Peregrine Falcons are the fastest animals in the world. When the birds attack their prey (typically other birds) they launch into a “stoop” which is a near vertical dive, and have been clocked at speeds well in excess of 200 miles per hour. Consider that for a moment…a living creature that can fly at 200+ miles per hour! They are literally missiles with wings.

Peregrines are one of those birds that are not all that uncommon, but can be uncommonly difficult to find and see. The reason is that they like to nest and hunt in places humans can’t go, namely sheer cliff walls above the ocean. A friend of mine had told me there was a pair that had been seen near the Port of Los Angeles, so I decided to visit this area and try to find them.

Sunrise is usually the best time to find them, but I timed my visit to be there at sunset, and then return again in the morning so I had two chances to make a picture. I watched and waited patiently as the sun sank ever lower and painted the sky in fiery orange and pink tones, but no falcons.

The next morning it was so foggy I could barely see to drive, but I made my way back to the cliffs and hoped it would burn off enough to shoot. After more than an hour of shivering in the wind and mist, and still seeing no sign of the falcons, I surrendered to the siren song of hot coffee and packed up.

Over breakfast I pondered the wisdom of driving all this way to see a bird I was far more likely NOT to see, but that’s the nature of the beast if you want to photograph wildlife. When predators hunt they fail far more often than they succeed, so I consoled myself with that thought.

Sort of. And then I decided that I would stop by the cliffs one more time on my way home.

As soon as I got there I saw a lone falcon sitting on an outcrop of rock high above the ocean! I framed him up in the camera and made a few pictures, and they looked good, but “good” is never the goal for me. The world is full of good pictures. I always want something that I haven’t seen before, something that surprises me and shows me something I didn’t know about an animal before. And then suddenly my falcon turned and launched himself off the rock, falling straight down with his wings still tucked in. He looked like a skydiver rocketing head first down the cliff wall.

And then he was gone, obscured by the cliff. But he left me with a little gift to take home 🙂

7 Replies to “The Need for Speed”

  1. And what a fantastic gift. Wildlife and nature are full of these gifts for those with the patience to find and accept them. Glad to hear your patience and persistence paid off. I still hope to one day photograph one of these fantastic birds. And I hope you also get more opportunities, perhaps to try panning with that 200 mph dive! 🙂

  2. Thanks Todd, I am going back in a couple of weeks when breeding season is underway, hopefully will have more action going on. This location is a “sit and wait” situation and I’m not really built for that, too restless! If I don’t hike at least 5 miles looking for pictures I feel like I’m slacking off 🙂

    Take care.

  3. What cool pictures! How long do you have to watch and wait for the perfect picture? Did you just get lucky and happen to be taking pictures when it dove?

    1. Hi Stormi, I went to this location 3 times over 2 days, saw nothing at all the first 2 times, despite waiting a couple of hours. The third time I saw the falcon right away, but they will often sit on a branch or a rocky ledge on the cliff and wait for a bird to come along. That’s their primary prey. That’s exactly what this one did, and I watched him for maybe 30 – 40 minutes. That’s an easy picture to shoot, but not very exciting. The shot I really wanted was the falcon stepping off the ledge into a steep dive. I had him framed up in the camera when he FINALLY saw a bird and leaped off the ledge. I think this picture is actually more interesting because it’s unusual to see them in full tucked position as they begin a dive.

  4. Hi Stormi, I went to this location 3 times over 2 days, saw nothing at all the first 2 times, despite waiting a couple of hours. The third time I saw the falcon right away, but they will often sit on a branch or a rocky ledge on the cliff and wait for a bird to come along. That’s their primary prey. That’s exactly what this one did, and I watched him for maybe 30 – 40 minutes. That’s an easy picture to shoot, but not very exciting. The shot I really wanted was the falcon stepping off the ledge into a steep dive. I had him framed up in the camera when he FINALLY saw a bird and leaped off the ledge. I think this picture is actually more interesting because it’s unusual to see them in full tucked position as they begin a dive.

  5. He truly looks like a skydiver! That shot is impressive! PS Tammy asked me to tell you she sent me to your blog LOL. But honestly I admired your pictures on her Sunday post for months now!

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