Monday, July 19, 2010

Catching up with the eyasses

Apologies for the length of time since the last post. My horse is recovering from a tendon injury which requires a couple of hours of hand walking and icing each day, and my dog has had a series of mystery ailments, possibly as a result of a compromised immune system. I feel as if I have been running a veterinary hospital! Thankfully, everyone is recovering well, and now I have time to catch up with the eyasses.

All three continue to thrive despite an endless series of heat waves here in Philadelphia since they fledged. Temperatures have rarely been down below 90, and last week were over 100 for three days straight.

The Rodin Museum has become a favorite spot for the eyasses, who show little respect for the sculptor!

Last Sunday, July 11, on an oppressively hot afternoon, Kay Meng and I found an eyass in the trees by the museum's entrance.

It watched us with the usual interest and lack of fear.

Then tended to an itch....

.... and then screamed a couple of times in case a parent was nearby and might bring food.

But the only bird that paid it any attention was a pesky mockingbird who dove relentlessly at it. The eyass showed great composure under fire until the mockingbird eventually gave up.

The eyass's attention then was riveted on a nearby squirrel...

... which did the usual squirrel freeze, hoping not to be noticed. Luckily for the squirrel, this eyass has not yet figured out how to catch squirrels.

It launched at it, but the squirrel was long gone by the time the eyass reached the tree.

But nothing daunted, the eyass decided that bees or yellowjackets might be an easier prey. It flew to the grass below where there were many flying close to the ground. You can see one showing against the eyass's pale leg.

The eyass flapped and jumped and kept missing!

But finally, persistence paid off...

... and the eyass snacked happily on bees.

Though we mostly watch the hawks early in the morning when they are active and the temperature is cooler, it was interesting to see how busy this eyass was in the middle of the afternoon.

Carolyn Sutton has been indefatigable in her hawk checks at dawn each morning, and her daily reports and pictures on the Hawkaholic facebook page provide a great record of the hawk family's activity.

Here is a compilation of Carolyn's reports and some of her pictures for the past ten days or so:

Friday, July 9 

Hawk watching was spectacular this morning. The three eyasses were hunting not ten feet away from me (and all three are in this picture).

One by one they flew to the fence in front of me for portrait sessions.

A haggard watched all of this from high atop a crane at the far end of the site

The eyasses took off to hunt in different directions, and I lost track of them at about 6 am. All of this happened in absolute silence; no squawking: not one peep!

Saturday, July 10

Two eyasses were in evidence when I arrived at the construction site at 5:15, but they were soon gone to hunt. When Della arrived, we walked over to the Rodin Museum, and BONANZA is all I can say! We watched in awe as three eyasses chased squirrels aplenty, traversing the broad lawns along 21st St with steely resolve, pausing now and then to climb tree limbs and flounce around on the ground looking for slow/dumb prey. No luck. I was watching one of the hawks in pursuit when I heard Della gasp from behind as two hawks whizzed right by me, one on the right and one so close to my left shoulder that I could feel the breeze. HOLY COW! Never a dull moment with this threesome!

Sunday, July 11

Silent eyasses are difficult to stalk, but the good Lord moves in mysterious ways. I parked by the Rodin, and a telltale robin led me to the twins. This morning they were hunting silently above the Expressway between 21st and 23rd Street. I kept pace with them until they separated and started back to the nest area.

At one point, I was watching one of the twins behind a fence...

... when it jumped up on the fence within three feet of me

then flew right at me, joining its twin in the grass behind me. Then they both flew right at me (just like yesterday) one practically grazing my arm as s/he whizzed by. Am wondering if they are warning me that I am cramping their hunting style.

Monday, July 12

I couldn't find the hawks this morning when I arrived at 5:40 except for one eyass flying silently to the trees behind Parke Towne Place apartment complex on 22nd Street. I decided to take a final loop around the Parkway before leaving and heard the telltale robins making a racket next to the 24th St. ramp to the expressway. I stopped to investigate and, just like last year, there was an eyass hanging out at the baseball field. I watched as it bounced around on top of the batting cage, then jumped down to the ground.

Then, a little stomping and mantling and off it went, carrying something into the pine trees nearby. It was dark under the trees but I am sure our intrepid hunter ate whatever it had carried there.

Next stop the trees on south side of Eakins Oval parking area. Go west, young hawk, go west -the Art Museum is just a block away!

Tuesday, July 13

Between 5 and 6 AM I saw no hawks in their usual haunts near the construction site or the Rodin Museum. Relying on last year's experience, I decided to check out the Art Museum. Yahoo! There, atop one of the griffins that adorn the museum's roof, was a squawking eyass. [Here is a picture of those griffins]

It flew to a streetlight below just as another hawk flew from the trees of Schuylkill Banks. The eyass took off for the museum again and I watched as it met Mom.

Not sure how many of the family I actually saw, but looks like the eyasses have discovered the same nifty hunting preserve as last year's eyasses.

Wednesday, July 14

Hawk stalking is a challenge after two days of torrential downpours in Philly. But, neither rain nor other inconveniences prevent our Franklin Institute hawks from hunting. Here is a wet eyass...

... and Mom near the Art Museum at 6:30 this morning.

Sandy Sorlien also did some hawk watching and reported and photographed that she saw "one wet eyass on the tall construction crane. It sat there looking over toward 21st & Callowhill for a while, then flew over there to the left of Whole Foods."

Thursday, July 15

Got to the Parkway extra early this morning (4:35) and found two eyasses still hanging out near the Barnes construction site. One was on the crane photographed by Sandy yesterday, and the other was atop the south Civil War monument. As I watched another hawk flew to 21st Street, then returned to a Franklin Institute window ledge. It was Dad, who left a little later for the library entrance balcony.

Interestingly, there was a small pile of twigs on the window where I saw Dad this morning (3rd floor at 20th St end of FI). Decided to check out the Art Museum area and found eyass #3, our "lone wolf", I think, sitting right where it was yesterday -- over the 24th St on-ramp to the expressway.

Friday, July 16

Decided to hang out at the Art Museum between 4:30 and 5:30. I was pretty sure a hawk was lurking in the pines (because a robin was chipping nervously the entire time), but it never revealed itself to me, even though a family of bunnies scurried around below. Driving down the Parkway to the Barnes site, I saw one eyass on a dead limb overhead, but it was too dark for pictures and, after squawking for awhile s/he flew off toward 21st St.

Saturday, July 17

Saw Dad and at least one eyass between 6 and 7 this morning a hawk flew by as I made my first loop through the Art Museum area, and I spotted Dad on a roof ledge when I returned later. Spotted an eyass perched on the east pediment of the library, then went searching for more of the family.

An eyass flew right at me from the library vicinity, hell-bent for a squirrel breakfast. It barely missed the critter, then spent the next half hour alternately squawking for free food...

... then making hunting runs and changing perches.

People often are completely unaware of how close they are to a hawk!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Eyasses before and after the Fourth of July

Hawk Central these days is the Barnes Museum construction site. It's hard to imagine a more unlikely spot in which to find a family of wild red-tail hawks!

But every morning, you will find at least one eyass sitting in one of the huge cranes.

This site is directly opposite the Franklin Institute, about 200 yards away on the other side of the Ben Franklin Parkway. This is the view from the site looking over to the Franklin Institute. You can see the nest window to the left and up above the blue, red and white flag.

Last year, this area was the favorite hunting ground for the eyasses, and we called it The Meadow for obvious reasons.

There's not much meadow left now, but it is still where early morning hawk watchers will find several of the hawk family. The parents seem totally unfazed by all these changes from last year, and of course, this year's eyasses know nothing different.

The formel spends hours sitting high up on the tallest crane, and this week we have also seen the tiercel land a couple of times on the cranes, but he rarely stays more than a few minutes.

The morning routine usually begins at first light with food drops from the parent haggards. We have heard much less squawking so far from the eyasses this year as the haggards seem to be keeping them very well fed. It is now impossible to tell them apart in terms of oldest and youngest. All three are strong, and flying more skilfully every day.

Landing on a skinny, bouncy tree limb is a piece of cake for these intrepid fliers!

Kay, Carolyn and I spent a couple of sultry hours with the eyasses early on the morning of July 3. As usual, the twins were hanging out together; where one goes, the other is certain to follow in a minute or less, it seems...

... and they zero in on the same squirrels and birds as they perch together in the foliage.

When you see one eyass in a tree, it's always worth looking carefully above and below it to see if you have found the twins!

And they still spend a lot of time on the ground.

These gorgeous images from Kay Meng show their magnificent plumage, and the yellow eyes that distinguish them from mature red-tails.

The stump of a London plane tree along the Parkway provided a firm table-top for one of the eyasses to eat a parental food drop.

Red-tail hawks are not the only creatures sending their young out into the world this spring - there are innumerable young squirrels bustling around the Parkway trees. They seem as clueless about the danger from hawks, as the eyasses do about how to catch them!

We watched a hilarious "hunt" as a young squirrel bumbled around in the grass and leaves at the base of a tree, and an eyass peered intently at it from a branch above, uncertain what to do next.

"Jump, jump - just jump down on it," I found myself thinking!

Eventually the eyass flapped/jumped out of the tree, landed about two feet away and pursued the squirrel on foot - or rather, on talon. The squirrel, of course, raced around to the other side of the tree as the eyass stood there puzzled.

Yesterday, on July 5, Carolyn and I made a quick visit to make sure everyone had made it safely through the huge Fourth of July fireworks display literally in the sky right above their Parkway trees. Happily, we found the entire family at 5:30 AM perched on various spots around the Barnes site.

The twins quickly made their way over to the Rodin Museum garden, one of the eyasses' favorite hunting spots - though I use that term loosely as we have yet to see them actually catch anything other than seed pods and small branches!

They start their hunt from a high vantage point...

... then swoop down at whatever looks worthwhile...

...then up on the fence to regroup.

This eyass tries to organize its thinking around the latest squirrel appearance...

.... as its twin takes decisive action. My point-and-press camera barely captured the eyass at the base of the fence, and the squirrel clinging to the tree trunk at ground level.

The hunt continued at a walk with neither party quite sure what to do.

Then the hunter made a move, and the young squirrel fortunately got its act together and escaped.

Meanwhile, back up on the fence the Thinker reached a conclusion and decided to go for it, though "it" was long gone!

But there's always another tree, and another hunt to start.

What an extraordinary experience it is to be literally only yards way from these eyasses as they figure out their world, and gradually develop their hunting skills.

John Blakeman comments on these latest activities:

"The walking around of newly-fledged eyasses isn't much known or written about. But you have it nailed exactly. These young birds in June and early July do walk around a lot and play with stuff on the ground. That will change rather dramatically when the haggards become more stingy in providing food. The eyasses will go from pleading, ill-behaved youngsters to more aggressive adolescents in the coming weeks. Soon, they will never be seen on the ground or on low perches except in the direct attack on prey.

The reduced vocalization or "screaming," as we falconers call the plaintive cries of the summer eyasses, indicates clearly that the parents continue to provide ample food. These birds just aren't as hungry as last year's brood. The parents now have their act entirely together, with no shortages of anything. They are dutifully overseeing the maturing of their offspring. They've now done this before, and as with hunting, the haggards don't forget a thing from last year's raising of the kids. They've seen it all before, no matter how adolescent or cantankerous the eyasses might tend to be in the coming months."

-- John Blakeman