Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

June 30, 2014

William Osler Falcon Watch

Okay, I'm doing something really bad here (sort'a)... I'm doing a current blog while there's a few in the back of my head, or in draft that need to be completed. I do expect a lull in things through July and August, and plan to catch up through those months. But with the wildlife, you just never know though.

So, let's get at it here before things start happening again.

*warning* I am just starting to work on the first coffee of the day, so hopefully this all makes sense.

We had just closed the Islington/Bloor Etobicoke Sunlife Falcon watch last weekend. It was a fast and furious watch that you will read about very soon. Let's just say that a few of us really enjoyed the break this past week.

Normally for me, that's it for Falcon fledge watch for the most part until next Spring. Etobicoke Sunlife is our main site; although I do spread myself around when needed at Harlequin (Duncan Mills and Leslie area) or William Osler formerly known as Etobicoke General. Well yesterday (Sat June 28) was a day I was really needed at Osler as nobody else was available for the first part of the day.

I knew when I woke up Saturday that one bird, BLUE, had fledged on Thursday and was doing remarkably well. Later on Friday, YELLOW, had taken it's first flights. The birds have yet to be named due to a contest the hospital runs every year, so right now, we just go by their colored tape bands (used for quick, easy ID at the watch). Some miscommunication had me only knowing there were 2 more young Falcons to take flight, but I didn't know their tape colors yet.

I get to the site, working on that first coffee of the day, and in my sleepy stupor I'm thinking "ya, no probs, I got this". Sure I've spent many hours over the last 4 years at Falcon watches with others; never have I been at one all by myself so early on in a watch, as in kids taking first flights.

I easily spotted BLUE and YELLOW. BLUE on the south/east corner of the hospital, which Tracy refers to as the runway (where they take off from). My ears tuned into YELLOW who was screaming his head off in the hydro tower east of the hospital. It's a great spot for the young birds to build their muscle, going from the hospital to the tower and back.

BLUE on the nest ledge at dawn.

YELLOW near the top of the hydro tower.

As I'm viewing the two young Falcons, bins up on them, taking some pics, a Toronto Police officer takes notice to me. He had just left the emergency area when he spotted me in the parking area. I said "good morning" and went back to watching the birds. He approached me, said "good morning" and inquired as to what I was doing. I explained to him about the fledge watch, who the Falcons are, why we do this, the colored bands, etc. and he took it all in with great interest which for some reason really surprised me. If only the onlookers passing us knew what we were talking about, they'd be surprised too. I guess the smiles and laughter between us surely wouldn't point to a cop busting some long haired dude though, eh?

I guess our conversation lasted 10 minutes or so. He was full of questions that I was happy I could answer, and I broke a few myths during the chat like rescuing a young Falcon and the adult NOT rejecting it as many think the young birds are done with human contact. I hadn't been at the watch very long, only having the two mentioned birds in view. I pointed out BLUE to him since he was easy to see with the morning sun behind us. Suddenly he asks "Is that another one over there?" RED had popped up just over the Emergency area! I confirmed. Now he was ear to ear with a smile, being face to face with a Peregrine Falcon. His words "I can't believe I am looking at the fastest animal on the planet! Wow!" I think he even said that three times.

At the end of our conversation, the officer put his hand out to me, shaking my hand, and thanking me for doing this selfless act for an animal species. I said " thank you, but really we all should be thanking you guys for what you do every day!" He left thrilled and maybe let a few people off with warnings instead of tickets that day. I remained on site of course, suddenly feeling a larger feeling of pride watching over these young birds.

RED from the officer's view point.

Now on my own again, it was time to focus on the birds. RED being so low got my main attention. I still had yet to find the fourth bird.

I kept in steady contact with Tracy about the goings-on. While my common sense side surely could figure things out, it did get clouded when things got nutty as you will soon read.

RED wandered about the top of emerg, disappearing on occasion out of view, popping up somewhere else. I did my best to follow her steps.

She eventually returned to where I first saw her. YELLOW still in the tower screaming away. An adult sitting nearby him. I spot BLUE still in the same spot, but only for a moment longer, and then off he jets. He did a great flight over the south parking area, making his way back to the hospital. He missed the nest ledge and struggled to save himself along a window ledge below. A little glass tap to boot, raising my pulse some.

I look back for RED and she's not to be seen. Dammit! All it takes is a split second of not looking at a bird and then they are gone. I wait, and wait, and wait a little bit more. Suddenly she pops up over the emergency roof again and seconds later takes off!

The bird heads south/east across the field and into the backyards of a subdivision. Can I say "oh my fucking nerves!" now? And almost instantly right after the flight, another bird comes from out of nowhere and is right behind this one. It happened so fast, that I automatically assumed it was an adult keeping an eye on the kid.

I managed a second shot of the first bird, who I thought was RED, because that is where RED was. Little did I know at the time it wasn't, it was WHITE, the fourth bird!

Thank goodness for the camera in these times. But with every watch and carrying a camera, one must be prepared to put the camera down (or drop it) if it came down to rescuing a chick coming to ground. I always have a plan in my head on where the camera will go with my surroundings. Or in some cases, if I sense shit is gonna hit the fan, I put the camera in the truck, losing potential photo ops, but have myself as ready as can be to help a bird. The care and concern for wildlife always comes first. And here is where the camera was put away while I went off to seek this bird out in the subdivision. I was hearing angry birds in someone's backyard so that is where I started my search. I quickly spotted RED on someone's rooftop; the colored tape in full view.  A fence and a small backyard separate RED and I.

From where I stood, I was still able to make out YELLOW in the tower and BLUE on the side of the hospital. Seconds after one of my visual fixes on BLUE, he takes off over to the hydro tower, lands briefly and then takes off again heading west (away from me), I watch him pass the hospital and make a turn north out of my sight now. I'm texting Tracy again, slightly freaking out at this point. I know I could figure things out but needed a voice of reason in my moments of panic when the birds were leaving my sight and ending up in places like RED here. I told her I had a feeling the missing bird, WHITE, was somewhere in the subdivision as well due to the overwhelming amount of pissed off bird sounds in the area, not realizing that WHITE flew right over me. I was so tempted to leave site and go to the street where I saw RED just to be sure. I didn't though. I wanted to keep her in my sights.  I did walk the field behind the houses for a quick look about the other roof tops, following more angry bird sounds.  I spot another juvi!  Holy crap!  I back up, trying for any tape color, and to get a view point of both young Falcons in this neighbourhood.  I get a fix on RED and next thing I know she takes flight, going over a few houses and I lost her. Heart beats increasing now. Potty mouth nearing extreme as I'm walking and scanning, listening, following bird sounds.

Are you confused after reading that?  Imagine how I felt in the moment!

It's a bit of a blur now through the next while as two chicks disappeared on me.  I still didn't have a visual confirmation on tape color of the bird in the tree.  My mind is racing wondering what the heck to do.  Then it would seem the answer came to me as the bird in the tree took flight and headed straight for the hospital.  It gained some height but not enough to reach the roof top.  I finally got the tape color...  WHITE.

Then another Falcon flew in, landing on the low medical pharmacy building just north/east of the hospital. It was RED!

WHITE left the window ledge now and went to the hydro tower to join YELLOW who finally quieted down.

Okay, things were starting to come together, or rather the young Falcons were. *phew* I wanted to go try and seek out BLUE but RED was pretty active on that low roof, so I decided staying with her was probably best. I was told BLUE was doing spectacular, which seemed to be the case minus the one little window ledge mishap.

RED flapped her wings a lot, bobbed her head, and eventually did short flights from one side of the roof top to the other. Great! Build them muscles girl! Learn how to land properly.

I positioned myself closer to the tower, and the truck. I figured if RED was going to take flight, it would be to the tower with her siblings. From this point, I could see the other two high up the tower too. Tailgate open, ready to leave the camera behind if anything were to happen.

An adult appeared, with food, and it sent YELLOW jetting after it to the hospital roof top.

This sent RED into a tantrum, wanting lunch too! But it wasn't enough to get her flying anywhere.

Nom nom nom.

Ten minutes later the adult took part of the carcass and flew off with it, going around the hospital and heading west. With that I figured it was going to feed BLUE now. I put my trust in this belief.

RED quieted down some and went back to her exercises.

By this time Tracy had let me know troops were on their way, extra sets of eyes were much needed with 4 newly fledged Falcons, and relief to me. I was going on 5 hours there now, and while this is only half of what others have done at other watches, I'm doing what I can. It was blazing hot and humid as it reached noon. I'm a soaking parched mess.

I took notice to a guy walking around with binoculars. I asked him if he was here to see the Falcons and pointed them out to him. He introduced himself to me as Winston and he was here to help. Woo hoo! Bruce was on his way too and as much as I was ready to go home for the afternoon (returning for the evening hours), I stayed with Winston until Bruce arrived.

Winston did a perimeter check while I watched the 3 young birds, and he returned with news BLUE was on the west side of the hospital. A smart bird he be, getting some shade, unlike his siblings on the east.

Before I knew it, Bruce was on site now too!

After some communication of the goings on so far that morning plus a little catching up, I left for home. I checked on our kids both inside and outside, had a quick shower, and then crashed hard on the couch for an hour. My head was filled with Falcon thoughts and the sounds of the screaming kids.

I got my first real taste of a Falcon watch as some of my counterparts have experienced many times over in the past years. It's amazing how one site can have overflowing support while another site struggles to have more than one or two people looking after the birds. It would be great to build a network across the GTA, having all sites in contact with each other through the weeks of fledge watch. The watches don't all start at the same time, and maybe people would be willing to travel from one site to another depending on the needs of the birds?

A Falcon watch isn't for everyone. There are some pretty stressful moments, some very dull times with nothing going on, heat and humidity can be a real bitch, tragic and heartbreaking deaths on occasion. Then the excitement of seeing really cool Falcon activities occur, watching the chicks grow both physically and mentally, the parents teach right in front of us, the kids learn (some not as quick as others), and hanging with other people passionate about the birds is great. We make new friends, reunite with others not seen since the watch a year before, and the conversation from the curious people passing by can be educating on both parts like between the police officer and myself. The hospital staff have been great too, lots of questions and interest. They sometimes come and check on us as well.

Ya, it's not for everyone but it IS FOR THE BIRDS!

And when the day is done, the sun is settling, and we catch our breath... we occasionally take in a stellar dusk sky like this!


Susan L. McCreadie said...

Great report and photos Rob. I can sure relate to the shortage of Watchers. It's just too bad that the traffic in the GTA makes it so difficult to get across the city or we would have been there to help out.

Cathy Sanderson said...

Hi Rob, I am delighted to have found your blog. It brings back a lot of great memories. I was one of the workers at the first publicly operated peregrine hacks in Canada. That was back when they were on the endangered species list. We received 18 young captive bred birds over 2 years and raised them for release into the wild without parents. The most successful of out flock went on the breed in Toledo Ohio at 2 years of age. We went to visit her and just happened to arrive on the weekend when her babies fledged and that turned into a huge adventure and I still have the scar on the back of my hand from one rescue. One of her kids set up housekeeping in Cleveland and the city moved its fireworks display so as not to disturb them. It is great to hear that there are still dedicated volunteers out there helping the birds!!!

Rob said...

Thanks Susan! The same on our end. Damn that QEW!

Rob said...

Hi Cathy! Well, delighted right back at you for finding my blog. :)

And thank you for sharing what you did here. That's amazing about what you/this group did for these birds back in those days. I can never keep up with the names of the banded birds who have set up nest in a number of cities. If you happen to catch my reply here... can you run off some names to me?

There should have been some celebration somewhere when the Peregrines moved up the list from endangered to species at risk.

Here is a link to one of my blogs, a young Falcon I fell in love with in 2013. Part of me feels this is the bird I am going to hear about nesting somewhere; but another part feels she probably won't make it because she was just a little too wild and crazy.

I always hold out hope for all our birds we monitor. One of the first chicks we watched over is now the resident male at the famous Harlequin nest site here in Toronto. His name is Skye. He was born in 2011 at Islington and Bloor, our main site we monitor. He just had his first family this Spring.

Hope to see you around here again.



~Sage~ said...

Hi Rob! I was a prime watcher of Chessie's hatch site, so I'm thrilled to see your reports and pictures! Welcome to pefa world! and Thank You!