Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cold Crow Behavior and the Blue Fuzzy That Wasn't

Occasionally the human eye and the digital camera machinations make a weird combination. Note what could be a blue fuzzy something around the snow dusted meat and bone in the center of the Goodie Stump. As it completely disappears in 6 seconds and is likely a shadow that has become "strange" in the process. In the following photographs the shadow looks like what it should be--a shadow For whatever reason at least to my eye in this one, possibly it is more convex due to the mini snow drft has collected around the raised food, the darker texture instead of appearing flat seems to have taken on a rounded more convex shape. Perhaps something about the way it has turned aqua in this photograph makes me "see" fuzzy?

Notice that Right Crow has seen me, but he's not going anywhere. It is very cold, and he needs to cadge some food. See how he has hunkered his fluffy anterior feathers over his legs in an attempt to keep some warmth?

Notice how Right Crow has shifted position, he is now closer to the food, though still keeping the fluff on his legs and seemingly intending to keep an innocuous stance. In response Left Crow is standing on the food with beak ready either for Right or the snack.

Now Left has sunk her fluff onto her legs. While her beak is down, Right is leaning in slowly. Their heads actually touch for a moment. It reminded me of how cats greet each other by touching noses.

Then Right is hiding behind Left and peering at me pointedly over Left's back. Crows are far more comfortable looking at humans when their heads are obscured in some way.
Right has decided that the birding scope is just too weird with my magnified eye looking out of it and takes off. Left has decided to ignore the whole matter and keep on eating. She still has her knees bent and her body lowered to keep the warmth of her feathers on her legs.

From the Tulsa Forum's Catbird, check it out--

View the treasures of the Prado from Google Earth
Donegal Browne

Eagle Egg, Owl, and Ivory Bird

Photograph courtesy of Friends of Blackwater EagleCam

Long time Blog Contributer, R. of Illinois is a wonderful link finder and here is her catch of the day!

Blackwater Eagles

01/23/09: Egg Alert!
First egg of 2009! A clutch is usually 2-3 eggs, laid about 2-3 days apart. Incubation will be approximately 32-36 days.

Rare 'Ivory' Bird Drawing Crowds In Bay StateGull Native To Arctic

BOSTON -- Plymouth Harbor on the South Shore is no stranger to unusual visitors, the Pilgrims being the most notable, but peak season for any tourists heading to the beaches there is usually summer, not winter.

This winter, however, a rare snowbird, an arctic sea gull, has decided to make a stopover at Plymouth Harbor, to the delight of crowds of bird lovers eager to see the pure white visitor that is native to the Arctic Circle.

Owl Native To Arctic Spotted In Tenn.

Snowy Owl Seen Around Spring Hill In December
Reported by Alan Frio / 4HD Nashville News SPRING HILL, Tenn. -- The thousands of acres that surround the General Motors plant in Spring Hill have become home to a bird not native to Tennessee.

A snowy owl, which is more commonly found in Canada and polar regions, was first spotted in the area in December. Bird lovers from other states have flocked to the area with their telephoto lenses in hopes of capturing a peek at the rare site.
Local wildlife experts said the last sighting of a snowy owl in Tennessee was about 22 years ago.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thursday Updates and Related Stories: Vultures, the CP Turkey, and the Tompkins Square Squirrel Box

Uncle Buzzy, the Turkey Vulture that reminded me how sweet eyed vultures can be. Which reminded long time contributor Betty Jo of California in her response to the post Eagle Days, about some young vultures...

This sweet eyed young vulture was photographed by Donna of Tulsa.

Hi Donna,
That is such good news about the eagles becoming a money making attraction through observation rather than killing.

I was interested in your comments about the Turkey Vulture. Growing up I was around a lot of Vultures on ranches and roadsides. I found them fascinating and felt sad for them because they were killed in cruel ways by people who did not have a clue about reality.

But I have a positive story about vultures. My family had a vulture nest box!
In the 70's a farm came up for sale with an abandoned house which my father persuaded my sister to buy. He wanted it because my mother's family had lived in that house when he was "courting" her; several of her siblings had been born in the house.

My Dad built a water "tank" in Texan lingo and ran cows there. One day he was leading a young nephew on a tour of the farm and house; as they went up the stairs, they heard a frightening hissing sound--no, the house was not haunted as they first feared--they found 2 scared white puff ball vulture chicks! The vultures flew in the upstairs window and raised their young in a dry warm nest box.
How wonderful is that? My Dad, being a wildlife lover, loved the idea, so they were safe.

Your dad was definitely my kind of guy! I wish I had a vulture nest upstairs. Of course I don't have an upstairs, but if they'd promise to come I'd build a box on the roof for them. My, my, wonder what the neighbors would think about that?

Photograph courtesy of the NYC Parks Department

The Central Park Turkey, back when she was in Central Park

Katherine Herzog, long time Central Park bird, hawkwatcher, and let us add a real fan of the Central Park Turkey, with her thoughts on the Turkey relocation issue.

(The DEC decided that the Central Park Turkey should be released into Pelham Park instead of her previous home in Central Park.)

Dear Donna,

The Central Park Wild Turkey captured by "a member of the public" was all Girl!

Several park regulars who were actually raised on poultry farms pointed out some of the obvious differences - the female does not have the noticeable wattle, no "beard" on the breast and no fighting spurs on the legs, and does not fan the her male counterparts.

She was a real character and interacted with squirrels, birds, and unfortunately too much with humans.

That was her ultimate downfall.

I believe it was the DEC who "rescued" the coyote from Central Park a few years back and that ultimately lead to this poor creature's untimely death.

CP Turkey knew the park very well and where to find food, how to evade unleashed dogs and where to find water.

That she's now, after being thoroughly traumatized, being put into a foreign setting in this most difficult of seasons, winter, is truly outrageous. She should be immediately returned "home" to Central Park!


Valkyrie in Tompkins Square Park attempts to use her x ray vision to help catch the squirrel snug in her house.
Photograph by Francois Portmann,

A note from Carol Vinzant, wildlife rehabilitator specializing in squirrels, and a journalist besides-

I put up that painted house in Tompkins. I'm glad the awning is working nicely to protect my squirrel tenant.


Is the squirrel Valkyrie is after one of your past orphans? I thought perhaps not as all the ones I'd seen had been gray. Not that I want this one to be eaten you understand. Though as far as I can see, the squirrels seem to be outsmarting Valkyrie so far.

Nicely built house, and the awning is indeed working. Love the paint job too. Goes well with the neighborhood.

AND didn't I say Carol was also a writer? Check out her newest offering on concerning the shelters going all out for the Obama family dog search--

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte and Making Decisions About Home for a Turkey

Photograph by Brett Odom

Hurray! Brett Odom, main watcher of Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte, has documented that the Central Park South hawks may be back in the breeding business for the season. Here's his note--

Hey Donna.

I finally managed to get a photo of Junior today. Unfortunately, I only had my 135mm lens and no tripod so it is not a very clear photo. Actually Charlotte is also in the photo behind the glass to his right. She is being dissected by the strip between the two glass panes. Her head is behind the left pane and her tail is behind the right pane. You cannot see her head because she has dipped it into the bowl of the nest, but you can just barely make out the tail.


Fingers crossed for this nest's success too!

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber

From Karen of Rhode Island, concerning the directive from the DEC concerning the Central Park Turkey that gave scant choice of either releasing CP to Pelham Park or euthanasia, without an option to release her back to the environment in which she had lived and chosen for herself--

What is with the "Department of Environmental Conservation" blathering about euthanasia? Who are these people? This doesn't sound like conservation to me, more like people who have no clue about animals.

The DEC does have euthanasia rules concerning wildlife that is not fit enough to be released. The rules state that an unreleaseable animal must be euthanized unless it becomes an animal used by a licensed wildlife educator to educate the public or can aid in the rehabilitation of others of its species i.e. a mom raptor with a bad wing can still feed orphaned eyasses very nicely thank you. But this is the first I’ve heard of an ultimatum that insists an originally healthy animal must be put down rather than return the animal to the location where it was mistakenly nabbed in the first place. It sounds rather draconian that the only other DEC acceptable option is to place the healthy kidnapped turkey in a park where there is an established flock of other turkeys who have no relationship with the releasee.

I’m told by a local poultry farmer that when it comes to groups of “poultry” one never knows if the new bird in town will be accepted, shunned, injured by the others, or even killed, particularly if it is a male. I’ve not seen the CP Turkey in the flesh, but I was told originally that he was a Tom.

What about a concern that perhaps CP was lonely being the only one of it’s kind in Central Park? If that were the concern, an answer could have been to put CP back in the park with a couple of other stranger hen turkeys.

It is almost as if the animal is being punished because there is tension amongst the people involved. Just doesn’t seem right somehow, does it? That would take care of the lonely factor and give park visitors more turkeys to look at, and come spring baby turkeys and wouldn’t all that be really cool.

Not only am I concerned for CP but also about the visitors to the park who could use a WOW moment to wake them up. Like Pale Male or any of the larger very noticeable birds in Central Park, they are just terrific tools to get city dwellers, of which Central Park has a very high density, to actually look for wildlife when in the park. Think about it. You’re walking down the path absorbed in talking to your friend about the latest movie, when the path curves and WHOA!!! What is that??? That is a huge, naked headed BIRD with humongous feet!

Some people are completely transformed by moments like that and finally realize, and know in a visceral way that there are creatures in the wild who are really worth more than another subdivision.

On the other hand, perhaps the DEC was concerned that if someone could grab the CP Turkey for benevolent if mistaken motives, someone else might grab CP Turkey for nefarious reasons. But if that were the fear why might not some Bad Egg grab CP Turkey in Pelham Park, flock or no?

In my experience with turkey flocks in Wisconsin, a hen will stand her ground and fight if cornered to protect her poults but when it comes to mature members of the flock, it’s every bird for himself when it comes to external danger. Besides if the thought is that CP is too tame for his own good, due to soliciting snacks at close quarters, would it not be possible that CP will just keep doing it at Pelham and by example teach the Pelham Turkeys to put themselves into the same dangers? Though I suspect that the Pelham Park Turkeys are completely aware of how to get the goodies themselves.

It would be easier to take if we knew the reasons why…and perhaps then we'd agree?

CP Turkey did choose for himself, without coercion, to live in Central Park after all.

Donegal Browne

Monday, January 19, 2009

Valkyrie, Tompkins Tiercel, and Good-bye to the Central Park Turkey

Photograph by Francois Portmann,
Valkyrie of Tompkins Square Park

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Francois reports having arrived just a little too late for the action as on his entrance he discovered the Tompkins Square tiercel just whetting his beak after a pigeon repast.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Valkyrie swoops over the rooftop.
Photograph by Francois Portmann
She menaces a Black Squirrel.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
And heads for the fire escape, where someone appears to be photographing her.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
She gives him the eye.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
And I'm not sure what is happening here as according to the numbers this photograph comes in the sequence after the previous ones. Therefore instead of landing as she may appear to be doing, if the numbers are right, she is instead shooting herself off to the side away from the photographer.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Valkyrie with a delicious rat.
Photograph by Francois Portmann
Photograph by Francois Portmann
Photograph by Francois Portmann
Photograph by Francois Portmann
Photograph by Francois Portmann
And off again, on yet another adventure.

Photograph by Kentaurian
Central Park in the January snow.
And then there is the bleak case of the the kidnapped Central Park Turkey...
Lincoln Karim's, website palemale. com, published this letter from Reginia Alvarez of the Central Park Conservancy concerning the disappearance of the CP Turkey.
Hello All -
The turkey that has been living in CP for the past several months was apparently captured the other day by a member of the public who believed it would starve to death or freeze. The turkey was taken by this unknown person to Animal Care and Control, who in turn brought the turkey to a wildlife rehabilitator in Brooklyn.
The Rangers were all set to bring the turkey back to Central Park, but the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) has ordered the wildlife rehabilitator to reintroduce the bird to Pelham Bay Park, where there is already a flock of turkeys. The other option she was given was to euthanize the bird. She must comply with DEC or she risks losing her license.
The Rangers will work with her to release the bird in Pelham. As always, if anyone has any questions, please feel free to call or email me.
Regina V. Alvarez
Director of Horticulture and Woodland Management
Central Park Conservancy
By the way, a healthy American Wild Turkey is quite capable of browsing in three feet of snow for many days in below zero temperatures without ill effects as they do here in Wisconsin constantly. And in Wisconsin they don't get all those delicious handouts from Central Park visitors. Someone truly needed to educate themselves before taking a a perfectly healthy happy wild animal from the habitat of her choice.
Donegal Browne

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bald Eagle Days and the Mystery Print in the Snow

Mark Burdick, a history buff who runs the Sorghum Mill with a steam engine when the sorghum crop ripens at Thresherman's Park, and I headed out for the Sauk City/ Prairie du Sak Bald Eagle Days. It's a celebration of the comeback of the Bald Eagle in Wisconsin. The state has a nesting Bald Eagle population only topped by Alaska in the U.S. and small towns near open winter water have discovered that catering to birding and their local Eagles is more lucrative than catering to hunting. Besides Eagles are pretty nifty. They've cordoned off areas historically used for hunting to safeguard the eagles from being disturbed during their overwintering and nesting in the area.

Our first stop in Sauk was the birding overlook adjacent to the Wisconsin river. Unfortunately it was about 10F, and it was snowing. Eagles just like many other birds, in this kind of weather, tend to hunker down on a perch and wait for things to improve, weatherwise, so there wasn't a single Eagle fishing and cavorting in this typical Eagle spot. While I was checking the opposite tree line. Mark struck up a conversation with a local resident who happened to be walking by.

That is how we got the news that several eagles had been observed perched in tree's by the river, near the the village's sewage treatment facility. Needless to say this was a spot not notated on the official information, so directions in hand we headed for the water treatment plant.

As we drove into the parking lot, the view from the photo above, I spied a suspiciously eagley shape way over in the trees.

To spot the Eagle, first find the little orange sign that says Eagle buffer zone mid-photo. Follow the sign directly up and it leads to a tree trunk in the distance. Follow the tree trunk up until two large perpendicular branches veer off to the left. Just above the topmost of the two is a tiny shape, that is a Bald Eagle. Hunkered down indeed.

A closer view but not terribly clear as number one it is snowing, and two, this guy isn't making it easy for us either by perching behind all those twigs. In fact the spot I was standing in was the only angle from the parking lot, the farthest one was allowed to go near the eagles as it was a buffer zone, where this crafty fellow could be seen.

A marginal increase in clarity but enough to see that this bird is mature and is at least four years old. The clues, a fully white head and tail, and no pale splotches to speak of on the body.

At the local high school, there was a cornucopia of information concerning, raptors, Eagles, invasive plants, local birding guides, wolves, programs by a nature photographer, the WDNR, the people concerned with creating the Wisconsin statewide birding trail, the Minnesota Rapter Center, and a local raptor educator who has been teaching citizens about Turkey Vultures in the company of Uncle Buzzy the Turkey Vulture. It's thought he was hit by a car as a fledgling. He was found and taken to rehab but he had an wing injury which made him unreleasable.

I've now seen 10 or 12education Turkey Vultures up close, besides watching them in the wild through magnification. And strange to say, the species seems to have one of the sweetest eye and facial expressions in the bird world. Once you get close enough to see their little emotive brown eyes, one realizes one of the reasons why vultures are held as sacred in many cultures. They give the impression of being extremely empathetic.

Here is something that just occurred to me, though Vultures are large birds, the other birds seem to have figured out that they aren't a danger to them or their young. I've never seen them being mobbed. Now sometimes in NYC if a Turkey Vulture happens to be flying across Pale Male and Lola's territory in the heat of breeding season, the hawks may usher them out but there isn't any of the screaming and hostilities that can occur when other large birds mosey into "town".

After our visit, to the center of the festivities, we hopped back into the car with another tip from a local Eagle watcher about yet another less often visited Eagle viewing spot.

After veering away from the river for a few miles the river veered back toward the highway and yes, there was still open water here.

The Canada Geese were down on the ice taking care of some preening responsibilities.

Juncos waited patiently in the falling snow for things to take a better tack.

As did this male Cardinal... we got to a spot where the water could be seen without too much vegetative interference and I started scanning the far tree line. Ta da!

There, far, far away, but present, was I'd surmise a three year old American Bald Eagle staring at us.

Finding our presence acceptable, she went back to her business of scanning a particular area.

And scanned some more.

What is she looking at?

A Crow takes off, but that 's not it. Though we have noticed that the Crows seem to perch near the Eagles, possibly to be handy should the Eagle make a kill, and the conceivable opportunity of of taking some for themselves.

Ah, what's this? A group of Common Goldeneyes napping en masse and floating with the current. Perhaps the Eagle is considering a duck lunch? And as everyone has their head tucked who's watching out for the Eagle?

Ah, ha! This fellow some yards ahead and fully awake must be the group's sentinel.

Suddenly Mark called, "He's heading for the water! The brush is in the way I can't see if he hit the water for fish or not, now he's on the ice." And in a few seconds...

The bird has taken to the air again, though I don't see any obvious prey.

She soars.

Changes direction.
Gives us a look at her as she looks at us and then off she goes, soaring down the Wisconsin River. Nearly frozen ourselves we roll off toward home as well.
On the top of a powder drift in the front yard was this single print. Apparently made while the bird was on the fly. Who would you say created the print? It was about 20 feet from the area in which I found the neatly beheaded rabbit some months ago. A Great Horned Owl? But on the other hand, today I learn that yesterday while I was out of town an Eagle was seen flying low over my house and across the park beyond. (Of course I was out of town looking for Eagles and one was flying over my house. Birding is ever amusing in that sort of way.) Therefore two rather large raptors have been seen in the area. But it could be a turkey for all I know...that's a big foot.
Any thoughts?
Donegal Browne