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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
The 2002 Aplomado Hack Season
Erin Gott — in Aplomado Falcon Restoration    ShareAs the dog days of summer bring the Aplomado Falcon team closer to the end of hack season, it is difficult not to reflect on the past two months with sentiment and pride.  Over the past eight weeks the team acted as guardians to more than 100 juvenile Aplomado Falcons.  During this time we experienced a spectrum of emotion—from joy, when witnessing our falcons' first flights, to despair, when discovering a falcon dead from natural predation.   But as the summer nears its end and our Aplomado Falcons gain greater confidence in their skills, we understand the project's big picture. The birds that survive will help supplement the wild population of the Northern Aplomado Falcon. This goal, combined with the dynamic presence of the falcons, is what gives us  strength to tolerate the endless hours in tough field conditions.  In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of our job is to trouble shoot problems that arise at each hack site.

An Aplomado Falcon hack site consists of one or two towers (usually around 10 feet tall) with a hack box secured to the top of each.  The box (which usually holds four to seven falcons) consists of three solid sides and a large barred window.  It is here that the young falcons observe their environment for approximately a week before release.  On release day the box is opened and the falcons emerge to find food tethered on the tower's deck.  From this point on, the falcons will return to the tower to feed on fresh quail that is placed daily by the hack site attendants.  Over the next six to ten weeks the falcons become confident hunters and flyers and slowly wean themselves of the tower to become independent.

In order to care for the falcons and to collect valuable behavioral observations, hack site attendants spend their days (from sun up to sun down) observing the falcons from a blind 100 meters away from the tower.  These attendants are the project's "eyes and ears."  They work long hot days in often inhospitable environments, keeping track of each Aplomado Falcon.   By the end of the summer they are hardened observers with invaluable knowledge of their site, the falcons, and the surrounding ecosystem. 

This year we had a great group of attendants.  With our hack sites located hours apart from each other, communication between attendants and supervisors was critical to the project's success.  A hack bird scarcely went missing a day without the attendants reporting it to the office.  This communication allowed the team to be proactive when problems occurred in the field.  For example, shortly after one of our releases a group of older hack birds came in and scared two of the young falcons off the tower. The attendants from the site quickly located the lost Aplomado and reported it to the office.  In doing so a field supervisor was able to place a portable feed perch near the young falcons, allowing the birds to feed and finally gain enough confidence to return to the tower.

Just as the hack site attendants are crucial to the project's success, the landowners that allow us to work on their properties are invaluable.  This year we had the great fortune to release birds on four privately owned ranches (including the Means, Miller, El Sauz, and Forshage ranches) and four conservation refuges (Laguna Atascosa N.W.R, Aransas N.W.R, Welder Wildlife Refuge, and Nature Conservancy land).  It is the support and enthusiasm of the landowners and refuges that give the Aplomado project legs to stand on. Without access to land, Texas would be closed to our reintroduction efforts.  Just as important is the individual devotion landowners and refuge mangers bestow upon the Aplomado project. It is refreshing to see landowners and refuge personnel getting involved with the falcons. 

One of the most memorable moments of the summer was the construction of the new South Padre hack site.  The site is located on Nature Conservancy land south of the Port Mansfield Cut.  Success was due to the coming together of three great environmental organizations, The Peregrine Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife.  For that day, three organizations became a single working team.  We worked side by side, digging holes, setting posts and constructing a beautiful new tower and blind.  The event represented the general consensus that the people and organizations of Texas are unwilling to lose this majestic raptor from their landscape.  This gives all of us on the Aplomado team faith that our efforts are not in vain. We are proud of our falcons, and we are proud of what we, as a team, have accomplished. 

Though each new year presents its own challenges, we are looking forward to returning to south Texas next season in order to continue to work with our partners and cooperators, to continue to improve our release techniques, and to expand our knowledge about these amazing falcons.

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