When the Atlantic Club casino closed its doors, one of the unexpected guests that will be locked out will be the peregrine falcon. Each year, for as long as there has been a casino at the corner of Boston and Pacific Avenues in Atlantic City, a peregrine falcon has nested on a ledge outside the penthouse on the 27th floor. Each year, a member of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife would band the chicks and members of the media were herded to the top floor and invited along to watch.
I remember first covering the banding of the falcon chicks in 1998. I was pretty excited at the time. One of the cool things about news photography is getting the opportunity to see things, and get to places, that you would never get to see otherwise. The ledge of a 27-foot casino where a family of falcons was nesting was one of those places most people never get to see. I maneuvered myself to the front of the pack of still and TV cameramen to a door that opened out to the ledge.
The door was opened and there was a 4-foot ledge and not much else. It’s a great view of Atlantic City and the ocean, as long as you don’t look down. Did I say I am not a fan of heights? So the heart’s pumping and the mind racing between excitement and terror. To the left of the door, about five feet away, was the falcon nest with a half-dozen squawking chicks. Almost immediately after the door was opened, the mother falcon made her first pass. You could feel the draft of air as the falcon flew by our faces, protecting her chicks and sizing up the intruders. Fast is an understatement. The bird was a blur. Being a brave young photographer who was not going to let some bird get in the way of a cool photograph I held my ground, or ledge. Brave, young, but also a bit stupid. As I poked my head out to get a photograph of the chicks, the talons of the falcon met me as it made another pass. It was a powerful shot to the head. I remember pain, being knocked off balance and looking down at the 300 feet to the ground. But I still made pictures, ducking back inside and popping out after the momma flew by again and again. It wasn’t until I backed out of the doorway and into the hall that someone said, “You know you’re bleeding.” I received a lot of attention at the hospital when I told them a falcon attacked me.
Here are a few photographs from that day, and a more recent trip last year. You can read our story by Steve Lemongello to learn what will happen next. It was one of the most exciting moments in my life as a photojournalist.