Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Day with the Franklin hawks

January 1 in Philadelphia feels more like a spring day with sunshine and balmy temperatures in the 50s.  Indeed, the Mummers are concerned that they may actually be too hot inside some of those elaborate, feathered costumes!

Because it was such a lovely morning, and the Mummers Parade was over on Broad Street, thus not affecting access to the Franklin Institute, it seemed a good plan to start off 2012 by visiting the nest, hopefully to see both Mom and Dad.

Well, the good news is I saw both of the hawks and have pictures of them; the bad news is that I took the pictures, and not Kay, Scott, Joe or George!

I met Carolyn at the nest at 7:30 AM and we waited... and waited... but no hawks to be seen.  We did see scores of police officers assembling for pre-parade briefings; Winter Street seems to be a major gathering point for this activity.

Our patience was rewarded at 8:15 when the tiercel flew to the nest bringing a stick.

He poked his stick into the pile up there and then rearranged some of the other twigs.

He then looked out for a few minutes...

... before flying into a nearby tree on Winter Street.

He climbed around a bit, grabbing at and discarding small twigs...

before finding one to his liking, and flying it back to the nest...

and then quickly flying away to a tree alongside Logan Square.

But where was his mate?  We had not seen the formel in three hours of hawkstalking on Thursday and she was nowhere to be seen today.  It had, in fact, been two or three months since she was last seen.

We split forces to look for her with Carolyn heading down Vine Street and me prowling the Logan Square area back to the nest. Carolyn's hawkspotting talent paid off when she located Mom sitting up on a spotlight pole at 19th & Vine.

What a huge relief to finally locate her.  The sad news this week of the death of Violet, one of the Washington Square Park nesting pair in NYC, was a stark reminder of the dangers that can befall hawks.

Like her mate, she looked fat and healthy.

It is also noticeable how much broader through her chest she is than the tiercel - just a bigger bird altogether.

In our excitement at finding the formel, we missed seeing Dad leave his tree, and once again had only one hawk in view.

This time, I won the hawkspotting award as I spied him on the top of a distant flagpole outside the Family Court building.

I think it is quite a perching feat to appear so comfortable atop a slippery round finial!

During this time, a large flock of pigeons kept swooping past both hawks in daredevil fashion.  After each fly-by, they perched on the balustrade of the court building looking down almost in derision at the hawks below.

"This is not going to end well," I thought to myself as I noticed both hawks looking increasingly interested at the prospect of a possible pigeon brunch.

And then... boom!  Dad launched himself up at the balustrade and the pigeon flock exploded outwards and away - all except one.

If you look at the middle of the right hand balustrade, that brown/tan blob is the tiercel with his pigeon prey.

Almost immediately, the female flew in, grabbed the pigeon and flew with it to the end of the building - to the exact spot where we had first spied Dad last Thursday.  She started ripping off the feathers which fell around us like a snowstorm.  Here are some of them by Carolyn's foot!

Meanwhile, the tiercel flew to the top of another flagpole and resignedly waited for the feast to end.

You can see the formel's tail hanging out from the ledge on the left as she leans forward to eat.

 How satisfying it is finally to see both of the Franklin hawks together and looking so well.

A Happy New Nesting Year looks imminent!