Sunburned

A Quick Stop for CacheOh my GOD do my arms hurt. I look like I’m wearing a bright red shirt, I’m so burned! What a dummy I am.

Sean’s been very sick with a cold. He missed two days of work, which is almost unheard of for him. So, I felt it was important he not go out monitoring with me this morning, even though the day was beautiful and sunny. Mary asked us to check St. Mary’s Hospital this weekend, so if he’s feeling better tomorrow, I think it’ll be ok for him to get out in the fresh air.

I decided to stick close to home, just in case my patient needed anything, which was all for the good since the jail birds needed some monitorin’ anyway. Because I planned to be out awhile, I took along Ratcliffe’s The Peregrine Falcon.

When Mary first invited me to the program, she loaned me her copy and I read it cover to cover. There is so much amazing information in this extraordinary book, however, that one reading isn’t enough! So, this season, I’m trying to take it along with me to reread while monitoring. Although I find the price on Amazon outrageous, I would recommend anyone with an interest in peregrines keep a look out and pick this volume up if they happen upon it.

I also packed water, a bit of a snack, tons of camera equipment, binoculars, my field journal and a number of other things just to make sure my bag made it over the 50lbs mark. It’s important to be sure you have every single last thing you could possibly need when trekking (… two blocks…) these long distances.

I set up shop on the garage top rather quickly, eager to spend the day with my favorite pair of peregrines, though they were not initially in attendance. It was then that I noticed I’d forgotten one thing – sunscreen. I couldn’t see going all the way (…two blocks…) back home at this point, so I decided keep my sleeves down and soldier on.

Over the next several hours, I spent a lot of time watching the jail birds from far, far afar. They appeared to be teleporting in and out of the nesting site, as I did not see them enter or leave once. I only caught sight of them when they were specks the size of the dot of an “i” high in the very blue sky. Even with binoculars, I could only make out a few familiar peregrine features and nothing more.

Towards hour four, one of them apparently forgot I was watching and decided it was safe to land. I think they must be using the old northern facing nesting sites as food caches now, as the adult landed in the westernmost niche with food, dropped in and appeared seconds later sans food (this year’s nest is in the northernmost west-facing niche around the corner of the building).

As it popped out, it looked directly at me, tucked it’s leg bands under it’s feathers before I could even get a look at the color, stuck it’s tongue out at me and dove quickly off the perch to disappear, once again, into the sky. Ok, I might be exaggerating a bit there, but it really did seem to hide those leg bands pretty quickly as soon as it saw me. Make no mistake, these birds are wily mind readers — that’s a sciencey type fact.

I kid! Now I feel like I need to put some actual factual nugget in here to make up for that last paragraph. I’ll leave with this interesting passage from Ratcliffe, talking about peregrines losing eggs due to shell-thinning from DDT:

(p. 225) One most curious event in recent years is certainly associated with egg-breaking and disturbance of normal breeding activity. This is the appropriation of Kestrel clutches by Peregrines, which has happened on at least four occasions, all in Scotland, and beginning in 1961. In the two instances I encountered, the Peregrines broke their own eggs and then took over the clutches of Kestrels nesting on the same crags. One pair was not revisited, but the other, in the Moffat Hills in 1963, hatched the eggs and successfully reared a brood of four kestrels, treating them exactly as their true offspring. It was fascinating to see all four young Kestrels intermittently hovering over the hillside near the vacated nest, while angry Peregrines scolded noisily and stooped repeatedly after me. The same falcon pair again dispossessed a pair of Kestrels of their clutch in 1968, but this time the take-over came to nought. In 1975, a Peregrine pair elsewhere in the Southern Uplands took over a Kestrel clutch and reared two young.

In one instance, there must have been a substantial gap, of up to a month, between the Peregrines losing their own eggs and taking over the Kestrels’, for the latter laid in the falcons’ eyrie after the owners had quit the place for a while. The urge to incubate either remained or revived after the Peregrines’ own nesting had failed, but such happenings have never been known to follow straightforward robbery, and they appear to be another mysterious effect of organochlorine contamination. Since 1960, it has been quite common for Peregrines to brood on empty scrapes, which sometimes collect a litter of down feathers, and I have flushed females which were still sitting on the broken remains of their eggs.

Pretty interesting, huh?

Aaaanyway, I expect I’ll get my opportunity to see the jail pair a lot more in another week or so. Their chicks should be good sized at that point and Herc and Max will have to make many, many trips to the nest to feed the hungry brood.

So, no leg bands today, but as I said, a pretty set of bright red arms! Oh well, plenty of time left in the 2009 season!

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~ by Steph on May 16, 2009.