Saturday, December 09, 2006

John Blakeman Wades in with a Theory about the Red-tail in the Sapling and a Junco Sleeps in the Snow

Divine Mom, Isolde, of the Cathedral Nest does some Contemplating

Junco's Roost

I'd always heard that Dark Eyed Juncos will sometimes, in inclement weather, "roost" for the night in a boot print, or other deep impression in the snow. I looked out the window in the front door in Wisconsin about midnight and just a few feet away, the little guy was snugged in, snoozing away in the heel indentation of a boot print. I doubted I could get out there and photograph him without flushing him in the middle of the night so there is no photograph of the event. Just a shot of the print from the next day. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing, even if you don't get the photograph.

One of the young Divines, from the Cathedral nest, watching a rat in Morningside Park

From John Blakeman, Ohio Red-tail expert-


Here's my interpretation of red-tails perched on flimsy, low perches along highways.

I've seen this many times, too. I think the birds choose to sit out there not because they can intercept a rodent moving across or down the median or berm, but because they have discovered a vole nest close to the low perch. From afar, the hawk has watched voles moving in and out of a clump of grass with a nest inside.

But from distant tree or pole perch, the hawk was not able to fly over to the scene of activity before the wandering voles got back beneath a shielding clump of grass. But by sitting right above the clump of grass with the vole nest (which is a tight hemisphere of packed grass about the size of softball or grapefruit), the hawk can wait in stealth until a vole emerges and ventures out into the open between other grass clumps.

Here in Ohio, I more frequently see the local red-tails sitting on roadside fence posts, just four feet above the ground. We don't have many perches out in the median strips of our 4-lane highways. Fence posts are everywhere, however.

I've discovered these vole nests both when hunting with my falconry red-tail, and more frequently after I've burned my Ohio prairies. In each case, there are several "runways" or vole lanes radiating out from the nest. The voles can run at good speed along these unimpeded by any vegetation. The runways are actually open 2-inch tunnels extending for many yards out into surrounding feeding areas.

By sitting just above the nests, the hawk watches the movements of the voles, learning their activity patterns, hidden safety areas, and everything else that will facilitate easy and repeated kills on the part of the hawk.

Often, the hawk will sit there for several hours and watch all the excursions of the voles to and from the nest. It will strike only when it has learned that a vole is too far out into the open and will be unable to scurry back to cover when it sees the hawk's four-foot wingspan pouncing from above.

And I also have reason to believe that the hawks conserve their vole nest discoveries. Instead of taking every vole discovered in a day or two at a single nest, thereby exhausting it, I find that red-tails often leave a local vole nest alone for a few days, allowing vole society to re-adapt after the loss of a member. This maintains the vole family, which continues to produce copious numbers of young voles that the hawk can harvest in the future.

As I've described before, red-tailed hawks are the real contemplating intellects in the raptor world, owls totally notwithstanding. It's our red-tails that are the great thinkers out there.

--John Blakeman


That sounds very plausible. I've watched Pale Male sit on a low branch of a London Plane near the Hawk Bench, watching a rat hole under a bench near the Anderson statue. He watched towards evening, which is when the rats come out, for a number of days. This was when Lola was sitting the nest across the Model Boat Pond from his perch. He'd turn his head and check on her now and again, then go back to contemplating the rats as over time they ventured further and further out from under the bench.

I can't help but think that he also became more a part of the scenery to the rats, the more time he was just "there", not doing anything to them. After several days, suddenly he hopped to a slightly closer branch and watched some more. This was after he and his had already eaten for the day, so he seems to have been planning the filling of the larder for the future.

Donegal Browne

Friday, December 08, 2006

Country, Suburban, and Strip Mall Red-tails

I still haven't made it to Hoo's Woods but I'm hoping that it may happen tomorrow morning before I get on the plane.

Remember the cornfield hunting Red-tail, seen here in Wisconsin in the fall, sighting down the rows? She's still around; I saw her circling above the farm house at the end of her cornfield.

On the way to the Newark airport, I looked out the bus window and there on the skinniest four foot sapling one can imagine, smack dab in the middle of the median, waving in the wind, talons clutched as tight as they'd go around the scrawny branches sat a beautiful Red-tail in fine feather. I couldn't help but think, why in the world with all the mature trees around didn't she pick something with some height, like good Red-tails should?

Then I noticed a possible why. In New Jersey, many of the four lane roads have those little walls that run along the sides. Well, Sapling Red-tail, was perched on the only tree that was perfectly centered between the only two breaks in the wall for miles. Any little rodenty guys, vole, mouse, ground squirrels perhaps, who wanted to cross the road using the gap in the wall, must needs cross the road under her gaze. Now of course she could have hunted from a high branch but that would have meant a long swoop through traffic. This way, all she needs is patience, something Red-tails have in remarkable quantities, to wait until the prey, who can't climb the wall, makes a break for the other side through the gap. She waits, she waits, she waits, and BAM. She jumps on them from spare feet away. Snick, snack, down the little red lane, and she's back up waiting for another, without the danger of timing the intervals between speeding cars.

And then there is Arby the Hawk. Why Arby? Because above that store is where this Red-tail is most often seen. They must have one juicy group of rodentia coming to their dumpster for snacks. Today, getting on towards sunset, I pulled into the parking lot to watch and sure enough after a bit, Arby went for it and came up with what looked like a nice medium sized rat. As usual, in these cases, people went about there business walking, driving, ordering their roast beef sandwiches without a hint of what Arby was up to.

Sometimes I wonder if Red-tails have some sort of invisibility cloak number going, which only practice and focus allows one to see through. It has also occurred to me that the hawk is not only timing the prey, the attack, the grab, the cars, looking out for other hawks but perhaps is doing a little monitoring concerning where the people's eyes are around it. A bit far fetched, conceivably that's true, but then again how many times has a hawk moved that you were watching, only when your eyes flicked away for a split second?


And did I mention it's now minus 1 F. ? Though I hear there's to be a heat wave. It's supposed to get up all the way up to 12F. today.

Donegal Browne

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Furry Bottoms and Turkey

Courtesy of ShastaCoons
What makes it even more watchable when a Maine Coon tools down the sidewalk is their breeches. They have very long thick fluffy hair on their haunches and bottom. One supposes for sitting on cold surfaces to go along with the long hair on the bottom of their feet that helps keep their pads warm. Perhaps it even helps with traction on ice?
The thought is, Maine Coons are possibly a mix of the Norwegian Skogg cat and the American Domestic Shorthair, long past.
Remember Freya's chariot pulled by the two slitty eyed cats? Those were Skoggs. Very big in Scandinavia. And where did Skoggs come from? Turkey. Turkey? Yes, the Vikings didn't have much to do up in Norway...and it was really cold.
So they went down south where it was warmer and became bodyguards for the royal Turks. And it seems some of the Turkish cats followed the Vikings home when they went back up. Skoggs not only fish, deal well with cold weather, and don't expect cat chow, but they can also climb down trees head first. A reasonably unique talent in kitties.
What is all this about cats that live in the cold? Well Ladies and Gentleman, the indoor/outdoor thermometer next to me says it is 2 degrees outside. Yup, 2F...and that's without wind chill.
Wisconsin is downright nippy in the winter.
By the way, I'm hoping to visit the rehabber tomorrow who made the prosthetic beak for the Bald Eagle who broke hers off by smacking into a sign when a youngster.
I'll keep you posted.
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Maine Coons on Leashes and butterflies

An email from blog reader, Margie--

Kitties don't have to stay in the house if they are leash trained and wear a harness. I have leash trained my two Maine Coons, and walk them around the condo. They need variety and exercise, and this is one way to safely provide both. Sometimes, I take one or the other (one cat at a time is enough of a handful) and let them climb small trees around the building. The harness has to fit properly (no more than 2 fingers under each band) so the critter can't get loose.

Margie, you're absolutely right. There is no reason why a cat can't have a walk-about outside with a harness and lead. And from my experience Maine Coons are perfect candidates. They tend to just take to it, if you start them young. There a very large Maine Coon in my neighborhood who you'd think was a dog in the manner in which he walks with his mistress. He literally stops traffic because people rubberneck to get a look at him smartly strutting down the sidewalk with purpose- head up, tail up, and nose in the air.

Unfortunately some cats just don't take to it, even if you do start them young. My Maine Coon mix (Yes, rescued out of a vacant lot in Brooklyn as a very small kitten.) just didn't like it AT ALL, even though she'd been born an outdoor cat. She did participate in other Maine Coon behaviors as a kitten, like chunking her cat toys in the toilet so she could "fish", but a lead nor going ourside just weren't in the cards.

My cats do take pleasure in climbing small trees though, so they aren't total lardos. I've several ceiling height ficus, and it isn't unkown to walk into a room and find a cat hanging on a branch by her toenails.

Eleanor Tauber, the photographer of the wonderful raccoon family, sent in a lovely butterfly photo taken at the American Museum of Natural History Butterfly Exhibit. (Go see it, you'll love it.) Unfortunately either Blogger isn't doing photos today or it's something to do with the unfamiliar computer I'm using in wWsconsin. I'm here looking after my folks. It won't let me post a boffo shot of a Maine with harness either. Very boring. Though it did let me post the parrot photo yesterday. I'll try for them again tomorrow.

Life truly is one big mystery after another, isn't it?

Donegal Browne

Monday, December 04, 2006


A flock of wild Monk Parakeets in New Jersey living in groups of their own kind, as they were evolved to do.
Courtesy of Steve Baldwin,

Betty Jo, a long time reader of Pale Male's exploits, sent in a note regarding an earlier entry,
Here's what she had to say-

RE Dogs--how many small animals killed or harassed by dogs in parks in 05?Years ago, the State of California, took land in Topanga (a beat-turned hippie turned yuppie enclave north of LA for a wonderful state park.

Naturally the people who lived on the edge of this land thought it was more their park than strangers park, so they did sort of what they wanted there. One of my friends let her very small dog off leash and she was cited by the ranger. When he saw the dog off leash a third time, he confronted Kia and said, your dog harasses and kills animals. She replied "Never!" At that moment, by her own admission, her dog killed a ground squirrel, proving the ranger right, she embarrassed, the dog happy and the poor squirrel dead.

I vote for dogs on leads and cats in the house and no wild animals as pets. (except for re-habs of course--AND Silver makes me lust for a parrot!)Thanks for your wonderful blog--I look at it every day.

Betty Jo McDonald (CAmarillo, CA)

Gulp. :-) In my own defense, concerning Silver: I'd always wanted a parrot. Ever since I read Treasure Island I was dying for a parrot, but never got one once I was old enough to get my own, because there was a principle involved. I realized that they aren't domesticated species but more or less tame members of wild ones. But then I ran across a three month old African Grey with malnutrition, sorely in need of rescue. Hand raised, imprinted on humans, he was never going to go to Africa. He didn't know the customs or the language. Besides it was unlikely he'd ever be able to give up whipped cream or pork chops, let alone chewing pincushions.

This was and is a companion bird, born and raised. So we all became companions, along with the eight other rescued birds (No other exotics mind you, in fact mostly persecuted pigeons) and the three rescued cats. The cats, you'll be glad to know, happily reside full time indoors.

So for those who wish to have a life long companion, who is very much like a brilliant toddler with wings and a very sharp beak, who will bring joy and laughter into your life with a measure of despair when he decides to renovate the antique furniture, there are many parrots out there sorely in need of adoption. You'll never be bored. Hysterical with laughter, bleeding on the carpet, or nearly ready to kill when he won't stop beeping like the microwave or imitating the fire alarm, yes--but you'll never be bored.

Donegal Browne

P.S. To Betty Jo, I still get Mailer-Daimoned when I try to email you. Is my address in your address book? Perhaps that would help.

Pale Male Thinks EGG!

Is Pale Male really thinking EGG? Or is he being visited by aliens?
Being given the third degree down at the station?
Most likely a idiosyncracy in the camera set up, never know.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

More Than a Pair of Hawks, Protecting the Turf Never Ends

Fierce Lola is back on the nest again
12:30 I check with Rik Davis, hawk photographer for the early report. He says that around 11:30 Pale Male was sitting on Oreo. Great, lately if they've been seen before I get to the Bench, they don't come back while I'm there.
12:50 Suddenly Pale Male and Lola appear in the north circling our way. Finally the hawks, what a treat to see them even if this is all we get for today. (As it turns out even with a team of three people, Stella Hamilton, who has a great eye for spotting hawks, Samantha taking notes, and myself with the scope and camera we cannot even come close to keeping up with the hawks before very long--but we don't know that yet.)

12:55 Pale Male lands on the nest.

12:57 Pale Male takes off, lands on Rusty Top, then Oreo. A Kestrel zooms by to the east. Pale Male is up and after it behind the buildings going south.

1:09 PM flies to Linda.

1;10 Pale Male takes off to the North.

1:19 Pale Male appears in the N, then disappears.

!:25 2 RTs fly from the north, past Stovepipe, one circles Oreo, then behind The Carlyle. Hawk flies behind Woody and Dr. Fisher, 2 hawks circle above Fisher.

1:30 Lola circles in front of nest then both on nest very briefly.

1:31 Both take off a few seconds apart, Pale Male W, Lola N.

1:33 2RTs come south circle Octagon, one lands, then off

1:34 Stovepipe railing

1:36 Circles above Oreo, then Pale Male flies south, lands on the nest.

1:38 Pale Male is off the nest, through the southern trees of Pilgrim Hill we can see three Red-tails circle, and a fourth hawk, possibly a Coopers slightly further south. Pale Male and Lola are doing their herding routine, coaxing a visitor by double teaming it and easing it out of the territory.
1:40 Lola does a sudden dive behind Linda. She seems to have had enough of the patient herding routine.
1:43 Hawk disappears behind Dr. Fisher.
1:44 Two hawks disappear behind Woody.
1:46 Pale Male and Lola circles above Oreo.

1:47 Lola lands on Oreo grate, vigilant, surveys all directions.

It's windy up there.

1:55 Pale Male circles over Carlyle, then towards park, then circles back.

1:57 Pale Male lands on the corner of the water tower on Woody just long enough for me to swing the scope round, then he's up again and lands on the nest.

Pale Male continues to look about, vigilant but no intense body tension. His feathers continue to lie smoothly on his head, no ruff up in the back.

2:14 Pale Male is off the nest, heads north, disappears behind Oreo, comes back in front of building, circling south...Where'd he go?

2:17 RT over Oreo, Lola? Pale Male?

2:25 Stella spots a Cooper's Hawk in a tree between the Model Boat Pond and the Boathouse. 2:36 RT circles above Linda.

2:57 Hawk, possibly Coopers, flies past Stove Pipe, to Park Avenue. A hawk reappears possibly not the same one, circles over Fifth Ave. buildings, then goes down and out of sight by Oreo. Red-tail suddenly appears in the sky above 927 and does a severe angled dive behind it. One imagines the sound of wind whistling past wings.


3:20 Exit... The sun is dipping behind "the bowl", its cold. Besides Sam needs tap shoes. What can I say?

Donegal Browne