Sunday, January 24, 2010

The camera is up - let the viewing begin....soon!

Fasten your seat belts, and get ready to start your hawkwatch engines -- the new camera is now in position at the nest!!

On Thursday, Gene Mancini told us on the Hawkaholic Facebook page that the installation of the camera was underway, and yesterday our intrepid photo-journalist, Kay Meng, took these pictures of the spiffy new camera. It is located outside the window, so we won't have to contend with weird reflections.

To my inexpert eye, it also looks as if the camera may have some rotational capability so we can keep better track of nest antics.

As Kay was checking out the nest, she was treated to the unforgettable sight of one of the parent birds (haggards) flying nearby in yesterday's bright sun.

Absolutely no question that these are red tail hawks!

Monday, January 4, 2010

John Blakeman on Love in the Sky!

John Blakeman, our Ohio expert on all things hawk, sent me his thoughts on how our hawks are looking in the photos from last week (see previous blog post), and exciting details of upcoming red-tail romance!

"Great photos, capturing the regal elegance and essence of winter red-tails. And you were correct on every point, especially about the birds' contentedness in the cold weather. Unless it's way below zero (F) for an extended time, several days or longer, these big hawks are entirely comfortable in winter weather. The fluffed-up feathers act like a thick down coat, keeping the hawks' body cores nice and toasty. They are masters of all they survey at this time of the year. Few other wild animals can live so comfortably in winter. Experienced haggard red-tails need worry for nothing.

Now this pair has surely stayed in the area for the winter. They did not migrate to the South. They were content to hang around, albeit not as closely to the nest site as in the breeding season. But now, they've detected that the
day length, the photoperiod, is no longer declining. For them, the seasons are changing, prompting closer attention to the nest area.

Toward the end of January, the birds will start courtship flights, with the male ascending high over Philadelphia, then plunging with wings folded right toward his mate circling just a few hundred feet above the street. Start looking for these flights, some of the most impressive maneuvers of any raptor, fully matching the prey-killing stoop of a peregrine falcon.

Most people watching hawks in the city tend to look for perched red-tails. Soon, it will be time to be looking high in the sky, watching for soaring red-tails with dangling feet, a profoundly sexual signal between the pair, with the female saying to the tiercel, "Take off, get way up there, and show me what kind of a love dive you have."

No eggs will be laid until sometime in March. This is only the second year for the pair (at least at this site), so they aren't likely to be early. I wouldn't expect any eggs until mid-March, perhaps not even until the third or fourth week.

Yes, another reproductive season is on its way. Keep us posted, if you will."

--John Blakeman

Sunday, January 3, 2010

They're back!

When Gene Mancini posted this Christmas Day message on the Hawkaholics Facebook page -

"Merry Christmas everyone. Our Pair have been very close to the building the last two weeks, and spending lots of time in the nest."

- hawkaholics everywhere were excited to learn that the parent haggards were clearly interested in their nest and the surrounding area.

So Kay Meng and I decided to go down to the Franklin Institute last Monday to see if we could see the haggards for ourselves. It was a gray, windy, winter morning and after about 30 minutes of wandering around checking out all the usual spots where we had seen the hawks during the summer and fall, we had to get out of the frigid wind and warm up. We sat in the window of a little coffee shop behind the Institute where we could look out onto the Parkway and watched the corner of the building where the nest is.

Suddenly we saw that familiar wing flap, white underbelly and red tail as a haggard zoomed in and disappeared across the front of the building. We raced out to the street in front of the nest hoping to see mom or dad but no birds on the nest.

We walked around to the main entrance of the Franklin Institute and stood in the sun at the top
of the grand staircase looking out over the Swann Fountain over to the Free Library, figuring that if a haggard were around we would eventually see it, and that we could warm up a bit in the sun while we waited.

And our waiting paid off when a haggard flew in and perched on the decorative molding above the windows to the left of the entrance.

We thought it was the male as we remembered he had darker feathers on his face. He clearly was enjoying being out of the wind, warming up in the sun.

And then, the best moment of the morning! The female flew in to join the male, and

Kay was firing away on her camera and got this great shot as the female flew in.

The sun highlighted their beautiful red tail feathers.

It had been a long time since we had seen both haggards together - back in the summer when they had been busily feeding the eyasses and supervising their first attempts at hunting. You can clearly see the difference in body shape - the female (left) is bigger and rounder, and the male has more of a wedge or rectangular silhouette.

We could also see the difference in color of the feathers on their faces. Mom (left) has a much lighter colored face than dad.

Even though it was so cold and windy, they seemed quite content to perch and preen and look out over the city from "their" building.

To our inexpert eyes, the birds looked in superb health with beautiful plumage, much different from the scruffy molting hawks at the end of the summer.

After watching them up there for close to 20 minutes, it was as if the female said, "You want some really cool pictures? OK - here I come, right at ya!"

Fortunately, Kay's photo-reactions are razor sharp, and she got these amazing images when it seemed the hawk might fly right into us!

She alighted on a ledge on the other side of the main entrance, only about 30 yards from where they had been sitting together.

And that's where we left them. It was just so great to see them together, comfortable in their urban environment, and looking so fat and healthy! The only thing that would have made this a more perfect hawkwatching experience would have been to see them on the nest, but we know that's coming soon!