Banding Peregrine Falcon Chicks, May 14, 2001

This is a preliminary report (5-17-01) on an excursion up Morro Rock May 14, 2001, for Banding Peregrine Falcon chicks, conducted by Brian Latta (bio) of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group

Additional commentary and photos will be added later.

Brian Latta was accompanied by State Park employees Vince Cicero and Mike Walgreen, Steve Schubert (peregrine falcon expert, naturalist, educator, and past president of the local Audubon Society), and Mike Baird.  What follows is a personal account and 33 photo essay by the author, Mike Baird, of the logistics of the climb.  (Click photos below for larger images)

"Having the opportunity to ascend Morro Rock and assist in a scientific undertaking at the same time was an unusual opportunity for which I was most grateful.  Between 1933 and 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) completed a causeway to the Rock, so that pedestrians and vehicles could go out to its base.  At about the same time, a stairway was cut into part of the rock to create a trail for the public to follow.  Prohibition of climbing on the rock (in the 1960's or 1970's ?) in order to protect the environment and ensure public safety, resulted in this original pathway being lost almost completely, especially near the bottom.  The team thus started their ascent from the south side of the Rock, up a narrow steep path  part-of-climb-was-thru-poison-oak.jpg (120383 bytes) through poison oak and dense shrub brian-how-do-we-get-there-from-here.jpg (158874 bytes).  While not a technical climb, this section of the ascent was difficult to do with a 40 pound pack (we helped carry Brian's substantial technical climbing gear).  At times, early in the climb, some of us were "on all fours."  Only about 500 feet elevation to our destination, however, the task was completed in about a half-hour, with only one rest stop (which not all members of the team required).  The views from Morro Rock the-rappel-begins-here.jpg (113464 bytes) view-of-morros-from-morrorock.jpg (96181 bytes) sand-spit.jpg (94662 bytes) view-looking-north.jpg (114125 bytes) were especially precious, since so few people manage to get permission to climb the Rock today.  Along the way we encountered remains of the original stairway, evidenced by a few steps cut into the stone, and some iron pipes sticking out of the ground.  The path to the top was not maintained, and thus was difficult to find.  Along the way we encountered, and were careful not to disturb, more than a few Gull nests, with two or three eggs sheltered in each gull-eggs-we-had-to-be-very-careful.jpg (183235 bytes) gull-nest-slightly-in-the-way-we-protected.jpg (194757 bytes). This Gull waited patiently for us to complete our assigned tasks, as we occupied its nest a few feet away this-gull-waited-patiently-to-regain-her-nest.jpg (139460 bytes) where-we-waited4brian.jpg (117652 bytes).  It was important not to lag too far behind the climber ahead, lest one get off-path, and in a small bind.  Once at our destination morro-bay-from-rappel-point.jpg (104123 bytes) mike-baird-on-morro-rock-5-14-01.jpg (117081 bytes), we were approximately 50 to 100 feet below Morro Rock's apex of 576 feet.  Communications with the audience and control center below in the parking lot view-of-audience.jpg (144893 bytes) view-of-parking-lot-audience.jpg (127325 bytes) brians-target-225feet-below-here.jpg (123536 bytes) was established between a pair of radios and some cell phones.  Brian's destination, via rappel,  the Peregrine Eyrie on the north side of the Rock, was about 200 to 225 feet below.  The accompanying photos are more-or-less self-describing (look at file names in browser).  Brian carefully tied-down with a loop around one massive boulder vince-didnot-even-sweat-carrying-this-gear.jpg (143548 bytes) (which one could visualize slipping off under extreme stress), and two additional artificial anchor points brian-searches-for-good-hold-one-of-three.jpg (150356 bytes) brian-mikew-vince-setup.jpg (156581 bytes) mike-walgren-and-steve-schubert.jpg (156670 bytes).  Briefly instructed in some climber safety (don't touch anything during the rappel), we watch Brian descend 
brian-thinking-do-i-have-everything.jpg (177778 bytes) vince-cicero-assists-brian-latta-pack-ropes.jpg (171425 bytes) brian-starts-descent.jpg (184522 bytes) brian-going-down.jpg (169973 bytes) around our launch pad.  He was then out of sight for a good portion of the time, briefly re-appearing brian-almost-out-of-sight.jpg (160564 bytes) brian-re-appears-for-a-moment.jpg (143386 bytes) before slipping over the edge into the eyrie where he bravely banded the three chicks.  During this time the adult falcons were making quite a show as they buzzed Brian continuously until he had completed his task.  The Falcons briefly rested vince-and-steve-observe-upset-adult-falcon.jpg (137998 bytes) periodically a short distance from our observation area vince-points-out-heaven-to-steve.jpg (104017 bytes).  I'm hopeful Steve got some good photos of the activity steve-schubert-gets-professional-shots.jpg (106577 bytes).  Proving that birds are as subject to stress as people, the Falcons were soon in battle with some resident Gulls who were knocked off their perches in the process, and retaliated.  I was interesting seeing Gulls chase Peregrine Falcons, as it is usually the other way around.  Brian soon returned brian-disappears-for-an-hour.jpg (164055 bytes) brian-200-feet-below.jpg (136741 bytes) with some scratches and nicks from the larger female chick -- his well-deserved badge-of-honor for the day.  Packing up was faster than setting up, and we quickly descended on approximately the same path.  Going down view-south.jpg (86040 bytes) was much easier than going up, and was completed without a stop.  Vince and Mike Walgreen caught up to us (they had headed off to examine other sections of the Rock during Brian's banding session), and we all landed safely about three hours later. Reconnoitering in the parking lot, we traded stories and examined evidence gathered in the eyrieafter-the-climb-examining-finds.jpg (139242 bytes).
"   Mike Baird, May 17, 2001

Here are photos taken by Heidi Baird, from below, of the 5-14-01 event.

Starting out, the team walks from the north parking lot starting-out-at-north-face.jpg (38766 bytes) to the starting point on the south-east side by the road heading-up-old-path-se-side.jpg (28786 bytes).  The initial climb through poison oak poison-oak-no-obstacle.jpg (41087 bytes) is steep enough to require "using all 4s"very-vertical-climb-on-all-4s.jpg (36136 bytes). The team at first approaches the wrong destination oops-wrong-destination.jpg (23295 bytes).  After some communication with the ground, they find the correct destination approaching-correct-point.jpg (27090 bytes) standing-at-correct-anchor-point.jpg (15035 bytes) long-shot-of-team-at-top.jpg (31731 bytes) .  The path for Brian down to the eyrie is more-or-less clear path-down-to-eyrie-is-clear.jpg (32149 bytes).  Brian starts the descent... here he is most of the way down brian-most-of-way-down.jpg (33677 bytes).  Now Brian is almost in the hole brian-almost-in-hole.jpg (39358 bytes). Success -- only Brian's feet are visible brian-in-eyrie-feet-stick-out.jpg (38856 bytes). The team heads back down after a successful trip  heading-back.jpg (30751 bytes) final-steps-back-down.jpg (47871 bytes).

For more information, visit the Peregrine Falcon Yahoo! Group and Judy Sullivan's Peregrine Falcons of Morro Rock web site.

Judy's observations of this day, are re-printed below with permission:

"May 14, [2001] Monday - This morning Brian Latta climbed Morro Rock with four assistants - Vince Cicero and Mike Walgren of State Parks, Steve Schubert, and Mike Baird. Brian rappelled down the north face of the Rock to the eyrie. Once there, he found and banded three chicks - two females and one male. As you might imagine, both adult peregrines (currently being referred to as "Xena" and "Zephyr" by some of the regular watchers) were quite agitated about this invasion into their eyrie. They put on quite a show as they swept back and forth across the face of the Rock, loudly objecting to Brian's presence. Within forty-five minutes of his having completed his task and climbing back up to the top of the Rock, both Xena and Zephyr were back to tending their babies.

"When Brian goes up to band chicks, he also collects some of the contents of the eyrie. Examination of these items adds to their database of knowledge about the peregrines. This time he came down with a bag full of the usual prey remains and feathers along with one Townsend's warbler. The little thing was captured but never eaten.

"The morning was enjoyable for the crowd of people who gathered to watch and quite successful for the climbers. Thank you to all who participated or came out to lend their enthusiastic support. Brian promises photos of the youngsters soon; check back to see them. There will also be photos and links from others. The photos will be available here as soon as they become available."