Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Miscellany

A Mallard hen and drake (below) safe in The Gill, free from the harassment so rampant at the Model Boat Pond, photographed by Central Park photographer Eleanor Tauber.

Once again, tis the season for the Hawk Watchers to battle those who insist on chasing the water fowl relentlessly around the Model Boat Pond with their battery powered motor boats. Technically illegal, all boats are supposed to be powered only by sail I understand, there are always some who find mirth and amusement in attempting to chase down the ducks with their techno toys. And if that's not bad enough they are oblivious to the fact that they aren't the only insensitive types harassing the wildlife and the animals in the Park can be run totally ragged by one motor boat bozo after another. Add the dogs off their leads who have killed the hens attempting to protect their hard won ducklings and the raccoons that eat their eggs, life for ducks in Central Park isn't exactly a walk in the park as it were.

Here's one of the first skirmishes of the season along with an update on Pale Male and Lola by faithful wildlife reporter and duck protector Katherine Herzog.

As the Hawk Bench folks were watching the hawk's nest through Ric's telescope yesterday, we noticed someone constantly aiming his toy speedboat in the "Sail Boat Pond" at the wild ducks obviously trying to harm them. After yelling at the man to no avail, we called the Park Rangers and a nice young Ranger came to investigate. The charge of Harassing Wild Animals comes with a $1,000 fine. If, as in this instance, the person is not caught in the act by a Park Ranger....any ordinary citizen can press charges. We let the guy off with a warning and he took himself and his little red boat out of the park. I encourage anyone seeing any wild animal being harassed to dial 311.....if the people you're calling about are threatening you as well.....then, call 911.

Except for exchanging nesting duties at about 3:40pm with Lola leaving the nest for about 25 minutes....there was no other activity noted. I left the very chilly park at 6:30pm.

Here too, the weather is cold. It's in the twenties with a high blustery wind. Everywhere one looks birds are being swept willy nilly, battling to keep some equilibrium in the wind.

Doorstep Dove and Friend have been making their daily visits to the feeder. Always together, Friend tending to bring up the rear. If Doorstep goes to the bath for a drink, you can bet Friend will suddenly develop an irresistible thirst and will appear beside her for a drink.
They are definitely a pair but Friend isn't taking any chances that another male will get ideas and begin to trail behind Doorstep. Usually they forage about together, then fly up in the branches for a rest while digesting. Not today. Today is different and the change in behavior is constant when they aren't eating. Instead of nipping up to a branch today, they are hunkering down into the grass in the lawn, feathers puffed. This is worrisome; they seem so much more vulnerable to predators while pretending to be blobs of bare earth strewn with leaves.

Why risk it? Is there still some warmth in the ground compared to the air that they are appreciating? Or more likely I would think, they are doing their best to stay out of the air all together, flattening themselves into the earth in an effort to stay out of the wind and conserve body heat. Not to mention avoiding an uncontrolled tumble through the air presaged by a gust that could send them into the side of a building or into the trunk of a tree where they could break a wing. Perhaps their behavior is wise, perhaps the wind is today's biggest "predator".

And how are the catkins of the Pussy Willow faring in this weather? One bud just bursting and another already maturing, they don't seem the worse for wear at all. And look, there are the lenticels, those little "pores" through which gases are exchanged. The tiny portals pricked out in the light, through which the plant breathes.

I was standing behind the nursing home looking to catch a glimpse of the fox I'd seen trotting across the parking lot one evening. Instead there was a rustling in the long grass, a tiny sapling tree bent and wiggled. Squirrel? No. Oh my gosh, it's a giant RAT collecting grass. She's got a huge mouthful of dried yellow stems sticking out several inches from either side of her mouth. She turns her chubby bottom towards me and starts to disappear behind a log. Wait, that isn't a RAT rat, the tail is wrong. It's thicker and shorter than a Norway Rat. It's a Muskrat! And I'll bet it's been decades since I noticed one.

Later I take a side trip on the way home past some wetlands and there on a little elevated spot with a duck was another muskrat's chubby bottom in a pond that may well be vernal. The front end being very busy doing something in the mud but exactly what. she kept to herself. Another unanswered question and besides, how strange. Years and years go by without seeing one and now two in one day? Perhaps it's the season for muskrats to be out and about and I've just missed it in ages. Or is it all this rain? The ponds have spread into the oak groves. The water levels have come up considerably. Are some of the muskrat houses currently flooded? Have they been forced to take a break from their usual digs so they are more apparent than usual? And just what was chubby bottom number one going to do with all that grass? Bedding for baby muskrats? Chinking up the holes where the wind leaks in?

What is that little lump against the light? Closer. A delightfully solid little nest. All intertwined grasses, slim twigs, fibers. Can that be dryer lint? Perhaps a Black and White Warbler's from last season? It's stood sturdy through many a high wind.
...and as we know it's a ill wind that does no one any good, remember that there is still the joy found in swinging in the wind.
Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...

There's a wild bunny who visits my yard here in New England. On sunny, very windy days he will be hunkered down in the open in the sun instead of in the shadows next to a wall or a shrub. Does the sun provide more warmth than the wind takes away? What's the wind velocity a few inches off the ground...

Donegal Browne said...

New England,

What IS the wind velocity a few inches off the ground? It is a little micro-climate down there isn't it? The temperature difference between the earth and the air would come into play. But how much? More than negligible at that level? What would the variables involved be?

For all that comes into play we might well need a meterologist. I'll see what I can do but in the meantime...

Let's think wind. I've often noticed that there is wind in the tops of trees which is much stronger than the movement of air standing on the ground. Now that I think about it, I've never noticed a wind on my ankles that isn't hitting the rest of me. Have you? So I'd hazard a guess that in most cases, the closer one is to the ground, other variables being equal, which they never are of course, the wind is equal to or less than it is on other levels at that moment in time.

But then you say, what about the wind whooshing over the top of a hill. Ah, topography. Another on the list of variables.

Just eyeballing it, it looks as if the ground has a slight rise away from their area towards the northwest and exactly opposite the rise, is the house.

What about the exact few inches the doves chose? What makes this spot different from a foot or two either way? What made this spot best on the day they chose it?

First of all, the exact spots they snuggled into are not on top of grass but rather where last Autumn's dry leaves have collected. Well, that's insulation but also perhaps they collected there because the spots are slightly depressed.

A few feet to the right is an antique wheelbarrow, piled with twigs. To the left is a porch glider and a patio with a big wooden picnic table. All of which don't completely break the wind as there is room underneath for the it to go under. But they would affect the currents with their bulk.

It is quite close to the house and so far, though a Kestrel has appeared in a distant tree to peruse the juncos hoppity hopping under the feeder,(They go into a freeze, which is strange to see them so motionless.)I've not seen a raptor come this close to the house. The neighbors no longer have outside cats nor have I seen any strays prowling about lately.

What about the sun, or what there was that day sporatically? I didn't see the doves in early morning as I was away doing errands and that is the time the area is in shade. By the time I noticed them, what sun there was would hit them until the end of the day.

And lest we forget, the spots are only a few birdie steps away from a snack.

Doves being ground feeders, if the seed I put on the patio has been eaten, the next chance for first dibs would be when feeder birds spill a bit on the ground. But the bonanza comes when one of the squirrels climbs up the screen, leaps to the feeder and starts pawing through looking for delicasies. That's the big chance of the day for ground feeders.

So what did that spot do for the doves on that particular day?

1. Insulation for their feet and bellies.
2. Conceivably less wind chill on the ground due to wind current breaks and depressed topography.
3. The warmth of the sun for the time frame noted.
4. The proximity of humans to lessen the chance of predators.
5. AND first chance at seed fall.

As to the question as to whether the warmth of the sun would out weigh the chill of the wind. Trusting the bunny, it would make sense it did otherwise he'd be unlikely to do it, right? Unless we've forgotten to include some aspect of bunny life that is strong and overrides the other variables. For instance, something like keeping an eye peeled for a sexual partner. I'm thinking that for us to figure out what days he would do it would entail an equation that includes some of the above, his sense of not doing the same thing in the same place too often because of predators (If rabbits take that into account, I don't know.) plus the heat absorbing quotient of the color of your wild bunny.

How dark a wild bunny is yours?

And here we have an example of why scientists attempt to create field studies to test hypotheses which include as few variables as possible. :-)

Anonymous said...

All the bunnies around here are a kind of medium greyish with maybe a bit of brown tone.