This is a long post because I am thinking about starting a blog as a way to share my experiences, but also as a way to continue my career in nature interpretation. At the end, I will give you instruction on how you can tell me if this is something you want me to do, so don’t “like” this yet.
Eileen and I stopped at Thompson Beach, a small natural park on the northern edge of Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, a strip of land famous for a battle where a small American force fought off an invasion by a much larger British force during the Revolutionary War. After reading the interpretive signs, we decided to walk the quarter-mile beach to look for wildlife and shells.
Eileen pointed out a single sanderling hopping around on one leg and near it a single dunlin limping. The only other birds on the beach were four laughing gulls hanging around near each other. We walked towards the inlet between Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palm. The sanderling eventually put its other leg down and after walking around, it flew away. Eileen also wandered away, heading south along the beach. I scanned the horizon looking for anything. Out over the marsh, about .4 miles away, a form caught my attention. I knew quickly that a peregrine falcon was approaching.
The falcon lazily rose up into the air and appeared to be eating something in its feet; a mobile snack like a candy bar or sandwich one eats while driving. My mind went immediately to the dunlin, injured and alone on the beach. I cannot think of a better description of prey. I looked at the dunlin and it stood statue still about 10 feet from the water’s edge and about 30 yards from me. I too froze not wanting to disturb what might happen. The falcon continued to approach, riding a thermal higher and higher, following the path of the inlet, but never getting closer than .1 mile. The falcon continued its journey out the inlet and out over the breakwater. The dunlin remained frozen. Meanwhile, two young girls blithely walked up the water line headed right for the dunlin. How will that change the dynamics?
Oblivious, the girls spooked the dunlin which flew down the beach. I shifted my view to the falcon now a small dot on the horizon I guess about .3 miles away out over the breakwater. It continued to drift out to sea and ever higher. I check one more time on the dunlin and it now sat in the center of a tight box created by the four laughing gulls. Shrewd move, gain protection by associating with larger birds.
I gave up my observations as the falcon was well out to sea and the dunlin safely ensconced with its “protectors.” I walked up to Eileen now 150 yards or so away and told her about the peregrine falcon she missed. As I say that, a noise captures my attention and I spin around. The gulls are exploding into the air. The falcon rockets down the beach towards us. The dunlin, firmly in the falcon’s sights is pumping hard parallel to the beach. This dunlin flight is not straight, but a long barely perceptible curve; it is keeping the falcon in sight. The falcon quickly catches up to the dunlin and, at the last moment, the dunlin stalls and dodges as the falcon blasts past talons flaring, but empty.
The dunlin shifts to a flight away from the beach and receding falcon. The falcon makes the sharp turn and blasts towards the dunlin, approaching from its rear. Once again, at the last second, just as I am sure the drama is over, the dunlin stalls, zigs and the falcon overshoots. This happens two more times as the birds grow more and more distant. At the limits of my ability to follow the dunlin, I see the falcon’s flight pattern change and it moves out towards the sea and the dunlin makes a beeline to the shore of Isle of Palm.
Like so much in nature, there is no closure to this story. Did the falcon continue to pursue, until the dunlin, exhausted could no longer escape? I think the dunlin received a reprieve, for at least a little while. The falcon always on the prowl for its next meal, knows the dunlin’s general location, it knows the dunlin’s health condition, and it will return to try again.
If you think I should record observations like this in the form of a blog, don’t just like, I will consider those as people who did not read the post. Instead use an icon like a happy face or write me a comment.