Desert Peregrine

by Bryce W. Robinson

Peregrine Falcon- Falco peregrinus. 11×14″ colored pencil on bristol

At times I am asked to check on and re-assess the activity of raptor or raven nests on transmission towers here in the desert. This task requires me to sit vigil to the nest for at least a four hour period, or until I see activity in the nest. Last week I was asked to check on a Red-tailed Hawk nest in a particularly sandy and desolate section of the desert. The first hour was uneventful, until I noticed a bird sitting on the edge of the nest. I hadn’t seen the bird fly in, and so assumed it was a raven that had jumped up to stretch and take a rest from incubation. The bird was dark, and small, but when I looked through the scope, it was not a raven that sat in the nest. The unmistakable face pattern of the Peregrine falcon left me excited and confused.

For the next twenty minutes I tried wrapping my brain around why a Peregrine Falcon, a cliffside nester, would inhabit a Red-tailed Hawk nest in the middle of the desert. They have been documented using old hawk nests, but surely not in the middle of this desert, entirely out of their range. These falcons feed primarily on birds, and this portion of the desert is certainly lacking any bird activity that would sustain a single falcon, let alone a family. The only thing that made sense was that the bird made the daily trip some thirty miles east to the Colorado River to hunt. This seems highly unlikely. After fifteen minutes, the bird hunkered down into the nest. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Soon after, the bird left the nest, circling high, riding thermals, and making a straight line fly for the south east. I was perplexed. Certainly this bird was not nesting on the tower. I expect it was passing through, and took advantage of the only shaded roost for miles, only to rest. Still, what an enigma.

This mysterious bird is the only Peregrine falcon I have seen all season. It makes sense as they are not seen often in the desert, and certainly do not nest or winter in the area. It is out of their range. I love when birding presents the unexpected. As birds have wings, they certainly can turn up anywhere.

I have been meaning to illustrate this falcon for some time. Today I decided that given last weeks experience, I ought to put forth the energy towards illustrating that distinctive face that left me puzzled and surprised. The bird was very far away, so I couldn’t use my camera get a decent photo. I did make an attempt to use the scope and my phone to get a photo. Certainly there is no mistaking it. The bird was not a Prairie Falcon, a bird that frequents the area I was in. I cropped the photo substantially to make sure the bird was shown clearly.

I also thought I would include another digi-scope attempt I made as I watched a family of Burrowing Owls. These guys were a blast to watch. I only wish I could have used my camera to get some better pictures. Maybe the opportunity will present itself soon. The Burrowing Owl is such a charismatic bird. I love every chance I get to watch them and their antics.

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