Readers’ wildlife photos

July 14, 2014 • 11:30 am

Reader Bruce sent us some real peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus; I’m still embarrassed for having called a kestrel a peregrine). These look real to me! (Click photos to enlarge.)

Bruce’s notes:

This spring I wanted to explore the coast between Santa Cruz and San Francisco and in the process stumbled on a wonderfully accessible and observable Perergrine Falcon nest. The nest was in a small cavity on a cliff face but instead of facing out to sea, where it would have been hidden from view, the nest was located where the cliff took a sharp corner so it was visible from the adjacent cliff tops. I discovered the nest just as the three chicks were learning to fly. On my first visits the chicks were still in the nest but they were soon flying well and they then spent their time on the top of the cliff waiting for a parent to return with food.

Below:The adult male Peregrine Falcon perched near the nest. I could distinguish the male and female adults based on size (female larger) and plumage (male plumage was a little crisper). On my first few visits, one of the two parents was always in attendance and was perched near the nest but not at the actual nest ledge. I suspect they avoid spending time at the nest because the chicks would mob and harass them for food. The one time I did see a parent bring in prey the chicks got pretty frenzied about the possibility of dinner.

Peregrine 1

Below: The adult female landing at her favorite perch spot close to the nest ledge:

Lyon female

Below: An adult flying near the nest:

Adult flying

Below. The three chicks squabble over a Mourning Dove carcass. An adult delivered the dove to the nest but left immediately and the three chicks then jostled over control of the prey item:

Chicks squabbling

Below: One of the chicks practices flapping its wings at the top of the cliff:

Chick practices

42 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Seems such a precarious place to raise a family — but I suppose that has its advantages.

    Nice work, Bruce! Care to share some details about how far away you were, equipment, and the like?


    1. Absolutely. I was trying out a new Canon D6 body, which I purchased for low light situations. This camera has a full frame sensor which means better image quality but reduced magnification compared to my other camera body (D7) which lacks a full frame sensor. I used my 500mm F4 lens with a 1.4 extender (which makes the lens a 700mm on the D6 but close to 1000mm on the other body). I was about 30 feet from the nest when I photographed the chicks and 40 feet from the adult perching on the cliff. I am wary about photographing raptors at the nest because some species are easily spooked and can desert the nest (egg stage is more risky than chicks). However, these birds seem pretty used to people and the shots I took of the adults landing on the ledge and sitting on the ledge were taken without a blind from the cliff edge.

      1. Thanks!

        The 6D is a wonderful camera, at least by the specs — I’ve never handled one. It’s got all the image quality of the 5DIII. It lacks the sophisticated autofocus and drive mechanism of the 5DIII, as well as some other performance-oriented features, but it’s still no slouch — indeed, a significant upgrade over the 5DII, which was the “go-to” workhorse of wedding and landscape photographers for ages. And it’s a lot cheaper than the 5DIII, making it the perfect choice if you don’t need the autofocus (etc.) performance.

        That 500 f/4 is the same one Stephen recently got that he’s put to such good use with the birds on his land. And, of course, it offers a big advantage in letting you keep your distance — as you’ve demonstrated.

        Thanks for sharing!


      2. I love the 500 f/4 but I just crop the bejesus out of my pictures done with the 300 and 1.4x telextender because I’m cheap.

        Nice shots!

        1. Unless your printer is too big to fit on your desk, you’re likely just fine with cropping, even in principle. The 5DIII gives a lot of room to crop….


        2. I crop the bejesus with the 500 f/4 and 1.4x extender.

          If I had to choose just one lens for what I do, it would be the Canon 100-400mm with the 1.4x option.

  2. Superb series of photos.
    The rocky background makes for a perfect contrast to the birds’ colors.
    Those feet and talons are immense in proportion to the size of the body.

  3. Peregrines are my favourite birds; I very occasionally see them in or around my garden, The local ones (Scottish Boarders) seem more strongly marked than those in the photographs, particularly on the back and tail. I once saw one of them pounce from a standing start from branch about 7 metres above the ground to take a short-tailed vole. It was unbelievably fast: much quicker than a falling stone would have been from the same height.

  4. All three of the Fargo Falcons eyasses fledged last week. The two females, Happy and Sandy, fledged late last week, after their brother, Jack, had left earlier in the week.

    It was a pleasure to watch them be nurtured by their parents.

    Thank you Jerry for the heads up!

  5. Really nice. World class. Is this a well-known place? If not, I suggest you keep the location a closely guarded secret.

    Were you shooting hand-held?

    1. I do intend to keep the location secret–I never divulge raptor nest locations. I do not think the site is known because I know some of the local peregrine folks (falconers, biologists)and they have never mentioned it even though they showed me another nest less than two miles away. I discovered the nest by accident (was not looking for peregrines). We have great horned owls nesting on campus near my office and the entire university population seems to know about it. This is a good illustration of what happens when nest sites become public information. Most people are respectful towards the owls but I have seen a few clowns harassing the birds to get photos.

      All of these photos were taken with a tripod but I can get decent handheld shots with the monster lens at times.

  6. I have to agree with Ben – that cliff looks horribly unstable. Down a cave we’d call somewhere with walls like that “Sword of Damcles”, or more prosaically, “Don’t look at the roof!”
    Which then begs the question of how such a deeply-indented nesting ledge could have formed in what looks to be comprehensively shattered material. Citing it as between Santa Cruz and San Francisco only suggests it could be anything, that being a fairly tectonically messed up part of the world.

    1. You ain’t kidding. For most of my young childhood, we lived here:

      Zoom out a bit and you’ll see Skyline Elementary School. I still remember seeing waves in the playground blacktop. Zoom out just a wee bit further and you as a geologist will instantly know the source of those waves. Pretty much everybody would recognize the name of the source.

      “Tectonically messed up” is a bit of an understatement….


          1. I see your tiny crater and raise you an astrobleme.
            Actually, this 100km diameter astrobleme is one of a probable “string of pearls” crater chain from a multiple impact similar to SL-9. The next time I’m down in Bristol, I need to get out to examine what is purported to be an outcrop of the ejects sheet from the Manicougain impact (but it could also be from the Rochechouart impact ; that’s a more recent idea)
            What was that about feeling in the firing line?

            1. My first thought was actually to send you here, but the danger in such places is passed the moment the circle is formed. But hang around the other type of round hole-in-the-ground, and you may well become part of the next larger hole….


          1. San Andreas Lake!! Was the 280 already built when you lived there? It was brand new state-of-the-art ( cool reflectors in the middle) when I was at Stanford.

            Typo ergo sum Merilee


            1. I honestly don’t remember. This was the mid to late ’70s, and we moved to Santa Rosa just before I started junior high school, so freeway construction and navigation wasn’t exactly something I was aware of….


  7. Beautiful photos! Peregrines look so muscular.
    I was once lucky enough, thanks to a biologist friend, to get a close look at a peregrine nest on top of one of the tallest office towers in my home city. It’s amazing that they will nest in such locations.

  8. That last photo reminds me that Peregrine wings look remarkably similar to those of a certain Nightjar (one that you don’t need to spot because it’s already Spotted). I’ve noticed this several times when the SN bursts soundlessly out of a bunch of spinifex at my feet. The difference is how they move and sound, as if the nightjar weighed nothing and its wings are made of tissue paper, while the falcon’s are welded together around a half-brick.

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