October 27, 2010
Last weekend, the Blue Angels (U.S. Navy, precision flying team) performed over Dobbins Air Reserve Base, in Marietta, Georgia. Growing up in a military family, I have been fortunate to have seen the Blue Angels many, many times over the past 40 years and I always marvel at the performance of of both the aircraft and the pilots that fly the high tech jets in amazing g-force turns and vertical maneuvers. I know this is not natural history but there is a comparison to nature that I want to acknowledge. In watching the Blue Angels it brought back some very fond memories of banding raptors (birds of prey) and the observations I have witnessed in regards to peregrine falcons. Watching the Blues drop straight down out of the skies and pull up to go vertically, straight up, reminded me of a peregrine I once had visit my banding site on Fisherman’s Island, in Eastern Virginia. I was sitting in a blind and I had a variety of mist nets set up as well as bow nets with lure birds. (bait) I was able to loft the lure birds into the air about 30 feet but they were tethered by a harness and a snap swivel, thus they could fly but I could control the lure birds from the blind. I had lofted a pigeon and all of a sudden I could see just a speck out in front of me, high in the air. The speck grew larger as it closed the gap between the banding site and its lofty altitude. It was a passage (migrating) peregrine in a full stoop (dive) and although I was able to see the bird at a long distance, it closed the distance within only a few seconds. The peregrine made a pass at the pigeon, pulled up only two meters above the ground and shot skyward at what appeared to be the same amazing velocity as its downward plummet. I will never forget the sound of the wings as the speed of the dive resulted in a wing noise like no other noise I had heard previously. It was similar to the sound of the wings of white-throated swifts only amplified due to the much larger size of the peregrine. I thought the peregrine may “pendulum” dive, which means numerous stoops and rapid altitude gain to once again dive on prey. However, this peregrine made its magnificent appearance and was gone as quickly as he had appeared. I remember returning to the blind and just sitting there to reflect on what I had just observed…..and just how special it made me feel to have had the privilege of that “moment” in nature. I then wiped the tears from my cheek, as my emotions had taken over…….and then, I went back to work putting little aluminum bracelets on other birds I caught that afternoon. Not to harp on this, but one other performance the Blues and peregrines have in common is when a high speed turn is being initiated. At low level, as the Blue Angel pilot puts his aircraft into an amazingly high G force turn, you can see the pilot looking back through the top of the jets cockpit as if to locate points for his/ her maneuver. Peregrines, when they come into a lure bird at a high rate of speed, they frequently pitch up and turn very sharply and just as they do this, they look back over the wing that they have dropped to initiate their turn….also with incredible g-forces. So, watching the “Blues” was spectacular and provided me with the same thrills of watching peregrines many years ago.
A Blue Angel Stoops from the sky……………….like a peregrine!
The U.S Navy’s Blue Angels……………………A Female Peregrine Falcon
On Sunday, October 24th, I did a canoe trip on the Ocmulgee River. Any day spent on a river is a good day and the weather was perfect, river conditions good and our little group of canoeist had a wonderful day. A few months earlier, I had found and saved a partial clutch of softshell turtle eggs. On that particular trip, softshell turtles were laying eggs on many of the sandbars along the river but most that we found, had been predated by raccoons and pigs. It is amazing that any turtle eggs hatch as the raccoons and pigs are amazingly adept at finding, digging up and eating turtle eggs. One nest, we found, was dug up but in the bottom of the nest, were a few exposed eggs. (8 to be exact) I collected these eggs and brought them home to artificially incubate them. About 70 days later, the eggs hatched and I had 8 beautiful little spiny softshell hatchlings. So, I took advantage of this recent canoe trip, to return the babies to their river home. We had a number of children on the trip, including my grandson, Caleb, and each of the kids released a turtle, which was a wonderful event.
- Hatchling Spiny Softshell Turtle………………released back to their home river!
Along the river’s edge, we heard numerous pileated woodpeckers and Eastern phoebes were incredibly abundant. Flickers had recently returned from their more northerly nesting areas and as they flew across the river, their bright white rump made for easy identification. We also saw a few deer and some signs of beaver activity. This, in the way of finding beaver sticks which are sticks where the bark has been chewed off by foraging beaver. They are typically bright white in color and thus are easily found along the river bank. As we passed under a few bridges, there were numerous mud nests of cliff swallows and only a few barn swallow nests. It appears that the cliff swallows nest much more abundantly than the barn swallows, which certainly was not the case 25 years ago. 25 years ago, it was uncommon to find cliff swallows in Central Georgia……..Nature is constantly changing and it is amazing what may be rare or uncommon at one time can be common or even abundant in a period of 20 + or – years.