Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Incubation going well

Incubation seems to be progressing normally. Overall, the weather this spring has been warmer than average including several very bright, sunny days. Some fans have been curious--others concerned--that Scout at times appears to be panting. This is correct-she does sometimes pant and if you have noticed, stands over the eggs to shade them instead of setting tight on them. This is because of the extremely warm temperatures. The nest box faces south and especially on a sunny day, it can be quite warm up on the 41st floor nesting ledge. So, to compensate, Scout regulates the temperature of the eggs by standing over them and to cool herself, she pants. These behaviors are normal.

As most have figured out, the streaming video for the nest box has been down the past couple of days. Unfortunately, the problem exists with an outside party and is beyond the control of the Division of Wildlife to correct. However, we have alerted the partner and hope they will correct things on their end in order for the video to be restored ASAP. In the meantime, the still images refresh every 15 seconds so you can still see what is going on inside the nest box. Sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

When to expect hatch & the “Original” Columbus FalconCam!

Because of the delay in egg laying, it is hard to pinpoint when incubation actually began. On the most recent statewide update, Dave Scott, peregrine falcon project leader for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, recorded incubation as beginning about April 10 which would put hatch on or about May 14th. So far all continues to appear normal. I mentioned in an earlier post that the first egg blends in well with the others. Well, sometimes it does and at other times it is very obvious it is different! It just depends on the light at the time one is looking.

While there’s not much variety of activity to observe during incubation, I thought everyone would enjoy a story about the “original” Columbus Falconcam in reference to a Nikon camera Ohio Division of Wildlife photographer, Tim Daniel, used to capture some of the first, great nesting pictures of Aurora and her chicks in 1996. From Tim:

The “Original” Columbus Falconcam

I was thrilled and apprehensive about the opportunity to photograph a peregrine falcon nest. I had sat in blinds in remote locations where one would expect a wildlife photographer to be, but 41 floors up on a downtown skyscraper was a first for me! Here’s how I got the pictures of Aurora and her chicks in 1996:

To photograph the peregrine nest at the Rhodes State Office Tower, my camera needed to be directly in front of the nest box—a narrow space of about 12 inches. In order to keep the falcons from perching on the camera, it was mounted inside of a small wooden box oriented on its side with the opening facing the nest box. Luckily, there is a “deck” directly in front of the nest box that the wooden frame could be bolted to. Even though I have access to a lot of state photo gear, for this assignment I used my own camera—one of the first Nikon cameras that I ever bought. An older model, it was not as valuable as the other equipment that I had access to. (The reason for this will soon become apparent.)

With the assistance of the biologists the camera box with a fake camera inside was installed weeks before the eggs were laid to let the birds get used to this new structure that “suddenly appeared” right in front of their nest. The birds had no problems acclimating and soon there were eggs in the nest. When the biologists went out on the ledge to check the eggs prior to hatching, I was able to trade my real camera for the fake, having pre-focused on the area I was confident the birds would be. I attached a cable release to allow me to operate the camera’s shutter from inside the building. 1996 was the first year the Columbus site had a video camera at the nest. While onlookers watched the activities at the nest on a monitor in the lobby of the Rhodes Tower, I did also 41 floors above them. Waiting just inside the building—a mere two feet from the birds—watching a small hand-held monitor, I snapped photos as the eggs hatched and when the Aurora came into to the nest box to feed the young.

Since this was before digital cameras were widely available I was shooting slide film. I was only able to change film when the biologists went back out on the ledge to inspect the nest. To minimize disturbance to the birds, this only happened a few times so I had to take photos sparingly! And, the final roll of film stayed in the camera until after the young fledged. During the 5-6 weeks of the nestling phase my camera was subject to the defecations and splattered remains of prey of four growing falcons. A clutch that included “Buckeye” a long time nester at Cleveland’s Terminal Tower.

More than ten years later while cleaning out my shed I found that old Nikon camera that had served its final tour of duty at a peregrine falcon nest on the 41st floor of the Rhodes State Office Tower in Columbus. Raptor feces is a very corrosive material thus, after this assignment it was no longer a functional camera. I must have put it up without cleaning it off to serve as a reminder of one of my most memorable job assignments with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Now with high resolution video available over the Internet, anyone can capture a JPG of an exciting moment at the nest. Finding this “original” Columbus Falconcam reminded me how things were done with less technology. I'm happy to share my love for wildlife photography with others through these photos of Aurora and her young. –Tim Daniel

Monday, April 14, 2008

What to expect during incubation

Everything continues to appear "normal" and incubation is in full swing. So what can we expect to see over the next several weeks? Mostly a "peregrine sitting in a tray of rocks" but it is still interesting to many of us! Scout will do most of the incubation while Orville's primary job is to hunt and bring her food. After he delivers a prey item and she leaves to go feed, he will take his turn keeping the eggs warm. When they switch places it is called a "mate change." It is during these "mate changes" that we get a glimpse at the clutch of eggs. Sometimes they may leave the eggs exposed for several minutes. This is normal and is to be expected. It causes no harm to the eggs, especially on warm, sunny days when the temperature inside the nest box is much hotter than the outside air due to the southern exposure of the nest. Watch for the incubating bird to sleep or pass the time by picking up rocks with its beak. Eggs should hatch after about 33 days of incubation time.

Now that the falcons are sitting in one place for extended periods of time during incubation duty, it is a good time to practice your skills of telling Orville from Scout. The birds look very similar to each other. Once you get used to looking closely, probably the easiest way to tell them apart is to look at overall size. Scout, like most female birds of prey, is larger than Orville, the male. Refer back to my blog post from April 18, 2007 for more tips and similar photos of each in the nest box for comparison.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Computer Maintenance Alert & a 4th Egg!

First things first: later this morning the cams will be down for a short time for computer maintenance. We expect this to occur around 10 a.m. The interruption will hopefully be for less than an hour. The work to be done is one of several steps of planned improvements necessary to help keep the cams running on a more consistent basis. Thanks for your patience!

On to the big news...a 4th egg was laid this morning about 7:38 a.m.! Thanks to all of the fans out there that sent photos. Liz and Mary Anne both were able to capture the earliest photo of the new egg first seen at 7:39:
Interesting that the first egg blends in so well with the others now. I mentioned in a previous post that the pigmentation was lighter and duller than the second egg but now it is no longer obvious (at least in this picture) which egg was laid first. All the eggs appear normal--let's hope that they are fertile! More on what to expect during incubation coming up...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Egg #3!

Thanks to Liz (watching from the Netherlands!) we have a picture of egg #3, first noted about 7 a.m. this morning. Glad to see things progressing a bit more "normally" now. Will there be another egg? Stay tuned...!!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Will we see another egg?

Today about 2:30 the birds copulated on the ledge. Unfortunately, it was over before I could save an image and/or record a video clip. Mating doesn't necessarily mean an egg is on its way but we're all hoping there will be more eggs added to the clutch. So, I'll put this out there again as I did in my post after the 1st egg was laid: "Eggs are laid every 2-3 days...Peregrines generally lay a total of 4 eggs."

The second egg was laid Sunday evening, so 2-3 days would have us expecting another either today or tomorrow (Tuesday or Wednesday). If these birds only knew how many eyes were watching and waiting...!!!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Back in business...?!

Well, after a delay of 8 days Scout has produced egg #2! Or, is it egg #1 after re-cycling? I can't say for sure which category it would technically fall into without looking through reference material but the bottom line is another egg was laid Sunday, April 6 about 7:13 p.m!! And, as of this morning Scout appears to be in incubating posture. Only by observation will we be able to determine if true incubation has started. If she does stay tight on the eggs from this point on we'll have to wait for a mate change to note if any additional eggs appear in the coming days. I know a lot of anxious Falconcam Fans are breathing a sigh of relief with the latest turn of events that put things toward more "normal" behavior that we have been anticipating! Let's hope that nesting goes full steam ahead from this point! And, if we end up with a hatch next month, it will be interesting to note if that 1st egg hatches or not. If you look close there is a difference in pigmentation of the two eggs--the first egg is much lighter and duller in appearance.

I've gotten a lot of questions from fans who have heard a "3rd" falcon in the distance via the streaming video. First, I'd like to clarify that there is a delay between the nest box and the ledgecam videos. And there is a microphone at each location that sometimes picks up sound from the other end of the ledge. So, if you have both videos running at the same time it is possible to experience a repeat of sound between the two streams. Secondly, there may be a taped recording of raptor calls being played downtown by a nearby building in an effort to scare pigeons. The Statehouse was using this technique in past years. I have no direct knowledge of what building(s) may be using it now, but it is a definite possibility and we know from past experience that the recording has no effect on our resident peregrines.

Finally, prior to the 2nd egg there was speculation that the window washers caused the peregrines to change nesting locations. I can tell you from personal experience that these peregrines are very tolerant of human activity. The window washers are not a threat to the falcons as evidenced a few weeks ago when at least one of the pair sat on the ledge as the basket scaled the building. Many, many times I have been out on the ledge for nest box maintence purposes to have the birds sit at the other end and watch my actions. Finally, one floor up from the nest box is the roof of the Rhodes which regularly has any number of facility and security personnel out and about. The point is, these birds are quite aclimated to the people around them and with their bond to the site, it would take a lot to run them off. With the second egg now in the nest, this speculation is pretty much a moot point but I did want to address the concerns.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Things not looking good...

Well, there is still only one egg in the nest and if you have been watching closely you may have noticed that Scout and Orville are not at the nest as often as before. One egg alone after several days like this definitely indicates a problem. Dave Scott, peregrine falcon project leader with the Division of Wildlife said that possibilities include a problem with the pair, interference or selection of an alternate nest site.

Interference can be eliminated right off as there have been no reported sightings of other peregrines in the downtown area. It is always possible that the birds have chosen an alternate nest site, however, their options in downtown Columbus are pretty limited as no other nest box exists. That doesn't mean they might not choose their own ledge or nook, but given the structure of the majority of the buildings downtown, there isn't a lot to choose from (but, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try!). I would ask any falconcam fans who work or otherwise spend time downtown to keep an eye out and if you see one or both of the falcons spending time in a particular area away from the Rhodes Tower to please let me know.

Likely, the problem comes down to Scout and a malfunction of her reproductive system. It is too soon to tell if this is a permanent issue with her or simply a matter of her system taking longer than average to mature. Unfortunately, we don’t have exact answers and everyone is in the same boat of having to just keep watching to see if things come together and the pair can re-cycle for a second attempt.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

So what is Scout waiting for?

Will there only be one egg in Columbus this year? According to what is "supposed to happen" we'd have a second egg by now. The usual time between eggs is 2-3 days. But, for whatever reason, Scout seems to be taking her time. Both adults have been incubating off and on for brief periods of time, but true incubation (one or the other bird keeping the egg(s) warm 24-7) has not started yet which would indicate the clutch is not yet complete. We are all in "waiting mode" together - watching to see what will happen. It's hard not to get anxious!
Orville continues to be supplying a good variety of prey. This time, a northern flicker was on the menu! (Thanks to Deb J. for supplying the photo!)