by Abbie Danner, Student Conservation Association Raptor Intern
The east side of Champlain Mountain doesn’t seem like a forgiving place to learn to fly. Sparse vegetation dots the face of the cliff, which drops off starkly for eight hundred feet. The iron rungs of the Precipice Trail wind up the face, jutting out from the bare granite. The steepness of the trail makes it a challenging ascent even for seasoned hikers.
Though the east face looks rugged and inhospitable, the peregrine falcons who call Champlain home during their breeding season have done extraordinarily well here. Their nest (which is really just a scrape in the gravel) is situated high up on the cliff, on a ledge beneath a rocky overhang.
Peregrines have successfully raised young for all but two of the years since they returned to nest at the Precipice in 1991. The Peregrine Falcon Watch program, where visitors can view the nesting falcons and learn about them from park staff, began the same year. As the Raptor Intern for 2019, I am fortunate enough to have watched this year’s batch of youngsters grow up.
For the falcons, summer is a time of rapid growth and change. I remember the leap of excitement I felt in late May, when we first saw one of the adult falcons fly into the nest with a songbird in its talons. The adult landed on the nest, facing away from us, and we could see its fanned-out tail bob up and down. This confirmed that chicks had hatched: the adult will regurgitate food for very young chicks, hence the bobbing tail.
Around a week after we observed this feeding behavior from the adults, we first began to see the young. At first it was one chick, spotted at the edge of the nest by a keen-eyed visitor; then two chicks, then…