Friday, June 7, 2013

Peregrine Vs Pelican, Like A Desmosedici RR Vs Lincoln

Earlier this week, I was at the Dana Point Land Conservancy Headlands around 3pm, with my Nikon binoculars, hoping to see some raptors.  On my way down to the cliff side look-out areas, I spotted a juvenile Peregrine Falcon soaring around the north side cliffs, so I thought i might be in luck.  There are no migrating whales to spot this time of year at Dana Point, but there are no shortage of avian species to  see.
One of my friend Nancee's awesome Peregrine images

I spotted a juvenile Peregrine Falcon soaring over "the Hotel" at the north end of the Land Conservancy.  Her brown speckled chest, large beak, signature streamlined aerodynamic shape, and non-flapping wings distinguished her from the crows who struggled to get any altitude, the seagulls who actively avoided her air-space, and the Much Larger pelicans who glided through the air over the cliffs.  I watched her soar, and delighted to see such a majestic aerial display, when she went from almost motionless to beginning to veer in a Southernly direction quite rapidly.  She had spotted something...  but the limited field of vision of my binoculars I could not see what.  Then, she FOLDED her wings, and she Shot Down, plummeting and accelerating rapidly, trying to attain the +260 mph vertical dive speeds for which Peregrines are famous.  It was very cool to watch.  (for more images, see here: link)

Then all of a sudden...  BAM... She STRUCK the tail feathers of a lone soaring pelican who was also headed in a Southernly vector!  The massive pelican, more than 3 times the size of the Peregrine, lost at least one tail feather, hit a stall, pulled up it's wings, turned it's massive head until it's beak was in-line with it's left raised wing, and looked behind it with one eye to see W.T.F. had just happened!?!  It recovered from the stall, and the minor tail injury, and headed on towards the Dana Point harbor.  The Peregrine steadied her dive into a more shallow angle and plunged down below the Southern cliff face and out of site about 200 feet in altitude loss later.

Now, to give you an idea of what this might look like, if you've never seen a Peregrine falcon in a dive attack and harass a pelican, picture an incredibly fast motorcycle....  say a Ducati Desmosedici RR, piloted by a driver who knows that he (or she) is the best, fastest, top-of-the-food-chain predator in the world, capable of speeds, maneuvers, and lethal strikes that involve multiple Gs of deceleration (often used to snap the vertebrae of their targets) diving towards a Lincoln Town Car, and then punching out one of the Lincoln's taillights, or tearing off the leviathan's license plate with a sharp boot kick, not crashing, and heading away at +100 mph unscathed shrieking a "yeah, I own this airspace" parting cry.

I don't know what the pelican did... probably nothing, just had the bad luck to be gliding 100s of feet below a hunting Peregrine on Wednesday... but I am sure that it will actively avoid getting anywhere near a Peregrine again.  And I had heard that the juvenile Peregrines would fly at a pelican or a large sea gull to "practice" their flying skills, but until you see it with your own two eyes, those are just words, and it doesn't really make an impression.  Truly remarkable, beautiful creatures.

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