Bolt from the Blue: wild peregrines on the hunt
By: Dekker, Dick, Court, Gordon
Binding: Trade Paper
Size: 8.5" X 5.5"
Publication Date: 1999
PR Highlights: Looking at Wild Peregrines on the hunt.
PHOTO Highlights: 32 page color photo section & b/w line drawings.
Description: Dick Dekker's observations of wild peregrines--their habits, habitats, conservation and behavior. The peregrine falcon, fastest creature on earth, stoops out of the blue to take its wary prey by surprise. Yet, this high drama is rarely witnessed by people. This book offers the unique accounts of a passionate expert who has see more than 2,000 hunts by wild peregrines. A perceptive and personal narrative aimed at a wide readership, this book portrays the fabled falcon in a variety of landscapes, migrating over the prairies, caring for its young at the nest of wintering on the coast were it meets its nemesis, the mighty bald eagle.
Dick Dekker has been doing field research on birds of prey since the 1950s. He has written widely on wildlife in books, articles and research journals.
Bolt From the Blue: Wild Peregrines on the Hunt
Review by Lynn Oliphant
This book is a popular account of field observations of peregrines in the wild by an incredibly focussed individual. Dick Dekker's interest in the peregrine dates back to his days as a boy in Holland and a chance observation of an attack on a Smew. For many people interested in natural history, early experiences seem to have a lasting impact on their lives. In Dekker's case, the 'thrill of the sighting almost made me fall off my bike' and led to a lifetime of observations of peregrines that are truly unparalleled. The book contains fourteen chapters, ten of which are primarily dedicated to accounts and discussion of hunting flights and the evasive behaviour of prey. Both successful and unsuccessful flights are described and an attempt is made to analyse what determines whether the prey escapes or becomes a meal. Although this is the major focus, the book also contains chapters on other aspects of the life of the peregrine including migration, nesting, the captive breeding and reintroduction effort, and interactions with other species, which form a good introduction to the bird for the uninitiated. Three chapters are devoted primarily to observations of hunting flights seen each year from 1969 to 1983 when Dick spent four weeks (taking a holiday from work!) during the height of spring migration at Beaverhills Lake. Another three chapters are devoted to observations made of falcons wintering along the coast of British Columbia where Dick spent a few weeks each year starting in 1980. Chapter 8 describes a ten-day stay he made in 1995 on Langara Island watching nesting peregrines with Wayne Nelson. These large Peale's peregrines hunted seabirds on the open ocean, forming an interesting diversion from the flights at shorebirds and ducks that are the majority of his observations. Likewise, the chapter on the family groups nesting at Wabamun Lake in central Alberta shows a different side to the hunting techniques used by the adaptable peregrine. This chapter includes some very interesting accounts of tandem hunting by the adult pair and accounts of the adults 'training' the young to hunt, which are especially interesting. Getting an appropriate 'search image' for a particular species takes time and experience. The first spring, the number of peregrines Dick saw could be counted 'on one hand.' His abilities improved rapidly reaching an astounding 163 sightings in 1977! His seasonal average for the last ten years at Beaverhills was 75 falcons. Most birdwatchers in North America consider themselves lucky if they see one or two peregrines a year unless they happen to visit one of the major migration concentration areas or visit an active eyrie. Many have never had the privilege of witnessing a single hunting attack by a large falcon. This perhaps puts into perspective the more than 2,000 individual hunts by peregrines amassed by Dick, the majority of which were birds seen during migration or on wintering grounds. Scanning empty skies for hours or even days at a time, or keeping a perched peregrine in binocular view for hours with the hope (often futile) that a hunting attack will be initiated, requires patience and single-mindedness that few possess. Dick's abilities to spot falcons, often at great distance, and to interpret the action that often takes place in only a matter of seconds when a peregrine makes an attack on prey, are certainly extraordinary. Gordon Court, a peregrine afficionado of some note, once accompanied Dick to one of his favourite spring haunts for a bout of peregine watching. His unsuccessful effort to spot a soaring peregine being watched by Dick led to some scepticism, until Dick shouted, 'It's swooping! Watch the lake! Watch the ducks!'. The explosion of ducks and shorebirds scattered by the finally visible 'bolt from the blue' made him a believer. In his Foreword, Gordon states that Dick's abilities to find and watch hunting falcons 'remains the most impressive example of natural history observation that I have witnessed in my twenty years as a field biologist.' Dick's abilities are all the more unusual given the fact that he has poor eyesight and does most of his scanning and observations through field glasses, often at distances of one or more kilometres. A bonus of this book is the thirty-two-page colour section full of great photographs, mostly by Gordon Court, which includes an action shot of a peregrine attacking a flock of wigeon. There are also several photos by Dick Dekker that depict some of the habitats where the peregrines were observed as well as some shots of prey killed by the falcons. Dekker has an excellent command of the language and many passages are almost poetic, with beautifully painted word-pictures that conjure up the scene in which the action transpires. For some readers, an entire book focussed primarily on observations and conjectures on the hunting flights of a single species of raptor might be a bit overwhelming. For raptorphiles or serious students of natural history, however, the book is excellent - filled with insights into the hunting strategies of one of our most glamorous birds of prey that can only be gleaned from long, attentive hours in the field.