Another Big Day

Keeping WatchI met Mary at the museum at 8am. We had a fairly big mission for the day, which would require us to travel all over the Chicago metro area. A number of adult birds remained unidentified, so we planned to start at Evanston and work our way down through the city to Hyde Park, identifying as we went.

We arrived at the Evanston Library at 8:45pm and quickly scanned the sky and known perches. Neither of us saw any sign of the adults, so we decided to go inside and wait. As I might have mentioned, the Evanston nest has a web camera and we set up shop at a table near the base of that. It isn’t possible to see the actual nest from inside the library (a good thing for the birds), but the adults tend to land on the beam above the nest and that is visible. In fact, that’s where Mary and I got the female’s leg band number last year.

The Evanston pair has four quickly growing chicks, so we expected the parents to be very active bringing food in and out. After about fifteen minutes, an adult landed on the nest ledge with some food. Mary decided to stay inside to watch while I went to cover the outside. I set up my scope in front of the pub across the street and chatted with the owner while waiting for the adult to reemerge from the nest. Twenty minutes went by and still no adult. I started to think I’d missed her when I saw Mary come out the main doors.

“Is it still up there?” I asked as Mary crossed the street towards me.

“I think so. At least, I didn’t see it leave.”

“Me neither.”

B/G 64/DJust as I said the last, the adult took a leap out of the nest and was gone. Sigh. So much for a nice long look at the leg bands. I watched it sail off to the south and began to dismantle my scope, figuring we’d wander down the street to see if it’d landed somewhere close, but just as I finished packing, it came back over the nest and landed right above our heads. We hurried across the street and set up again.

The bird sat on the roof’s edge with her left leg pointed directly at us. We had her leg band numbers after a few seconds. It turned out to be the same female as last year – bl/gr 64/D – an Unnamed female born in 2004 on the Firstar Bank building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Cool! We had both Evanston adult ID’s!

Amazingly, 64/D stayed posed on top of the building with her leg band held out for long enough that I had time to snap a number of pictures and even try some handheld digiscoping! Looking at the camera display, both Mary and I were pretty sure we got a picture of the leg band numbers. Huzzah!

Next stop, the Lakeview site. Mary was pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to see any leg bands, since the nest/perching area is so far up on a skyscraper, but we were hoping to get some idea of nesting behavior. Unfortunately, we saw absolutely nothing while we were there. Mary surmised the Lakeview pair might not be nesting this year.

We drove downtown and I scanned the sky in the River Bird’s area while Mary drove slowly around the block. Again, nothing! This wasn’t going well! We loitered for as long as possible until Mary decided we should head to Hyde Park.

Peregrine Falcons first started nesting in Hyde Park in 1994, after intermittent occupation of the territory beginning in 1990. The adult female, Magnolia (black 22R), hacked from LaCrosse, Wisconsin in 1991 and her mate, Orion (black 77T), hacked from Madison, Wisconsin in 1990. The pair set up a nest on a condominium building near the lake, laid three eggs in early April, hatched one and successfully fledged one female chick, Gloria (b/r V/B).

Orion and Magnolia returned to the same site in Hyde Park in 1995. In the off-season, the program had installed a nice new nesting box, which they used. Magnolia laid four eggs, three of which hatched. Two females successfully fledged that year. Unfortunately, Magnolia and Orion wore out their welcome during the season. Both possessed tremendously aggressive temperments and tenants with homes on the nest side of the building had to either forgo use of their own balconies during nesting or risk being thumped in the head by angry falcon parents. So, the program removed the nest box, hoping the pair would nest elsewhere in 1996. Sadly, they did not.

In 1997, Magnolia and Orion returned, this time choosing to nest on a decorative ledge at the top of a nearby church’s steeple. Magnolia laid four eggs, but only one hatched – a female chick that fledged with no problems. Mary and Matt both have stories about that site. The Unitarian Church cooperated nicely with the program and allowed access to the steeple for the purpose of banding the chick. Both recall how scared they felt stepping out onto that high up narrow ledge for the first time with the aggressive pair bombarding them constantly. Wish I’d been in the program back then! How exciting.

Magnolia and Orion returned to the Unitarian Church to nest until 2002. In that time, they successfully fledged a total of ten chicks. Unfortunately, after the 2002 nesting season, the church removed the steeple, eliminating the nest ledge. The following April, Magnolia was found laying in the middle of a street near the church. Mary took her to raptor rehab where she laid one egg. While Magnolia recuperated, another female took over the male (probably, but never verified, Orion) and the territory. In all probability, the new female drove Magnolia to the ground during a territorial battle. The new pair didn’t produce any young and by the end of June, Magnolia was hale and hearty, so the program released her in Lockport. She reunited with her longtime mate in 2004, this time nesting in the rain gutter of a University of Chicago building. She laid at least two eggs, but neither hatched.

In 2005, Magnolia returned to Hyde Park, but Orion did not. A new male entered the picture – a familiar male. Magnolia paired up with her own 5-year old son, an unnamed male (b/g S/T) who had fledged from the Unitarian Church in 2000. This kind of thing happens in the animal world from time to time. Again, the pair tried the rain gutter thang, but to no avail. Although Magnolia laid eggs in two different spots, both nests failed.

Monitors reported seeing a lone bird in Hyde Park during the spring and summer of 2006, but no nest was established. It wasn’t inconceivable that Magnolia hadn’t made it through the winter as 15-years is on the older side for these birds. After the season ended, this would be in November 2006, I happened to be searching around on flickr for pictures of peregrines when I found a beautiful photo taken just days before in Hyde Park. It showed an adult peregrine feasting on a dove and the leg bands were crystal clear – b/g S/T. I contacted the person who took the pictures and verified the dates and place before passing the information on to Mary. We both figured S/T must have been the lone bird seen on campus throughout the nesting season.

And so, with all this history in mind, Mary drove me slowly around the University of Chicago campus, pointing out nest boxes, previous nesting sites and the like. We also watched the sky for the familiar falcon silhouette, but saw nada. After awhile, we parked and Mary decided to call a long time friend of the peregrines, an assistant director in the Graduate School of Business named Veronica. Veronica was delighted to get an impromtu call from Mary and ten minutes later, met us in front of an administration building.

Rockefeller Memorial ChapelWhat a delightful woman! Veronica has lived in Hyde Park for some time and has followed the progress of the Hyde Park falcons since they first started nesting down there. She provided a huge amount of background and details of the sightings on campus this year. Seems a lone falcon had been spotted hanging out on and by the impressive Roosevelt Chapel. As we neared the chapel, we began seeing bird pieces and parts on the ground, a sure sign of peregrine activity in the area.

We all stopped in our tracks as we heard a loud falcon cry coming from the vicinity of the chapel roof. We looked up in time to see a falcon swoop off the top of the chapel headed towards us. It banked up as it went over and landed on the edge of a nearby building’s rain gutter, much to the consternation of a pair of starlings nearby. Chaos and bird chattering ensued, the starlings flew on out of Dodge and the falcon took back off again for the chapel.

We waited a bit for it to reappear, but no luck. By that time, the day had become oppressively hot and humid, so we gladly followed Veronica into the GSB building to cool off. Poor Mary had been up since 4am and I could see the hours of squinting into spotting scopes plus the heat starting to take its toll. After we’d cooled a bit, I told her to go on home, I’d stay and see what I could find out about the falcon. Mary happily agreed to the plan. I stayed up in Veronica’s office for a bit after Mary left and we exchanged email addresses. I promised to keep her updated on anything and everything regarding her falcon.

Chancel from the AisleI walked the perimeter of the chapel a few times but didn’t see a thing. At some point, I decided to wander inside quickly and check it out. I am so glad I did. Man, what a beautiful chapel – more a cathedral than chapel, in fact. Anyone visiting Chicago should try to make it down to that campus. It’s that impressive.

When I came out, the peregrine sailed right over my head. It landed on the same gutter as before, so I hurried down to set up my scope. Right away, I noticed the bands looked different. Instead of two different colors, the left leg band was solid black. Instead of two numbers or two letter arranged vertically on the bands, this band had two numbers and a letter arranged horizontally. I read “22”, which was clear as a bell. The letter had a huge scratch through the center and some chipping paint or crusted debris partially obscuring the bottom left. At first glance, it looked like an “H”, but after awhile, I saw that it had a curved upper part – so, maybe a “P” or “R”?

Pretty GirlThe bird sat for a bit preening and then started looking with great interest at something out of sight in the gutter. As it looked, it gabbled and squawked softly. I did my best to note all of its movements and get better looks at the numbers on the band. I even tried some handheld digiscoping again, hoping beyond hope that one of the pictures would come out. After about a half hour, it hopped off the gutter edge down into the gutter. I could only see the top of its head, but it seemed very interested in something down there. And then, it completely disappeared.

I gathered my things and went up the hill towards the chapel, hoping that a higher vantage point might help. At the highest point, I could just see the top of its head and its tail, so I could tell it was sitting down in there. Sitting on eggs, perhaps? I don’t know.

SittingOver the next hour, it got up a time or two to resituate, but stayed down in the gutter. Hmmm. At about 3:30pm, it hopped out, took a long look down in the gutter and then settled back to preen. I moved to set up right under the nest and put my scope on the highest magnification it could handle considering the waning light. After what seemed like hours of squinting into the eyepiece, I was able to jot down the two starting numbers on the USFW band on its right leg – “18”. I figured that might give us enough to make a positive identification.

At 4pm, I packed it in for the day. I arrived at home 30 minutes later, hot, sweaty and tired, but very pleased. Before I hopped in the shower, I plugged the numbers in to the falcon database. No bird had a 22H leg band. 22P belonged to a female named Bogey, born in 1987, but the first two digits of her USFW band were “87”. 22R belonged to … wait for it … Magnolia.

Wow, so Magnolia is still alive and well and living in Hyde Park. I cannot wait to tell Mary and Veronica!


~ by Steph on May 29, 2007.

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