Tundra Conservation Network : Gyrfalcon and Tundra Blog

Biologists in the Tundra Conservation Network will share information and photos from the work they do.

Group status

Gyrfalcon and Tundra Blog members

Paul - SoftwareDev
David Anderson
Administrator - The Peregrine Fund

Group articles

How cool is the Gyrfalcon?  Well, let me tell you.  A Gyrfalcon perched on a cliff can spot a prey item at a mile away.  With laser-like focus it will speed out and kill the smallest songbird or the largest duck.  It is not the most agile falcon and does not fly loops around its prey in the air, like some falcons do.  Instead, it uses its massively strong wingbeats to fly its quarry down.  If you are a ptarmigan at flying full speed across the tundra and there is a Gyrfalcon on your tail, well, my prayers are with you. 

The Seward Peninsula is spectacular by air, but the Gyrfalcon team is truly getting to know the habitat by slogging through it on the ground. Bryce Robinson leads the project for his master’s work at Boise State University on Gyrfalcon nesting ecology. I joined the project as a technician with a brand new bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Biology and a love for Alaska.

When I first met Bryce in Nome, I got the sense that I was joining a major endeavor. He seemed like a calm, cool biologist with the requisite beard and beanie, but when it comes to Gyrfalcons—and birds in general—Bryce is intense and dedicated.

Bryce Robinson, Alaska

Bryce Robinson shows his typical intensity as he photographs a Northern Shrike nest

Gyrfalcon surveys, The Peregrine Fund

Gyrfalcon surveys, Alaska, The Peregrine Fund

Nome, Alaska, at 160 miles is closer to Siberian Russia than to Anchorage. We arrive in mid-May when the Bering Sea is but a ragged pile of pack ice, staring at us like the blue-edged face of winter.  I take it as a blunt reminder that winter owns this place and I am but a cautious visitor.

Pack ice, Bering Sea, Nome, The Peregrine Fund.

Pack ice on the Bering Sea outside Nome, Alaska, in May.

Nome, the illustrious village on the shore of the Bering Sea.

Nome, the illustrious village on the shore of the Bering Sea.

They say that about 3,000 people live in Nome near the tip of the Seward Peninsula.  Gold miners, crab fishermen, native Inupiat Eskimos, and rugged locals who live off moose, crow berries, and ptarmigan.  Nome is really a large village, a cluster of gray houses and abandoned cars situated on the edge of survival where neighbors take care of neighbors and hospitality floats through the damp air like a door held open with a smile.  For four months a year we are neighbors too.  We come to live in Nome and to live the Alaskan way, on the tundra amongst the mountains.  Like miners looking for gold, we ply the landscape looking for something else rare and elusive:  Gyrfalcons.