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 🙂