Saturday, July 4, 2009

Early morning hawk excitement on the Fourth of July

Early morning seems to be the time when the hawks are really active, so I decided to get up early on July 4, go into Philadelphia and see what was happening. I met up with Carditoo (Carolyn Sutton) on the Parkway at 5:15 AM...I told you it was early!!

The sun was rising and the early morning light on the surrounding buildings was lovely. The Parkway was blocked off to traffic in order to set up for the Fourth of July festivities, and there was a lot of noise from generators, trucks backing up to deliver stuff, police cars and city workers. So it was much noisier than usual at that early hour.

The first hawk we saw was at 5:25 AM - an eyass flew out of the trees and landed on the Library roof, perched there for ten minutes, then flew back into the trees. Unfortunately, I only have a regular digital camera, so these pictures are not up to the standards we enjoy from Kay, i.e. you may have to do a Where's Waldo search to find the hawk in in some of my pictures!

Then for 20 minutes - nothing. I knew the hawks had to be close by in the trees alongside the grassy meadow area that will be the construction site for the new Barnes Collection Museum. This meadow is to the right of the Parkway if you are looking up towards the Art Museum.

Immediately behind me here is the Free Library, and the Franklin Institute is to my left on the far side of the Parkway. The grass area is surrounded by a high construction fence.

Then we heard the unmistakable sound of the hawks calling to each other. The closest thing I can compare it to is the sound of seagulls, but less strident - more of a mewing. I looked up, and to my surprise I saw an eyass perched confidently on a utility wire. I couldn't get my camera organized in time to catch it while perching - here it is heading to a new spot.

And for the next 20 minutes, the eyasses were flying from perch to perch all around us. Can you spot the hawk up ahead of me on the pavement beside the construction fence? I was craving Kay's huge lens at this moment!

Then the eyass flew up onto the fence. The guy in the yellow shirt walking towards me just about had a heart attack when he got closer, and the eyass took off right in front of him!

It is an extraordinary experience to be so close to these spectacular birds.

One thing I noticed this morning is how much better the eyasses are at flying in tight areas, and landing on challenging perches. They have much better control, and can handle branches, wires, chimneys, poles and fences with aplomb, as you can see in the following pictures.

This creeper-covered chimney is behind the Library - you can see its balustrade in the background.

We knew these were eyasses as their tails were clearly brown.

Every time we turned around we could see one in a different spot - so exciting!

They love the Free Library!

Note the wire covering the letters to prevent birds from nesting in the nooks.

The hawks continued to fly back and forth from the trees to these various perches. Then one flew into the tree right beside us (great pic, Carolyn!)

It was joined almost immediately by a second eyass. You have to look carefully to see the two white hawk butts in the middle of this picture. They were about 15 feet above us. We're standing on the sidewalk.

Look how beautiful their plumage is. They've come a long way from those white fluff balls in the nest!

Then Carolyn got a great shot of one of them taking off to fly across the meadow. More gorgeous plumage but definitely no red tails yet.

Suddenly, I noticed a squirrel lying motionless along a branch that was a couple of branches below the eyass. The squirrel, realizing it was in a really dangerous spot, was desperately hoping not to be noticed! You can see the white belly of the eyass right at the top of the picture, and the squirrel with its tail up along the branch at the bottom.

At first, the eyass did not see the squirrel, but then some imperceptible squirrel-twitch caught its attention.

And now the eyass had that squirrel right in the center of its high beams!

To my surprise (because I hate to see an animal killed) I found myself hoping that the eyass would figure how to swoop down a couple of branches and grab that squirrel..... I remembered John Blakeman's warning of how starvation through the inability to hunt effectively could wipe out the eyasses this summer.

For a moment, the eyass leaned forward and looked as if it might swoop, but then the squirrel, realizing that Plan A) Lie still and hope it doesn't see me - was a bust, quickly implemented Plan B) Get the hell out of here - and raced down the tree trunk and into some bushes.

While the squirrel drama was unfolding, the other eyasses were flying back and forth among the trees above us. Their flying skills have improved so much. I did not see a single botched landing!

At one point we counted four hawks flying which means that a parent was with them. We heard several sessions of loud calling followed by everyone heading to the same tree. Did someone have food?

Then there was silence. No hawks. The show was over, it seemed, and it was already 8:15 AM.

I walked over to Whole Foods to grab a cup of coffee before heading home to watch the women's singles final at Wimbledon, and look who was waiting for me on the roof!

This eyass was watching some pigeons landing on a nearby, slightly higher roof. It took off and flew low toward the roof, and lifted up at the last second as it rose over the edge and made a grab for the pigeons who had never seen it coming. The pigeons scattered, and the eyass did not make a catch, but it was most definitely hunting, and seemed to have a strategy.

So the promise of lots of hawk sightings in the early morning was fulfilled. If you can get down to the lower end of the Parkway near the Franklin Institute and Library from 6:00 - 8:00 AM, you will see our hawks in action - big time!!

1 comment:

  1. great job as usual, and good pictures too- but I am longing for the next chapter of the eyass diary!!!

    Thanks guys- happy 4th to all of you and our fellow hawkaholics.