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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
2001 Field Season
Amy Nicholas — in Aplomado Falcon Restoration    ShareAt 0700 on 15 May, Angel Montoya, Marta Curti, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kelley Hayes, and myself were preparing to leave from the boat dock at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to band the first Aplomado Falcon chicks of the season, located on Matagorda Island NWR.  This is perhaps the most exciting time on the Aplomado Falcon project.
These chicks are the culmination of endless hours of hard work and the cooperation of numerous individuals and agencies.  They are the best indication of the success of these combined efforts.  

To reach Matagorda Island and the two nests where we would be banding, we first needed to take a short 40-minute boat ride.  The boat ride was made especially enjoyable by the occasional dolphin surfacing to take a breath and the numerous seabirds diving for fish in the coastal waters.  Matagorda Island is a narrow strip of coastal grassland that stretches some 38 miles from north to south.  Matagorda is jointly managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife and is probably best known for its wintering endangered Whooping Cranes and for the amazing bird migration it experiences during the spring and fall.  In addition, The Peregrine Fund released a total of 35 fledgling Aplomados from 1996-1999 on Matagorda Island and it is now home to ten known pairs of falcons.  Six of the ten pairs attempted nesting this season, three have already failed, and three have hatched chicks.  It is interesting to note that not all of the adult falcons currently on Matagorda were in fact released there.  Several of the falcons were actually released from reintroduction sites, Aransas NWR and Seadrift, located on the mainland. 

Once we had arrived at the refuge headquarters on Matagorda we quickly procured one of the refuge vehicles and began to pile in the necessary gear for the day’s undertakings.  It would be another hour traversing the island’s one dusty, jarring road before we would arrive at the targeted nests.  Both are located atop McCartney Rosebushes and are a mere 1.8 km apart from each other.   

To reach the nests we first had to stumble for a time through fields of tall dense and very spiky Gulf Cord Grass that turn the mere act of walking into a strenuous aerobic workout.  Once at the actual nest, however, the real work began—trying to safely remove the nestlings from the rosebushes.  The safety in question here being that of the biologists, not the chicks!  These exotic plants are essentially a huge bramble of long vines covered with barbed thorns that make any contact with them a hazardous endeavor at best.  It is not surprising that many of the birds nesting on Matagorda choose to build their nests in these rosebushes, making the nests virtually impervious to ground predators.   

After numerous scratches, splinters, and torn clothing, all courtesy of the rosebushes, we were able to remove, band, and weigh three healthy chicks from each of the two nests.   After banding we then returned the young to the safety of their nests as quickly as possible while wary adults watched, letting their displeasure at the situation be known with cacking and the occasional stoop.  Aplomado Falcons lay a clutch of between one and three eggs so we were all pleased to find the maximum number of three chicks in each nest. 

The third active nest on Matagorda only just recently hatched young.  We will not be banding them this trip, however, because at a mere seven days old it is extremely difficult to distinguish the sex of the chicks.  This knowledge is important for banding because due to the size difference between the sexes, females receive a larger band than do the males.  We plan to band these chicks in another nine days when they have developed enough to easily determine sex.

After banding the six nestlings we left Matagorda Island to focus our attentions on the other falcon pairs located to the south near Laguna Atascosa NWR and Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.  To date we have located 33 pairs of Aplomado Falcons, and 22 are known to have nested.  Unfortunately eight of those 22 have already failed, victim to Great-Horned Owls, Chihuahuan Ravens, and raccoons, all of which are a constant threat to any nesting bird.  Of the 14 remaining nests, 10 have already hatched chicks!  We will continue banding the remaining young throughout May and June.

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