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.