Peregrine Watch Update - 2012

Each week of the Peregrine Watch in 2012, Raptor Intern Matthew Wyatt will be sharing information about the park's peregrine falcons in the update called the View from the Aerie. See below for Matthew's weekly updates on the status of the nesting attempts of the park's peregrine pairs.

View from the Aerie:

July 31, 2012:
It's a bittersweet feeling to be finished with the Peregrine Watch program.Now that the three young Peregrine Falcons have adventured away from home, sightings at the cliff are few and far between.They've learned what it means to be a magnificent bird hunter, and one can't blame a hungry raptor for finding food instead of waiting to be fed!Despite a vacant cliff, it doesn't mean we are closing the program empty-handed or empty-hearted (or that you can't still see Peregrines in Acadia!).Considering everything we've gained this season, including fond memories of the falcons, crucial scientific data, and awe-inspiring moments with the visitors, it's hard for me not to feel satisfaction, intrigue, and gratitude as we lead into the next chapter of Acadia's raptor program.

Coming into the internship program after having had no successful Peregrine nests in 2011, one could say I was a little anxious about seeing Peregrines in Acadia.My childhood excitement of working with falcons compounded by anticipation of twenty years of breeding in the Park suddenly turned upside-down.My heart sank further every day we observed the adult pair at the Precipice and theorized whether or not they had chicks hidden on the cliff.Then, we received the great news.One of the four nests on the island, Beech Cliffs, had three chicks!Here, we were able to gather my dearest memories of the Peregrines:fluffy chicks sitting in the nest, shedding their downy feathers for flight feathers, clumsy young taking their first flight, and fully grown juveniles soaring gracefully together, playing 'tag' and catching dragonflies.It is these memories that make me appreciate having places such as Acadia to visit.

Although, it's good to remember the Peregrine Watch program wasn't solely for my enjoyment.The daily observational data, from both the Precipice and Beech cliffs aeries, and the metal bands placed on the chicks will help us further understand these amazing birds of prey, adding to over two decades of data on the falcons in Acadia.This data tells the story of the reintroduction of a species brought back from extirpation due to DDT in the eastern United States.For this reason, watching falcons is not only a summer I'll never forget but also a vital scientific endeavor in which I was able to partake.

Yet, the most enriching aspect of Peregrine Watch caught me by surprise.It was sharing these special moments with visitors.Helping the thousands of people observe and learn about the falcons never became monotonous.It couldn't be when the days were filled with eager, wide-eyed children, seeing a Peregrine for the first time, or the returning seasoned birders, telling stories of a time when Acadia was devoid of the bird of prey.I can't help but wonder which Junior Ranger will become the next great biologist, inspired by that first glance, or what humbling knowledge the birders have gained by watching falcons for so many years.

"Bittersweet"indeed.Regardless, the end of the program only makes me appreciate what thrills will happen next year for Acadia's visitors, staff, and lucky raptor intern.In the meantime, don't forget that Hawk Watch will start August 19 at the summit of Cadillac Mountain.Join us to spot, identify, and count all the migrating raptors heading south along the coast, and stay on the lookout for the Hawk Watch updates, 'Riding the Winds,' this fall.Till then, hope to see you in Acadia; and keep your eyes peeled for the falcons!

--- Matt Wyatt, Raptor Intern, Acadia National Park

July 23, 2012: The Peregrine Watch has ended for the 2012 season. All three juveniles at Beech Cliffs have fledged successfully and are independently wandering around Acadia. The Hawk Watch will begin on August 19, daily from 9-2, weather permitting, on top of Cadillac Mountain.

July 14, 2012: It's hard to believe in only twelve weeks that the Peregrine Falcon grows from a helpless, flightless chick into a quick-learning aerial hunter. Few have the privilege to watch this transition from fluffiness to ferocity, but the last few weeks at Beech Cliff have offered visitors this grand opportunity.

Not long after Acadia National Park biologists banded the three chicks, the young falcons became anxious to explore. They started by walking around the nesting area, sometimes venturing off onto other nearby ledges, but their curiosity was quickly stymied by the sheer isolation of the nest. Living on a cliff just isn't ideal for quick strolls in the neighborhood. Yet, one week later, the young falcons began to test their solution-flight.

Young Peregrine Falcons instinctually know how to fly, but that doesn't make it any less terrifying to jump off a cliff. For days, the young falcons stretched and flapped their wings while standing on the edge of the nest, leading us to wonder, "Will today be the day?" Then, early one morning, we saw two Peregrines fly by and perch on a ledge near the nest. A double-check with the binoculars showed us what we had hoped for. The oldest chick was indeed flying! That day, we continued to watch as the oldest juvenile experimented with flying and perching, never venturing too far from the cliff. Then, on the following day, the other two young followed suit, giving us the sight of a lifetime-all three young Peregrine Falcons flying for the first time.

Initially, it wasn't the elegant, skilled flying expected of Peregrine Falcons, but all they needed was practice. Their flights started out with incessant flapping and very little soaring, which made for short, tiring flights. Then, once they learned how to soar, flying began to look like playtime. Two of the young were often seen chasing each other around the cliff, diving, stooping, and rolling like an extreme game of 'tag.' Sometimes they would pester the third juvenile and stoop at her perch, bringing her into their game. As they learned about flying the hard way, landing soon followed. Small crashes onto branches were common during the early days, but smooth landings came fairly quickly to the young falcons.

It truly has been an awe-inspiring experience to witness so much in a short time- hopefully, one we can see for many years into the future in Acadia National Park. For now, make sure to come see the young Peregrine Falcons mastering the art of flying at Beech Cliffs from 9am-12pm. Once the twelve weeks is up, the falcons will become fully independent and venture away from the nest, perhaps for good. Then, we'll have to wait till next year to witness the world's fastest animal come into its fame again. Hope to see you there!

---Matt Wyatt


July 3, 2012: Great news from the Acadia Raptor Program! Three Peregrine Falcon chicks were banded at Beech Cliffs in June. The two females and one male appeared vivacious and healthy in the nest site. The largest female easily outsized her two siblings, suggesting she hatched before the other chicks.

The entire banding process only took about an hour to complete, reducing the stress on the falcons. In order to get to the chicks in the old raven's nest, two climbers from the Atlantic Climbing School rappelled down part of the face of Beech Cliffs to the nest. Then, the chicks were individually placed into a canvas bag and lowered to Acadia National Park biologists. Staff worked quickly to place two metal bands on each chick. The first silver-colored band has a US Fish and Wildlife Service identification number unique to each individual. This band is used in a large database to track information about birds banded across the United States. Think of it as a bird Social Security card! The second band is green and black from the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. This band has a large number and letter which can be seen with a telescope, which helps biologists identify the bird at a distance.

Despite attempts to band all Peregrine chicks hatched in Acadia, only about a third have been
banded. Timing is key. The chicks' legs must be adult size, but they're not old enough to
move around the nest ledge. Otherwise, the sight of a human in the nest could cause a Peregrine
chick to hop off the cliff ledge with devastating consequences. Climbers, bird-banders, and
biologists must coordinate during a short period when the chicks are approximately
three to four weeks old, and then the weather has to cooperate as well. Banding is key to
determining where these Peregrines wander for winters and for nesting. Banded chicks from
Acadia have been found in Boston, Massachusetts; upstate New Hampshire and Vermont;
New Brunswick, Canada; Washington, D.C.,; and Cuba. The best opportunity to discover
future information about these birds is to band them when they are young.

Meanwhile, back at the Precipice, the nesting attempts with the pair of falcons there has failed. After multiple weeks of observations from the Peregrine Watch and early season monitoring, no chicks have been detected and all nesting behavior has been abandoned. Therefore, the Precipice trail and cliff face has been re-opened for recreational activities.

With the excitement of peregrine chicks at Beech Cliffs, the Peregrine Watch is currently at Echo Lake Beach off Route 102, north of Southwest Harbor. Come visit us from 9am - 12pm for great views of our Peregrine chicks as they learn to fly! Excitement ensues, so we hope to see you there.

--Matt Wyatt

June 4, 2012: Hello, everyone! My name is Matt Wyatt, the new Raptor Interpretation Intern for the 2012 summer season in Acadia National Park. With the help of Acadia's Raptor Ranger, Angi King Johnston, I'll be keeping you updated on what is happening with peregrine falcons in our great national park.

I have been captivated by birds of prey and nature since I was very young. I read stories such as My Side of the Mountain in junior high and kayaked the bayous and swamps of Louisiana throughout high school. In college at Louisiana State University, I continued to feed my interest by volunteering at the LSU Raptor Rehabilitation Center. There, I cared for hawks, owls, and kites that came through the center, and learned falconry with a local master-falconer, Matthew Mullenix, and his trusty companion, Ernie the Harris's Hawk. These experiences represent the start of a life-long intrigue in birds, mammals, and reptiles of our planet, especially those that rule the skies. As a graduating senior in ecology at LSU, I realize this fascination can be a life-long profession by researching how to better understand and protect these powerful raptors and connecting others to the importance of these awe-inspiring species in our ecosystems. Now, as this year's Raptor Intern, I'm ecstatic to have the opportunity to begin my career in ornithology, conservation, and interpretation with Acadia's Raptor Program!

Getting back to the birds, the first couple of weeks at Acadia have been anything but boring. I have observed the Peregrines attacking passing turkey vultures and bald eagles and catching prey, such as an unfortunate flycatcher that flew too close to the cliff outside of cover. During times when the raptors weren't active, our resourceful volunteers showed me the common perches of the peregrines on Champlain Mountain. Locating these perches is quite the feat for a bird that sits only as tall as a crow and camouflages itself very well to the rock.

When I wasn't at the Precipice, I spent time watching the peregrine chicks at Beech Cliffs-truly an amazing experience! The adult female was often seen bringing food to the begging chicks at the old raven's nest. A clear 'pecking order' was visible from the largest, oldest chick to the youngest, smallest falcon. Visitors passing by the popular beach were rewarded with a great chance to see the chicks-an event that may occur more often if the Precipice nesting pair fails and Peregrine Watch is relocated to observe the Beech Cliffs pair.

Contrary to what it may appear, this internship isn't only 'for the birds.' Discovering how to facilitate people's connection and interest in the raptors is a part of the experience, too. Shadowing Angi King Johnston and observing her engage audiences of all ages with different techniques, including props, pictures, well-practiced stories, and views of the falcons, has been insightful to the field of interpretation. I witnessed many 'Oooh!' moments from children and adults alike as they learned about the falcon's great speed, looked at various talon and skull models, and even got a chance to study the falcons in the scopes. But, no worries--Memorial Day weekend ensured plenty of practice for me with over 250 visitors on Sunday during our Peregrine Watch Program!

Until next week, look forward to a post with news and photos of the peregrine chicks at Beech Cliffs. In the meantime, please remember that the Precipice trail remains closed until further notice. Come out and visit us at the Peregrine Watch at Echo Lake Beach 9am to 12pm (weather permitting). Looking forward to a great season at Acadia National Park and seeing you out there!

--Matt Wyatt

May 31, 2012: Welcome to another exciting year of peregrine falcons nesting in Acadia National Park! The Peregrine Watch at the Precipice is once again monitoring the falcons' behavior and connecting visitors to the successful recovery of this bird of prey in the park and across the nation. The View from the Aerie is an update on the latest behaviors of peregrines across Acadia National Park.

Since 1991, a peregrine falcon pair has successfully nested (raising 1-4 chicks) at the Precipice almost every year. The first 19 years of nesting in Acadia created a type of textbook standard of mating, nesting, hatching, and fledging behaviors observed in several different pairs. However, the last couple of years have produced new chapters of changing behaviors and uncertain outcomes. This change has created new questions whose answers are not yet known. Park rangers, volunteers, and visitors are left to continue monitoring, observing, and documenting the what, when, and where behaviors. Then all wait to see how this year's pages of Acadia's peregrine falcon story will be written.

So far this season, turmoil at the Precipice appears to continue after last year's failed attempt to have young. Erratic behavior, changing of possible nesting ledges, and even possible changes in breeding adults during this nesting season riddles the question of nesting success. Currently, a pair of peregrines is trying to establish a nest, spending time on the Precipice and protecting "their" cliff from bald eagles,turkey vultures and other potential threats. As success is yet to be determined, the Peregrine Watch continues at the Precipice. Every behavior and action that occurs becomes important to watch and document, to see what happens next. The Precipice Trail, climbing area, and the Orange and Black Path will stay closed as nesting activity continues.

On the other side of the island, a different story is being written. A peregrine pair was active in March at the Valley Cove site, just north of Southwest Harbor, on Somes Sound. However, less activity was observed in the beginning of April. Meanwhile peregrine activity picked up at the nearby Beech Cliffs, off Echo Lake, at this time, where no activity had been previously observed this season. These two nest sites are only about a half-mile apart, and it's possible that the old raven's nest on Beech Cliffs was the chosen site for this same pair trying to nest at Valley Cove. Excitedly, about 6 weeks of incubation later, there are currently three chicks at Beech Cliffs. This nest is easily seen from the Echo Lake swim beach, where you can watch and hear much of their activity. The nest is in such a place that hikers on the Beech Cliff trail do not affect the birds; therefore the trail remains open. Valley Cove is still under observance for nesting activity and the trail continues to be closed.

Jordan Cliffs, another traditional nesting site in years past, appears to be inactive. However a single, non-territorial adult has been reported in the area. Hopefully this may be preparation for next season. All trails in this area are open.

The daily Peregrine Watch at the Precipice began in late May. Weather permitting, park staff are perched at the Precipice parking lot from 9am to 12 pm to view these important raptors. All information is important in determining nesting success, so the more eyes to keep watch, the better. Come visit, and be a citizen scientist to observe and help rangers determine this year's new chapters to the Precipice nesting site. Hope to see you there!

--Angi King Johnston

June 2012 |

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