January 1, 2005

2005 Winter Bulletin

I want to begin by thanking all of you for your continuing support. Over the last 20 years, the FRG could not have conducted our projects without the help, dedication and inspiration of its many members and supporters. Sincere thanks to all of you.

Update on Long-billed Red-tails

As many of you know, there is a new and troubling problem developing among West Coast hawks. The long-billed syndrome is characterized by an excessive (and often grotesque) growth of keratin in the beaks of the affected birds. First discovered in Red-tails on the Skagit in 1997, we now have 60 records of long-billed hawks and the list keeps growing. Photos of the 4 categories of deformed beaks can be seen on our web-site at www.frg.org.

The records now include 55 Red-tailed Hawks, 2 Rough-legged Hawks, 1 Ferruginous Hawk and 2 Peregrine Falcons. The falcons were both fall migrants caught in 2004 in Minnesota and Texas (i.e. origin unknown). At this time, the condition appears to be limited to the West Coast of North America, specifically from Richmond, British Columbia to Los Angeles, California, but no one really has any idea of just how far it extends. Most of our records are from northwestern Washington.

The condition occurs both among males/females and resident/migrant hawks. Until recently, we thought it only affected adult birds. However, we now have an example of a juvenile long-billed RTHA, demonstrating that the syndrome can occur much earlier than we thought. We have also seen it in 3 different second-year Red-tails.

The cause of the syndrome is unknown. It could be an environmental contaminant, a virus, a disease, a fungus or something new. We know that it kills hawks by impeding their ability to feed, i.e. through starvation. No one knows how many birds have died as a result but we suggest that 60 known records indicate that it is becoming a major problem.

If you would like to assist in our study of the syndrome, please report all observations of long-billed hawks (or birds of any species, including passerines at your feeder) to the FRG. Second, when you are in the field, take time to really look closely at both Red-tails and Rough-legs (surprisingly few people do anymore). Keep in mind that the condition can be difficult to detect in its early stages. You need to be fairly close and take a really good look at the profile to see it. A good scope is essential.

Finally, and I have never asked this of our membership before, if you know or are associated with a foundation, corporate sponsor or potential donor that might want to help with this problem, please let us know. We will direct a proposal to them to fund research on this problem. I am asking because I sincerely believe that this may be the most serious threat to our local raptors since DDT. Thanks for your help.

2004 Entiat Ridge Fall Migration Results

This was our fourth season at Entiat Ridge (near Leavenworth) and Mark Gleason and his stalwart crew of hawk banders had their second best year so far. Over the six week study period (29 August-15 October) they captured, banded and released 235 migrant birds of prey, including 129 Sharp-shins, 53 Cooper’s Hawks, 14 Northern Goshawks (a new record for us), 15 Red-tailed Hawks, 12 American Kestrels, 7 Merlins, 2 Peregrine falcons, 1 Prairie Falcon, 1 Northern Harrier, and our first ever Golden Eagle at Entiat. It was caught by Martin Muller, alone. Quite a handful for one guy. Good job Martin.

The team has now caught a total of 989 raptors at Entiat over the last 4 years, i.e. 217, 309, 228 and 235 respectively.

Special thanks are due to the intrepid FRG banding team that made this happen, including Dalene Keith, Martin Muller, Emma Lux, Ed Deal, Cindy Willis, Dennis Ryan, Ray Cruz, Don McCall, Rik Adams, Marti Louther, Pat Little, Jack Bettesworth, Sue Hindman, Tim Boyer, Megan Lyden, Kathy Gunther, John Deliduka, Donald Kent, Jim Shiflett, Tim Aimes, Gretchen Albrecht, Ruth Taylor, Simone Cooke, Jerry Van Vleck and Vivian Gross, our wonderful scheduler.

Nesting Merlins

Until recently, nesting Merlins were as scarce as hen’s teeth in Washington. The first city nesting in our state took place in Bellingham, 2000. As predicted, Merlins have been expanding southward into other cities ever since (Mt.Vernon, Stanwood). Last summer, we received new reports of family groups from Anacortes, Marysville and the Lake Stevens area. Heads up Seattle, they are coming your way soon. Listen for the food begging of young in July. It is unmistakable. Two pairs have also been found nesting in eastern Washington.

And a final note on raptor terminology. Merlins have never been and are not now known as “Merlin Falcons” despite recent promotion of this term. The correct term is simply “Merlin”.

Hawk Classes

We will be presenting our annual class, Hawkwatching in Western Washington, in both Mt. Vernon and Bellingham (but not Seattle) this winter. The Bellingham class will begin on Tuesday nights (7-9:30) at the Whatcom County Museum (25 January-22 February) and the Mt. V. class will be held on Thursday nights at the Padilla Bay Interpretive Center (27 January-24 February). To register, please send a check for $135.00 to the FRG at the address shown above. Direct any questions to bud@frg.org or call (360) 757-1911. Please pass this info on to your birding/hawk friends.

Sixteenth Annual Skagit Flats Hawk Census

The annual hawk count will be held on Saturday, 12 February (9-11AM) this year. Please mark your calendars. Contact the count coordinator, Bob Merrick, at (360) 678-3161 or preferably by e-mail (tinekesfam@aol.com) to participate.

After the census, Bud Anderson will present a current update on long-billed hawks. In addition, when on your route, please keep an eye out for long-billed RTHAs and RLHAs.

San Juan Peregrines

The San Juan Islands peregrine population continues to be an instructive example of what happens to a “normal” group of breeding peregrines living around a temperate, salt-water environment. Keep in mind that as a result of the DDT era, there is precious little historical information on what a “normal” population does in Washington. So we keep on learning what that looks like.

This year, 17 of the 20 (85%) pairs attempted to breed. Among the 17, only 10 pairs (50%) hatched young and started to raise them. Predators (most likely raccoon or fox) hit three eyries and at one of these (hit late in the season) the predator ate only one of two young. The other managed to fledge and was seen on Whidbey Island on 5 January by Bob Merrick and Jack Bettesworth.

The eight successful pairs (40%) produced 19 young, or 2.36 young per successful pair.

First Falconry Take of Nestling Peregrines in Washington

Last summer, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and USFWS authorized the first take of nestling peregrines for falconry since the 1960’s. Three permits were issued to falconers and three birds were taken, one from Whatcom County, one from Skagit County and one from Pierce County. All are doing well at this time.

Since the peregrine population has grown to an unprecedented high number (over 100 known active nests in Washington), the state and federal agencies determined that the population could easily handle a take of three falcons.

As experts on the West Side nesting peregrine population, FRG members participated in the San Juan harvest, providing technical and logistical support and ensuring that the bird was taken in a safe and professional manner.

Urban Peregrines

This year, the "city peregrines" did better than the "wild pairs" we are monitoring. Eleven falcon pairs now inhabit Everett (1), Bellevue (1), Seattle (5), Tacoma (2), Bremerton (1) and Olympia (1). Eight pairs (73%) produced 22 young in 2004, or 2.75 young per successful pair. Two pairs were new this year (Floating Bridge and Tacoma Narrows), two others failed (Everett and West Seattle) and at a third site (Bremerton) four eggs were taken by the Portland Audubon Society and one young successfully hatched and released in Oregon.

The famous Tacoma pair (the most aggressive peregrines I have experienced) produced 5 young (!) this year, the first time this has been recorded in Washington. While banding the chicks in May, Martin Muller and I deterred this aggressive pair by using a new high- tech technique (umbrellas) to keep them from striking us. The Tacoma police have apparently dubbed us the “Mary Poppins” crew. But it works.

The 2004 Anacortes Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owls are one of the rarest species of owls in western Washington. They occur sporadically in winter but little is known about where they come from.

Last winter, a Great Gray was found wintering on Gibraltar Road near Anacortes. We were able to place a tail-mounted radio transmitter on the bird and Jim Shiflett volunteered to track it north as he had done twice before in past years.

The bird began its northward migration on 17 February 2004. It flew NE to Bayview, then to Lake Samish and Bellingham before moving into Canada. Jim followed the owl through the coast range and into interior British Columbia, where it finally stopped near Kamloops. So at least two of our local wintering Great Grays originate from interior BC.

Annual Dues

It is time once again to send in your annual FRG dues of $25.00. In addition, this year donations of all kinds are also needed as we prepare to address the long-billed hawk problem. We can use all the help we can get on this one. It is so very important. Thanks in advance for your support.