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!

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