This year, for the first time since 1984, my husband and I aren't at Acadia National Park this month but I think of it every day. If I was there I'd be stopping by the base of this mountain to scan for peregrines. It's one of the few wild places where I know they nest.
On Throw Back Thursday here's a description of the peregrines' wild nest sites at Acadia with news from 2010:
On Tuesday I heard a sound in Schenley Park that I didn't recognize: a melodious call from a baby bird.
I found the bird flutter-climbing from a low perch to a high spot in a tree, moving fast and begging the entire time. He had downy tufts on his head, a striped chest, big feet, short wings and an almost non-existent tail. He looked a lot like the bird pictured above.
I couldn't identify the fledgling so I waited for his mother to bring food and she solved the mystery. A bird just like her is pictured below (from Wikimedia Commons).
If you don't recognize her, here's another clue. The father bird looks like this. (I didn't see him that day.)
Obviously scarlet tanagers change a lot as they grow into breeding adults. Read more about them in this vintage article from July 2008:
A bird that hasn't nested in Pennsylvania since the early 1950's returned this year to Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
The piping plover (Charadrius melodus), a very rare bird, has been endangered in the Great Lakes region since 1986. This spring for the first time in over 60 years they nested at Gull Point.
Their decline was due to habitat loss. Their return is an environmental success story. As Dan Brauning, PGC's Wildlife Diversity Program Chief, said, "This is a testament to dedication and teamwork, not only in Pennsylvania but throughout the species' range. Their return wasn't by chance, or an accident."
Piping plovers nest on wide, sparsely vegetated sand or cobble beaches but 20 years ago Presque Isle State Park had nothing like that. As the population of Great Lakes piping plovers grew, a plover would sometimes stop at Gull Point during migration but it never stayed. PGC, DCNR, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy worked to clear invasive vegetation and protect Gull Point during the nesting season. Then Audubon monitors, including my friend Mary Birdsong, watched for piping plovers each spring. For a couple of years Mary observed a male piping plover stay at the point, calling for a female, but he was a lonely bachelor. This year, success. Two pairs!
Read here about their nesting success and how eggs were rescued from the waves. Click here to see a close up of a piping plover.
Now that Peregrine Season is over I finally have time to visit other nests. Yesterday I stopped by the Hays Eagle Viewing Area on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and was happy to find Eaglestreamer (Wendy) on site. She filled me in on all the latest news.
The bald eagle chick, H7, walked off the nest on June 2 and has been branching ever since. In this June 4 video you can see both adults standing by while H7 does some wing exercises. Like all bald eagle chicks H7 is dark brown and hard to see with wings closed.
Meanwhile the adults are very attentive but have changed their behavior in small ways that are similar to peregrine fledge-time. For instance, they sometimes take more time to deliver food by flying past the juvenile with prey in their talons.
Very soon -- any day now -- H7 will fly for the first time. Eagle fans are on the trail every day, awaiting that exciting moment. Stop by and join them. Click here for directions.
If you can't make it to the trail, here are some ways to enjoy eagle watching from afar.
News from the two on-camera peregrine nests in Pittsburgh:
Cathedral of Learning:
The Pitt peregrine youngsters began flapping this morning before dawn. Soon they'll walk off camera and up to the take-off zone where they'll spend a couple of days building their wing muscles. They won't be visible on camera but you can see them from Fledge Watch-- June 2 to 6.
Visit the Events page for the Fledge Watch schedule, cancellation updates (when needed) and information on parking, food & maps at Schenley Plaza.
This morning at dawn I saw one peregrine youngster perched at the nest. She flew shortly after this snapshot.
Last night I was in a long meeting and didn't see a comment posted to my blog until nearly 11p (4 hours after it happened). In the comment John wrote, "Right now there is a Peregrine on Grant street by the Federal building. Animal control is there. It is banded. This is as of 6:30pm 6/1."
The young peregrine was probably standing on the sidewalk and needed human assistance to get up to a high perch and start over. The bird was already in good hands when John posted the comment so I'm not worried. I will hear more eventually and post the update here.
UPDATE, 8:15am: This morning Lori Maggio looked for the fledglings and says she may have seen all three, though she's not sure.
At this stage of development, the Gulf Tower peregrines are learning to fly and the Pitt peregrines are walking off the nest. Are they in trouble when you can't see them? No, they're fine. Here's where they go.
Yesterday, May 31, Lori Maggio stopped by the Fledge Watch site and found all five peregrines at home on the Gulf Tower.
In the photo at top, the two parents are circled on the left, three youngsters circled at various levels on the right.
The closeup points out the three juveniles. The one at the top fledged to the observation deck level on Tuesday and is flapping in preparation for her next flight. She flew toward the USX Tower where Lori lost sight of her.
Last evening two chicks came back to the nest to spend the night but left today at dawn and might never return. This morning Lori reports that all three had fledged by 7:30am. Woo hoo!
Why don't peregrines come back to the nest forever? The nest is the babies' crib. When youngsters graduate to a bigger life, they don't want to come back to the crib. Human children are like that, too.
Cathedral of Learning:
One week younger than the Gulf Tower chicks, the youngsters at the Cathedral of Learning are just starting to ledge walk and disappear from camera view. Are they safe? Yes.
Yesterday afternoon one of them explored below the nest while the others watched (shown above). There's a lot of floor space below the nest with walls all around so there's no way a young bird can fall. As happens every year, the youngster gets bored and walks/jumps back up to the nest surface. Of course she does. That's where the food is!
In the days ahead the youngsters will also walk up to the nest rail and jump over to the keyhole. Here's a description of where they go, complete with ledge walking photos.
Yesterday at Gulf Tower Fledge Watch it appeared that one, maybe two, of the peregrine chicks had fledged. I found one chick off camera on the same level as the nest. Where were the other two?
I used this clue: Find the parents and look where they are looking. Yesterday Dori and Louie often perched just above the observation deck and stared at the deck floor. I wondered if one or both were there.
Last evening Anne Marie Bosynak stopped by Flag Plaza and saw all three youngsters. One had fledged to the observation deck area. (Aha!) The other two were on the nest level.
By 7:30pm two birds were back on camera. This morning all three are off camera again. They will probably fly today.
I won't be holding a Gulf Tower Fledge Watch but if you're downtown keep your eyes on the sky and on nearby buildings. The Gulf Tower peregrine chicks are learning to fly.
Why do I cancel Fledge Watch if it's raining? Am I just a wimp about getting wet?
No. It's because there's nothing to see. Young peregrines avoid flying in the rain.
On a peregrine's first flight he needs some wind -- not too much! -- and an updraft to hold him up. He also needs to be in good flight condition with strong muscles and dry feathers.
Wet feathers are heavy and make it hard to fly. Birds know this instinctively so they wait until they've dried off.
Bird rehabbers know this, too. When a young peregrine is rescued from the street, the rescuer wets him down before putting him out on a high ledge to start over. Wet feathers prevent the rescued peregrine from leaping out of the rescuers hands.
There is one exception to this first flight rule. When there's danger at the nest, peregrine chicks of this age will fly, even in poor conditions, even if they've never flown before -- but it can end badly in a crash.
What danger could there be at a city nest? Humans! We are the peregrines' #1 enemy. That's why it's important for all of us to stay away from peregrine nests and the windows that look out on them during these last days before first flight.
p.s. Today, Tuesday May 30, there is no chance of rain and the peregrines haven't flown yet so ... I'll be at Gulf Tower Fledge Watch, 11:30a-1:30p, on the sidewalk leading up to the Pennsylvanian railroad station. Details here.
Yes! Gulf Tower Fledge Watch at Flag Plaza today, Sunday May 28, 11:30a to 1:30p.
Yesterday, Saturday May 27, I stuck to my plan but I missed some fun.
It rained in the morning so I didn't plan to hold a Gulf Tower Fledge Watch at Flag Plaza. However, the rain stopped by noon so John English, John Bauman and Anne Marie Bosnyak went over to see what was up. Here are John English's pictures.
At top is the view of the Gulf Tower with the nest area circled in yellow. It's very easy to see the peregrines with binoculars. John took these photos through his scope.
Below, one peregrine chick perches on the pillar near the nest. You can see the falconcam from Flag Plaza.
Louie, circled top left, and Dori, circled at right, watch over the "kids" at the nest (yellow square) as fledging time approaches. They're waiting for the next step:
When a chick flies for the first time one of the parents, usually the male, follows the chick to its landing place and makes sure it's safe. If all is well, the parent brings food to the chick at its new perch. To us humans it looks like food is the reward for a job well done.
My reluctance to vary Saturday's Watch schedule was due to my experience on Friday May 26.
The weather forecast said the rain would end around 11am but it was still pouring at 11:15a so I posted to Twitter and Facebook that I wouldn't be Downtown until noon. Unfortunately, Margaret was already on her way and wondered where I was when she arrived at 11:30a. She sat out the rain under the railroad station portico, out of sight of the sidewalk were I set up my scope at noon.
After the drizzle stopped, Janine and Barb stopped over from the Federal Building around 1pm. We were thrilled to see Louie hunting close by as he dove on two mourning doves near the Federated Investors building. The doves escaped. Whoosh!
Margaret found us at 1:15pm. It started to rain hard at 1:30pmso Fledge Watch ended.
Fortunately, the weather looks good today and tomorrow so I'll be at Flag Plaza both days, 11:30a to 1:30p.
On May 23 I saw my neighborhood's first American robin fledgling of 2017.
He's the same size as his parents but has a speckled chest, almost no tail (his tail hadn't grown in yet), and a loud voice. He follows his mother around my backyard. When she walks three paces, he walks three paces. He maintains his distance, begging periodically, until she has food in her beak. Then he rushes at her to get it.
In four weeks, around June 20, he'll become independent. Meanwhile his mother will build another nest, lay, incubate and hatch another brood. If she's quick about it they'll fledge five weeks after he did, around June 27.
Robins raise two or three broods per year and though only one or two survive per nest it's enough to keep their population booming.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)