Monthly Archives: August 2018

Raptor Rapture

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.  THE PEREGRINE,  J. S. Baker

  As the 2018 warbler season subsided and the Great Horned Owlet in Cambridge prevailed and was in the tall pines with mom and dad,  the rest of the raptor season began. To end the Fresh Pond owlet saga, Cambridge Park Ranger Tim Puopolo presented his finale, The Owlet Debriefed, at the Fresh Pond facility on Saturday, June 30.  It was a thorough rendering of this compelling story.  Ranger Puopolo’s presentation was passionate and informative and was a fitting end to the story.   We thank Ranger Puopolo for his efforts throughout the owlet’s perilous journey.  
Cambridge Park Ranger Tim Puopolo sums up the Fresh Pond owlet drama in his excellent presentation, The Owlet Debriefed, Saturday, June 30, 2018.  Photos by John Harrison.
  The raptor season after the Fresh Pond Owlet was a raptorpalooza!  The Woburn Peregrine Falcon female was sitting on eggs – in a new nest on another part of the cliffs, better for them and closer for us.  Once the eggs hatched and we were able to see into the nest, we were able to ascertain that there were four chicks.  Fantastic.  As the Woburn Peregrine drama was unfolding, we had two Barred Owl chicks to watch at nearby Horn Pond in Woburn.  They were in a tree cavity close to the path with no obstructions.  As if that wasn’t enough to keep us busy, we had one Bald Eagle chick hatch in Waltham.  Once the Eaglet was present, we were able to watch the parent Eagles come to the nest regularly to feed the hatchling.  So we then had three exciting birds of prey nests to watch.  But that’s not all.  Soon we had four hatchling American Kestrels in Medford.  That prolific adult pair of Kestrels was back in action, as they have been for the past few years.  For birders and photographers to have Peregrine, Bald Eagle, Barred Owl and Kestrel chicks to watch at the same time is a bonanza.  Really, too much of a good thing.  It became a case of too many nests, not enough time.  
  Making regular visits to these nests became our daily activity.  Once the Peregrine chicks began showing
themselves, the Woburn cliffs was the primary meeting place.  That’s where the ‘action’ was!
The chicks in early June.  Photos by John Harrison.
I would usually get to the cliffs around 6am, finding a few photographers there already.  This year the nest was in a different part of the cliffs.  A much better position for us than the nest the previous two years.  It was lower and much more visible.  This nest was used four years ago but they tried the other nest for three years after that.  Two years ago,  when there was one chick,  Tom French of Mass Fisheries and Wildlife declined banding the lone chick because he felt that getting to that nest was too precarious and dangerous.  He had no problem with the new nest and on June 18th banded all four chicks.  This was such a rare thing for us to witness.  One of Tom French’s staffers, Jesse Caney,  rappelled down the cliff with a sack.  As
Jesse Caney places the four chicks in a sack then rappeles to the ground.  In the left image the adult Peregrine is near Jesse.  Photos by John Harrison.
While this was happening, the parent Peregrines were frantic.  They were flying around buzzing the staffer, who was wearing a hard hat and sun glasses.  You can see and hear the parents in these two videos.  Jesse carefully placed the chicks in the sack, one by one, and then lowered the sack to the ground where Tom French and Travis Drudi were waiting.  We gathered around and were able to watch  as each chick was banded, on each leg,  We were even able to touch the chicks.  Such a privilege. 
Photographer Kim Nagy touches one of the Peregrine chicks (L) and Kim with Jesse Caney of Mass Fisheries and Wildlife (R).  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine chick after being banded (L) and Travis Drudi of Fisheries and Wildlife showing one of the chicks.  Photos by John Harrison.
Tom French interview with WBZ as Dave Goodine watches the Peregrines (L) and Tom French with Peregrine chick as Ursula Goodine of Eastern MA Hawk Watch looks on.  Photos by John Harrison.
Tom French applies bands to the Peregrine chicks.  Monday, June 18, 2018.  Photos by John Harrison.
After banding them they made the return trip to the nest.  They were carefully placed back in the nest and Jesse continued up to the top of the cliffs.  Ten minutes later the mother Peregrine was in the nest with the chicks as if nothing had happened.  Here are videos of the actual banding. ;  Once the four chicks fledgled, activity around the cliffs was. well, bonkers.  They landed on telephone poles and had prey brought to them by the parents and they engaged in mock-combat above us, bumping each other, locking talons and catching food dropped in the air by the parents.  It was exhilarating to watch. 
Peregrine fledgling with prey and Peregrine father and fledgling flying.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Peregrines flying and engaging in mock-combat.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Peregrine with prey being followed by fledgling and chase action.  Photos by Jim Renault.
We should get to enjoy these Peregrine fledglings through August.  Once they learn to hunt on their own, the parents will disperse them to find their own territories.  I can’t imagine another Peregrine family anywhere in the world followed so closely and completely as this Woburn family.
Peregrine fledglings bathing.  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine fledgling in flight with prey and fledgling being harassed by Mockingbird.  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine fledglings with prey.  Photos by John Harrison.
  Local ‘Peregrine Whisperer’ Craig Gibson, who has been following several Peregrine nests in the area for many years,  including Woburn, organized a Peregrine monitoring group for the Woburn Cliffs Peregrine activity.  The group, consisting of about twenty of us photographers, submit our photographs and observations of the daily Peregrine activities.  In this way we learn more about this species.  The group’s efforts will culminate in an exhibit of its photographs at Hunt’s Photo and video
in Melrose in the late fall.
 Peregrine photographers at the Woburn cliffs.  Photos by John Harrison. 
  The Barred Owl pair at Horn Pond and their two owlets kept us busy from mid to late May.  This was 
another close, unobstructed nest for us to watch.
 Barred Owl chick, Horn Pond, Woburn and Barred Owl fledgling in flight.  Photos by John Harrison.
This family had many watchers and photographers observing them day after day.  They were unperturbed.  We watched the two owlets grow and within a couple of days of each other they both fledged.  We were able to find them for a couple of days after fledging in the nest-tree area but after that they were enjoying the forest around them and there was only a fleeting glimpse now and then.  
  In Waltham we began watching the Bald Eagle chick toward the end of May.  It didn’t move from the nest for a few weeks.  We wondered if it was ever going to fledge.  Meanwhile we had some great encounters with the adult Bald Eagles in the trees around the nest.  Occasionally one of the adults would be on an unobstructed branch, with the blue sky behind it.  That was perfect for a takeoff sequence.  
Adult Bald Eagle takes off after being harassed by Mockingbird.  Photos by John Harrison.
Bald Eagle in flight near nest.  Photos by John Harrison.
However, when  one of the adults was comfortably perched on a branch, it might not move for hours!  After the first hour you felt invested and were determined to wait until it took off.  After another hour resolve might fade.  Sometimes we would wait and other times we would throw in the towel and leave.  But if we waited and it took off toward us, it was always well worth the wait.  Sometimes after a couple of hours it would turn around and fly away from us.  We would sigh but we understood that that’s the business we’re in. Finally the hatchling Eagle fledged.  Even after fledging it wasn’t very active.  We would watch it for an hour or two and it would suddenly fly from the nest in a circle and come right back to the nest.  To capture action from this 
Eagle in flight often required a long wait.
 Bald Eagle fledgling in flight.  Photos by Kim Nagy.
Bald Eagle fledgling in flight, Tues. July 31, 2018.  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine fledgling.  Photos by John Harrison.
But on the other hand, to capture adult Bald Eagles or fledglings in flight was worth waiting for. On July 31, after watching it for a half hour, the fledgling even squawked for me.  Another half hour after that it took off, circling the area once, giving me a nice fly-over opportunity.
The four Medford Kestrel chicks were very active toward the end of June.  On my first visit to the park, on June 26, I found all four chicks flying around and landing on the light poles and telephone poles, as we witnessed in past years.  I watched the parents bringing prey to the chicks on these poles.   On subsequent visits, as the chicks grew, they would land on the ground foraging for
beetles, moths, dragonflies and other insects.
 Kestrel fledgling eating moth (L) and pair of fledglings on light pole.  Photos by John Harrison.
Peregrine in flight above grass and landing on light pole with prey.  Photos by John Harrison.
They will do this in addition to the prey that the parents bring.  Once they learn to hunt, the visits to the ground for insects, etc., would slow down.  Last year this Kestrel pair had a second clutch of two chicks.  A second clutch for this species is rare so we were appreciative to have another chance with these Kestrel adults and their second brood.  We’re not expecting a second brood this season, though it’s a possibility, since the pair accomplished this feat once already.
  On July 7 photographer Kim Nagy and I made our annual visit to Star Island of the Isles of Shoals to see the nesting Great Black-backed Gulls.  We were right on time.  There were many gull chicks
to watch as we walked on the cliffs.
 Great Black-backed Gull chicks and mother.  Star Island.  Photos by John Harrison.
Kim Nagy with a Great Black-backed Gull chick behind her and photographing the gulls on the cliffs.  Photos by John Harrison.
When we did this last year we got caught in a thunder storm as we watched the gulls.  It was great watching them on a cool day with a blue sky.   And Star Island is a pleasant place to spend a day.  This year we took the ferry from the  Rye, NH marina.  This is a shorter trip than from Portsmouth, NH. 
  Raptor breeding season pretty much shuts down in August and we look toward the shore birds at Plum Island – and the spectacular Tree Swallow migration.  Looking up into a sky filled with Tree Swallows everywhere you look is a sight that never gets old.  It’s wondrous and it will be happening soon.  And after that fall migration will be upon us.  There’s no end to this great season, which is just fine with us…….
The Tree Swallows of Plum Island, August 2017.
Photo by John Harrison.