A fascination with falcons has lasted a lifetime

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Friday, December 26, 2014 11:24am
  • Life

It’s always a treat to talk with someone who has totally committed to a passion.

Bud Anderson is only semi-joking when he said, “I have been retired my whole life. I will do it until the day I drop.”

Anderson started the non-profit Falcon Research Group (frg.org) in 1985. The group is dedicated to supporting field research, education and conservation. The Bow-based organization has about 1,000 members, the majority from Western Washington.

The Skagit Valley is an ideal winter hunting grounds for raptors.

“It’s the first snow-free area along with the Vancouver airport, Lummi flats and the Skagit Valley,” he said.

The delta at the mouth of the Skagit River connects with the Snohomish River Delta, creating a flat open area about 25 miles long and 10 miles wide.

Raptor population peaks in mid-February. It’s also when the FRG hosts a winter raptor count with about 100 volunteers. The Big Four (bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, rough-legged hawks) make up 85 percent to 95 percent of the predators.

The peregrine falcon, American kestrel, snowy owl, gyrfalcon and great grey owl are among the other species.

Birders in the deltas usually see 50 to 150 birds of prey in a single day, Anderson said.

How a bird of prey hunts depends on each species. Red-tailed and rough-legged hawks focus on field voles, falcons concentrate on shorebirds and starlings, eagles eat everything.

The FRG ties in with groups and individuals working on birds of prey, many focused on migration.

The San Juan Peregrine Project, for instance, has gone on for 12 years and involves about 25 people. Ken Franklin, in the San Juan Islands, learned to skydive in free fall to better determine a peregrine’s dive speed.

“He clocked one at 242 mph and thinks they can go faster,” Anderson said.

“For me, it was the best bird of prey study I’ve ever seen, risking his life skydiving for the peregrines.”

Volunteers had shown that the largest concentration of breeding osprey (26 pairs) in the state is in Everett.

“All can be seen from the shoreline. They’re here in the summer and leave in the winter.”

FRG’s influence is felt far away, too. One project is the Southern Cross Peregrine Project in Chile. Researchers, including Anderson, capture and satellite-tag adult birds to track their migration patterns from South America to the Arctic.

Anderson has been involved with raptors for most of his lifetime. He is teaching his 32nd hawk-watching class this winter.

“People are really a plastic species in that they are so very adaptable. Their brains have so much capability that they are susceptible to imprint on a subject,” Anderson said.

“I picked up one book in a bookstore at 18 and saw a picture of a falcon and that was it. I was drawn like a magnet and I’m glad. It’s been a wonderful life.”

Anderson is particularly fond of the peregrine falcon.

“Humans have been fascinated by peregrines for thousands of years. It’s one of the most beautiful animals, the fastest animal on Earth. They’re on every continent except Antarctica.”

Giving a person the opportunity to have hands-on experience with raptors, or to see a peregrine make a kill, is the key to understanding.

“They learn to love these birds of prey. They come to understand what they are trying to protect. We gain many fans (through education), people who are dedicated to protecting them,” Anderson said. “It’s just like a tiger or a cheetah or a salmon or an orca. They all need protectors.”

For Anderson, a peregrine is the perfect combination of beauty and power.

“It’s as beautiful as a bird can be to me. There’s something elegant about a peregrine. They have big black marble eyes that just kind of haunt you,” Anderson said.

“I’m very fortunate, and eternally grateful, to have had the chance to spend a lifetime studying it.”

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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