Posted by: atowhee | June 14, 2020

MALHEUR: BEING A FALCON IS NOT SIMPLE

SATURDAY, JUNE 13

Sublime time surrounded us as we watched a Prairie Falcon family at their cliff south of Harney Lake Road.  It’s a couple miles west of The Narrows intersection of Hwy 205 & Sodhouse Road.  The first cliff seemed to have no birds.  Second cliff west of 205 had a Golden Eagle nest and family.  Third cliff was the falcons’.  It faced due west and sunset was approaching while we watched. The clouds would off-and-on allow a few moments of direct sunset light and then the pale volcanic rock in the cliff would smile with a golden gleam.

There Albert Ryckman and I stood along the gravel road looking up.  Above us in every way were mom and dad and four rambunctious juveniles. The falcon youngsters were often squealing loudly as they flew, “Whee-whee-whee.”  That raucous racket was in contrast to the fluting calls of meadowlarks in the sagebrush far below the cliff which was about 80 feet above the road level.  About a quarter mile north three abandoned mobile homes had been abandoned on the edge of the dry lake bed of Harney Lake.  There ravens ruled. I see that as a foretaste of the planet after our current people-propelled extinctions.  A raven perched atop a defunct air conditioner on the roof of one of the metal boxes.  The windows were broken out, doors missing.  Should a raven ever need shelter they would feel fine moving inside.  There was an occasional croak from one of the two as they surveyed lakebed, sagebrush, the two lumbering bipeds along the nearby road.

Often two to four of the Prairie Falcons were in the air.  Sometimes they soared above the cliff and out over its south shoulder.  What I took to be the adult male often sat stolidly on a cross railing of the cliff top fence.  He seemed to expect, tolerate, even smugly enjoy the ruckus about him.  Young falcons would dive-bomb him or try to land, sometimes clumsily missing the perch and flapping off into the sky that edged up to the cliff rocks. At other times one or two of the kids would settle down on the railing next to dad.  Then you could see the tempestuous feathering of the young.  Some large feathers horizontal to the body, no svelte outline as called for in all the falcon design manuals.

In the air there were circles flown by two or more in a gyre formation.  At other times a single young falcon would speed back and forth across the brow of the cliff, or even just a short way in front—strong wing beats, fast moving falcon, usually squealing in flight.  We watched, the time passed.  Several times, one or more of the young would land on the cliff top, or another part of the fence above the cliff face.  In one impressive maneuver, three of the falcons floated hundreds of feet up then and drifted northward from the cliff, out over the sage and lakebed.  When they returned there were four.  There were loud alarm calls from a pissed-off shorebird.  Albert’s photos informed us that the fourth set of pointed wings belonged to a Long-billed Curlew, his arched beak in attack position.  No doubt the heedless young had flown over his nesting site and incited this defensive chase by the curlew.  He had no chance of actually catching up to the falcons but surely his noise and beak were a lesson that needed learning. Oh, that guy is a more serious problem that mobbing a teetering old Turkey Vulture.

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Albert and I met up in Salem, left there about 740AM.
Not many birds at Detroit Lake.  Raining in Cascades, didn’t stop at Suttle Lake.
Lost Lake west of Sisters: Spotted Sandpiper, VGS and Tree and NRW Swallows over lake, pewee, first Bald Eagle of the trip.
Mid-day stop at Sawyer Park in Bend:  Willow Flyc. and Pewee, many VG Swallows over river.  Pygmy Nuthatch, Cassin’s Finch, House Finch, House Wren.
Few raptors along US 20 between Bend and Riley.

Chickahominy: very strong wind from west.  Slowed down swallows and forced many VGS to rest in lee of small hillock on north side of lake.  Good pics.  Brewer’s Sparrow, Spotted Sandpiper, WilPhal, coot, five swallows species.

Malheur Basin highlights: meadowlark and shrike along Ruh-Red, missed burrowing owl.
Few Black Terns but stilt and avocet along Greenhouse Lane.  Heard first cranes, not seen.
Ferrugy nest at MP in lone juniper, again.
Pond at sub-station along 205 and HQ pond both high water.  Two pelicans on HQ pond, found one GHO there, another pewee.

Many birds at Narrows, will bird some morning[on 14th we got great shots of stilts, avocet, Clark’s Grebe and flock of White Pelicans in morning light].
Harney Lake Road.  Three Golden Eagles at Second cliff—one adult, two young.  Six Prairie Falcon including one trio chased by a curlew at Third Cliff.  Much screaming and aerial duets by falcons.

EAGLE NEST GALLERY

In one shot you see juvenile eagle flying over the seated adult. The small being in that picture is a Cliff Swallow–they were myriad in the vicinity because of…the cliffs.

66 species total…official trip begins tomorrow.

Summer Birds 2020


Responses

  1. […] Click here for first blog on the amazing falcon follies as the young run through their wild-ass mane… […]


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