Endangered falcons gave birth to 11 chicks this year at Acadia National Park and now are putting on a show for hundreds of visitors to the park.
On Saturday alone, about 160 people stopped to catch the action of the state-listed endangered falcons at a “peregrine watch” site in the Precipice Trail parking area below a nest high on the east face of Champlain Mountain.
“We got a bird up,” said Park Ranger Andrew Wolfgang, pointing to the cliffs when one of the endangered falcons flew back to the nest after a brief absence. “It’s a really nice look at an adult in this scope right now.”
Wolfgang and Samuel Ruano, a peregrine falcon interpretive guide and raptor intern, supervised the use of two spotting scopes that allow visitors some excellent views of the peregrine falcons. Wolfgang and Ruano also spoke frequently to visitors about the history of the peregrines in the park and the need to temporarily close popular hiking trails to give the nestlings time to mature.
With the scopes, visitors could clearly see a peregrine falcon perched upright on the cliff face outside the nest or even the nestlings themselves.
“Amazing,” said Keith Spencer, a grade 7 English teacher in the public schools of Everett, MA, after he looked through the scope and saw a falcon.
Falcon chicks to begin flying soon
According to Ruano, there are four chicks in a nest on the precipice on the east face of Champlain Mountain, four in a nest at Jordan Cliffs above Jordan Pond and three chicks in a nest at the Valley Cove Cliffs above Somes Sound.
All 11 peregrine falcon chicks are banded, said Ruano, who participated in the banding on the precipice and Valley Cove.
The birds hatched around early May, and will begin flying in about 10 days, he said.
For the first time on Saturday, visitors could look through a scope and see the brood themselves for a certain period, after the parents return with food.
“Let’s put it on the nest site and see if we can see movement of the nestlings,” Wolfgang told people, as he adjusted the scope. “You are looking for white downy heads of the young.”
During visits to the watch site by reporters on Friday and Saturday, many of the sightings involved a male falcon situated on the cliff face while guarding the nest. The female parent was believed to be hunting for food, maybe a sea gull or a tern.
“I’m excited,” said one visitor on Friday, Cindy Winer of the Boston area. “I didn’t know I would see a falcon.”
Becky Behler and her husband Glenn, retired teachers from Waterford Township, Mich., came to participate in the Acadia Birding Festival over the weekend, and the peregrine watch was one of their must-see stops.
They were so excited about the trip, they came equipped. “We just purchased our scope three weeks ago, and are just learning how to use it,” said Becky, as she fiddled with the spotting scope and digital camera set up on a tripod, and helped point out the endangered falcons to other visitors as if she were a ranger herself.
Visitors also have a chance to see the endangered falcons bring back prey to the nest. Wolfgang said that on Friday, they watched a falcon return to the nest with some type of shore bird.
When peregrines dive to kill other birds, they can fly more than 200 mph.
To protect the nestlings, nearby hiking trails are closed for about four months. The Precipice Trail, the Jordan Cliffs Trail, part of the Orange & Black Path and the Valley Cove Trail closed early this spring and will likely open in early August as is usual each year following the falcon nesting season.
“It’s crucial to the recovery of the species,” Wolfgang said of the trail closures.
Seven peregrine falcon chicks fledged last year including three from the precipice on Champlain Mountain; two from Jordan Cliffs and two from the Valley Cove cliffs.
Nine peregrine falcon chicks fledged at Acadia in 2014 including one chick at Jordan Cliffs, two at Ironbound Island, four at the Precipice and two at Valley Cove.
Peregrine falcons became nearly extinct in the mid-1960s, but started a comeback in Acadia in 1984 with some hacking of captive-raised, mixed genetic stock birds.
The peregrine falcon was listed as a federal endangered species in the early 1970s, but was removed from that federal list in 1999. The first successful nest in 35 years in Acadia occurred in 1991.
The resident breeding population of peregrines remains endangered under Maine’s Endangered Species Act.
The peregrine watch is free and people can visit between 9 am and noon at the Precipice Trail parking area. The watch is scheduled for June 6, 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30, according to the park ranger program’s brochure for the month.
For more information, call 207-288-3338 between 8 am and 4:30 pm on weekdays. Or check the park’s online calendar of events.