Amber alert!

The afternoon was relatively uneventful. Well, except for Data practicing some aeronautic tricks — doing partial barrel rolls, extending his talons during flight and perfecting the art of landing on the security camera post. And except for Amber literally climbing the wall to try to reach her brother on the ledge above (she made it three-quarters of the way). Yes, that counts as a slow shift at the 2012 Falcon Watch.

Early in the evening, Amber got some food (of insufficient quantity or quality, judging by her complaints) and promptly set to work making volunteers nervous. She flapped and beetled, hopped on and off the sides of the ledge and took a few flying leaps across the ledge. Then, suddenly, she was off! She flew to the east side of the building, tried to land in a ledge-less area, dropped down and swiftly barelled around to the back of the building.

I chased her on my bike while Chris, Dominique, Frank, Jen and Alex ran. (I can cycle slightly faster than Chris can run, but he’s noticeably more agile when manoeuvring over the many high curbs. Surprising, really, considering his age (Just kidding!)  We searched the north side of the building for a while before spotting her on an adjacent, lower roof. Settling for a safe yet modest perch for the rest of the evening was evidently not an option, as she immediately began flapping, beetling along the edge of the roof and scrutinizing the main building.

Frank and I headed to the west side in case she decided to launch herself again, while other covered the east and south sides. We waited while she worked her way back and forth, eventually settling for the NE corner of the lower roof. Settling, in her world, means sitting still for more than a few minutes. As we kept an eye on the spot where we last saw her, Frank and I saw a large bird hurtle from between the buildings, swoop gracefully if forcefully past us and over our heads, and land carefully on the roof.

Could that be her? It seemed obvious yet improbable, so I called Chris and asked if she was the bird we saw flying. No, she was still of the low roof, otherwise they would have seen her take off. The large body, the flappiness, the near-slip off the roof flashing accompanied by a tiny shriek … knowing Data as well as we do, it soon became obvious that our chunky chick had acquired a stealth takeoff technique — perhaps a cloaking device — to elude her Falcon Watch crew.

Yes, there was Amber, perched on the SW corner as night fell, staring out over her quickly expanding empire and already plotting her next early-morning escapades.

Good night, Amber. And stay away from Bronson tomorrow morning, okay?

What’s that up in the tree?

That could be the question drivers were asking themselves as they drove to work along Bronson Ave. this morning. The answer: The female Peregrine Falcon chick!

What a way to start Day 5 of the 2012 Falcon Watch!

Lorraine arrived early for the 6 a.m. shift and saw one of the chicks flying rather unsteadily from ledge to ledge. She thought it must be the female, since Data is already such a strong flier. Concerned, she spent some time going around the building to look for the other falcons.

Meanwhile, unknown to Lorraine, Dominique  arrived and could not find the female (I think we’re going with Amber as her name) on the usual ledge. She looked around for 10 minutes before hearing squawking in the distance. She found the poor chick up in a tree, being harassed by crows. Two then three others falcons showed up and circled around, presumably scaring off the crows before disappearing. Dominique used a helpful passerby’s cellphone to call me. I was getting ready to head down there anyway, but was still hanging some laundry and catching up on email. I gulped my coffee, brushed my teeth, hopped onto my bike and pedalled as fast as I could.

What I found when I got there was heart-stopping: There was Amber, near top of a very tall deciduous tree (someone with a better grasp of botany will have to tell me what kind) about 50 – 100 feet away from the speeding traffic on Bronson. She seemed safe as long as she was up there, but what would happen when she tried to fly again? She was at a very busy intersection, surrounded by roads and ramps, and could not be expected to make a very graceful exit from the tree. What should we do? What could we do?

I hoped someone else could offer some practical advice. I started by calling Chris: No answer. The Ministry of Natural Resources biologist: Away this week. The bird bander: No answer. My husband: Still asleep, but willing to look up and call some other MNR numbers. The other MNR numbers: No one there.

I spotted Lorraine, who hadn’t seen us and was still looking for the other falcons. When I told her that Amber was up a tree and the chick she saw was Data, she told me how rough his landings had been. Little wonder, considering he had gone to sleep with an empty belly the previous night, after a long day of vigorous flying. He was obviously weak from hunger. Just then, an adult showed up with a pigeon, but brought it to the roof instead of delivering it to Data. I was afraid he would go after that tasty meal, fall, and we’d have two chicks to rescue. As if on cue, he took to the air, clumsily, and Lorraine and I held our breath as he struggled to reach the edge of the roof. He barely made it, but we relaxed a little, relieved not to have to worry about Data anyway.

Meanwhile at Bronson, the crows were back and Amber was restless — she had probably seen the food delivery too. Dominique stationed herself on the other side of the tree, and we just watched for a while until Lorraine had to leave. I called Chris again and he answered: He figured we could do little but wait, and she would try to fly back to the building at some point. We both thought she had little chance of succeeding and that we’d have to pick her up somewhere, hopefully not from a road. So I called James, a Falcon Watch volunteer who works in the building, and I told him we would probably need help rescuing the falcon wherever and whenever she chose to fly next.

I hadn’t taken my eye off the tree, and saw Amber suddenly launch herself into the air and make a beeline back to the building. I yelled at James that I had to go, jumped on my bike and followed. There may have been a few curbs and cars in the way, but I had no time to worry about that. I saw Amber fly in front of the building, then disappear behind the trees. I stopped and looked up, and saw a large falcon — definitely a female — sitting on the nest ledge. I hoped that was Amber, but I also didn’t think she had enough altitude to get all the way up there. Also, it seemed too good to be true that she would manage to land back on the very ledge she had left a couple of hours earlier. The two females are difficult to distinguish from behind, so Dominique and I tried to identify her from different angles.

Volunteer John Clarke had arrived and called to find out where everyone was, and James came downstairs too. He fetched his scope from the car and I was able to confirm without a doubt that it was Rowena, not Amber, on the ledge. What now? Amber was still missing, either stuck in another tree or somewhere in a parking lot that was quickly filling up. I biked around, scanning the entire east side of the building, to no avail. Back in front of the building, I heard a single squawk and looked up to the ledges. There was a falcon on the third one down! Still, I wanted to make sure, so Dominique and I took a walk to confirm a total of four falcons in view: Two on the west face, one on the roof, and Amber on the south face. What a relief!

Tim arrived for his shift in time to see Ivanhoe deliver a meal. Amber was soon fast asleep. Data flew to the ledge above her and fell asleep as well. I think I may do so myself for a half hour or so before heading back to the falcons!

Falcon names

Data and Ivanhoe fly together. Photo by Frank Marshall.

Okay, it’s been tried out for a couple of days, and it appears Chris Traynor’s suggested names for the adults will stick. When Chris first saw the male, he remarked on how strikingly handsome he was, and that he should be named Ivanhoe, after the hero of Sir Water Scott’s historical novel. Following the Falcon Watch literary precedent set by Daisy and Gatsby, that would make the female adult Rowena. I’m still getting used to it, but then, I have trouble naming my own pets, so I’ll trust Chris’s judgement on this.

Our male chick also officially has a name, which makes it a lot easier for volunteers to jot down their observations — writing “male chick” gets tiring after a while. Nancy Scott and I decided yesterday that the Marshall family should have the honour of naming him, since Dominique is the person who alerted us to the new Peregrine Falcon family and the Marshalls have been longtime Falcon Watch volunteers. So apparently they bandied some names about and chose Data, as in the Star Trek character but also the name of the building the birds call home. While there’s absolutely nothing robotic about Data’s soaring, the name seems to fit.

Speaking of his flying, Data continued to reach for the sky this afternoon and evening — over and over and over again. He seemed to have a eureka moment this morning when he figured out just how awesome his wings were. This revelation continued all afternoon, and he soared so high he disappeared for several minutes, according to Chris, Marie Clausén and Frank Marshall. When I got there at 5 p.m., he was still busy practicing landing on different ledges, soaring and flapping, and chasing his mother (sorry, Rowena) around the building, begging for food. He even chased her from her perch on the security camera a couple of time!

Data and his sister, June 17, 2012, Photo by Frank Marshall.

Ivanhoe, meanwhile, was busy hunting pigeons but came back empty-taloned, so poor Data went to sleep hungry even though he richly deserved a huge meal. His sister (name still not entirely confirmed) had no dinner either. She seemed eager to fly several times today but didn’t quite take the leap. Both her parents encouraged her by putting on slow-motion flying demonstrations and by landing briefly on her ledge, then taking off again when she approached. Her brother was also in on the ploy, to no avail.

After much wing-flapping and mini-flights onto the ledge edge, she appeared to hunker down for the night. Data, the sweetheart, joined her and they snuggled up together, dreaming of feeding and flying.

There are still many volunteer slots to fill in the coming weeks. If you can help, please email volunteer@falconwatch.ca, or call Nancy Scott at 613-253-1490 or 613-761-8140.

Morning update

Tim Loucks and I took the first shift, and Dominique Marshall joined us for a while. After the male chick flew to the next ledge over, where Mom was, the female chick started flapping like mad, clearly wanting to join her brother.

Female chick on the nest ledge.

We were ready to run but then things settled down for a while. But by the time Marian Bird and Gillan Mastromatteo arrived for the shift, the male chick was getting restless. He made several longish flights in quick succession, practicing his landings.

He also managed to fly to where his parents had left him food on the SW corner of the roof, and he plucked it himself! After that well deserved meal, he began flying again and at one point spent 3 minutes (Gillian timed it) soaring high overhead.

He’s doing tremendously well and, after the first few times sprinting around the building to keep him in sight, Marian and I decided we weren’t running after him anymore unless there appeared to be something very wrong. One thing to note: He flies alarmingly low to swoop in for landings on the east face, because he’s figured out that not all the lower ledges have spikes.

The female chick is still working on her first flight, but I don’t think it will be too long now before she gives it a shot.