Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Utica Peregrine Falcon Update and a Nesting Least Bittern at the Utica Marsh

 The 2nd juvenile female Peregrine seen in the Downtown Utica - Picture by D Cesari
The first juvenile female seen the previous week - picture by D Cesari
The Peregrine situation in Downtown Utica remains in flux. So far there doesn’t seem to be a single pair of these birds claiming possession of the territory. In fact, 4 different Peregrines have been seen in the vicinity during the last month. This includes 2 different immature females, an immature male and an adult male. It is now almost certain that our original adult female (named Maya) has vacated the area, and has left the habitat open for these newcomers. Of course, at this point we have very little hope that nesting will take place this year; it is already quite late in the season and juvenile female Peregrines don’t usually breed in their first year.

 Since it is quite unlikely that a new pair will accept the former nest site at the Gold Dome Bank (it’s only 4 stories high), we need to try to provide the falcons with a new site on one of the taller downtown buildings. Hopefully, during the year we will get permission from the owners of one of these buildings to install a nest box. If not, a new resident pair of Peregrines could be consigned to using inappropriate and/or dangerous sites, and any breeding success would be jeopardized.
The 2nd juvenile female again - picture by D Cesari
In the last 4 weeks, I’ve made several visits downtown along with Dave Cesari –a wildlife photographer from the Rome area. Dave was able to get some extremely close pictures of some of these falcons –even as the birds were in flight. Dave’s detailed pictures have made it much easier for us to recognize the juvenile birds, especially the 2 females.

The colorful Least Bittern peeking out from the cattail beds
Down at the Utica Marsh this week a group of 6 Great Egrets were seen among the usual crowd of Great Blue Herons. That’s quite a high number for this species for springtime –especially at this location. About the only other unusual birds sighted were a pair of Northern Shovelers. The Shovelers typically would’ve moved on by this point in the spring, but the fact that a pair is lingering this late could indicate that they may try to breed. The species does occasionally breed in the Central New York region, so this wouldn’t be an unprecedented event.

A classic pose - the Bittern straddles the leaves
While scanning the Marsh for Marsh Wrens, I happened to spot one of that location’s rarest residents –the Least Bittern. This Robin sized Bittern is actually quite brightly colored. In fact when you finally see one, you might wonder how you could've ever missed noticing such a colorful bird. But the bittern's habit of skulking about among the cattail leaves, and literally keeping a low profile in the marsh vegetation, renders them practically invisible.
The bittern’s hunting technique is the same as that employed by the larger herons –they mainly use stealth. They move slowly into position and wait to see their prey move, before making a quick stab with their stiletto-like bill. They mainly hunt for small fish, amphibians and insects.
Hidden behind a curtain of reeds - a pair of Least Bitterns stand in their nest
As I watched this individual, he eventually made his way over to a larger clump of cattails that border one of the Marsh’s pools. He climbed up the leaves to a place where his mate was sitting on a well concealed nest. There he joined her on the small platform made from bent over cattail leaves. Completely constructed from last year’s growth, the nest was the color of straw. I'm certain that if I hadn’t seen the male climb up to it, I would’ve never picked it out from its surroundings.
Hunting along the edge of the cattail beds
As the female sat on her eggs, the male gave her a snack –probably an insect. He then proceeded to preen her. I have to say that they make an incredibly handsome couple!
After this the male went back to skulking around the perimeter of the nest area. He soon found an intruder lurking in the vicinity –it was another male Least Bittern. He chased that bird off in short order.

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