Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Lesson on the Birds & the Bees (told in photographs)

Blogs don't have ratings, do they? I don't think so.

For the purposes of this post, I have had to borrow a self-imposed rating from the Motion Picture Association. I feel strongly that the photographic narrative below should be rated PG-13. The guidelines for receiving such a rating are -

Parents Strongly Cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. May contain moderate language (nope), minimal strong language (not even one bad word), some explicit nudity (mmm, maybe? the feathers cover most everything though...), intense violence (no violence here, just love) and/or gore (do they mean Al Gore? If so, then no... he's not in this blog), or mild drug content (certainly not!).

Folks, it's a raptor romance, a true bird love story, an avian romantic comedy, a chick (making) flick... with some copulation involved. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll want to see it again and again.

Anyway, you have been warned.So now you know...

-Dan

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stop Bird Kills at Communications Towers

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that approximately 50 million birds are killed every year simply because of lighted communications towers. Scientists have shown that migrating birds become disoriented and trapped by the halo of light surrounding towers that use steady-burning illumination, especially during fowl weather. Migrating birds will circle endlessly until they either collide with the structure, each other, or simply fall dead from sheer exhaustion. In just one instance, more than 10,000 dead birds were found under a single communication tower in ONE night! Spring bird migration is nearly underway. The new Obama administration in the White House has voiced its commitment to science-based decision-making. And with new leadership at the FCC, NOW is the time to urge the Commission to safeguard our neotropical migratory songbirds.

TAKE ACTION NOW!

Read more about this serious issue HERE.

Please DO IT for your children's children. Declan says, "Thank You!"And when you're done saving the birds, sit back and read THIS article. As a musician and a lover of lush, orchestral sounds, I can completely relate to the thought that the natural world around us is not merely a bird singing over there, or an insect buzzing over there... it's a symphony. It's a beautiful theory, and it illuminates yet one more way we humans impact the natural world around us.

-Dan

Monday, February 23, 2009

Feb 22nd: More Of The Same

I arrived on Sunday afternoon to my favorite PEFA viewing spot just as the clouds were thinning after the morning's uneventful snow. On my way down to the beach with my scope, camera and binoculars, I had hopes of again seeing the falcons perform their Blue Angel-like aerial show.At first, my quick scan offered no sightings of the Peregrines. But just as I was about to pack up and head home, I heard the female scream. She was directly above me. She, the larger of the two Peregrines, must have snuck on to her perch in the tree top while I was scanning the river. How very stealthy of her.The male Peregrine, known as a TIERCEL, flew in to prove to her that he is her one and only. The two falcons copulated for the second (witnessed) time this weekend, and then he went to grab a beer with his buddies and watch the game. Lucky bird. I'm kidding of course. He did fly off and I was unable to relocate him. Truth be told, I really can't prove that he wasn't watching the game and drinking some beers... you know those tiercels.

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH: Just after she let out her scream, I pointed my camera straight up and started shooting with my camera.It would appear from this photo (above) that she is trying to bite her partner, no?I was able to get a few more photos before she flew off to join her man for an early dinner. I think Grackle may have been on the menu. On the way home in my car, I saw one of them slicing through the skies, diving exceptionally fast into a large flock of those recently-arrived blackbirds.Craig Koppie, a USFWS Peregrine Falcon expert explained to me in an email today that it seems a bit early for nesting. More than likely, the male might just be heating up the courtship-romance, perhaps in relation to last week's warmer weather. Craig also mentioned that he has seen similar behavior in AMERICAN KESTRELS, America's smallest falcon.

Finally, here she fixing up her flight feathers just right. She is preening, but the date already appeared to be over. Women are smart... it's always important to look your very best. Plus, it helps her to go fast in the sky... very fast.I will happily keep you posted. More soon.

-Dan

Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 21st: Must Be Avian Valentine's Day

It was a beautiful, albeit cold, day today in Annapolis. February 21st... and love must have been in the air. Declan and I spent the morning at Thomas Point State Park, while his mother (my wife) took a knitting class. Maybe she could knit Declan a super-thick, wooly sweater? It's been a cold winter. I digress...The Buffleheads were in full swing out on the Bay. As far as the eye could see, the buffle-drakes were head-bobbing, posturing and showing-off. From the Bay Bridge all the way to Mayo Beach, the male Buffleheads were all about impressing the ladies today. Nothing fowl about it, right ladies? Right.The best 'move' of the day however, wasn't observed until later in the afternoon.I was on my way to Whole Foods to pick up something 'organic', when I decided to make a quick detour. Why not check on the local PEREGRINES before visiting the food store that the Haas Family affectionately calls 'Whole Paycheck'? BIRD COUPLE described it as such some time ago, and the name stuck.So I pull up to my viewing spot and put my bins on the bridge. Not a falcon in sight. But just before I was about to walk back to my car, I hear a scream coming from behind me in the trees. Not just any scream... no no no. This was the scream of a PEREGRINE looking for love. He was perched mere feet from where I was standing.QUICK!! Get the camera. DANG. It's back at the house. Why? Well, I really wasn't planning on being this close to a Falcon today. For the next half hour, I admire the male situated on substantial limb in this still-leafless tree. Just stunning.I manage to pull myself away from the falcons, go to the grocery store and get my shopping done. Not really rushing, I mosey back home to drop off the groceries. Noticing that there is still 'some' light left, I grab Declan, Emery and oh yes... a camera and we head back to see the falcons.You've been looking at the results. It was late now, about 4:30PM. The sun was set low and the thin clouds were blocking any direct afternoon light from the tree tops. But the moment was still spectacular.On this second visit, I immediately notice the male perched on the bridge. Thinking that I missed my opportunity, I walk back up the car. Em was in the car knitting and Declan was busy sleeping in his car seat. Just then... zip... the much larger, dusky-colored female sails right in front of the Volvo. Literally, a few feet from the windshield!!! I run up to the car and ask Emery, "Did you see that???" Unfortunately, she was captivated in her knits.I watch her (the falcon, not my wife) perch. This time, she is doing the screaming. The male darts from the bridge, lands on her and copulates. Immediately after their embrace, he perches beside her to what I imagine is 'avian-cuddling'. How adorable.I take as many photos as possible through the canopy of limbs. She soon flies off, showing off her 'bands', also known as Falcon bling.Both birds then take turns flying from the tree, back to the bridge, back to the tree, etc. Both appear to keep opposite perches for the remainder of our visit. I wonder if this is something like 'sleeping in separate beds'? Nah.With the sun nearly set, it was time for the Haas family to go home and consume some of those organic groceries. Maybe before bed tonight I'll try that 'screaming-from-the-tree-tops' thing? Just kidding folks. The truth is...EMERY AND I ARE EXPECTING ANOTHER BABY IN SEPTEMBER!!

Have a Great Sunday.

Dan

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Peregrine Falcon Tracking

The Peregrine Falcon. Truly, this bird is the classic example of how much we humans impact other species, both good and bad. From the brink of extinction due to the over-use of the egg-shell-thinning chemical DDT, these raptors have made a remarkable comeback. With loads of assistance from conservation organizations, environmental groups and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Peregrine's survival has been assured and maintained.In particular, the USFWS has monitored, protected, breed and released the US Peregrine population back to healthy numbers. And though they are still very much protected, Peregrine Falcons can be found (if you're lucky and spend a lot of time looking at the sky) year-round here on the East Coast.These maps, courtesy of FALCONTRAK, show the incredible distances that these birds travel. As you can easily see, these falcons like to roam. Peregrine, from it's Latin origin, means a "traveler, wanderer."Enjoy this video of Craig Koppie banding and giving a health assessment to some Peregrine Falcons in our region. CLICK HERE.

Maryland's neighbor to the South, the Commonwealth of Virginia, has an interesting program called FALCONTRAK. FalconTrak is a cooperative project designed to answer a collection of questions about the movements and survival of Virginia peregrines. It is all a part of the much larger organization, The Center for Conservation Biology, a research and education organization within the Department of Biology at the College of William & Mary.If you're so inclined, you can even SPONSOR a falcon. Why, you ask? Well, the process of utilizing satellite telemetry to track young falcons throughout their annual cycle with the use of solar-powered satellite transmitters that are fitted to the backs of peregrines before fledging... I'll be it can get a bit expensive. And since these birds are going to be tracked for a period of 3 years to determine survivorship, movement patterns, and eventual breeding locations, your financial assistance would probably be more than welcome by the folks performing the research.Still not convinced? Check this out: you can go online and track these birds yourself HERE.There is a lot more information available on the VA FALCON'S MAIN WEBSITE.As for me, I'm just looking forward to observing our local Peregrine's as they attempt to increase the population. I often wonder what ever became of the little Peregrine chick that I swam with that summer day back in 2007?She was an adorable, albeit a slightly loud, falcon. I can still feel her talons in squeezing my pinky finger and hear that scream she let out while driving in my Volvo. It was only after I went into great detail about the numerous safety features of the Volvo did she finally quiet down. What a bird.-Dan

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