When you drive over the Causeway and spot a Peregrine Falcon perched on the BOIS Tower it’s always fun to scream out the window, “HEY JO DURT!” as you whizz by.
But that might not be entirely accurate. The more appropriate thing to yell is something more like “WHO DAT?!”
Because at that distance, traveling at around 50 (hopefully), with part of your attention tied up with not getting squished between a Jersey wall and the other cars doing 85 (guaranteed), it can be quite difficult to discern the actual size of the Peregrine, which is the primary way to sex them.
“The females are a little bigger!” doesn’t help much during these fast-moving observational opportunities.
But more than that, even if you see two Falcons up there, there is no guarantee that those Falcons are indeed our previous resident pair Jo Durt (82/AN) and Bridgeboy (14/AM). And that’s because, sadly, Peregrine Falcons die quite frequently.
Falcons generally try their best to mate for life, and they most certainly try to hang onto primo nesting spots like the gorgeous, hand built BOIS Tower for life.
Yet control of such a phenomenal nesting structure also puts those Falcons at enormous risk because Peregrine don’t buy and sell their homes; they kill each other for them. This is especially true of the females, and each year we are learning more and more about the higher mortality and “turnover rate” for females at key nesting sites… not just in New Jersey, but throughout their range along the East Coast.
I call these “hostile takeovers” and it is my absolute worst fear for Jo Durt.Who dat?
Earlier this spring, it was happily determined that the BOIS Tower and its Igloo were properly serving their purpose as a Falcon Love Shack when we started seeing Falcons more frequently perched on the Tower, and later, what appeared to be an adult incubating inside.
But knowing for sure who these Falcons actually are requires significantly more work. There are no safe assumptions.
Eager to know that Jo Durt & Bridgeboy were still our resident Falcons, we set out to try to read the tiny bands on the legs of birds who are incredibly secretive and like to fly at 240 miles per hour.
Setting up a blind in the marsh below the Tower was the best option for a non-invasive survey and band reading. The BOIS Falcons spend most of their free time flying high, and fast, or perched on inaccessible parts of the Causeway bridge, making band reading extremely difficult. Plus, just photographing a banded Falcon on the bridge and calling it one of the BOIS pair is not a sure thing and requires some big assumptions about what it is doing there and where it came from.
The best way to know for sure is always to read the bands off of a bird sitting on, or very near, the Tower. The trouble is, you have to get close to do that and they don’t want us anywhere near their precious Tower.Who dat?
I was quite pleased when I managed to get the blind setup below the Tower and myself safely inside without a single sign of alarm coming from the Igloo or the bridge. That is always the best case scenario. I felt like a Ninja. White shadow.
With nothing left to do but wait, wait I did. One hour… two hours… still no signs of life.
With Osprey, the females do 100% of the incubation. To see the male, you need to wait for him to bring a fish home. With Peregrine, the incubation duty is shared, so you wait for them to swap out. Two hours is a reasonable time for an incubation swap. We must be getting close.
It was about 45 minutes later while I was desperately resisting the desire to play Pets Rescue (TM) on my phone out of boredom when I suddenly saw a tiny, silvery flash through the blind’s even tinier window and realized a Peregrine just flew by. It was only when I turned my lens as far as it could possibly turn in the tight confines of the blind, and twisted my neck and back as far as they could possibly twist, and just a little more than that, to see through the viewfinder, when I spotted Peregrine perched along the edge of the Bay.
And of course, as these things tend to go, it was just out of reach of the abilities of my optics.
I slapped my hands into the wet mud I’d been sitting in for almost three hours in frustration and annoyance, when all of a sudden I heard the sharp call of a Peregrine battle cry right outside of the blind, and caught this single pic of the Peregrine by the Bay taking off like a rocket.Who dat?
I’m not sure exactly what happened next. Alls-I-know is that I saw two Falcons collide, lock talons in the air, scream, and tumble, right in front of the Tower outside the blind’s window, and then out of sight to the west. Peering through the western window, I saw a Falcon disappear under the bridge, then quickly turned my attention back to the Igloo.
If that was an incubation swap, it would have been the strangest one in history. Because the only thing I was sure of was that the no Falcon ever came, or went, from that Igloo.
Since my back couldn’t hurt anymore than it already did hunched over in that blind, and I couldn’t be any wetter, muddier, or more bored, I decided to wait until sundown. When the sun had finally set it had been almost five hours I’d been sitting there, so I conceded defeat and slunk home in the darkness. Even during the breakdown of the blind and my unusually noisy exit in the still silence of dusk, there was still not a peep or shadow from that Igloo.
I alerted Kathy Clark & Ben Wurst to the situation and it was decided immediately that the Igloo should be manually checked.All is not lost. 14/AM. Bridgeboy lives!
I was defeated, but all was not lost. It was a thrill to discover back at home that I had managed to pull off one shot with a decisive band read: 14/AM. Bridgeboy lives!
So now all we gotta do is get the female’s band.
I stopped by The Local early the next morning to get a coffee with my still soaking wet, muddy money which I had foolishly left in my back pocket while sitting in the marsh, and rushed off to meet Ben at the Bridge.Who dat?
As we approached the Tower, it was a great sign to see a Falcon creeping around the Igloo and watching us. It soon vanished and we simply assumed it had taken to the air to defend the nest.
Luckily, it was #takeyourkidtowork day, so Ben’s son Reed was with us and ready to assist. Ben and Reed would check the Igloo, while I would stay on the ground and attempt to read the bands off of the attacking Falcon.
The trouble was I couldn’t find any Falcons in the air. Suddenly, my heart sank. If an adult just scrams instead of defending the nest… there usually is no nest.Father’s Footsteps. Reed does a quick check of BOIS on #takeyourkidtoworkday. Could you imagine? Lucky Reed! Photo by Ben Wurst.
Reed was only about half way up the ladder with his dad safely behind when they both realized there was a Falcon still sitting right there on the Tower just above them.
“I THINK WE STILL GOT A BIRD UP HERE!11!”
That explains why I couldn’t find a Falcon in the air. I hurried to the other side of the Tower and she took off like a rocket.
Please, please, please, let it be the female.
Who dat? This adult sure “looks a little bigger,” but won’t give up those bands. I call this band-hiding maneuver the “Fluff-n-tuck” when the band is hidden under feathers with the legs tucked tight to the body.
Oh yeah, that’s a Mom for sure. But she’s still not giving up those bands! I call this band-hiding the maneuver the “Tag Tease” when the legs drop, but the band is oriented in such a way that you can only see the seam if the band.
“WE GOT FOUR EGGS UP HERE!” Reed Reports. Photo by Ben Wurst.
Who dat? That’s Osprey Hero, Jr. Thanks Reed! I suddenly have the feeling that I’m going to wind up volunteering for you one day. Photo by Ben Wurst.
And just then, we had a Great Moment in Band Reading.
A perfect pose for a read. 82/AN. Who dat? It’s the Queen of the Causeway. Jo Durt. That’s who.
I’m pleased to report, with absolute certainty, that Jo Durt & Bridgeboy are our 2019 pair at the BOIS Tower.
So what was going on during those 5 hours in the blind? Nothing except Jo Durt being a Supermom. Despite me in the blind, and Bridgeboy fighting with what must have been an interloping Peregrine, all right outside the Igloo, she just stuck to those eggs like glue. Remember, Jo Durt had four eggs last year but only one of them hatched. Maybe she’s leaving no margin for error this season.
But five hours is a super long time to go without an an incubation swap. Even just to stretch your legs. I should know. I was in my own Igloo of sorts down on the ground and was dying. I bow before you Jo Durt. I’m humbled.
Some Mom’s are just like that. I can imagine she communicates things to Bridgeboy like, “Well, if I didn’t have you, I’d have to do it myself anyway, so….”
It is not always easy to identify the adults at the nests around New Jersey, but it is critical work when it comes to understanding the biology of the birds and managing the population. You usually have to match the stealth, the patience, the determination, and to generally attempt to match the wits of the amazing Peregrine Falcon. Despite the frustrating difficulty of the task sometimes, it is a job I absolutely love.
And it is one that robots will never take away from me….
…Or will they?
Stay tuned! at: https://exit63.wordpress.com