Monday, March 16, 2009

Riverside Red-tail Teaser, the M's--Red-tails on County Rd. M, and the Roadside Human Habituated Hawk

Photograph by Francois Portmann,

One of the Riverside Park Red-tails takes on a lengthy stick, no twig this, for nesting material. Look at those talons!

Francois just sent in 20, count 'em , 20 gorgeous Riverside Pair photos, which you will have to wait until tomorrow to see, as tonight's blog already has so many behavior photos (mine not nearly as nice as Mr. Portmann's batch but documentation none the less) on it that it is having trouble swallowing another photograph no matter what. Something to look forward to for tomorrow!

First off the mystery hawk, which I didn't know was a mystery at first and in fact probably isn't a mystery at all. You tell me.

Therein lies a tale.

Sunday, I was making my way from one town to another on a two lane road. I was proceeding at the speed limit but there was an unsafe person who had his car only a few feet from my bumper attempting, and not subtly, to hurry me along.

This is very bad manners as well as very bad in the safety department so on principle I never allow myself to be hurried by a tailgater. In fact I may slow down a mile or two, as there is no safety margin between me and the dope behind me and it will make it easier for Dope to pass..

Suddenly I see the unmistakable shape of a hawk in a tree overlooking some play equipment. Ri
ght there! Practically on the road off to my left. I hit the blinker, the brakes, and quickly cut onto the verge, to the blare of the Dope laying on his horn. Beyond tailgating, Dopes also love their horns. Poor dears must be very needy for notice and attention.

This little guy was just too good to miss. I needed to look at him and not have him flee. I'm beginning to get a complex.

Understand I'm having a habituated-to-humans-hawk withdrawal. Urban hawks for the most part tend to allow humans within a certain range and Pale Male, who isn't the Monarch of Central Park for nothing, knows his status and will eat his dinner only a few feet above your head, no prob. It's wonderful to be allowed to cohabit a space in that way. He wouldn't want to be picked up for instance, I don't blame him, I wouldn't either in the middle of dinner, but barring manhandling he's very cool about people. They are just part of his landscape.

And here was a hawk who wasn't going anywhere. Cars blazing past, horns honking, and he is in stealth mode hunting a playground (Children aren't the tidiest with snacks you know so the leftovers bring in the tasty rodents) just like a city hawk. When I stopped the car and stuck my camera out the window, lens extended, he gave me a look, and then went right back to his rodent vigil.

My kind of hawk! Now I took him to be a Red-tailed Hawk.

Which he may well be as I can see just a touch of rufous in his tail feathers but...? It's just that when I loaded the photo I realized that he has no belly band. I zoomed in and the very faint marks might be twig shadows. And his back isn't the warm brown with pale speckles of a Red-tail, it appears at least, to be almost black except for that reddish patch on his wing? Back?

It could be chromatic aberration, that purple halo along the images of backlit images, which is a drawback to digiscoping. And the blackness nothing more than contrast with his sun kissed blindingly white front. I get out the field guide and decide he must be a Red-tail as I can't see any species that fits more readily. No red-patched hawk has a white belly unless it also has a barred tail.

Now to an incident that occurred on the weekend with the Ms, who's nest is in the mid-field oak tree on County M Road.
After seeing groups of three crows attack Red-tail nests numerous times and hence the Red-tails who own them, in Crow attempts to either run them off and or to raid the nests themselves, I've decided that when you see a group of three Crows it is a Crow Raiding Party. Or to put it more gently, they are a Crow Foraging Party. And part of what they'd like to forage are some tasty RT eggs or young. Also they want to look tough so the RTs don't think about feeding the Crow chicks to the Red-tail eyasses.
That said look at the photo above. Near the road is a very nearly perfect example of a perfectly shaped Oak tree and many people find it their favorite Oak. So the Oak near the road is Favorite Oak and the Oak in the middle of the field on the right is the Nest Oak.

I see three crows coming in from the South. Like well drilled militia they fly in and land on the tip top of Favorite Oak. There they sit and stare at the nest and the bird on it. The hawk tenses and sits much higher, ready for a possible battle?

After getting her adrenalin going, the three crows fly directly over Nest Tree, and seem to be continuing on. I think, oh good, the Crows aren't going to hassle the hawks today after all.

After getting her adrenaline going, the hindmost Crow just cannot resist ziping back round and doing a tempting swoop just past the parent. Mom doesn't take the bait. She isn't going to chase him and leave her possible eggs uncovered. The three Crows continue on across the field looking for birds who will fall for the feint.

Remember the last we saw the Ms from this view, the bird on the nest was pulling twigs out of other parts of the nest and poking them into this portion, over which I had been watching the sitter?
It is now 5:30PM Sunday and look at what they have done!
Look carefully and you will see an Oak-Leaf-Camo-Wearing Red-tail. The beak points towards the viewer and the right eye is obscured by leaves. The bird is using her left eye to keep tabs on me.

Here's a closer look. I'd say an excellent job in the camo department. I would think excellent against crows and unpleasant people with projectiles. Not a whole lot was going on in the way of activity and heavens I don't want to harass the poor wary dears so I went on my way.

Monday, 5:30PM--I'm hoping they will eventually get used to me and I am staying far away and using magnification. The pictures won't be perfect but the hawks will feel better about the whole thing.
Can you see the hawk head mid-point on the right side. That bird seems to be sticking to the nest very well and perhaps if I don't eye her, she will feel easier about the situation. I scan for her mate.
Aha! He's in the west treeline of the field, hunting. I'd seen him swoop down to the ground but I don't know if he got anything. He sees me, I have time for one quick click, and he flies off.
Landing on the branch of a tree further away to the south. Click, he looks, even though he appears to be at least a mile away.

Off he goes again. This time sticking to the tree line on the rear of the field. She follows the lines until she gets dead even with me on the far side of the field. Then strangely, she seems to come out of stealth mode.

Just beyond the edge of the field is a railroad track and a line of power poles.
She comes out of stealth mode and begins to pass back and forth in my sight line. Is she intentionally drawing my attention?

With each pass she gets slightly closer and slightly higher in the sky.

She turns and makes more altitude.

Still as if presenting herself to me she continues the pattern of higher and closer.

Closer, higher

Then circling back for another increment in the loop.

She is now high enough and close enough to me that I begin to see the sun shining through her feathers.

A slight pass to the right and then almost directly over my head, I swing the camera straight up and at here and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, the sun burns right into my wide open searching right eye behind the view finder. My left eye, the one without the currently fried cornea, catches her banking like a bullet and snapping onto the lip of the nest in a nano second.
SHE DID THAT ON PURPOSE! She intentionally got me to look at the sun so I'd be blinded and she could blaze over onto the nest with a chance of not being observed. She certainly wasn't observed by my right eye. And she not knowing the vagaries of view finders, didn't realize that my left eye would be better functioning than the other not having been flash fried. But it was a close thing, I might very easily have not seen where she went.

I look through the birding scope.

Guess who is obscuring her form and peeking around a branch?

She stands that way for a few minutes, note the other hawk got clean away without my having seen even a glimmer of the direction taken.
These hawks are some smart cookies.
Goodness, what will they do to me next?
I soon leave to investigate a second RT shaped nest across the way. Perhaps a second nest that they had made this season but in the end chose to use the nest in Nest Oak.
As I'm tootling along the road looking for a viewing spot of the second nest, I see two Red-tails circling with each other. Unlikely to be the two we've just been observing, this pair is most probably Steam and mate from Thresherman's Park.
Wait! There is a third raptor and it looks larger than the Red-tails. Perhaps the two RTs weren't getting ready to do a courship dance after all but rather were ushering an unwelcome visitor out the territory.
The larger bird circles at the correct angle to catch the sun. The belly and under-wings are pale and have turned golden with the late angled sunlight. The telling factor as to species are the "fingers" at the tip of the wing which are a definite black.
Wow! It is a Northern Harrier. All this time, the Harrier has been flying right above me. Perfect for a photo but extremely frustrating because my camera is incapable of geting a fix on this particular bird so it can focus.
I try over and over again, this Harrier is immune to my technology.
Now isn't that weird? It turns out that at least in this light against this particular sky this bird's feathers and coloring are invisible to my camera. My camera just can not grab it.
There's a possible evolutionary advantage for you.
Donegal Browne

No comments: