Friday, April 29, 2011

an incredible day

This was an incredible day with the Alewife clan. I went to spend 60-90 minutes with the hawks, expecting to focus on the three chicks. I arrived shortly after Kate left Westminster Abbey, and finally left Fresh Pond Mall on or about her first wedding anniversary... about four hours later. It’s impossible to accurately describe what I saw and shared with the hawks today. Words are just inadequate. I’ve been trying to document it for my own notes, but it was so new, so intimate, so revealing, and so unexpected. I took over 600 photos, including some of my personal best of them or any hawks. Several are attached.

I’ll just say I was privileged to be alone with Ruby for about 90 minutes while she hunted, usually at or below eye level. I watched her plummet off a post, miss her target momentarily, but within two steps capture her prey, a young gray squirrel. She carried it into a newly leafed tree where she ate it in privacy, and possibly stored some for later. She did not carry any back to the nest for her young. In the attached photo look at how her eyes, her head, are focused on the prey while her body has yet to adjust to the prey’s behavior.

Buzz, in fact, apparently took food to the nest while I was with Ruby; at least he was feeding the chicks when I returned to the nest after this incredible time with Ruby. But Ruby was not the only one to reveal herself “up close and personal.” On either side of my visit, I was privileged to be very close by as Buzz hunted, both times unsuccessfully after prey I could not see but he had. The first time he plummeted from a light pole into heavy brush, landing feet first on a spot warmed merely a split second earlier by some small mammal. (No bird flew but Buzz.) As he struck, he swept both wings back above his head and way above his long, extended legs as he rapidly came to earth. Both wings, however, became entangled in the brush. His left wing was left hanging on a tall bush as though it was no longer part of his body. Fortunately, he was not injured. He pull in one wing and then the other, roused himself, and then flew back to perhaps ten feet above where I was standing.

Later in the day, he went hunting in the same general area, again plummeting to earth on a low hillside covered by short grass and intermittent bushes the size of backpacking tents. Again the foray was in vain, but this time without the dramatics.

In between these hunting sallies, I watched the nest. Strangely, on this glorious day I saw only two other 185ers watching the nest.

Ruby was gone from the nest half the time I was there. Only one chick appears to be a toddler now. Any parent knows that when your youngster begins to crawl, your life changes dramatically. A whole new world of risk and danger is opened to the kid, and to anxious parents. When your progeny begins to walk, the dangers ratchet up several orders of magnitude. I think Ruby knows she has only a day or two before at least two of her chicks will be able to stand up and helicopter, and soon to hop-fly across the nest... and maybe farther. Continual parental oversight will be required. Ruby enjoyed her protracted time outside the nest, without the kids. I don’t know how long the kids were left unattended, but when I returned after 90 minutes, Buzz was feeding the young, finishing very quickly, after which the chicks rested.

Another thing that was new today were the temperatures. By mid-morning, with direct sunlight beating down on 185, the chicks were standing with open beaks, each with a sharp, brilliant red, serpent’s tongue fully exposed as each panted to cool itself. One chick, apparently the oldest, crawled/hobbled up to the glass window on the north side of the nest, either hoping to get into the shade or appreciating the coolness of the insulated glass. Ruby was hot, too. She had beak wide open, her sharp, narrow, pimento-colored tongue stretching as she panted. Shortly thereafter, she half extended both wings, providing shade to all three chicks. Shades of last year, when temp’s hit the nineties in May, and bereft of any breeze, the large chicks sweltered without any liquid to drink. In an act that I will never forget, Ruby arched her extended wings over her large chicks to keep them out of the direct sun.

Change is accelerating. Within the next several days, the chicks will be able to sit up on their haunches, dramatically increasing their visibility. As their wings, legs, and
bodies grow, so do their demands for food. This year it seems to be a little more difficult to find food. Food does not seem to be as abundant as last year. It may be more of a challenge to feed three huge, hungry gapes. We shall see.



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