Flying lessons

The chicks are all flying, but they are not yet out of danger. The greatest hazards now are adolescent overconfidence and unexpected gusts of winds. We will continue watching them for several more days, so we still need volunteers. Check the schedule HERE, and sign up for shifts HERE.

Today felt like a day off for me compared to yesterday.

Jacqueline and Bushra came in at 6 a.m., and I joined them before the end of their shift and the start of James and Marian’s. They reported two chicks (Luis and Clover) on the southeast main roof, and the third (Clementine) presumed to be back on the annex roof after missing another attempt at rejoining her brother and sister.

They also said she had spent some time making short hops from one of the brick structures on the annex to the top of a ladder that reached down the side. Practise makes perfect, as we would soon discover.

We watched Luis, enticed by Ivanhoe and Rowena into a flying lesson, take an amazingly long and confident flight several times around the building. He started out with the rapid, nervous wing beats of a juvenile, but was soon soaring comfortably, further and further from the building, before returning and making a solid (for once) landing on the southwest corner.

Luis lands on the main building roof, June 29, 2014.

Luis nails his landing, June 30, 2014.

Ivanhoe and Luis, June 29, 2014.

Ivanhoe (on the security camera) and Luis, June 30, 2014.

During this time, we also saw a female chick flying, but we missed the takeoff as well as the landing, so we weren’t sure which of the sisters it was. Or perhaps it was both. A few walks around the building gave us the answer: I eventually found one juvenile perched on the ductwork on the west side of the roof, while Marian found another on the northeast corner. James confirmed by radio that Luis was still on the southwest corner. Great: Three chicks accounted for.

Despite their parents’ entreaties to join them for more flying lessons, the chicks appeared to settle down. That, combined with the heavy air, made it unlikely they would fly for a little while, so I took the opportunity to go home for a few hours.

Nancy and Jorgen reported a relatively quiet afternoon, and I returned at 4:30, just in time  to watch Luis and one of his sisters (we suspect Clover) take another ambitious flying lesson. The male chick is definitely the more confident flyer, but his landings do not yet instill confidence. In his four days of flying, we have seen him crash-land (or just crash) twice into windows and three times into a wall. Thankfully, in each case he either wasn’t going very fast or managed to brake enough to emerge unscathed. His roof landings are getting better, but yesterday he simply slipped on the flashing and fell. Luckily he knew enough to stick out his wings, fly a little loop, and land back on the roof.

The chicks spent the rest of the evening together on the southwest corner of the roof, mostly napping, but sometimes stretching their wings or letting the wind pick them up for a brief but fun little ride. I enjoyed watching two of them crane their necks in perfect unison as a Ring-billed Gull flew overhead.

These chicks are being well looked after by their attentive parents. In addition to making multiple food drops every day, Rowena and Ivanhoe spend a lot of time encouraging the chicks to fly, or simply watching over them.

Nancy, who watched the chicks on her own after I had to leave at 6:30 for a meeting, reported that they did not fly any more tonight. But with thunderstorms forecast for Canada Day, we can expect them to make serious efforts to get back to the shelter of the ledges.

The rest of the story

Sorry for falling asleep at my computer last night. Let’s pick up the story at the point where I found the missing female chick in a tree down the hill from the Data Centre.

Chris, Marie and Anne where still searching the area, and Jennifer was back at base camp, keeping an eye on Luis. I didn’t have a two-way radio with me, so I called Chris on my cellphone with the news. He and Marie made their way over to where I was, and we watched as the chick flapped about in the tree.

A male American Goldfinch sang nearby, oblivious to the killer-in-training right behind him, so a less naive Eastern Kingbird took matters into its, uh, wings, and began harassing the Peregrine chick and two American Crows in the same tree.

What? Shouldn’t the Crows be attacking the Peregrine, as we had seen the day before, and the day before that? Shouldn’t an adult Peregrine come zooming over to chase off the Crows? Aha! The crows were also juveniles, and the three young birds, rather than feeling threatened by each other, were united in their fear of the feisty little Kingbird. Just like children, I thought: They all get along just fine until the adults get involved.

Anyway, this situation didn’t last long, because the Peregrine chick suddenly took off like a bullet, flying east. Chris and Marie sprinted after it while I brought up the rear, hanging back to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Okay, the fact that I’m a terrible runner, with lungs like juice boxes, may have played a tiny role. In any case, my lack of athletic ability was fortunate.

While Chris bolted straight ahead, the clever chick had doubled back, unseen. As I ran (okay, jogged) alongside the north side of the annex building, I happened to turn my head to see a Peregrine perched on a low ledge. I called Marie over, who pointed out the other female chick that had just popped up on the roof of the same building. And a good thing, too, because the newly re-found chick very quickly disappeared to the back of the ledge, where we could not see her from any angle. Had I not glanced over at the building, we may have missed the perched chick. And had Marie not seen both chicks simultaneously for a few seconds, we could not have been sure that the chick on the lower ledge was the one who flew from the tree.

Chris eventually stopped running and came back, and he and Marie settled in to watch the annex until the chicks reappeared. The timing was perfect, frankly, because the Netherlands-Mexico match was starting in half and hour, and I now felt comfortable taking a break from Falcon Watching to do some football watching at a nearby pub with just about every other Dutch-Canadian in Ottawa.

Emotionally, the game was a replay of the morning: Worry progressing to distress and resignation, then, very suddenly and unexpectedly, elation and unimaginable relief.

Lorraine, Nancy and John (my father-in-law, who stopped in after the World Cup game), June 29, 2014.

Lorraine, Nancy and John (my father-in-law, who stopped in after the World Cup game), June 29, 2014.

I returned to the Falcon Watch in great spirits to find Chris, Marie, Nancy and Lorraine in the parking area on the west side of the main building. All three chicks had been hanging out on the roof of the annex. One had just flown back to the roof of the main building before I got there, and another followed soon after. The remaining one tested the wind on the edge of the annex roof, got fed, then dropped out of sight to nap in the shade. Chris and Marie determined that the female Lorraine and I had seen flying to the annex roof early that morning was the last one to fledge, and the missing bird, now back on the main building, was the one that fledged on Saturday. They also came up with some pretty good names for the girls: Clover and Clementine, after two nearby streets in Heron Park that also happen to be near Falcon Avenue. (They vetoed Manaus as a name because it’s masculine, according to Marie the language expert; plus it’s tough to say. Oh well.) So there we go: Luis (pronounced “Lou-ees”, not “Lewis”), Clover and Clementine.

Clementine tests the wind, June 29, 2014.

Clementine tests the wind, June 29, 2014.


The wind wins.

The wind wins.

The rest of the muggy afternoon passed uneventfully, with two people watching the main building and two watching the annex. It was not until the next shift, when Frank and Pauline arrived, that we had to run again. The chick on the annex tried, twice, to fly back to the main building, and failed twice. On the first attempt, she ended up doing the bat-cling on the annex wall. Then she practised short flights along the annex ledges before her second big try, when she ended up in one of the concrete columns — a dead end because of its shape — before landing back on the annex. Once she settled down, Nancy and I went home, leaving Frank and Pauline to keep an eye on the chicks until dusk.

High-drama day


June 28, 2014.

Wow. That was a stressful day.

When we last left the three Data Centre chicks, there were two on the nest ledge (the unfledged female and Luis, who found his way back there on Saturday evening. The fledged female was last seen on the lowest ledge below the nest ledge.

When I returned this morning at 5:30, no one was in the right place. One adult was on the ledge immediately below the nest ledge, one female chicks was on the ledge below that, and the nest ledge was empty. Lorraine arrived soon after, and we confirmed that there were no other chicks to be seen — until Luis appeared and joined his sister on her ledge.

Expecting another episode like yesterday’s, we began scanning the myriad trees surrounding the Data Centre. Meanwhile, Luis flew off again, and the female flew to the roof of the lower annex building. Despite the adults dropping off food for these two screaming chicks, we could neither hear nor see the third. We heard no crows harassing anyone, and we did not see the adult Peregrines chasing any crows or otherwise acting in a concerned manner. We walked wider and wider circles around the Data Centre grounds, to the other side of Bronson and Heron, and even back to the CSEC building. But we found no hint whatsoever of the chick’s whereabouts. Puzzling.

Anne arrived for her shift, Lorraine left, then Jennifer arrived. Chris and Marie came early to help look for the missing chick. We searched high and low, and speculated about her fate. My energy was flagging in the already oppressive mid-morning heat, so I grabbed a handful of almonds and my water bottle and set out for another loop around the back of the annex. I scanned trees, the RA roofs and swimming pool, the sports fields, the roads.  Anywhere I could think of.

When I got to the northwestern corner of the property, I turned around and began a long walk back to base camp. Except I decided at the last second to take a look around the corner, along the ramp leading from Bronson northbound to Riverside easbound. And there she was, perched in a pine tree on the hill that drops down toward the RA Centre and the Rideau River.

And now is the point in the story that I realize I’m falling asleep while typing (or typo-ing, perhaps). So here’s a photo and the two most important facts:

  • We still have three chicks
  • The Netherlands beat Mexico in their World Cup match! Hup, Holland, hup!

I’ll try to relate the rest of the day’s tales in a future post.

Out of the woods

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Well, that’s two chicks literally out of the woods, for now.

Anna and Lorraine arrived for the first shift to find only one female chick left on the nest ledge, and no sign of the other. Luis was still up on the roof, where he spent the night.

An extensive search of the area didn’t turn up the missing chick, but they did see one of the adult Peregrines flying over to the treed area southeast of the building, behind the construction zone, to chase off some American Crows. This behaviour pointed to the chick being somewhere in the trees. Unlike the dead ash where Luis spent a good part of yesterday afternoon, these trees were dense with leaves, and the Peregrine chick was too well hidden for any of us to find.

After Lorraine left, I checked the trees again from every angle, the decided to return closer to base camp and keep an eye on the trees from there. Eventually, I thought, she would have to fly out of there, and I would have a better chance of spotting her from further back.

Manaus imitates a bat. June 28, 2014.

Manaus imitates a bat. June 28, 2014.


The falcon-razzi.

Faceplant, June 28, 2014.



Ready to fly again. Not.

Meanwhile Susanne arrived for her first ever shift, which she handled like a pro. She kept an eye on Luis and the unfledged chick while I watched the trees, until a gaggle of birder/photographers showed up to see the falcons. Nice timing. They had only been there briefly when action erupted over on the main building. Luis made another attempt at landing on the nest ledge, and this time one of the adults tried to help him get there. At the same time, I looked up to see the female chick flying right over me on her way back to the building!

Glad as I was to see her, I worried that she was flying too low to make it all the way. Ultimately, we found her clinging, bat-like, to the vertical surface above the very lowest ledge. She hung on desperately for a couple of minutes before finally dropping to the ledge, then scurrying over to the far right side. And there she sat for a while, just 20 feet or so off the ground. Better than being suck in a tree.

The photographers were thrilled at this opportunity to shoot a Peregrine chick from such close proximity. Ivanhoe also obliged with a few slow-motion fly-bys and a visit to the chick, while Rowena and Luis continued to make regular appearances.

The female chick — Dominique suggested Manaus as a name, for the Brazilian city — eventually assumed the faceplant position and slept. She woke up in time for Jorgen, Chris and Marie’s arrival, followed by Steve’s guest appearance. There was much speculation that she would fly, and she certainly acted like she wanted to get back up to a more lofty ledge, but no dice.

I went home to eat lunch and take a very long nap, and when I came back, Chris, Marie and Frank were still waiting for that next flight. Luis, meanwhile, was still trying to get back to the nest ledge, and he succeeded! There was a joyful reunion between fledged brother and unfledged sister, a lot of wing flapping, and a lot of squawking for food. The adults obliged at last — after first luring Luis out from the ledge and back again. We’re not sure in the end who got to eat, but we hope Luis got most of it. We don’t want the remaining chick to pack on too much weight or she’ll never fly!

When I left at 7, Manaus was still pretending she was going to try flying again.

Chris and Manaus check each other out, June 28, 2014.

Chris and Manaus check each other out, June 28, 2014.

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Did I say “lazy”?

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Today, the male chick — we’re calling him Luis because he, too, enjoys the taste of raw flesh — was pretty much the opposite of lazy.

The story begins early this morning, when Dominique and Bushra watched him take off from the nest ledge (finally!) and land on the annex building behind the Data Centre. Not bad for a first flight. Not one to rest on his laurels, he soon flew again, this time completing his circuit around the main building and tossing in a couple of loops right above Bushra before crash landing into a window three ledges below and one to the right of the nest ledge.

That seemed like a pretty good first day, and he soon did a face plant and slept off and on, while his sisters made a ruckus and practised some short hops. That was the situation when Marian, Katheryne and Pauline arrived for the second shift. Eventually, everyone settled down and, since it seemed like it might stay quiet for a few hours and there were three volunteers on hand, I decided to go home for a couple of hours.

Marian, Katheryne and Pauline, June 27, 2014.

Marian, Katheryne and Pauline, June 27, 2014.

I hadn’t even finished my lunch when Katheryne called: Luis had flown again, back to the annex. No big deal, I thought. Until she added, with some urgency: “And Pauline thinks she saw him fly past the trees.” Back on my bike then.

She called again soon after to say that Luis was across Bronson near the “Y building”, and that security staff were questioning them and asking to see their “official” Falcon Watch credentials. As you may or may not know, the building in question houses Communications Security Establishment Canada. CSEC, according to no less authoritative a source than Wikipedia, is “the Canadian government’s national cryptologic agency … responsible for foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) and protecting Canadian government electronic information and communication networks.” Apparently they are suspicious of people inspecting their building through binoculars, although they admitted later that the bright yellow safety vests seemed an unusual fashion choice for shady characters trying to skulk about.

I arrived just in time to see Luis actually land on the roof of the CSEC building, where he perched for a while, looking pretty proud of himself. But he may have found it a bit warm up there in the hot sun, because he soon flew again, this time landing in the top of a tall pine tree north of CSEC. That seemed like a reasonable place to rest … until the trees other occupants noticed him. Three crows began attacking poor Luis, who flopped haplessly around the tree, no doubt getting jabbed by pine needles, until he dropped out of sight. And by “dropped out of sight”, I mean he disappeared. One second I saw Luis with a crow on his head; the next, I saw only a crow.

Where was he? Good question. Pauline and I searched high and low in the wooded area between CSEC and Riverside, to no avail. Jorgen was by now at base camp, Marian and Katheryne had had to leave, and there was a problem with our two-way radios, so I thought it wise to head over to the Data Centre to let Jorgen know what was going on.

Then, I headed back toward the west side of Bronson, but stopped short when I suddenly saw Luis in a small, dead ash tree next to Bronson’s northbound lanes. Huh. No idea how he got there, but I sure was glad to see him, and I like to think he was glad to see me. He gladly posed for some photos, then spent the next 90 minutes trying to manoeuvre his way into a position that would allow him to fly back to the Data Centre. Stupid branches, he seemed to say as he pecked at them. Eventually, he found a comfortable perch from where he could spread his wings and test the wind.  And then, suddenly, he was off!

Treed, June 27, 2014.

Treed, June 27, 2014.

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Luis' ash tree, June 27, 2014.

Luis’s ash tree, June 27, 2014.

This time, he flew east but missed landing on the Data Centre, disappeared for a minute, and tried to land on the northwest corner of the roof. Except he didn’t quite make it, so he clung by his talons to the side of the building for a minute before releasing his grip and flying straight into the adjacent wall. Then he flew west and disappeared once more. I found his a few minutes later on the southeast corner of the annex, where he stayed until the next shift arrived.

James, Frank, Chris, Marie and I kept an eye on Luis because he still looked pretty gung-ho to fly, which he soon did. This time, he crashed (relatively softly) into another window, rested briefly, then flew around to the south side right past his sisters. Alex arrived just in time to spot the chick on the southeast corner of the Data Centre roof.

Not long after, he made two more attempts to reach the nest ledge, but each time ended up on the roof, and that’s where he remained when we left for the night. By my count, he flew at least 12 times and a total of more than 2 km — not bad for his first day.

With one strong flier and two others ready to rumble, tomorrow should be fun.

James and Frank (who's working on his dissertation here!), June 27, 2014.

James and Frank (who’s working on his dissertation here!), June 27, 2014.

Lorraine and Marie, June 27, 2014.

Lorraine and Marie, June 27, 2014.