Whitewash the truth
- A waterfall on the St George’s Society Cliffs.
We have an embarrassing richness of cliffs up here where I live. The landscape is dramatic to say the least. We also have a richness of falcons. Within 4 kilometres of where I live there are two active aeries, a Gyrfalcon’s and a Peregrine Falcon’s. Extend that to thirty kilometres and you can add at least one more Peregrine aerie and another cliff nesting raptor, the Rough-legged Hawk.
- One side of the cliffs lining the valley at Iqalulik
- Some of our cliffs even come with non-avian apex predators
This weekend we camped some 75 kilometres south of here by snowmobile. Against a bright blue sky I watched another Peregrine hunting over the tundra where I’d been just watching Red-throated Loons, Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs and Rock Ptarmigan in their mad rush to breed in the short summer. That Peregrine probably had an aerie in one of the two cliff lined valleys to either side of where we were.
- Female Lapland Longspur at Siuraqtujuq
The point of this is not to brag that I get to watch some of the world’s most spectacular falcons in a jaw-dropping scenery instead of a high rise building. Oh, who am I kidding, that is exactly the point. However, in the context of this week, my point is that there is a lot of prime real estate up here for falcon aeries. A lot, and if you’re searching for falcons rather than just hoping to stumble upon them, you need something to show you the way. That something is poop.
Both Gyrfalcons and Peregrines have a number of preferred perches on the cliffs around their aeries. And as they sit at these perches the accumulated poop whitewashes the rock, making a readily noticeable sign post that says “Here be raptors”. Like a fresh coat of paint these poop stains stand out around active nests (the aerie is also whitewashed), and fade through the winter as the elements wear them away.
- A poor, but illustrative photo, of a Gyrfalcon pair each on a poop stained perch
- Strangely I don’t have photos of just the whitewash, but this is what you’re looking for, even without the falcon there
Visiting a new area I’ll spend time scanning the cliffs, looking for the tell tale sign, the poop stained rock jutting out of the cliff face. If I find one, chance are there will be several more close by, and in somewhere amongst those purchase will be an aerie, usually in a little cave in the wall.
- The aerie is well marked as well
Oh sure, some times the birds will betray their presence with a call or you’ll catch them flying near the aerie, but if you want to increase your chances of finding aeries in the many cliffs up here, follow the poop.
- “What? I’m trying to make it easier for you to find me.” Photo by Niore Iqalukjuak
Poop Week is a week of themed posts on 10,000 Birds that cover the intersection of poop and birding, a fertile precinct if there ever was one. Rather than just discuss the horror of a pigeon dropping droppings on someone’s head we decided to really get down the nitty-gritty details of poop, to the point where it is squishing up between our toes. Not only is Poop Week a fascinating way to spend seven days in June it is also a serious attempt to elevate the level of discourse in the bird blogosphere, which, as we all have no choice but to admit, is far too low. Enjoy, and make sure to wipe up afterwards, would you?
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