Beast On The Bridge

It is recommended you read the earlier Reading Those Moments in The Never Ending Story for background context regarding what I’m about to show you.

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Matriarch Jo Durt (banded 82/AN) first arrives at her nesting tower on Bonnet Island, just off the Causeway bridge to LBI, this spring.

Jo Durt and her lifelong mate BridgeBoy (14/AM) are bonded to their bridge. It’s their home. They don’t use the tower too much, except for its express purpose of providing a safer place for them to nest each year (which is exactly why it was built for them.)

So when the pair arrives at the tower in the spring, we know it is for a very specific purpose. We won’t see them copulate at the tower since their life is on the bridge.

But soon Jo is spending long hours, waiting patiently through the night at the igloo, and so we know that her eggs will come soon.

And during the laying, a strange, young male banded BE/68 suddenly lands at the tower.

BE/68 is fascinated by the igloo, and keeps returning to the doorway as he cautiously explores the tower’s platform.

Jo Durt and BridgeBoy keep BE/68 out of the igloo, yet he persists at the platform. He finds a safe place to stand cautiously in the corner for the afternoon while Jo Durt and Bridgeboy continue to work on their season’s nest.

The unusual visitor slowly becomes more upsetting to the pair during this sensitive period. Jo Durt becomes increasingly agitated.

And so does BridgeBoy. Over the next few days, BridgeBoy begins defending the tower from BE/68’s non-stop incursions and refusing to let him loiter on the platform.

During the egg laying, BridgeBoy is not normally at the tower too much, but now he starts visiting frequently to chase off the much younger BE/68.

But the younger BE/68 has nothing better to do than to keep trying to land on the tower.

He persists late into the evening….

And begins again at sunrise the next day.

Soon all of BridgeBoy’s attention is consumed by defending the tower from BE/68, while Jo Durt continues to lay her eggs and attend to the nest.

Relentless and increasingly angry.

During this same period and in the confusion and chaos, a mysterious young female also lands on the tower and challenges Jo Durt at the igloo. Male falcons generally own the territory, while female falcons rule the nest. Female falcons are significantly larger than males. So Jo Durt lets BridgeBoy deal with the young male BE/68 while she saves her strength for more hostile females who only she can defeat.

The older, wiser, stronger, and more experienced Jo Durt is able to scare off the young female with one terrifying scream. Yet that brings BE/68 right back in to see what all of the fuss is about.

An exhausted BridgeBoy appears on camera for the last time.

This is an uncertain, yet critical moment.

MingMing, the machine the Little Egg Foundation trained understand life at the Bonnet Island tower and to process the hundreds of thousands coming in from the nest, says this is Jo Durt finally attacking BE/68 outright. My human inspection of the whole series suggests it is her too, but we never see her band.

This could be BridgeBoy and this could be their final confrontation. This could also be Jo Durt acknowledging that BE/68 was the cause of her mate’s death and that he is not welcome here. He finally crossed the line somehow and is now perceived as a threat to the nest instead of just an annoyance at the tower.

All we know for sure is that BridgeBoy was never seen again.

It was an unusual night with Jo Durt standing on the platform outside of the igloo, in the rain, for much of it. Perhaps waiting for BridgeBoy to return, or perhaps considering her options.

The next day, BE/68 persists. This young three year old should not have been able to take the territory of the twelve year old BridgeBoy, who was in the prime of his life. But that’s exactly what happened.

We can’t even be sure that BE/68 understands the significance of what has happened, or the importance of the kingdom he now controls.

Jo Durt continues to let BE/68 know he is not welcome at her tower.

Soon another young female, BM/11 arrives at the tower to challenge Jo Durt. BE/68, probably not understanding his potential new role here, bows down to her in courtship.

And when Jo Durt abandons her incubation to chase off BM/11, BE/68 runs over and bows to her instead.

Clearly BE/68 is out of his depth. Poor Jo Durt has lost her lifelong mate, right in the middle of laying. She is now stuck caring for a clutch of eggs with a young male with whom she has no bond, and who seems to have no clue about what is actually happening here.

BE/68 remains obsessed with the igloo, but Jo Durt refuses to let him in until he can prove himself useful.

And so he loafs at the tower, enjoying the rainbows after the rain.

Over the next few weeks, their familiarity grows and Jo Durt’s desperation increases as she tries to incubate the eggs all by herself, abandoning them as she must only to feed herself.

Through BE/68’s incredible persistence, some type of bond is growing and Jo Durt becomes increasingly tolerant of his presence at the tower.

BE/68 is the new king of Bonnet Island, whether he recognizes it or not.

A hopeful sign. From one of the last photo series taken before the first nest check of the season where we discovered Jo Durt’s three eggs being only partially cared for, we find BE/68 stepping up and bringing food to Jo Durt for the very first time.

While he still doesn’t seem to understand how to, or want to, incubate, if he can help Jo Durt care for the nest by relieving her with food, there is a small chance for a miracle at the bridge this year.

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It’s kind of funny. The whole reason that I am running these cams and training MingMing is to study prey deliveries at peregrine falcon nests. And here we have a nest where, sadly, no prey deliveries are occurring at all. Yet still, I’m thankful to have this extremely thorough look at the unusual events which took place at the Bonnet Island tower this spring. As tough as this loss is, there is a small amount of comfort in knowing the whole truth rather than trying to grasp through imagination what the fate of BridgeBoy actually was.

A good deal is known about how nests are transferred from one female to another. We have seen these hostile, direct challenge, fight-to-the-death takeovers between females happen live on web cams.

Much less is understood about how territories are transferred from one male to another. This is a very detailed look at one such transfer. Mostly I’m struck by how BE/68 seemed to pull this off more by patient persistence than by aggression. As the great Kathy Clark commented recently on these events, “Why fight when you can just… possess?”

And now BE/68 does indeed now possess the tower. So take a deep breath, and mourn the lost of our first patriarch of BOIS, our beloved BridgeBoy. But then we have to pull it together and move forward. Because there are three eggs in that igloo, and Jo Durt is essentially on her own her.

And like any good peregrine, she is either going to succeed, or die trying.

BE/68 baby pic from his banding. “Kids On Grass.” Time to grow up little one. Jo Durt is counting on you, and so are we.

Stay tuned for the next nest check at the BOIS Tower.

4 Comments

  1. That is incredible photo journalism, and an amazing story to boot. Is it really better to know the truth??

    Like

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