In September 2000 I conducted a preliminary survey in the remote North Eastern part of Greenland
to observe migratory falcons and estimate the gyrfalcon population in this region.
Although the Peregrine Fund has already established a Gyrfalcon research project on the western side of
Greenland, Eastern Greenland has received little attention.
Cold… VERY cold! A place of snowy mountains and blue seas full of narwhales and Glaucous gulls calling.
A white gyrfalcon with its lazy flapping flight, easily mistaken for a gull from a distance.
A white female flew past me inquisitively, looking down at me curious
and with no fear, going south on her migration.
There are supposed to be 200 white gyrs passing Scoresbysund during the migration.
No, 14 I saw, not 200, from September the 10th and onwards.
Wondering around on your own, you need a polar bear gun.
They come in on the ice flows from Spitsbergen and could turn up anywhere at anytime,
all alone in a landscape of ice, one hour by chopper back to base,
it is a very long way to walk for help.
I sit on the top of the rocks looking around, and there, a mile out in the sea,
a flash of white, thought it was a gull at first.
An adult white gyrkin is using the icebergs as temporary hiding places masking its onslaught
towards a ptarmigan inland.
In a zigzag flight from iceberg to iceberg he’s concealing his intentions.
The Ptarmigan dive down in the snow on the top of a hill, the gyr fly straight passed me only a few
feet away, a glimpse of a black eye against the yellow cere, then gone, in a few seconds it was all over,
I can still remember the awesome power of the white gyrfalcon following its prey in level flight before it
disappeared over the hill.
Following in the footsteps of the great naturalist Ernest Vesey, I conducted three expeditions to
the remote northwest coast of Iceland to observe gyrfalcons.
During these expeditions I managed to relocate the fourteen eyries that Vesey had discovered,
and recorded information of density, distribution and feeding behavior.
Silver and gray gyrs natural habitat, Iceland.
The barren landscape is full of geysers and volcanoes, hot springs in the middle of the snow.
High on the cliffs are white ravens nest made from discarded fishbone,
The fjords are miles long, a full day only to walk one side.
Great Northern divers are calling eerily in the night.
Gyrs! I look up, a gyrkin rowing passed in full speed, sweeping down
100 yards ahead, he takes a sharp right around a bolder, this big rocks are laid
everywhere in the Icelandic land, he goes down the hill and then straight into a
flock of Snow buntings. Warning calls and the sound of the flapping wings cut through
the air as they try to escape their hunter. An explosion of feathers in the sky, then all silence.
It will not be the last time I witness a wild gyr hunting.
Approaching the eyrie a female gyrfalcon perched on its centennial rock. She is watching me
from a distance, as we get closer to the eyrie she takes of with a low ga, ga, ga, Quite
unlike the explosive sound from a female peregrine as she fling her self from the crag
emotionally screaming, a sound that fills the valleys.
The gyrfalcon is more reserved and some of them are pretty laid back even though you are
approaching the nest full of young ones.
If you want emotions in a gyrfalcon, you will have to watch them as an eagle comes close to the nest…..
Stanley Cerely published a book in 1955 called “The Gyrfalcon adventure”. He was a banker
by trade from Thread Needle Street in London. His lifetime ambition was to go to the rugged
landscape of North West Iceland, to photograph gyrfalcons. He arrived in 1954 and found
three nests, one at Latur one at Breithfirthinganes and the last one was at Melgraseyri
BELOW - The b/w picture is taken from the book, and the colour picture I took myself
(40 yrs later). There were no youngsters in the nest.
BELOW - The b/w picture is taken from the book, it is stanley himself.
The colour picture is me (40yrs later) and the nest has 4 young ones.
THE CASSIN’S PEREGRINE
The most southerly race of the 19 sub spices, the Cassin’s Peregrine, it lives in South America
but also on oceanic islands west of the Magellan Straits to south Georgia. Both the Falkland
Islands and the Sea Lion Island have falcons nesting on their cliffs.
Some on small inland crags and others on cliffs that reaches 1000 of feet over the sea.
The peregrines prey on fairy prions, a blue petrel that lives out in the southern oceans but
comes inland to nest between the bolder fields.
1000 of these birds comes from the sea at dusk and the peregrines wait to kill enough for
the following day to feed their young.
Although Meadow larks Two banded plovers, gees and ducks by the thousands were common inland,
they where rarely taken by the peregrines. But I found a lot of Meadow larks in the Red back
Little red by planes shuttled from island to island, which held millions of Black Browed
albatrosses, Gentoo rock hoppers and Jack Asses penguins.
To shake a King penguins flipper, pretty unique experience.
It took me 7 month to find my first falcon nest;
It was a damp morning overcast and still. I had checked this crag out many times before,
but this morning I herd the familiar call “eechup, eechup, eechup" from a falcon somewhere
above me. A short climb up the cliff up to a long ledge, I looked straight in to the eye of
a black Cassin’s peregrine sat on her eggs, she was as shocked as I was, she looked at me and
I looked at her, it was only for a few seconds but it felt like eternity. Then the silence was
broken as the falcon threw herself off the cliff and started to scream in anger at the present
of me disturbing her as she was incubating her four eggs…..
EGYPT Lanner falcons and migrating
IRAK Red Nape Shaheen (pretty
unique experience studying any wildlife in Iraq as you are treated as a
potential spy. One afternoon I was photographing Steppes Buzzards and ended
up with two armed Iraqis dressed like Rambo waving machine guns in my face)
ISRAEL Barbary falcon
JORDAN Trapping Peregrines
MAROCCO Barbary falcons
SOUTH AFRICA African Peregrine
(Falco Peregrinus Minor)
For more information on these trips please contact me.