The Naturalist's CornerWritten by Don Hendershot
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Peregrine pads protected
Rock climbing trails across the Carolina mountains near known peregrine falcon nest sites have once again been closed to climbers. The closures run from Jan. 15 to Aug. 15.
While the peregrine falcon was removed from the federal endangered species list in 1999, it remains on North Carolina’s endangered species list. This iconic swift ruler of the skies appears to be gaining a talon-hold along the steep granite cliffs of Western North Carolina. Thirteen nest sites or eyries were monitored across the region last year. The 13 sites produced 15 fledglings.
Peregrines nest in crooks, crevices, crannies and cracks in sheer granite walls and/or bare rock outcroppings — the kinds of places only peregrines or adrenaline-laced climbers could love. The nest are usually, shallow depressions or scrapes scratched out by the bird’s talons on bare rocks. Sometimes peregrines will usurp the nest of a raven, as the pair at Devil’s Courthouse did back in 1999.
Perhaps there is some kind of kindred spirit between the climbers that ascend those slick grey walls and the birds that live there because climbers and climbing organizations have been among the birds’ biggest supporters.
In a recent press release, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s mountain wildlife diversity biologist Chris Kelly acknowledged the role climbers have played. “The peregrine falcon is an endangered species success story. Key to the success has been the willingness of rock climbers to make concessions for the birds and we hope area rock climbers will continue to be a part of the success,” Kelly said.
Biologists are concerned that adult birds may abandon nest sites if they are disturbed. Also, fledglings could bolt from their precipice before they are ready to fly if startled by climbers.
Seven of the known 13 eyries are on U.S. Forest Service land. These include Whitesides Mountain in the Highlands Ranger District, NC Wall, Shortoff Mountain, and Big Lost Cove Cliffs in the Grandfather District, Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah District and Whiterock and Eagle Cliffs in the Appalachian District.
I don’t know the status of all the six other sites but Devil’s Courthouse along the Blue Ridge Parkway is also off limits to climbers.
If eyries are found in other locations there could be other trail closures and if falcons either are not present or finish nesting before August 15, current closures could be rescinded.