Friday, January 18, 2008

Your Contributions to the PALE MALE NEST SYMPOSIUM, Have Born Fruit!

Pale Male and Lola stare into the bowl of the nest. March, 2007

Remember last fall when we all came together in the PALE MALE NEST SYMPOSIUM here on the blog to discuss our thoughts and ideas as to just what might be going wrong and causing Pale Male and Lola's nest to fail?

Ideas came from all directions. There were comments from Central Park Hawk Watchers, Hawk expert John Blakeman sent in his theories, readers of the blogs and Audubon members variously suggested the Venturi Affect, drafts, heat loss, poking spikes, not enough nesting material, virility, and toxins due to rat poison or pesticides and there were notes of support and interest from folks at NYC Audubon.

Well, the seed that was created, germinated, and watered by your discussions during the Symposium seems to have been grown and quietly tended by NYC Audubon with their investigations during the ensuing months.

Below find an announcement to be posted on NYC Audubon's website (see links) concerning Pale Male and Lola's nest from Executive Director Glenn Phillips.

Late this fall, NYC Audubon embarked on a project to understand what factors may have contributed to the lack of propagation over the past three hawk seasons. We have enlisted the help of local and out-of-state red-tail experts to review the field observations, pictures and other data gathered over the years and as recently as earlier this month. Our primary objective is to understand what may be behind this outcome to date. We all hope this spring will be a new beginning!

Glenn Phillips
Executive Director New York City Audubon

Here's to understanding, plus "...hope this spring and a new beginning!"

Stay tuned!

Donegal Browne

Squirrels with Non-glare lenses, Butch, plus Fluffy and the Predator

Welcome to Wisconsin. Yes, folks it's snowing yet again. Possibly 8 inches worth. Yes, no question it could be worse. I admit snow is much better than freezing rain and better than what is predicted for the weekend which is 5 degrees. That's right, one, two, three, four, five degrees F. But whether it's the glare off all that snow, or just sun in their eyes Squirrels are prepared. The lenses of their eyes have evolved with a tint that is anti-glare. How cool is that? They never have to wonder where their sunglasses are. They're built in.

After the squirrels cleared out--Wait, have you ever noticed that squirrels normally go to bed three hours before sundown? Well they do. Unless for instance someone shows up with nuts repeatedly very late in the day. Then the squirrels adjust. I mean, we're talking nuts here, the food item that makes a squirrel's life worth living.

Now back to the beginning. After the squirrels cleared out, and evidently so had the hawk, some of the Junco flock, mostly males, appeared for a late afternoon feeding. There they were pecking efficiently away and then swoosh. They were gone.

All except Butch, that is.

And in his traditional stance besides even with his feet buried. He's ready to take on whatever it is. Nothing appears, so he hops down on the ground and eats the seeds the other guys are missing.

Then I look down and who should I see, but Doorstep Dove. Instead of sitting on top of the step she's now below it. That way she has quite a pile of spilled seed to eat while she sits. Earlier in the day she and Friend visited together. The rest of the flock is still lying very low.

Soon Butch and the gang and even Doorstep take off for night roosts and the sun flashes off the roof of the feeder. All's very quiet except the sound of snow rustling against snow carried by the wind.

Notice there is virtually no snow? That's because this took place Wednesday night, before the latest snowstorm.
9:13PM Here is Fluffy. I looked out and there he was snuffling around in the seed--chewing. I watched for awhile and then suddenly he turned and hurried, well hurried casually, he is an Opossum, back in the direction he'd come. I was sure it wasn't me but didn't know what had set him off.
10:46PM I peeked out the curtain and Fluffy was back again. But Fluffy was in a stance which I'd never seen him in before. As you've been looking at his photographs you know that Fluffy rarely takes his nose more than a few inches above the ground. He just doesn't, unless he's into the possum arched back hissing mode.
In this case Fluffy was standing erect, four legs straight, no shuffling around. He was perfectly still with his nose pointing directly in front of him. Then without warning he ran, yes ran, at an actual animal running speed, something I'd not seen him do before either and whisked out of view to the left of the door. I leaned into the glass and peered into the dark. Where had he gone? Then I glanced down. WHAHHHH!


I regain my breath. That is Orange Kitty.

Orange Kitty is staring at my ankles for some reason. Or perhaps he's been attracted by a slight movement as I am standing in the dark.
Let me tell you about Orange Kitty. I've never managed to get a photograph of Kitty before. Whenever Kitty sees me he runs. I've never reprimanded Kitty. I've never done anything to Kitty. Why does Kitty run? Because Orange Kitty knows he's guilty. Because he knows he's being BAD! For instance, I'll look casually out the door in the late afternoon, and there he is, sitting smack dab in the middle of of the feeding area. Tail curled around his fluffy bottom just waiting for a tasty bird to land. Now kitty is not hungry. Kitty is owned by someone and what you're looking at isn't just fur. There's a hefty cat under all that fluff. No, he's not hungry. What he is, is a predator. Fluffy likes killing things and eating them. Then he'll go home in the morning, have some crunchy cat chow and sleep until it's time to go out and hunt again.
I hadn't realized it, but cats not only predate birds they also have been known to go after possums. There is actually a "Possum Society", a non-profit that rehabs and cares for unreleasable marsupials. And one of the chief predators of possums in town besides cars, more on that later, are domestic pets. In this case though, it looks to me that Fluffy and Orange Kitty have an understanding to stay out of each other's way.
Orange Kitty figures out it's me and scoots away. I look out an hour later and way to the left--

Making his slow shuffling, snuffling way back towards the spilled seed under the feeder, is Fluffy.

When I accidentally make a noise in the house while watching, if it's a sharp loud noise Fluffy may startle, but he pauses and then continues to go about his chewing. Now I know he doesn't see or hear very well but if he startles he has heard me. So why doesn't he take off?

I experiment, making noises. He doesn't really care. I unlatch the door and give it a heave. It really is difficult to open and quite noisy (the tracks do have a good bit of seed in them after all) so the door makes a racket before it finally does slide. But I don't open it yet. I've got to test the theory. I flick indoor and outdoor lights. I stomp. He mostly doesn't react and even if he does, it's not enough. Why?
Why had he fled the cat, who is on little soft silent cat feet and keeping to the shadows? Why doesn't he run from me? Then I realize that he is unlikely to run from anything that doesn't smell like a predator. I'm behind glass so he can't smell me! Therefore without the scent, no matter the racket he doesn't take off.
Could that be why so many possum are run down by cars? They can run rapidly when they're motivated. I just saw him do it. The stance, the directed olfactory organ. Fluffy is highly motivated by scent. His other sensory organs aren't wired to set him off very easily or perhaps not at all. A car doesn't smell like a predator therefore he isn't wired and therefore motivated to respond in a way that isn't dangerous. No doubt many possums get run down before they ever learn that cars are dangerous. A problem for many young mammals but it seems even more so for this species. In fact how does a possum learn a car is dangerous without getting run over and then it's obviously too late?
I've actually seen squirrels look both ways before crossing a road. It wouldn't do a possum any good ,they don't see well enough. Hearing? Perhaps eventually but obviously not an immediate cue. Luck?

Let's just hope Fluffy stays out of the street, if he hasn't figured it out yet. Back to that question, how is it that possums do figure it out?
I'll just have to wait and watch.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Fluffy ran across a predator last night, everyone is fine, don't worry. But Blogger will not load photos at the moment so that story will have to wait. As will the photo of Lola and the Facts Of Life concerning squirrels.

I'll try again later.

It's Almost Hawk Season and What are the Crows Doing?

Well, ladies and gentleman, it's mid-January. In another couple of weeks, I think the earliest observed was February 3rd, there will be daily copulating up and down Fifth Avenue--on Central Park South--and 113th St as well! Get those binoculars ready.

Often in Wisconsin winter, the lack of clouds allow heat to escape which is ordinarily retained and so the cloudless days are far colder but there is a plus, there is the beauty of the famous prairie sky.

And many eyes were on the sky today, trying to figure out just what the Crows were up to. In fact a number of people asked me, "What ARE the Crows doing? They're flying everywhere and in flocks."

And here are more Crows sailing off.

And still more....
Often when visitors are passing through there will be many calls back and forth between the travelers and the local Crows. That was not the case today. They didn't call to each other, usually not even within their individual groups. And for the previous week, Crows seemed more scarce than they had been and when seen rarely, they was in threes or twos or singles.
What? There's been a Crow Convention, and now talked out and tired they're on their way home?
Hey, with Corvidae you never know, now do you?
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mostly Mammals and Then There's Popper

As the Crow flies---This guy gave me a complete fit. I looked outside and saw six squirrels, then a Crow head popped out from behind the half-barrel planter. Then it popped back out of sight. I waited, he waited. No Crow. He must have been peering somehow through a crack because the moment I turned for the camera he was up and in the Crow "private spot".

And they all seem to know about it.

There is a place in one of the back trees where there is a perch which is obscured by a much bigger branch, just perfect to conceal a Crow while she eats. Mostly, all I can see are feet,
now and again a beak point, and if quick, a glimpse or two of the snack.

Our Crow Popper then whipped off the "private spot" even before I got a photo of her feet. Then swoosh, she landed on the tip top of the tree, and finally click, just before,

She flew down to once again obscure herself. That not being good enough she began the pop- your-head-above-the-slope game. Down she went to the ground just beyond the rise in the slope that angles down to the park. I'd watch, and pop, there's a black head disembodied above the snow, now there's not, making it's way west. And usually Crows being rather bright tend to like to do the POP if behind some dried weeds now and again just to give the whole thing variety.

Fine. I like squirrels anyway. In fact, look carefully, at the profile of the squirrel in the down right corner. It's something about her mouth, chin, and compact body. That is Snowflake the female who is partial to picnic table copulation. Also note that her tail is more sparse than the others. Perhaps she has been pulling out hair to make her nest cozy. To tell you the truth, I've wondered, partially because of her picnic table activities if she isn't the mother of the other eight squirrels who are often out there helping themselves.

This squirrel is digging into the snow with his nose to find sunflower seeds that haven't had their innards consumed as yet.

They really are little gray furry eating machines. Though if you're going to be an herbivore continuous eating is rather in the cards.

Speaking of herbivores, deep in the night the Cottontails come in to browse under the feeders for what they hope is a safe meal. Look. Do you find that one bunny familiar?

I'm pretty sure that this is Blaze the Bunny.
Donegal Browne

Monday, January 14, 2008

Three Species

This is Butch the Junco. Butch is tough. Look at his posture and stance. He's ready for anything and has been all day. Butch showed up this morning by himself, under the feeder, ate a few seeds, then startled, madly fled to the back Spruce.

Well, he might have been only one bird but it's one more than has been around for days.

4:22:49PM Look we're up to three Juncos. Notice that the up-left bird is eating away, oblivious but the male, right, is looking left and the female center is taking a cue from him.

And here comes Butch! Mr. Up-left is gone! I told you Butch was tough. Though I wish Butch hadn't done that. Otherwise there would have been four birds! A definite record in the last few weeks.

Mrs. Junco checks out Butch and decides she isn't going to let him disrupt her first meal on the patio in many a day.

Now the patio is up to four males plus spunky Mrs. Junco.

Count 'em! We're up to six!

There is a flit to the feeder. A male House Finch, and we're up to two species--

One House Finch and seven Dark-eyed Juncos.

That's when I looked up, and there in one of her usual perches, was Doorstep Dove.

She gave me a look and then settled down to watch the sunset just as she had done before the raptors came to stay.

And she stayed until the sun disappeared behind the horizon. Then flew away, I hope to find Friend already at roost.
Donegal Browne

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Mobbed Hawk

This is a Crow, but what I first saw was a HAWK in a different tree.

I'd been at a meeting and was on the way from the facilities when I heard squirrels whining and Crows calling. I was inside a building, near the door yes, but still. I opened the door, went out on the big porch and looked up. Glory be, there's a hawk in that Oak Tree! Actually I saw a hawk's back. No discernible light spots on this hawk's back, in fact for a moment I wondered if it could be an owl as it was getting close to sunset and she was back lit.

I ran into the building, shuffled through the crowd, grabbed my camera, shuffled back through the crowd and--you guessed it. The hawk was gone. So then it was about chasing screaming crows hoping to find her.

I did note, that the Crows were not making their usual three or five caw vocalization. This was staccato, yes, but more like a crow scream. These were some heated up birds. One Crow would make the repeated scream cry and then change positions.. Fly to the new perch and then continue the scream vocalization and with each one his tail would fan out. See the photo above. Then it was time for another to repeat the sequence.

Then suddenly into the dense evergreen they all went, one right after the other.

I saw portions of back lit Crows in a small section of branches, moving around, heads bobbing, jerking to and fro, and above all the screaming cries. After a few minutes, they all took off out the other side, I assume after the hawk they'd flushed back there and then flew into a quadrant of fenced back yards, where I could not go.
It was disappointing not to see more of the hawk, but that's just fine, as I now have a new Crow mystery to solve.
Donegal Browne