Saturday, December 25, 2010

One of the Decorah eagles enjoys a squirrel on Christmas morning. I am glad to see it after a day's absence. It struck me, as I was going through the dailies, that the eagles must be very warm. The first pic below was taken yesterday, after the last snowstorm. The second was taken today, after the eagle had eaten as much squirrel as it cared to.

The eagle melted a lot of snow while it ate the squirrel - more than I would have thought.

The Fort St. Vrain eagles in Colorado are also busy working on their nest. They aren't dealing with the snow and ice that the Decorah eagles are. In fact, the shot below makes it look like the eagles are back to eating turtles again - that round object looks somewhat like a turtle plastron to me. The FSV eagles ate a lot of turtles the year before last. However, given the time of year, I don't know whether or not turtles would be available to them. This is a night time shot, captured via IR.
Happy holidays, everyone!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Recently we have been asked by the USFWS to install some falcon nest boxes on cliffs in pool 13 upstream of Clinton, IA. We have not studied the cliffs in this region of the river as most of the bluffs in this region do not have road access. We have used boats to survey cliffs near Petosi, WI and Balltown, IA in the past but, to extend the boat surveys down to pool 13 would take days on the water. We called upon Dairyland Power Cooperative for the use of their Bell Jet Ranger helicopter and, pilot. Fortunately, our request was granted.

I met John Thiel at the La Crosse , WI airport early last Wednesday 4/21/10 and we set off in the helicopter with high hopes of finding new cliffs with nesting falcons. The first cliff we decided to study was Goose Island bluff just downstream of La Crosse, WI. We have had two reports in the last week of a falcon staffing a hawk and an eagle a short distance away from the cliff itself. We were curious to find out if there was another cliff besides the Goose Island cliff that these falcons could be defending. We did not find any bluffs nearby other then the main wall of the Goose Island cliff itself. Fortunately, we have a supporter of the falcon program who owns this cliff and is closely watching for falcons to take up ownership.

We then crossed the river to the Iowa side and began heading down stream. When we passed over Dead Cow Bluff south of Lansing, IA I could see an adult falcon in the cliff mounted nest box. We did not spend time at the Lansing Power plant cliff or Leo’s Bluff, where we know there are falcons on site. Due to the early morning light on the east facing cliffs we stayed on the Iowa side of the river, working our way down to pool 13. We did find some small cliffs near Sabula, IA that might attract falcons if a nest box was available. When we could just see the town of Clinton, IA coming into view we crossed the river and began checking the cliffs in Illinois and Wisconsin side of the river. We did find a string of small cliffs directly across the river from the John Deere plant near Dubuque, IA. We also looked very close at the cliffs on the Wisconsin side of the river directly across from Balltown, IA. One thing that John Theil and I noticed is that most of the cliffs in this region of the river are much smaller than the cliffs upstream. We also noticed that the rock walls had very few if any ledges or potholes.

We did not find any new cliffs with territorial falcons but we were able to get a feeling for just where we might have cliff nesting falcons in future years. One highlight of the flight day was when heading back to La Crosse, WI we decided to take a short rest at Capoli Bluff south of Lansing, IA. Raleigh Buckmaster gave us approval to land on his property. Raleigh then took my place in the helicopter to show the pilot and John Theil the falcon effigies on his land. Raleigh took the attached image of us in the helicopter when we called it a day and returned to La Crosse to tuck the fantastic flying machine away in its hanger.

The larger cliffs that we have upstream from Prairie du Chein, WI and Waukon Junction, IA are probably more attractive to nesting falcons over the much smaller cliffs found in pool 12 and pool 13 of the Mississippi River. However, last year Christian Hagenlocher, a student at Principia College, discovered a cliff nesting pair of Peregrine falcons on a tall cliff near Alton, IL. Neil Rettig also saw these same falcons early last spring while on his way to a film shoot. It sounds like the limestone cliffs begin to increase in height again in this region of the Mississippi River. It’s going to be interesting to hear if this pair of falcons returns to nest again this year and also if any new cliffs in this region come on line.

I am most appreciative of Dairyland Power donating the use of the Bell Jet Ranger to assess and GPS the river cliffs. This is the second time that we have used the Dairyland Power helicopter to survey the Mississippi River cliffs. On this second flight we used over 100 gallons of expensive jet fuel. Many thanks to Dairyland Power Cooperative for their most generous donation to Peregrine falcon studies along the big river.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sunday 4/18/10 falcon survey on Mississippi River

I set off early Sunday morning and made my directly to the Agri-Bunge stack house in McGregor, Iowa. I searched the usual spots the adult male falcon has been known to use without locating him. I humped my telescope and tri-pod up the nearby bluff to get a view directly into the nest box mounted to the roof of the stack house. What a physical way to start the day by trudging up this bluff! Once top side and scope set up, I could easily see the head of an adult falcon incubating in the nest box.

Next site was Leo’s Bluff near Waukon Junction, IA. As I was nearing the area directly below the cliff, I saw the adult male falcon heading out over the river with a snapping wing beat. I knew he was on a hunt. By the time I got my car pulled over I lost sight of the hunting falcon. He returned about five minutes later without prey. I was setting up my scope to verify band status when a Red-tail hawk flew directly in front of the cliff face. I thought Why is this guy not getting hammered? Just then, the adult male falcon struck the hawk with such force that I could hear the strike and saw many feathers flying. The falcon got in one more strike before the wounded hawk made it to safety in the trees.

I then drove to the Lansing Power plant cliff and saw an adult falcon perched on the new cliff mounted nest box. We installed this nest box about ten feet above the favored ledge. Each and every time the falcons nest on this ledge and not the nest box their eggs are eaten by raccoons. However, I noticed fresh mutes on the ledge and now wonder if the female is on eggs on the ledge and the adult male falcon is using the nest box perch as a sentry spot. I will need to access the roof of the plant turbine building or cat-walk up on the stack to get a good view of the cliff nest box and nearby ledge.

The nest box we mounted about nine years ago on Dead Cow Bluff just upstream of the Lansing power plant had an adult falcon perched out front of the nest box. David Litton, Tom Griffin, Dave Kester, Neil Rettig, Maggie Jones, and myself mounted this nest box. Humping the nest box, pea-gravel, tools and ropes to the top of this bluff took a bit of effort. However, after all of these years, it appears it was an effort worth while.

I checked Blackhawk and Reno Bluffs without finding falcons. I spent about 30 minutes at the Shellhorn cliff south of Brownsville, MN without locating a falcon. I did not find a falcon at this cliff on my last survey and now feel that the adult falcons that were on site in mid March have moved elsewhere.

I saw one falcon at Great Spirit Bluff perched on a dead snag close to the nest box, and one adult falcon strafing a Turkey vulture at Queen’s Bluff. I spent quite a bit of time at the cliff south of Homer, MN where on previous trip I observed a falcon. No falcon on this trip. I spent quite a bit of time at Homer Cliff north where we have had successful nesting before but no luck in 2009 or again in 2010.

I originally had planned on making my way to Red Wing, MN but was anxious to meet with Gary Grunwald at Twin Bluffs near Nelson, MN. I crossed over at Winona and spent some time at Castle Rock without finding a single falcon. No falcons seen at Fountain City, WI.

The falcons at 12 Mile Bluff are seen more often on the cliff then at the nearby Dairyland Power nest box up on the stack. John Thiel was able to get the band number of the adult male who is a falcon named Mark (23/M), a 2002 HY falcon from Castle Rock

Maassen’s Bluff has no falcons at all this year. This is very strange, since we have had adult falcons at this cliff for many years. Whether or not they successfully produced young, we've had an adult pair on territory for a long time. Not this year, though.

I met with Gary Grunwald down below Twin Bluffs at Nelson, WI. After waiting for about 30 minutes, we saw an adult male falcon chase off intruding vultures. He then flew to a live cedar tree and disappeared. Gary and I next made our way to Maiden Rock and quickly located an adult male falcon that is banded but I don’t think it is Gunnar, the captive bred falcon that has nested at this cliff in the past. We didn't find a falcon at West Bluff, although the land owners have reported seeing two falcons drive away eagles.

Gary and I made our way back down stream, stopping for a few minutes to try to get the band number of the adult male at Maiden Rock (no luck). We ended the day at Twin Bluff, where we were shocked to find vultures flying across the face of the cliff and even perching on the bluff top without being harassed by a peregrine falcon.

We have had adult falcons at these cliffs in past seasons that do not have resident falcons this year:

  • Castle Rock, WI
  • Masssen’s Bluff,WI
  • Homer, MN cliff
  • Fountain City, WI cliff
  • Shellhorn cliff, Brownsville, MN
Bob Anderson

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Greetings, I had received a report of a falcons stooping on a Red-tail hawk near Goose Island cliff south of La Crosse, WI. On Saturday I gave a presentation in La Crosse then set off to check out the falcon report. As I drove near the cliff, I could see the cliff owner standing in his yard looking up towards the Goose Island cliff. He has not seen falcons.

I then checked cliffs on the WI side of the river and crossed over at the Lansing, IA bridge. Made my way to down below Dead Cow Bluff and was pleased to see an adult tiercel falcon perched on a dead snag near the cliff mounted nest box. All looks well at this site.

I then drove to the Lansing power plant cliff and hiked to the area directly down below the cliff face. I was pleased to see an adult tiercel falcon perched on the new cliff nest box. We mounted this nest box a few years ago in an attempt to attract the nesting falcons away from their favored ledge where each and every time they have attempted to breed on this ledge the eggs/young were eaten by raccoons. It's looking promising for this pair to be productive since raccoons can't access this nest box.

Things look good for the nesting falcons at the RRP nest box on the Agri-bunge stack house in Mc Gregor, IA.

The cliff nesting pair at Leo's Bluff near Waukon Junction, IA are probably on eggs.

The adult falcons at Larson's Bluff near Lynxville, WI are looking like they will use the main cliff this year. With the nesting falcons at the Dairyland Power Genoa plant and the other nest sites mentioned above, we have six pairs of nesting falcons in a relatively small area of the Mississippi River.

John and I will be checking all of the cliffs near Petosi, WI and Balltown, IA in a helicopter this next week. We will also check for occupancy at the cliffs in pool 13 upstream of Clinton, IA. All of these cliffs do not have roads nearby and to survey by boat would take days. Look for a report of cliff assessment and GPS coordinates later this next week.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Some of the birds we watched have really struggled this spring. They face many challenges, including weather (the snowstorm at the Fort St. Vrain nest as the first eaglet was hatching), other birds (territorial battles at the Valmont owl nest and Red Wing grain elevator), and, especially in the case of cliff-nesting birds, other animals. Yet they persevere. Both eagle eggs at Fort St. Vrain have hatched and the young eaglets seem to be doing well despite the horrendous weather. Looking at this image, you wouldn't guess the nest had been covered in snow just a day or two before. The owls at Valmont appear to be ready to recycle and lay a new clutch any night now. The Horizon Milling female, Lolo, has laid her second egg. Hatch will be in roughly early May - I'll give a better date for that once egg three is laid. And at the Raptor Resource Project we are, among other things, conducting river surveys and getting ready for banding season.
My children and I went down the Mississippi River on the WI side yesterday to look for peregrines. We started at Diamond Head Bluff in Diamond Head, WI. We didn't see any peregrines there, but we did see 15-20 of what I think were broadwinged hawks kettling over the bluff. It is a wonderful time to be on the river right now - the floodplain is brimming over and everything is waking up!
Moving on down the river, we saw mature and immature bald eagles, red-winged hawks, pelicans, ducks, and beavers. We were unable to survey the Bay City bluff - I think that will need to be done by boat, or possibly hiking - but we did see a female peregrine flying in the vicinity of West Bluff. We spotted a male and female at Maiden Rock. This year, she was sitting in a dead snag to the north of last year's eyrie, roughly in the black circle area. I don't know whether she'll stay there, but she did explore a pothole in the area while we watched her.
Next, the children and I went to Twin Bluffs in Nelson, WI. We did not see peregrines there, so we went to say 'Hi!' to Gary Grunewald and check out Maasen's Bluff. It is a good thing Gary is handy, because Rebekah locked my keys in the car, and he had to break in to get them. You can break into a Saturn with a long piece of wire and a little patience. Thanks, Gary! Gary also told me he had not yet seen or heard peregrines, but we maybe saw a male peregrine right before I left. That bluff will need a harder look.
There were no falcons present at the Alma Marina cliff, although the lone pothole had fresh whitewash. This could be from birds other than peregrines, however - a GHO has nested there in years past. We saw a female at 12-Mile bluff behind the Alma powerplant. I cannot tell you how happy I was that she appeared to be exploring a completely new pothole on the bluff. That old pothole was a bear to get to! If she picks this new one - it is high up on the 'point' of the bluff, as seen from the north - it should make things easier.
I didn't see any falcons in Fountain City or, to my disappointment, at Castle Rock Bluff. I sat at Castle for 15 minutes, scanning the bluff and sky and checking all of the usual perching places. Nothing. However, Maggie Jones reports falcons at Lock and Dam 9 and Lynxville, and the season is young yet. Possibly the bluff will fill up yet!
If you see falcons in Fountain City or at Castle Rock (or anywhere else along the Mississippi between roughly Red Wing and southern Iowa, in any of the states), please drop us an email: Thank you, and happy birding online and off!