Saturday, April 21, 2007

Prey of the Day?

Sunny and 70F in NYC, and from all reporters, a perfect day to while away the hours sitting on The Bench and hawk watching. (There was that little matter of the model motor boat noisily and repeatedly zooming toward the ducks in the Model Boat Pond, sail only please and don't harass the wildlife, but Katherine Herzog, Stella Hamilton, and Clare seem to have taken the guy on and won. Though he did curse them out at The Bench, someone called the Park Police, and when they appeared, Boat Man hastily grabbed his "toy" and disappeared.)

Today's topics: Prey of the Day, and Red-tail Manners

Lola waits for Pale Male to rise from the bowl. She's near center which is an unusual position for this wait. Of late, she'll wait to the side. Giving him a little poke if necessary to get him moving. Then he'll go out one side and she in the other. Today is different. Why? Hawks do seem to avoid unnecessary habit when possible. It seems to be part of their "nature". Perhaps to keep their enemies guessing?

Pale Male finally comes out of the bowl. Lola gives him the "look".
Though there are a series of what I think of as "Hawk Courtesies" involved with Pale Male, Lola, and prey on the nest that are most always observed. I'm assuming that the sight of prey combined with certain moves may set off wired responses that one needs to avoid with one's mate if one wishes to remain whole. Therefore delicacy is needed not to inadvertently set one's mate off. For one thing, Red-tails hardly ever look at each other face to face, eye to eye, unless it is aggressive. Watch where the eyes are in this series of photos dealing with today's dinner delivery.

Pale Male lands on the nest, releases his hold on the prey, turns away, and waits for Lola to emerge from the nest bowl.

As she comes out, Pale Male looks at the prey, so Lola knows exactly where it is. She sees the cue with her head to the side.

Pale Male turns his head away and Lola starts to walk over to pick up her dinner.

Lola looks to be about to put her talons on the prey. (Pale Male watches obliquely, just in case. Those talons are very sharp and he wants to make sure to duck if he needs to if and when she takes off.) Though she may take off with the prey in her beak, she sometimes puts her foot on the prey first. A taking of possession? I'm not sure, but it does seem like it might be a clumsy move, holding something down with your foot while trying to lift it at nearly the same time with your mouth. Perhaps so for humans but her coordination of moving her foot off, getting the prey into her beak, and taking flight is perfect. And it takes her about a nanosecond to do it.

Once again there was the problem of just exactly what the prey-for-the-day was. (See the correction for Thursday after "Wisconsin Waterfowl".) Well it's grayish, isn't much help. Long time Hawk Watcher Stella Hamilton, another with a dynamite eye, called it. She saw a long naked tail. Today's dinner was Norway Rat.

Pale ducks a little when Lola takes off, turns, watches her go, then proceeds to the nest bowl. Though they seem to avoid direct eye contact most of the time they are almost always in visual contact with each other during breeding season.

Wisconsin Waterfowl

Double Crested Cormorant

This photo of a Mallard Hen does have some glare, but I found the reflection giving her that double headed duck look kind of fascinating.

Lola with Thursday's Dinner

First, I got an email from Katherine Herzog correcting my credit of the person who called the type of prey that Lola had for dinner. Turns out, it was actually sharp eyed Elizabeth who had called it from the Hawk Bench. Sorry Elizabeth.

Kat's first email of the day-
"Actually, although I'd love to take the credit, it was Elizabeth who made the call. She uses binocs but her unaided eyesight is rather remarkable....I thought I saw Lola eating bird feathers when I was using the scope! Must have been fur instead. I tend to double-check things with E when I think I've seen something because she sometimes sees things quite different and she's the one who is usually right."

Then upon her further thought another email arrived in my box from Kat-

"Could that "critter" Pale brought to Lola possibly be a half-eaten, tail-less, squirrel....I'm noticing those big hind legs/feet? No tail and Pale usually leaves a rat tail on.....but it looks like a squirrel more and more to me....a young one for sure. Don't think rat legs are that big as they do not use them in tree climbing."

Then a third-

"Another reason for thinking "Squirrel" not "Rat" is that this is the season for squirrel youngsters recently weaned in the last month or so. The breeding times here in the NE are January and June (45 day gestation period) to have the just weaned youngsters up and running and taking advantage or their two main food source seasons: Spring - where they feed mostly on tree buds and flowers....Fall - for berries and nuts. So, there are lots of small, naive grey squirrel youngsters running about which would make easier prey than their larger and more worldly parents."

Now I'd been out in the field all day, had gotten home and was editing a Double Crested Cormorant photo, when I suddenly thought, what's happening in NYC, I better check my email. There were all three of Kat's emails.
Ah Oh.
Quick! Up came the detail of the photo of Lola and her prey from Thursday. Kat's arguments are pretty good and the fur on the creature had seemed less slick than a rat's should, though in it's current condition it probably wasn't looking its hairdresser best, but how do you tell one headless, tail-less, member of rodentia from another long distance?
Staring at the photo, the obvious stuck me. What I had taken for rather blurry fat rat toes are actually furry fat squirrel toes. As rats have naked feet and tails this specimen is most definitely Squirrel.
Kat called it after all.

Donegal Browne

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