HAYDEN - Mary Clark had no explanation for the white spots that suddenly started showing up on her front lawn in the spring.
Paint, perhaps, but where would it be coming from?
It was when she looked up, she had her answer.
Because there, some 50 or 60 feet near the top of a pine tree, was a nest. And it wasn't long before Clark and her family saw two large birds coming and going.
The Clarks kept faithful watch outside their Hayden home. Their patience was rewarded when small, fuzzy, white heads, peeked out from their nest high above.
"First one, then another one popped up, then another one," said Mary Clark. "They were cute, but ugly."
The Clarks became enamored with that family of falcons. They snapped pictures and shot videos. They named them. They admired them. They took delight in them.
They saw something they will never, ever forget: Falcons growing up.
Call it a falcon summer.
"It became an obsession," said Mike Clark, Mary's husband.
He admits he doubted his wife when she first told him of a nest in the tree just outside their front door. But when he saw, he believed. This trio of chicks really was something special. His wife was right.
"They were just white fuzz and eyes," he sad. "It was unbelievable. It was really, really cool."
The Clarks believe they've been monitoring prairie, not peregrine, falcons. The prairie falcon is more rare, has a wingspan of a 40 inches, is about 16 inches long, and weighs about 1.6 pounds.
Those birds, dubbed the "pine tree falcons," put on an amazing show. Day after day, the parents brought their babies food. They taught them to fly. They taught them to hunt. The youngsters lost their white feathers, which turned brown.
Mary named the smallest one Lucy. The largest became Rawhide, her husband's nickname, and the third, Little Joe.
"It's so amusing to watch them grow up," Mary said.
Mike, a carpenter, loved to pull up a lawn chair, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and see what the falcon family was up to. Mornings, the first thing both did was grab the binoculars and head outside.
"That's what they mean to us," Mike said. "To see a bird that magnificent in town is spectacular."
He and Mary watched the falcons hop from branch to branch, then tree to tree. Soon, the birds were flying across the street, and beyond, most active in mornings and early evenings.
The mother, Mike said, would cry out when it was mealtime. Then, it was like somebody rang the dinner bell.
"Like your family when it was dinner time. Kids come out of woodwork and everybody would show up," Mike said. "These birds would do the same thing."
Mary, a nurse, worried for a while the young falcons were failing as hunters and wouldn't survive - until she got a call from Mike while she was working.
"They did a kill," he shouted. "They're eating a bird."
While at times they were amazingly graceful, in others they looked like the three stooges, she said - often clumsy, falling and crashing into trees.
As they grew, the falcon siblings fought, displaying acrobatics during their aerial battles.
"I wanted to tell them to stop," Mary said.
Still, there was little doubt this was a tight unit.
"It seemed like their family bond was really strong," Mike said.
The falcons brought joy to the Clarks, especially when the sprinkler was on and the birds would leave the nest to bathe and splash in puddles on the lawn. Once, a falcon fell over backward as it was showered by water.
"It was the funniest dang thing you ever saw," Mike said.
The Clarks were often joined by neighborhood children as they spied on their new friends. On days they didn't see the falcons, they just listened. And they would hear that familiar screech.
"They would be calling to each other from tree to tree," Mike said. "That's how we'd spot them."
Mike said the falcons were aggressive and "ferocious looking dudes" that chased and caught their prey. Squirrels hunkered down, birds steered clear - except the tiny, quick, and fearless hummingbird.
He saw hummingbirds boldly dive bomb the falcons when they didn't want them around certain spaces. He saw the falcons backed off.
"It was unbelievable," Mike said.
The Clarks have viewed plenty of wildlife around their home of six years. A moose once camped out in their back yard for two weeks. Deer visit.
But nothing like this.
"These birds have been very, very exciting," Mary said.
The falcons, big and strong, took flight late last week. For the first time, Mike and Mary went a day without seeing them.
"It's sad, now they've expanded their horizon," Mary said.
But Mike believes they'll return.
"Once they have established their nest, they should be back next year," he said. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see."
"They're always welcome here," Mary said.