Adam Welz's Weblog

Saving Private Peregrine, or, I Am a Terrible Filmmaker

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding by adamwelz on June 10, 2008


I’m in Queens, New York City. It’s 22:42 at night and it’s still 89 Fahrenheit (almost 32 Celsius) out and pretty much in, given that Carrie and Alex’s flat has no aircon. It was at least 38 Celsius on the lower E side of Manhattan today – and I was trying to film. It’s a wonder that the camera didn’t warp in half, and I didn’t get arrested for disturbing the peace as I was wont to do w some of the shopkeepers who are price gouging like crazy. Bottles of cold Gatorade are suddenly $3 in some places when they are normally around $1.

The reason I’m here is to shoot a mid-length TV doccie on nature nuts in NYC for SA television. I’ve been a bit slack about my blog posts because I’ve been hectically busy w setting things up and trying to get some tape down.

One of my main subjects is yojimbot (not his real name) who is a keen follower of various birds of prey around the City. I went out w him for the first time 2 days ago (Saturday). We started at the Red-tailed Hawk nest on the Cathedral of St John the Divine, went to see some American Kestrel (parents and some recently fledged young) somewhere on the west side, and ended up at Broadway Bridge on the northern tip of Manhattan.

Broadway Bridge, a double-decker steel bridge (train above, roadway below) is home to a family of Peregrine Falcon. Three nestlings have fledged within the last week. As is normal with newly-flying youngsters, they’re pretty clumsy. They’re not good at balancing or flying. I was filming yojimbot watching as a youngster flew down to just above the train line. As I was shooting, a train came by and then, somehow, a fledgling Perrie was flopping down through the train deck and landing in the middle of four lanes of traffic. Ack!

yojimbot immediately ran across the way, almost getting himself totalled by a giant Escalade, which is when I realised that I wasn’t sure how experienced he was w handling raptors. Many people are very careful not to get bitten by birds of prey; they don’t know that by comparison to getting ‘beaked’, getting ‘footed’ is far, far more painful. Inexperienced people thus often get hurt rather badly by the talons of the bird they’re trying to pick up. Visions of yojimbot and the bird both getting squished in short order were flying through my mind, especially if Private Peregrine decided to put his hallux claw into yojimbot’s hand to make him scream and behave wildly irrationally (which I have seen happen before).

Traffic was too heavy for me to get into the middle of the two lanes either way, which is where cars and trucks were whizzing by within a yard of the yojimbot:bird complex. Any thoughts of filming anything vanished from my admittedly low-RAM mind, and I took the camera down from my eye. I now have half a minute of footage of the road and tyres passing across it, with a soundtrack of rumbling noises and me yelling ‘grab the feet!’ like a stuck record, instead of the tight shot of the heroic mid-bridge rescue.

As soon as a gap appeared in the cars I took off to the middle, where yojimbot had just managed to get hold of the bird by its legs sort-of under his bag (never seen a technique like that. Must try it sometime). I managed some close shots of him taking the bird off the bridge, and then took the flapping creature out of his hands. We then put the bird on a bridge railing away from fences and not over the water so it could fly off somewhere safe (we hoped it could fly well enough to do that — it’s nearly always far better to leave a fledgling bird near its parents than try to look after it at home or in a rehab centre). I got some great close-up video of the bird on the railing, and then the tape ran out. As I was changing tapes the bird, of course, flew off. So no great shot of Private Peregrine flying to freedom and no close-up of the rescue itself. Urgh.

yojimbot says the bird really should be Nemo, because we had to go find him, but Private Peregrine worked better for the post title. We went back to look for the him/her this evening, but could not with 100% certainty see more than two fledglings at a time – so one of them, perhaps ‘our’ bird, might not have made it.

You can see some of yojimbot’s pics of Saturday’s adventure at his blog. I have no stills because I was only shooting video. Go to

I really enjoy urban nature blogs like these. Old-fashioned amateur naturalist studies reviving via the Internet.

Yours in Deep, Dark Sweatiness