Magnificent Mile Male 2Today is Earth Day. The fortieth anniversary of Earth Day, in fact. Today I had the opportunity to accompany Whirl, Matt and Mary on some field research as part of the Chicago Peregrine Program. I got to tag along and climb up high on of the urban cliff sides where these raptors have adapted to living. It was thrilling!

Over the last several years I have assisted my child bride with her research regarding the peregrine falcons in Chicago. This assistance has always been in an impromptu volunteer support capacity. And always from the ground. She would come back from stories of walking around the abandoned Uptown Theatre, or scaling a building setback 40 stories above Wacker Drive and I would feel a mild pang of jealousy. I want to do that! What made today’s trip special was that I was part of the official Field Museum crew visiting a new nest site on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. And I got to go where eagles soar! (Okay, maybe not eagles — sorry, Misfits — but falcons!)

The museum had received a report of a pair of falcons nesting on a building where they have never nested before. Last week Whirl and Mary visited the building briefly and confirmed the nest. Today we returned with two goals: identifying the birds from their legbands and judge the status of the scrape. The first goal is more difficult than you might imagine. The second goal required letting go of any debilitating fear of heights.

Whirl spends hundreds of hours every year confirming and reconfirming the identities of the various falcon pairs in the area. The legbands are small and it is ideal to get photographic evidence of the bands. That’s some tough photography. Action wildlife photography. Action wildlife photography in a battlezone. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit with that last description. But only a bit. Falcons aggressively defend their nest sites. And these birds are well-equipped to do some serious harm to the unprepared.

Magnificent Mile Female 2When building owners learn of their new tenants there is often a period of adjustment. Sometimes buildings wholeheartedly embrace them, like the Evanston Public Library or 1130 S. Michigan. They set up nestcams and enthusiastically provide activity reports. Other buildings are more reticent. And for good reason. The birds are loud. They are messy. They leave prey remains littered about the ground level. Their presence often restricts access to parts of the building. A couple years back, a pair nested on the construction scaffolding of a high rise development, effectively shutting down construction on that section of the building for the nesting season. And some people are just scared of birds. Hitchcock knew this; he made a powerful film about that psychological fear. — There is that aggressive behavior I mentioned earlier. The reactions of the building management and tenants at today’s site are a mix of all of the above. As a result the building has asked the Field Museum personnel to keep the exact location confidential for a while. So the best I can tell you is that the nest is up high on one of the buildings on North Michigan Avenue. If you’re shopping for your prom dress on the Magnificent Mile today, look up. You just might see them.

The Peregrine Falcon Program has been a rewarding project and I’ve been happy to be able to assist in small ways over the past several years: a photograph, or a sighting or an idea here and there. Today was particularly special for me as I got a chance to be part of the day-to-day aspect of the research in a way I hadn’t experienced before. And I thought it was an appropriate activity, given the date.

So that’s my Earth Day 2010. I was somewhere above the Mag Mile looking out over the city trying to take photographs of aggressive, uncooperative models in skimpy outfits and thinking to myself: so this is what it’s like to do a photo shoot with Tyra Banks.