Solo Visit to Wacker
Today, Mary and a few others from the banding team made the long trek up to the Waukegan site to band the chicks there – two males and one female. Because Mary lives in a far SW suburb, she planned to drive directly to Waukegan, so I would not be able to ride up with her. It made good sense for me to sit this one out.
I got an email from Mary yesterday that asked if I would spend my morning at the Wacker site instead. My task – get confirmation on the female’s leg bands and take pictures of the chicks in order to get a count and approximate age. Fun!!
To this point, none of us had actually seen the chicks. As I’ve reported in this journal, every time Mary and I have visited, the female has refused to budge from the nest. With the banding date looming, Mary really needed to know if the chicks would be the right age when it came time to band.
I had a meeting at the museum at 8am, but promptly at 9am, I caught a cab for 125 South Wacker. When I arrived, the building manager told the lobby security guard, Dave, to take me right up to the top, via the freight elevator.
I’ve only ever gone to the Wacker building with Mary and had a detailed email from her regarding what I should do when I arrived, etc… To date, we’d always gone up the main elevators to stop in the office before heading up to the roof. I figured the building manager must be busy, so I decided not to stress the change-up, grabbed my gear and followed Dave to the back elevator.
He had a ton of questions about the birds and it didn’t take long for me to determine that although he’d heard about them, he’d never actually seen them. So, I invited him to come up with me and take a quick peek.
We met the young maintenance guy I’d met last year, Fred, at the maintenance office and followed him up the stairs to the machine room where the door to the ledge is. As I got my stuff organized, Fred opened the door slowly and peeked out. I looked up in time to see Dave’s eyes widen as he got his first look at the birds on the ledge. It makes me so happy to see reactions like that.
Finally, I had my stuff in order and it was time for me to take a look. Camera and notebook in hand, I sat on the edge of the door jam and looked out to the north. The female stood in the nesting box, glaring at me. Of course, her feet were obscured by the wooden lip of the box, but I hoped that over time, she’d hop out so I could see her bands. On the gravel of the ledge in front of her, I saw two chicks.
“Are those chicks okay?” Dave asked, sounding a bit anxious.
I laughed, realizing that last year, I’d been just as anxious the first time I saw a chick splayed out like that in a deep sleep.
“They are just fine. If you watch, you can see both of them breathing. That’s just the way the chicks chill out.”
Both men nodded and seemed relieved, though still slightly skeptical. I figured it wouldn’t take long before one or both of the chicks would stand up and ease their minds. In the meantime, I needed to check out the rest of the ledge for other chicks.
The Wacker nesting ledge spans nearly one whole side of the building and the small access door sits squarely in the middle. Mary had warned me to be careful opening the door as she’d had reports the chicks were active and waddling up and down the whole expanse during the day. The door opened out to the right, so I’d brought a small hand mirror in order to check the south (right) portion of the ledge without having to open the door very wide and risk jostling any chick that might be invisible to me behind it.
As I contorted in order to hold the mirror under the door and look over the entire south ledge, I heard the male, Etienne, land. Without looking up, I said quietly to the guys, “I’m assuming another adult has landed on the lip of the ledge right in front of me?”
I got whispered exhalations in assent, so slowly finished surveying the south ledge with my mirror before raising my head to see Etienne staring back at me. He sat in almost the same exactly spot he always does when we visit – about two feet from the door, planted firmly between it and the nest site. I smiled and greeted him softly as I pulled the mirror back inside.
“No other chicks out there. Looks like just the two,” I said, as I turned around.
I was pleased to see that Etienne’s arrival had nearly dumbfounded my two companions. We all sat in silence, watching the beautiful male peregrine look from one of us to the other. It’s pretty rare for anyone to be able to get that close to a wild Peregrine Falcon and I don’t care who you are, the sight would throw anyone into awed silence. They are an amazingly impressive bird. The spell broke when Etienne opened his his beak to let out a soft call, which was answered almost immediately by his mate.
“What is he doing? Is he calling her over here?” Dave asked.
I could hear he was nervous. “No, he’s just checking in. Don’t worry. He’s very calm.”
“Will he … come in here?”
“No,” I said. “He will sit there and make sure we don’t go out there, but he won’t come in here. He’s just making sure his chicks are safe.”
“Now, that’s what I’m talking about! I get it, buddy, you’re a good dad. I’m the same way with my kids. We aren’t going to come out there and mess with your babies!” He said to Etienne, before asking, “can I take his picture? My wife is never going to believe this.”
“Of course!” I swung the door slightly more ajar as both men produced camera phones from their pockets and started clicking away. Etienne gave them his best raptor glare in return. As they clicked, they asked questions and I did my best to answer every one. I felt please that I could answer far more questions this year than last.
I ducked down out of the way while the two men crowded behind me to get a look down the ledge to the north, clicking pictures the whole time.
“Hey, one of the chicks just popped up!” Fred said.
“There, see? They are ok. Just taking a nap is all.” I laughed. “How’s it look?”
“All fuzzy with dark feathers sticking out all over. Looks like a pin cushion on legs,” said Dave.
After the photo session, both men had to go back to work. Fred told me he’d come up to check on me in and hour and I waved as both of them left the machine room. Now, just me and the birds.
I got my camera ready and inched the door back open. The female perched on the edge of the nest box, hovering over her two chicks, both of which were laying back down again. I zoomed in on her legs with the camera and clearly read her bands, black/green 01/A. Rahn! Rahn’s back! Good!
I took a number of pictures of Rahn and her bands to ensure I’d get a nice clear one for Mary before turning my attention back to the chicks. After five minutes or so, one of the chicks wiggled and then slowly righted itself. Standing up full on its spindly legs, it first chirruped at Rahn and then swung its head around to look at me. I decided to shoot some movie footage as it cocked its head right, left and then right again while it watched me, obviously curious.
Soon, it lost interest in watching me and started waddling forward, clumsily. Rahn calmed and began to preen and stretch as her chick picked at the ground before waddling over to jostle its sibling awake. Etienne even turned attention away from me to watch his chick’s movements. The chick ran into its sibling a few times, got a muffled chirrup in response and then flopped back down in a heap to sleep.
Maybe 15 minutes later, Rahn flapped her wings and hopped over onto the ledge’s lip. She scanned the sky a moment, made a sound Etienne’s way and after he’d squawked back, she took off, disappearing behind a building to the east. This effectively roused the second chick who suddenly popped up on its feet to look around. I snapped a number of pictures while it surveyed me, its father and the ledge before settling back down to nap.
I continued to watch until Fred came back up to get me. I was happy that I’d accomplished all of my tasks and ready to go check in on the MCC birds before going home to check my pictures. I chatted with Fred for awhile before heading back down in the elevator, waving a quick good-bye to Dave and taking my leave.
Since this post is so long, I’ll write up the MCC portion this weekend. Tomorrow, Sean and I will be on a bit of an adventure, so I might not get to the write-up until Sunday. Check back!