25 April, 2015

Flying Through the Atacama

Island Girl continued on her migration as usual, crossing one of the most intense deserts in the world. She flew another 272 km (169 miles) as she went past Nazca once again.

This time, she kept going NW until she reached another agricultural valley near the town of Palpa.

She roosted just north of a trio of intersecting drainages, all of which have abundant agricultural fields, the key to this route.

She chose an arid, severe habitat to sleep in at 3,385 feet elevation and only 7 km (4.5 miles) from the Pan Am Highway as she often does here due to the geography of the Peruvian coastal terrace.

She was about halfway between Nazca and Ica and is nearing the famous Paracas Reserve and the town of Pisco, which was devastated a few years back by a large earthquake.

Similar to what is happening in Nepal tonight. Having experienced this type of event, I can only wish all of the people of that country (and the surrounding ones too) my deepest sympathy.

24 April, 2015

Flying Along the Front Range of Peru

On Thursday, Island Girl continued flying NW across Peru and traveled another 293 km (182 miles) closer to her home. She again migrated past Arequipa, located farther inland and much higher in elevation.
She is moving NW along the foothills and well inland from the ocean. I think it was Christian Gonzalez who first pointed out that the winds move both inland  and upslope here, presumably providing her with good lift and a bit of a free ride.
Of course when I say foothills, I am talking the Andes Mountains here. These foothills can be 7-10,000 feet high.
She is moving through one of the most beautiful areas in the world right now. I have such vivid memories of the area, classic desert, intense sunlight, rock and dirt terrain with the most subtle colors imaginable, shocking in their surprising appeal.
Spartan in the extreme but so open and unencumbered. An ancient place of wind and heat and beauty.
I guess I just love this desert and always will. It just draws you in.
She slept on a dry rocky ridge located at 1721 meters (5,715 feet) elevation approximately 55 km (34 miles) inland.
Consistent with past years, she roosted above a classic agricultural valley, the Valle de Rio Ocona, a dramatic and vast cut snaking down from the glaciers of the high Andes.
These valleys are always centers for agriculture as they are blessed with abundant water. I imagine that people have lived in them since humanity first arrived in South America. They are the life blood of the coastal people.
And, although I have written this many times on this blog, I will say it again. It is these agricultural valleys that sustain huge numbers of birds which feed migrant falcons like Island Girl.
What will happen when the massive Andean glaciers melt and the waters are reduced remains to be seen.

Island Girl arrives in Peru

She flew 315 km (196 miles) on Wednesday, leaving Chile behind once again. She apparently followed the coastline as she usually does here although the signal indicates an over water route. I believe that is a function of the local geography here as she has been on a northerly heading all the way up the Chilean coast and now has to make the turn to the NW where she "turns the bend" into Peru.

This area has always fascinated me, as migrant peregrines must make a decision here. Alter the heading to NW and follow the coast line or keep going straight north and fly up into the high Andes as Felipe, our other tagged adult peregrine did with fatal results.

But Island Girl appears to have made the turn and ended up roosting well out in the desert near the main road leading uphill from coastal Ilo to Moquegua in the foothills of Peru.

Her roost site was 41 km (25 miles) inland at an elevation of 4,124'. She slept only 4 km (2.5 miles) from the Pan-Am Highway which heads inland here.

Still making consistent time on her journey north.

North Along the Pacific

Sorry for the delayed report. Computer was in for repairs.

Island Girl continued to follow her coastal route north on Tuesday, just as she did at this point last year.

She left Antofagasta far behind, apparently flew over the incredibly beautiful city of Iquique and continued on, covering another 381 km (237 miles) for the day.

She eventually put in for the night on the plateau above the coastline and slept at around 1,284 feet elevation, possibly in the cooler updrafts coming in from the ocean. She was just 600 yards from the shoreline and about 8 km north of the city.

Her roosting site was due west of the town of Huara on the Pan-American Highway, located 38 km (23 miles) east of her.

Don McCall has noticed how consistent her flight distances have been over the last four days, covering 392, 354, 399 and 381 respectively. Steady progress with no staging behavior as yet.

21 April, 2015

Return to Antofagasta, pigeon capitol of Chile?

On Monday, this wonderful peregrine, Island Girl, flew down to the Pacific coastline and followed it north. She seems to have stayed right on the coastline route throughout the day, passing Chanaral and Taltal before arriving at Antofagasta once again.

Our team knows this area well as we spent a fair amount of time trapping here in the past.

The major draw here for a peregrine is the huge abundance of food in the form of pigeons and doves. There are huge clouds of them in this grain shipment city, no doubt a welcome sight for a migrant, hungry peregrine.

She slept just above town, about 1.3 miles up in a dry, rocky draw at 2,650' elevation. She was only 3.7 miles from the coast.

I cannot help but think that she remembers this city, having migrated through here so many times before. Was there any forethought as she followed the coastline north? Does she think? Does she think about the availability of food? Does she navigate from memory? These are all questions for which we have no answers.

Antofagasta is a very popular town in Chile and has been undergoing a surge in growth.

As I examined her roost site on Google Earth, I realized that Island Girl had roosted only about 4 miles from where we had caught Sparrow King near the northern edge of Anto several years ago.

Looking at this site, a gigantic chicken farm, on GE I now saw that housing developments had overtaken the area. In fact, just to the west of the trapping site, there is a gigantic resort and housing development situated near the thundering rocky shoreline.

If you look at Highway 1 where it dog legs leaving town, you can see a large high rise hotel or condo and especially, a giant aquamarine swimming pool or should I say small lake with white sandy beaches for the guests/residents.

Chile keeps growing in the desert.

Kind of wish I was there....

Heading into the extreme desert...

On Sunday, Island Girl flew north for another 354 km (220 miles). She passed the city of Copiapo and approached the coastal city of Caldera where I trapped my first Chilean peregrine with Christian Gonzalez back in the 1980s.

She is now crossing the full on Atacama Desert yet again.

She roosted out in the desert, sleeping on a rocky mountain hillside at 3,067' elevation. She chose to sleep about 30 km (18 miles) inland and almost directly east of Caldera.

The San Jose mine is located on the backside of this mountain so there is a road nearby.

As a result, there are some great pictures on Google Earth of this area, including photos of flowers blooming in the Atacama. Well worth a view.

19 April, 2015

Seriously migrating now..

Yesterday, Island Girl started to migrate in earnest. She flew 392 km (244 miles) north passing by San Antonio, Valparaiso, Quillota, Illapel and Ovalle. She has now entered some serious desert once again although there is still sparse vegetation here.

She put in SE of one of my favorite cities in Chile, La Serena, and eventually roosted on a cliff situated on a steep desert hillside at 3,658' elevation.

She is following her "inland" route as she often does in the Atacama, sleeping about 45 km (28 miles) inland from the sea.

We still don't know why she chooses this variation as it is cooler by the coastline and there would appear to be much more bird life available to her there.

Still one of the mysteries about her.....

18 April, 2015

Welcome to the Southern Cross Peregrine Project once again...

Island Girl started her seventh northbound satellite-tagged migration yesterday (April 17th). She left Putu in Chile where she always "winters" and flew north along her usual coastal route. By 6 PM, Chile time, she had flown north 146 km (91 miles) for the day.

She always starts her migration during the week of 11-17 April, at least so far.

Her departure dates vary a bit. Over the past three years she has commenced her movement between 16-17 April, a little later than when she was younger. Whether this minor variation was caused by her advancing age, experience, or her increasing confidence and ability, we just don't know.

Not really sure how she decides when to leave but, no matter, the difference in days is quite small.

Don received the Argos signal shortly after midnight this morning (18 April) which confirmed that she had started her migration sometime after 0744.

Her first signal was located about 3.2 miles offshore and directly in front of her normal perching area. She may have been hunting terns or phalaropes out there. Both are quite vulnerable over the open ocean.

From her initial signal, she flew north past Pichilemu and eventually roosted in some trees in a broken forest area on a hilltop at 4,110' elevation. She was not far from a group of several houses.

This location is still south of Santiago.

The roost site was less than a mile from the main road (Highway 66) that heads south from San Antonio. Our team drove this route many, many times during the study.

She slept about 8 km (5 miles) inland from the Pacific coast.

This was her shortest first flight so far and only about half the distance of her starting flight last year.

One additional comment.

Thanks for the inquiries about the lack of this blog last season.

At that time, I became involved in the most intensive project of my career and it literally demanded all of my time.

My apologies for that but it was necessary.

21 September, 2014

Holding up.....weather?

Island Girl has remained in the same general area, pausing in her migration for unknown reasons.

Don reports...

"Hi Everyone,

Island Girl has remained in approximately the same place for the past couple of days, presumably because of bad weather.  We are currently receiving limited Doppler (non-GPS) data but her batteries are still not fully charged.  On Friday (19 Sep) the data points indicate movement of about 13 km (8 mi) but of course she probably covered more than that while flying around in the same general area.

We still don't have complete data for Saturday (20 Sep)."

So something is slowing her down right now although we are not exactly sure what.

Lack of sun is normal up there at this time of year and we often have limited charge on her transmitter because of the solar cells receiving so little charge.

Once she gets further south, the batteries usually charge quickly.

Oh yeah...no worries. She is still moving around.

18 September, 2014

Go Island Girl!

1800 PST, 18 September 2014

Just got the long awaited call from Don McCall that Island Girl has started her sixth southbound migration towards Chile.

Here is his first message regarding her departure.

"Hello Everyone,

Welcome to the 6th year of tracking Island Girl from Baffin Island to Chile (we already have 6 complete tracks for her northern migration).

Sometime probably yesterday morning (17 September) she headed due south, crossing the Hudson Strait and continuing over the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec.  Her first recorded GPS position since leaving Baffin Island was at 2100Z yesterday (17 Sep), by which time she had already flown 457 km (284 mi).   She roosted near that spot last night, then continued south today – we now have one additional GPS fix for 1300Z (18 Sep).  The website maps have been updated.

We will now resume daily updates during her southern migration.

Don McCall"

So here we go on another migration following this remarkable falcon on her odyssey south. 

Enjoy, everyone!

15 September, 2014

Welcome to the 2014 Southbound Migration

Welcome back everyone.

Island Girl (IG) is still beeping away on Baffin Island and we expect her to leave any day now, certainly within the next 10 days.

As most of you know, she will be starting the SIXTH southbound leg of her migration back to Chile while tagged with a GPS solar powered satellite transmitter (thanks again to Paul Howey and the group at Microwave Telemetry in Maryland).

We are all pretty impressed that her transmitter is still working and hope that it continues for the foreseeable future.

Island Girl is now at least nine years old and possibly older. Kathy Gunther first caught her in Chile as an adult in 2008 at Putu. She was a full molted adult at that time, so we know she was hatched at least by 2006 and perhaps earlier. Tundra peregrines often establish their winter ranges during their first fall/winter.

Kathy caught her again in March 2009 and we tagged Island Girl at that time.

At this point, we expect that IG has completed a minimum of eight migrations to Chile during her life, including her juvenile year.

We have been able to follow her for almost six of those intercontinental journeys. In the next ten days, she should start to complete the southbound return leg back to Chile once again.

With luck, that should produce data for a full six round trip migrations for a tundra peregrine, a record we think.

So we hope you all enjoy the flight south.

Thanks again to Don McCall, Mark Prostor, the Southern Cross team and all of the members of the Falcon Research Group who crowd funded this effort before it was called by that name.

30 May, 2014

Reaching Home...

On Wednesday, 28 May, after a 43 day transcontinental migration across 14,217 km (8,835 miles minimum), Island Girl returned to her eyrie cliff on Baffin Island.

She had flown another 456 km (283 miles) across Hudson Strait to complete her sixth satellite-tagged journey north.

This year, she took her most direct route home, flying straight to her breeding area.

In past years, her behavior at this stage of the migration has varied.

For example, in 2009, she wandered widely on Baffin before settling in. We are unsure whether she even bred that year.

However, in all years but 2014, she has reached the island during the first week of June (4, 2, 3, 5, 5 June respectively).

She arrived back earlier than ever this year.

Is this early arrival related to her increased experience with the route and greater familiarity with the migration?

Is it caused by an earlier spring on Baffin Island?

Is it related to climate change and warmer temperatures in the north?

What about stronger tail winds across the Great Plains pushing  her north faster?

Is it simply a random event?

All good questions for which we have no answers at this time.

Perhaps some of our younger readers will solve these questions some day.

This completes the north bound segment of the Southern Cross Peregrine Project for 2014.


Thank you to all of our readers for following along with us to track the unique movements of this remarkable peregrine, Island Girl. Glad you appreciate her as much as we do.

Thanks again to Don McCall one more time for all of the daily data work.

Mark Prostor originally set up this website along with Don so we could all follow these falcons. I hope you two guys understand how many people appreciate your efforts.

Thanks also to the original 2006 field team that made this happen in the first place, including Chilean peregrine expert Christian Gonzalez, and his family Giannina, Seba and Franny, from the US, Tom Maechtle, Zach Smith and Mark Prostor, and from the Canary Islands in Spain, our friend and another peregrine expert, Jesus Garcia Ubierna.

Also special mention to peregrine expert Nancy Hilgert in Ecuador and our friend Marco Saborio in Costa Rica who has taken so many  amazing and wonderful photos of Island Girl on migration.

Funding for this work came from Dr. Clayton White got the project going early on. Check out his newly published book entitled  Peregrine Falcons of the World, co-authored with Tom Cade and Jim Enderson. This is nowthe new bible on peregrines all around the globe.

David and Ginger Ridgway were also inspirational in their support in getting the SCCP up and going at first. Thanks for believing in this project.

Special thanks to all the hundreds of FRG members who crowd-sourced additional funding for the project before crowd-sourcing was even a term. Hope all of you share in our delight in these results.

Finally, we all must thank our dear friend and SCCP team member, Kathryn Gunther, for originally catching and naming Island Girl at Putu way back in 2008.

Even after we made her let Island Girl go the first time in 2008 because Mark and I did not think she was a tundra migrant. Kathy had to catch her again a second time in 2009 before we relented.

Who would have ever thought that your first peregrine ever caught in Chile would go so far, ping for so long and capture the hearts of so many?

Nice going Kathy and thanks.

For the rest of you, please tune in again next fall to see if the transmitter is still going.

Will she complete yet another full migration?

Crossing Northern Hudson Bay

On Tuesday, Island Girl completed her crossing of Hudson Bay and reached land on the western edge of  Mansell Island at the NE entrance to the Bay.

She had flown 494 km (307 miles) across the ice heading towards her home on Baffin Island.

She roosted that night right on the edge of a small tarn a bit inland from the shoreline. This site was only 53' in elevation.

Perhaps this roost was a snow free location and there was free-standing water in the tarn. Perhaps she found prey there or even took a bath.

It would be fascinating to know such details.