Friday, January 28, 2011

Peregrine Falcon in the Snow

In January and February we travel back roads in western New York’s Amish country looking for wintering Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, and whatever else might be out there. Sometimes in one circuit of our approximately 60-mile route we’ll see as many as a dozen rough-legs and even more red-tails.

About a week ago, half-way through our rounds, we’d seen a bonded pair of red-tails and a few rough-legs, a rather disappointing sum of raptors, possibly because of the heavier than usual snow cover we’ve had over the last few months. Then, with light snow falling, we saw something very different from our usual raptors, a large, long-winged, pointed-winged, rapidly flapping bird coming toward us from a few hundred yards away. Suddenly, the bird wheeled in a full soar, not on a plane parallel to the earth, but, incredibly, on a plane perpendicular to the horizon, then plunged straight down as if to impale itself in the snowy landscape.

Our first winter-peregrine in western New York farm-country, far away from our southern Lake Erie raptor migration route, where we see a handful each year at our spring hawk watch, had taken a pigeon. We were able to get closer and watch from our car as the peregrine ate hungrily in the shallow cave she had made with the pigeon in the snow.

The excitement of a first sighting was over-shadowed by our awe at the quickness of the dramatic display of the falcon’s aerobatics. After the pigeon was taken, we had a chance to watch the feeding bird over several minutes, but the essential experience was our brief glimpse of the physics-defying flight of the plunging bird. What a wonderful moment!

1 comment:

  1. And the cold, my old friend, did it not irritate you?