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.