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Search for baby falcons on Tarentum Bridge comes up empty

| Friday, May 17, 2013, 10:02 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Pennsylvania Game Commision Peregrine Falcon coordinator Art McMorris leans in to take a look at where the peregrine falcon nest is believed to be in the middle pier of the Tarentum Bridge as the game commissions Dan Brauning (left) and PennDOT bridge inspection crane technician Joseph Siebel look on on Thursday, May 16, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
A peregrine falcon soars above the Tarentum Bridge on Thursday, May 16, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Bird watcher Rob Protz, of Brackenridge, talks of his disappointment about their not being any peregrine falcon chicks that could be found by the Pennsylvania Game Commission at the Tarentum Bridge on Thursday, May 16, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Pennsylvania Game Commision employee Dan Brauning walks along the catwalk underneath the Tarentum Bridge as he and peregrine falcon coordinator Art McMorris (not pictured) look for the peregrine falcons on Thursday, May 16, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Pennsylvania Game Commision Peregrine Falcon coordinator Art McMorris talks about the abandoned peregrine falcon egg that was found underneath the Tarentum Bridge on Thursday, May 16, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Pennsylvania Game Commision member Dan Brauning talks about the abandoned peregrine falcon egg that was found underneath the Tarentum Bridge on Thursday, May 16, 2013.

After two endangered peregrine falcons were born and raised in the superstructure of the Tarentum Bridge last year — the first nesting in the area for decades — state biologists could not find any young falcons at the bridge on Thursday.

However, the biologists found an abandoned, unhatched egg in a section of the bridge's superstructure where both adult peregrines were seen frequently throughout the spring.

“I feel disappointed,” said birdwatcher Rob Protz, of Brackenridge. “But, that's nature.”

Protz has been monitoring the Tarentum Bridge nesting for the Pennsylvania Game Commission for several years. The commission protects the birds and has been tracking the nesting progress of the endangered species statewide.

Protz, along with other wildlife watchers and the game commission, plan to monitor the birds through the nesting season.

The adult peregrines were present at the Tarentum Bridge on Thursday, defending the New Kensington side of the bridge when the biologists moved around on a catwalk in that section of the bridge.

PennDOT provided a bridge crane with a bucket to drop two wildlife biologists from the game commission into the superstructure to access a suspected nest site.

Outfitted in safety harnesses, Art McMorris, peregrine falcon coordinator for the state, and Dan Brauning, wildlife diversity division chief, were trying to find the young birds to check their health and band them to track their future whereabouts.

The two men are traveling throughout the state to confirm and band all of the reported peregrine nestings of 42 pairs, up from last year's 32 pairs.

Because the Tarentum birds are nesting in the wild and not in a nesting box — as is the case with the pair at the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland and other city buildings — it's hard to know exactly where in the complex bridge ironwork the birds are nesting.

As the biologists approached the bridge section where the birds' were suspected of laying eggs, there was silence.

“We didn't hear the birds,” McMorris said. “They should have been trying to knock my head off.”

McMorris wears a hard hat to protect against the frequent dive-bombing of peregrine falcon parents defending their nests.

After the biologists came up empty with the abandoned egg, the PennDOT crane hoisted them to a catwalk. As the men walked toward the New Kensington side of the bridge, they were greeted by two adult peregrines defending that section of nest.

The birds let out their drawn-out screams.

The shrieks of the birds were audible from the shore where falcon watchers, some dubbing themselves “falconuts,” waited for the state biologists to find and band the young birds.

“That's falcon,” Protz said of the bird screams.

“Somebody over there is mad,” said John English of Pittsburgh.

Sean Dicer is a teacher at Grandview Upper Elementary School in Tarentum who often comes down to photograph or just watch the falcons.

“There are all these people and they don't see these birds,” Dicer said. “It's here — right in our backyard.”

Although McMorris and Brauning didn't find any young, there's still a possibility that young birds are somewhere on the bridge.

“We did a lot of searching,” McMorris said. “(But) there are lots of good hiding places on the bridge, and peregrines are good at hiding.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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