–As seen in Journal Plus
A Passion for Education through Observation
Spotting scope zeroed in on a nesting female peregrine falcon, director chairs set up for conversation near the base of Morro Rock, it takes less than 15 minutes before a person asks, “Are you Bob?” or says, “Bob, I brought my family to see the falcons.”
“Welcome back,” Bob Isenberg greets, as he readies to share his personal excitement about the recently hatched chicks on a Morro Rock State Preserve ledge. There, a 5-year-old female peregrine falcon (falco peregrinus) that arrived on the Rock three years ago with an ID tag stamped “23R” that tracks her beginnings at the Moss Landing Power Plant, has taken on a life-partner and set up a new eyrie (a bird of prey’s nest), one never used before, as noted on Isenberg’s website pacificcoastperegrinewatch.org.
23R’s arrival joined the only other nesting peregrine on the Rock — an older female that hasn’t produced viable eggs for the last three years, according to Isenberg.
“It’s not a good thing to have two pair on the Rock,” Isenberg said, “because these birds are territorial and usually nest five to eight miles apart.” He went on to explain that space-competing peregrines will fight, possibly causing death to one or more.
Peregrine falcons, like other raptors, including our national symbol the bald eagle, lost significant population from the effects of the pesticide DDT. When falconers discovered soft eggs in nesting sights, an alarm took flight. The Peregrine Fund was formed in 1970 to restore the peregrine from an endangered species to a healthy population. The effort succeeded and the species was removed from the endangered list in 1999. Peregrines are found on every continent except Antarctica. From deserts to urban centers, the up to three-pound peregrine exhibits masterful aerial capabilities to include a nose dive (a stoop) speed of over 200 mph. “Though it cannot move as fast as when in a nose dive, a peregrine falcon, in horizontal flight, can still rival a cheetah for speed!” writes the Peregrine Fund. Most of their prey, other birds, are caught in flight.
Falconry was once the sport of kings. Domestically, falconry has returned as a means of controlling birds in ripening vineyards.“Recently, some California vineyard managers have been trying a new method to keep hungry birds away, or rather a centuries-old one — falconry. In wine regions from Napa Valley to the Central Coast, a cottage industry of falconers has arisen; many already use trained birds of prey to scare birds away from airports, military installations and other crops,” according to a report from the Organic Consumers Association.
About 20 natural breeding pairs of peregrines nest in San Luis Obispo County. Most local pairs are not migratory because, like us, they like the temperate coastal climate. In colder climates, the peregrine migrates. An Arctic tundra peregrine that winters in South America, for example, racks up over 15,000 migratory miles.
These are just a few of the informational tidbits that Isenberg is happy to share with the many visitors to Morro Rock and Isenberg’s watch station. Now retired, Isenberg’s peregrine watch passion started in his teens. He calls himself a “self-taught naturalist” who started birding as a teen in Southern California. Once he landed in San Luis Obispo County he began his Central Coast peregrine observations. His retirement brings him to the Rock more than ever before.“I love doing this,” he said. And as I observed while visiting his watch point when some German visitors arrived, he shared the words peregrine falcon in German — one of almost 80 other languages he’s collected for this raptor — showcasing his worldwide visitations.
Isenberg has logged well over 77,000 hours into observation.“I enjoy sharing what I know about the birds, the conversations, and writing about the birds,” he said. He keeps several 3-ring binders filled with stories of his observations. Many you can read on his website.
Isenberg, along with his partner Heather O’Connor, turned his devotion of “observation as education” into an educational nonprofit. The nonprofit’s mission statement reads, “The Pacific Coast Peregrine Watch is here to raise money for Cal Poly students in the field of Biology. We are at Morro Rock, Morro Bay, California to educate all who are curious about the fastest animal on Earth. Enjoy these magnificent birds in the field with our powerful spotting scopes, photos and our personal knowledge. The knowledge gained by all visitors gives the awareness of interactions between the birds and the biome so that we can be better stewards of the Earth.”
While peregrines have repopulated, it is still a rare species to observe in its natural setting. So when a visiting family wandered by Isenberg’s spotting scope, their curiosity grew about the species. Each one of the four children peeked through the scope and observed the watchful female peregrine 23R mindfully perched on a Morro Rock ledge as her chicks chirped in the background. Thanks to Isenberg’s passion, four children and their parents learned a little bit more about becoming better stewards of the Earth via Isenberg’s voluntary set up of a spotting scope and a few director’s chairs arranged for conversation at the base of Morro Rock.
Five Peregrine Falcon Facts
- Fastest flying bird in the world. Maximun horizontal speed: 68 mph; Maximum diving speed (hunting stoop): 242 mph.
- Females are about 20% larger than males.
- Peregrines mate for life.
- Both male and female incubate the eggs for about 30 days.
- Peregrines are the most common bird of prey, found on every continent except Antarctica.