Return of the Peregrine Falcons

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(Host) A once regular summer visitor has returned to Weathersfield for the first time in 50 years and commentator Edith Hunter is celebrating.

(Hunter) We do not know how long Peregrine Falcons had been nesting on Hawkes Mountain in Weathersfield before they failed to return sometime between 1950 and 1965. Surely they had been nesting there for hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands of years.

We know that Hawks Mountain, a modest mountain of 1800 feet, did not get its name from the Peregrine Falcons, members of the hawk family described as stream-lined hawks. According to historian Ernest Butterfield, in 1746 Colonel John Hawkes passed through Weathersfield going from Deerfield to Canada. Because of the flooded streams he avoided crossings by keeping on the southwest side of the Black river and so passed over the high elevation which ever since we have known as Hawkes Mountain. He encamped not far from the soapstone quarries. This site is identified on Mr. Butterfield s map as Hawkes Encampment and the nearby spring is the source of Encampment Brook that flows down into Perkinsville and into the Black River.

Were the Peregrine Falcons nesting in 1746 on the exposed cliff that can be seen from the old Billings place on Quarry Road? Did John Hawkes ever see the peregrines dive at incredible speed for a small bird, to take to their nesting young? We will never know the answer to these questions.

We do know that due to the indiscriminate use of DDT between the 1940s and the1960s, the Peregrine Falcons all but disappeared from Vermont. Thanks to Rachel Carson and those who responded to her warnings, the widespread use of DDT was stopped.

In 1975 an intensive captive breeding and release program of peregrines was instituted in the eastern United States, and the tide was turned. Between 1982 and 1987 ninety-three young peregrines were released at three sites in Vermont. The recovery has been steady ever since, and by 2001, about 23 pairs of peregrine were Vermont residents, mostly at historic nesting sites. They returned to what is known as the Skitchewaug site in Springfield three years ago.

Kim Royar and Ken Cox of the Vermont Agency of Fish and Wildlife have been monitoring the Hawkes Mountain site for several years, and this year, at the beginning of April were thrilled to find that the Peregrine Falcons have returned to this historic location.

The philospher Immanuel Kant wrote that two things filled him with wonder – the starry sky above and the moral law within. I think that right up there with those two wonders, is the return of the Peregrine Falcons to Hawks Mountain in Perkinsville, Vermont.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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