Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mr. Portmann Answers My Questions, Kay Entreats Jay Again, and More

Bark? Yes, bark. Oak bark in fact. Just ignore it for the moment and keep on going.

This is the oak tree that the County M, Nest 1, Red-tailed Hawks are nesting in. Actually though this time what we are looking at is what makes some oaks good nest trees, but we won't be looking at that for a wee bit yet, as I didn't know I wanted it several photos down where it should go. Until now. We'll just refer back to it when we get there if that's okay.

The formel with her newest find for the nest.

I had a number of questions for Francois about who did what in this pair and how they did it--

D.B.--Is it the female that collects the bark? Lola tends to do it at the Fifth Avenue nest, but I've seen Pale Male Jr. bring bark to the nest for that pair.

Francois: Yes, the female strips the bark. Her broken beak isn't always obvious.

Bark is an important nest building material, often used under softer material for the nest bowl. I also see bark tucked into the main body of the rural nest I'm watching in Wisconsin.


D.B.--Did they take any sticks off the ground? I notice that there is a shot of a hawk on the ground with a stick. At one point there was discussion that perhaps Pale Male and Lola didn't have an easy time getting enough nesting material to make their nest big enough because their neighborhood of the park is so well manicured.

Francois: These hawks take sticks from both the ground and from trees. I'm seeing them break smaller green sticks too! In the pix of the birds dealing with sticks with the beak, on the ground or flying, they tend to close their nictitating membranes for protection.


Francois: This female (above) is good at jumping on dead branches, and breaking them off. The problem with gathering from the ground is dogs (mostly their careless owners) and could be an issue at fledge time.


Francois and I had been discussing that the tiercel had turned his talons under and was actually balancing on the formel's back to copulate. I then realized that as the formel is on a lamppost it isn't as if she can sink her talons into the metal and latch on. Therefore It seemed to me that she was holding them both up by the pressure on the tips of her talons.

Francois: Regarding balance/mating, I think that the male is part of the equation (of course)! If you look, every time they mate the male spreads its wings, right and it looks macho but he is actually adjusting the balance using the drafts/wind. The hawks don’t fight gravity like we do; they use it. The tai chi masters learned by watching nature and animals after all.

Good point, Francois. And for those of you you may have missed it the first time, from Tulsa Hawkwatcher Bob McCargar--

Hi, Donegal-
Some of your readers may not be familiar with Hawk Tai Chi, but on 3/17, Kay gave a good example of it here, followed by some preening, before she settles back down on the nest.


Francois: I’m surprised at their choice of tree A London Plane has very slick bark as opposed to a tulip tree where the rough bark itself is a good anchor!

(The smooth bark of the London Plane is visible in the above photo. For a look at the many twiglets on the branches of oaks and the deep texture of their bark, both handy for anchoring a nest, now is the time to look up to the top of the blog. I told you we'd get to it. D.B.)

Francois: And where is the water? I’m curious to know where they find it. No access to the Hudson except from low half submerged piers, south of the marina.

D.B.: Are there any children's playgrounds around with sprinkler systems? They'll be on in the summer when the need is greatest and hawks will bathe in the sprinklers too. Also what might be the closest water source to their cross street in Central Park? C.P. isn't really all that far from them as the hawk flies.

P.S for Francois: Today I saw them eat for the first time.

Captures courtesy of Jackie Dover and the KJRH TV Hawk Cam Tulsa

Kay entreats Jay 10:08

Hi, Donna--

More hawk talk this morning. Actually in this case, Kay's vocalizations seemed more of an entreaty than the harangue of the other day. This time, she made her case as she stayed settled on the nest, not standing beak to beak as before. Also, Jay didn't hang around for as long this time, and exited while Kay was still vocalizing. Prior to this brief episode at 10:08--10:09, Kay had been vocalizing for at least ten minutes. Here are some relevant Forum posts ("Big Sit" thread, p.85) by Sallyls, from this morning (boldface mine) The Forum link:
10:08 Kay has been calling intermittently since about 10:00, she calls 2-5 times, rests, then calls again....

Captures courtesy of Jackie Dover and the KJRH TV Hawk Cam Tulsa
2. Jay listens? 10:09

Captures courtesy of Jackie Dover and the KJRH TV Hawk Cam Tulsa
3. Jay immediately takes the plea under advisement.....

Captures courtesy of Jackie Dover and the KJRH TV Hawk Cam Tulsa
4. ...elsewhere. Kay reacts with THE LOOK 10:09
10:09 Jay flies in from right with long needled pine bough, drops to front of nest near camera, Kay's left side. Jay hops over to platform far left. Kay calling continuously. Jay off left. Kay now looking around, looks askance at new pine next to her. Looks around. Now staring toward front of nest-pine bough or something else? Maybe Jay is out putting on an aerobatic show for her. She has stopped calling since he left. Perhaps he's putting on an aerobatic show for her. She has stopped calling since he left.
10:12 Kay sitting in nest alert, looking around.

Then later:10:44 Kay keeps looking quizzically and with interest toward 6:00 or the camera.
Is Jay perched nearby? Doing fascinating acrobatics? Is there a bug or a bird? It reminds me of the looks she gives the "ceiling" above her sometimes. Not calling now though.

10:52 Kay calling intermittently again. Looking around, front, down toward 3. I do wonder if she is watching Jay or something else flying around. Sometimes she cranes her neck to look down or "over the edge" of the platform. She is watching more intently than usual.

10:56 Has stopped calling, briefly preens left wing/shoulder, now up, repositions bark into bowl. Moves the pine bough slightly. Settles back on eggs facing bar, working on stick beneath her left side. Still looking out intently. Now pulls pine bough toward her, working it, tucking it nearer to her side. I think she broke off a small piece, acts like she is spitting out the sap!! Working on the pine needle sections. Now up, tucking the pine down into the bowl, rolls eggs forward and back. Tucking stuff into nest bowl. Rolls eggs again and settles back down. Still working on the pine stick------------------------I'm attaching a few photo captures in illustration of the narrative from KJRH Hawk Cam
Plus Tulsa Hawkwatcher Bobdmac has put one of the entreating incidents on youtube--
There is no way to know for sure without being in the field and observing Jay’s behavior as well as Kay’s but I'm thinking that perhaps...
She wants Jay to bring the food to the nest. He may be stashing it for her but she wants it brought to her so she doesn't have to leave the eggs.
Or she feels he’s stashing it too far away and wants it brought so she can take it, eat it, and then get back quick.
Or he is having trouble getting prey. Though the fact that he keeps bringing nest material is interesting. Is he intentionally misunderstanding so he gets a chance to sit the eggs, or perhaps his urges tell him bringing something is better than bringing nothing.

It could be that Kay is in the gush of hormones that says sit, sit, sit. Remember how annoyed she was when he brought the twig? She wanted food. Jay on the other hand also wants to sit on the eggs, some males have a stronger urge to sit than others, or could it be possible he really doesn’t understand what she wants? He tried the twig, no.

It is actually better for the formel to get off the nest a couple of times a day if she can be convinced. Get some exercise, defecate, eat, get a drink of water, maybe a bath, but at first they absolutely will not stay gone very long at all. And it looks like Kay won't get off until she is super hungry. I’m told Jay only brought a small rodent to the nest one day and Kay is only leaving very briefly once a day. That isn’t enough food if that is all she is getting. She is probably starting to get very hungry.

Unless of course Jay just can't seem to catch anything. Though usually in that case, the formel will leave, the tiercel sits, and as she's been sitting up there all day watching prey, she usually gets something in short order or if he's stashed something she may be bringing the stash to the nest herself to eat.

Isolde and Lola both do that if it doesn't arrive by delivery.

In short, if there is food, Kay may not want to have to go get it. She wants it brought. She is calling because she is hungry, if what you've seen is all the food she is getting.

At this stage Lola can finish off at least half if not more of a meaty pigeon a couple of times a day, which is far more calories than a small rodent.

These birds have been successful before, so eventually choices will be made so that she gets food, though how exactly is still up for grabs.

From our Blackwater Eagle Nest reporter Robin of Illinois--Blackwater babies (sleeping all curled up with each other) No adult on the nest at the moment.

And from our observer and photographer Pat Gonzalez at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx--

Here are some brand new pics, taken last week at the NYBG. First up, we have my sleepy pal Northern saw-whet, now with eyes wide open. Same tree, same branch. So was his much larger cousin Great-horned.

I took this shot of Great Horned Owl from a different angle. I stood perfectly still. Camera was focused on him. With my left foot I slowly pushed down on the forest floor which was littered with leaves. It made a crunching sound. He slowly tilted his head.....and then glared at me.

Giving me the dirtiest look I’d ever seen! I stayed frozen, and took the shot. Then I slooooooooooowly and with no sudden movements, backed away trying not to think about the fact that this owl can carry away prey much larger than itself. : ) I was very pleased with the results because now I could not only see more detail (truly a magnificent bird) but I could see those large eyes. Shudder..... : )

Lastly, here’s red-tail looking at something interesting nearby.

Karen Anne Kolling and her Rhode Island Gadzooks Deck with a Fox and Chipmunk update--


The fox made short work of the unshelled peanuts the second day he saw them, but that was a few days ago. He isn't here every day, so I guess he is managing okay on the other days. Meanwhile the raccoons finish off the peanuts overnight.

My next door neighbors (my cousins), came back from a trip earlier than I expected, so now their dog is on their fenced in deck once or twice a day. Jake is a small dog, so of course I told them about the fox. Not sure what would happen if the fox and Jake met. So I don't know if Jake being there will keep the fox away. He has to be somewhat used to dogs since people walk their dogs along the small road and beach, but that isn't the same as one next door permanently.

I don't know the fox's name, or even if he is a he or a she.

By the way, Chewy II, the chipmunk has been back the last couple of days. A sign of spring, I guess.

As I told Karen, my Chewy the Chipmunk has not yet reappeared though the freeze line had gone down at least a foot or two. But Chewy knew better than I what was best, as snow is now falling outside my window.

It will be very interesting to see how much difference an adjacent dog makes to a bird seed eating peanut chomping fox.


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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is It Thunder? Deck Fox, Swans, Geese, Mystery Duck, The M Red-tail Nest or Is It Nests?

Is this proof she survived the winter?

Photo by Russell Mills of KJRH TV Tulsa

Photo by Russell Mills of KJRH TV Tulsa

Jackie Dover's map of Tulsa Hawk sightings. See red arrow. Confirmed sightings of Thunder. Also the location of a recent sighting of the mystery hawk.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert of the Tulsa Hawk Forum
11-18-08 --Confirmed photo of Thunder.

Photo by Cheryl Cavert of the Tulsa Hawk Forum
12/25/08 Confirmed photo of Thunder

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert of the Tulsa Hawk Forum
1-6-08 This one is from a different location from the other three, Zink Park. It is a possible Thunder. I just included it as another photo to compare. --Jackie

Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling
The Fox on the deck has become a regular at Karen Anne Kolling's seed bowl!

The fox is showing up once every 2-3 days, and, besides some birdseed, he eats some peanuts in their shells, so since he is eating here anyway, I have put out some unshelled (unsalted) peanuts. He does not eat a lot, so I don't know if he is not hungry, or if he just doesn't like seeds and nuts that much,


Photograph by Karen Anne KollingI only see swans once every few months, and they usually come right up to the seawall for bread, but these guys were only interested in napping -

Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling

Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling

Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling

Photo by Pat GonzalezCanada Goose, Bronx River

Photo by Pat Gonzalez-- Mystery Duck?
Since January, I've seen this duck at the NY Botanical Garden swimming in the Bronx River, usually surrounded by male and female mallards. For the life of me, I don't know who I'm looking at. I've searched all my guide books and online and can't find any pics or illustrations of a white duck or goose with this shape and size bill. Any ideas?

Well, I'm thinking that perhaps your mystery duck is a hybrid. A mix of domestic farm duck and Mallard. After all your white duck hangs out with Mallards and the bill looks a little mallardish so that's a thought. Another thought is that it could be a mostly albinoistic Mallard.Do any readers have any thoughts or comments on mystery duck?

A collaboration of Bob McCargar and Jackie Dover of the Tulsa Forum
From Carol Vinzant our favorite squirrel rehabber--
Project squirrel' needs your help
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED Tracking animal population --who can help? 'Anyone willing to look outside'

March 13, 2009
KARA SPAK Staff Reporter/
They live among us in the city or suburbs, charming nut hoarders scampering underfoot and overhead. But the humble squirrel is much more than an ever-present rodent with more charisma than a rat. The little guy is a powerful indicator of the health of the local ecosystem, said Steve Sullivan, curator of urban ecology at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum .
See her? Tail left, head right.
And further back just outside the mid-oak tree nest field is the second nest, N2, that I mentioned in a previous blog. As it is what I would consider close to the other nest, a rural Red-tail territory often thought to be about 2 square miles, give or take a bit depending on the food supply, my first thought was that N2 was built as a possible choice for this season but the hawks chose N1 to actually use. But the first time I looked at it, I thought I saw some movement. Imagination? Squirrel? So each day I've been taking another look just in case.
Where is it exactly?
We're standing on the edge of the field, with N1 to the left. Start at N1 and move your eyes to the back edge of this field. Do you see three clumps of trees slightly left of center photo? Then there is sort of a blank area with some things further back and then a black blob of tree and vegetation where the back of the field meets the side of the field.

Here is the view from the front. Starting left, some short trees, then a 3 tree -ish line of trees, then a tree that is further back. That tree is the N2 tree. Look carefully and you'll see the nest near the top of the tree.
And today when I looked at N2, guess what I saw?

Wonders never cease. There is another sitting hawk up there!
Seems awfully close to the other but then how many country hawk nests have I watched?

Though it did enter my mind that this might be the N1 tiercel using N2 as a blind. That is a tad far fetched, I admit, but this is the bird that lured me into looking directly into the sun.


Red-tails will occasionally nest somewhat close to each other. They maintain separate territories, but happen to have nests near the mutual edges of the two territories. If there is enough food, they tolerate this arrangement.

But you won't see three of them hunting together in nesting season. Sometimes in winter, but not now.
John Blakeman
Once I read the information from John, it confirmed a thought I had had about a possible territorial line. I have never seen either of the N1 hawks fly beyond the RR tracks. I now assume that is a boundary line.

Back to N1, and she's still up there in the unseasonable 71 degree weather.

Then I hear the honking of Geese, they seem to communicate quite a bit. With each other, geese on the ground call to them, it's grand being a Canada Goose.
Well they fly in, in a typical loose V, and then decide to turn south, I presume because there is a lake in that direction.

So far so good. Banking together when...

...something happened. Most likely the very stiff wind currents of today caught them off guard as they banked to turn, and they started bashing into each other. I wonder if they ever knock each other out of the sky?

7 seconds later, everybody is back with the program if a trifle close to their fellows in a couple of places.
The House Finches are coming out of their winter Spruce shelter, pairing up, and singing, singing, singing.
The male Robins have arrived in mass, are battling over territory, and singing their wares Just in case the females appear.
Donegal Browne