The next time someone asks you which came first, the chicken or the egg, you should query your philosophizing inquisitor for more details. Importantly, you should ask if the egg was a real egg. Because in our story, the egg was actually fake, and so clearly came first. And before the egg came Agway. And some spray paint. And a web cam. And before all of that came Kathy Clark.
It was just a year since the day my father had casually mentioned the mysterious words “Peregrine” and “Osprey” to me in light conversation when Ben Wurst, the Osprey Hero of New Jersey, would somehow discover the ridiculous number of Osprey photos I was posting online daily to share with my dad. He must have recognized my extreme case of Osprey Fever, and perhaps as an attempted cure, he invited me to visit a few nests near my home with him as documented in the 2013 Reading Osprey Hero, Livin’ The Dream. On that fateful, greatest-day-of-my-young-life, we would dream up the idea for Project Red Band and as a result of those dreams I would come to meet Kathy Clark.
I recall gushing to Kathy, profusely but sincerely, for the work she and Ben were doing, and also thanking her for the opportunity she had given me along with Ben to cuddle & pet a baby Osprey. I told her it was the coolest, most overwhelming, day of my life. The fulfillment of a dream I didn’t even known I had until my father showed it to me. A day I know I made him proud. A day he enjoyed hearing about as much as I enjoyed living. She replied:
If you think that’s something, we might have to get you to a Peregrine Falcon banding one day.
I was immediately intrigued by the spirit of mystery and secrecy with which she said this. There was something magical, mischievous, and ominous in her tone. It was clear that these Peregrine Falcons were something rarefied and elite in Kathy’s world. Her truest treasure. While Kathy obviously loves her Osprey and has been working on their recovery since she was just fifteen years old, still… the manner in which she said this expressed distinctly that while maybe I was ready for Osprey, the mighty Peregrine was still out of my league. That was something I’d have to earn. She was not yet sure I was up to it.
And so with that tiny nudge, a gauntlet was thrown. And because I’m both lazy and inexperienced, thankfully, there was a technological shortcut to seeing a precious Peregrine Falcon nest up-close: a Web Cam.
Junior… she’s out of the box.
The phone call was brief and cryptic, yet I knew precisely what my dad was calling about back in the spring of 2014. So I ran to my computer to access the web cam control panel and make sure the camera was focused and sufficiently zoomed. He was watching the Jersey City Falcon Cam online, and apparently, our beloved Baby Ivy had just left the nest box for the very first time. I had volunteered to help control the camera in my spare time that spring, in case something interesting was happening while the real operators were sleeping, eating, or otherwise having normal lives. This was a huge moment at the JC Cam as described in the post The Thirsty Games. This was a very special victory. This was not just a victory for the falcons, but a victory for all of us.
You see, there were big, big hopes for the Jersey City Falcon Cam back in the early spring of 2014. Ben Wurst had spent untold days and dollars rigging and testing a high definition, remotely operated camera a top a skyscraper in downtown Jersey City while Peregrine tried to tear his hair out. Even more exciting, he had added a pinhole camera in the side of the nest box allowing us a flatfly-on-the-wall view of the most intimate moments of Lady Beatrice/Athena’s & her mate Dante/Six’s life: The King & Queen Falcons of Jersey City. This was gonna’ be good. Real good.
But when it became dreadfully obvious soon after launch that Beatrice/Athena had become infertile, you could literally hear the despairing groans, sighs, and screams of Peregrine enthusiasts across the Internet coming out of your computer. Not only would we have nothing to watch that spring, but we also knew that the legendary Beatrice was nearing the end of her beautiful and storied life.
Yet where most of us regular folks saw nothing but hopelessness and despair, Kathy Clark saw an amazing opportunity.
I was probably the last person Ben Wurst contacted that morning; the last tiny detail he took care of before heading off to Jersey City. “Hey, could you control the cam this morning at around 11? Kathy is dropping off an egg at the nest.” I don’t think I really knew, or considered at the time, what that meant. But I ducked out of work and fired up the control panel to watch & record Beatrice’s fierce attacks when Kathy & Ben climbed out onto the roof. I was secretly hoping Beatrice would steal his umbrella that he uses to shield them from her merciless dive-bombing, as she had stolen once before, flying it blocks away from the building and dropping it to the street below.
Kathy was apparently taking a play from her mentor, the legendary Pete McLain, the great patriarch of endangered species protection in New Jersey, and transferring a live egg from an overly successful nest to an empty, failed one. Pete McLain had been the driving force behind the efforts to save so many of our endangered species in New Jersey, from Ospreys, to Bald Eagles, to Peregrine, and Kathy knew first hand the stories of the early, secret missions under the cover of darkness, transporting live Osprey eggs from Maryland to newly built nesting platforms in New Jersey as a first step in helping everyone overcome the many ravages of our self-poisoning with DDT.
It was not until the egg failed to hatch that I realized the gravity of what she had done. Not in the sense of the very intense level of wildlife management that is egg-swapping, but in the incredible personal, and perhaps even professional, risk Kathy took doing this so publicly, on a web cam, with a large, diverse, and passionate audience watching. Kathy is a quiet, humble, cautious, and measured soul. Never vain, nor boastful, and certainly not reckless. But if you talk to her long enough you will surely catch a glimpse of the gleam of a fierce Peregrine’s soul hidden underneath her deceiving demeanor. Kathy is as fierce and courageous about protecting young Peregrine Falcons and ensuring their continued place in this world as any of the great Peregrine moms I’ve witnessed, including Beatrice/Athena, and our very special subject Lady Katherine.
It was thrilling to watch Beatrice accept the egg as her own, live on the web cam. It was horrifying to realize after several weeks of waiting, live on web cam, that the egg had died. I felt implicated and guilty, just by being so fascinated by all of this and for having admired Kathy’s courage so deeply.
Given that I already had recognized her determined & courageous Peregrine spirit, I suppose I should not have been so completely and utterly murderballed by what happened next.
Kathy decided that even though the egg had died in Jersey City, Beatrice/Athena was obviously already primed and ready for motherhood, so we might as well double down and attempt to foster a live chick with her from another, overcrowded nest.
Fostering chicks is not unheard of. In fact, “hacking” (taking captive bred chicks and raising them in the wild) is how we managed to save wild east coast Peregrine from total extinction after they were eradicated by DDT in the first place. There is a very good chance that Beatrice, Dante, Ivy, Lady Katherine, and this newly fostered chick are ALL descendants of a foster chick moved by a courageous visionary like Kathy from a captive mother into the wild. For better or worse, we are probably moving into a strange post-Darwinian era where survival-of-the-fittest no longer matters. Only what we choose to help survive, and what we develop successful strategies for not-eliminating will determine which species get to share this planet with us, and which are allowed to be exterminated for good.
But Kathy is not a meddler, and has a much more optimistic view of our potential future. I once had the chance to ask her what the true essence of her work was. She answered easily:
To pave a way. To help make room and remove obstructions so the animals can thrive.
It was just a few months before my father died this winter that I was able to share the story with him of how the fostered Baby Ivy from the 2014 Jersey City Web Cam had been spotted in Canada, a strong, proud, healthy, woman grown. And also the really sad news that Beatrice had not been seen around Jersey City for quite some time, so was believed to be deceased. You can read about her in the 2015 Reading Thr-ivy and find many links to videos of the stories told here in this post.
The story of Ivy was the last story I truly shared with with my father, in the sense that I knew he was as deeply moved by the news as I was. The Readings From The Northside have only ever really been intended to be shared with one person. The Readings From The Northside have never been anything more, or less, than a song for my father. All of the pictures, all of the stories, all of the gags, all of the experiences, all of the passions … He created them, through me. He somehow taught me to show him the things he wanted see, and to see the things I never knew I always dreamed of seeing. It is a strange feeling now to see the beautiful, and the magical, and the wonderful things of the world without him here to share them with. This was the only thing truly haunting me on the Penthouse Floor of the Atlantic Hotel. It was not his ghost; just his absence. And the realization that half the fun of this venture has always been amusing him.
When Lady Katherine proved infertile atop the abandoned Atlantic Club in Atlantic City this season, Kathy was ready give this glorious animal one more season of purpose, and to help give another batch of young Peregrine chicks a better chance at thriving.
And thanks to her experiences in Jersey City, she had learned that using real Peregrine eggs was not only too difficult and risky, but completely unnecessary. Agway had perfectly good fake chicken eggs, and a little spray paint was enough to fool even the most experienced Peregrine like Lady Katherine.
All that remains is finding the right chick to foster. And that brings our story a little closer to home. Literally. And figuratively.