I’ve watched the Waukegan birds via the webcam for years now, but I’ve never actually been to the site. Today, that changed. Mary and Matt asked me to accompany them on banding day and try to identify the adults while they banded the chicks. My favorite thing!
Fran, the adult female, started nesting on the roof of a large power plant in 2001. As far as I understand, they’ve been able to identify Fran every year since then, but the male has remained elusive. I had high hopes and spent most of the long drive up psyching myself up, “Just get the shot. Don’t think about anything else. Don’t go for the pretty picture. Just get the shot.”
We met up with our contact at the power plant and she geared us with earplugs, hardhats, etc… While we were winding our way through the plant to the roof access door, I did quickly take an ear plug out just to get an idea why we had to wear them. The mechanical drone of the place was pretty loud and I could see how sustained exposure might give you a headache and perhaps some ear drum damage. I replugged.
The nest box sits on a small section of roof sheltered on the north and west sides by taller buildings. There is a small trailer in the northeast corner. For some reason, I got the idea that the power plant had actually put the trailer up there to provide a good banding area for their chicks. I might be wrong on that, though. A catwalk extends from east to west between the nest box and the trailer. It’s about a story and a half high. Directly to the southeast, about 100 yards away, stood two large, cylindrical concrete towers adorned with catwalks and ladders.
While Mary, Matt and Lincoln Park Zoo vet tech Joel Pond filed into the trailer to set things up for the banding, I opened my pack to get my camera gear put together. I had some time to scan the skies before they came back out – no sign of the adults. By Matt’s outfit, I could tell he was the chick retriever for the day, so I followed him forward, stopping when we were under the catwalk. He proceeded on and I got ready with the camera.
The adults came in when Matt reached the nest box. I tried to follow the action as well as I could, but the pace of peregrine’s dives and turns as they tried to drive Matt off made things quite challenging. I figured they’d settle down and land as soon as Matt and the team had the chicks inside the trailer. And so they did. One landed on the catwalk railing above my head, the other landed back on the cylindrical tower. It didn’t take long for me to get the bands for the catwalk bird, who unsurprisingly turned out to be adult female Fran. However, the male didn’t ever come in close enough for me to get more than banded black over green. Ah well. Perhaps he wants to remain anonymous.
And soon it was all done and we were on our way back to Chicago. Waukegan only had two chicks this year, one male and one female, but they were healthy! I am not sure of the names yet, I don’t think the power plant has decided, but as soon as I do know, I’ll post.