Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Banding Prairie Island - by Guest Blogger Frank Sperlak

On Wednesday 6/11/08, plant employees Mark Kenall and Frank Sperlak made the climb to the top of the U-1 Containment dome along with Raptor Resource Project (RRP) members Bob Anderson, Amy Ries, and Dan Berger. The team was on a tight schedule as they were going to be in the area that day only. We were scheduled to be the first of three banding sites for the Project that day. The sky looked menacing, but we were able to complete the banding between rain showers.

It was interesting to have the opportunity to talk Peregrines with Dan Berger, who now resides in California. Dan was one of the first people to study Peregrines and he started banding the birds in the early 1950’s. He is a mentor of Bob Anderson, who heads up the RRP. Dan was eager to come to our site and see the progress we have made in keeping Peregrine numbers up here in the Upper Midwest. He is both an environmentalist and a huge supporter of nuclear power.

As we expected from monitoring the nest box from the spotting scope in the Environmental Lab, there were two baby falcons. Both were females. There were also two dead eggs in the nest. What was surprising was the age difference between the babies, which are also called eyasses. They were at least a week apart in age, which Bob and Dan said was very uncommon. Usually the eggs all hatch within 24-48 hrs of each other.

The adult female was keeping an eye on the situation and voiced her displeasure as the team temporarily took custody of her babies. She is much less aggressive than most, as Bob and his team frequently get struck while banding birds at other sites. Mom Peregrine has been at this site for many years and at 15 years of age is the oldest female at any of the RRP nesting sites. She originated from the old Montgomery Wards tower in St. Paul, before it was demolished in the mid 1990’s. The adult male is unknown.

Since the nest box was installed in 1995, 35 young Peregrines have hatched from atop U-1 Containment.

-Frank Sperlak

Raptor Resource Project director Bob Anderson with the older of the two females. This was one feisty girl! She nailed Bob’s hand when he took her out of the box and continued to try to foot him while he banded. When Amy and Bob had one leg, she tried to foot him with the other. When Dan Berger held that leg, she bent over and made repeated attempts to nail him with her beak. Note the grey sky - the Raptor Resource Project was dodging storms all day long. Containment dome top, on rope cliff-side, or 400' up a coal stack - the rumble of thunder is NOT welcome!

Amy Ries and Bob Anderson band a baby falcon. Amy spent a great deal of time learning how to band this spring. Note that the falcon's leg is straight out from its body - you can never twist or pull the leg funny, so pay attention to the falcon! Let it tell you where its leg should be. Also, get a good bite on the band and grab your tools by the ends, not the middle - leverage works better that way. Take it slow and steady. Don't let the crowds bother you. If you attempt to draw blood, you have to stop shaking with nervousness. Thinking about shaking does not actually stop shaking very effectively. Have Bob band all babies when thunderstorms are coming. I'll have more to post about this subject in a later blog.

Note the difference in size between the two falcons. As Frank mentioned, the difference is unusual. Although we banded at new sites this year, it seems like productivity was a little lower in many places. The cold and snowy spring may have had an effect on our nests.

We were asked quite a bit about the size of the bands. The bands are sized appropriately for adult falcons, so the babies will not grow out of them as they age. Purple bird banding lab band on the right, black over green color band on the left. The bands help researchers track falcons. The adult female at this site came from the old Montgomery Wards building in St. Paul. She hatched in 1993, which makes her 15 years old. Yes, the feet are really, really large.

Dan Berger on rope. Climb on, Dan! I hope to see you next year.