Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Crisis at Philly's
Photo by Joe Debold.
HISTORY. All weekend the missus was crouched over her laptop staring at a live feed from a surveillance camera. No, she hasn't succumbed to internet voyeurism. She was in full-on mother mode. Let me explain. First, I'll quote the intro of a blog I'll talk more about later.
2012 will be the fourth year for two Red-tailed hawks to successfully nest on a window ledge at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. A live-feed camera allows thousands of people in the USA and around the world to watch the eggs hatch, and then observe the feeding and care of the young hawks until they fledge in mid June. Each year, this Red-tail pair have successfully raised three eyasses [er, baby hawks]
Second, I'll quote myself from this year's experience:
My wife watches this every day. Red-tailed hawks having babies on a ledge at the Franklin Institute. Three years now she's been watching the chicks hatch, grow, and learn to fly. Mom and Dad are stupendously dutiful, exchanging shifts on the nest and going out hunting for food for the voracious youngsters. She calls the chicks "the Bobbles," and keeps me updated.
But this year is different. Dad got killed by a truck. Mom was all alone and in something of a panic. No time to mourn, only hunt. The Institute folks tried to fill in, sneaking food into the nest when Mom was away, but everyone watching knew the chicks were in trouble.
Then the New Guy showed up. He stepped seamlessly into the Dad role, bringing food and doing his turns of babysitting and hunting. Something about what marriage is.
Red-tailed hawks are monogamous. Even liberals might like this plot. He raises the ones who aren't his own. Will he be back next year? I'm thinking yes. Liberal TV casting would have him played by John Ritter. The rightwing action movie genre would make him Jason Statham. I'm pretty sure I see a shoulder holster under his right wing. What do you see?
In the meantime, the Bobbles are surviving. Let it continue so.
Third, the reason for my wife's weekend obsession (and, well, yeah, mine too.) This is the time when the eyasses (more eloquently termed "the bobbles" by my better half for the way the chicks' heads move early on) leave the nest. Which they can only do by flying for the first time. They don't all go at once. It's a glorious and moving phenomenon to watch. When their flying feathers start to come in, they actually look bigger than their parents, maybe the way sleek adults would look after a tumble cycle in the dryer, things sticking out all over, baby feathers bulging and clouding the new more purposeful plumage. They start "winger-cising," startling the camera with spreads and spans and beats that seem impossible for such infants to have in them. Three Bobbles. One has to be first. After lots of false starts, the main event is always sudden. An explosion of wings and then he's gone. But he doesn't go far. He finds a nearby tree or another building to attempt his first landing, which is a lot like kids without training wheels for the first time trying to stop without falling off the bike. It doesn't always go smoothly.
Meanwhile the parents are monitoring the whole process. They make fewer trips to the nest. They still hunt for food, but not for the nest. They place it where the Bobbles will have to fly to get it. This year, the second Bobble left within a few hours of the first. They both had adventures recorded by the "hawkarazzi" on the ground. Then the vigil began. The vigil the missus and I spent much of our weekend keeping.
The third Bobble had doubts. The chat room which accompanies and records every moment of Bobble life kept referring to this one as "she," and so I will too. She was all alone now. Mama did not come. Dad (known as T2 because he was the hero stepfather) brought her fresh green leaves, which Bobbles like to sit on for some reason, but all the food was across the street, on a city monument. The nest camera kept clicking. She went through every vicissitude of emotion. She stood hopelessly on the leaves, backed up against the window of the Institute. You could see her thinking, "I'm not buying the whole flying thing. Maybe I'll be a new kind of hawk. A sitting and watching and moping hawk. Where is everybody?" Then she'd walk hesitantly toward the middle of the nest and look out across the street for long minutes. She knew the others were out there. Hawks see everything. A brief winger-cise would seem to alarm her. She'd turn her back on the street and stare grimly at the window. "Shit," you could hear her say. "Shit."
And so we watched. And watched. And watched. At times she nerved herself up to go stand at the edge overlooking the street. The wings would spread. Then, in the staccato rhythm of a video made by only fairly rapid still photos, we'd see pedestrians pass by on the sidewalk below. She looked at them. "People. That's a long way down." This always changed her mind. Eventually she always wound up huddled in the corner that had the leaves, looking lonely and lost.
It took her, I don't know, 36 hours or more to follow the second of her siblings into the air. That happened yesterday morning when my wife couldn't be watching, of course. All three of them are now out there, still having adventures. Sometimes they walk into the street and the hawkarazzi have to run after them, stopping cars to keep them from getting run over. It's all so very new to them.
I could probably have saved you reading this by directing you sooner to this extraordinary blog, which has recorded everything I've just described, in journal fashion as it happened and illustrated by some truly great photography. Do yourselves a favor and read and view the whole blog. It's an astounding and beautiful slice of wild life in the big city.
Happy ending? Did I captivate you with "The Crisis of the Third Bobble"?
No. That's not the story. Not the crisis.
The crisis is this. Tonight at 5:45 pm, President Obama is arriving at the Franklin Institute for some remarks, a fundraiser, whatever.
All those SUVs barging into the Bobbles' street. Who could or would stop them from running down a confused and frightened baby hawk? We stop construction projects and oil drilling in the name of snail darters and democrat owls. Why can't we get an injunction against a needless presidential photo-op to save a few young raptors?
You tell me.
I'm worried. That's the crisis. Call me an environmentalist wacko if you want. But somehow these Bobbles have become my Bobbles, and I don't want the president to kill them.