Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Falcon Watchers Count on Flights to Depart on Time Each Fall; Volunteers Have Observed Birds' Migratory Routes through the Area since 1996

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Falcon Watchers Count on Flights to Depart on Time Each Fall; Volunteers Have Observed Birds' Migratory Routes through the Area since 1996

Article excerpt

Byline: terry brown

Perched high atop wind swept dunes, two observers huddled together with binoculars and foul-weather gear as tropical storm Tammy thrashed her winds and pelted rain upon them.

The watchers paid the elements no mind. They were more interested in the wave upon wave of peregrine falcons darting by on fast moving wind currents, migrating their way south -- just another routine day observing the fastest birds of prey on the planet.

Even the savviest bird watchers were probably unaware 10 years ago that these birds flew a migratory path along the coast of Florida.

Bob Stoll recalled the first time he noticed the phenomenon. He was walking the beaches at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas Reserve one day in 1995 as part of the annual turtle watch.

As he made his way along the beach, he counted as many as 50 falcons passing overhead and following the dunes. An Audubon Society member, Stoll said he was amused to see the falcons but didn't think much of it as he continued checking for turtle nests.

The following day, a neighbor asked him to take a look at a dead bird in his yard with a band attached to its leg. It turned out to be a falcon. Stoll wrote down the band information and found out the falcon was banded nine days earlier in Virginia.

A falcon expert told Stoll it was assumed the peregrines migrated across the Gulf of Mexico and down the Padre Island area of Texas, a much different route than what Stoll observed earlier on the beach.

The only way to confirm the sightings was to collect data and document them, he was told. The following year, falcon migration data collection began.

Every year since, from Sept. 27 through Oct. 12, volunteers make their way early to the observation platform on the northern end of the Guana Reserve. The peregrines follow the eastern flyway down the Atlantic Coast, passing through Guana where the researchers record their sightings during the period. …

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