06 October, 2015

Day 17-Moving Down the Gulf Coast

On Monday, Island Girl continued south along the Gulf Coast of Mexico, fllying another 251 km (156 miles) for the day.

She reached the estuary near La Pesca and roosted in the foothills at 369' elevation. This site was located 22 km inland and overlooks a broad plain not far from the Rio Almagre and a series of large, interconnected salt water bays. Perfect shorebird habitat normally.

Gregg Doney reports that they were experiencing a red tide on the Texas beach and that seemed to drop the shorebird, tern and gull numbers to very low levels. Not sure how the tide impacts the birds but for the hawk trappers, you experience raw throats and flu-like symptoms as you drive down the beaches. Not pleasant.

Her roost was located 120 km (75 miles) due east of Ciudad Victoria and mid-way between the main highway south (Mexico180) and the beach. She was not far from the main road leading out to La Pesca.

05 October, 2015

Day 16 - Arrival in Mexico

On Sunday, Island Girl continued flying to the SW, still crossing the Gulf of Mexico, and heading straight for the coast of Texas.

Her bearing took here directly to the US/ Mexico border where she stopped and roosted directly on the ground. She was just barely into Mexico at about 1.4 km (.8 mile) south of the Rio Grande border in Tamaulipas.

She slept right on or near the ground, as peregrines often do on these barrier islands during migration. Sometimes they will sleep directly on the ground but more often I have seen them using a small post, log or some type of flotsam to perch on. This is a back bay area and there is evidence of what we call the black algae mat where she was perched. She was inland about 3.7 km (2.8 miles) from the Gulf.

Ironically, she was also about 20 km (12.8 miles) south of the Padre Island Peregrine Project headquarters house on South Padre Island. This is where Gregg Doney and his crew are staying as they conduct one of the longest running peregrine studies in the world.

They have been tracking her progress in hopes of making contact with Island Girl. Close but not quite close enough. Too bad she didn't roost on one of the hotels in South Padre as they sometimes do.

Oh well.

Welcome back to Mexico and Latin America.

Question....Are our friends in Veracruz watching for her?

04 October, 2015

Hunting over the Gulf?

On Saturday, Island Girl halted her migration and remained on perches well offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. We assume these are most likely oil platforms as it has long been known that peregrines stop off on such structures every fall to perch, rest and hunt.

There are many eye witness accounts of migrant peregrines using these platforms. Sometimes several have been reported on the same oil rig.

There are also migrant peregrines are reported from cruise ships plying the Gulf waters during the fall migration period. I think I need a grant to study peregrine migration on cruise ships!

Anyway, Island Girl flew only 59 km (37 miles) on her 15th day of migration, apparently to another platform to the SSW. She remained there Saturday night.

It is also well known that huge numbers of passerines and other birds are migrating across the Gulf right now.
From a high hunting perch on the platforms, Island Girl would have her pick of prey, seeing it coming well out across the water and likely flying right at her.

Peregrines are famous for hunting prey over open bodies of water. It is my experience that many of them specialize in this type of hunting. I have seen this behavior all over the world but especially here in the San Juan Islands of Washington near where I live.

 The reason it is such an effective hunting technique is that the prey simply has no place to hide. There is no cover over the open ocean. No trees, no grass, no buildings. Nothing except the oil platform itself.

And these are known to have sometimes thousands of passerines landing on them, perhaps exhausted or disoriented, perhaps fighting a strong headwind. So these massive structures are sort of centers where much is happening.

I can imagine an oil platform loaded with both peregrines and passerines at the same time. What a sight that would be.

03 October, 2015

Across the Gulf of Mexico

On Friday, Island Girl continued flying south through Louisiana, passing by Alexandria and Lafayette, sort of following along Highway 49. She eventually passed Interstate 210 (E-W) before arriving at the Gulf coast well to the west of the Mississippi Delta.

As she has done before, she just kept on flying.

Imagine the courage or instinct or confidence, whatever you want to call it, to just head out over open ocean on her way south. She did it earlier at Hudson Bay.

Deeply impressive.

She continued over the open water for another 128 km (80 miles) before she roosted on something out there that wasn't moving (0 mph of the midnight signal). The best assumption is an oil well of course as she was still above the relatively shallow continental shelf. It is called the Texas-Louisiana Shelf here.

She did not fly due south as she did last year at this point. Instead, she veered a bit to the SSW, perhaps an indication that she might head for Texas.

Her total distance for the day was 407 km (253 miles).

02 October, 2015

Straight South Into Louisiana

On Thursday, Island Girl picked up the pace again and flew straight south. She traveled all the way across Arkansas, passing Little Rock, and then moved into Louisiana, covering 474 km (295 miles) for the day.

She eventually roosted in what looks like a tree farm, a large area of woodlot that appears to have been cultivated. She slept at just 166' elevation.

Island Girl is now heading straight south towards the Gulf of Mexico but is running several days ahead of schedule on her migration.

If she extended this same track today (Friday), she will have arrived at the coast halfway between Houston and New Orleans.

Will she do another trans-Gulf crossing again?

01 October, 2015

Crossing the Center of the Country

On Thursday, Island Girl continued south while crossing the rest of Missouri. She passed by St. Louis well to her east and went by Springfield as she flew into Arkansas. She covered another large portion of her route, flying 469 km (291 miles) before stopping to rest in the north central part of the state.

She slept in continuous forest at 1,190' elevation and just 338' from what looks like a house on a hilltop.

The location was...seriously... about 3 miles SE of Yellville and maybe 5 miles S of Flippin.

She is now well west of the Mississippi River about 163 miles to her east.

It is not too early to start to speculate about which route she will take from here.

Does she veer east and leave from the New Orleans area as she has done several times before?

Will she just fly south to wherever she meets the coast and simply head out over the Gulf of Mexico and roost on an oil platform?

Or will she veer west and follow the Gulf Coast shoreline down to South Padre Island where Gregg Doney and the Padre Peregrine Survey Team are again capturing fall migrant peregrines at this time?

Right now, she is on a course heading straight south into Louisiana.

But whatever she does, it will be unique, I am sure.

BTW Gregg reports that the trapping numbers at Padre just started picking up last night.

Mississippi Flyway

Island Girl is once again following the classic Mississippi Flyway across North America. She has done this several times in the past and seems to prefer this particular pathway.

She flew across all of Wisconsin, passing Neil and Laura, going by Madison and eventually reaching (and crossing) the Mississippi River on the border with Illinois and Iowa. She continued flying before reaching NE Missouri and then roosted in a woodlot, once again in an area of what looks like mostly pasture lands.

Check out the odd configuration of the trees here. Not sure why this effect but puzzling.

Elevation of the roost site was just 776'.

Once again, she is paralleling the big river about 26 miles to her east. Likely to be many, many other migrant bird species, along with other peregrines, flying with her.

She flew a solid 585 km (364 miles) for the day, putting in some good miles on her continuing journey south.

29 September, 2015

Moving Slowly Through Wisconsin

Apparently Island Girl is not experiencing any drive to rush south.

She is taking her time slowly crossing the countryside of rural Wisconsin. On Monday, she traveled just 24 km (15 miles) and was now taking a more southerly bearing.

She roosted in a large woodlot of deciduous trees located in a mixed forest/agricultural area that is so typical of this part of the United States.

Her location was just 1,100' from a farmhouse on Route 52, the "Old 26 Road". Elevation was 1,611'. She was 4 miles south of the town of Antigo and 24 miles NE of Wausau, Wisconsin.

Island Girl has been generally heading towards the home of some of my friends, cinematographer Neil Rettig and producer Laura Johnson, who live near Prairie Du Chien.

I alerted them to her migration and they say that the fall foliage is quite beautiful there now so I asked Laura to send me a picture for the blog. For those fans of Island Girl from Central and South America, here is what the habitat in her area of Wisconsin looks like right now. Mixed species of trees, many in their fall colors.

Thank you to Laura and Neil for the photo.

Let's hope Island Girl flies past your house.

28 September, 2015

Taking it easy...

On Sunday, Island Girl took another short hop to the SW. She flew only 69 km (43 miles) for the day, flying over the forests and farmlands of Wisconsin, including the Nicolet National Forest. Must be totally gorgeous there at this time of year.

She put in for the night in a dense forest between the towns of Neva and Kempster (not far from Wausau) at about 1,712' elevation.

She is sort of meandering at this stage of her journey south. But she is still trending to the SW, similar to last year.

27 September, 2015

Into the USA Once Again

As expected, Island Girl left Canada yesterday, fling across Lake Superior and continuing on for 313 km (194 miles). She is veering to the SW, roughly the same thing she did last year across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and then into Wisconsin.

She roosted at 1,498' in a patch of forest in a logged off area.

Looks like another run down the Mississippi flyway this fall.

Onto Lake Superior

On Thursday, Island Girl once again flew just a short distance, covering only 101 km (63 miles).

She left the mainland and flew out over Lake Superior eventually landing on Michipicoten Island 15 km (9 miles) offshore.

Looks like she roosted on a forested hillside at 1.181' elevation.

She is in good position to cross the lake tomorrow.

26 September, 2015

Taking it easy...

On Thursday, Island Girl veered a bit towards the SW as she made her way across another 52 km (32 miles) for a really short day.

I have always thought of peregrines as resting or fattening up during these periods of relative inactivity during migration.

In talking to my friend, Ken Franklin, about how quickly peregrines learn new things, we speculated about how these slow downs or stopovers could just as well be a means of familiarizing a bird with the geography and hunting opportunities available in a specific area.

We thought this might expand the ability of a falcon to recognize how to maximize its survival options involving different areas, habitats, prey species, temperatures and weather conditions.

Once again, Island Girl likely feeds on passerines in the arctic (Redpolls, Wheatears, Snow Buntings, etc.),
ducks along the Mississippi flyway, Cuckoos in Costa Rica, shorebirds and possibly large insects along the Atacama coast and a wide variety of bird species at Putu in Chile.

They have this amazing ability to utilize so many species as prey along the 9,000 mile route across the two continents.

24 September, 2015

Back to Civilization

Island Girl flew south on Wednesday, changing her course slightly and heading towards Lake Superior once again. She has done this several times in the past.

She covered 271 km (168 miles) for the day while steadily heading towards the US border. Likely reaching that today as I write this.

She is now back to both forest and human activity. The area where she roosted shows evidence of both logging and mining. In fact, she slept adjacent to one of many dirt roads in this area near Tocheri Lake.

She is surrounded by roads now including major Canadian highways 11 to the north and 101 to her south. She was also about 37 km (22 miles) west of the town of  Hornepayne and connecting north-south highway 631.

23 September, 2015

Heading South Again...

On Tuesday, Island Girl resumed her migration after a short hiatus and covered another 399 km (248 miles).

She headed SE across Ontario, closely following her 2012 and 2013 route to the west of James Bay. This area is known for its high concentration of waterfowl at this time of year.

She flew over the tundra dotted with the lakes and streams characteristic of this treeless region.

Roosted at 544' elevation out in the open.

By the way, I just got this excellent weather site from viewer Robin Robinson. Really nice visual representation of the winds flowing across North America and beyond, especially where Island Girl is located.

Thanks Robin. Nice addition to the study.