20 April, 2014

Heart of the Atacama Desert

Island Girl flew north for 344 km (214 miles) on Friday, her third day of this migration. She is flying hard and has covered 623 miles so far, an average of 211 miles per day. Serious migration going on here.

She passed Copiapo, Huasco and Caldera, and eventually trended west until she arrived on the Pacific coastline near Chanaral.

Island Girl is now back in the heart of the Atacama Desert, an area she knows well after successfully navigating it so many times before. No trees, no water, no vegetation, very few birds.

I suspect the reason she came back down to the coastline was to hunt shorebirds or seabirds as there is so little to feed on out in the desert. It takes lots of energy to migrate.

Yesterday, one of her fans asked what she eats out there. The quick answer is very little. I have followed this route many times, driving from La Serena all the way north as far as Ecuador and I can report that you can literally drive parts of this desert for days without seeing a plant or a bird.

In fact, your question remains one of the mysteries of peregrine migration in the Atacama region. We know that Island Girl will stop off in the river valleys where there is lots of water/agriculture and abundant bird life. She definitely likes those areas for obvious reasons.

We also know that she often visits or detours to the coast, presumably to hunt there too. Lots of birds live along the edge of the ocean of course.

But when she travels inland through that dry, desolate place, there is no apparent food available. I have discussed this issue with my friend, Chilean peregrine expert Christian Gonzalez, many times and we are both still wondering what the answer might be.

Best guess so far, based on some scant evidence, is that she eats large insects taken high in the air over the desert. We know that peregrines eat insects fairly regularly. For example, my friend, Kate Davis, reports a nesting pair of peregrines taking those famous, huge, orange salmon flies over a river during the breeding season in Montana. I have observed an adult peregrine eat a huge moth in Salinas, Ecuador. Others report this behavior as well.

Obviously we need more observations to answer your question definitively.

Good question by the way.

But back to Island Girl...

On Friday afternoon, she left the coast again and flew back inland to sleep, spending the night on the shoulder of a small, rocky ridge above a broad, open plain of dirt and rock that is so typical of the Atacama..

The site was NE of Chanaral at 1,972' elevation and 6 km (3.8miles) west of the Pan Am Highway. Once again, she could see, if not hear, the traffic all night.

The Pacific Ocean was 12 km (7.5 miles) to her west. So she was not far from the extraordinarily beautiful Pan de Azucar National Park.

18 April, 2014

Into the Atacama already....

Yesterday, Island Girl traveled almost due north up the coastal mountain range of Chile for a distance of 319 km (198 miles), so she is covering some ground.

She passed Los Vilos, Ovalle, Coquimbo and the beautiful city of La Serena. North of there, the terrain changes abruptly, as the Pan American Highway climbs up off the coastal terrace and hits the high desert. She is leaving the vegetation behind now.

She put in for the night on a flat area located on the shoulder of a dry, barren mountainside, and just feet from a dirt mining road. Her elevation was 5,584'.

The roost site was only 1.9 km (1.2 miles) from the highway so she could both see and hear the cars and trucks all night. I know because I have camped along this extraordinary highway many times. The dry air, the absolute calm atmosphere and those incredibly amazing stars are unforgettable. Certainly one of my favorite places on earth.

The Pacific Ocean was 30 km (19 miles) to her west and the world famous observatory, La Silla was just 28 km (17 miles) to her NE.

If you can, go to Google earth and look for it. There are some photos you can click on that will give you an excellent idea of where she is right now.

First night out

Island Girl flew a total of 340 km (211 miles) on her first leg of the journey north.

She followed the coastal range past Santiago and stopped for the night on a rocky mountain top at 4,610'elevation.

Her roost was located just above the Valle Pedernal in dry, arid habitat already. Lots of cactus in this area.

The site was approximately 66 km (41 miles) inland from the coast and just south of the town of Los Vilos.

She has now committed to her migration.

16 April, 2014

Heading North.....

Sitting here in my office at 10:15 tonight and I got a late phone call from Don McCall.

This is always how it begins.

Island Girl departed from the Putu area today (Wednesday 16 April) and flew at least 300 km (186 miles) north, passing the coastal town of Valparaiso.

Don reports:

"Island Girl has begun her 2014 northern migration.  Sometime between 1300Z and 2100Z today (Wednesday 16 April) she flew north for 300 km (186 mi), passing Valparaiso during the late morning or early afternoon hours.  She was still airborne at 2100Z, flying at a speed of 71 km/h (44 mph), so her first night's roost will be even farther north.

This is now the 6th year that we've been tracking her."

The time difference between Santiago and London (Zulu) is 4 hours. So she left between 0900 and 1700 (5 PM) local time. Considering how far she flew, I'd expect she left earlier rather than later in the day.

This is her second latest date of depature with 17 April being the latest.

So she flew north past Pichilemu, the famous surfing town, San Antonio, where we shipped our truck in past years, Santiago, a couple of hours inland from the coast, Valparaiso, site of the worlds largest recorded earthquake and a recent major fire, Vina Del Mar, the Chilean Riviera, Quillota and La Ligua.

After 186 miles she kept right on going. We don't have her midnight reading as yet so we don't know how far she flew on her first day out, but 186 miles is a good first jump.

Go Island Girl, go!

15 April, 2014

Still waiting for her departure

Don McCall wrote this today...

"We're getting good GPS again and IG was still on the dunes at 1300Z today, moving around as usual."

So she is just taking her time about leaving.

Should be soon....

13 April, 2014

Still Waiting.....

For comparison, here are her departure dates for all five years.

1. 2009.............12 April
2. 2010.............13 April
3. 2011.............11 April
4. 2012.............14 April
5. 2013.............17 April

Range= 6 days.

Mid-point is tomorrow.

So any time now.

Maybe we should all have started a betting pool......

11 April, 2014

Year Six-Waiting for Island Girl to Head North Again

Today is 11 April 2014.

We are currently waiting for Island Girl to begin her SIXTH northbound migration to Baffin Island for the next breeding season.

So far, everything looks good. Her satellite transmitter, built by Microwave Telemetry of Baltimore, MD, is still functioning well and we are hoping to obtain data from yet another trans-hemisphere migration in 2014.

We are fairly certain that this is a record length of time for a solar-powered GPS-enabled satellite transmitter on a migrant peregrine. If any of you out there know any different, please let us know.

It is so impressive that this unit is still working well and that Island Girl is still flying around out there. She is now a minimum of 8 years old.

So every day is a gift.

Please stay tuned as she is about to leave any day now.

We'll post it as soon as we find out.

17 November, 2013

Home Again and Another Migration Completed

Yesterday, my son, Beau, and I were attending a meeting in Seattle when I got a call from Don McCall saying that Island Girl had arrived back at Putu once again. Thanks Don, as always!

She had flown the last 167 km (104 miles) from Santo Domingo south to her favorite river, the Rio Mataquito, on the Chilean coast one more time. She had arrived there by at least 2 PM although probably somewhat earlier. Her first signal showed her perched up on a forested hillside overlooking her favorite hunting area, the dunes, open fields and estuary that she knows so well.

She had successfully completed her fifth round trip migration from South America to North America and back while carrying a GPS solar powered satellite transmitter. She had completed at least two additional round trips on her own before that (we had first captured her in full adult plumage, i.e. at least two years old).

We are pretty sure that this is a world record for a satellite tagged peregrine although if anyone is aware of others out there please let us know. Certainly it is a record for what we call a "deep peregrine", one of those extra special tundra birds that for some reason or other, go the farthest south of all peregrines.

Southern Arrival Data

#   YEAR         DATE        NO. DAYS

1.   2009    19 November     59 days
2.   2010      9 November     48 days
3.   2011    12 November     53 days
4.   2012    15 November     51 days
5.   2013    16 November     57 days

Average southbound migration days=53.6
Average date of arrival= 14 November

This remarkable bird, Island Girl, continues to teach and inspire us all with her epic journeys across the hemispheres. And, like many of you out there, I feel so honored to be alive at this time to join her, know her and be amazed by her.

So what does the future hold for her?

We will have to wait and see if her transmitter continues to function. If so, we plan to continue with this blog for as long as it keeps on going. But there is no way that anyone can predict the life span of the radio. We just have to wait and see.

In closing for the year, thanks to all, especially Don McCall, Kathy Gunther, Marco Saborio, Christian Gonzalez, Oscar Beingolea, Nancy Hilgert and Mark Prostor for all of their support this year and in the past.


Here is Kathy holding Island Girl after originally capturing her in 2008 the year before we tagged her.

A very special thank you goes to Daphne Morris who most kindly provided the funding for the satellite transmitter time this year so you could all watch the migration. Much gratitude from all Daphne!

I must also thank all members of the Falcon Research Group for starting and contributing to this project so long ago, well before the term "crowd-sourcing" became popular.

And finally, thanks to all of you guys, her fans, for reading this blog. Glad you all appreciate her.

    Here is a photo of Island Girl from when Kathy first caught her in 2008

One Last Night...

Island Girl flew ever nearer to her wintering range on Friday, covering 284 km (177 miles) along the coast of central Chile. She passed by Illapel, Los Vilos, and Quintero before flying by Vina Del Mar (the Chilean Riviera) and hillside city of Valparaiso (site of the worlds largest recorded earthquake).

She kept on going until she flew over the port city of San Antonio (where we have shipped our truck in the past) and finally put in for the night in Santo Domingo, a really charming summer home enclave for many people from Santiago. We have been through here many, many times in the past and it is sort of like home.

Island Girl roosted in a tree right in someones front yard. I wish I could have been there to tell them exactly who she was.

 This hill top neighborhood overlooks the major estuary where Alvaro Jaramillo photographed her a couple of years ago.

Really close now....

16 November, 2013

Close to Home....

On Thursday, Island Girl flew south for another 431 km (268 miles) towards home. She migrated down the inland desert passing near the town Vallenar before reaching the incredibly beautiful city of La Serena and then on past Coquimbo.

Her signal shows that she reached the Pacific coast once again but by afternoon she had headed inland to roost on a dry ridge in the foothills of the coastal range at 2,739' elevation. The site was located 27 km (17 miles) from the ocean.

So, on Thursday night, she was only 431 km (268 miles) north of her southern home.

She could easily cover this in a day but let's see where she slept last night.

Did she push on to Putu or not?

If not, there is a good chance she will arrive at Putu today, maybe even as I am writing this account.

So stay tuned to this remarkable peregrine...

14 November, 2013

The Worst is Over...

Island Girl headed out in the morning, presumably after hunting and eating something, and by 0900 local time was 34 km (21 miles) south of her roost and flying at 33 km/h (52 mph). Pretty good speed for a migrant so she is flying serious.

She is now past the worst of the desert as she arrives at the southern end of the Atacama.

She flew 373 km (232 miles), passing the towns of Taltal, Chanaral, Caldera and Copiapo on her way.

This latter inland town is heavily irrigated and a center for growing grapes, as in really good, luscious grapes. The kind you need after driving through a desert all day. I have passed through here many times and always consider it to be a transition zone. You start seeing lots of desert shrubs and cactus from here south.

She roosted at the head of a gulch on a rocky, dry hillside in a small range called Cerro Chuschampis, at 2,935' elevation.

From this site, she could see and hear the Pan-American Highway during the night, just 7 km (4 miles) to her west.

If you check out some of the GE pictures, you can clearly see the beginning of the vegetative transition zone going towards the typical Mediterranean zone of central Chile.

She is now less than 500 miles from her home ground. Just a couple of more days before she arrives back at her river island perch near Putu.

In the Heart of an Extreme Desert...

On Day 54, Island Girl migrated south for another 320 km (198 miles), flying over the town of Tocopilla at 0900 and traveling at 47 kpm (29 mph). She continued on across the Atacama, shifting her route inland as she passed by the beautiful city of Antofagasta. looks like she may have been too far inland by then to see it.

She headed up into the Andes foothills for some reason, perhaps passing somewhere near the famous "Hand in the Desert" statue along the Pan-Am Highway.

She eventually roosted right out in the heart of the driest desert in the world. Extremely arid.

The site was located about 30 miles inland at 7,752' elevation. Maybe it was cooler up there?

The roost appears to be on the side of a very old cinder cone or volcano, rounded off long ago.

Nearing Tocopilla

Island Girl flew another 124 km (77 miles) along the Chilean coast, nearly reaching the coastal city of Tocopilla.

She roosted on a rocky hillside at the mouth of a dry canyon just above the Pacific Coast Highway, sleeping at 1,147' and less than a half mile from the ocean.

11 November, 2013

Hanging Out at the Point

Island Girl decided to remain in the Punta Patache area for another day, similar to her behavior here last year. Must be something here that holds her interest.

She slept on a rock face situated about half way up the slope. What a view of the sunset she must have had last night. The roost was at the 977' level, open but well protected due to the vertical rock. Nice to see this behavior as we know there are many foxes along this part of the coast. They definitely eat birds.

You can see many trails zig-zagging up the slope here on GE. Something is using them. I wonder what?

Also check out the large ore ship moored to several buoys over at the port near the point, one hatch open to receive the material.

Cool place. Well, warm really, but enticing. What a place to explore.