Friday, February 08, 2008

John Blakeman Begins Eagle Nest Watch

Photograph and Graphics-John Blakeman
John Blakeman has been restoring a huge long grass prairie for NASA the past few years and today he mentioned an Eagle's nest on the site in an email. Needless to say, I jumped on it and said, "Give us more!"
Here's his return email and I'm hoping he'll keep us posted as things progress for the Plum Brook Bald Eagles!

Of curious interest to those who will begin 2008 observations of the 927 Red-tailed Hawk pair Pale Male and Lola, might be a somewhat parallel “watch” I’ll be doing from time to time here in northern Ohio.

Instead of watching a pair of Red-tails attempt to bring off a brood of new eyasses, I’ve got my eyes on a local Bald Eagle’s nest, which was blown out of the tree two weeks ago, but is now being re-built.

The nest is at NASA’s Plum Brook Station, a 6400-acre space science research facility just down the road from my residence. Plum Brook Station (PBS) in WWII was the Plum Brook Ordinance Works, where a billion pounds of TNT and other high-explosives were manufactured from 1941 through 1945. In the 1950s, NASA built one of the world’s largest nuclear research reactors, which made giant “fluxes” of neutrons, to test materials that then were to be used eventually in nuclear-powered spacecraft. The reactor was closed in 1973, and is now being decommissioned.

Also at PBS is the world’s largest space environment center, a giant dome 120 tall and 120 ft in diameter. Inside, all air can be pumped out, creating a vacuum equivalent to 90 miles up. The chamber can be cooled to space temperatures by circulating liquid nitrogen through heat-absorbing pipes on one wall of the chamber. On the opposite wall can be placed a giant mass of infra-red emitting light bulbs, which recreate the thermal effects of the intense sunlight in space. Except for the presence of gravity, a space environment can be accurately created in which to test, on earth, all sorts of spacecraft. Pretty awesome, actually. There are some other remarkable space engineering facilities at PBS, including a lab that produces the coldest, densest liquid hydrogen, the “K-Site Facility.”

And right behind the K-Site building is the PBS Bald Eagle nest.

I am an Environmental Specialist at PBS, responsible for planning and conducting massive landscape burns to restore up to 2500 acres of native tallgrass prairie. We are in the planning process for the 2008 prairie burns at PBS, and I therefore have the opportunity get some viewing time near the nest. For obvious safety and security reasons, the public is not allowed inside the Station. I have a rare opportunity this year to closely follow the nesting activities of this pair of eagles.

If you or your readers are interested, I’ll try to post periodic updates.

For now, here’s the background on the PBS eagles – which actually now typically represent a veritable multitude of new Bald Eagle nests and territories in Ohio. As elsewhere, Bald Eagles in Ohio have exploded in number in the last decade or so. In the early 80s, just three nests remained in all of Ohio, one of which happened to be a quarter mile behind my residence at the time, out in a big cottonwood tree in the East Bay of Sandusky Bay, off Lake Erie near Sandusky. At the time, it was presumed that in a year or so, Bald Eagles would be extirpated from the state.

But because DDT was made illegal in the mid-70s, eagle reproduction increased slightly in the mid-80s. By the 90s, the preferred Lake Erie shoreline was saturated with more than two dozen new nests. New, maturing adults had to move inland, which they did. The PBS pair is an example of that new population trend.

In January, the Ohio Division of Wildlife asks raptor afficionados to report every eagle they see for a period of time in January. This year, over 600 winter Bald Eagles were seen in Ohio, a remarkable record.

Just as Pale Male colonized and used a new, non-typical Red-tailed Hawk territory – Central Park – many of the Ohio Eagles have taken up residence in inland areas, such as Plum Brook Station. Typically, Bald Eagles build nests in trees over rivers and lake shores. Those habitats, at least in northern Ohio, are all filled. So in desperation, new nests have been built at non-watery inland sites. And remarkably, these nests have been generally as successful as the lakeside ones.

The inland eagles aren’t eating as many fish, which is their normal diet, because of their new locations. Just as Pale Male isn’t eating any voles, the food typical rural Red-tails thrive on. PM is eating rats and pigeons, which are seldom taken in the countryside. The PBS Bald Eagles are eating road kill deer and capturing young woodchucks and other mammals, things a real “fish eagle” wouldn’t be expected to hunt and consume. Surely, Bald Eagles and Red-tailed hawks are remarkably intelligent and adaptable species.

The PBS eagles have been here several years, producing eaglets. But last year, the pair simply failed to work on the nest or lay eggs. Bald Eagles are famous for this. After producing eaglets for a few years, a pair typically takes a year off, perhaps to physiologically rest. Everyone at PBS, from the rocket scientists to the maintenance technicians, were very glad to see the eagles back at the nest in January this year.

Then, 60 and 70 mph storm winds two weeks ago blew the old nest right out of the tree. Everyone was distraught, but I reassured them that the birds would get a nest back up in no time. And that they did, as the photo shows.

Today (Friday, 8 Feb) I was able to watch the nest activities for only about a half hour, late in the afternoon. In that time, five flights brought new sticks to the nest, four from the smaller male, and one from the giant female. Just as Pale Male and Lola insert their sticks into their nest, these eagles diligently thrust the sticks into the accumulated pile.

One notable thing. Pale Male and Lola actually bring twigs to the nest. Bald eagles bring real sticks. Most of these today were about 2-ft long, and as thick as my thumb.

It was a typical dark, cloudy, mid-winter day, with no wind. As I sat in my car about 200 yards from the nest, I heard for the first time the remarkable vocalizations of the eagles as they decidedly “talked” to each other while working on the nest. The sounds, at times, emulated the cry of the Red-tail, but with a slightly gutteral, even murmuring quality. In the winter quiet, it was a primal, even wilderness sound. I was honored to be able to hear them.

The usual territorial scream or cry of the Bald Eagle is disappointingly weak, high-pitched, even feeble. It does not match the bird’s size and majesty, unlike the piercing, quintessential, descending cry of the Red-tailed Hawk. I hope everyone in Central Park and along Fifth Ave gets to hear that iconic sound. It’s Pure Nature.

I had hoped to see the birds carrying new lining material to the nest. But they aren’t ready for that yet. The nest is only (yes, only) about five feet across the top. I gauged that by noting that when the female, who is about 3 ft from bill to tail in length, sat horizontally on the nest, a good foot remained on each end of her.

I’ll watch to see how this turns out. The nest may end up twice its present size. Fortunately, there appears to be a clear aspect to the nest from the road, through which we should be able to watch incubation and the young eaglets, un-obscured by leaves and twigs.

So, as everyone gets to resume watching PM and Lola from The Bench this year – now with the real prospect of new eyasses, sans the pigeon spikes – I’ll be doing the same thing at Plum Brook Station, watching for an eaglet or two. The regal nobility of both the NYC Red-tails and the Plum Brook Station Bald Eagles should provide some wonderful experiences, things so needed in our lives that are otherwise so muddied by the murk of normal day to day living.

John Blakeman
(To access the most recent posts, click on Palemaleirregulars at the top of the page.)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Doorstep Dove, Friend, and the Bath

1:02:30PM Doorstep, left, and Friend, right, discovered on the bird bath. Have they actually taken a bath in below freezing weather? The snow is most of the way up the pedestal of the bird bath.

1:03:13PM Doorstep turns, notices the human,and pauses.

1:03:07PM She gives me "the look" and Friend dozes off.

Doorstep takes over and does the 360 degree anti-hawk attack vigil while Friend sleeps. Take note of Friend's beak. At first I thought it was just some feather bits from preening, but that turns out not to be the case.

At least I think it's Friend. It certainly looks like him. This bird's beak looks to have overgrown. Something quite unusual for a bird that forages in the wild. It does happen in the case of some caged birds. Or is this bird one of last summer's chicks that had a birth defect that I never noticed. Unlikely.
Now I haven't had a close look at Friend for months. In fact there was quite a while in which Doorstep was the only Dove brave enough to beard the hawk to go to the feeding area for quite sometime. Why would Friend's beak suddenly overgrow? The last I saw the two together in a place where I could actually get a close look, I never saw Friend's head as he was scrunched up beside the patio step eating.
Did Friend get eaten by the hawk, and Doorstep bonded anew with a male that looks just like him except for the odd beak?

1:06:30PM The wind gusts and Doorstep suddenly looks rather like a beige Cardinal or a Titmouse.

1:14:10PM Eventually Doorstep, her back now turned to the house, comes over next to Friend, who wakes for a moment. He checks things out.

1:14:50PM Then he goes back to sleep. I've begun to worry that perhaps he's developed a virus that is impacting his health he's stayed ruffled and asleep for so long in that exposed spot. Some viruses do impact the integrity of bird's beaks, but I'm not familiar with this effect from a virus.

1:16:25PM They both look my way. Then Doorstep flew to the feeding area and Friend to the Maple tree. I suspect that as the bird bath has an electric warmer in the water to keep it liquid, that the bowl itself is comparatively warm next to the feel of the rest of the environment and dandy for napping.
I know for sure that the left hand bird was Doorstep, not only by her looks, but also because when she flew to the feeding area, she looked straight at me and bobbed her head. (We play a bobbing head game, which I haven't mentioned as to not seem completely and totally mad.) I then bobbed my head, she kept looking at me and bobbed hers, I bobbed mine. Then with a last bob, she got down to serious eating.

5:32:17PM Later in the day when Butch appeared and stared at me. I tried bobbing at him. He didn't bob back, being Junco's aren't much for bobbing, but he did seem to enjoy watching me make a spectacle of myself.
(To access the most recent posts, click on Palemaleirregulars at the top of the page.)
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Blizzard Continues, Pale Male, and Myth

Even the feeder is drifted over, and not a feathered or furred creature in sight.

Not quite, two intrepid squirrels are viewing the snowy scene as if they were at the movies.

Tail curled over her back, she eats snow.

Seeing me fill the sunflower seed feeder, she can barely wait for me to go into the house.

Then making sure that I stay inside, she goes to work.

Forthwith, putting her face into the feeder.

Heartened, even though it's still snowing, the Juncos go for the suet. Feeling heartened myself, because the birds are coming out, I decide it's time to go look for hawks. Country hawkwatcher Marian Anderson arrives in her four wheel drive vehicle and off we go.

The snow gets heavier, the wind kicks up, and the drifts begin to grow at an exponential rate. No hawks, not even a sparrow appears.
Marian's cell phone rings. Earlier her grown son Brandon had taken off in his Jeep to help a friend who's car was stuck in the snow at his storage unit. Now, not only is the friend stuck, but Brandon is stuck as well.
A quick change of plans and direction and off we go to mini-storage, the scene of the sticking. We drive into the lot of the car wash, reverse direction so the towing chain can be attached, and back up the rise toward storage---only to become stuck ourselves.

See the fence disappearing into the snow behind Marian and her snow shovel? That is a full sized fence.

Two and half hours of no birds, shovels, sand, chains, digging, and putting shoulders to the rear of cars ensues.

Then I see a bird struggling against the wind. The Starling finally makes it into the cover of the conifer. He disappears and I'm called back to help.

The wind and snow increase. One car freed. And the next time I turn around, there are at least a dozen Starlings perched on the wire behind us. Has a Cooper's Hawk invaded their Spruce flushing the Starlings to the wire? Or have they just become bored after being hold-up for a day and a half and are now watching our car unsticking efforts for something to do. They continue to watch.
The second car is freed and the third, which immediately becomes stuck again. The snow continues and so do we.
Then, thankfully, a near miracle appears coming up the rise. Another friend with a truck and snowplow just happens by. All are freed and so are we-- to make our ways home as night falls.
Tired, slap happy, and perhaps sillily triggered by all the digging, a guote of Gandhi's keeps running through my head, "To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves." Well, I certainly had forgotten myself for awhile but I was sure it wasn't the kind of forgetfulness that Gandhi was talking about.

But watching the snow swirl outside, now brings a quote of Joseph Campbell's to mind, for no reason I can immediately grasp. I can't even recall it properly. I begin looking for it. Found, along with many of his and others which seem to bear on the moment.
"The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.
Awe is what moves us forward."

"Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life." Rachel Carson

"Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled." Henry David Thoreau
And more by Joseph Campbell--
"The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there's no doubt about it. The world without spirit is a wasteland."
Pale Male certainly has spirit, now doesn't he?

And then---"Myth must be kept alive. The people who can keep it alive are artists of one kind or another. The function of the artist is the mythologization of the environment and the world."

I think of the evening Pale Male roosted in a tree just like this one and of the people who follow his life--
"...Living myths are not mistaken notions, and they do not spring from books. They are not to be judged as true or false but as effective or ineffective, maturative or pathogenic. They are rather like enzymes, products of the body in which they work; or in homogeneous social groups, products of a body social. They are not invented but occur, and are recongized by seer, and poets, to be then cultivated and employed as catalysts of spiritual (i.e., psychological) well being." Joseph Campbell
Sleep well and dream--
Donna Browne

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lend A Hand To NYC Audubon plus Pale Male and Last--The Blizzard

Pale Male sits on Linda 4. His breast feathers show it's windy up there. Also note his feet. He holds onto the back of the rail with one foot and the front with the other. He's not about to be dumped off. Much too humiliating for the Monarch of Central Park.

REPORT FROM THE BENCH: Pale Male was seen today clipping a twig off a tree in the line along Fifth Avenue.

And next, the newest version of NYC Audubon's Update on the work done on Pale Male and Lola's nest. And once again, many thanks to them!


Spring spruce-up came early for Pale Male and Lola, the red-tailed hawk pair nesting on the facade of 927 Fifth Avenue. On January 29th, scaffold workers, directed by New York City Audubon, made adjustments to the nest cradle mounted atop a 12th floor cornice of the building. Although the work done required only a few hours, it could be critical to the birds’ ability to produce chicks this spring and in the years to come.

The beloved red-tailed hawk pair, have had no success breeding chicks since re-establishing their nest on the cradle in spring 2005. Prior to that date Pale Male and his mate produced chicks each year from 1995 through 2004 – a total of 26 hatchlings, of which 19 survived to fledge – making Pale Male one of the most successful red-tailed hawks ever documented. Concerned by the correlation of lack of propagation and construction of the cradle, NYC Audubon enlisted four red-tailed hawk experts around the country to study the situation and present conclusions.

At the panel’s request, NYC Audubon arranged for two wildlife photographers, Jeff Kollbrunner and Donegal Browne, to take photos of the interior of the nest from the building’s roof. Those Jan. 4 pictures showed that stainless steel pigeon spikes extend above the nest material, posing a serious threat to successful embryo development during the 5-6 week egg incubation period. Birds must roll their eggs so that fluids within the egg are gently distributed and the tissues don’t stick together and form a dense mass. The erect spikes appear to impede this critical step and also to interfere with the hen’s ability to make proper contact of the eggs to her brood patch, keeping the eggs consistently warm. An observer reported that the hen’s brood patch appeared to be rubbed raw this past nesting season.

Braced with that evidence and the panel’s recommendation to remove the spikes beneath the nest bowl, NYC Audubon worked with various city authorities and the building’s coop board to obtain permission to remove the spikes from the nest cradle. NYC Audubon is especially grateful to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who helped obtain needed permits, and to board member Sandy Fiebelkorn, who worked tirelessly for months to coordinate the whole process. The task was time-critical; early February marks the start of copulation.

There is no guarantee that this improvement of the birds’ habitat will mean chicks in mid-April, as the recent lack of reproductive success may have other causes. However, as one NYC Parks & Recreation official said, “I’m hawkish about what we’re doing.”

For those in a position to give NYC Audubon their thanks for all the work they did for Pale Male and Lola's benefit in a financial vein, the cost of workers and a swing stage alone in NYC is astronomical, here is a handy link--

3:32PM And while Pale Male snipped twigs with thoughts of Spring, what is predicted to be a foot of snow by Wednesday afternoon in Wisconsin, began to fall. The passerines taking their cue from the weather, gather near sunset to find food to keep themselves warm through the blizzarding night to come.

4:24PM Doorstep Dove, on a familiar perch, checks for the hawk before coming down to feed, while the snow swirls around her.

4:26:08PM A Crow calling loudly eats what looks a lot like Kentucky Fried Chicken that he's foraged from somewhere, while in the Maple closest to the house.

Doorstep and Friend hug the step for safety and peck madly at the seed that the squirrels have once again spilled from the feeder, in an attempt to beat the rapidly fading light and the need to roost before pure dark.

4:44PM Speaking of squirrels, One Eye digs through the snow already accumulated inside the suet feeder to get at the high energy fat.

4:46PM I opened the door and caused this lone Dark-eyed Junco to veer off. Instead of heading for the Spruce tree which would be the usual sanctury for flushed Juncos, he flew a few feet away and waited in the Pussy Willow until I went in, then joined Doorstep and Friend near the step.

4:47PM How many Juncos shelter amongst the snow laden boughs tonight?

5:11PM The world turns blue and fades to black. All the birds have found their roosts and hunker down for the night.

10:00:41PM Snow not only falls it swirls and dances. Not one print survives from the day and it's almost as if there never had been any creatures stocking up before the storm.
But by 12:30AM, even though the snow has not subsided, the tough Wisconsin bunnies have come out to feed leaving their tracks on the previously clean slate of snow, as has at least one of the Opossoms.
My last check, 1:36AM, there are fewer flakes falling now but they are all much larger than before. Only a handful of the dozens of tracks from an hour ago survive. They too soon will disappear, wafted away by the wind.
(For recent posts, click on Palemaleirregulars at the top of the page.)

Pale Male's View of The Bench and Monday's Miscellany

PALE MALE'S VIEW OF THE HAWK BENCH--and The Conservatory Water, The Boat House, Bow Bridge, The Lake--well, see for yourself.

Photograph courtesy of the BBC

'New type of bird' found in Nepal
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

A previously unknown sub-species of bird has been discovered in the southern grasslands of Nepal, scientists say.
The bird is a warbler with a very long tail and slender beak and has been named the Nepal Rufous-vented Prinia.

Driving down the road through Milton I saw a hawk landing in a tree in the Community Park. Changing destinations immediately I whisked into the nearest parking space, tromped through the snow drifts, got within 50 yards, and off she went through the branches and out of sight. Country hawks can be very trying.

Look carefully this is not Fluffy. I looked out and thought it was Fluffy. Then I noticed that Fluffy was acting completely out of character. Very un-Fluffy like. Fluffy was being downright speedy for no reason what so ever. Snuff, snuff, snuff, under the pole feeder, then a zing under the picnic table. I admit it was a possum zing, much slower than say, a Bunny zing, but one has to keep this sort of thing in the perspective of the species, right?
Then the possum checked under the feeder near the door, then three quick, snuff, snuff, snuffs, and here was the dead give away, this possum was very speedy at masticating her corn and sunflower seeds. Quite suspicious, I then noted that this possum, lets call her Speedy, is rather smaller than Fluffy.
Chances of seeing baby possums come Spring are getting better all the time.

Just in time for the upcoming snowstorm, how much snow is a big question depending on which weatherman one listens to, the estimates range from 1 inch to 14 inches, there has been a thaw. The lichen, benefiting from snow melt is plumping right up. Whatever will it do next?
Donegal Browne

Monday, February 04, 2008

"Sometimes when a bird cries out..."

Sometimes, when a bird cries out,

Or the wind sweeps through a tree,

Or a dog howls in a far-off field

I hold still and listen a long time.
My world turns and goes back to the place
Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,
The bird and the blowing wind
Were like me, and were my brothers.
My soul turns into a tree,
And an animal and a cloud bank.

Then changed and odd it comes home
And asks me questions. What should I reply?

Herman Hesse
The Hesse poem sent in by Eleanor Tauber, long time contributer to the blog.
Photographs: Donna Browne