Sunday, September 6, 2009

Peregrines in Forest Park

The Next Time You're in Forest Park, Look Up!

That speeding bullet you see swooping overhead isn't Superman. It could be a Peregrine Falcon!

On July 30th of this year photographer Jason G. Harrison was on a photo op in Forest Park near the fishing ponds. He was photographing Yellow Crowned Night Herons with a fellow professional photographer whose photos appear in the "Missouri Conservationist". They noticed a bird of prey fly overhead, and could see it was a Peregrine Falcon. However, the bird flew on before they could get a photo.

After some time had passed a Peregrine again flew by, this time landing in a large Sycamore tree. Jason quickly packed his gear and began a long circling approach in order not to scare off the bird. The bird stayed perched while he made his long walk. It was very focused on several small ducks and other birds on the ponds, which allowed him to get close enough to take some images. It stayed perched there for about 15 minutes, and then flew off to the west.

The two photographers spent several days in this location, and EACH day they saw a Peregrine flying overhead. Whether it was this same bird, he couldn't tell. One day they did see a mature Peregrine flying low.

Upon examining the images that he took that day, Jason discovered that the bird had been banded, and was able to make out enough of the numbers on the bands that he contacted the World Bird Sanctuary to see if he could find out the particulars of where and when the bird had been banded. As it turned out, this was a Peregrine that had been banded this year as part of our Peregrine Falcon reintroduction program. Following is an excerpt of a letter that was sent to Jason from Roger Holloway, Director of Operations for the World Bird Sanctuary, giving the bird's particulars:

"I am writing to give you some background on the Peregrine Falcon who became your "subject" in Forest Park this summer. I was very glad to hear she was out and about touring her new territory.

"I was very fortunate to be involved in banding 11 of the juvenile Peregrines in the St. Louis region in 2009. The banding and monitoring of these once highly endangered raptors has helped track their comeback and taught us a lot about their "peregrinations" over the past 25 years.

"Your young lady was banded on May 18, 2009 at a wild nest located at the Washington University Medical School next to Barnes Hospital. There, the parents nest in a box built into an opening in the side of the building where an old air intake used to be. Accessing it requires crawling on one's belly and hands and knees through a 30-yard long dark and dingy crawlspace. This is when we love being biologists...! Once at the nest, we looked through the peepholes to see who was home. We were treated to the mother feeding all three Peregrine babies. They were sitting patiently in a semi-circle as she ripped up a pigeon one piece at a time. Once we made enough noise, mom left. We slid the front door of the box closed and opened the back. We had to carry the three babies back through the crawlspace so we could band them and collect a small blood sample from each.

"There were two females and one male. With Peregrines, we can tell by the larger size of the females, especially their feet. Once banded, back to the nest they went. At that point, I think Mom Peregrine said the equivalent of, "Where have the three of you been? I was worried sick. Now finish your pigeon."

It is indeed special to get close to a bird like the Peregrine Falcon. Through your images, you will give many that opportunity. What will become of this bird is hard to say. Only 25% will survive their first year. Hopefully, this young female will fit into the 25% of perseverant youngsters that will live on despite the many challenges ahead. Will she come back as an adult to nest in St. Louis? Will she move on to an exotic city in South America? If I ever find out, I'll be sure to let you know.

Thanks for your interest and involvement."

All photos courtesy of Jason G. Harrison.

1 comment:

DNLee said...

these shots are amazing! thanks for sharing