Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Swallows of Plum Island…..Prelude to Fall Migration

 Subtle as a harrier, soft-winged as an owl, but flicking along at twice their easy speed, she was as cunning as a fox in her use of cover and camouflage.  She clings to the rippling fleece of the earth as the leaping hare cleaves to the wind.  J. A. Baker  THE PEREGRINE
 Last month the Woburn Peregrine, Charlotte/Philip, fledged on July 7th.  The fledgling was just beginning to explore its world as we ended our last update.  It was tentative in its flying and a bit uncertain as it landed on perches on the cliffs and waited for mom (mostly) and dad to drop food for it.  But it learned to be a Peregrine Falcon quickly.  In a little more than a week it was flying in tandem with mom and dad and even sometimes flying upside down below mom or dad and taking a food exchange in flight.50PEREGRINESFOODECHANGEWOBURNXXXXMONJUL1820161634 298Peregrine mid-flight food drop.  Photo by John Harrison 
Peregrines flying together.  Photo by John Harrison.
We were amazed at how quickly the little one learned to do this.  On one morning Charlotte/Philip was perched on a telephone pole and there was a flurry of activity as mom landed next to it and dropped food. Then mom flew to a telephone pole nearby and just watched the kid.  At first the fledgling screeched and screeched at mom, not touching the food. We all inherently knew that the fledgling was calling mom to prepare the food.  Up to this time mom would bring food that she had already prepared for the fledgling.  The feathers were plucked or whatever else was necessary for the prey to be easily eaten by the fledgling.  But this time mom was resolute and calmly perched on the nearby pole ignoring the pleas of her young one.  She watched but remained where she was.   We understood that this was the next stage of the fledgling’s learning curve.   It was time for the fledgling to learn to eat prey without mom’s preparation, just as it would soon be time for the fledgling to begin capturing prey on its own. Finally the fledgling figured out that mom wasn’t going to come to the rescue and it slowly began eating the prey.  It quickly realized that it was capable of eating the prey without mom’s intervention.  It ate most of the prey and grasped the rest in its talons and took off.  All of this was a teaching moment for us watchers as well as for the fledgling itself. 52PEREGRINEFLEDGLINGWOBURNXXXXSATJUL2320161636 131Fledgling Peregrine with prey without mom’s intervention.  Photo by John Harrison.  52PEREGRINEFEMALEWOBURNXXXXMONJUL2520161636 302
Peregrine mother takes off after making sure her fledgling was able to eat the prey she left on the light pole.  Photo by John Harrison.feom KIM male peregrine blue sky
Male Peregrine in flight.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
Female Peregrine in flight with prey – a pigeon.  Photo by John Harrison.
What an education this has been for us.  In the past couple of weeks when we have gone to the cliffs early in the morning, sometimes the fledgling has appeared and sometimes it hasn’t.  The size of its world is growing as it ranges out and we have to be satisfied with the exciting moments it’s given us. We all hope that mom hangs around until next year and maybe brings three or four fledglings into the world.  Video moments with the Peregrines:
  On the morning of July 20th I took Jeff Meshach, Director of the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, MO, to the cliffs in Woburn to see the Peregrines.  Jeff was here to check in on the Masters of Flight Show at the Stone Zoo which the World Bird Sanctuary has sponsored for several years every summer at the zoo.  Being a Peregrine Falcon bander in Missouri, Jeff was interested in seeing our falcon family.JEFF MESHACH fx PEREGRINESJeff Meshach, Director of the World Bird Sanctuary, holds bird after banding near St. Louis, MO.JEFF MESHACH sm 2014-06-03_06.44.43
More birds banded by Jeff Meshach.
Also on hand that morning to meet Jeff were Jill Maroni-Flemming, who had witnessed Charlotte/Philip’s fledge, Craig Gibson, our Peregrine whisperer, a regular follower of the Woburn Peregrines and Peregrine families in Lawrence and Haverhill and photographer Judd Nathan, also a regular watcher of the Woburn Peregrines.from CRAIG fx LAWRENCE PEREGRINES PRE FLEDGE CF2C3209-001
Lawrence Peregrine chicks, pre-fledge.  Photo by Craig Gibson.
Lawrence Peregrines mock battle.  Photo by Craig Gibson.from CRAIG fx HAVERHILL HATCHLING PEREGRINES CF2C1287-001
Haverhill hatchling Peregrines.  Photo by Craig Gibson.from CRAIG fx HAVERHILL PEREGRINE _W7I0167-001
Haverhill Peregrine.  Photo by Craig Gibson.
51JILLJEFFJUDDCRAIGWOBURNWEDJUL2020161635 011At Peregrine site in Woburn. (L to R)  Jill Maroni-Flemming, Jeff Meshach, Judd Nathan and Craig Gibson.  Photo by John Harrison.
On this morning mom and dad showed up and did some flying for us but the fledgling didn’t make an appearance,  I keep Jeff informed about the progress of our fledgling but I was disappointed that Jeff didn’t get to actually see the young one.   Later that day I watched the Masters of Flight show at the Stone Zoo with Jeff and Jill Maroni–Flemming.50JILLBARNOWLMASTERSOFFLIGHTWEDJUL2020161634 555Barn Owl flies past Jill Maroni-Flemming at Masters of Flight Show, Stone Zoo.  Photo by John Harrison.  50MASTERSOFFLIGHTLEAHTYNDALLXXXXWEDJUL2020161634 569
Leah Tyndall of the World Bird Sanctuary with the Barn Owl at the Masters of Flight show.  Photo by John Harrison.50LAURENBALDEAGLEWEDJUL2020161634 577
Lauren Lawrence of the World Bird Sanctuary with the Bald Eagle.  And below the Great Horned Owl takes off.  Photos by John Harrison.  50GREATHORNEDOWLMASTERSOFFLIGHTWEDJUL2020161634 520from JILL FLEMMING fx  1850
(L to R) Jeff Meshach of the World Bird Sanctuary at the Masters of Flight show and John Harrison.  Photo by Jill Maroni-Flemming.
If you haven’t seen the Masters of Flight show at the zoo, it will be there until Labor Day.  From Monday through Friday there are three shows daily, at 11am, 1pm and 3pm and on weekends four shows each day.  Don’t miss it! Masters Of Flight Show, Stone Zoo, Wed. July 20, 2016:                    
  Kim Nagy and I enjoyed a morning at Mount Auburn Cemetery recently photographing dragonflies and an explosion of frogs at Auburn Lake.  While doing this I noticed a muskrat eating further along the banks of the lake. We got closer and were able to watch and photograph the muskrat as it ate and then as it swam away. 50MUSKRATAUBURNLAKEXXXXSATJUL1620161634 154Muskrat, Auburn Lake, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.from KIM DRAGONFLY bluet on stalk
Dragonfly at Auburn Lake, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
On July 26th we went to the Osprey nest in Lynn to see how they were doing.  We thought that the three chicks would be close to fledging but when we arrived at the site we were surprised to see two of the chicks and both adults flying around.  Two of the three chicks had fledged.from KIM osprey landing in nest
Osprey nest with two fledglings in Lynn.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM female with leaves
Female Osprey flying to nest with green leaves.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
 We didn’t expect this.  We didn’t have as much time as usual but there was plenty of action from the two adults and the two fledglings to keep us busy for an hour and a half.  This is a great nest for video:
  After a hiatus of a few months, Kim and I went to Horn Pond on Saturday, July 30th.from KIM young wood duck with dragonflies
Immature Wood Duck, Horn Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
 We hadn’t been there since spring migration and the hatching of the swan signets.  The low water level at Horn Pond was striking. Some of the lagoons along the path were totally dry.  We’ve never seen the water level so low at Horn Pond as well as all of the other bodies of water in the area.  As a result of this low water level, we had to effect a Snapping Turtle rescue.  As we walked along the path, we noticed a big Snapping Turtle on the side of the path.  It seemed to be in distress.from KIM turtle on pathSnapping Turtle, Horn Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy.  
We felt that it needed to be in the water.  But we realized that even if it lumbered across the path and dropped down into the lagoon, it wouldn’t find the expected water.  That lagoon was totally dry. Kim asked a walker if she could borrow some water to pour on the turtle.  She did that and the turtle immediately reacted.  The water seemed to give it energy.  We knew we had to get it into water.  But the closest water was maybe the length of city block away.  Realizing how important it was to get the turtle into the water, a passing walker picked it up by its tail and walked for about thirty seconds to where there was some available water and put the turtle in.from KIM carrying turtleGood Samaritan carries the Snapping Turtle to the water, Horn Pond.  Photo by Kim Nagy. 
The turtle immediately reacted and slid happily into the water and disappeared.from KIM TURTLE in waterSnapping Turtle put into the lagoon.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
We didn’t think the turtle would have found the water on its own.  Usually Horn Pond is a water paradise for wildlife.  Not so right now.  We need a great deal of rain to bring the water levels back to normal..  Here is a video look at the Snapping Turtle:
  Photographer Mimi Bix-Hylan has made her back yard bird-friendly.  Especially Hummingbird friendly.  Her family has been rewarded with several Hummingbirds, including juveniles, at her feeders and flowers.  Seeing the young male Hummingbird with the red speck on its throat, that will become all red as an adult, is especially exciting.from MIMI fx MALE FLEDGLING HUMMINGBIRD IMG_7030Juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Its entire throat will be fully red as an adult. Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan. from MIMI  fx  HUMMINGBIRD IMG_7720
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, female, perched.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.
She has continuing plans to attract birds and hopes that maybe next year a warbler or two will show up.  She did recently see a Scarlet Tanager in her yard so maybe she will get to photograph warblers in her own back yard next year.  And a Cooper’s Hawk has been using the yard as a restaurant.  There are often feathers and other bird remains as evidence of the Cooper’s Hawk’s presence.  The Coop has given Mimi plenty of photo ops.from MIMI COOP fx PERCHED IMG_4401
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk.  Photo by Mimi Bix-Hylan.from MIMI COOP IN FLIGHT IMG_4402
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk take-off.
  The Cliff Swallows returning to Capistrano every March might have the cachet but the thousands of Tree Swallows that come to Plum Island every August certainly must rival the Capistrano experience.  I was there on Saturday, August 06 and watched in awe as thousands and thousands of them covered the sky.  And this is the beginning of the process.  In a week or two there will probably be thousands more.  I hope to get to Plum island a few more times before the Swallows fly south.55TREESWALLOWSPLUMISLANDXXXXSUNAUG1420161639 207
Thousands of Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.55TREESWALLOWSPLUMISLANDXXXXSUNAUG1420161639 191
Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
 For a couple of weeks prior to my Saturday visit, an American Avocet, a southern bird not seen around here, has been hanging around Hellcat Trail at Plum.  I watched it for a couple of hours as it moved along the water’s edge, sometimes flying and landing closer to me.53AMERICANAVOCETPLUMISLANDXXXXSATAUG0620161637 344
American Avocet, Hellcat, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.53GREATERYELLOWLEGSPLUMISLANDXXXXSATAUG0620161637 287
Greater Yellowlegs, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison. 
 It’s a life bird for many Plum Island visitors, including me.  Now that fall migration is right around the corner, more shore birds are showing up at Plum.  Along with the Avocet and Swallows, I saw Greater Yellow Legs, Sandpipers, Sanderlings, Terns and other shore birds. Here’s some video of the Tree Swallows: 
  In three weeks or so we will start seeing fall migrants.  We will be making the usual migrant rounds to Mount Auburn Cemetery, Plum Island, the Mystic Lakes, Horn Pond, Dunback Meadows and the other usual suspects.  Rest up.  They’re coming!