Saturday, May 05, 2007


The Wade Tiercel, we had to wait a good while to get a clear look at him,but it was well worth it. And doesn't he look quite a bit like someone we know? Check out that pale head and that scant belly band.
But first speaking of waiting, a news bulletin from Stella Hamilton, guardian of Red the Squirrel, directed to those who looked and waited for Red in vain today...

Clare and I waited for hours for Red to appear. I , for one, had been in her yard since 11:30 this morning.... No Show. So, I decided to go warbling in the Rambles. I returned at 2:15 to meet up with Clare at Locust Grove. Still no Red. So off we went to the Hawk bench. We returned to Locust Grove at approximately 5pm. Still no Red. We called several times to get her attention, we whistled and we chattered ,still no response. After 6 hours of looking for her, we decided to call it a day and try again tomorrow. But just as we were heading toward the Pinetum to look for her , I looked back and there she was at the foot of one of the trees near her favorite walnut tree. What a relief it was to see her!

For Those that didn't see her today, Please tell them Red is OK. She immediately ate 3-4 walnut halves and followed that with long licks of water that Clare has provided in clear plastic cups placed between branches at one of the smaller trees outside of her fenced in yard. I will return tomorrow to see her again. I hope all is well with you in WI. See yah, Stella.

And now back to the
5:30pm My cousin Carol and I arrive at the Wade Farm to Suzan Wade and her niece Krista for a jaunt in search of Red-tails. Suzanne and husband Ron have seen them on their property for years, but haven't really tried to examine their lives, so today we're off to find out a little more about the Wade Red-tails. Carol and Suzan take the two seats of the little all terrain vehicle called The Mule, and Krista, on a visit from Ontario, and I crawl in the back with the equipment. Off we go. Suzan says just yesterday she watched as an RT swooped down on a mouse in the field, mantled the catch, and then took off.
First we check a stand of trees not far from the house, there is a largish nest in a Pine, but not quite "largish" enough I think, so we keep looking.

5:59pm We see a Red-tail fly towards a stand of trees surrounded by fields, perfect RT territory. He lands in a tree close to the trunk and he's hard to find. Before I can get the camera on him he's off again. He does a flyover to check us out. He looks pale to me, not much belly band.

6:09pm Ah Ha! There's the nest. At first I think I see movement and perhaps an eyass but on further scrutiny it's a moving leaf and crooked twig combination that fooled me.

The tiercel continues to circle, if I go towards him he tries to draw me away from the nest by circling away. If I go towards the nest he circles towards me.

6:13pm We look at the back of the nest but still no sign of eyasses or hen.

We cool our heels and wait. There's a pair of Canada Geese taking their ease in the corn field but no hawks in sight.

6:40pm As the resident Red-tail has made himself scarce, and if the hen's on the nest she's sitting low and tight we decide to take a look at the marsh. Yes this rather large chunk of real estate has any number of micro-habitats. Krista and I hanging onto the back of the mule, start being whacked by branches as we chug through the brush to get there. Solution? We lie down and hold on tighter. Thwack, Thwack go the whipping branches. Past that barrier, we suddenly come out into the open marsh. We hear all sorts of birds and we know that there is a Sandhill Crane nest out there in the Bulrushes, but unfortunately, number one, the Bulrushes are too high from this side to see the pond where the birds are, and number two it's begun to rain and promises to get worse. We hop back in and start back..thwack, thwack. The rain stops.

How about a look in the woods, the Red-tail often perches on a wire out on the edge near the road. Great by us. Off we go, bumpity bump, bumpity bump across the rows of the fallow corn field. Bumpity bump, bumpity bump, bump, rather fun actually and here come the woods.

7:07:21pm What? A gate? unfortunately the road into the woods and hence to the paved road where our RT sometimes perches, has developed a gate since the last time the Wades went in. Suzan asks Krista to see if she can figure out how to open it. She hops out and looks. I hop out and look...
7:07:57pm Unfortunately the gate, is not only a gate but it's a padlocked gate. What now?
7:09pm Not to be stopped by a piddley padlock and a gate, we move some brush and dead branches to the side and off we go around the gate. (Trespassing? Well, kind of maybe. I think the story is that a farmer rents the fields off the woods and he put the gate up to reduce people driving through, but the Wades actually own the land...I hope. Gulp.)

7:11pm We get out of the Mule, and start to walk on the dirt track. Suddenly Suzan stoops and fingers a plant that is growing right smack in one of the tracks. She says, "Isn't this..." and we say together, "Jack in the Pulpit!!" I'm excited, she's excited, we're all excited! Jack in the Pulpit is bizarre looking and a native plant that has become very rare. Okay, let's face it all true natives that bloom in deciduous woods are pretty rare. We're extirpating them all over the country like crazy.

7:18pm Wow, look at this one. Suzan and I stare at it. We know it's something but neither of us can remember what. (I don't have my guides here does anyone know?)
7:20pm And then something else or is it? Look carefully at the bottom. It's emerging from a sheath, yes indeed, one more Jack in the Pulpit and we keep heading up the road, hungrily scanning the forest floor near and in the road. These forbes congregate where the invasive Asiatic Honeysuckle and Rosa Flora aren't.

7:21pm And here's another Jack in the Pulpit. This is all rather amazing as seeing this many just doesn't happen.

7:25pm And more of the mystery yellow number, this one surrounded by Mayapples.

7:30pm And yet ANOTHER young Jack in the Pulpit. This one is more mature and is developing it's dark stripes. It was a bang up productive year for the parental plant or plants last year. Suzan decides she's going to drag out her wire tomato plant "cages" in order to protect the young Jacks from getting squashed by snowmobiles. (By the way, a strange idiosyncrasy of this species, if disturbed they will sometimes shift sexes, as in from female to male.)

7:32pm Quite beautiful, but does anyone know what it is? This portion is the tip of a branch of a small tree?

7:35pm But our Red-tail isn't perched by the road tonight. And on the way out of the woods there's a dandy example of Shelf Fungus growing off the trunk of a tree. We head back towards the nest, still hoping.

7:58pm It's nearly dark, with drizzle, we're running out of time and the nest still looks empty. Though from the tiercel's behavior I know the hen has to be in there. And come to think of it where is he?

My cousin Carol, poor dear, has been subjected to more than her share of near whiplash experiences due to my hitting the brakes every time I suddenly saw a Red-tail cruising over or sitting on a power line. But as it turns out, it's stood her in good stead as she's the one who spotted the resident hawk standing on the broken tip of a tree, looking rather like he's ready to come and get us.

The Red-tail looks towards the Mule. One close look with magnification by Suzan Wade, and yet another hawk watcher is made on the spot. Plus the tiercel is given a name, Kristopher Red-tail. In honor of Krista's visit from Ontario and her namesake grandfather who had wise enough children and grandchildren who protect the woods and the marsh and the other special places on the farm for posterity.
And to put the capper on the day, some of my favorite bird nests, the mud wattle structures made by swallows. These are nestled under the eaves of the shed.
P.S. Okay it was Saturday and therefore to the roar of lawnmowers I was reminded of something. I have to admit it. There is one grand thing about a newly mown lawn...the way it smells. Heavenly.

Donegal Browne
(For the most recent posts, click on Palemaleirregulars at the top of the page.)

More on the Desire for Mown Grass

Chip in the unmown grass...

Betty Jo, long time correspondent, emailed me with yet more reasons why lawns aren't the best choice--

I am a huge lawn hater! And today, while I am at home with a helper attending my weed filled, lawnless yard, a pallet of hybridized, poisoned "lawn" is being delivered to my client, to be laid by the crew!

I can add more reasons not to have a lawn! They require --or lawn lovers think they do--an immense amount of artificial fertilizer--poison--the weed killers for the broad leaf weeds. Then, their mowings fill up the trash cans--many people even encase it in plastic to lie forever in land fills. Here it goes to companies which make compost and people who buy the result buy poison to put on their tomato plants!And water! We live in an arid place, stealing water for our lawns from the Owens Valley, where we turned a once fertile region into a desert. A lawn takes more water than any other component of a garden.

The City of Beverly Hills has a long strip park which extends for 14 or so blocks. Along with some very interesting plants they have lawn which is totally filled with a tiny white flowering plant and lots of dandelions. They encourage it and the result is lovely. I had a client ask me to re-create the effect in his lawn, but it was hard to do!

I espoused "meadows" instead of lawns for a while, but they are difficult to maintain--I think a meadow is nature is a transition.

Betty Jo in Camarillo, CA

Betty Jo I agree that meadows may well be nature in transition, but how about prairie plants. Once established they are low maintenance...just a good burn every now and again. And who can resist a nice fire?

Donegal Browne

Friday, May 04, 2007


Dug up, poisoned, and reviled, the Dandelion thrives as a species. WHY?

Besides what is the big problem with Dandelions anyway? They're a bright friendly yellow, drought resistant, grow easily, and as they're pollinated by ants, are lush with no problem at all.
AND-- they are the product of human desire.
"What?", you say. "Most people over six-years-old, loathe Dandelions. Nobody in their right mind desires a yard full of Dandelions!"
Ahhhhh, there's the rub. A lawn full of Dandelions...
Today, while mowing the lawn, something I haven't done in decades, (we don't have lawns on the 27th floor in NYC or anywhere else I've lived lately), I found it a very negative experience in any number of ways, large and small:
1. It's an utter hideous waste of time.
2. It chops off the grass so that it can't go to seed, thereby reducing the amount of food available for seed eating species of birds and rodents for mouse eating hawks.
3. It's loud so there aren't any birds around to look at while you suffer.
4. Mowing is responsible for the extirpation of species like the Harrier Hawk, as they are ground nesters and their nests and young get mowed.
5. And if that weren't enough, it's hard physical work for a negative outcome. (Nobody seemed to know where the battery was for the family ride on lawn mower. Did I mention, it's polluting and uses fossil fuel?)
Why was I doing it? Good question.
Back in 2001 I read a book that changed my thinking about the interaction between humans and plants forever. The book was THE BOTANY OF DESIRE by Michael Pollan. He theorized that plants want to grow and reproduce just like all other species. therefore they've developed the facility to become what we want. He realized the word "want" was anthropomorphic but using it was shorthand for something that would have had to be explained at length in technical biological terms over and over during the book so the word want helped us get on to the interesting parts. A bit like using the name Pale Male instead of having to say every time he was mentioned, the male Red-tailed hawk in Central Park that nests at 927 Fifth Avenue, who's mate is Lola-oops can't say Lola, she'd be...
You get the idea, I hope.
At any rate, Pollan surmised that many of the plants in the world that are the most successful are the plants that humans desired. We desire them so we grow them in droves and protect them from competition jealously. We desire them for sweetness like the apple, for beauty like the tulip, for intoxication like marijuana, or for control like the potato.
Think Idaho potatoes. Those big long uniform spuds that make the most perfect french fries for McDonalds.
And what is it that humans desire that makes the Dandelion so prevalent? We, well many of us, desire a controlled uniform mowed mono cultured carpet of green grass.
And even if some of us don't, the dominion of the mowed lawn people is strong. In fact it's a desire that has been institutionalized. It's illegal not to mow your lawn in many places. If you don't mow your lawn, you'll get a summons and have to pay a fine. In Wisconsin not only do you have to mow it, but having what's thought of as "dangerous weeds" in your lawn, that desired monoculture, can cost you too.
Now that's a strong desire. This regimented grass thing.
"Okay, okay", you ask, "Where does this supposed desire for Dandelions come in?"
I'd not thought it through before today, but the strong human desire for some species is a boon to others who have the same basic living requirements but are better at what they do than the "desired" species is.
Voila! Dandelions. And what a problem, as the specific desire involved for that expanse of mono cultured cropped grass is CONTROL.
Enter the "uncontrollable" Dandelion.
Therefore nearly everything the lawn folks can think of , bar none, is tried from poisoning the earth to making it cost money if you don't conform, all to extirpate the Dandelions, and none, let me say it again, NONE, of it works worth diddley.
What does work?
It's extremely simple and so easy.
Let your grass grow to maturation and it shades the Dandelions into nonexistence.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Green Honeycreeper Male Photo by Eleanor Tauber
Pale Male Irregular Eleanor Tauber, frequent contributer to the blog, has been off on a birding trip to Trinidad, and here is her first offering: A photograph of the exquisite Green Honeycreeper.
I can't wait to see all the photographs from her vacation. And often can one say that?
Donegal Browne

Wisconsin Sex Report

Fecundity. The pistils and stamens, sex organs of the Crab Apple blossom. The center is swathed with pollen.

This buck bunny, a stem of grass jauntily sticking out of his mouth, eyes a comely female across the way.

Chipping Sparrow, eating and minding her own business.

Chipping Sparrow Courtship Moves?

When suddenly another Chipper flies in and begins piteously walking near her, beak in the air, gaping, fluttering his wings rapidly a half inch from his body in an impersonation of a baby bird. She keeps pecking away at her seed. He keeps wandering around her pathetically begging, towards her, away from her, an utterly lost "baby" bird. She continues eyeing him but also continues eating. Finally she can't stand it any longer and flies at him. Abruptly he is just fine and takes off like a shot. She rouses her feathers, wiggles her tail, and hops back for a dinner in peace.

Doorstep Dove and Friend are still together.

After flushing Doorstep and Friend off the bath, this Grackle pair stop in for a drink.

And at this time of year, sometimes a cold shower is in order even for a Grackle.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, May 01, 2007



4:05pm I've circled all sides of the nest but haven't been able to see a thing. On my last two visits there had been changes in behavior nothing really definitive but I'm hoping today will be different on that score. So I wait.

4:12pm Another view, straight on with blowing branches, still nothing.

4:27pm I decide to watch from the west end of the nest. Nothing.

4:52pm After an hour, FINALLY something, but not much, a glimpse of an adult tail.
5:00pm My daughter Sam, trusty note taker, appears coming up the hill from school, we continue to look at the seemingly empty nest. We wait. Finally at 5:22pm we decide to go back down the block for a different angle. We get there and suddenly Sam says,"Look!"

I say, "Look at what?"

"A hawk, a hawk!" and she points directly across the street. There is Tristan big as life perched 15 feet from the ground right in front of us on a broken upright branch. Ah, what a difference 20 feet down the sidewalk makes. He's probably been there for ages. And just as we get set up, off he goes to the west through the trees.

5:24pm Tristan flies up the block toward the stone shed and lands in a tree.
And who is that with the camera underneath him? It's Robert Schmunk of

5:31:01pm Tristan hops to yet the next tree over, to west, focuses in on a pigeon on a window sill, then continues to scan.

5:33:25 pm Alright! He's going into hunting mode. He tenses...

5:33:59pm Nope. He's back looking this direction.


Feeding with the Divines continued...

5:35pm Just sitting, feathers slightly puffed, his stance begins to remind me of the penguins in "Happy Feet".

5:36pm Suddenly an inattentive House Sparrow whips by Tristan's face nearly colliding with his beak.

5:51pm Without even a semblance of hunting, Tristan gives us the eye.

5:56 pm Tristan changes trees once again still moving east toward the stone yard shed. He looks like he's posing for a beauty shot. Not looking at all like he's hunting. Though I suppose that's part of the point. Is he just hopping trees to get away from people or is he doing the La De Da, hop to next tree...closer, La De Da nest tree closer.....La De Da, closer still...NAB! But nothing yet.The day has been dim, the air thick with moisture and as time passes it's really getting dim. Is everyone just going to go to roost without any action at all?

6:03PM Tristan has been sitting there in the trees near the stone shed for it seems like forever. All the pigeons know he's there and they're sticking to the buildings. He looks at a Robin that first scolded him, tail bobbing from the fence, and then foolishly hops down in the parking lot and begins foraging. Tristan doesn't really seem much interested. I decide to go down and see what's happening on the nest. In a few minutes Rob comes down too and we wonder if we missed the feeding and that's going to be it for the day.

6:54PM My phone rings. We've left Sam stranded up there with Tristan and I tell her she doesn't have to wait with him, come on down with us. We keep discussing whether it's worth it to stay. I've usually seen a food drop by 6:00pm for most of the previous week. Suddenly Sam rushes down the sidewalk towards us, calling "He's got a mouse, he's got a mouse!"" Rob heads for Tristan and I keep my eye on the nest.
6:56:39pm Tristan lands on the nest with the mouse.

6:56:52pm Tristan leans in and looks down, and keeps looking.

6:57:11pm Tristan stares over his right shoulder at us.

6:57:Then Tristan stares over his left shoulder

6:57:34 And then Tristan stares down into the nest some more.

6:57:53 Suddenly Tristan leans over with prey, and as later we can see where Isolde is, I'd say it was a beak to beak transfer. Though I've not seen this pair do it, Red-tails do and it always seems very trusting and intimate.

6:58:03pm Tristan than looks at us. Then he stares at the white something right nest.