Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Not Seeing the Trees for the Cavities

Not Seeing the Trees for the Cavities...

I'm early. Not knowing just how long it would take me to get to my meeting in Brooklyn and having a horror of being late, I'm not only early, I'm very early. There is more than an hour to do something with.

I read the plaque on the front of "The Friend's Field House" where the meeting is taking place. Which according to the city park's department sign was an athletic field owned by the Quakers early in the last century. In the early 70's it was bought by the city from The Society of Friends and there is now a modern little kid's playground, and a small tennis court that is currently being refurbished that were no doubt added by the city. When the baseball field with it's wooden bleachers arrived I've no idea but the little field house with it's cathedral ceiling, hardwood floors, and dandy working fireplace was constructed in 1937.

Yet there is something about the whole place that has the feel of an even earlier time. Why I'm not sure. But it is the case, even with all the playground equipment so heavily leaning toward brightly colored plastic.

Maybe it's the grounds, all that space, without statuary, geegaws, or little black fences to keep folks off the grass. And perhaps the trees, wait a minute--after doing all that searching for the woodpecker, I'm currently fascinated by cavities. And there's one right there, in which there seems to be a bit of feather or hair hooked on the edge. Maybe if I'm closer I'll be able to tell just what that is.

In less than a minute, the time it took to get a few steps closer, there, instead of a cavity opening, was a Gray Squirrel bottom. And a very healthy sleek squirrel bottom at that. In fact now that I look around there are squirrels everywhere. Shiny healthy fit squirrels that have very bright eyes and lush bushy tails. In a little grassed area near the building perhaps 15 feet by 15 there are 7 of them. They're everywhere. Bounding across branches, hopping through holes, running after each other in a maze of squirrel activity. Why do they look so well?

Looking at the ground, there are spots that are literally still covered with acorns, and it's January, high time they should all be stashed in the ground or in caches. Even with this many squirrels there just aren't enough hours in the day to get them all taken care of. Amazing.
So this is what this animal looks like when it is eating the food it evolved to eat. And if you have this many acorns...

I look up, open my eyes, and finally see all the trees. And these aren't just run of the mill city trees. No London Planes these, but rather mighty mature Oak Trees.
Trees that sink deep, rise high, and have for years. These are trees with girth.
Slow growers are oaks. So it's girth, the niggle at the edge of consciousness that made this patch seem like territory misplaced in time.
Wait, not just seem from another time but actually to be from another time as they are many and they are big. Not something one sees in New York City very often, an actual grove of old oaks surrounding acres of space.
Was it the Friends who planted them? Perhaps some, but others are older, old enough to have been here, well, before.
It's not Muir Woods, but still they're--before.
They are a pleasure, looking up gives me a tingle down my spine. But why? Could it be that there is something that evolved in our DNA like that of the squirrels that makes for human well being as well?
Or is it as the Celts believed? Simply, that a grove of oaks is magic.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Looking for the Red-headed's Roost Hole

Having been in the middle of being scandalized that my fifteen-year old daughter, who blew the top off the New York City Biology Regents exam, thinks that Red-headed Woodpeckers roost in a tangle of twigs, and explaining that what we were looking for, wasn't a tangle of twigs but rather a cavity, no matter what Samantha thought the directions were telling her, I missed getting us off the A train at 59th, expressed to 125th and then had to go back downtown again.

Little did I know that the "tangle of twigs" was going to be a lesser problem than what she thought a Red-headed Woodpecker looked like. Though I had said they were about nine inches long and didn't have a bright red head at this time of year, somehow that hadn't quite sunk in.
The image of Woody the Woodpecker was ever so much stronger.

4:23PM Riverside Drive, and we're cutting it extremely close. Marie Winn's directions and Ben Cacace's Nova Hunter map in hand (See LINKS for their sites.) we start searching.

Unfortunately not having frequented this park much, we're rather at a loss to match the topography with the names in the directions right away. After briefly looking around, I realize that these trees are completely riddled with holes and I haven't actually seen a photo of the hole we're after. Drat. I can see four holes from where I stand on the sidewalk.

I have an epiphany. I just know this is going to turn into Laurel and Hardy Try to Find the Woodpecker.

4:29PM Up near the top of the trees, dark against a dim sky, one bird who is about the right size and shape is chasing another bird north. I point, Sam looks. That could be our woodpecker. I stay with my view of the holes and Samantha heads north.

Newly excavated, but shouldn't it be round?
Of course it should.

This one is round but not newly excavated...

And such was the case with the numerous holes, I found in that area. Every one had something definitely wrong with it. And as I'm waiting for Sam to come back and have her able to find me, I don't want to go too far afield.

4:35PM Where in the world has Sam gotten to? The sun has sunk and I can't see her as I peer north. Certainly she would have screamed if someone grabbed her, right? My phone rings. "Sam, where are you?"

She replies,"Ahhhh, I'm looking for a street sign. I haven't seen one in ages. (pause) I'm at 95th."

"SAM! The hole is between 92nd and 91st. Did you see where the bird went?"

She asks, "What bird?"

Told you it was going to turn into Laurel and Hardy.

4:53PM We wait and watch but it's birdless. We pack up and exit.

Come to find out Sam had gone north to look for other holes. Why? The bird I'd pointed to had no relation to what in her mind the bird we'd been searching for looked like. It came out later, rather sad and hilarious at the same time, that this poor city child, thought that a Red-headed Woodpecker had a crest because Woody the Woodpecker did and they looked a lot like a Pileated. And she tutors other students in biology. Looks to me like the NYC school system could use a little more hands on experience in their science courses and she and I should get away from the Hawk Bench and into the Ramble a little more often.

To see what the hole and the winter coloring of the woodpecker look like, use the link below to go to nature photographer Cal Vornberger's site. (By the way, to get over not finding the hole, and having the bus pass us by on top of it, we went to see the movie, Night At The Museum. In that film there is a scene in which Cal's book, Birds Of Central Park is very prominently placed. )

Donegal Browne

Monday, December 25, 2006

Little Red and the Brown-tail

Photo courtesy of John Selkirk

We don't have so many Red Squirrels in Central Park that we barely notice them. In fact we may only have one. And a number of people, including Stella Hamilton, have taken a special interest in this spunky red resident of Locust Grove. A spot not really all that far from the Hawk Bench.

Red as the squirrel is called, see I told you we may only have one Red Squirrel, seems to have almost been lunch for an immature Red-tail. This is where detachment would come in handy. We certainly don't want the Brown-tail to starve but quite a number of hawk watchers have a special affection for Little Red as well.

It's the quandary of regular watchers who begin to identify certain members of a species as individuals. It's one of the emotional pitfalls but also one of the great joys of being a watcher in Central Park. Many folks have a daily route they follow on their visits. A route that develops before you know it because you're checking on the well being of individuals you've previously seen and learning their habits and quirks.

Stella Hamilton, who visits Red the Squirrel every day she's able and also spent many an hour watching the Divine's nest up at the Cathedral this year, sent in this report.

Stella wrote-

I spent a good part of my afternoon yesterday in Locust Grove babysitting little Red. An immature Red-tailed Hawk came into Red's fenced in area and tried to snatch her.

Good thing Red saw him in the nick of time and was able to hide . The funny thing is, this immature reminded me of one of the babies at Saint John the Divine this summer. The baby boy with the very dark belly band.

This young hawk was so inexperienced, that he actually sat on tree holes and peered inside them to see if anything looked good.

At one point he sat on top of a beat up tree and with his right foot, started kicking and shaking the twigs. Red wasn't coming into range so he gave up his pursuit of a cinnamon lunch, and I told him in no uncertain terms to go catch a RAT instead.

He left, but I'm sure he'll be back tomorrow.