Thursday, March 19, 2009

(Now with finished commentary)The Mystery Duck, County M Red-tailed Hawks plus Sassafras the Goat

Photo by Pat Gonzalez
Attached are two photos that I took at the NY Botanical Garden last week. I was standing on the Hester Bridge looking down at the Bronx River when I noticed that somebody had moved into the rock face. I'm not sure if the tenant is a fine feathered or furry friend. Any ideas?


Photo by Pat Gonzalez
Pat, I asked two people about the photos who have more experience with dens and hidey holes, than I, here in Wisconsin. The first said that it wasn't clear if it was a den but if it were it would more likely be for a mammal than a bird. The other said as this was so close to the water he wondered if perhaps the river had been running high previously and deposited debris in the crevasse as it flowed by.

Any one else have any ideas?

Here is the mystery duck, photographed by Pat Gonzalez.

The "Other Donna" as we call her, who participates in the Tulsa Hawk Forum sent in these photographs of her family's Pekin Ducks. They are a common domesticated breed of ducks often kept on farms.

Here is what "Other Donna" had to say--

Hello Donna
I was reading your blog and saw the “mystery duck” picture. The best I can tell it is a White Pekin Duck.

We have hatched several from the eggs we gathered from our adults and have had them in our pond. We now have a variety of breeds and some geese. When they are raised together they get along fine and pretty much all stick together.

Right now we have 10 ducks and 3 geese in the pond and really enjoy them. I have attached a couple of pictures I have of ours to compare with.
I hope this will help solve the mystery!

The “Other”

Thanks Donna, they are very similar. I see a little difference in the bill of the mystery duck and your duck in close up, but it could be due to a difference in maturity between your duck and that of the mystery duck.

It's interesting that the Mystery Duck hangs out with Mallards, I thought possibly because it was a hybrid and had been raised by a Mallard mom, or it could be one of last year's Easter Ducklings, who grew up, was left in the Botanical Garden and was just accepted by the Mallards. Interestingly it turns out, that the Pekin Duck's ancestors were Mallards.

White feathers were preferred by people to colored ones for a variety of domestic uses so the Pekin Duck was bred to white.
Which brings us back to Red-tailed Hawks and in particular, the Red-tailed Hawks of County Road M.
No matter from which angle I observe the nest, the sitting bird has already resituated herself into a position in which to observe me back before I can take a look from the new spot.

See the top of her head? She's peering in between the nesting material at me.

I still haven't gotten to a spot that is close enough for anything approaching a photograph in which the bird is clearly visible. But that may change as soon as the ground dries out a bit more.

One of my cousins, saw me standing on the side of the road, stopped his car and came over for a look. We had a chat and I asked if he was the one that owned the adjacent field to the nest field. He does, though he rents it to another farmer. But his son, Joe, by second cousin lives in the next farm house down the road and they have a lane which goes from their out buildings through the middle of said field to the RR tracks. Once I was at the tracks I could walk on them until I was near enough to N2 to see more clearly.

Joe looked at by mini-van, shook his head and said it was too low to the ground to make it on the lane without getting stuck even after the ground dried, as the lane is quite humped in the middle. I'd probably run aground as it were. I said that I did have a friend with a jeep, but Joe said that perhaps when I wanted to go take a look they'd fix me up with a tractor to drive over in, which should do the trick.

This doesn't happen in New York City, though it doesn't have to as there are no private planted fields to negotiate, but I certainly wish I had a cousin who lived in the apartment nearest Pale Male's nest.

But then again I can't wait for that tractor either.
Almost a full look at her head. At this point her mate is definitely lying low. I haven't seen a feather of him.
Here is her profile. You can see the shape of a female;s beak which I always find longer and bigger than their male counterparts. It seemed that we were in a bit of a trough when it came to any activity, so I packed up my stuff, stowed it, put myself in, and started the engine.

I kid you not, the moment the engine started and I drove no more than five feet. The tiercel appeared.

The hen though still hunkered down a bit, lifts enough to turn the eggs.

Dad lands in a tree and immediately begins to hunt. Rural birds seem to spend most of the their hunting time, curled over, looking down. He is after rodents. He is high in a tree looking steeply down.

And continues after noticing me and changing hunting stations.

This could be a preen.

This is definitely a look.

Then down and to the side, at which point I look back at the nest and then, guess what? He waited for my eyes to be off him and he disappeared. Poof. One of the very nice things about having several watchers on a site, they can't as easily do this to you. Fine.

I put the car into drive, and try again to get off the verge and onto the road. Out of the corner of my eye, the opposite corner of my eye and the other side of the road from where I had seen the MN1 hawks, there is a bird flying. My, my, and that bird has a red tail.

And he or she glides back and forth coming right towards the side of the car I'm looking out of. The hawk and I look at each other. We make eye contact.

Then he heads back from where he came from. Wanting to reinforce this friendly behavior, I get back on the road and go. Friendly behavior? Well at least it isn't petrified behavior. Here is some back story. In 2005, people were saying that Charlotte and Pale Male Jr. had failed in their Trump Parc nest yet again, but Marie Winn received an email from someone in the neighborhood with prime views of the nest site saying the hawks were still going in and out multiple times a day. She got in touch with me and took the scope, my camp chair, and Diet Pepsi and sat near the south wall of Central Park in a spot with some elevation and watched. The first afternoon just as I was about to give up for the day, indeed I had started taking my equipment down. TA DA! A pale hawk flew in and a dark hawk flew out. That was a switch off eggs if I ever saw one. For you see Charlotte and Pale Male Jr. had double clutched. Their first clutch of eggs had been blown from the nest. The eggs were gone so they laid some more.

Pale Male and Lola's nest had failed so I began to visit the Trump nest daily. Junior who hunts in Central Park got into the habit of flying high over my head and looking at me as he went off the nest to hunt and I looked back. Then as more hawkwatchers gathered he'd check out the crowd daily, almost like he was seeing who had showed up for the day.

That is why I said "friendly behavior". Actually it isn't friendly yet probably but if nothing accidentally scary happens it may turn into friendly. Today the bird was just getting a very good look at me. I'm hoping he or she will soon recognize me personally and then go about life business in a reasonably normal way. I'm hoping to become this creature that shows up and is part of their landscape like say a deer or a goat. Some nice herbivore who won't want to eat them so they are safe. Fingers crossed.

Then I went over to my second cousin Joe's farm. Those are his hands. That is his goat, Sassafras. She's a milk goat and loves to eat plastic. The same way cows love to eat nails. Why? No one seems to know. Unfortunately plastic will stop up a goat (and nails will stop up a cow) so when Sassafras is out and about you really have to keep an eye on her. She even goes through peoples pockets if she can get her nose in looking for any stray plastic bags.

I then got a call asking if I would let Wilber and Orville out. So into the car for a ride back to town. The folks who kindly let me use their high speed Internet now and again have two long haired dachshunds, the Wilber and Orville in question. And that day, due to various unexpected crises neither could get back to town to let the dogs out. Keep in mind that there was no problem about a house key. They never lock their house. I mean it too, never. They aren't even sure if there are keys to the house or if the locks even work. As a New Yorker, this is very very strange. Yes, I knew in the 50s that people didn't lock their houses in Milton, but even now they don't. Wow.

My head has a very difficult time getting around that.

Oh yes, the photo above with the gray lump. All the dog stuff was the back story to the lump. Wilber and Orville are outside. I am outside with them. Behind their house is a teeny woods with a pond. I'm scanning the trees and far off-- WHAT is that big gray thing? Quick, I fun for the scope hoping it's an owl. I set up, I look. Nope not an owl. It is very likely a large paper wasp nest. Which is kind of interesting but probably not as interesting as of this moment as an owl would be as the paper wasp nest is on someone else's property. And Owl would eventually fly out somewhere else. Not so wasp nests.

But I always try to remember. Fundamental science is driven by curiosity. Attend to and wonder about what crosses your path while you're waiting for whatever it was you were looking for in the first place to show up.

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