“No flesh-eating creature is more efficient, or more merciful; it simply does what it was designed to do.”
-J. A. Baker
On one Saturday I was birding Natural Bridges State Park when I saw a bird in direct flight. Stiff wingbeats, with prey clutched in it’s talons. It perched in the top of a Monterey pine at the back entrance to Natural Bridges. I knew what the bird was and I headed closer to affirm my hunch and see what it had taken for it’s mid afternoon repass. Dark helmet with sideburns, a bird that is affectionately called “Elvis” by hawk watchers on Marin Headlands Hawk Hill. Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus, the fastest animal on planet Earth.
On this winter afternoon the park was hosting the Santa Cruz Migration Festival which is fortuitous because peregrine means wanderer. But seeing the peregrine in direct flight never gives the impression of wandering or being lost. The peregrine flies with purpose and intent. And this falcon was intent on eating it”s catch.
While families were coming to and from the festival to look at taxidermy mounts of long expired California quail and cedar waxwing and watch skits put on by adults dressed up as newts, elephant seals, and monarch butterflies, the real festival was in the sights of my binoculars. It is very odd to have families walk past and never ask what you are looking at.
Back to the peregrine. A red-shouldered hawk flew toward the eucalyptus grove causing the falcon to stop in mid meal, crouch down and intently watch the progress of the red-shoulder. Friend or foe?
The peregrine quickly finished it’s meal, cleaned it’s beak on a branch, gave the feathers a shake, and left the tree, arcing to my right and disappeared.
I have seen peregrines many times and seeing one, whether perched or in full stoop, it is always an awesome experience. There is something about the power and brutality of this raptor that places the peregrine in high esteem. Looking back at past journals, the peregrine falcon has regularly featured in my sketching.
A sketch and a linocut test print of a peregrine in full stoop. The print was later used in a Golden Gate Raptor Observatory t-shirt.
Peregrine stoop sketch inspired by J.A. Baker’s seminal book, The Peregrine.