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