Notes from the Porch: Of Predator and Prey

Morning tends to be an active time here at the Environmental Learning Center. Squirrels, chipmunks, and birds are always scurrying from place to place, looking for seeds and taking advantage of the relative quiet before the humans get up. As a graduate student, I am lucky enough to be able to live here for a year, to treat the local wildlife as my neighbors and closely observe the changing seasons.
A few weeks ago, we had a different sort of visitor.
My housemate, Tyler, and I had hiked up to Sourdough lookout the previous day and were enjoying a peaceful morning on the porch and in the living room. I was doing yoga on the porch when I heard the whuff whuff whuff of wings. I looked up to see a juvenile peregrine falcon perched on a tree 100 feet away. It wasn’t a big tree, mind you, but the branch was at least 30 feet in the air. The falcon was staring intently at a tree right in front of it. I called Tyler and her boyfriend out to the porch and we watched as this huge bird took a moment to investigate its surroundings. Seconds later, it dove towards the tree in front of it, spiraling around the trunk in tight formation through the few remaining branches. After two spirals it landed feet first on the ground, crouched, and took off for its perch again. A second time, the massive bird launched itself towards the tree, this time going up. We noticed a Douglas squirrel scurry up the tree at a frantic pace. It occurred to me that the falcon was hunting the squirrel, hoping to pull it off the tree. The falcon leapt towards the tree a few more times, spiraling closely against the trunk before it caught its prey.
We could only hear the final squeaks of the squirrel as we tried to get closer to see the outcome. The bird had landed on the ground behind a log to revel in its capture before deciding it needed a new place to enjoy the meal.
Later on that day I heard rumor of a falcon nest near the Diablo Dam. It was such an intriguing visit from such a majestic animal. I have had many close encounters with predators, but each time I am in awe of the grace and ease in which they perform their hunting tasks. It was a wonderful welcome to a new place and I hope to see many more amazing things as my year of residency goes on!

Leading photo: Squirrels, beware. Photo from NCI Archives.

Samantha Hale is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She has a background in marine mammal research but may start to get into porch-side observational research if the North Cascades wildlife keep(s) it up.

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