Sunday, June 20, 2010

PostHeaderIcon A Coda on the Falcons of Alcatraz

Remember this guy?

No one's blaming you if you don't, as we last touched upon his status 40 days ago.

His story is short and it bears repeating, so here we go:

On November 22nd 2009, BourbonHawk and I discovered a large adult female peregrine roosting atop one of our cypress trees:

As the days and months went on, sightings were as regular as the rising sun. We determined that she was residing on Alcatraz, either for the winter or longer. More pictures and videos of her and her bloody quarries are available in our back posts.

On February 6th, 2010, we found a second falcon, a male, albeit an immature male, perhaps unable to breed. None the less, the two engaged in fantastic displays of aerial courting, darting, spiraling, sparring with each other. Finally, they perched together, and on Valentine's Day, no less. All who saw them were touched by the romantic spectacle.

The male (or tiercel, as male falcons are called) remained, but since our last report, the frequency of observation of our baby bird-killing-machine has declined steadily. He's become so scarce that I had fully intended to publish a report declaring that the Alcatraz tiercel had departed completely...

...which shows how bad I am at this. During Alcatraz's magic inbetween-hour, separating Alcatraz day tours from our rad night tour program, there are no visitors and there are far fewer staff. The animals behave differently and often, it's the time of day that the bird you're looking for rears its helmeted head.

This is the Alcatraz tiercel as we had last seen him, the brown plumage betraying the youth that may have pushed the female to abandon him:

Today, we saw the following:

The brown is giving way to blue and Alcatraz's baby boy peregrine is growing up!

I pessimistically called this 'a coda' on the presence of falcons on Alcatraz because one sighting every few weeks just doesn't mean very much.

It is our familiar tiercel. He has the same robust helmet, is molting on schedule and he's occupying his habitual roost. But I don't think he lives on Alcatraz anymore.

Whether this is due to pressure from Alcatraz's larger ravens and gulls is unknown, although conflicts with both were common when the tiercel was an everyday sight on Alctraz. Earlier in the year, we posted the following video. The tiercel is the tiny bird diving and pursuing the larger ones before being pursued himself by a western gull. If you don't blink, you can see a few of San Francisco's landmarks in the background:

The shameless romantic birder in me would like to think that this falcon, which had been so significant to us for such a long period of time, had graced our island this evening share with us its progress on its maturing plumage, though my prevailing non anthropomorphic brain knew it was just a brief and aimless layover on the way to somewhere else.

Sure enough, when I checked for him 20 minutes later, he was gone.

Hopefully my hunches are wrong and Alcatraz becomes a yearly site for falcon breeding. But I'm not holding my breath.


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