Five newly hatched balls of fluffy kestrel chicks are on display for the world to see thanks to a Richland Rod and Gun Club webcam.
It's the second year that Dale Schielke, a longtime member of the club, has had the webcams up and running in the West Richland area.
And for a second year he's captured a hatch of kestrel eggs on one camera and has been tracking wood duck nests on the second one.
Viewers have watched two nests of wood ducks hatch already this spring, as Schielke moves a webcam from nest to nest. A third duck group of eggs is expected to hatch any day.
Wood ducks don't feed their ducklings, so ducklings have to be ready to forage for dinner soon after they hatch.
The hen leaves the nest and calls for the ducklings to jump after her just 24 hours after they hatch, Schielke said.
In the first hatch the webcam watched this spring, seven ducklings followed the hen out within a minute, he said. But for the next five minutes the last duckling struggled to climb to the opening.
He heard reports of people clustered around workplace computers watching the final duckling and cheering when he finally made the jump.
The second nest had more drama.
The first eight ducklings in that nest left with no difficulty. But the last one struggled for 30 minutes.
"Geez, he's not going to make it'," Schielke remembered saying as he watched "jump day" on his home computer.
He called a West Richland-area resident, who went out to the nesting box and lifted the duckling out and set it on the ground.
"Hopefully, he caught up with mom and the rest of them," Schielke said.
He doesn't know if the duckling survived, but without the assist, webcam viewers likely would have watched the duckling die in the nest, he said.
The webcam is focused on a nest with 18 wood duck eggs. Viewers can see the hen sitting on the nest. Or if she's out looking for food, she covers the eggs with nesting materials.
The eggs likely were laid by two or more hens, Schielke said. He's not sure if all the eggs will be viable, or just those laid most recently.
He knows the eggs have been there since the first week of May. With an incubation period of about 30 days, the hatch should be soon. Usually wood duck eggs start to hatch in the morning, with more ducklings appearing through the day.
The kestrel babies, a type of small hawk, will be on webcam longer.
They hatched Sunday and should remain in the nest for about 30 days.
Now they are mostly huddled together and hidden by their mother when she's not out searching for food. But they'll be more active as they grow.
Tuesday evening viewers watched the mother feed pieces of a mouse to her babies. As the babies get larger, the male and female parents will just drop food into the nest and "then there will be a mad scramble with all the brothers and sisters fighting for it," Schielke said.
The kestrel pair may be the same one that viewers watched raise six young last spring, although there is no way to tell for sure, Schielke said.
This spring a kestrel pair was in and out of the same box used by kestrels last year and then moved to a nearby box before eggs were laid.
The Richland Rod and Gun Club has about 400 nesting boxes in the Tri-City area. They're put in for wood ducks, but also attract the occasional kestrel and screech owl.
Schielke has not captured an active screech owl nest on webcam yet. He's limited to nests close to a power source for the webcams and computers.
He and other club members have been building and maintaining nesting boxes for wood ducks since 1982, sometimes with the help of students from Richland's Carmichael Middle School. The webcams were added after Schielke was given a Hero of Conservation award through Field and Stream magazine, with $500 donated by Toyota.
He used the money to buy webcam equipment and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory donated excess computers for the project.
To see the kestrels, go to http://www.ustream.tv/channel/rrgc. The wood duck nest is at www.ustream.tv/channel/rrgc-duckcam.
In another nesting box, which does not have a webcam, Schielke discovered and recorded an albino wood duck and her ducklings this spring near Benton City during a field trip with Kiona-Benton City Middle School students.
Ki-Be students had built the nesting box. A link to the video is posted on the Richland Rod and Gun Club Facebook page.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews