Saturday, January 03, 2009

Valkyrie Red-tail Wears Her Invisibility Suit, What's That Blue Stuff, RI Fauna Go For Warmth, and a Moose Gets A Break

Photograph by Francois Portmann

And from Francois Portmann--"Another great moment for the last day of the year at Tompkins Square Park."

And indeed it is! Valkyrie is at it again!

Is that lump on the branch below her, an uncooperative squirrel? They do tend to bring out the sneaky walk in young Red-tails.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Off to greener pastures...

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Carrion Goddess indeed!

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Zing! She's got something in her sights!

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Previous to flying over to the fence, Valkyrie must have put on her invisibility suit. These pedestrians haven't noticed her at all.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photograph by Francois Portmann
She looks with definite focus and special interest.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Eyes still latched onto whatever it is, she's up.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
She concentrates and flows into super stealth mode.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
She got it! See the rat under her? And that is no small rat. Look at the girth of its tail compared to Valkyrie's "ankles".

Photograph by Francois Portmann
And off she goes, for a very big dinner. She's really getting this hunting thing down. Though I am always a bit squeamish about the hawks eating rats due to the possible poisoning issue.

Speaking of which, look at the photo just above this one. See that aqua splotch. Francois asked if I thought it was paint or perhaps a more toxic substance. At first I thought probably paint, but then I began to look more carefully and wasn't sure about it being paint after all.

There looks to be a broken rectangular piece of aqua something stuck in the bark to the right of Valkyrie. Also note the scattered aqua pieces on the ground. Could just be bits of painted bark, I suppose. Though I have found rat poison scattered in that manner near rat refuges. Illegal but still done. Let's hope it's just paint. Francois is going to carefully check it out.

Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling

While New York City only got .03 inches of snow in the last bout, Rhode Island got more plus the bitter cold snap. It was so cold in fact that contributor Karen Anne Kollings bird bath heater couldn't keep up, though this dove must be finding some warmth or she wouldn't be standing there.

Karen also reports that she discovered three of her Mourning Doves, engaging in Doorstep's warming strategy--snuggling against the bottom of the sliding door to absorb the escaping heat from the house.

Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling
And here we get the perfect look as to why many animals have two layer system winter coats.

Here the longest layer catches the snow and keeps it away from the body heat which would melt it wetting the animal. The lower insulating layer stays dryer and therefore warmer. In fact I suppose it's possible that the more snow that builds up on the longer hair, the more it insulates the squirrel . Rather like a one's own personal igloo.

R. of Illinois contributes the kind of animal story we love to hear...

Moose rescued from Priest Lake

COOLIN, Idaho - A group of good Samaritans in North Idaho rescued a moose
that fell through the ice in front of Bishop's Marina on Priest Lake
Thursday. Witnesses say brave Coolin residents rallied and successfully got
the moose out of the freezing water and to the shoreline.

The moose was first spotted around 7 a.m. Rescuers on scene used ropes and a
long plank of wood as a lever to help free the moose from the ice. The
rescue lasted approximately six hours from the time the moose was spotted.

After getting the moose to shore, rescuers covered the animal with blankets,
including an electric blanket powered by 250 feet of extension cords.
Rescuers also used hay and a propane heater to warm the animal.

The moose finally stood up on its own around 4 p.m. And walked into the woods as the rescuers cheered it on.

Just when your optimism about people and animal interactions begins to fail you, here comes something that reinvigorates your belief in people!

I just keep thinking about the individual who ran around collecting 250 feet of extension cords for the electric blanket.

What if the cords were all only six feet long? That's forty some extensions. So here's a couple question. How many doors does one have to knock on to collect 40 extension cords. And who was the saint who donated her electric blanket so it could cover a half frozen moose?

Coolin's Moose rescuers deserve an extremely big gold star. Let's hope there was a watering hole at the Marina and they, everyone, got a drink on the house!

Donegal Browne

P.S. Don't miss Rob Schmunk's shot of Isolde with a very very stuffed crop,

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Photograph by Francois Portmann


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Horvath Eagle News plus Crows for Sadie

Eagle photographs courtesy of The Horvaths

The juvenile American Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, currently under the Wildlife Rehabbing Horvath's care.

A note from Bobby Horvath--

I’m off to work but a quick huge thank you to all for your support and interest in the Eagle. We moved him outside over the weekend and he’s doing better. Still needs improvement with the feather situation but we're working on it. Again thank you…

Happy New Year to all,

Bobby, Cathy, and Sadie

I'd also sent an email along to Cathy to see how things were going at their facility. I'd thought that perhaps her tremendous load of responsibility for all the birds who needed help had surely slowed down at least a little since the rush of fledglings needing help during breeding season.

I was wrong.

And no doubt raptor biologist John Blakeman would have reminded me as he so often has reminded all of us about the dangers of a young bird's first winter just as Cathy Horvath did.

Cathy said that with the particularly tough cold weather that has hit New York it is even harder than ever for this year's youngsters to survive.

So the birds keep coming.

The other day a young female Merlin with a broken wing was retrieved, and a trip made to save another. Yesterday two Great Blue Herons who were found starving in the cold, one who didn't make it, but Cathy's busy feeding up the second.

Today brought a Dovekie covered in oil, and a young male Red-tail from the Bronx. Who knows what tomorrow may bring and all these are on top of the many patients being cared for already, including the young Bald Eagle.

And oh yes, we mustn't forget Skippity Doo Da the playful Fish Crow with the broken wing who plays tag and tug a war using a sock of Sadie's with her brand new long haired chihuahua puppy, Lobo.

Why, some might ask, would a little girl who lives in a place with all those other wonderful animals need a puppy? Well, as her mother told me, it is nice sometimes to have someone to snuggle with who doesn't have talons. Which, you must admit, is an excellent point.

Which brings me to my point, if anyone would like to make a last minute year end charitable contribution, the birds at the Horvaths, with all their special needs when it comes to food, let alone medications, could use your help.

You can send it right along to--


202 No. Wyoming Avenue

North Massapequa, NY 11758

Some weeks ago on a particularly blustery and bitter cold day in Wisconsin, I noticed that a family group of American Crows was sheltering in the lee of the Spruce tree. I few would go down to forage, while others would stay in the sheltered spot to keep watch and then they would switch. There were approximately 6 or 8 individuals in and out though out the short day.

But this I'd never seen before. Look at the two Crows with their heads softly leaning on each other. They weren't allo-preening, a behavior done by Crows much like that of social grooming in primates, in which a bird preens the head and neck of it's fellow. This I take to be a form of bird snuggling. One day I'll post the whole sequence.
I suspect the snuggling two to be the bonded reproductive pair of this Crow group. The alert Crows above and below keep watch for predators who might threaten those members in the yard or the pair intent on each other and give that couple a chance to deepen their bond. Which considering the rather nasty reputation that the species has gotten would seem quite out of character.

But it isn't at all. There are any number of family events for which the entire group collectively cooperates and dare I say it, enjoys.
For instance, as far as anyone who seriously watches Crow nests with identifiable Crows has seen, only the single female who lays the eggs, ever sits on the year's eggs. Not even the male takes a turn.
How does she eat? The extended group brings her food. During incubation, trips to the nest average about three or four food visits per day all tolled. But on the day that the eggs hatch, suddenly the average number of visits jumps to nineteen. And these aren't trips to feed the nestlings.
Why then? Well, serious researchers who don't come to these sorts of conclusions easily at all, have concluded that it looks very much like everyone in the family pays several visits that day because they want to look at the new babies.
It doesn't hurt the hypothesis either that Mom has a tendency, when the others arrive, perch nearby, and stare, to get off the nest so that they can see the chicks.
Rather like the parade of grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and close friends of the family who troupe through looking at a new human baby, don't you think?
Donegal Browne

Monday, December 29, 2008


Pinkie is a Laughing or Java Dove. He was found in a snowbank two winters ago. Though he's banded we couldn't find the owner. Since, we've gotten the impression that he may have been a working bird because of a peculiar behavior of his. These guys are the ones you tend to see on Christmas cards and photographed in various Christmas scenarios, right. Interestingly if Pinkie is in a Christmas setting, no matter where you put him he just stays there until you move him again.

Bowie, our fat matriarch cat, spent her time generally watching NATURE on PBS . Specifically the Christmas in Yellowstone episode had her fixated. First it was the Dipper, and now she's watching otters.

See. Otters. No one bugs Bowie when she's watches nature programming. She becomes quite grumpy.
In the midst of it all, package opening and the like--suddenly Silver realizes he really must have a bath. Now this bath thing doesn't seem to be something he has any control over. When the massive urge hits him, about once a month, unless an appropriate receptacle of water is presented for his use, he'll crawl into the nearest liquid, in this case eggnog. Though on a previous occasion it was vegetable soup and on another, Sam's glass of milk. Very strange wiring.
Speaking of strange wiring...Stealth Pinkie, just waiting for this photo op to be over and the next shot to be set up.

The star for the Christmas Tree disappeared somehow so this year, the Red-tail Puppet took it's place.

The sun begins to go down...

...the lights come up...

... new year is coming soon.
COMING NEXT-News and photos of the Horvath Bald Eagle

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Portmann Red-tail Photography, Kestrels, and John Blakeman on Red-tail Hunting

A LEAP INTO THE NEW YEAR by Francois Portmann

How cool is this composition of Valkyrie the Thompkins Square Park juvenile female moving into flight!

Speaking of Valkyrie, for more on the meaning and derivation of her name see the comments section on the next post down.

Plus, many thanks to John Blakeman for a correction to that posting--I said that a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk's tail was longer and the wings shorter than the adults. I should have said instead that the juvenile's tail was longer and the wings were narrower than an adults.

Two completely different things.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Male Kestrel blends right out of a Union Square reflection. Who would have thought?

I can't tell you how relieved I am to see how Kestrels are taking to the urban landscape as there is fear for the species in many of their former habitats. Now if we could just solve the problem of the common issue of their learn-to-fly-from-the-ground-up- fledglings stranding on the sidewalk we'd be near to all set in cities.

The Horvaths foster dozen upon dozen of these youngsters every year and do a grand job but in a perfect world we'd note all the nests and give each one enough branching opportunities to keep the youngsters (or more of them) "up there" instead of "down here" with people.

In the early 1980's, driving down a road in even well spaced suburban areas, let alone the rural areas, every other mile or so, there would sit a Kestrel hunting from a pole, a tree, or wires. This is far from the case now. There just aren't many there anymore. To see none in fifty miles isn't unusual.

Photograph by John A. Blakeman


Remember the James Blank anecdote about the Red-tail swooping seemingly blind into powdered snow and after several hops coming up with a rodent?

And here is Red-tail biologist John Blakeman's answers to our questions about the episode.


About the Red-tail that blindly jumped into the snow and came up with a rodent. Did the hawk hear the little mammal under the snow?

Not very likely. Yes, owls are famous for this, but they have exceedingly accurate prey locating systems based upon prey sounds. Red-tails don’t have any of this, I’m sure. They can hear just about as well as we do. And with their smallish ears, they are not able to locate prey by their sounds any better than we can.

But they do have remarkable eyesight, that’s surely what was involved with this hawk and its successful killing of a rodent in the deep snow.

The rodent was almost surely a meadow vole, the primary prey of rural Red-tails. Under the snow, voles create tunnel runways, which after a few days of snow can become quite complex, creating an intricate network of buried, ground-level tunnels from one vole nest to another. I’ve attached a photo of these, taken when the snow was only about two or three inches deep. The runways became visible when the snow started to melt the tops off the tunnels.

Winter Red-tails learn that voles run in these tunnels, and when perched always look for the minute workings the voles reveal when they start to create the tunnels, or when they run in them, or, perhaps in this case, when they periodically “swim” up through the snow to poke a nose out into the cold, clear air, creating ventilation holes.

The hawk certainly didn’t hear the vole. Voles are very quiet in the snow. But she almost surely saw it excavating or moving the snow beneath the surface. From this, she could rather easily discern where the vole was working, allowing her to plunge her foot into the snow to see what she could grab. Being a Wisconsin Red-tail, she’s probably done this many times before.

In fact, this is a real factor in the over-wintering of Red-tails at higher latitudes. Across the northern tier of states, at the northern latitudes, Red-tails seldom, if ever, spend the winter up there. Too much thick snow. The majority of Red-tail prey animals, the voles, can easily avoid being taken by the hawks by remaining in their networks of runways or snow tunnels.

Where there is persistent winter snows, Red-tails have to leave for the season and go to generally snowless areas to the south. Now it’s not fair to say that Ohio, Indiana, southern Wisconsin, and this general latitude of states are snow-free in the winter. We’ve got an inch or two of snow on the ground here in Northern Ohio, and we have lots of winter resident Red-tails.

But our snows are seldom thicker than 6 inches or so, and when they are, they seldom last for more than two or three weeks. A warm air mass comes in and melts things down.

A healthy adult Red-tail can lay on enough fat in late fall to easily go without food for a week or longer, if snow conditions would require that. But longer than 7 to 10 days, things get a bit desperate, and the bird simply starts flying south to snow-free latitudes where the voles are unprotected.

John A. Blakeman

Francois' Friday Catch, Plus Guess What Was in the Tulsa 2007 Nest Besides Eggs?

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Here she is again! The Thompkins-Square-Park-winter-resident-juvenile-female or Valkyrie for short.

You have to admit the full identifier is a lot of typing or talking every time you want to specify which bird she is. Particularly when the name Valkyrie, and her style truly typifies her take-no-prisoners-personality. Look at the flight shots and tell me you can't hear Wagner in the background.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

There is no question in my mind at least, that this bird has a sweet spot for Francois as she always puts on a show for him.

Mr. Portmann said, "She is a curious bird as you'll see." Indeed she is, as this photograph shows. Her eyes are in mid-flash, as she latches onto a twig in a squirrel's drey. Obviously the squirrel isn't home, but just as a house cat will imagine prey, the chase, and the catch, so she appears to do as well.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Off she goes again. Look at that focus and energy. And while you're
looking, note the dark patagial mark. (In eastern Red-tails the dark patch on the top edge of the underwing between the bottom of the neck/beginning of wing and the carpals is a species field mark.)

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Here she goes for a skulk across the roof. Eventually most Red-tails learn that sitting patiently in just the right spot works the best in real hunting, but I suspect the younger ones have to get in some dry practice/play before they're able to execute the proper moves. She rather looks like she is sneaking up on that arched inanimate object.

Now how might you know that this bird is a juvenile if you didn't see the color of her tail?

Juveniles have shorter wings and longer tails than adults, therefore their wing tips fall short of their tail tip.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Valkyrie banks into a turn and cocks her tail for brakes.
We all know what the tail feathers look like, but what about the little feathers that together create light and dark stripes just above the tail feathers?
Those are the upper tail coverts.
And the dark area above the upper tail coverts?
The rump.
Photograph by Francois Portmann
The always interesting urban hawk position when one wonders if they are watching something in particular through the windows?
The soaps?
Or using their peripheral vision and not looking forward at all?
Photograph by Francois Portmann
Wow. I believe this wing position is often used by sculptors for Archangels and Valkyries.
Photograph by Francois Portmann
And what have we here?
Francois reports that while Valkyrie was hunting one corner of the park, this red tailed male was hunting another. Though considered a mature Red-tailed Hawk, he looks just over the line as his eyes are still quite light. A two year old perhaps, like Norman of the Morningside Park Hawks was last season?
(Also note the patagial mark on this hawk. He's lighter so it's perhaps clearer.)
Photograph by Francois Portmann
Here he is again.
Look, the wingtips are down there with the tail tips
Photograph by Francois Portmann
And here comes the flight of a Valkyrie...
Baa, pah, pah, baaa, pah
Baa, pah, pah, baaa, pah
Baaa, pah, pah, baaaaa

Photograph by Francois Portmann
And she still looks to have enough energy to do it all over again.
Screen Capture March 27, 2007, Video courtesy of KJRH TV Tulsa
Photographer and Tulsa Hawkwatcher Cheryl Cavert was browsing and guess what she discovered laying with last season's pre-hatched eggs?
One and a half Sycamore fruits.
It's a repeated action in that particular Tulsa nest and it's been observed at least once in a NYC nest.
The Sycamore Fruit Plot thickens.
Donegal Browne
P.S. More on the Tennessee sludge spill from R. of Illinois and Karen of Rhode Island--