UPDATE 7/13/2018: Acadia National Park announces that the Precipice Trail will reopen on July 13, but keeps the Jordan Cliffs Trail closed for the time being because of the presence of nesting falcons. At least 8 falcon chicks have fledged or hatched in 2018 at Acadia including four at Valley Cove, two on Jordan Cliffs and two on the cliffs of Ironbound Island — up from a total of 5 in 2017 but less than 11 in 2016.
At least three peregrine falcon chicks have hatched at Valley Cove in Acadia National Park this year, but a nest was unsuccessful at the Precipice and a third site at Jordan Cliffs may also have failed, according to the park’s wildlife biologist.
Based on a recent observation, Bruce Connery, wildlife biologist at Acadia, said in an email that he believes at least three peregrine falcon chicks have hatched at Valley Cove, and are set to fledge in about three weeks. There could also be perhaps more chicks at Valley Cove, he added.
“It is true the Precipice territory adults failed in their nesting attempt, and we believe Jordan Cliff may have failed as well,” Connery wrote in an email. “However we will be doing additional observation surveys this week to confirm whether the territorial adults are still present, have a nest or are attempting to nest.”
“At Valley Cove, we had thought there were at least two chicks, but based on the observations I did this morning, I believe there were at least three chicks…about 14 days old,” Connery wrote in an email on Saturday.
It is unclear when the park will reopen hiking trails that are closed annually to help protect the nesting falcons and chicks. The park usually waits for the falcon chicks to fly for four to five weeks before reopening the trails, usually by early August.
Falcon chicks usually don’t fly for the first time until late June or July 1.
The Precipice Trail will remain closed because of a broken bridge and handrail, Connery wrote. It will take at least two weeks to get materials, haul them to the site and then construct the new bridge.
Trails usually open after peregrine falcon chicks fledge
Jordan Cliffs will remain closed for now since the fate of the nesting attempt is unknown, he added. Surveys will continue this week to determine if the nesting attempt failed, he wrote.
The Precipice Trail, the Jordan Cliffs Trail and part of the Orange & Black Path were closed this spring after falcons were observed engaging in courtship and pre-nesting behavior, according to a park press release. The Valley Cove Trail has been closed for two years because of damage and is likely to remain closed this summer during a major rehabilitation.
During an interview on Saturday at the park’s “Peregrine Falcon Watch” public site, Mickey Shortt Jr., park ornithology ranger, said it is a naturally occurring process that nests fail sometimes, but the park’s reintroduction of the peregrine falcons has been amazingly successfully since a pair of the birds first successfully nested in 1991 under the effort.
This year and 2007 are the only two years that nests failed at the Precipice since falcons were reintroduced to the park, he said.
“It’s part of the story,” he added. “We recognize that some years falcons are not going to be successful in nesting.”
“It’s unfortunate we don’t have chicks,” Shortt said at the Precipice Trail parking area under the east face of Champlain Mountain. “Now, we don’t have that experience this year.”
Peregrine falcon chicks an environmental success story in Acadia
A total of 140 peregrine falcon chicks have fledged in the park since 1991 including five last year.
Five chicks fledged at the park in 2017, including three at the Precipice and two at Valley Cove, but a third site failed at Jordan Cliffs last year.
Recent years have generally been very fruitful for nests for the state-listed endangered birds, with eleven peregrine falcon chicks taking their first flight at the three sites on Mount Desert Island in 2016.
The reasons for the unsuccessful nesting this year are unknown, but it is likely weather-related, Shortt said.
“Weather can cause that,” he said. “Driving rains and strong winds can impact it.”
A male and a female falcon were spotted at the Precipice this year and may have had eggs, but one of the birds, presumably the female, has not been seen for a couple of weeks, Shortt said.
At the Precipice on Saturday, many visitors received some superb views of what is believed to be the male falcon through one of the spotting scopes supervised by Shortt at Peregrine Falcon Watch. The bird perched on a tree on the cliff wall and was clearly visible after Shortt adjusted the scope.
Peregrine Falcon Watch began informally on Friday but Saturday was the first day it was on the park’s online calendar for visitors and about 200 people attended to see the bird high above the Precipice Trail parking area.
“The success of peregrine falcon nesting in Acadia National Park is one of our great conservation stories,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said in a statement in April.
Seven peregrine falcon chicks fledged at Acadia in 2015 and nine fledged in 2014.