The first task of the team this year was to determine if any of the birds released in the previous 2 years returned to the New River Gorge.  Most Peregrines do not breed until their 3rd year, so a nest from returning birds is unlikely, but possible. This is important because should a nest be made near the hacking site, the nesting birds will not be comfortable with a whole bunch of new birds suddenly appearing in their space, and hacking activities would have to either be suspended or the site moved.  52 hours of scouting on foot augmented by a helicopter survey of the Gorge revealed that while a few Peregrines from previous years either migrated through or returned to visit the old home place, none are nesting in the Gorge.

The second phase of the project was to clean up the hack boxes  and determine if the site should be modified.  The decision was made to move one of the two boxes to a new location that was safer from potential scavenger threats like cats, dogs, racoons and bears.  Scavengers can be drawn to hack boxes because of the smells and sounds associated with feeding the fledging falcons.  Moving the box was a tricky affair.  It was heavy and needed to be transported some distance through briers, brambles, hoisted over fallen trees, dragged up and down slopes, and finally lowered over the cliff to a ledge 14 feet below.  The new location was dubbed “Hack Box 1", later truncated to simply “HB1".

On May 5th, 2 falcon chicks were transferred from the Berkley Bridge in Virginia and placed in HB1 the following day.

On May 14, 7 more birds came from Virginia.  The 3 from the James River Bridge were placed in the box with the 2 from the Berkley Bridge but the 4 from the Norris Bridge were too young to be moved to the cliff.  It was decided to keep them at TRAC in the flight barn with our adult peregrine as a surrogate until they were old enough.

On May 21, the 5 birds in Box 1 were hacked out. The first release of the season!

On May 23, 3 birds were moved from Pennsylvania’s Betsy Ross Bridge.  These were close in age to the birds in holding at TRAC but one bird suffered from a foot injury that necessitated pulling him from the project and placing him in rehab. He had a missing back talon and cannot be released to fend for himself until it heals and he has some flight training to make up for lost time.  He has been placed with a qualified falconer for flight training and conditioning.   The other 2 were placed in HB1 with the 4 from Virginia on May 26.

Then on May 30th, 11 more birds were transferred to the project. 7 came from 3 sites in New Jersey and 4 from Virginia. This was too many to place in the remaining unoccupied hack box so while TRAC Executive Director Wendy Perrone was on the road bringing them back from Virginia, TRAC Education Director Ron Perrone and TRAC volunteer Caleb Keneipp built Hack Box #3 at TRAC.  The following day, with help from volunteers and Tiny Elliott, this box was placed at the cliff near HB2 and 11 birds were distributed between the two boxes. 

A pre-release exam found one female peregrine from the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia had picked up a case of trichomoniasis prior to being sent to the project.  The protozoan infection of the mouth made it impossible for her to eat any longer, and she was immediately placed in veterinary care at TRAC.

JUNE 9! The big release day finally arrived.  All three boxes were opened and 16 Peregrine Falcons joined the 5 released on May 21.  Observers stayed at the site until we were satisfied that all birds had eaten the food we'd left for them outside the boxes.  Several had taken flight, and the rest were exploring the rocks around them.  A few found a nice place to relax and take a mid-day siesta.  Judging from the inquisitive playfulness and general attitude of the young falcons, the day was considered a big success.

The young female peregrine falcon from the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia was released at the base of the Bluestone Dam in Hinton on September 13, 2008 (below) .
Photo by Dayton Whittle
She had healed completely from the trichomoniasis infection and flew out strong and healthy.

On December 2, 2008, the last Peregrine,  the Male (Band # 14/S) who had been with  falconer Bill Grimes, was released at the State Capitol Building.
Photo by Steve Rotsch

We would like to thank the 23 volunteers, young and old alike, who donated over 300 hours to the project’s success.  By the end of the project, in all, 20 hours were spent feeding peregrines still in their hack boxes prior to any being released, 270 hours of  post-release observation time was accumulated over a period of 70 days, as well as 52 hours of pre-project site monitoring.  21 young falcons were released, with 17 staying around for free food past 14 days, which is considered an 81% release success.

In total for 2008, we released 23 falcons!

Long shot of the cliff face
The view of hack box #1 from the observation blind.
Here volunteers from Waterstone Sports, The National Park Service, WV DNR, and TRAC are disassembling the hack box to move it to the new site.
Hauling the old box to the new location
You got to move it, move it!!
Wendy, Caleb, Ron,Greg, Jeff, Tiny and Andy
Wendy Perrone, Caleb Keneipp, Ron Perrone, Greg Phillips, Jeff Hajenga, Geoff "Tiny" Elliott, and Andy Elliott.
Tiny and a Peregrine exchange complimentsMike Segars
Geoff "Tiny" Elliott and TRAC Summer Resident, Mike Segars
Wendy checks them out and loads them into Hack Boxes #2, and #3
Project Coordinator Wendy Perrone of TRAC prepares to load Peregrines into hack box #2, and #3.
Geoff Elliott, Ron Perrone, Ron MvLaughlin, Ginny Elliott, Andy Elliott, David Elliott, Mindy Waldron, Allen Waldron, Wendy Perrone, Caleb Keneipp

Geoff Elliott, Ron Perrone, Ron McLaughlin, Ginny Elliott, Andy Elliott, David Elliott, Allen Waldron, Mindy Waldron, Wendy Perrone, and Caleb Keneipp
Thank you too, and not least, to those who worked so hard together to make this project happen this season: Geoff “Tiny” Elliott - 2008 Hack Site Attendant, WV Dept. Of Natural Resources’ Craig Stihler, Jack Wallace, Jeff Hajenga and Rick Doyle, New River Gorge National River’s IT specialist Greg Phillips (in charge of the web cams and satellite tracking, as well as other help!), Chief Ranger Gary Hartley for wonderful photos, and Frank Sellers for helping with HB1's grand move.  A big thank you also goes to Waterstone Sports in Fayetteville for their help and rope expertise moving HB1.  Thank you, Matt Varner, 2006 & 2007 New River Gorge National River Peregrine Restoration coordinator, now located with the BLM in Alaska, for being available for consultation whenever needed.  We also appreciate the help and support of the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary’s Libby Mojica and Shawn Padgett, Tri-State Bird Rescue’s Erica Miller and John Frink, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Art McMorris and Kathy Clark.