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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Looking Back: The Start of Release Season
Marta Curti — in Orange-breasted Falcon Project    Share

Young captive-bred Orange-breasted Falcon

As the release season for Orange-breasted Falcons winds down, and I am now back in Boise at The Peregrine Fund’s headquarters, I can’t help but think about the great season that we had this year. I also realized that we didn’t write much about the releases themselves, so I hope to remedy that with the next few entries...

Outside, it was pitch black and the air was cool and still.It was 4:15 in the morning on 7 June and Bob Berry, who runs the Orange-breasted Falcon Captive Breeding Program, and I were busy loading up the truck in preparation for our drive to the airport and my eventual trip back down to Belize with five young Orange-breasted Falcons (OBF) in tow. Bob and I heaved four large coolers full of frozen falcon food, a large section of plastic fencing, all my gear, and two kennels carrying the young falcons into the back of the vehicle and headed to the airport in Sheridan, Wyoming. Meeting us there were two pilots from Lighthawk who generously donated their time, the plane and the fuel to help bring these falcons to their new home in the Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize.

After unloading the truck and re-loading everything onto the plane, and getting the falcons settled in, we lifted off. I watched the ground fall away beneath us as the plane climbed higher and higher into the sky. I closed my eyes for a while and tried to sleep, but despite the early morning start, I didn’t feel tired. I tried reading to pass the time, but I just couldn’t concentrate. I was anxious to get back to Belize and to place the young birds in the hack box, the chamber they would live in for the next week before being released. My co-workers Angel Muela and Yeray Seminario were waiting for us there and had been busy putting the final touches on the hack box, getting it ready for the birds’ arrival.

Despite my restlessness, the hours passed pleasantly – the pilots were fun and jovial and we spent a long time talking about the OBF project and the work The Peregrine Fund is doing in Belize. About three hours into the flight, our stomachs began to rumble. We pulled out nuts and candy bars to snack on and I knew the falcons must be hungry too. From inside a small cooler, I extracted the falcon food - moist meat mush – and set some on a small plate inside the kennel for the birds to feed on.

All in all, the trip went seamlessly. The only “glitch” was that we had originally planned to land in Houston, Texas to refuel and to meet the waiting US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) representative to give him all the necessary paperwork for exporting the falcons. Unfortunately, a threatening storm forced us to re-route. We landed in Brownsville, Texas, instead.Luckily, from his home back in Wyoming, Bob had been monitoring the flight the whole time and saw that our route had changed. He immediately called Brownsville to arrange for someone from USFWS to meet us there. Everything went smoothly and we were back in the air in less than sixty minutes.

Hours later, from my window, I saw the familiar slowly winding river and low shrubs that surround the area near the Belize International Airport. We had finally arrived! Angel and Yeray were already there, waiting. It took us about an hour to get through customs and then we drove the remaining two and a half hours to Hidden Valley Inn, our headquarters for the next three months. Volunteers Camille Meyers and Carlos Cruz helped us to unload all the gear and put the falcon food in the freezer. It had been a long day and it was already dark out, so it was too late to place the falcons in the hack box that night. Instead, we fed them one more time that night, after which they went immediately to sleep. The following day we placed them in the box and a new adventure began for them, and for us.

Angel Muela placing newly arrived falcon in hack box

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