Bud Anderson broke his 16-day fast with a good-sized serving of fried clams. I ate most of his fries, dipping them in the spicy broth from my overflowing bowl of steamed oysters harvested from the nearby waters of Puget Sound. Bud – known as one of the world’s foremost peregrine trappers – is the kind of guy who made me comfortable immediately, as demonstrated by the fact that I had no reservation about reaching over and eating fries off his plate, just hours after first meeting him. Or maybe that’s just me.
We were sitting in a restaurant-by-day, bar-by-night situated at a small crossroads in Edison in Skagit Valley, Washington, a couple hours north of Seattle. I wondered whether his calm demeanor could be attributed to the ethereal nature that those who go without food seem to take on, something otherworldly, but I suspected it was more of a permanent state for Bud. He reminded me of a cross between a (nearly) clean-cut Jerry Garcia and a slender Santa Claus, and over the course of the day, his generous gift to me was an extended tour of Skagit Valley, from the top of Colony Mountain to the flat agricultural lands below, the music the song of his voice and the stories he’s collected from a lifetime of working with birds of prey.
In 1985, Bud founded the Falcon Research Group, and more recently, the Southern Cross project that has tagged 11 peregrine falcons with satellite telemetry units in Chile over the last two years. With the advancement of technology and units that weigh as little as ten ounces, the potential for learning more about the movement of falcons – as well as other birds, mammals and fish – has expanded hugely. The Southern Cross website tracks their every move so viewers can follow, in near-real time, their travels. The project lost track of some, the telemetry failed on others, but they knew when Linda was hit by a vehicle in Panama, and when Sparrow King settled back down in Chile after traveling 6,830 miles over the course of nearly 56 days on his fall migration from Baffin Island in Canada. And just now, we can see that the falcon named Fireball is on the move, heading south from Baffin Island to the Hudson Bay, averaging a couple hundred miles per day.
Rooted solidly in his home base of Washington state, where he was born and still lives today, Bud has traveled all over the world, trapping, observing, studying, and collecting blood samples of peregrines as part of a study of sub-species variation within Falco peregrinus, a species that inhabits every continent less Antarctica.
He showed me, from atop Mt. Erie and other hidden lookouts he led me to in his Prius, the span of Skagit Valley and the San Juan Islands from a new vantage point. As we looked over the Samish Flats, where just months earlier fields of tulips painted the landscape with broad bands of exploding color, he pointed out the more than 20 nest sites scattered across the lush green hills that rose out of the waters, focusing in on the exposed gray vertical cliffs that stood in stark contrast to the rest of the forested land. I’m beginning to recognize these natural sites, and look instinctively now for the spray of whitewash (the biologist’s polite term for bird shit), that indicates something has claimed the rock as home. The islands themselves reminded me, as they did when I first set my eyes on them 18 years ago, as a continuous range of mountains that have been inundated by the sea. It is easy for the mind’s eye to fill in the valleys hidden below the surface of the water where Orca whales and harbor seals swim among the kelp.
The concentration of peregrine falcons here is a wilder echo of the density of nest sites found in New York City, which seemed very far away from while Bud and I winded our way through the day. The cliffs were not skyscrapers filled with panicked workers watching their stocks plummet, and I could feel the difference through the calmness of Bud, the stillness of the oxygen-infused air, and the spontaneous smile that erupted upon my face as I boarded the ferry for Orcas Island after I left Bud, heading for the next destination. Fireball is on the move. And so am I.