Sunday, March 27, 2011

As the nest turns....

One of the great delights of the Franklin Institute's camera feed is catching some of the daily dramas that occur in the nest.  

Last week, as we waited for the third egg to appear, the tiercel kept bringing more trash to the nest.  In addition to his favorite plastic bags and newspaper sheets, a spatula appeared!

Then more newspaper showed up under the eggs...

 ... followed by more plastic and another sheet of paper.

 In addition to nest lining materials, the tiercel also brought great dedication to sitting on the eggs.

On one occasion, he literally pushed the formel up off the eggs....

... and nestled in under her, leaving her no choice but to leave the nest with the tiercel sitting happily on the eggs. As the formel came closer to laying her third egg, she had to be forcible in her presence until she succeeded in moving the tiercel off the eggs...

 ... finally gaining her spot back ready to lay her third egg.

I asked John Blakeman what might be causing the tiercel's insistent behavior towards his mate, and he responded:

"Not sure I can explain this, except that the formel is still not incubating. She's merely covering and protecting the two eggs. They are being held at sub-incubation temperatures, awaiting the laying of the final egg. Then, the formel will dominate and will not be nudged off her now-warm eggs unless she so subtlety signals that she needs to take a break.

But none of that explains the tiercel's pushy desire to cover the eggs himself. My best explanation of this would be that the tiercel was just trying to help, to give his mate a break, something he will be doing much more helpfully, and less insistently, after formal incubation begins (by the formel, the female).
It seems that the pair can send and receive the slightest behavior signals, by nuanced and slight gestures that none of us can detect or read. Right now, before incubation begins, the pair are practicing and trading signals. This may have been a part of what you saw.
But soon, the final egg will have been laid, and full incubation will begin, with no looking back or extensive neglect of the eggs.
In that regard, however, as viewers so nervously noted last year, there will be times when neither the tiercel nor the formel will be sitting on the exposed eggs. This will cause anxiety for everyone except the hawks themselves. Somehow, they always get one of the pair back on the eggs and warm them up again before anything untoward happens.
Real incubation is about to begin. Let the show begin."

--John Blakeman

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And now there are three

The Franklin Institute confirmed at 11:08 AM today the arrival of the third egg

Happiness reigns in Hawkdom!

A couple of other screen captures from Marge Goodman and Janette Benner.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why is the tiercel taking care of the eggs?

If you were watching the UStream camera feed yesterday from the Franklin Institute, you may have noticed that for most of the day, it was the tiercel (dad) who was sitting on the nest taking care of the two newly laid eggs.

Where was the formel?  What was she up to?

John Blakeman shares some fascinating insight into the psychology of the hawks at this crucial time of egg laying:
"The tiercel's lengthy sitting upon the eggs (but it's not incubating yet at this early stage with another egg yet to come) is of no concern. Neither bird is yet in full incubation mode, especially the female. She almost surely has a third egg growing and descending her fallopian tube. She's already produced two eggs, which are physiologically demanding enough. She loses a lot of serum-mobilized fats, proteins, and some carbohydrates, along with an egg-full of plain water in the production of each of those first two eggs. Producing a third egg is particularly demanding, both physiologically and psychologically.
Frankly, she's just in no mood to be sitting around on the nest on eggs. It may be far more comfortable to be standing, to allow gravity to assist in the flow of the new, last egg down the fallopian tube. If she could have been seen today by any of us familiar with the distress formels express when making eggs --- especially the third and last one --- her attitude would been apparent. She sits with a subtle attitude of stress. She would be less alert, and slower in reacting.
She's eager to get that last egg formed and laid. When that happens, when she's relieved of the stress of egg formation, everything will change. Incubation will begin in earnest, with a profound compulsion by the formel to sit tightly and convey lots of body heat to the eggs across her naked brood patch under the feathers of her belly.
The tiercel, like fathers everywhere, just scratches his head trying to figure out the anomalous behaviors of his "eggnant" mate. Dutifully, he sits over the eggs and protects them. He'll be relieved when he can head off each morning to hunt for both his mate and himself. He's not much of a "nest husband." He really wants to be out there hunting and killing things for his mate. And his mate, when the last egg starts to descend into the internal cloacal space, will have a tremendous compulsion to get on the nest and begin another year incubating eggs and raising eyasses."
--John Blakeman

Monday, March 21, 2011

And then there were two!

Right on schedule, the formel laid her second egg mid-morning yesterday (Sunday).  Thanks to Marge Goodman for these screen captures taken soon after the egg appeared.

Some tech gremlins bedeviled the Franklin Institute camera placement yesterday, giving us some interesting angles at various times of the day.

Fortunately, they were right on it today, replacing a defective camera bracket, so we're back to a wonderful view of the nest.

                       *             *             *             *             *             *   

For much of today, it was the tiercel (dad) who stayed on the eggs.

 He sat there patiently looking out at the streets below him, and then occasionally into the window behind him.

Every so often, he would stand up, gravely inspect the eggs....

... and then settle back down.

 Sometimes, he would step up onto the high front wall of the nest, and look down on the eggs...

 ... from different vantage points.

Then back down into the nest bowl to check on the eggs...

... and then settle in for more egg-sitting.

If there is a third egg, expect it to arrive sometime on Wednesday.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The waiting game

Hawkwatchers everywhere are waiting for the second egg to arrive.  Early on another beautiful  morning, it seemed as if the haggards were waiting too as Kay Meng caught them sitting across from the nest in their favorite tree.

 Soon, the tiercel was soaring away looking for breakfast.

Meanwhile, back at the nest, the egg sat patiently waiting too amidst its trash decor!

 It was not long before the formel returned to sit on her egg.

At various points during the day, the hawks take turn staying on the nest, often sitting up on the front wall surveying their spectacular city views.

 As evening progressed into twilight, the egg was left alone for quite a while...

 ... but as dusk fell, the formel was back in the nest and remained there till we could no longer see her in the darkness.

Hopefully, she is resting up getting ready to lay her second egg tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The day after....

On an impossibly gorgeous March morning, Kay Meng caught the tiercel flying proudly above his nest containing this year's first egg.

 Thanks to the Ustream camera we had a great close-up of the egg when the formel stood up to rearrange herself...

 ... before settling back.

 Soon, the tiercel arrived with breakfast...

... which was of great interest to his mate - thanks to Janette Benner for this image.

As soon as she finished eating, she got ready to take off...(thanks again to Janette Benner for these next two images)

... leaving the tiercel on egg duty...

... looking a little nervous?

The next egg will likely arrive sometime on Sunday, so stay tuned!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Eggciting news! Egg #1 just arrived

We have an egg!

These pictures are really dark as the bright afternoon sun in Philadelphia today is creating deep shadows.

At approximately 3:10 PM, the formel stood up and we caught our first glimpse of the eagerly awaited egg.

She then stepped back a little, and we could see it more clearly.

She was quickly joined by the tiercel - proud parents admiring their first-laid! 

And then the formel headed out, soon followed by her mate.

So, now we're off and running for another wonderful spring of hawks

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When will the first egg arrive?

Now that we have the close camera angle again, we can see more clearly what is happening in the ever-deepening nest. If the hawks hold true to their schedule of the past couple of years, the first egg should appear in the next few days.

In 2009, the first egg came on March 9.  Last year, it was March 13, delayed perhaps by the extraordinarily harsh winter.

I asked John Blakeman what he thought about this year:

"Right now, I think it's a bit early, particularly with severity of the passing winter. She may still be building up nutrient reserves from which to draw upon when the first egg forms in the fallopian tube. That could still be a week or two away. If I'm standing there with a scope, I can tell when the formel becomes a bit lethargic as eggs begin to form. But I don't get to watch her out on the Parkway. Others may be able to see these pre-egg behavioral nuances, especially women who have been pregnant and have a personal understanding of the matter. We men can be a bit clueless." 

Last year, John expanded on this topic for us, and I will reprise it here:

"Here's one thing that viewers can watch for. The formel, when the big egg really starts to form and descend down her one fallopian tube (mammals have two of these; birds have one, so that they don't have to fly around with unused extra weight), the hawk will take on a somewhat stiff and concerned "look." She will not be as active and will just sit there for long periods, looking a bit dazed.

And if I had a fallopian tube with a descending mass commensurately as big as the hawk's egg, I'd be dazed, too.

Then she'll sit down in the nest and get ready. The laying of the egg can't been seen. It just comes out, without much effort. But she'll get up a bit later, turn around, look at it, and then sit back down. That's probably when we'll see that the first egg has been laid.

But serious incubation won't start yet. That happens when the formel knows she's laid the last one. Then, it's serious incubation time. Keep those eggs warm and rotated. She will then sink lower into the nest, and jostle herself back forth, getting the new eggs tucked right up to her naked brood patch, a bare area under the chest feathers. That will keep them warm.

The fun then begins for all of us. Here's awatchin'."

–John Blakeman

Monday, March 7, 2011

And the nest gets bigger and deeper.....

Took an early trip down to the nest on Saturday, making the most of a lovely warm sunny morning - finally!  After the winter we've endured here in Philadelphia, it's taken some getting used to these unfamiliar temperatures!  As always, many thanks to Kay Meng for these magnificent images.

The front wall of the nest continues to rise, and the new angle of the Ustream camera clearly shows how deep the bowl is becoming.  There is no way an egg or an eyass could ever fall out of this nest.

Early mornings - an hour after sunrise - always seem a good time to catch lots of activity from the hawks.  Here is the formel (mom) busily working on organizing those sticks into just the right spot.  The hawks have to flap and hop to get around the nest because of its depth and thickness.

Since last week, some new decorations have appeared in the nest; sprigs of evergreen, and seedpods from the London plane trees across from the nest on the edge of the Ben Franklin Parkway.  These trees are one of the hawks' favorite perching spots, and the major source of the twigs and sticks they bring back to the nest.

 Within five minutes, the tiercel zoomed in for a landing.  Whenever a hawk flies in to the nest, whoever is already on it always crouches down as if to maximize the landing area.

Almost immediately, the formel took off...

... and her mate watched her go. 

In the picture above, you can see the delicate brown speckles on the tiercel's chest, and his white throat.  This contrasts with bigger, darker belly spots on the formel and the chocolate coloring under her eyes and beak. 

The tiercel was soon airborne and heading off for more sticks.

And it wasn't long before the formel was back bringing yet more material for the nest.

She was definitely more involved with the nest this week than last, when she spent most of the time sitting in her tree watching the tiercel do all the work.  They both constantly tweak the positioning of various twigs.

However, she soon decided she'd had enough of domesticity, and flew all the way over to the trees between the Free Library and the Barnes Museum construction site.

The tiercel also took a break on top of one of the Civil War monuments that mark the start of the Ben Franklin Parkway.  The flat tops of these two monuments often serve as a tabletop for hawk feasts, and are favorite spots for the eyasses to wait for food deliveries after they fledge.  This image gives a great view of those fearsome razor sharp talons.

Here's a picture from last June (thanks to Janette Benner) of an eyass sitting up there waiting for breakfast. It is always somewhat startling to see the contrast between the stylized stone eagle and the vibrant hawk.

But it wasn't long before the industrious tiercel took off again.  I think this is one of Kay's most beautiful images yet.

This time, he flew to the roof of the Franklin Institute, and judging by the cloud of pigeons that exploded upwards, he was likely grabbing some breakfast.

Not much happened for a while; the formel was sunning herself high in a tree way over by the Library, and the tiercel was probably stuffing himself up above us.  Then we saw an extraordinary display of the complete awareness each hawk has for the other, and their incredible flying skills.

The tiercel took off from the roof and swiftly headed away up towards the Art Museum.  When he was about a quarter of a mile away, he flew a wide loop to the right and headed at high speed back down the other side of the Parkway towards the trees where the formel was perched. 

He flew directly into her tree, and to her branch with no apparent slowing down - and landed directly on her back and copulated.  Precision bombing barely describes how fast and accurately he flew in and.... landed!  Fortunately, she must have been holding on tightly! 

Kay, meanwhile, never missed a beat, and intrepidly kept her shutter firing!

As I drove homewards along the Parkway and was stopped at a light, I looked up and saw both of them soaring skywards in a tight circle... together forever... and like all expectant parents perhaps enjoying the last week or so of freedom before those eggs start arriving.