Friday, May 19, 2006

A story of an Aplomado falcon family in Veracruz.
Here goes.....I finally have some information and photos to share with you.
I live in Tlacotalpan Veracruz (the tropical lownds/wetlands of central Veracruz)
Here is a timeline to the Aplomado nesting activities.
First spotted
I spotted/digiscoped the female Aplomado falcon on April 3, 2006

Eggs laid
As close as I can tell the eggs were laid on or around April 6, 2006

First Aplomado "chick" hatched
On May 8, 2006 the first Aplomado falcon chick hatched

Nest discovered
the nest was discovered by Angel Montoya field biologist with the Aplomado Project -The Peregrine Fund and myself on April 24, 2006

Second Aplomado chick hatches
The second "chick" hatches May 11, 2006
in addition eggshell samples were taken from the nest and the nest was photographed by field biologists from The Peregrine Fund.

Observations begin
Since May 13, 2006 (time allowing) I try to get out to the site and observe the nest and Aplomado falcon behaviours twice a day, 1.5 hours in the morning and 1.5 hours in the afternoon.

Now for the photos. (just click on the highlighted links below to see photos) Note with regard to photos:
Unless otherwise noted ( see the Peregrine Fund photos),
these are my photos and may be copied for personal/educational use. Commercial use of my photos requires my permission.
David McCauley

The power of "digiscoping". This PHOTO shows the magnification possibilities of "digiscoping" (a digital camera coupled with a spotting scope)
Without the "digiscoping" setup I would never attempt to photograph the nest.
Here are some images of the "lay of the land" and where I am in relation to the nest and observation perches of the Aplomados.

Some ID observations on the Aplomado falcons
Here are some photo charts that help show some of the field marks and differences between the male and female Aplomado falcons.
M/F Size Comparison

Meeting the Aplomados
Since I am in Mexico I have named the pair of Aplomados after the Maya dieties "Itzamna" and "Ixchel" SEE PHOTO

The NEST is either that of a Brown Jay, Roadside Hawk or possibly a Northern caracara, Aplomado falcons do not build nests but instead depend upon the nest building skills of others.

The nest photographed.
Here are photos of the nest with one "chick" hatched (approximately 3 days old) and the second "chick" is just breaking its way out of the egg. The reason for climbing up to the nest,(hence the photo) is a joint project of The Pergrine Fund and USGS with the end of collecting eggshell fragments and infertile eggs for testing of pesticide/herbicide levels. This is a good thing, field biology at work, a proactive approach to study unregulated pesticide use in Latin America. (DDT is still sold here in Mexico and is in no way regulated.) Hmm.
These photos were taken by a field biologist of The Peregrine Fund and have been used here with their permission. (These images are property of The Peregrine Fund and may NOT be copied or reproduced without their permission.) I am most grateful to The Peregrine Fund for the use of the photo on my weblog. Plese keep in mind that the photos taken is a result of a field study. Please, it should go without saying but- DO NOT CLIMB TREES OR USE MIRRORS ON POLES in order to photograph nesting chicks or egg clutches.

Ixchel and Itzamna on the nest.
IXCHEL (female)
ITZAMNA (male)

The feeding of the Aplomado Chicks.

So there you have the basics of the family of Aplomado falcons in Tlacotalpan Veracruz Mexico. I will as time allow continue to post photos of the progress of the young and share with you some of my field notes/observations.
The Aplomado falcon population was nearly eliminated in the US due to loss of habitat and pesticide contamination.
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of The Peregrine Fund with their Aplomado Falcon Project, the species in now being successfully re-introduced into its former breeding habitats.
I would encourage all who can, to actively support this ongoing project.

David McCauley

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Aplomado falcon nest is discovered!
On April 23, 2006 I am sitting out on the porch conducting the spring hawkwatch here in Tlacotalpan and I am approached by a group of people that look like birders... My guests are Angel Montoya, his wife Jennifer and son Woodrow together with Angel's sister and brother in law. Angel tells me that he and his family are here on vaction and that he works for the Peregrine Fund and his wife Jennifer works for the World Wildlife Federation.
Instant camaradeire.
Anyone who gives a damn about nature is a friend of mine.
As I talk more with Angel he tells me that he is a field biologist with Peregrine Fund working on the Aplomado falcon restoration project in the US. How cool is that?
I am the captive audience with a thousand questions!
That afternoon Angel and myself sat on the porch, drank a couple cold beers and counted migrating raptors 5,248.....among them 5,010 Mississippi kites, 16 Peregrine falcons, 13 Turkey vultures, 4 Ospreys, 1 late Swallow/tailed kite, 196 Broad/winged hawks, 6 Swainsons hawks, 1 American kestrel and a Partridge in a pear tree!
In the course of the conversation I mentioned that I had been "digiscoping" Aplomados nearby and asked him if he wanted to go birding the next morning. Angel agreed and early the next morning we headed out to my local patch to bird.
Note. I live in central Veracruz in the tropical lowlands.
The next morning Angel showed up on time, and we headed out to bird. When we got to the area where I had been photographing Aplomado falcons, I scanned the fence line and we found the Aplomado nest!

I was really excited, this is the first time in my life that I had ever seen a nesting Aplomado falcon!
The Aplomado falcon family and sharing them with the world.
It is after careful consideration that I start this series on the Aplomado falcon on my weblog.
It was two years ago here in Veracruz, that I had a memorable encounter with a pair of Aplomado falcons. I was out birding/digiscoping and I heard a commotion, it was two Aplomado falcons giving a good "get the hell out of my territory" message to a Roadside hawk. Unforgettable. The Roadside hawk retreated to more hospitable terrain. I observed the pair of Aplomado's in my binocular and was able to "digiscope" with my rather rustic setup of a basic Nikon spotting scope and my 2 megapixel Sony Mavica 250CD.(after vingetting I was lucky to get a good 4X6!)
Suddenly one of the Aplomado falcons shot off of the branch where it had been perched, almost immediately the second Aplomado falcon followed. I saw it all in my binocular.
The first Aplomado was in rapid pursuit of prey, the prey headed for the nearest leafy tree.
As the prey entered the safety of the tree the first Aplomado shot up into the air and hovered/"kited" above the tree.
The second Aplomado, (which was not far behind) went directly into the tree pursuing prey.
An Aplomado falcon is an undisputed master of airspace for its aerial acrobatics, but put them into a tangle of branches and they do not do well! So I observe this Aplomado foundering in a tangle of branches....the prey (a juvenile Eastern Meadowlark) seeing its attacker clumsily flapping in the branches sensed the opportunity to escape and flies from the refuge of the tree. BIG MISTAKE.
The first Aplomado falcon which had been hovering above the tree, saw the escaping flight of the juvenile Eastern Meadowlark and deeply swooped to make a definitve "kill".
I had just witnessed what must surely be one of nature´s greatest "dramas"....the cooperative hunt of the Aplomado falcon!
This colorful, long-tailed falcon had made unforgettable impresion on me. I was hooked!
I began to study all the material that I could find on this amazing bird of prey.
I recently crossed paths with a family of Aplomado falcons here in Tlacotalpan Veracruz, Mexico where I live. What I hope to do over the next several weeks is share with you images as well as information regarding Falco femoralis - The Aplomado Falcon.

Here is the image a provoked a renewed interest in the Aplomado falcon. While conducting my annual spring hawkwatch here in Tlacotalpan, I had Dane Ferell (of the Corpus Christi Texas Hawkwatch) here with me helping me with my spring raptor migration count. One morning (April 3, 2006) we were out birding before the hawkwatch and we came across this female Aplomado. I digiscoped a few pictures. (For those who may not know "digiscoping" is a is a photography technique that couples a digital camera with a spotting telescope. In the birding world the late Laurence Poh is considered to be the "father of digiscoping". Laurence eagerly shared with many his techniques, which have revolutionized nature/bird photography. Thanks to this recent technology, it is now possible to photograph most birds from a considerable distance and still capture their behavior and visual characteristics without "stressing" the bird.
Unless otherwise noted my photographs of the Aplomado falcon have been "digiscoped" using a Nikon Coolpix P1 (8megapixels) camera handheld to a Nikon Fieldscope 82mmED with a 30XWide Angle eyepiece, with either a Slik or Gitzo tripod.
So the journey begins of the Aplomado falcon family in the spring of 2006 in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz Mexico.
David McCauley