Archive for April, 2008

Apr 16 2008

Peyton Place in Norfolk

Bald Eagle pair from Norfolk Botanical Garden (click here to see the Eagle Cam)If you think the Pittsburgh peregrines’ life is a soap opera, they’re not the only ones.

My mother has been keeping me informed about a pair of bald eagles who are living their own Peyton Place at Norfolk Botanical Garden in Virginia. Their nest has an Eagle Cam so people can watch the drama – and there’s been plenty of it.

This pair has nested at the Garden for seven years, but this year after the female had laid two eggs a 4-year-old intruder (female) arrived, chased away the resident female and made herself charming to the resident male. The eggs got too cold to be viable and had to be removed from the nest. After a brief fling, the intruder left and the original pair reunited.

It looked like life was back to normal after the orginal female laid two more eggs, but those eggs bit the dust too. Something scary made her jump around in the nest at night and she stepped on them. Oh no! They cracked! She ate them the next day.

She laid one more egg (her third try this year) and has been incubating it since March 22.

So you see, life can be complicated even if you’re an eagle.

Read more and watch the videos at:

 

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Apr 14 2008

Pitt Peregrine Alumni

Published by under Peregrines

Stammy, son of Dorothy and Erie, in Youngstown, Ohio (photo by Chad and Chris Saladin)Erie, the original male peregrine at University of Pittsburgh, is gone but not forgotten. He lives on in the falcons he fathered – Pitt peregrine alumni who now live elsewhere.

This beautiful picture is Erie’s son Stammy. Born on the Cathedral of Learning in 2003, he’s nested in Youngstown, Ohio since 2005. In Pennsylvania we don’t name peregrines when they’re banded, so he wasn’t known as Stammy until he got to Youngstown where he was named for the building he calls home.

Thanks to this photo from Chad & Chris Saladin, we’re able to read Stammy’s bands and learn two things: where this bird was born and that he’s alive and well.

Photos like this – in which we can read the bands – are how we keep track of peregrines. Based on bird band reports we know Erie & Dorothy’s children and grandchildren range from Pittsburgh to Michigan. The ones who’ve established homes are:

  • Louie: born in 2002, nests at the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh.
  • Stammy (pictured): born in 2003, nests in Youngstown, Ohio.
  • Hathor: born in 2003, nests in Mt. Clemens, Michigan.
  • Belle: born in 2003, nests in the bell tower at University of Toledo, Ohio.
  • Maddy: born in 2004, nests on the I-480 bridge near Cleveland, Ohio.

Quite a growing alumni organization!

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Apr 12 2008

Great birds in Henderson

Published by under Travel

American Avocet, Henderson NV Bird Preserve (photo by Laurie Patterson)This weekend I’m going to see this bird, an American avocet in breeding plumage, at the closest thing to birding heaven just outside Las Vegas.

Henderson Bird Preserve in Henderson, Nevada is a water treatment plant that’s beautifully laid out with natural vegetation, lots of water and good nesting habitat.  The City of Henderson intentionally made it a bird preserve 10 years ago.  It’s the third largest body of water in southern Nevada and the birds love it.  

Lots of birders visit it too.  That’s where I met Laurie Patterson who took this photo.  As we sat next to one of the ponds this avocet walked by us.  Yes, at the bird preserve they can come this close.

Almost all my Nevada life birds were found at Henderson.  The preserve is open 6:00am to 3:00pm so it’s best to come early.  After Henderson, I visit Red Rock Canyon or Corn Creek but the bird preserve is my first love.

There’s some mighty good birding in southern Nevada. 

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Apr 10 2008

Junk Birds in Las Vegas

Published by under Travel

Great-tailed Grackle (photo by Chuck Tague)Every year in April I attend the PBS Technology Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.  To me it is slightly bizarre that a public broadcasting meeting is held in Las Vegas but it’s planned to coincide with the National Association of Broadcasters convention which is always held in Las Vegas in April. 

So here I am.  For several days we sit in the dark watching Powerpoint.  I must say that my favorite presentations are the HD TV segments from nature shows.  Even so, when I’m not in the meetings I just want to see birds.

There are plenty of birds at the Las Vegas Strip but most of them are “junk birds” so common and prolific that it just doesn’t make your heart go pitta-pat to see them.

The great-tailed grackles are the ones who stand out.  They are incredibly common and in spring they’re obnoxious.  This is part of courtship.  The males chase the females and each other.  They swagger down the sidewalk.  They perch on palm trees and buildings and call loudly (click here on the Sound link!)  They expand their throat feathers and tails and point their bills at the sky.  They have bill-pointing contests to see whose bill is tallest.  They are so … Las Vegas.

They are also expanding their range.  The photo above was taken by Chuck Tague in Belize.  He’s also seen them in Arizona and I hear you can find them in Iowa now. 

Maybe they’re following the casinos.   ;)

p.s. My favorite place for birding near Las Vegas is Henderson Bird Preserve.  Also see the comments below for more birding hotspots near Las Vegas.

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Apr 08 2008

What a good dad!

Dorothy touches E2's beak as she arrives to take over incubation.E2, the new male peregrine at University of Pittsburgh, is a very attentive father. He’s participating a lot in the boring but vital job of incubation, and he proves again and again that he’s a good provider by bringing Dorothy food.

Last week I saw him do both on the National Aviary’s webcam.

In this snapshot, E2 is sitting on the eggs when Dorothy arrives. She bows and touches his beak to let him know she’s ready to resume incubation. Click the picture to see a slideshow of this activity.

Rest your mouse pointer on the slideshow to see the captions.

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Apr 06 2008

Red-tails Close to Home

Published by under Birds of Prey

Red-tailed Hawk takes off from a chimney (photo by Bill Barron)This awesome picture from Bill Barron and some sad news from Boston’s Fenway Park got me thinking about hawks who live near people.

Bill captured this photo of a red-tailed hawk at the moment it took off from his chimney.  Obviously the bird is comfortable where there are lots of people – a comfort level that’s a relatively new phenomenon.

Years ago people persecuted and killed hawks, believing they attacked farm animals, but since 1937 a series of laws have made this illegal.  There are still some evil-minded people who rationalize that they’re above the law and they shoot hawks, but this is rare and not often found in cities. 

Since red-tails are rather safe in cities, they now take advantage of the food in our vicinity (mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks) and benefit from being near a top-level predator (us) who keeps the other predators at bay.

Which brings me to the Fenway Park incident on April 3rd

Red-tailed hawks have been hanging out at Fenway for a couple of years.  This spring a female built a nest near the press box.  She was fine with people’s presence until she laid an egg.  As soon as she became a mother her protective instincts kicked in.  “Don’t get near my nest!”

Unfortunately a middle school girl got too close during a tour and the hawk told her to back off in the only way she knew how – she swooped down and used her talons.  It was a huge misunderstanding.  The hawk didn’t realize that people couldn’t honor her nesting boundaries at a place like Fenway and the people didn’t understand that the boundaries had expanded because of the nest.  The hawk lost everything.  Her nest and egg were removed.

Now for those of who you are thinking, “Oh my, hawks really are dangerous!” I want to point out that on the entire continent of North America this is a stand-alone misunderstanding between people and a bird.  It’s not a pattern, it doesn’t happen every day and that’s why it’s news.  99% of the time hawks are smart enough not to nest near people and people are smart enough to stay clear of nesting hawks.   Everyone involved in this has learned something – and so have you.

A little bit of common sense is all we need to get by.

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Apr 02 2008

Who is he? New male peregrine at Univ of Pittsburgh

Published by under Peregrines

Who is he?  Male peregrine, nicknamed E2, at Univ of PittsburghOn February 17th I was startled by a photo from the University of Pittsburgh falconcam.  In it the leg bands on the male peregrine were not the same color as those on Erie, the resident male since 2002.   If this was indeed true it meant that Erie was gone, replaced by another male peregrine.  

Rather than jump to a conclusion without more evidence I decided to investigate, comparing new webcam photos to prior years and searching for evidence of band colors.  Band numbers are impossible to read on the webcam because over-the-web images are such low resolution.

Over a period of 6 weeks I examined more than 4,500 photos.  Eventually I couldn’t ignore what I was seeing.  This is indeed a new male.  Since we don’t know his name yet, my friend Karen and I have nicknamed him Erie2 or “E2″ for short.

Here’s how I decided this bird isn’t Erie.

Erie vs E2 comparison of bands, male peregrines at Univ of PittsburghWay back in 2002 we identified Erie by a digital photo which clearly showed his band numbers. Shown at left are Erie’s leg bands:  his right leg pink, his left leg black/red T*/W. 

At right for comparison is the February 17th photo of E2′s bands:  his right leg is silver, his left leg black/green. 

Could these be Dorothy’s bands?  No, her right leg is pink – not silver – though her left leg is black/green.   Besides, the original photo had both birds in it and after looking at thousands of photos I can tell who is who.  And further, neither bird ever shows black/red bands so neither of them is Erie.

 

Erie vs E2 comparison with Dorothy, Peregrines at Univ of PittsburghI also compared their physical appearance.  Erie always had a marked color contrast between his back and tail. 

Here are two courtship photos with the males in similar poses.  On the left Erie (pale back with dark wing tips and tail) is leaving the nest last year after bowing to Dorothy.  This was 6 days after he won the territory battle.  On the right E2 is leaving the nest this spring.  E2 is uniformly gray with much less contrast.

 

Erie vs E2 on nest, Peregrines at Univ of PittsburghThe difference in appearance is also noticeable when the males incubate the eggs.

Again, Erie is on the left in a 2005 photo showing a strong color contrast between back and tail.  E2 on the right has much less contrast.

When did E2 arrive?  Was there a fight?

Karen and I and Dr. Tony Bledsoe have compared our observations.  As far as we can tell there was no fight because Erie disappeared before E2 arrived.  We think Erie disappeared in October.  There was a long period when we saw only Dorothy at Pitt.  Then in mid-to-late November we saw several things that we now realize meant a new peregrine was taking over:  

  • Dorothy and E2 did lots of courtship flying in late November and early December, something that never happened at that time of year between Dorothy and Erie.  January was Erie’s normal time for courtship.
  • In November, December and January, E2 repeatedly attacked the red-tailed hawks at Central Catholic.  Erie never cared about those red-tails unless they came to campus.
  • E2 doesn’t perch in Erie’s favorite places on the 32nd and 28th floors.  This is a minor point but it adds up.

Though my friend Karen and I grieved a bit for Erie, life goes on. 

Dorothy is happy with E2.  They have 4 eggs to incubate and he’s helping with incubation more than Erie did in recent years.  So who are we to complain? 

Now if we could just read his bands!

 

To read my latest blogs about peregrines, click here.

Watch the Pitt peregrines live at their nest on the National Aviary’s falconcam.

 

 

 

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