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RE: A raptors impact on birding.  Shortly after noon today, Doris and I visited an extensive mudflat near the mouth of the St. Mary's River (Nassau County) to survey for banded semipalmated plovers. Upon arrival, it became immediately apparent that many fewer shorebirds were present at this foraging site then anticipated. As we drifted in the river current just off  the edge of the flat, a peregrine was sighted low in the distance coursing over the marsh and moving in our direction. It slowly ascended as it approached and quickly flushed the few birds foraging along the shore in our vicinity. 

Seizing a rare opportunity to observe the specie's legendary hunting behavior, we elected to drift along and watch the falcon as it proceeded to ascend higher aloft by describing tight circles in the light sea breeze. When it reached its desired pitch, some thousand feet above us, the "tailed crescent" shifted course and sailed east high over the river. When it neared the far distant, east end of the mud flat, the angular crescent suddenly morphed into a dark teardrop and plunged like a stone toward earth. The falling, falling shape, so easy to track against the bright screen of sky, instantly disappeared as it penetrated the dark horizon.

Quick employment of our binoculars, however, revealed the "now restored" crescent shape hurtling across the mud flat through a "confetti" of panicked larids and shorebirds. In typical fashion, the falcon was soon seen to "throw up" or sail vertically into the sky on fixed wings at the out run of its spectacular stoop. Initially it appeared that the falcon had missed its mark, but as it leveled out and set course for a nearby channel marker, its hapless victim was detectable as a small protrusion tucked beneath the falcon's tail. 

As shorebird researchers we were curious of the identity of the victim so we cranked up the outboard and approached the marker, hoping to recover a few plucked feathers for later identification. As we neared the structure, a bird flushed and we assumed it to be the falcon, but to our surprise, it remained concealed and flushed only as we grew close. Although it rapidly moved off with its hard won meal, we collected a few of the feather tuffs sent drifting on the river's tidal currents that drive the entire ecosystem's food chain. 

Although we were fortunate to witness this rare natural spectacle, the climactic plunge was too distant for us to hear the equally wondrous "ripping of air" produced by a stooping falcon. What fear that disorienting noise must evoke for those lying in the path of the avian meteor! 

 Doris and Pat Leary, Fernandina Beach

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