The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Thursday, 23 June 2005
By DARCY CHEEK, Staff writer
Brockville Recorder and Times

A chance encounter by an Ontario Power Generation employee has given the Charleston Lake Peregrine Falcon Restoration Project a new, temporary lease on life.

Mike Kavanagh, a human resources manager for the Ontario Power Generation Lennox facility near Bath, got to hold one of three peregrine falcon chicks on the cliffs of Charleston Lake Wednesday as it was being banded for release into a hack box - very likely the last time anyone will get to hold one of these birds here.

"I didn't realize this would be the last (release)," said Kavanagh, who was born and raised in the Lyn area. "It's very historic."

Historic was a word mentioned often by Mark Nash of the Canadian Peregrine Foundation, the lead organization behind the Leeds Stewardship Council's effort to rebuild a decimated peregrine falcon population in eastern Ontario.

"This is the last," he said, watching three other representatives from Ontario Power Generation carry the 29-day-old chicks to the hack box. "You guys are part of this."

Nash was almost overcome with mixed emotions as Kilowatt, Lennox and Saunders, the latter two birds named after Ontario Power Generation facilities, were placed in the box on the precipice of a cliff overlooking Charleston Lake. He was excited about the future of the three young falcons, currently on the Ontario endangered species list, but sad that the program appears to be coming to an end.

"This is history in the making," he said.

Both the Canadian Peregrine Foundation and Leeds County Stewardship Council believed last year's release of three falcons would be the last, due to funding shortages and a reasonable amount of success in the program over the last five years. The population of breeding pairs was on the increase and the bird, once fighting for survival in the wild, was seen to be holding its own.

"I was hoping for something to happen," said Dwayne Struthers, a member of the Leeds County Stewardship Council who has been involved in the Charleston Lake peregrine restoration project since its inception five years ago.

Struthers was resigned to the fact the hack box at the site would have to be taken down, but he didn't get around to doing the work.

Then Kavanagh met Nash at the Sandhurst Public School near Bath this March during a peregrine falcon presentation sponsored by Ontario Power Generation. The meeting would connect Kavanagh to a sighting of the hack box at Charleston Lake he had seen three years before while renting a cottage. Kavanagh thought the hack box, located about 130 feet above the surface of the lake, was an elaborate diving platform.

Kavanagh, knowing his company supported environmental programs such as the Canadian Peregrine Foundation through its corporate citizenship program, asked Nash if there was some way the company could help.

Kavanagh contacted Linda Halliday, the public relations officer for eastern Ontario at the Saunders (Cornwall) facility, and their joint participation made it possible for three more peregrine falcon chicks to be purchased from a breeding facility in Alberta. Halliday was rewarded for her involvement by getting to hold Saunders, the falcon chick named after the Cornwall facility. Ron Threader, Liisa Blimke and John McCann of Ontario Power Generation also took part in the banding.

"We're very pleased to be part of this project," said Kavanagh, impressed by the amount of work that has been done locally by the Leeds Stewardship Council. "It's great to see the local people take the initiative to support this."

The three young falcons will be kept in their box and fed for about another two weeks before the hack box is opened and they begin to explore their new surroundings. The anatum peregrine has an impressive rate of maturity, growing to its full size in less than two months.

The birds may need to be fed up to 90 days after their release before they fully learn to feed themselves. When they leave the area to migrate south to parts unknown, there is no guarantee they will ever return.

"This is probably the last sanctioned, endorsed hack release the MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) will allow," said Nash.

More than 600 peregrine falcons have been released in Ontario by the CPF in its history, re-establishing a population of birds that didn't have a single breeding pair in Ontario in 1980. But 600 birds doesn't equate to a lot when the species' high mortality rate is factored in. And there may be other potential dangers on the horizon.

Marion Nash of the CPF said the success of the Peregrine Falcon Restoration Program has resulted in 47 breeding pairs in Ontario, which may herald the decision to delist the bird among the Ontario endangered species list.

But just as the program has seen its best success in the last five years, another potential tragedy looms.

The menacing hand of man was responsible for the near extermination of the peregrine falcon through the middle of the 20th century - the introduction of DDT and indiscriminate hunting contributing to the species' demise - and now there is a 21st century problem that has the potential to be worse.

"We may have a situation worse than DDT in PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ether)," said Marion Nash. "It's in computers, wall coverings, drapes, tents. It's in the food we eat."

PBDEs are commercially produced substances used as fire retardants in a variety of products: the compound is blended into computer and television casings, carpet backings, textiles and electrical insulation. Nash said research in the United States has already found contaminated, or addled, peregrine falcon eggs.

"They found the highest content (PBDEs) in peregrine eggs, more than any other species," said Nash.

Nash said the Canadian Wildlife Service is conducting blood tests on falcons to determine possible contamination. The fight for survival has been a long road and Nash feels the peregrine falcon is not out of the woods yet.

"These birds have an 80 to 90 per cent mortality rate anyway," she said.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Peregrine Foundation will conduct its last falcon banding in Toronto on June 28. The CPF has invited as many of its partners in the program as it can to the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto, where two young falcons will be banded.

- Darcy Cheek / Brockville Recorder and Times

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