Greg Septon stepped onto the roof of the We Energies power plant in Port Washington Monday flanked by photographers and a man wagging a broom in the air to ward off an angry falcon mother. He fetched four baby peregrine falcons from their nest and returned to a meeting room in the building for a tagging process that for him has become routine.
For 26 years, Septon has been working to restore what was a dwindling-near-extinction population of peregrine falcons in the state, through the Wisconsin Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project.
Septon encourages power plants such as the We Energies plant in Port to set up box nests for falcons, as they have difficulty surviving in the wild. The location is ideal because the birds like to nest atop cliffs near water.
Since the program started at the Port location in 2000, 44 peregrine falcons have been born on the roof.
"They were near extinction, so man stepped in and said, if we give them these boxes, maybe the birds will start using them," We Energies Media Relations Director Cathy Schulze said.
In front of We Energies employees, media, and bird enthusiasts Monday, Septon tagged the birds for tracking and drew blood samples for a DNA bank at the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. The birds cried out repeatedly during the process, as volunteers held down the their wings for Septon to draw the blood.
One volunteer was Sylvia Buonanni, who came from her home in Minneapolis to see the tagging because of her special bond with the chicks' mother, Indy Foona.
Buonanni's fascination with falcons began with a "falcon cam" on the Indianapolis Star website.
"I got addicted to the camera view," Buonanni said.
When Indy Foona was tagged as a baby, Buonanni had the chance to hold her afterward. She then joined a group in Indianapolis that watches over baby peregrine falcons and tries to protect them as they take their first flights. They watch as the chicks take off, and they rush to the scene when they hear of any who get injured.
"It's exhausting," Buonanni said. "It's like watching your children grow up, but the survival rate's about 50 percent. You really just want them to be out there doing what they're supposed to be doing."
When Buonanni heard that Indy Foona had flown to Milwaukee and was having her own babies, Buonanni decided to make the trip down. She brought a frame with portraits of Foona, and Foona's mom and dad, which hangs above her stairs at home.
Buonanni watched with a smile as the next generation was christened with tags given names: Dr. J, Peeta, Edna, and Patricia.