Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Divine Eyass at Picnic Rock, Location Repeats Season to Season, and Suburban Bald Eagles.

Photograph by Rob Schmunk
Hit the link below for yet more of Rob's great photos of the Divines, along with his full reports.

Is this the same bird in these two photographs? I do think it is. (Look at the crop above. It's bulging; this birdie is well fed.)

Photograph by Nobu Urushiyama

Nobu-san an astute hawkwatcher from the Divine's neighborhood discovered the eyass on Picnic Rock around 7PM on the 27th. She was finishing her evening meal. Last year this spot was a favorite food drop and according to Rob Schmunk of so it is again.

I wasn't sure which eyass Nobu-san had found so I shot off an email to Rob and he shot back that it looked like Third/Runt. If you look at her now, she doesn't look very runt like to me. She was just the youngest so for awhile she seemed visibly smaller than the other two. She may be a he as well, which also would account for a smaller size.

I thought it interesting that a food drop from last season was being used once again this year. Then Rob sent me his sightings from yesterday and today and once again another spot, a thick branch near the 111th street overlook in Morningside Park, that had been used by the eyasses last season was being used once again.

Rob found my post so I'd know the place exactly. It was wonderful to look back and realize how well Isolde and Tristan have done the last two seasons when it comes to raising young. To see the location and eyass attempting to get the squirrel...quite unsuccessfully, (It's okay, his parents are still feeding him.) Click the link .

This was one of my favorite days. The eyass was honing her young hunting skills and had graduated from "killing" rocks and sticks to actually trying for a squirrel. Little did the eyass know that nabbing a squirrel in a tree is nearly impossible unless two hawks double team it. Otherwise when the hawk gets close the squirrel just whips under or around the branch to the other side. Which a sitting Red-tail just can't do nearly as quickly as a squirrel can.

And here are the sightings Rob kindly sent for your enjoyment.

I'd asked him if the eyasses were becoming hard to find as yet.

He answered---

I'm out of practice, and they've left the chapel rooftops for the park.

Yesterday (Friday):First one found at 7:00 asleep in a tree near 112th St. overlook, after I'd been through that area twice.

Seriously, I mean asleep. She was perched with her head leaning over right shoulder, eyes closed. She didn't budge for well over five minutes, and then slowly started sleep-preening.

Second one found when I was down by the ball fields and looked up and saw a weird wiggle in a tree overhead. Considering the light (it was close to 8:00 and overcast), this was pure luck.

Third one found when I was checking on the first one and another flew up and perched in the next tree over. This might have been second one moving to new position but I think not.

In all this, there had been slow but consistent robin scolding which I could never pin down. This might have been about the second fledge but more likely the third. I say that because...Today(Saturday)...A lot of robin scolding between 110th St and 11th St.

On second walk along path in this area and ten minutes of checking treetops, found fledgling perched directly over path. Same branch where we saw one perch a couple times last year, but much farther out. This was Runt.

Second one found without help from robins. In same tree and perhaps same branch as I found second yesterday. Again, I just happened to look up, but the light was a lot better.

Did not see a third today. So, must pay more attention to the robins.


Many thanks to W.A. Walters for The New York Times Article

Red-tails in the Cities, and Eagles in the Burbs, whatever will happen next?


Bald Eagles, whose numbers dwindled to historic lows in the early 1960s, are again flourishing and no longer need the protections of the Endangered Species Act, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced Thursday.

(Well, we'll see about that now won't we? D. B.)

Here in Florida, bald eagles have thrived for a decade, multiplying to a statewide population of 1,150 breeding pairs and giving this state, with Minnesota, bragging rights as the top eagle haven in the country.

Bald eagles, aloof centurions of the wild, seem to have discovered their inner Updike and moved to Florida’s ever-expanding suburbs. They can be found nesting in cellphone towers and raising chicks near landfills and airport runways, along highways and high up in the pine trees of the state’s upscale developments.

Here, some people see the birds as part mascot, part amenity — and a thorough blessing.
“We’ll be in our backyard, floating in the pool, and see these beautiful winged creatures flying over us,” said Anne Lubner, an interior decorator who lives in the Grey Oaks subdivision, a gated community in Tarpon Springs.

A neighbor, Patti Schuman, said she returned home from dinner with her husband 15 months ago to find a frightened fledgling, with a seven-foot wingspan, cowering by the front door after falling — or being pushed — from its nest. “It hunkered down in a corner next to a plant” until experts took it back near the nest, Ms. Schuman said.

Her neighborhood follows with intense interest the eagles’ spring rituals of flight training and the daily rituals of feeding and bathing. The only thing required of residents — in return for feeling that they are living in a National Geographic special — is a willingness to tolerate the odd fish skeleton on the lawn, or the occasional white pile on the drive.

In Florida, home to about 12 percent of all eagles in the lower 48 states, the question is no longer whether these birds can cope with development and commotion, but how much is too much?
As John White, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said, “No way is development going to stop” in central Florida. “The question is, Are the birds going to be able to handle that new level of adaptation? We don’t know.”

Biologists, after recovering from the initial shock of finding eagles in the suburbs, have documented in a six-year study that suburban birds breed as well as their rural counterparts. But the young birds have slightly higher mortality, thanks to ill-timed meals of roadkill or too-comfortable seats on power lines.

But what the birds’ proven adaptability means for their future management, in Florida and around the country, remains a matter of debate. The arguments and lawsuits over the appropriate management of bald eagles in a post-endangered era had kept the final ruling on their status delayed since 1999.

Property-rights advocates have argued in court that restrictions on the use of eagle-occupied land should be loosened; conservationists have countered that eagles still need buffers against the hubbub of humanity. Mr. Kempthorne’s announcement was timed to meet a deadline stemming from a lawsuit by a Minnesota property owner.

This month, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to continue to prohibit activities — like running a bulldozer — that are likely to make eagles abandon their nests or interrupt their normal activities. Nesting pairs in the lower 48 had rebounded to about 9,700 by April , from 417 in 1963, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mr. Kempthorne, speaking in Washington at the Jefferson Memorial with a squawking bald eagle tethered nearby, promised that “from this point forward, we will work to ensure that the eagle never again needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act.”

He said protections that would remain in place included monitoring bald eagle populations and ensuring that no new poison begins to decimate their numbers as DDT once did. Conservation groups, like EagleWatch, a Florida group operated by Lynda White from the Audubon Society’s Center for Birds of Prey, based in Orlando, help with that effort.

Ms. White said she believed that some developers, usually resentful of the land-use limitations that accompany an eagle’s nest, now see the bird as a marketing tool. “If that gets the birds more of a conservation area, that’s great,” she said.
Tony Steffer, a Tampa-based biologist who has worked for developers and for the state, said he believed in the eagles’ resilience. “If eagles were thin-skinned, there wouldn’t be an eagle in the United States,” Mr. Steffer said.

But the birds are too opportunistic for some people’s taste. Inadvertent landlords, including utility companies, cellphone companies and airports, are dubious about their tenants. The Orlando-Sanford Airport got unwelcome publicity this spring when it cut down four eagle-occupied trees as threats to aviation; biologists say the birds will just find new homes nearby.
But the tall pines they prefer are fewer and farther between. At the same time, more and more manufactured towers are available.

Pointing to a nest on a 100-foot electricity-transmission tower in southern Seminole County, Mr. White said: “They like heights, they love an open field, and there’s a lake nearby. It’s got everything they want, except for the 450,000 volts coursing through it.”

Need to know more? 50% off home delivery of The Times

Donegal Browne

Friday, June 29, 2007

Thursday Miscellany--When You Look A Little Closer

The Sparrow and the Catbird wait on the edge of the bath for one to make a move.

Closer? How often have you seen the Catbird's "red underwear"?

And a Robin's "white underwear"?

Closer, there is the grand variety of invertebrates. Though his beak is well stuffed he is calling to another Robin. (The sound is a only a touch muffled. )

And here, though his beak seemed full, there is the addition of a fat pink worm.

After a drink the Grackle leaps to the fore-edge of the bath and crouches.
A pause.

Going nearer, look at his eyes. They are rolled forward for binoc vision.

Look at the difference between these two flowers sets of pistils and stamens.

Here a clematis with a third very different set of sexual organs from the first two.

Mrs Cardinal sits her nest. In fact today she was caught standing on the side of the nest, staring down into the bowl and cocking her head. It's a hatch!

What is so unusual? Forget bark and lichen, these Cardinals have stuffed a plastic bag into their nest for lining. In fact they look to be missing the entire side of the nest, or never built it as the plastic bag was handy and available.
Tiger Lilies in the rain. Look at the drops of rain all lined up next to the vein of the petal in the bottom flower's right side. Is it the shape of the flower that lines them up or is it just angle and flower wax?
Here we have a Grey Squirrel having a snack. Perhaps nothing all that interesting but think again.

The wonder of squirrel paws.
Yes, he's eating a sunflower seed but look at how delicately he can hold the seed with his furry thick digits. Goodness, look at that nose! No wonder it was thought for ages that instead of remembering where they've buried their nuts, which is actually the case, it was thought they might be able to retrieve them by being able to smell them under the ground. Until they took a closer look.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blame It On Blaze, Cowbird Aura, and Prairie Fires on the Brain

This is Blaze. Blaze the Cottontail is glaring. Blaze is annoyed.

Why is Blaze annoyed, you ask? Why is that piece of wide, conceivably horribly tough fibrous nasty bright green grass hanging out of his mouth? Blaze would much rather be eating the small tender sunflower seedlings, and the green bean seedlings, and the sweet peas, and even the delicious complete tomato plant that Blaze ate down to the ground. He did leave Donna a quarter of a half inch tomato behind. Nobody can say that Blaze doesn't share.

Blaze is annoyed because big meanie Donna put a little white plastic fence she found in the rafters of the garage around the garden. Big drag for Blaze. And there is no doubt that the little white plastic fence has annoyed Blaze the Bunnie's ancestors as well. This of course did not annoy them nearly as much as when Donna's Dad, back when the backyard abutted a corn field instead of a park, used to blast away with a .22 out the back door at Blaze's fore bearers. Something that Donna heartily disapproved of, but now Donna's garden is being eaten by Blaze, the seedling eating motor mouth.

What is really bugging Donna? Blaze? Not a chance? It's the ugly white fence that is now heavily featured in her battle of the bath photos no matter what she does.

See the fence? Yeah, I know. So just loosen up a little and think of it as a psychedelic flashback and focus on the birds.
That dealt with...
The point of the photo is to illustrate the fact that not only was there a Battle of the Bath the day I did the post on it but there is a battle of the bath every single hot afternoon. And the next point is that birds are pretty loathe to share the bird bath with anyone, same species, their mate, none of it matters a bit.

Note Mr. and Mrs. Robin arguing over the bath. Mr. Robin says, "Hey I was here first. Wait your turn!" Mrs. Robin says,"I've been having to sit on that bloody hot nest for weeks and just what have you been doing, Mr. Prissy?" Eventually the Mrs. guilts him into sharing but sharing is extremely rare.

(This may get convoluted so pay attention.)

Now back to the first point. What was it you ask? Or do you think you know? You probably don't as I haven't made it yet. You just thought I had. You may have thought that it was all Blaze the Bunnie's fault because of my presentation of the situation. And because Blaze the Bunny is the only motor mouth herbivore I've been seeing, I might have thought it was all Blaze the Bunnie's fault as well if I hadn't given it some thought.

This is a lateral view of Blaze. She is awfully sweet isn't she? (Originally portrayed as male as male animals for whatever reason tend to seem less sympathetic.)

The length horizontally from one corner to the next in each triangle of the little white fence is about 2 inches. Blaze is a teensy rabbit. Blaze is not even four inches long. Blaze did not eat an entire tomato plant excepting a quarter inch of tomato without leaving a trace. Could have been a grown up bunny that I haven't seen but I'm thinking it's more Ground Hog style. Have I seen a larger bunny or a marmot? Nope. Therefore it HAS to be Blaze. Nope.

The lesson here is to test all theories even if they seem cut and dried and "gotta be it".

Ah, and here we are back to Mr. and Mrs. Robin actually sharing the bath. All rules have exceptions.

Have you wondered where all this was going? It's coming, it's coming. We're heading for Cowbird Aura, the third point. Notice the Mourning Dove and the juvenile Cowbird sitting on the edge of the bath at the same time. No one is doing any menacing. That's unusual as I've pointed out. Unfortunately this is the moment in which my camera battery went dead and by the time it was changed I missed the part I'm about to tell you about.
I was more annoyed about that than Blaze is about the sudden lack of seedlings.
The young Cowbird is looking to the right because a Robin is about to land on the bowl. When the Robin lands, the Mourning Dove takes off, the young Cowbird doesn't. Then as if the Cowbird didn't exist the Robin walks into the bath and begins bathing. The Cowbird walks into the bath and begins bathing as well, as did a second young Cowbird who almost immediately showed up to bathe with his buddy. Three in the bath. Wow, that's very unusual.
That's so unusual it is weird.
There are currently five juvenile Cowbirds who tend to hang out together. (Was an entire nest parasitized? All five of the host's eggs dumped and Cowbird eggs substituted? Or were the five young Cowbirds from a number of nests and they just somehow knew to group together? I don't know. I haven't found that detail in the literature as yet.
At any rate, the Robin didn't do a thing about the two in his bath. It was as if he hadn't really noticed them. And no, it wasn't because the Cowbirds were young. Juveniles of various species are menaced out of the bath by adults all the time.

I had noticed that the five youngsters arrive and leave the seed floor together, but while they're there they tend to move freely through the other groups of same species families as if they belong. Why? (It's been driving me crazy.)
What is it that allows them to do this? When other members of the Blackbird family arrive, everyone else gets out of the way in a hurry. Why is pretty obvious when it's a Grackle strutting in with that long beak. All the species seem to know where the other species are in the species pecking order. Perhaps, the Cowbirds don't display aggression signals or the opposite signals either?
As Cowbirds parasitize other species nests have they an evolutionary adaptation which is a special sort of neutral presence?

Which brings us to Kirtland's Warbler and taking a care not to believe what seems to be the obvious without looking carefully.
A Kirtland's adult weighs a half ounce. It's tiny. Therefore when a Cowbird lays an egg in a Kirland's nest, and as Cowbird chicks are specially adapted to hatch first and grow very fast, it's pretty much curtains for the Kirtlands own nestlings. Then there is that rather unsettling sight of a tiny Kirtland's Warbler feeding a huge Cowbird fledgling with no Kirtlands young in sight. Gulp. Talk about big meanies.
Add the fact that Kirtland's Warblers only exist in ten counties of Michigan, and you get one of the most endangered species in the country. The breeding pairs went down to 160 or so, which isn't a large enough number to keep the species going in the wild. And people kept seeing those "horrendous Cowbird fledglings" who'd "killed" the Kirtland's young. Besides it was said by experts that Cowbird numbers had increased by leaps and bounds.
In comes the cavalry in the guise of human engineered Cowbird Control. People begin to "control" the Cowbirds. Because if there are fewer Cowbirds then there will be more Kirtland's fledglings right? And more adult Kirtland's to make more babies, right? Then the little Kirtland's nests on the ground beneath living Jack Pine boughs will be safe, right?
Actually no, as it turns out. "Cowbird Control" over years did not appreciably increase Kirtland's numbers. Well it should have! But it didn't. Even though you'll still find it online that it did, it didn't according to the US Geological Survey, and they're paying attention. What's wrong? What's wrong? Get rid of more Cowbirds!
It didn't help.
Then there was a major fire in the Kirtland's neck of the woods. OH NO! That's the end! Wait...Kirtland's Warbler numbers began to increase. What? Yup. Though it looked like Cowbirds were the obvious problem they weren't. And now it's believed that Cowbird numbers haven't drastically increased in the country. So what was wrong with the Kirtland's Warblers?
Habitat, habitat, habitat. And us of course. As it was said in Pogo, "We have found the enemy and he is us", as usual.
Remember when we helped wildlife (and logging interests) by suppressing natural fires? Well, it turns out Jack Pine need fire to propagate properly. And to add insult to injury, Kirtland's Warblers like their Jack Pines of a certain size. New Jacks weren't growing and the existing ones were lost by attrition or too mature for best nest sites. It wasn't really the Cowbirds, it was us.
Actually, up until a few months ago, the sight of a Cowbird rather made me distressed. What poor bird was going to parasitized?
And it doesn't now? I do think of the host, but now I've seen the frightened needy expression that is almost a constant on a hen Cowbird's face. She too has a need to do what is best for her eggs, for her young. And she can only do what she knows to do for them. Lay them in a nest where they will be well cared for. And though I've talked about a certain neutral presence for the species...
I don't care how neutral your presence is. Nothing is going to be laying eggs in this Cardinal's nest. She's got an eye peeled and she's willing to call in back up.

Here is a Cowbird hen. Not the best photo but it isn't easy to take one. She is constantly on watch, afraid to be seen by anyone or anything at all. Remember her species is often subjected to "control". How did the fire that helped the Kirtland's Warbler affect other species? Perhaps not all that well in some cases if their needed habitat was destroyed by the fire and will take years to get to the place where they can use that area again. (Nature can really suck sometimes, can't it?)

And now we're back to fire, again. Prairie fire. (Never fear, it's all going to link up in the end. In my mind everything always does. It can really be a bother sometimes and so as not to be lonely I'm going to make you join the club.)
The day after the extended family did the trip to the prairie with the Meadowlark nest we did Indian Mounds. Wisconsin has loads of them. After seeing some of the smaller bird, lizard, minnow variety. The five and 8 year old were singularly unimpressed. We went to Aztalan.
By the time we arrived, negotiated the automated parking fee machine, and figured out there was an actual internal parking lot in the 172 acre site, we were well into mid-afternoon.
Two Park Rangers were chatting at a picnic table and when asked if there was going to be a program happening soon, they explained that we'd missed it. But when the found most of the group was visiting from Pennsylvania they decided they'd just do it again, a private tour and all.
I piped up and rather inanely said "That's terrific! The best park interpretation I've ever had was a private tour. " They asked, "Where was it." I explained, " We drove into Little Big Horn and though it had been evacuated because they thought the buildings were going to burn down due to an oncoming prairie fire the Park Ranger gave us an on the trot tour as he checked to make sure everyone else had gone. He said all the smoke boiling around us was probably just like the day the battle took place."
Well, Peg and Dave our Park Rangers, actually Peg in particular began to laugh hysterically, Dave chuckled sheepishly and my we all know my anecdote wasn't particularly amusing so it wasn't that. Peg pointed to the big black spot in the grass across the way, and said, "Dave started a prairie fire yesterday."
I asked Dave how he happened to do that, Dave, an older fellow, looked at his shoe tops and then at me and said, " I was stupid." Good timing. It set everyone off. Turns out Peg had appeared the day before for work, looked across the way to see Dave and a rather blazing grass fire.
Peg, thought to herself, gosh, Dave doesn't have any fire suppression equipment with him. That's because Dave had really planned on a full fledged prairie just sort of happened?

Then it was time for the tour. Aztalan is probably the most important archaeological site in the state. They've reconstructed part of what was there as of 1836, before farmers plowed the bejesus out of it and...
I found it very odd that the palisade that was thought to have been defensive against other tribes, the Aztalan guys, the Mississippians having intruded from down St. Louis way, never had a palisade on the side that abuts the river. Now take into account this is the Crawfish River, we're not talking the big Mississippi it's not really all that much of a barrier, particularly as this side of the river was prairie and the other side wooded. Secondly why was that the case anyway? (See, I'm constantly plagued by questions.) So why at least weren't there some Palisades on the river side with openings for river access if that was an issue?
I tune back in, the Palisades originally had wattle and daub over the wood trunks to fill up the spaces so arrows and spears couldn't go through...

Interestingly no one has figured out what they did with the sewage, a family member suggests it went into the wattle and daub a common practice in medieval times...
Peg explains, that the palisade burned down twice late in the civilization as it was no longer fireproof if it wasn't maintained properly...
Whoa! Wait! It was fireproof? Ding, ding. And the river side doesn't have a palisade? It may have been some "protection" from other tribes, but it was a also a FIREWALL. (Maybe it was the neighbors who set the prairie fires. No definitely the neighbors set fires in order to continue hunting as they'd always done...nomadically.) The fireproof palisade kept the "town" from burning down. The Mississippians being the only group who had full time resident structures. They hybridized corn so people had leisure for art, they were big traders, they had a plaza market place...they weren't nomadic. You want the neighbors to stay out you don't leave half the place without a wall, but if it's fire you're keeping out...the river won't burn.
If I want to keep Blaze the Bunny and friends out I don't put up only three sides to the fence.
When we were shaking hands to depart, Peg admitted that while in college she'd burnt down the Dean's apple orchard when she lost control of a burn.
Geez. This burning down-the-place thing is awfully common.
I sent a note to John Blakeman as he does prairie burns all the time and doesn't seem to suffer from the burning-down-the-place problem.
John wrote:

About the escaped fires. The expertise is in learning where and when NOT to burn. And that's always when the fire can take off. After a prairie or wildfire is set, it's virtually impossible to stop it. It burns until it runs out of fuel. That's the secret. It's not fire management. It's fuel management, before the fire is set. Mow off or rake off adequate fuel breaks before setting the fire.

That's where the inexperienced get into trouble. First, they just don't know how the fire will run (or creep). This can't be learned except by experience. I've done enough to be pretty accurate in discerning how the fire will advance, pending proper weather.

Which is another factor. We had better know how the fire will change if the temperatures and especially the winds change. That's why I don't do any burns without studying the NOAA Fire Weather projections for my area, (which is at ). By the way, today and tomorrow would be ideal burn conditions here -- except that everything's green and we'd just have a smokey mess That's why we burn in March and April.

Many factors, most based upon experience, with a base of real science or hard numbers. But like so much in science, especially the field biology of organisms, such as red-tails, the numbers alone never explain or predict anything very accurately. Human experience and understanding is really the essential factor in gaining the truest picture of the phenomenon. Were it not this, every college sophomore biology student would be making great discoveries.

Perhaps I should leave the real use of the pallisades to the arche0logists and stick to the beasties and birds after all. Maybe. But then I'd have to stop myself from coming up with questions and trying to figure out the answers.
Not likely so I'll just have to keep remembering that they are only theories...
Donegal Browne

More Meadowlark, and Winkie's Cathedral Report

Isolde, Divine Mom of the Cathedral Red-tails perches herself on the most exposed place she can think of to tempt the hot button Kestrels away from her young.


I may have spoken too soon. Remember I said I hadn't seen any Brown-heading Cowbird young so perhaps they hadn't been successful in predating a nest.? Well five of the above Juvies appeared under the feeder today. And I'm thinking that Today's Mystery Bird is a Brown-headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater.

An Eastern Meadowlark literally filled with song. I can't quit thinking about the "gaping" adaptation. In this photo he's facing up, so just imagine him gaping so wide that his eyes come forward and he can see between his beak. The mind boggles, at least mine does.
And there is another nifty behavioral trait. Besides building a fascinating nest, Meadowlarks also construct a secret "run way", sometimes as long as four feet. Another use for that gape, as they use the widened beak to create almost a tunnel in the substrate for emergency ins and outs.

Betty Jo in Camarillo, Queen of the Avocados, (she sent some along last year and they were the best I've ever eaten), also nailed the nest...Meadowlark

Hi Dear Donna,

I couldn't answer last night, but I also thought meadow lark. I quote Erlich et al in "The Birder's Handbook""Meadowlark--'nest: In natural or scraped depressions; of coarse grass, lined with finer grass, hair. Domed canopy of grass bark, forbs interwoven with surrounding veg; opening on one side."However, it is difficult to tell from the picture just how tiny this is.
Great puzzle!

(Great description of the nest, thank you for finding it Betty Jo! D.B.)

Tristan on the urn of The Plant Pavilion.
Steadfast Palemaleirregularl Winkie and The Cathedral Hawks report.
Saturday: No signs of hawks around 10:00 am. Morningside Park all a buzz with equipment trucks for a big Park Party this afternoon. I can well imagine that all the extreme activity has not only the fledges, but also, Isolde and Tristan hiding somewhere safe.
So around 7:00 pm, I'm back with my binoculars trying to find the little guys again. Luck is with me.Viola! There's one fledge on the cross of the Eglise de Notre Dame. ( For those of you who don't know this church, it's on Morningside Drive and 114th St.) The light is gorgeous, but makes it hard to tell which one is on the cross. The setting sun gives such a beautiful glow to the little breast, but which fledge is it?
While this young hawk serenely surveys the realm of the tree topped ridge, I hear the chatter of disgruntled smaller birds. One by one, these smaller birds start to harass the young'n. This fledge is one of the calm ones: it's not bothered by these fly-by airborne theatrics. Then I see as the fledge turns that it is Third: just as confident as ever.
There is clearly nothing in his crop. I also see that these chatterers are starlings. Poor Third! No food and a bevy of birds about him this peaceful evening.I leave him to scout for the others. Just as I think I'm coming up dry and probably lost Third, too. I find another fledge on the cross of the cathedral's apse (i.e., St. Savior's Chapel, thanks to Rob I can identify these landmarks). At first it is hard to see the belly for markings. At first I think it is probably # One, Tailbiter. After more careful watching, I see a different level of attention. I twist my neck through the leaves of the London plane trees like a Slinky. Finally I get the right peep hole. It's my Cohort (Rob's Brownie). She does have a fully crop, so one of the parents has been around feeding. Reluctant to leave Cohort, I move on, but alas no one else to be found.
Hey! Two fledges in an outing isn't bad.By the time I get back. to the Eglise, Third has moved. Guess the starlings did get to him after all. He is sitting on the Plant Pavilion grill. Still no visible bulge in the crop. On that note I leave hoping that he still will get his evening feed.Sunday: My husband was on duty. Around 9:30am no sightings at all. But later, around 1:30pm he ran into someone with quite impressive camera equipment in Morningside Park. I can only guess that it was Lincoln. Lincoln had his scope trained on one of the fledges who was eating a pigeon in a tree. Sorry, my husband can't id these guys. (I'm fairly lucky he went out twice to look for the babies.)
The local ball players said that the young hawk flew into this particular tree carrying his meal. No one saw an adult for the drop-off. In fifteen minutes the young'n had made the pigeon almost disappear. Everyone was impressed by this gustatory feat. I really can't imagine that any of the tree are hunting successfully yet. These divine fledges this year have been amazing, so who knows!
Leaving this fledge to his(?) own devices, my husband left the park. Another fledge was sighted just behind the cathedral on a branch of one of the London plane tree. Maybe this was Cohort, as she seems to like the tree cover and the school grounds. This one was quiet and just preening.Again two babies, seen by surrogate eyes! Not bad for the day, as I came up empty at sundown.
(Many thanks Winkie for the report.)
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Reader Asks, "Could It Be a Meadowlark Nest?"

Photograph by Donegal Browne

Could that be a Meadowlark nest? The first thing I thought of when I saw "the little house" was of an Oven-bird nest. Which I immediately discounted as yes, they are ground nesters but no, their nests aren't made of grass They're made of mud. And the longer I stared at it the more open my mind became to the possibility of any living thing that could fit through the door being a possible occupant.
I know one is supposed to have an open mind, but let that be a lesson to me, follow the first hunch up at least a little, before opening one's mental forum to any living thing that can fit in the door.

Photograph Courtesy of The National Park Service
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna
Thankfully the questioner brought me back to a bird nest and IS it a Meadowlark nest? That's a question I can handle.

As a child I remember Meadowlarks vividly singing on any available platform. But when I thought about it, I hadn't seen one in ages.

What about Meadowlarks, anyway?

The Peterson Field Guide, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, Fifth Edition says,

"9 in. In grassy country, a chunky, brown, starling-shaped bird. When flushed, shows a conspicuous patch of white on each side of its short tail. Several shallow, jerky wing beats alternate with short glides. When bird perches on a post, chest shows bright yellow crossed by a black V. Walking it flicks its tail open and shut. Note: Yellow of throat does not invade lower cheek behind bill.
VOICE: Song unlike flutelike gurgling of Western Meadowlark, is composed of 2 clear, slurred whistles, musical and pulled out, tee-yah, tee-tair (last note slurred and descending) Note, a rasping or buzzy dzrrt, also a gutteral chatter.
RANGE: Se. Canada to Brazil.
HABITAT: Grasslands, cultivated fields and pastures, meadows, prairies."

9 inches and Starling shaped? It could fit through the door. It's within the species range and the little house certainly was in a prairie so habitat fits too.

Alright what does a Meadowlark nest look like. I start to search.

Photograph courtesy of the Harvard Museum
The Harvard Museum has a complete collection of North American nests and eggs. Unfortunately what they have doesn't match what I have in my photo at all. My nest has live stems of grass growing up through the nest. Then again this particular nest was collected in 1911 and it's been sitting in an archival glass box ever since. It isn't exactly situated as the Meadowlark built it, which could make a big difference. What should a Meadowlark nest look like?

Which took me to the bookshelf again for The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. Which in turn took me to the section Blackbirds, Orioles, and Allies, Family Icteridae, Order Passeriformes and a watercolor of a Western Oriole nest. No living grass incorporated to anchor it down, though the painting does show grass growing in front and in back of the nest flush with the it. And in this image it is as if the Harvard image is now, up laying on it's side. Interesting. This is an example of why seeing a nest in the field or at least a photograph or a drawing of a nest in it's original position and setting is so important.

Glancing down the page I notice a thumbnail drawing of a Western Meadowlark, head down, beak stretched very wide ...

The Caption Read:
"Western Meadowlark 'gaping.' Icterids have complex bill musculature that allows them to force the bill open with considerable strength. This enables the bill to be inserted into the ground or among grass stems, then opened prying apart the sub-strate. (Basically substrate in this case is the dried grass and other material on a prairie between the dirt itself and the air. D. B.) While this happens the eyes rotate slightly forward and the birds can see directly between their jaws into the hole they have created."

Wow, who knew? "Gaping". Fascinating adaptation that.

What does the US Geographical Survey say? They've been helpful before.

"The Eastern Meadowlark is a short distance migrant that breeds in grassland habitat. It is a ground or low nesting bird with a diet consisting primarily of insects and lesser quantities of seeds.

The Eastern Meadowlark is very similar to the Western Meadowlark. where their ranges overlap, they are separated by voice. Western Meadowlark has yellow throat extending slightly farther into face than Eastern. Male Dickcissel is much smaller with a conical bill and lacks white in the tail."

But is this a Meadowlark's nest?

WAIT! What's this?

Photograph courtesy of the United States Geographical Survey
Bingo! Look up at my photograph of the Janesville nest. Live grasses poke through stabilizing it. The door is the same and of comparable size. Substrate is very similar in composition and position.

To my mind these nests belong to the same species of Bird.

Yes, astute reader, that nest belongs to an Eastern Meadowlark!

Donegal Browne

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Prairie Alive

According to the phone book, there is a county park with a nature trail, a woods, a pond, and a stretch of prairie, not far away. As the extended family is here for a visit why not go take a look?

We got more things to look at than we ever thought possible.
Three, what I take to be Northern Rough-winged Swallow fledglings, wait for the arrival of their parents who's beaks will be stuffed with insects.

A Red Admiral Butterfly feeds on a thistle.

Yet another Swallow Fledgling waits for yet another incoming mouthful.

Speaking of life. This is what is often called a nuisance, an old stump, something that's ugly and just in the way. Time to get some Stump Be-Gone and get rid of that old thing. What is it really? A treasure. The base of a tree going back to the earth. It supplies nutrients for all that specialized vegetation. It's the raw material that many fungi love that are useful or beautifully colored or fantastically shaped, or sometimes delicious.. And look at those cavities. Homes for all sorts of beasties to have young or get out of the weather.

Far out in the pond, a Mallard Hen swims with her nearly grown ducklings still trailing along behind her for company, safety in numbers, and last minute lessons in duck-ness.

Wait, there's another Red Admiral, there seem to be quite a number.

The prairie is being surrounded by new development, sub-divisions of the upper middle class with their minutely manicured lawns, zero "weed" tolerance, and wood chip immured plants, where not a bee buzzes or even a sparrow chirps, the antipathy of the grassland which is utterly bursting at the seams with life.

These fledglings sit on twigs in a disturbed construction area on the fringes of the grassland. Interestingly, I see that though parents make very frequent visits with food, these guys nap right until the last few seconds of a parents arrival at which time they are begging completely a quiver. Someone gets a mouth full, the parent leaves and they immediately drop back into sleep.

Black-eyed Susans, Bull Thistle, Fleabane, Wild Indigo and much, much more.

I'd been watching the maturation progress of the thistles in the countryside as Goldfinch need their down in order to properly fashion their nests. There are no Goldfinch chicks until there is mature thistle down. Suddenly I see what looks like a fledgling zipping after his Goldfinch mother. Wait a minute, I haven't seen any mature thistle. Wait a minute indeed. Here where the thistle's place of growth isn't marginal, where it gets a full days sun, there is mature down.
I'd always heard that Goldfinch only raise one nest full of young because they must wait for down. If down were available longer, would they raise more than one brood?

Now there are five awaiting their parents massacre of insects for hefty lunches in the Swallow Nursery.
Though it has been a dry Spring, there is a bumper crop of insects here creating muscle in more baby birds.

Now what is that? A little house for some kind of beastie. I've no idea. The entrance is only a couple of inches, far too small for a rabbit.

Any ideas?

The tiniest of tiny toads hops by. He's less than an inch though he may not look it. The hand holding him is of a very small boy.
Hey, there's another Red Admiral, and another, and another and I realize there has to be literally thousands of them in this 87 acres.

Seconds before, little eyes closed, napping at their ease, their lids pop open at the sound of wings. In a moment every single cell in their bodies will be infused with energy, as alive as anything can possibly be--just like a prairie.
Donegal Browne