Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Peregrine Falcons of the Mount Tom Range

Massachusetts Peregrine Falcons

Mt Tom in western Massachusetts was one of fourteen historical peregrine falcon cliff-nesting sites in Massachusetts. According to a Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife document, in 1948 the state ornithologist, Archie Hagar, discovered that the eggshells in the nest of peregrines at Quabbin Reservoir were unexplainably broken. It was later discovered that the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which accumulated in the food chain and became concentrated in peregrines (and others), was the cause of the weak eggshells.
Mt Tom Range, above the Connecticut River
Mt Tom Range, above the Connecticut River

As a result of the devastating effect DDT had on eggshells, peregrine reproduction completely collapsed. 1955 saw the last of nesting peregrines in Massachusetts (Great Barrington), and by 1966, not one nesting pair was found in the eastern US.

After the ban of DDT in 1972, attention was given to restoring the falcons. Early efforts in the 70's failed in Massachusetts. In the 80's, release of captive-bred chicks in Boston resulted in the first post-DDT nesting (1987). Today, there are approximately 30 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons in the state, many of them in western Mass.

And one of those pairs nests on the Mt Tom range. A male who has nested on Mt Tom before, and a new female from NY state successfully raised two female chicks this year. It was quite a treat to watch these birds develop, get fed by their parents, and learn how to fly.

Mt Tom Peregrine Falcon Video

Two photographers, Ray Asselin and Rich D'Amato, spent many long days watching and filming the growth of these raptors over a period of months. Linda Henderson, who has spent many hours over the years photographing nature on Mt Tom, unfortunately broke her wrist this spring and was unable to continue her photography; but she contributed some welcomed video from early in the nesting. Rich and Linda have extensive photos from the 2014 season as well.

As well as the "dirt time" invested in the photography, there were technical challenges to it too. Distances from vantage points to the birds were substantial, making it necessary to use telephoto lenses for virtually all shots. And there were few vantage points that put us within reasonable reach of the birds. Most shots were taken at ranges of 75 to 200 yards, a long reach for targets as small as a peregrine.

Mt Tom's Young Peregrine Falcons of 2015
Mt Tom's Young Peregrine Falcons of 2015

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's All Red, Gloria

The Red Colors of a Summer Forest

Summer in an eastern forest is all about green. Everything, so it seems, is green. We have adequate rainfall to thank for that. The green is a good thing, since it means that chlorophyll-containing plants are photosynthesizing, and therefore growing and releasing oxygen to the atmosphere. And it's just so darned pretty!

But what it also is, that green world, is a great backdrop for all the other color highlights to be found in the forests. Probably most people's favorite such color would be red. It's a rich color, uncommon enough in the woods to be special.

Wild Columbine Flowers
In reviewing months of video footage I've recorded this year, I noticed a number of red splashes among the greens, and thought I'd feature just some of them. There's unquestionably more to be found out there, so this isn't intended to be an exhaustive display. Just a few to point out what a treat it always is to discover a bit of red in the woods. Enjoy.