Saturday, November 14, 2009

An eyass sighting - one of ours?

Yesterday, a large hawk landed in a tree right outside the front of my school (Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia) and gorily devoured the unlucky squirrel it had just caught.

Over the course of the next hour, students and faculty gazed up in excitement or horror, disgust or amazement, as the hawk systematically tore into and gobbled down its prey.

In many households on Friday evening, this event must surely enlivened the dinner table conversations of "What happened in school today?"

I sent pictures of the GFS hawk to John Blakeman for his reaction. Here's what he thought:

"Your bird is definitely a red-tail, almost surely a female, from the size. This is an eyass, hatched last spring.

There is a small chance that it is one of the Franklin Institute eyasses. The fact that it sat there and ate the squirrel with all the kids below suggests that it's used to people and the urban environment. But most likely it's merely a bird "in passage," what falconers call a "passager," an immature in its first migration."

As Germantown Friends is only five miles (as the hawk flies) from the Franklin Institute and Art Museum area, it is possible that this was one of "our" eyasses! It certainly was completely unfazed by the commotion of hordes of children racing around underneath squealing in excitement, taking pictures of it with their cellphones, and then - as squirrel body parts and bits of fur began dropping to the ground - dodging out of the way and screeching!

John Blakeman also gave an update on his new red-tail falconry hawk - Zephyr II - as she undergoes her training.

"In early October I was able to trap a nice big female passager, named Zephyr II. She's sitting nicely in my mews now and learning the role of a falconry hawk. She's particularly calm and is learning all of her lessons well. She is doing daily vertical flights to my fist, and will soon be doing horizontal flights on a creance (long tethering cord) in my backyard. In two or three weeks she should be ready to take into the field, in pursuit of cottontail rabbits.

Unlike last year, we had a very fine hatch this year, with good numbers of passagers in the landscape. Zephyr was trapped at 1250 grams, and is now flying at about 1175 g. As she continues in the daily flights, she will approach her trap weight as she builds strong flight muscles. No more fat, just strength---and all with good personality. She never tries to "foot" (grab) me, or bite.

It's a pleasure to have a hawk once again. And Zephyr needn't be concerned anymore where tomorrow's meals will come from. She doesn't even have to worry about getting drenched or cooled in a midnight rainstorm in winter. She's living better now than her wild consorts."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

As the Nest Grows......on the silver screen?

If you've been following recent posts here and on the Facebook page, you'll know that the haggards have been upgrading the nest!

They've been flying frequently to the nest carrying sticks and leafy twigs and we now have pictures, kindness of Gene Mancini from the Franklin Institute. Gene took these last week, and you can definitely see how much deeper and denser the nest appears.

All we need now are two or three eggs, and the picture will be perfect!

I made a quick visit to the nest early yesterday morning to check it out for myself. From the ground looking up, the changes are not so dramatic as from looking at Gene's pictures, but there are definitely many more sticks poking up and out from when I last looked at the nest.

I hung around for 15-20 minutes but saw no sign of the parent hawks. I then took a walk to check out the spots close by where we watched parents and eyasses all summer - the Library roof, the meadow, the tree alley, the Franklin Institute roof, the monuments, etc. - and saw no-one. The same was the case when I went up to the Art Museum and looked all round there. I guess the haggards have either migrated, or were hanging out some place where I was not.

The other big news is the possibility of a documentary film about our hawks! The Franklin Institute is working with Mika Lentz, a documentary film producer, to research the possibility of a film.
Here's Mika's post on the Hawkaholics' Facebook page last week:

"Hello Hawkaholics,

My name is Mika Lentz and I am a documentary producer in Philly who has been hired by the Franklin Institute to research the possibility of a film project on the Hawks. If you have any photos or video of the Hawks and/or the nest from last year and would like to share, please contact me at I would love to hear from you and I will keep you posted if the project takes off. Thanks for your help!"

Mika has been working with Lone Wolf Documentary Group for 9 years. She has worked for clients such as Discovery Times, The History Channel, NOVA/WGBH, and National Geographic Specials. She has contributed to several award winning documentaries which include "Failure is Not an Option" for The History Channel, "Hitler's Lost Sub" for NOVA,"To The Moon" for NOVA,"Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack" for National Geographic Specials and "Fire on the Mountain" for The History Channel.

Let's keep fingers crossed that this all works out. It would be really exciting if this publicity and visibility for the Franklin Institute could generate funding to color band next season's eyasses and their parents, and perhaps even attach GPS monitors to all the birds. It would provide a unique research opportunity to learn more about this new species - The Urban Red-Tail Hawk.

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Birds of Many Feathers

Toward the end of the summer, we hawk watchers found it increasingly difficult to tell which molting haggard (adult hawk) we were observing. Red tail feathers looked less brilliant, spots and mottles on their chests seemed to move around, and unless we were lucky enough to see both haggards at the same time when the size difference between the male (smaller) and female (larger) was apparent, we could only rely on trying to match up recent photos with earlier ones. Sometimes, a bird looked so different that we even wondered if a new haggard had arrived on the scene!

So, as always when these knotty hawk questions arise, I contacted John Blakeman and asked him if the birds' markings changed during the summer and as they molt.

John's reply:

"Right now, in September, the hags can look decidedly different from their near-perfect winter splendor. They are just now finishing their molts. The long flight feathers are probably already replaced and in perfect new condition.
But their body coverts, the small non-flight feathers all over their bodies are in horrible condition at this time of the year. Many of the coverts are new, in pristine dark brown coloration, without any ragged edges, but a lot of the lighter-colored, partially bleached and worn coverts yet remain. Additionally, at this time of the year a lot of the coverts have dropped out and are being replaced, leaving yawning gaps in feather continuity.

Right now, the birds can look pretty ragged and disheveled. This is really apparent on the head and neck, in many cases, but by mid October, all the feathers should be new and evenly colored, ready for winter. Dishevelment will have passed.

Even so, there can be moderate new feather patterns, especially on the chest and belly. As they get older, they tend to lose more and more of the remnants of the immature belly band. Old adults often have no dark markings on any part of their chest or abdomen, although that is highly variable from bird to bird.

--John Blakeman

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why the September Sticks Are Important

Wasn't it exciting to read Gene Mancini's post about the haggards' activity on the nest along with Carolyn's recent sightings of them flying in with new sticks? John Blakeman is equally excited by this, and explains why this is significant, and a good omen for our future nest watching:

"The reports of the haggards tending the nest with new sticks here in September should be regarded as very encouraging. Here’s what this means, as I see it.

Many raptors, especially larger, resident ones, particularly bald eagles, will tend nests in the autumn. Bald eagles actually often construct their nests at this time of the year. I've never encountered a new red-tail nest constructed in the fall, although that certainly may happen.

But haggard red-tails that spend time and effort in bringing twigs to last spring’s nest are in just superb status. All is well. This pair has ample food and prey and can therefore respond to the very slight nesting tugs brought on by the now rapidly-declining day lengths.

Normally, in mid-winter, the birds respond to increasing day lengths, with frequent copulation and nest building activities. Then, it’s all very serious, with focused intent. It’s the real breeding season. In autumn, there is no biological imperative to be getting a nest ready for eggs and eyasses. That’s still a half-year away. Still, the tugs of changing day lengths are having their effects, and in this case the haggards can respond to them, at least in a cursory manner. I doubt that either haggard will actually sit down in the nest and start arranging sticks or lining in any useful manner. Most likely, it will just be the carrying around and casual dropping of sticks on the nest. All pretty cursory stuff, but it indicates that all is well. These are happy, contented hawks.

No doubt, barring any accidents or pathogens, they will be back again in winter with serious intent. Life is good for them. We should have every expectation of another wonderful season watching this pair raise and fledge eyasses again.

And in 2010, they will be experienced parents, having already sent three eyasses successfully into the Philadelphia skies. And because of the cooperation of The Franklin Institute, we should get to watch all of this once again. What a delight. Great things are aligning once again.

–John Blakeman

Sunday, September 20, 2009

As The Nest Turns.......

The last ten days or so have yielded increasingly fewer hawk sightings, and no sign of the eyasses. Carolyn has done her best to stay upbeat with her reports, but when she had not seen a single hawk in three days, I was starting to resign myself to the reality that The Summer of The Red-Tail Hawks was just about over.

So it was a glorious surprise to read the following post on the Franklin Hawkaholic's Facebook page from Gene Mancini of the Franklin Institute who, from the beginning of the nest building, had advocated for the hawks by creating the wooden structure to hold their nest secure, facilitating the UStream camera feed, and securing Rick Schubert's support from the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehabilitation Center once the eyasses were close to their first flights in late May.

From Gene Mancini on September 16:
"Carolyn, I believe you have not seen Mom and Dad because they are back at the Institute. I have reports from the executive staff that they have been actively rebuilding the nest for the past four days. When I went out to take a look around 11:00 AM, one of the haggards was perched on the NE corner of our building looking towards the soon to be closed Free Library..."
[The Library crisis was averted by a whisker last Thursday when state funding to keep Philadelphia's city services functioning during the state budget crisis was approved in Harrisburg, PA.]

It is exciting to know that the haggards still seem extremely interested in maintaining their nest site on the window ledge at the Franklin Institute, so this morning I decided to meet up with Kay and Carolyn and check out the nest-building activities. What I did not factor in was the Philadelphia Distance Run early this morning with thousands upon thousands of runners converging on the start line in front of the Art Museum. Streets were closed all over the city, and it was difficult to wend my way to the Franklin Institute area because of the huge crowds.

Maybe all the unusual noise and excitement and sheer hordes of people everywhere scared the hawks away as we did not see a single one. The nest definitely looks to be remodeled and renovated with lots of new twigs and sticks, and clearly there is activity there.

This was the first time I have ever been "shut out" on a hawk watch, and it was ironic that the last time there had been this level of crowds and excitement on the streets surrounding the nest was for the Philadelphia Bike Race back in early June, when Miss Piggy had to be rescued from the street by Rick Schubert - the event which led me to start this blog.

Here are Carolyn's reports in chronological order, with her pictures and captions:

Tuesday, September 15
Again, no hawks! I guess I'll have to go investigate the Museum's new sculpture garden.

Wednesday, September 16
Three days in a row with no hawks to greet me. I think Mom and Dad stuck around just long enough to make sure their brood has "moved on" successfully and now are thinking about their own plans for winter. Of course, they simply may have figured out how to avoid my routine checks.

Thursday, September 17
Just got back from watching the haggards rebuilding their nest. Thanks to Gene Mancini's tip. I decided to make my loop a little later than usual. There was a hawk waiting for me at the Art Museum, but s/he took off in the direction of the Franklin Institute before I could make an ID.

When I arrived at the Franklin Institute at around 7:15 AM, there were TWO birds on the nest. I managed to get several pictures of each bird (mom and dad) as they flew back and forth to the nest with twigs from the trees on 21st Street and a good picture of dad, back at home on top the Civil War Monument where the eyasses used to hang out. Mom seemed to stay in the nest longer, with dad flying in and out more frequently. I left when mom, then dad, took off in the direction of Whole Foods at about 7:45 AM.

Here's a haggard flying in with some twigs.

Saturday, September 19
Saw no hawks on Friday morning, but dad must have known that Saturday means football at the 24th Street recreation center. He was waiting for the game in his favorite dead tree when I arrived at 7 AM. I didn't see mom; she was probably hard at work on the nest.

Dad watching PECO's new LED-lit message board from his perch on 24th Street. I guess the Franklin Institutes's advertising worked!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

September Haggard Happenings

It's amazing how fast the days speed by now that I'm back at school, and I realize that it's been well over a week since I've posted news about the hawks. Carolyn has been faithfully checking out the hawks each morning and posting her accounts of the Franklin Hawkaholics Facebook page, along with some terrific pictures.

It looks as if the eyasses have really left for their new territories or have migrated south. There have been no eyass sightings since August 29. Good luck, kids.... fly strongly, hunt well, and stay safe.

Here is the compilation of Carolyn's reports - thanks, Carolyn, for keeping up so well updated, and for the terrific pictures.

Friday, September 4
No hawks again this morning but I haven't been able to stay more than about 15-30 minutes for several days now. Will have more time tomorrow to explore a bit.

Saturday, September 5
Ahhhhhh......what a beautiful morning after last evening's full moon. Mom was waiting for me on a streetlamp near the Art Museum when I arrived at 6:45 a.m. to spend some quality hawk time. I managed to do my walking loop of the area (exercise is good) and, though neither dad nor the squawky eyass showed, Mom was just taking off for the Museum's rustic pavilion when I returned to my car.

Here she is atop the pavilion that overlooks the waterworks and Schuylkill River. This is a beautiful place to sit in the morning.

Mom takes off for breakfast. She had flown into these trees from the pavilion to get a better look at something on the rocks below.

Sunday, September 6
What a show, though no eyasses! I started my adventure early (6:20 a.m.), and drove the Art Museum-Franklin Institute loop without seeing any of the family. I was on my way home when, rounding Eakins Oval, I spotted one of the hawks (turned out to be dad) on a pole near the Museum. I decided to make another loop and WHAT DO YOU KNOW, I spotted another hawk (mom) right across the road from dad - they looked like bookends.

Here is mom is on the closest pole. Dad on the "double" armature further away. The roadway is right between, so the birds create a gateway to the parkway. SO COOL!

Techno-Dad takes off! Glad someone is using the City's free wireless apparatus. Mom had been on this pole earlier and then he followed her to the same dead tree.

It was still pretty dark, but I hung around long enough to get quite a show. Mom actually swallowed a snake right in front of me! I got closer to both birds than I have ever been, taking pictures from about six feet away as they each sat in exactly the same tree! You can really see the differences between the two haggards

Here is dad in the tree which is on the west side of the Art Museum.

Here's mom in same tree.

Monday, September 7
No hawks this morning on my VERY quick check, but I will have more free time tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 8
Saw mom on one of her "usual" poles early Labor Day, but no one else showed. Mom was busy hunting and, as I had other places to be, I left early.

Wednesday, September 9
Mom and dad were waiting again today - playing gateway raptors - but only briefly. I was hoping to be able to watch for a while longer today, but mom, then dad, suddenly took off over the trees, and headed for the far end of the Roman Catholic HS football field, which is just across the railroad tracks from the river.
I think the eyasses, happily, have found territories of their own to explore before heading south with the rest of the young red-tails. We were worried about the squawky eyass who until recently seemed WAY too interested in mom and sad's whereabouts, but I have not seen or heard her in over a week. She seems to have disappeared along with her two siblings, and the haggards have relaxed into their empty-nest routine. Hopefully, our three eyasses are out there perfecting their hunting skills, and readying themselves for new adventures. Let's hope they thrive and find great places like the Franklin Institute to raise families of their own.

Thursday, September 10
Rainy Thursday hawks.....sob!

Friday, September 11
Torrential rain this Friday birds!

Saturday, September 12
Mom and dad were back this gray morning, mostly hanging near the recreation area off the 24th Street on-ramp to the Vine St. Expressway. Maria DiFlorio and I had a really fun time watching the Roxborough Steelers and their opponents from South Philly gawk at our hawks. Mom sat in the hawks' favorite dead tree and dad was nearby on a "cobra head" lamp. I found them when I first arrived at 6:45 a.m., stationed at their "gateway" posts. I guess mom decided to watch football instead of go hunting, and Dad followed her to the field. They were still sitting there after more than two hours.

Friday, September 4, 2009

End of Summer

Summer for me has officially ended with the start of school. This week has been teachers' meetings and the students arrive on Tuesday. My hawk watching has been severely curtailed recently - it's been two weeks since I've seen a haggard or an eyass - withdrawal is tough!

Carolyn has continued to provide excellent, regular reports on the Franklin Hawkaholics Facebook page, and I am posting them below so you can keep up with the recent sightings. Both haggards are very much in evidence around the Art Museum, and they are joined every so often by an eyass.

Carolyn's reports:

Thursday, August 27
No hawks about on Wednesday morning, but this morning (Thursday) I saw Dad hunting near the Art Museum, and our squawky eyass chasing Mom from pole to pole along the 24th St. on-ramp to Vine Street.

Friday, August 28
Squawky Eyass greeted me this morning from atop a streetlight at the 24th St. on-ramp to Vine Street. She saw me, mini-squawked and took off for the trees. No parents in sight, and as it was raining, I decided not to hang around.

Saturday, August 29
This rainy morning Dad was hanging out on his usual streetlight, watching the bikers prepare for an outing on the Schuylkill river drives. Our eyass was a couple of poles away and just like yesterday took one look at me, squawked and took off. Another short day of hawk watching for me, but will check again tomorrow.

Sunday, August 30
Both Mom and Dad were on street lamps near the museum this morning at 7 AM. It is hard to get pictures because it is still pretty dark. The one that I think is Mom took a quick flight to catch breakfast, returned quickly and swallowed something with a long tail (Yech!) The one I think is Dad also went hunting down by the riverbank. Both returned to lamp poles in between flights. I did not spot our eyass this morning, but will try again tomorrow when I have more time.

Monday, August 31
Cool and clear this morning with a gorgeous pink and orange sky...but NO hawks! Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, September 1
Another beautiful day in Philly, but no hawks spotted on my quicky AM check. I also drove by this afternoon; again, no hawks. Maybe tomorrow........

Wednesday, September 2
6:30 AM - Dad was waiting for me in the dead tree overlooking the recreational area at 24th St. and the Parkway. Mom was about a football-field length away on one of her favorite on-ramp poles. I guess they are fans of Roman Catholic HS, because that's the field where the boys in purple and gold have been practicing lately. Dad flew over to Mom's territory for a while, but both were gone by 7 AM. I saw them take off in the direction of the river. Again no eyass, but maybe she has decided to stake a claim for herself outside Mom and Dad's range of influence. Hope so. I'll check again tomorrow.

Thursday, September 3
Nobody around when I did my quickie loop of hawkville this morning. Will check on the family again tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Busy Week with the Haggards

The haggards are in the midst of their summer molt, and have clearly moved to the Art Museum area. The proximity to the river shallows may have helped them cool off in the recent heatwave. One eyass still seems to be hanging out around the parent birds. It has been a couple of weeks now since we've seen more than one eyass, but it's hard to know if it's the same one we're seeing, or different ones, just one at a time.

Carolyn has been posting her sightings on the Facebook page with some great pictures, and has also emailed me, so I thought I'd compile all this material and put it here in one posting in chronological order:

Carolyn's posts:

Friday, August 21

Was near the museum between 6:30 and 8:00 am. No eyasses, but I found my haggard again this morning, sitting on that same light pole at the foot of Spring Garden St. on the ramp to the Parkway.

Then what should appear but another hawk, incoming from Eakins Oval! TWO haggards on the same street lamp! I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I think the one on the left (in the face-on views) is dad.

He took off after a while and flew to the other side of the Parkway and landed on a pole. Eventually he took off towards the river.

Saturday, August 22

Heavy rain, and the hawks did get wet today; so did I, as I spent two hours in rainy Hawk Heaven. This morning's sightings (all in the same area near the 24th Street ramp from the Ben Franklin Parkway to Vine St. Expressway), were even better than yesterday's.

I saw mom, dad and one eyass. The eyass sat with each parent, did a bit of hunting (though didn't catch anything), squawked a bit when close to mom and dad, but was silent otherwise. The small birds never stopped tormenting the eyass. They buzzed her in five different locations, but ignored the parents.

Mom and dad sat together for a while - I think trying to figure out what to do to get their "kid" to be more self reliant!

Took some cool pictures of all the birds, even though it was gray and rainy.

Several pictures really show the difference in size between the haggards, and the eyass seems bigger than mom.

The eyass did not squawk incessantly, only when it was really near the parents, and less stridently than it used to. Based on size, I think this eyass is one of the girls (Miss Piggy?)

It's hard to tell whether the parents are hanging near this area because the eyass is still around, or whether the eyass is staying here because it is the parents' favorite place.

Here is the eyass chasing the parents. It is not very clear, but one haggard is in the left lower corner, and the other is behind the light pole. That's Junior flying in to land.

Sunday, August 23
I found mom at 6:45, hanging out on one of her favorite poles on 24th Street on the ramp to the Vine St. Expressway. I heard what I thought was a faint eyass call and discovered that our favorite sib had flown to a pole behind me while I was busy watching mom.

The eyass chased the haggard from pole to pole for a half hour before disappearing into the Parktowne Place courtyard (nearby apartment building). Mom returned to her preening.

I noticed that there is a perfect view of the nest from this area - it's just three blocks away.

Tuesday, August 25

No hawks on Monday, but today I spent two hours photographing Mom on lots of poles near the art museum this morning.

I was sitting on the rocks near where we say the eyasses and the groundhog when she flew from her pole RIGHT AT ME! She zoomed past my shoulder and trapped something against a stone retaining wall....not four feet from me!

Here she is "mantling" to protect her prey from prying eyes (mine).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hawks and summer heat

Here in Philadelphia we have been enduring an August heatwave with several days straight of 90 degree plus temperatures and drenching hunidity. It's been much harder to find the hawks, especially the eyasses.

Several of this blog's readers have asked me whether the heat affects the hawls and how they deal with it. Great questions -- and I asked John Blakeman to weigh in with his bottomless expertise:

"The 90-degree heat is a mere inconvenience to the birds. They don't like it any more than we do. To keep cool they either soar off high in the sky (haggards, mostly), or they sit around quietly and do some panting, evaporating a bit of moisture off their lung and air tube surfaces to cool down.

But they don't have much water to allow significant evaporative cooling, so they do something that most mammals can't do. They just turn down their body thermostat and burn less food energy. Body temperatures of red-tails (and other similar hawks) can be rather variable---not as much as poikilothermous animals ("cold-blooded," such as reptiles). But red-tail body temps only hover around 103 F or so. At night, during sleep, it can dip into the mid 90s, from some experimentation I helped with in undergraduate school.

However, I don't know how hot the body temperature can get when a red-tail does a full-out pursuit of a rabbit or other prey animal on a hot day. Actually, I don't see red-tails doing much of that on hot days. They aren't dumb.

On the other hand, the birds are not intimidated by normal winter temperatures. They are so well insultated, and have the resources to generate massive amounts of body heat if required, that the winter is a welcome time. Unless the temperatures drop below zero F or more, red-tails seem to thrive in cold weather.

I see this when hunting my red-tails. In warm September, the birds are rather lackluster in pursuing fleeing rabbits. But with a bit of autumnal chill in October, their hunting attitudes change altogether. Cool and cold are preferred over warm and hot.

But the birds live from the low Arctic down through much of desert Mexico. They can handle it all."

--John Blakeman

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday is bath day!

Yesterday was a bittersweet morning of hawk watching as once again, there were no eyasses to be seen. I last saw an eyass - think it was Portico - last Friday up at the Art Museum (see the previous blog post for pics), and Carolyn saw a single one last Tuesday. They have clearly separated from the parents, and are making their way as independent birds.

Another possible reason for their scarcity is the incredibly hot weather we currently have in Philadelphia. Today is the fifth day of the heatwave with temperatures well into the 90's. Maybe the eyasses are shading up out of the sun and heat.

However, just as I thought it was going to be a hawkless morning, I spied a haggard up on the ledge of the Franklin Institute, quite close to the nest. But this did not look like the sleek, well-feathered birds we're used to seeing! Its head and neck were soaked, and its feathers were a real mess. Molting is definitely underway.

Based on the dark face coloring, we think this was the tiercel (Dad).

As the hawk started to preen, we could see that he was wet all over, and probably had recently had a bath - maybe in the fountains at nearby Logan Square.

Up on the ledge, he was catching the breezes and sun to get dried out.

He kept his eyes on Kay as if to say, "Can't you leave me in peace just this one time?"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Eyass at the Art Museum

One of the eyasses seems to have made the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its surroundings its personal stomping grounds. Yesterday, Kay, Carolyn and I found it perched on a railing right next to the Rocky steps at the front of the Museum. It had flown in from the nearby trees, and swooped down to a grassy area then onto the railing.

It was definitely hunting, and made a grab for some unlucky creature, but it turned out to be a very lucky - or perhaps just extremely agile - creature, as all our eyass caught was a beakful of grass!

It then sat there calmly watching all the Friday morning rush hour activity around the Museum that included the finish line of a 5K race nearby. It takes a lot now to startle these hawks.

Kay was able to move really close in, and as the eyass observed her with great curiosity, one got the feeling that they almost recognize us as the folks that hike around with them in their early morning jaunts!

This eyass then flew up to the Art Museum roof and appeared to pounce on something - probably a sparrow. We watched it start to eat behind one of the gargoyle-like structures, and once again it peeked down at us as if to say, "Are youse guys STILL there?" (It's a Philly hawk!)

On the river side of the Museum, a skateboard park is being constructed as part of the Schuylkill Banks development. The construction crew (Dave and Glenn) report sightings of the hawks most every day hunting in that area. The female haggard, in particular, has claimed this area and earlier this week, Carolyn spied her in a tree overhanging the river. The shadows make her neck look vulture-skinny!

Carolyn sent me the following comments on her hawk watch: "I saw an eyass fly from the Museum roof to the construction area and was trying to track it when Dave and Glenn pointed out the other hawks sitting quite visibly on low tree branches right above the river banks. They told me they often see three hawks there, catching snakes, mice, etc. I saw an eyass make a pass at a jumping fish while flying from a tree on the other side of the river. I saw Mom dive from her branch onto something in the brush below and eat it very quickly. She spent a couple of hours perching on a variety of poles and trees, watching intently. This seems like a REALLY good place to hunt, what with the digging, steep brush covered riverbanks, and clear sightlines."

This morning (Saturday) Carolyn noted that the eyass was very visible around the Museum. She also saw a haggard earlier but it was chased away by the eyass. There was minimal squawking, only when the parent was around.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Busy weekend for hawk watchers!

Friday, August 7 gave us a spectacular morning of hawk watching down by the Franklin Institute and along the Parkway. It was a relatively cool, sunny morning with low humidity and a light breeze. We've begun to notice that the hawks share our weather preferences, and are more active when it is more pleasant -- at least in the early morning.

I was down there with Kay and Carolyn at 6 AM and we were joined by Barbara Reisenwitz and her eleven year old daughter Annie. At first, we could see no hawks, but Annie's sharp eyes spotted a hawk on the nest - right at the back. We crossed the Parkway and were back on the familiar territory of Winter Street, looking up at the nest.

The hawk turned out to be the male haggard - Dad - and we watched him make at least five trips back and forth from the nest to nearby trees, each time bringing back a leafy twig or small branch which he then added to the nest.

Then we heard squawking, looked around and found The Squawker up on the Library ledge. We have nicknamed this eyass because she is one who makes the most noise still. The other two tend to hunt purposefully, silently and effectively, while this one still calls out to the haggards for a food delivery.
Last Sunday atop the crucifix on the Cathedral Basilica we saw The Squawker. She was quite pathetic up there on the highest point of the non-skyscraper buildings, and because it was so early (6:30 am) on Sunday the city was almost silent as her calls echoed eerily over quite a distance, and though I could barely see her, I could hear her clearly. No-one brought her any food, and she eventually flew away. She's the one that worries us a bit as the other two are becoming excellent hunters and seem very self-sufficient now.

John Blakeman shares this concern: "The vocalizing bird on the church is just typical of August. And yes, you should be concerned. The bird's got August to learn to hunt, or she's history. We see this out here in rural areas, too. Often, these are birds who had overly attentive parents in June and July, and they've merely gotten addicted to Mom and Pop providing food when they wail. The parents have now cut off the free food, but the little tyke still thinks that if she wails louder and longer, something will turn up. It won't. She will quickly get serious about capturing food, or starve."

After The Squawker left the ledge, we were suddenly inundated with eyasses flying back and forth across the Parkway trying to make landings on the nest. The haggard did not want to share and took off as soon as the eyass landed. Notice the red tail feathers with no bands.

It has been a challenge sometimes to sort out eyasses from haggards, and the tiercel (Dad) from the formel (Mom).This one had us stumped as there were no bands on the tail, but no real red feathers either. John Blakeman sent some helpful commentary about this picture: "The bird on the light pole is a haggard. Look at the eyes. Hags all have brown eyes, immatures (eyasses) have yellow eyes. This bird also has some pretty ragged and
varying feathers on the back. This bird is molting, which this year's eyasses don't do. The tail lacks horizontal
bands, which all immatures have. It's a bit dark, either from being wet or dirty, probably wet. The very dark ends of these tail feathers is very non-typical. But this is an adult. The bill (beak) looks a bit small, so I'm guessing (guessing!) that this is a tiercel."

Here's a recent picture of an eyass visiting the nest, and you can clearly see the yellow eyes.

And here you can see the horizontal bands across the tail.

The highlight of the morning was seeing one of the eyasses with a freshly caught squirrel up on the Library ledge on the corner of 20th Street. A moment after Kay took this picture, the eyass yanked the tail up and out of sight as if it were afraid we would come after it!

Later on, this eyass left the half-eaten squirrel on the ledge, and The Squawker moved in to clean up, so she did get some food, but not through her own hunting efforts.

On Saturday, August 8, Carolyn sent me the following report: "Today's action was terrific - similar in time and behavior to yesterday with the same players. I followed the squawks of one eyass from Art Museum to the roof of Parkway House [apartment building alongside the Parkway].

When I drove over to investigate, I entered the driveway into the recreation area that borders the ramp to the Vine Street Expressway. I found the bird with missing tail feather that we're pretty sure is Dad, big as life perched on a dead tree.

As I was taking pictures another eyass flew in (squawking) to challenge him for possession of the tree. Dad flew off. I could see the red tail feathers quite clearly.

Dad and at least one eyass showed up around the nest later on,
behaving much as they did yesterday (Friday). I did not see
both birds when I first looked at this picture. You can see the
reflection of the bottom bird in the window - two birds,
two shadows, one reflection - cool!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Feathers and another casting!

Over the past few weeks of watching the hawks in the Franklin Institute/Parkway/Art Museum area, I have picked up various feathers that I figured might be hawk heathers dropped either from preening or in flight. I took pictures of the feathers and sent the images to John Blakeman. It turned out that three of these feathers were indeed from red-tailed hawks. The others turned out to be turkey feathers (I wonder where they hang out downtown?!)

John sent back some fascinating commentary on the feathers that included the disquieting information that I had been breaking state and federal laws when I picked up these feathers:

"No one is permitted to so much as pick up one of these discarded or molted red-tail feathers and take them home, for any purpose. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, passed a century ago to stop the feather trade supplying decoration for women's hats, expressly prohibits the possession of any part of a protected species, which the red-tailed hawk now is.

Turkeys, a game bird, are not so protected, so you can possess those feathers. But if you inadvertently took home feathers 1, 3, or 6, discard them immediately. No can have! It's a state and federal law.

As a falconer, I'm allowed to possess the feathers that my falconry red-tail molts, but they can only be used to "imp" (replace) broken flight feathers. I'm not allowed to display these or use them for any other purpose."

-- John Blakeman

Since learning this dire information, any further feathers we found stayed right there and were photographed
in situ! John later relieved my guilt somewhat about the feathers I had taken home to photograph:

"You aren't the only person unaware of the protected status of most bird feathers. You might want to post the photos and my note on the matter. The Feds would take no offense. Taking photographs of the feathers is not illegal. Putting them in your pocket and taking them home would be. Actually, the wildlife authorities would welcome this public education effort helping to spread the word on the matter.

Here is John's run down on the feathers:

1A – A molted breast feather from a haggard. It's not from an eyass

3A – This is a left-wing secondary from a haggard. It grew just inside of the “elbow.” It was dropped during the molt, which is now continuing.

6A – This is REALLY interesting. This is an outer left tail feather of a red-tail hatched in the spring of 2008. It’s worn and was dropped now in the bird’s first molt, now being replaced with a red feather. This is not from this year’s eyasses, by any means. A wandering one-year old vagrant drifted in and deposited this feather.
This could mean that an immature red-tail may be flying around with all the resident family. Watchers will need to look for missing tail or wing feathers to identify this as a bird from last year. By now, a few new red tail feathers should be apparent in this bird (if it's still hanging around).

This one is a bit tougher to parse out. It's a red-tail feather, for sure. But I can't tell if it's from an adult (most likely), or did it drop off the one-year old interloper? Some of these brown feathers are almost identical in eyasses and haggards. Most likely, it's from one of the resident haggards. It's certainly not from any of the eyasses, as they aren't molting in their first summer. They will be doing that next summer. The feather looks to be a larger covert, a covering feather, from the top of the wing, probably over the first or inner wing segment.

This is a molted tail feather - or retrice - from one of the haggards. It's from the right side, probably close to the center. It's not an outer tail feather. Those molt later, and the feather shaft is a bit offset to the side with those, with a slight bend at the proximal end of the quill. If you see the bird soaring, you will clearly see the gap in the tail where the feather used to be. Where was this? [Carolyn found this at the Art Museum]. In most cases, the feathers are dropped or shed during morning preening. In most cases,but not always, the bird spent the night above the shed feather."

Our next exciting discovery was actually seeing an eyass eject a casting (hawk version of a hairball). The hawk was perched on a lamp pole along Spring Garden Street behind the Art Museum.
The casting fell to the sidewalk beneath the lamp pole. It is about 2" long and is definitely a candidate for the Gross Hall of Fame. I scraped it carefully into a paper cup and it is now sitting in a dry spot in my basement.

If you want to learn more about castings, check out the blog entry of July 10 entitled "Look what the hawks left on the roof!" It includes another graphic image of a casting!

John Blakeman comments that the casting "must have fallen from some distance as it fell apart on impact. You are allowed to possess these." [Phew!]

"A field biologist at The Franklin Institute (or elsewhere) could put it under a dissecting microscope and discern its composition. With a hand lens or magnifying glass you can determine if it's feathers or fur. A good lab ornithologist or mammalogist can figure the consumed animals. Pigeon feathers are pretty easy to ID. Others can be difficult. Separating the fur of the various mammals should be done by someone who is experienced."

--John Blakeman