June 19 Falcon Watch, Part II

Amber on the roof, June 19. Photo by Anouk Hoedeman

Sorry for the previous truncated post about yesterday morning — I once again fell asleep while writing, which is bound to happen after a long day in this heat. Now where was I? Oh yes, four falcons flying over and around the building, with John, Dominique and myself trying in vain to keep track.

When the action slowed down, we took stock of which chick ended up where. Or tried to, anyway. We thought at least one was one the roof, but couldn’t be sure. Tim arrived for his shift (and swore he’d come 15 minutes early the next time, so as not to miss out) and set out to find Amber. He soon found her on the edge of the roof of the lower building, but at some point she disappeared from view. By this time, Pauline had arrived as well. The adult falcons came and went, and Tim spotted a sleeping chick on the roof above the east side of the main building. But we couldn’t tell which one, and various walkie-talkie batteries were starting to fail.

We spent the next several hours trying to determine if Amber was still on the lower roof or had flown up to the main roof (that darned cloaking device again!). Someone saw a chick on the SW corner of the main roof, but by then we couldn’t see the one on the east side. And at one point the one on the east woke up from a flattened sleeping position, and another falcon soon joined it on the roof edge. But without a scope, we couldn’t tell for sure that they were both chicks. We were reasonably certain that Amber was no longer on the lower roof, on the ground or in a tree, so she must be one of the birds on the roof, or somewhere else safe but out of sight. We hoped Data was on the roof as well, but considering his enthusiasm for flying and his parents’ apparent lack of enthusiasm for feeding him generously, we would not have been surprised if he’d flown off to find his own meal!

There was little to do but wait and hope we would eventually confirm seeing the two chicks at the same time.

Tim, John and Pauline left in the early afternoon, and Frank and Gillian took up their posts while I went home for lunch and a brief nap. By the time I returned two and a half hours later, they were sure they had seen both chicks and the adults. Being stubborn and worried by nature, I wanted to see it with my own eyes. Amber came into view on the SE corner, Gillian left for the day, Nancy arrived, and we persuaded Frank to take a break. With the Falcon Watch down to two, Amber decided it would be a good time to fly again. She took off from the roof and raced around the building. She’s like a boomerang, curving around tight corners at full speed, except she never comes back to where she started. I realized the futility (once again!) of running after her to keep her in view, and waited until Frank returned to do a falcon census of the building. Eventually the birds cooperated with our head count: After posing on the security camera arm on the SE corner, Rowena chose a perch on the south face, as did Ivanhoe and Data, while Amber ambled in and out of view on the SW corner.

All evening, Amber worked diligently on her ledge-landing technique. She repeatedly took off from the roof, flew way too fast past the ledge where Data was, doubled back, missed again and ended up too high. Each time, she would be forced to land on the roof again. After a short break, she’d try again. She gets points for perseverance and stamina — unlike Data, she didn’t look tired in the least after all that flying. Finally, she landed on a ledge — not with Data but on the west face, where at least she’d be sheltered from a possible thunderstorm overnight.



Doesn’t anyone want this sinewy wing?

Here’s some video Frank caught of Rowena delivering food. She seemed to have some difficulty finding a chick who was interested in what appeared to be a wing. So she flew to a few spots on the building with the sinewy snack dangling from her talons.

More peregrinations

A couple of days ago, after watching Data display some fantastic flying finesse on an empty stomach, Chris said: “Never has a falcon chick flown so much and so well and been rewarded so little.”

This morning, one could have remarked: “Never have so many Falcon Watch volunteers run so much and for so long after so many birds with so little to show for it.” Now I’m sure that’s not actually true, but someone could have said it.

Amber was still on the southwest corner of the roof when I arrived shortly after 6 a.m. The heavy rain had slowed down to a drizzle, and she seemed undaunted by what must have been a miserable night on the roof. Data must have flown up to the roof at first light, and they waited together for breakfast. There made a commotion when Rowena dropped off some morsels, then calmed down as they sat and digested for while. Dominique, Lorraine and I had a chance to chat and get lulled into a sense of complacency. We couldn’t really expect the falcons to be very active on such a grey, damp morning.

Not much happened for a while after Lorraine left and John arrived at 7:30 a.m. For the next hour and a bit, we looked but couldn’t spot the Great Crested Flycatcher that was calling in the trees west of the building. We watched the Chipping Sparrows, Chickadees, Red Squirrels and baby groundhogs frolicking. I finished my coffee, put on a sweater (the temperature seemed all over the map today) and got ready to settle in and jot down some observations in our notes binder.

Fat chance.

The chicks, done with digesting, moved closer to the south face of the building and perched on the edge. Amber started flapping a bit, then launched herself into the air. She dropped a bit, turned, then raced off around the west and north sides of the building with her mother — and me — in pursuit. Dominique ran in the opposite direction, where she would in theory be able to see them fly back into view. As Amber disappeared around the back of the building, I realized the deviousness of her flight plan. By flying in tandem with another falcon at high speed, staying well below the roof line and hewing tightly to the sides of a rather massive building, she would be impossible to track by just three admittedly post-adolescent volunteers.

Still, we tried. I raced not around but through the building — a surprise to many public servants who were perhaps not expecting to see a tall woman in yoga shorts, a raincoat and leather gloves, with an old towel draped around her neck, yelling into a walkie-talkie as she sprinted through two sets of doors, across the main lobby and out through the opposite entrance.

Back outside, I looked up to see four falcons headed in at least 12 directions. I tried to spot Amber, and thought I saw her speeding after Data as he flew to the far end of the vast parking lot and boomeranged back, never more than 30 feet above the ground. Both chicks then activated their cloaking devices and disappeared somewhere around either the front or the back of the building.

To be continued …