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

17 comments:

  1. Wonderful pictures. Do you suppose this guy, spotted at Bartram's Garden last week, might be one of theh 2009 hatchlings?
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lblanchard/4752571231/

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  2. Maybe the best post so far!

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  3. The pictures and the commentary are so beautiful and informative that it is hard to thank all of you enough. This is my favorite quote from Wm. Blake: "No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings." Thanks, Colibri/coli(hummingbird) Janet Woods/Nottimgham, PA

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  4. Wonderful observations and information. I keep an eye
    out when on the parkway each week.
    Thanks so much for these updates.

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  5. As always thank you for the wonderful detail and pics. Love the updates!!!! Cathy

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  6. What an awesome resource, the Eyeasswitness news team! Thank you!

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  7. Maria - that's pretty funny - the Eyasswitness News team! Miss you in the mornings on our hawk stalks!

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  8. Laura B - that could well be one of last year's! What a fine place for a hawk to set up its territory.

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  9. The question of last year's eyasses returning to the immediate vicinity of their hatch nest is one that is unresolved and unknown. This one reason (of several) why it would be so biologically helpful to attach colored bands to the eyasses before fledging. Had that been done last year, it could be known instantly if this new bird hatched last year on this nest.

    I’m certain that young birds return to their general nest area. But do they come within 100 meters, a thousand meters, or several kilometers? I know of no red-tail banding efforts that have allowed answers. There would be no better place to do this than at The Franklin Institute, where eyasses can be easily banded right from the window opening, and then they would be so easily watched by so many diligent observers in ensuing years.

    Right now, I tend to think that the new bird in its second year is not an local hatchling. I think it’s merely attracted to the three new eyasses and the parents leaving food across the landscape.

    Only good marking will tell, and that should be with colored leg bands. Next year, perhaps?

    –John Blakeman

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  10. The question of last year's eyasses returning to the immediate vicinity of their hatch nest is one that is unresolved and unknown. This one reason (of several) why it would be so biologically helpful to attach colored bands to the eyasses before fledging. Had that been done last year, it could be known instantly if this new bird hatched last year on this nest.

    I’m certain that young birds return to their general nest area. But do they come within 100 meters, a thousand meters, or several kilometers? I know of no red-tail banding efforts that have allowed answers. There would be no better place to do this than at The Franklin Institute, where eyasses can be easily banded right from the window opening, and then they would be so easily watched by so many diligent observers in ensuing years.

    Right now, I tend to think that the new bird in its second year is not an local hatchling. I think it’s merely attracted to the three new eyasses and the parents leaving food across the landscape.

    Only good marking will tell, and that should be with colored leg bands. Next year, perhaps?

    –John Blakeman

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  11. I echo the other commenters. The pictures and descriptions are spectacular and really fulfilling. Love being able to follow this family.

    Thanks for all you do.

    Pat Laird

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  12. Hans-Ulrich AllemannJuly 19, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    Thanks for sharing! This is a fantastic pictorial documentation. I also enjoyed reading your commentaries.

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  13. I continue to be in awe of the amazing reporting and photos you share with us. I love to read the commentary and really admire the tenacity of this team in documenting this family. Thank you thank you.//Susanne Belcher

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  14. We have a glimpse into the natural world through this blog.

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  15. Thank you for sharing your journey with this spectacular family - and thank all who contribute pictures and reports

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  16. One of the twins has been sitting on the blue checkmark on the side of the Cityview building since 3:00pm this afternoon. I hope it's o.k. . I will keep checking on it.....hopefully it will fly off soon.

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  17. As of this moment the young hawk is still up on the side of Cityview.

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