Thursday, February 28, 2013

The nest cam at the Franklin Institute is up and running!

Many, many thanks to the staff at the Franklin Institute for getting the camera running so quickly.  I am sure that at the beginning of this week, like us, they were thinking maybe there would be no need for the nest cam this year.

Here's the link for this Ustream feed:

And here what's showing right now... that grid pattern is a window reflection of the heating vent on the inside window ledge.  The FI will be putting a black cover on it to hide the reflection.

I'm working on a longer post with lots more great pictures from the hawkstalkers of all the action from yesterday and today, but wanted you to have the camera info ASAP.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Good news; bad news; GREAT NEWS!

So the short version goes like this:

The good news through Sunday was that Mom and T2 were together ....

                               Kevin Vaughan

... and had started to gather sticks and take them to the ledge.

            Scott Kemper

The bad news through Sunday was that the ledge was not at the Franklin Institute, but about five blocks away and seven floors up on the GlaxoSmithKline building at 17th and Vine. 

                         Carolyn Sutton

The GREAT NEWS is that, after several weeks of waiting and worrying that they would not return, and thus no more Franklin hawks, on Monday morning, bright and early, Mom and T2 were finally on the nest at the Franklin Institute.

      Kevin Vaughan

And now for the long version!

During those several weeks, the only hopeful sign was that the hawks were clearly a bonded pair.  Most every day, diligent hawk stalkers - notably Carolyn Sutton, Shannon O'Donnell, and Kevin Vaughan - could find them within a few blocks of the Franklin Institute, but it was not until a couple of weeks ago that the hawks started gathering sticks.

For the past four years with the original pair of Mom and Dad, their stick gathering led immediately to nest refurbishing on the Franklin Institute ledge, and the sticks grew visibly higher as they flew ceaselessly back and forth to the nest.

But this year, the nest remained flat and barren with no sign of new sticks from one week...

         Della Micah

... to the next.

         Della Micah

Several times, T2 sat tantalizingly close on the lamp pole right in front of the nest...

                         Shannon O'Donnell

...  and even closer, up on the balustrade ledge right above the nest, but he showed no inclination to go any closer.

                         Shannon O'Donnell

Meanwhile, Mom was busy gathering sticks....

      George Lloyd

... but flying with them in the complete opposite direction, away from the Franklin Institute, and toward the cathedral at Logan Square.

                Kevin Vaughan

           Kevin Vaughan

She seemed almost confused about what to do next, sometimes placing them on top of the entirely impractical arched windows ...

           Carolyn Sutton

... or even less likely nest sites.

           Carolyn Sutton

Then it got worse!  She started flying from the cathedral to the GlaxoSmithKline building a block away.

           Carolyn Sutton

She favored the second ledge from the top, seven floors up from the street, but often perched on the ledge below.

                          Carolyn Sutton

To call it a ledge is optimistic; it's really a bridge across the front of the window with open space on either side, and a sheer drop to the ground below.  You can see the sticks hanging off the back of the ledge/bridge above her.  It was a nightmare scenario to imagine eggs up there or eyasses on their ledging adventures.  Fortunately, the wind kept blowing the sticks away....

T2 occasionally brought a stick, but more often just sat there, showing no interest in actually doing some nest work.

            Carolyn Sutton

As February wore on, the hawks seemed increasingly disorganized in their behavior.  Were they ever going to get it together to build a nest that would actually hold together?  Was it getting too late to expect eggs?  Why did they act like complete amateurs when there was a magnificent nest ready made, waiting for them, that had already launched twelve young hawks into the world?

As always, when we have thorny hawk questions, I asked John Blakeman for his thoughts:

"Curious, at the least.

First, I wouldn't just yet attribute "nest" status to the meager assemblage of sticks on the new, higher, window ledge. Right now, I think this just some pro forma, ritualistic stick play. Red-tails often do this, parking some sticks around in new places, which do sometimes turn into new nest sites. But way too early to tell just yet. I wouldn't be concerned until there is a real pile of sticks, upon which one or both (particularly the formel) began to spend a lot of time sitting and maneuvering the sticks.
But --- and this is the new factor --- the tiercel had never begun a breeding season at the FI nest site, and he's feeling his reproductive hormones right now, and in January and February, they cause him to carry sticks around and place them on either the existing, accepted nest, or as here, in new areas he's proposing as a new nest.
Sadly, for us, Red-tails are famous for moving around into new nests, after abandoning perfectly good and well-used nests from the previous season. They stay in the same territory, as are these two, but elect to build and use a new nest within a quarter- to half-mile from the old one --- sometimes even closer.
And there is no good reason for this, as the old nest usually is in perfect shape, as at the FI.
But the truth of the matter may be as follows. Stick carrying, exchanging, and nest building are very strong pair-bonding behaviors. Red-tails just get a joy out of these things in mid and late winter. Makes 'em happy.
So, little can be done perhaps, to lure the pair back to the FI. If the sticks are still there, nothing can be done to entice them back. If the entire old nest stick pile was tossed out, yes, get a pile of sticks back on the FI nest as soon as possible.
But I fear the pair is headed for a new nest site. Hope not. Let's see. Keep me posted."
--John Blakeman
*                     *                     *                     *                    *                     *

This past Sunday morning, Carolyn Sutton and I spent three hours chasing Mom and T2 around the cathedral, back and forth to the GlaxoSmithKline building, and around Logan Circle.  We became increasingly discouraged by their demeanor.  Mom seemed uncertain, almost forlorn, and we couldn't help wondering if she missed Dad, and was asking herself  how she was ever going to get T2 in gear (apologies for that shameless anthropomorphism!).
       Carolyn Sutton
T2, meanwhile, was larking around in a bramble patch in the disused railway bed below Callowhill Street.

       Carolyn Sutton

He remembered about sticks, and delivered one to where Mom wasn't, and looked around in a clueless fashion.

     Carolyn Sutton

She had taken off for the GlaxoSmithKline building, and T2 joined her there, but they did not seem in synch - each on different ledges, and facing different directions.

         Carolyn Sutton
 I have to admit that this was the low point of a disappointing morning.  There was nothing to indicate that they would ever again have any interest in the Franklin Institute.
 They left the GlaxoSmithKline building separately, and we headed to our cars, ready to call it quits, when to our surprise, we saw them close together in a tree in front of the cathedral.
          Carolyn Sutton
Suddenly, they took off, and instead of their usual heading off in different directions, they soared in circles, rising higher and higher.  The circles started to get smaller as they closed in on each other, and then it seemed almost as if they collided, and for the briefest moment, they locked talons, and then flew swiftly on the most direct path possible straight towards the Franklin Institute, and wheeled around the corner of the building towards the nest.

Carolyn and I stood in amazement at this development and then ran as fast as we could towards the Franklin Institute, cutting through the traffic of Logan Circle, then across the six lanes of the Ben Franklin Parkway.  Fortunately, it was Sunday morning and the traffic was light, or you would not reading a new blog entry!

We found one of the hawks - most likely Mom - sitting in the tree (known as Mom's tree) across from the nest where she always sat to take a break from tending the eyasses.  The other hawk appeared from the nest area, and they flew together into the trees by the Park Towne Apartments.

This was the first time this season we had seen both hawks near the nest, and it was a better end to what had been a fairly depressing morning of hawkstalking.
But we had no expectation for what Kevin Vaughan found this morning on the nest!  In his words, "They were there when I arrived this morning at about 6:40, and stayed in and around the nest until I left at 7:10."
Kevin had the extraordinary presence of mind to remember how to take pictures, and captured these oh so welcome images. 

Finally, T2 seems interested in nest matters....

            Kevin Vaughan

... and starts to work on the sticks.  Mom looks stunned that this is actually happening!

           Kevin Vaughan
Here, he has returned with a new stick...

            Kevin Vaughan

... and then starts rearranging them.

         Kevin Vaughan

 T2 seems to be in control, and taking charge of the nest.

         Kevin Vaughan
 Of course, one day does not a nesting season make, but one day at a time.....
John Blakeman's comment:
"This looks good. Very high chance, now, of FI nest reuse."
      --John Blakeman

Friday, February 1, 2013

Get to work on your nest, T2!

These are the times that try hawkwatcher's souls! (apologies to Thomas Paine).  Still no activity at the nest, though Mom and T2 are frequently visible in the neighborhood.

Shannon O'Donnell spotted them this past Wednesday morning sitting on the water tower at 17th and Vine Streets.

       Shannon O'Donnell

While we wait and wait and wait for T2 to get to work on the nest, John Blakeman has some reassuring thoughts.  I asked him whether, if T2 has never built a nest before, it might take him longer to get in gear than a more experienced tiercel on his third or fourth nesting cycle?

John's reply: 
"Yes, the new tiercel's inexperience is almost surely the explanation for his lack of activity at the nestsite. It's still January. A lot of wild (well, rural) red-tails simply don't pay any attention to nest building or refurbishing until February. You are just a bit farther south, so things start there a bit earlier, but I think by only a week or two.
But out here in real red-tail country, in the countryside, wild RTs aren't doing anything I can see with nests or courtship. Too much snow and short days, which requires full attention in hunting.
The chances of the FI pair moving to some other nest site location this year is very, very low. The formel has no imperative to go elsewhere. This is where she's incubated, hatched, and fledged a good number of eyasses.
Now if things were as quiet in the third week in February as they are now in January, I'd be a bit concerned. But not yet."
--John Blakeman