A hurricane, two nests, and falcons

Elsa was a category 1 hurricane when she bore down on the Southwest Florida coast last evening. The two chicks on the Sarasota Bay Osprey Nest had their talons anchored, riding out the gusts and the rain. This was the pair of them at 23:08 Tuesday, 6 July.

Whew! No chicks blown off the nest just a good soaking.

As the gusts calmed some in Sarasota, they were picking up at the Achieva Osprey Nest in St Petersburg. It is nearly midnight. What is surprising are the number of cars on the streets and even people walking. The nest perch weaves back and forth. Oh, I am ever so glad that Tiny Tot is not on this nest! Indeed, I can see why the birds might choose to migrate north for the summer to get away from hurricane season.

All of this made all of the aunties and uncles relatively nervous. We can’t do anything but watch which is precisely the problem! And none of us knows what kind of damage the storm will do.

Instead of drinking coffee and eating way too much chocolate, I turned my mind to Peregrine Falcons.

“Peregrine Falcon” by Bill Gracey 26 Million Views is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Peregrine Falcons. The fastest animal on the planet. Speeds up to 390 kph or 243 mph. They are flying killing machines attacking their prey in the air instead of on land. They are magnificent creatures who appear in art, literature, culture, and sport.

“Peregrine Falcon” by DaveInman is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Falcons appear on the shoulders of the terracotta figures, the haniwa, on the Kofun (mound tombs) in Japan from 300-555 CE. These were royal tombs. The haniwa were not placed on the inside of the tomb but, rather, on the top of the mound as if in a ceremonial parade. They served many functions. One of those was utilitarian – they kept the soil from eroding as they would have their bottom portion pushed into the the ground.

Using Google Earth, satellite images show you the distinctive ‘keyhole’ design of these ancient burial sites. Forests now cover the sites but originally, they would have been cleared. These hollow clay figures covered the surface. Were they there to protect the deceased? did they tell about the status of their life on earth? No written records exist but we know that over time simple clay cylinders developed into very elaborate human and animal shapes like the falconer, above.

Falconry was known to be practised by the aristocracy in Japan. Taka is the Japanese word for falcon. Taka means strength and bravery. It is no wonder that the art of falconry, takagari, was adopted by the warrior class, the samurai.

The military class ruled Japan during the Edo era. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, 1603-1858, local war lords (daimyo) and the Shogun hired painters to depict the falcons on crests, screens, textiles such as boy’s kimono, in hangings as well as in single sheets or albums.

The image below is one of many woodblock prints depicting falcons. This one is Falcons with nestlings in a pine tree at sunrise by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Falconry is still practiced in Japan today. Here is a lovely short video about a woman who desired to take up the sport.

As it happens, I have just finished reading Queen of the Sky. That is probably why falcons are on my mind. In fact, this beautiful little book is sitting next to me. The illustrations are gorgeous.

What a marvellous little book written and illustrated by Jackie Morris. It is the story of Ffion Rees’s rescue of a Peregrine Falcon off the coast of Ramsay Island. It might be easy for someone to think, on the surface, that it is a condensed version of H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. If so, they would be missing the book’s heart. It is about love. “Come and see what is in my kitchen” Ffion urges Jackie. It is a story that weaves the lives of the women and the bird – love, loss, and friendship – together in a book that you will not wish to set down. Morris draws you in – you can smell the sea and the land, you can hear the gulls and you want to escape into the wild that is Ramsay Island. Required with the book are at least half a dozen tissues.

Morris tells us that the Peregrine Falcons hatched on Ramsay’s Islands are believed to be the fastest and most fierce in all of the United Kingdom. The kings of England kept many birds from Ramsay.

As a child do you recall the nursery rhyme about the Four and Twenty Blackbirds baked in a pie? Can you conjure that image? Like the one in the old coloured drawing below?

“King William IV sits with knife and fork at the ready before a pie containing blackbirds served to him by Lord Melbourne. Coloured lithograph by H.B. (John Doyle), 1836.” is licensed under CC BY 4.0

But did you know that King Henry II (1133-1189), known as Henry the Falconer, allowed his noblemen to bring their falcons with them whenever there was a feast? And adding to that, did you know that Henry’s chefs made special pies full of live songbirds (they could not have baked them!) and when they were opened the birds flew out as fast as they could while the owners took the hoods off the falcons?

Hoods protect the eyes of the falcon and help to keep it calm. They can very elaborate. This one is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England. It dates from the early 17th century and is made of leather which has been incised and gilded. There is silk velvet embroidery with silver thread along with silver breads and a tuft. It is typical of the type of hoods used in Europe at the time. Isn’t it gorgeous?

@Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Can you see it in those cold stone castles with their long wooden tables, pies full of birds flying and thrashing about being chased by stealth fliers? Plucked feathers flying all about and landing in the food?

Falcons raise their eyases in scrape boxes or on the sides of cliffs or in caves. The scrape are shallow and contain gravel. It is believed that the falcons developed this method of raising their chicks to keep away the pests and diseases associated with twig nests.

There are several falcon scrapes that have streaming cams. One of the most famous couples in the United States is Annie and Grinnell who have their scrape box in the Campanile of the University of California at Berkeley. They have just fledged three boys – Fauci, Kaknu, and Wek-Wek. At this time of year, if you want to watch falcons hatch and fledge, you have to go to the falcon streaming cams in the Southern Hemisphere. Two are the CBD Peregrine Falcons otherwise known as the Collins Street Falcons in Melbourne, Australia and the scrape box of Xavier and Diamond on top of the water tower on the campus of Charles Sturt University in Orange, Australia. The CBD Peregrine Falcon Cam is not up and running yet. I will let you know when it is.

Here is the link to the live streaming cam with Diamond, Xavier, and their nine-month old son, Izzi, who refuses to leave home!

I am very happy to say that the two chicks on the Sarasota Bay Osprey Nest survived their very first hurricane. Here they are at 10 am, Wednesday, 7 July.

Tiny Tot’s nest held up perfectly well, too. No one was on it but one of the adult visitors this morning for a bit. We all assume that the impact of the storm had no harmful effects on our beloved Osprey family in St. Petersburg.

The question of who this bird is has driven me a little nuts. The bird has the white ‘V’ and the rounded white heart shape that Tiny Tot has. It has the black patch on the rear of the head that Tiny has. It has Tiny’s short thick legs. But, this is an adult!

Thank you for joining me today. Many of us are quite tired having stayed up to ride the hurricane out. It is such a relief that it has passed. If today’s blog is a little disconnected – that was the state of my mind last night. It will all pass (we hope). Take care all!

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams where I took my screen images: The Bay Sarasota Osprey Cam and the Achieva Credit Union in St Petersburg, Florida.

5 Comments

  1. Thank you Mary Ann Steggles for today’s newsletter. So glad the chicks are ok at Sarasota Florida nest. The Achieva nest visitor this morning sure resembled Tiny and when She/he looked in the camera I was so surprised and thought it was her. I recognized almost all the same features that you did. I think it had to be from the same family as Tiny came from. I wish it had been her /him and then we would have gotten to see her and know that she was ok. Maybe Tiny will still return to the nest since the storm has gone. We are so thankful the storm didn’t do any major harm to their nest. The peregrine falcons are so beautiful! Thanks for all the beautiful photos!

    1. Hi Linda. It is lovely to hear from you – and isn’t it a joyous morning seeing those two babies on that Sarasota nest? Mum and Dad would be proud. They held on brilliantly. The bird on the nest is very interesting. I have to admit that I mostly saw Jack’s wings and behind and not his face. I could not say one way or another but I do know Jack’s long legs so I am not sure it is him. What do you think? Glad you enjoyed the falcons. They are stunning. Love their little PJs. Always wanted a onesie like them. Have a great day, Linda.

      1. Thank you Mary Ann Steggles. The Osprey yesterday at Achieva does indeed resemble Jack but I really don’t think it was him. I do believe it is a family member and maybe from a previous clutch. I have never known Jack to stay in the nest that long or to get up on the perch for such a long time either in that wind. Lol. We will see how things go in the next few days. It’s really hard to tell to identify any of them without a band. We can only go by markings. The resemblance was certainly there in some ways.

  2. Hi
    As always a very informative newsletter! Thanks!!

    At Achieva the same adult O has come back twice and last seen leaving at 5:22:49pm(EST). I truly feel this is Jack. It is very comfortable being on the nest and perch. If it was a newbie, it would exhibit nervousness which this one does not.

    It would be nice if Tumbles makes an appearance, even if it is a brief one. If not, I wish her well along with her family. Thank you, Tumbles, for allowing us to follow you for almost 4 months from your birth March 5. You are magnificent and will become a wonderful mom. Live long, Tumbles!!

    1. Hi Salliane. I just posted some images of that adult. That bird has haunted me all day. It has the dark on its leg like Jack and like Tiny. The only thing I couldn’t match up was the legs. It is definitely comfortable on that nest. I wondered if it were Jack if he would have come with a fish? I wish these birds had bands! And like everyone, I wish Tiny Tot (Tumbles) would come back so that we know she is OK. Maybe not now. Maybe in two years, we will all be scrambling to identify the adult on the nest that looks like them. Fingers crossed. You must be tired from staying up all night watching the nest. Isn’t it a wonderful relief that Elsa was just not the storm we all worried about?

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