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.