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