Peregrine Falcons at Russell Crag

Rock Climbing is my major leisure time activity. Given a free weekend, that is what I want to spend my time doing. One thing that excited me about moving back east was the quantity of good, climbable rock in the vicinity of my parents home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The house is about halfway between Rumney and Franconia Notch, two of the big three climbing areas in NH. The Third area, North Conway, is at the other end of the Kancamagus Highway. In addition to the numerous established climbing areas, there are vast numbers of smaller, local crags just begging to be climbed. One of these is on Russell Mountain, Just west of Russell Pond Campground, and just North of Exit 31.

Many years ago, after college I was suffering through from EMail. Before internet access was everywhere, most people had to resort to dial-up. I went with AOL. THis was before AL had developed its hard earned reputation for spam, script kiddies, and painful connections. When I was trying to get a screen name, just about every variation on my name had been taken. I setteld on RusselCrag (yes, I missed a letter). Even then I was thinking of home.

I did a little bit of a web search about Russell Crag. Aside from finding a guide service where a guide had claimed to have done first ascents there, there was nothing about climbing. Good. But there was some references to Peregrine falcons. Numerous cliffs in the Sierra’s have part time climbing bans to protect the Raptors that nest on them. The mother birds will often abandon a nest if she feels threatened. If this happens after the eggs are laid, they will not hatch, and another year with no replacement population threatens their already dwindling numbers.

In mid July, a few days after arriving on the East Coast, I took a pair of binoculars and scanned Russell Crag from my folks property. I got lucky. I saw a beautiful brown and white bird of prey launch from the vicinity of the crag, and start riding the rising wind currents west of Russell Mountain. The white band at the neck identified it as a Peregrine. I watched the falcon rise higher, pass after pass, and then disappear behind the mountain.

A few weeks later, I contacted Chris Martin the author of a New Hampshire Audubon study on Peregrin Falcons nesting in New Hampshire. He confirmed that Russell Crag was an active nesting site that year. They had bandded three chicks in June. By July, there was no risk of climbing to threaten the nest. He suspects that the nest will be in use for several years to come. In fact, he invited me along to help with the banding next may if I was interested. I most certainly am.

So if you are in the vicinity of Russell Mountain, search the skies for circling Falcons. If you want to climb Russell Crag, give me a shout and we’ll go up, so long as it isn’t nesting season.

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