose here, so the overhang was also welcome. That big rattlesnake? He was maybe 50-75 feet overhead, sunning on the edge of the drop.

Ben on West Bluff. He climbed into the eyrie to get the baby falcons.

The eyrie at West. This is an excellent place for baby falcons - very, very hard to reach! Ben balanced on a ledge, Bob lowered the sky kennel to me, and I swung it over to Ben. He loaded the baby falcons out and very, very gently let the kennel go. Bob raised it and I helped get it past the overhang. This is a three-person site for sure.

Looking up Lake Pepin from West. There were miles of sky. This is one of the prettiest views I've ever seen.

Me at West, watching Ben do all the work. It wasn't until after I was hanging in space that Bob told me I was just where Dave had almost severed his rope last year. At least I wasn't trying to swing into the eyrie.

Eyrie at West, outlined in red. Ben rappeled down the crackline to the left and eased over the ledge to get to the eyrie. I was stationed under the overhang at the above right of the eyrie.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Any excuse to go to Duluth is good, but peregrine banding is my favorite! This year, Elizabeth, Rebekah, and Isaac joined Bob, Jeremy, and myself at Greysolon Plaza and Minnesota Power and Light's ML Hibbard plant.

We started at Greysolon Plaza, where Julie O'Conner and Crew from Hawk Ridge had spotted three babies in the box. A crew from Venture North had showed up to film the event, so we decided to band the babies inside the Greysolon Building. Bob, Jeremy, myself, Miriam, and photographer Michael Furtman went up to the roof, while everyone else stayed downstairs. This was a good thing, since Amy the falcon was in fine form. She started strafing runs almost as soon as we got up on the roof.

Bob, Jeremy, and I got the window washing rig (all the tires had air!) and pushed it over by the nestbox. Rigging up to go over a wall is a little different than rigging to go over a cliff, especially when Amy is on the attack. In this case, the anchor is set around two eyebolts attached to the rig. The rope goes straight up the middle, through a gap designed to allow it to pass. So, you set the anchor, pull the rope through, climb to the top of the rig, and attach to it to your grigri while ducking the falcon. These photographs are from Michael Furtman's excellent website. I'm going to be buying some prints.

I got all that done, and went over the wall. I'm used to having a rope bag attached to my leg, but in this case, the forward and tag ends of the rope are both going back down - one to the anchor and one to the bag, which sits on the roof. It is very, very important to make sure you have your hand on the tag end of the rope, not the anchor end. Normally, this isn't something you have to think about, since the rope bag makes it real easy to remember, and you usually have a chance to get good and on the gear before going down, and a falcon isn't attacking you while you rig. But you do have to take care here.

I position to the side of the nestbox and whap, Amy hits me. Head down and whap, Amy hits me. Quick look up to see where she is. Ah, circling back for another run. I reach in the box and grab baby one - maybe 17 to 19 days old, the perfect age for banding. Into the box she goes. Whap! Amy hits me. It's a good thing I shop at Target, since she ripped up the left shoulder on my tshirt - possibly just seconds after this photograph was taken. I love this falcon!

We also had a very nice surprise - there were four babies in the nestbox this year! After last year's experience, when all the babies but one died from Frounce, this was a great thing to see. I got all of them into our sky kennel, Jeremy and Bob pulled it up, and we took them down into the building. We were in a hurry, so Bob banded.

It was hot and we didn't want to put the babies back in the kennel, so we had some volunteers sit, with their legs in a big circle, and mind the babies. I'm not sure who the adult is. The children are Isaac and Elizabeth. Rebekah also minded a falcon, whom she nicknamed 'Screech'. Screech was the vocal one of the group. Elizabeth, my oldest, announced afterwards that she wants to begin coming with and helping. I'm glad she had fun - I'm glad everyone had fun! It was wonderful to see these healthy young peregrines. Make sure to visit Julie O'Conner at PeregrineWatch on the Lake Walk in Duluth - watching these guys learn to fly will be quite a treat!

After Greysolon, we headed for the Hibbard Plant. The kids had to stay in my van here, since this is a working power plant - not a good place for children! I parked where they could watch the action, if they liked, and we headed up. Bob's shoulder was sore from Maiden Rock, so he asked Jeremy and I to go up and band. It's maybe a 75-foot ladder climb here - not too bad - on the outside of the stack. The plant provides harnesses and fall protection, which you clip into with a dynamic lanyard. However, the drop would be roughly 8 - 10 feet on the lanyard, so I have to say that I would not want to put it to the test.

The female here is the same as last year, *Y/6. She is downright polite when compared to Amy. Jeremy got the three babies one at a time and I banded them. There were two males and one female. We did not draw blood - I've drawn twice this year (successfully, both times!) - but it was windy and I was nervous. I'm going to get a bag of needles and practice on oranges over the winter. That's how they do it in nursing school.

We got back down and that was the end of it. Total: 7 baby peregrines banded in Duluth, 1 ripped shirt, and 1 very, very good day.

Is it just me, or is it funny that the word verification to post this blog was preen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

You know you've been to a lot of falcon bandings when everyone ignores the banders to take pictures of the rattlesnake sunning itself just 40 feet from the drop spot.Of course, the snake was as thick as a baseball bat. Then again, you know you're in a crowd of nature enthusiasts when one person yells "Rattlesnake!", and everyone else runs toward him.

We banded at four sites on Tuesday, June 9th: West Bluff, just north of Maiden Rock, Maiden Rock, 12-Mile Bluff, right behind the Alma power plant, and Bay State Flour Milling in Winona, MN - my first flour mill! The crew consisted of Bob Anderson, his son Jeremy Anderson, Ben Ogren, and Amy Ries. We were joined by a number of people, including John Dingley, Gary Grunwald, Doug Wood, John Thiel, and several others.

We started right in with West Bluff. Ben Ogren, Bob, and I looked at West from down at the bottom. This is the cliff where Dave nearly severed his rope last year attempting to swing into the eyrie. Ben decided he would rappel down and climb into the eyrie instead. I would drop with him, get him the kennel, and provide whatever support I could. Let me explain something for any climbers that might be reading this - we weren't rigging for climbing on a dynamic rope, but for rappeling and working on a static rope. For you nonclimbers, the shock of a fall on static line is taken by your body and anchor, not the rope. Static falls can break bones, severely damage tissue, and break or rip out gear and anchors. It was critical that Ben avoid falling.

We got up to the top and I dropped to age the babies. Just as I got under the overhang, Bob said, "Oh, by the way, that's the spot where Dave almost severed his rope last year, so be careful." I avoided a clever response, rappeled down to the eyrie to age the babies (age: okay for banding) and kicked back to watch the Ben Ogren show. After all, the Boss had told me to be careful!

Ben got over the edge just fine (he's experienced), but had a brief moment of losing it when he got into position for climbing over to the eyrie. Our look from below completely failed to convey the sketchiness of our placement, the sheer and utter crappyness of the loosest, most brittle rock imaginable, and the lodging of Ben's rock in a large crack that was filled with sharp edges. "How hasn't one of you died!?" Ben yelled. I yelled back something encouraging about how badly the rock sucked, and Ben asked me to tell him whether or not his foot placements were good as he eased across a narrow ledge into the eyrie. I gave him feet and hand suggestions while he climbed, managed the rope and got into the eyrie. Out of the fire and into the frying pan: I lowered the kennel, he filled it with four lustily vocalizing, footing baby monsters (peregrines), and up the they went.

West is impossibly beautiful. I hope that Ben sends me photographs for posting. It looks north towards the mouth of Lake Pepin. We were about the tallest thing around, and you could see the river valley for miles. The eyrie was large and well protected by an overhang, so the babies were safe from weather, raccoons, and (judging by the whitewash and their overall health) starvation. We found blue jay remains and spotted the head of a black bird about 5 feet below us. Blue jay remains showed up at several sites this year.

Bob and Jeremy banded the young falcons and I lowered the kennel down, using my height (I was hanging in air about 12 to 15 feet above him), to gently swing the kennel over. He grabbed it, used a daisy chain to back it up to his harness, and was again repeatedly footed while getting the babies back into the eyrie. Up we went. I had to work my way out from under a very large overhang, on gear only, while Ben had to climb back out of the eyrie and carefully take up rope until he could swing out without falling. It was quite an adventure!

We headed to Maiden Rock next. Here's a photograph with the eyrie marked. It's roughly in the middle of the bluff this year, not on the point. Bob was excited about his 100th rappel on river cliffs here - and a little worried about disturbing baseball-sized rattlesnakes after Ben spotted one. Bob and Jeremy celebrated his 100th rappel together with a first-ever father-son banding on the cliff - Bob thought the rock was a little too loose to haul the babies up, and there was a bit of an overhang there as well. They banded three healthy young falcons at Maiden Rock.

You know, I ended up setting anchors for other people this year. That's a difficult thing to do. I'll willingly go down an anchor I set, but it is hard to watch other people do the same thing - I'm much more nervous for them than I would be for myself. It was a real relief to see Jeremy come up, or hear Bob get to the bottom. The life of a rappeler is at least partly in the hands of the anchor setter. It's not easy to get used to.

We pulled up gear and headed for 12-Mile bluff, a big crumbly bluff behind the Alma power plant. They were nesting in the exact same spot they nested two years ago - a hole way down the wall, almost even with the treeline. I climbed through the dead snag from hell, tossed all the loose rock I could see from the top of the bluff, and rappeled through a cedar tree down to the first terrace, where I sheltered under an overhang until Jeremy joined me. I went down another eight to ten feet to get the babies. There were four healthy youngsters in a small hole sheltered by an overhang. Had the parents nested on the ledge above, the babies would have been eaten by racoons - there was racoon poop all over! They were safe and well fed here, however. The prey remains were well picked over and not real obvious to me, but I believe I saw some warbler remains, judging by the size of the feet and the cliff's location on river bottom land.

Bob got the kennel up through the cedar tree and the snag. They quickly banded the babies and dropped them back. I earned a few footings but got them into the eyrie and Jeremy and I headed down the cliff and on to the talus. As nasty as that was, neither one of us was interested in climbing back up through the cedar snag. This bluff also has a lot of loose rock, which poses a very real danger to humans and young falcons alike. The less disturbance, the better!

We took a quick break to try to get band numbers while we watched the male peregrine eat a pigeon. I'm glad he got dinner, since we went straight to Bay State Milling in Winona. About 10 years ago, a girl named Maggie Lubinski put a nestbox on the roof of Bay, where her father works, as part of a 4-H project. The box sat mostly empty until this year, when two falcons nested there. The adult female is Chicklet, a 2005 hatch from Dairyland Power Genoa. We don't know who the male is yet.

Bob, Jeremy, Doug, the plant manager, and a plant employee all headed up to get the falcons. We needed hairnets, a beardnet (for Bob), and special harnesses to stay safe on the roof. We loaded three babies into the kennel, brought them down into the plant's entrance, and banded them for everyone to see. There is a nice story about it here:

It was a good day on the river.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

April 2nd and 3rd River Survey

I began this river survey starting at the small cliff on the confluence of the Root River and the Mississippi River. I have not spent a great deal of time at this bluff in past years owing to the fact that it does not overlook a wide body of water. I did not find any falcons or see any mutes.

I only stopped for a brief minute down below Great Spirit Bluff and quickly found an adult female falcon perched in a dead snag directly above the cliff mounted nest box.

We have sometimes observed falcons at the Trempeleau, WI cliff that can be seen from the Minnesota side of the river. In four river trips so far this season I have not seen a falcon on this cliff.

Homer, MN cliff: This cliff has attracted falcons for the last three seasons. Last year when checking the eyrie, Neil Rettig dropped his cell phone off of the top of the cliff. Surprisingly, the cell phone still worked when found near the bottom of the large cliff. To not have falcons on this historic nest site after two productive nesting seasons is odd and frustrating.

Hussen’s Cliff: During my last river survey on 3/26/09, we found two adult falcons defending this cliff. On 4/2/09 no falcons were observed. Last year, at the end of the breeding season, I hiked to the top of the cliff and rappelled down several areas. I could not locate any suitable nest ledge that raccoons could not easily access. The owners of this cliff have agreed to allow us to install a small nest box should there be failure again this year.

As I approached Pepin Heights cliff just south of Lake City, MN I could see a bird perched in a snag on the Burr Oak located on the top of this cliff. As we have permission, I raced up the back way to the top of this cliff knowing that I could get a band number from a vantage point used in past seasons. However, my mind played a trick on me. The bird turned out to be a crow. Falcons were observed on this cliff in 2008 and in 2007, but no falcons have been seen in four river surveys so far this year.

I did not stop by the Horizon Milling plant on this trip owing to the fact that we confirmed 29/A is back and was the first of our nest sites to lay an egg once again this year. At this writing, the falcons are about a week into incubation. Look for the first young to hatch the first few days of May.

Red Wing Grain; Red Wing, MN: The adult female *M/D is back again. She laid her first egg on 4/3/09.

I crossed the river in Red Wing and made my way upstream to the Diamond Bluff cliff where we mounted a nest box on the big wall about 18 years ago. Each year since I have made a point to check this cliff, and each year I am disappointed to not find falcons. This cliff is set way back from the river and we have learned that nesting falcons prefer a cliff that directly overlooks a wide body of water.

Turning back down stream, I stopped to view the large cliff overlooking the rail road tracks and river near Bay City, WI. This cliff will someday have falcons. I was able to observe several eagles and a red-tail hawk fly directly out front of this cliff without being challenged. I also noticed that there is a home on the top of this cliff and we need to contact the owners for assistance in monitoring.

I stopped only for a few minutes down below West Bluff near Maiden Rock, WI. I heard a male falcon making a courting wail before traffic forced me to drive off. Two land owners up top of the cliff have reported seeing the falcons defending this historic cliff. This is the cliff where last year they had nested under a large overhang that prevented us from reaching the three young falcons. Dave Kester attempted to swing into the wall and with each swing, his rope began to fray on a sharp rock. Fortunately, I noticed this and had Dave switch to my rope until he got above the frayed part of his rope. It was then that we noticed that this new rope did not have any outer protection like our other static ropes. This rope will never be used again.

I only spent a few minutes down below the large Maiden Rock cliff and did not see any falcons. However, falcons have been seen on each of the past surveys and the people from West Wisconsin Land Trust have also reported seeing two falcons defending.

I spent only a few minutes at Twin Bluffs in Nelson, WI. In past seasons we have seen some falcon activity at these two large bluffs. So far this year I have not seen a falcon.

Maassen’s Bluff north of Alma, WI: It was great to meet with Gary Grunwald once again. When Gary returned from his winter haunts in Florida the falcons had once again beat him back. Gary and I observed the adult female fly into the eyrie that we added pea-gravel to several years ago. We also witnessed an adult male Harrier stoop like a falcon at the adult male falcon perched in a dead cedar snag near the top of the cliff. The harrier made a second stoop then went back up in a soar and drifted off. The adult falcon never left his perch.

Alma Marina cliff: Gary reported seeing two falcons defending this historic cliff a few days before my visit. I was most disappointed to not find falcons on territory during my visit. This cliff has but one good ledge that in the last couple of season had nesting Great Horned Owls. I did not see any owls up in the pot-hole and can only wonder what happened to the defending falcons.

12 Mile Bluff across from the Dairyland Alma power plant: It appears that the falcons are going to nest on the cliff once again this year and not in the nest box up on the stack. We have seen falcons using the perch up at the stack nest as a hunting perch, but most courting activity is taking place on the cliff. How great it is to have a stack nesting pair of falcons also use a river cliff!

Fountain City, WI: Doug Wood, who lives down below this cliff, is our eyes and ears for this nest site. He has confirmed two adult falcons on territory. We have also heard that a local pigeon enthusiast is experiencing some losses of pigeons but is accepting the predation so far, since he is impressed by the falcons' hunting prowess. We hope this respect continues.

No falcons were observed at Indian Head Bluff south of Fountain City this year.

I only stopped for a few minutes down below Castle Rock and did not see a falcon, although I had seen them on each of the past surveys. However, Doug Wood reported not seeing a falcon during a lengthy observation on 4/4/09. I hope this site is productive as in past years, but we are finding less falcon activity on the river cliffs this year.

I crossed the river to Winona, anxious to confirm a report of falcons at Bay State Milling on the south edge of town. We worked with a young teenager named Maggie Lubinski about ten years ago, who constructed two falcon nest boxes for this plant as a 4H project. The nest box has attracted the occasional falcon off and on over the years but for the most part has sat empty since falcons took to the nearby Castle Rock cliff about two miles away. Well 2009 looks promising. Two adult falcons are defending this nest box. The adult female is 43/D, a 2005HY falcon from the Dairyland Power Alma power plant. I did not get a good look at the adult male, but this nest box is only about 230 up with great viewing locations down below. We should get the male’s band on the next visit. There is great interest by the plant employees for their nesting falcons. Everyone is amazed at disappearance of the local pigeon population. It is worth noting that Bay State Milling is located directly between the Castle Rock cliff on the Wisconsin side of the river and the Homer cliff on the MN side. Both cliffs are about two miles away. After leaving Winona, I returned to the Homer cliff. I didn't see falcons, but I could clearly see the Bay State Milling stack house and nest box from directly below the Homer cliff. Did the Homer falcons move to this nest box?

On 4/3/09 I set off for McGregor, IA with hopes to read the band numbers on the Agri Bunge stack house. We mounted this nest box about ten years ago. It attracted a single falcon the following year and sat empty the last nine years. Not now! We have two adult falcons on site. It is interesting to speak to the employees at this plant, who are amazed at the overnight loss of the large resident pigeon population. Dave Kester reported the adult male having a b/g band on his left leg and no band on his right. I spent three hours trying to read his band and only could make out the letter D in the upper portion. This is the second falcon that I know that has lost his BBL band. Sometimes when making the crimp with the anodized BBL bands we see a crack form on the crimp bend. It must be these cracks that are causing the band failure.

I crossed the river at the Prairie Du Chien bridge and made my way upstream to the cliff at Lock and Dam 9. I spent the better part of an hour without seeing a falcon. In 2006 this cliff attracted an immy female and adult male that failed to breed. In 2007 this cliff attracted a new immy female and adult male that produced two young falcons. One died after being bumped from the small ledge by the adult female. In 2008 this cliff attracted an adult female falcon and immature male falcon that failed to breed. So far in several visits this spring I have not seen a falcon.

I headed upstream to visit the Lynxville, WI cliffs, determined to locate the chosen cliff and nest location. I first parked down below Larson’s Bluff and did not see any falcon activity for a long time. I then drove to the upstream cliff and positioned myself so that I could see both cliff walls. After about 30 minutes I saw my first falcon. I found a place to park my car, grabbed the scope and made my way across two railroad tracks, determined to nail down the nesting location. It is apparent why the cliff attracts falcons - it is quite large and directly overlooks the water.

I located an adult female falcon perched in a dead snag with a huge crop. So large I don’t think she could see her toes. After about 30 minutes an adult male flew in with a grackle in his talons and landed about five feet directly above the female. He proceeded to pluck his prey and feathers were flying. The adult female appeared to be dozing. I could see a purple band on the adult male right leg and a b/g band on his left. The dozing female had a branch blocking most the view of her legs, but I did see purple on her right leg. After so many cliff sites that have failed already this year it is rewarding to see this pair of falcons that look promising for production once again.

I crossed back over the river at the Lansing, IA bridge and made my way to Dead Cow Bluff where we mounted a nest box several years ago. This is the first year that I have not seen a falcon visit this nest box. With a scope you can see the poorly constructed fence running the top of this bluff. Hence the unusual name.

The Lansing power plant falcons will be a cliff nesting pair from now on. We removed the nest box from up on the stack owing to stack emission monitoring now taking place where the nest box was mounted. There is a huge construction effort taking place at this plant that will prevent us from using the back side of the plant to view the cliff. I’m hoping that in a week or so, we can access the stack elevator to get a good look at the cliff face and determine where the falcons are nesting this season.

In closing, it is apparent that our cliff numbers will be down this year. We have witnessed growth of the river cliff nesting population for the last nine years. However, it does look like our numbers will be down in 2009. Can only hope that this year is an aberration.

I have plans for another river survey later this week.

Bob Anderson

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Blue Meany, Migrating Raptors and the Falcon Effigies of the Mississippi River

For the better part of five decades, the Peregrine falcon was absent from nesting on the lovely cliffs of the Upper Mississippi River. Re-introduction efforts have now returned the peregrine to these historical haunts. During the 50-year absence of territorial falcons, any and all migrating birds of prey could follow this major flyway each spring on their way to their northern nest site locations without the peregrine falcon to teach them where they could fly - and where they couldn’t. Things have changed. We now have close to 20 cliffs on the Upper Mississippi River that have attracted some level of falcon activity.

During the last two springs, National Geographic has been documenting various birds of prey having to run the gauntlet of Mississippi River falcons. Sometimes, one only has to spend a short time near these cliffs to witness the falcons brutally hammering unaware birds of prey that make the sometimes fatal mistake of flying too close to the cliff wall. Over the last few years we have witnessed the river falcons pummeling Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles, Red-tail hawks, Great Horned owls, ospreys, and turkey vultures. At this writing, near the first of April, the falcons have set up territory but have yet to lay their eggs. It is a great time to observe nature’s top gun defending the river bluffs. It can be quite a show.

When we first began our falcon cliff releases, we learned of the many falcon effigies constructed by indigenous peoples centuries ago. These falcon effigies are quite large, some with wing spans of hundreds of feet. The native peoples constructed these large effigies by hauling soil to the cliff tops to construct the mounds. Some of these effigies are in the shape of bears and eagles and some clearly the outline shape of the peregrine falcon. It should not surprise anyone that the indigenous peoples were inspired by this relatively small falcon that will bravely take on many larger birds of prey.

I will be gathering images and measurements of the falcon effigies along the Mississippi River for a later publication. However, it now makes sense just why our native peoples were so moved by the Duck Hawk.

(Amy's note: falcon effigies can be found at Effigy Mounds National Monument - the place our release project began. For more information, visit

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 21st 2009 Mississippi River cliff survey for peregrine falcons
I arrived at Leo’s Bluff at 9:00 AM and met with Pat Schlarbaum and two friends. They had been there since first light. It was good to break out the spotting scope and within a few minutes capture the band number on the adult female, identified as *K/*W, the same female as last year. The adult male is unbanded. The adult male last year was also an unbanded bird. I was determined to survey as many cliffs as possible and only stayed long enough to determine the band status of the adult falcons. Pat Schlarbaum and his friends stayed for a while longer before setting off to watch the falcons at the nestbox on the Agri-Bunge stack house in McGregor, IA. This is a new site for us. Pat reported lots of falcon activity and was impressed with the city park viewing location.

I confirmed two adult falcons at the Alliant Energy Lansing, IA power plant cliff. The nest box has been permanently removed from the nearby stack and the falcons from now on will be cliff-nesting birds. Last summer we rappelled down several areas of this cliff wall trying to determine a way to deter raccoons from accessing the falcons’ ledge. There is a major construction project at this plant that prevents us from using the back area of the plant to view the cliff. The only places this year to view the falcons is a small opening in the trees directly below the cliff, or from the top of the bluff.

I found a single adult falcon at the Shellhorn Bluff near Brownsville, MN. The falcon was not wailing or making courting sounds. My guess is that we only have this single falcon as of this writing.

I found two falcons at Great Spirit Bluff near La Crescent, MN.

I found two falcons at Queen’s Bluff, aka the Bandshell.

I spent some time watching the Trempeleau, WI cliff from the MN side of the river. The light on the cliff at 11:30 AM was ideal. I did not see any falcons. Upon my return back down river that afternoon, I noticed that the light at 4:30 PM was still lighting up the cliff face.

I did not see a falcon on the Homer, MN cliff during my AM or PM visit.

As I approached Hussen’s Bluff near Minnieska, MN I saw one male falcon giving chase to another male falcon. He escorted the intruder away and returned to the cliff, landing close to an adult female. This cliff is one of the smallest cliffs I have seen with territorial falcons. When a young immature Bald Eagle made the dumb mistake of flying too close to the small cliff, both adult falcons gave chase. Later, when meeting with the owners of the cliff, they asked me if I saw the falcons hammering the eagle directly over their house. Last summer I hiked to the top of the bluff and was disappointed that only one falcon remained on site and this bird was no longer defending the cliff. I rappelled down several parts of the cliff wall and could not locate any potential nest ledge that raccoons could not have access. If this pair fails to be productive this year we are going to mount an artificial rock eyrie on a mammalian-proof part of the cliff wall.

I did not find a falcon at the Pepin Heights cliff just south of Lake City, MN. I found two adult falcons at Horizon Milling. I was able to confirm that the very aggressive falcon named Lolo 29/A is once again on site.

As I was driving into the city of Red Wing, MN I could see two falcons stooping at two people on the roof of the Red Wing Grain building. This nest can be seen from most anywhere in town and the falcons could easily be seen and heard trying to drive the intruders away from their nest. I wonder what the public thinks when we carry out the bandings each summer.

I crossed the river at the bridge in Red Wing, MN and made my way down to West Bluff. I only took a few minutes owing to the lack of parking down below this cliff and did not see any falcons during my short visit. However, the owners of the cliff have become keen supporters and I am confident that they will contact us again when they see falcons.

I did not see any falcons during a ten minute stay at Maiden Rock, but Amy Ries confirmed a falcon on this cliff an hour prior.

I found a single adult falcon at Maassen’s Bluff, but Amy Ries saw two falcons earlier in the day. Gary Grunwald, our falcon enthusiast that lives below this cliff, is on his way back from his Florida haunts. When Gary returns he will quickly locate which area of this huge cliff the falcons are using.

I met with Doug and Becky Wood in Fountain City, WI. Doug confirmed that one falcon is back and very probably just arrived this same day.

No falcons were seen at Indian Head south of Fountain City, WI where in past seasons we have observed some falcon activity. Maybe this year?

Two adult falcons have been back on Castle Rock cliff for at least ten days according to Doug Wood.

No falcons were seen at the Alma Marina cliff where Great Horned Owls have claimed the single pot hole on this cliff face.

I did find one adult falcon at 12 Mile Bluff directly across from the Alma, WI power plant. In the past, the falcons have nested both up in the stack nest box and on the nearby cliff wall. The next few weeks should tell where they will end up this season. If they are not being found on camera up on the stack, they will be on the cliff.

Logged 330 miles.

Brief status of RRP nest sites.
  1. MN Power Cohasset, MN: Status unknown as of this date. The plant is trying to get the camera repaired. Last year this pair failed to hatch their eggs due to the very cold weather.
  2. MN Power Duluth plant: There has been some discussion to relocate or remove the nest box at this plant. Two years ago, the aggressive falcons prevented a required stack inspection. The decision to leave the nest box in place or relocate the nest box to another area of the plant will be at the direction of plant management.
  3. Xcel Energy SHERCO plant near Becker, MN: Two falcons have been on territory for several weeks now. Dan Orr feels that we could expect the first egg most any day now. We now have a camera in this nest and egg/young status will be easy to follow.
  4. Xcel Energy Monticello plant: This is a low pressure nuclear plant and access is limited. Dan Orr has taken over all aspects of managing and banding young falcons at this plant.
  5. Great River Energy Elk River, MN: This plant has what I think is one of the best bird camera systems that I know of. You can get live video and live audio of this nest. The other day at 7:00 AM in the morning two adult falcons were fighting inside the nest box. The live video and audio only made watching this brutal battle only uglier. Don’t know for sure who won the battle.
  6. Xcel Energy Riverside plant MPLS, MN: Over the last several years an un-banded female falcon has owned this nest box 400’ up the stack. This un-banded female goes through the courting motions but fails to lay eggs each season. We should find out very soon if she is back once again. The stack at this plant is scheduled to be razed in the next year or two. When the stack is removed, we will mount a new nest box on one of the tallest structures of the plant overlooking the river.
  7. Xcel Energy Blackdog plant Eagan, MN: Once again we have falcons back at this nest box located 620’ up on the stack. In 2008 we found the remains of the aggressive adult female Nora along with the remains of an immature falcon at the bottom of a gas turbine stack . Recently, the remains of three of last year’s progeny were found in this same place. My first reaction was to pull the nest box to prevent future deaths. However, in giving it more thought, I felt that we need to address this problem for the entire industry as more and more power plants are switching from coal to this type of gas turbine facility. Dan Orr has located some large spikes made by a company in England. The spikes are designed to deter birds from perching. We are hoping to install these spikes to the top rim of the 320’ stack to discourage falcons from perching. The gas turbine plant is what is called an off peak plant. When there is increased need for electricity for air conditioning in the summer and heat in the dead of winter is when this turbine comes on line. When not in use, the rim of the 320 stack is a perch. Our hopes are to find a way to deter falcons/birds from this problem area and to make recommendations to the manufacturer of this design of electric turbine generation facility.
  8. Xcel Energy Highbridge plant St. Paul, MN: The nest box was removed from this plant before the 2008 nesting season and the stack was imploded. We installed a nest box a short distance upstream from the plant at an ADM facility. The falcons went to the nearby High Bridge to nest in 2008 instead of using the ADM nest box.
  9. Xcel Energy King plant Oak Park Heights, MN: It was 21 years ago that we installed the first power plant falcon nest box at this plant. The nest is located at the 400’ level of the 800’ stack. We know that the resident adult female remained on site all last winter. We have yet to confirm the bands on the adult male. With a fancy pan/tilt and zoom camera; we will quickly confirm band numbers as visits to the nest increase. The unique falcon plant program began at this plant in 1988. As the falcon power plant program expanded since that time two decades ago; we are very close to witnessing our 1,000th young falcon fledged from a mid-west power plant. What unique marriage. What an incredible contribution to falcon recovery.
  10. Xcel Energy Prairie Island nuclear plant Red Wing, MN: The nest box at this plant is mounted to the top of the vertical wall of a containment dome. We anticipate this nest to be productive as it has each year since it was first installed many years ago. We have had some discussions about relocating the nest box to an area near the top of the containment dome that would not require rappelling. We are also looking at installing cameras at that time.
  11. Red Wing Grain Red Wing, MN: The falcons have been back at this nest box now for over two weeks. The camera at this nest will help determine hatch and banding dates. Several elementary schools in the Red Wing area follow the Red Wing Grain falcons in the internet.
  12. Horizon Milling Lake City, MN: Camera to provided egg/young status
  13. Pepin Heights cliff south of Lake City, MN: We will continue to monitor this cliff that has attracted falcons in 2007 and 2008.
  14. Dairyland Alma, WI plant: As mentioned earlier, we have yet to determine if the falcons will nest up on the stack or the nearby cliff.
  15. Dairyland Genoa, WI plant: Two falcons are defending this stack nest once again this year. Last week there was a brutal battle inside the nest box witnessed by several falcon cam followers. No dead falcon has been found at the plant.
  16. Alliant Energy Nelson Dewey plant Cassville, WI. The adult male falcon G/V was found dead at the plant this last year. The camera at the plant works off and on. Need to visit the plant to determine status.
  17. US Bank La Crosse, WI: On 3/6/09 I installed a camera in this nest box and while completing the last of the few minute installation, two falcons began to protest. Our hopes are to run the video/audio signal down to the building lobby where the public and see and hear the nesting falcons.
  18. Agri-Bunge stack house McGregor, IA: We installed this nest box about ten years ago. The year following the installation it attracted a single male peregrine falcon then sat empty for many years. In 2008 we had an adult male and immature female in residence that failed to be productive. This year, two adult falcons are claiming the nest.

Along with the above nest box sites, we monitor over twelve cliffs on the Wisconsin side of the river, six on the Minnesota side, and 4 in Iowa. I will carry out another cliff survey next week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First Mississippi River falcon survey on 3/13/09
Report by Bob Anderson

I met Dave Kester and Leo, his son just outside of Waukon Junction, IA on the morning of 3/13/09. I knew we were in for a fun day when Dave pointed out to Leo two adult Bald Eagles and Leo responded, “No Dad, there are three eagles.” He was correct. We had very cold weather for the week prior, but the weather man/person promised a day of sun and temperatures above freezing. We were anxious to search for falcons on bluffs. At a small cliff we call Leo’s Bluff a short distance upstream from Waukon Junction, IA we immediately located an adult falcon perched on a dead cedar snag high on the cliff wall. We also heard another falcon making the courting wailing call a bit downstream. Our soon-to-be-five year-old apprentice was wondering what could be so exciting looking at a white blob up in a tree. We were pleased to find two falcons on our first cliff of the survey.

At the Lansing, IA power plant cliff we quickly located two adult falcons. This is an interesting nest site. In past years when we made a nest box available up on the power plant stack, the falcon would be productive. However, we removed the stack nest box and mounted a nest box to the cliff wall a few years ago. When the falcons nested in this cliff nest box they were also productive. Over the last few years the falcons have ignored the cliff nest box and moved to a large ledge mid wall on the cliff. Oddly, the falcons continue to use this ledge even though year after year their eggs or young have been depredated by raccoons. This last summer we rappelled down the cliff wall at several places, hoping to locate just where the raccoons access the ledge and install some sort of deterrent. We were not able to determine the exact access point. Once again this year, production on this cliff will be determined by where the falcons nest and access by raccoons.

We crossed the river in Lansing, Iowa and made our way to the series of cliffs near Lynxville, WI. We did not find falcons on site on this day but noticed that the river was still frozen. We continued downstream to the cliff at Lock and Dam 9 and did not find falcons, probably due to the river still frozen in this region.

We crossed the river once again in Prairie du Chien, WI and headed to McGregor, IA where last year we attracted an adult male falcon and immature female falcon to a nest box on the milling stack house that towers over this small river town. We did not find falcons on Friday the 13th, but Dave returned to the stack house the next day and was pleased to confirm an adult peregrine on site. We first mounted this nest box about ten years ago and maybe, just maybe, 2009 will be the year for success.

I will carry out a river survey searching the cliffs and nest boxes upstream on the west side of the river from Lansing, IA to Red Wing, MN and all of the WI cliffs and nest boxes later this week. It will be nice to re-new friendships with the cliff land owners and with luck, find new cliff sites with territorial falcons.

Here we go again…..

Bob Anderson