Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pokey the Peregrine and other raptors on the Birds of Prey NCA

At the beginning of February we took a couple of quick trips through the Birds of Prey National Conservation area to Swan Falls Dam. The NCA is always great for raptors, and this trip was no exception.

Here’s a Red-tailed Hawk whose dinner we interrupted as we drove by on South Cole Road (just north of Kuna Mora Road).

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Red-tailed Hawk on South Cole Road, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

On Swan Falls Road south of Kuna there is a big dairy that you pass by on the way to Swan Falls Dam, and on this trip we spotted a Peregrine Falcon hunting pigeons as we drove by. Excited to get our first of year Peregrine, we pulled over to snap a few photos, and it was quickly clear that something wasn’t quite “normal” about this bird …

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Peregrine Falcon near dairy on Swan Falls Road, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

You can see something dangling from his legs, and we immediately suspected this was a captive bird used in falconry that was being flown for exercise. We kept an eye on it, and sure enough, after a few minutes it swooped down to it’s falconer.

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Peregrine Falcon with its handler near Swan Falls Road, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

We drove over to the falconer and asked if we could snap a few pictures of his beautiful bird. It turns out this guys name is Pokey, and the wire dangling from one of its legs is a GPS antennae that the falconer can use to track down his bird when he decides to cruise on over to the next flock of pigeons unexpectedly.

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Pokey the Peregrine near Swan Falls Road, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

Pokey didn’t catch anything wild while we were watching, but his handler had some quail waiting for him back at the truck. Below, he demonstrates a behavior called mantling, which is where birds of prey, particularly larger birds that have lower hunting success rates, conceal their catch by hunching the wings forward around the food.

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Pokey the Peregrine mantling his meal of quail, near Swan Falls Road, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

We spent most of our trip around Swan Falls Dam, where the nearby scrubby plains and grasslands provide habitat for some raptors and sparrows, the cliffs provide habitat for more raptors and swallows, the river provides habitat for waterfowl, and the wooded riparian edges provide habitat for all sorts of passerines. The scenery is always amazing as well. This is definitely one of the more striking vistas near Boise.

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Swan Falls Dam and the Snake River, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

I’ve really treasured all the time we’ve spent so far making fun memories with our new little daughter Nora, just over 2 months old on this trip. She’s a fantastic travel companion since she sleeps so well in the car, and her regular feeding breaks have really helped us be more patient and thorough at each location, since she’s a slow eater (it takes 30-45 minutes to get her to finish a meal!) and she needs to eat every 2-4 hours.

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Ellen and Nora at Swan Falls Dam, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

Swan Falls Park had a few nice passerines, including this Hairy Woodpecker, Townsend’s Solitaire, and a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

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Hairy Woodpecker at Swan Falls Park, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

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Townsend’s Solitaire at Swan Falls Park, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

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Cedar Waxwing at Swan Falls Park, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

There’s also a good-sized flock of Double-crested Cormorants that winter upstream from the dam, usually hanging out on the buoys. Though they’re regular here at Swan Falls Dam, they still always hit the eBird filter for exceeding the expected high count for this time of year.

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Double-crested Cormorants upstream from Swan Falls Dam, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

Of course the raptors were ever present as well. We heard a Great Horned Owl calling, and saw both Golden and Bald Eagles soaring overhead, as well as a Prairie Falcon.

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Golden Eagle soaring above Swan Falls Dam, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

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Bald Eagle soaring above Swan Falls Dam, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

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Prairie Falcon above Swan Falls Dam, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

On the way home as the sun was setting we spotted this Great Horned Owl hanging out on a power line near Cloverdale Road and Kuna Mora Road. It’s always fun to tally all the Great Horned Owls that come out to start their evening of hunting as we finish up our day.

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Great Horned Owl near Cloverdale Road and Kuna Mora Road, Ada County. February 1, 2014.

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