Saturday, September 26, 2009

All the Geese in the World and Rural Red-tail Steam looks into the Sun

I'd been hearing the Canada Geese go over during the night and they seemed to be passing over for hours, racing in front of the storm front which was on it's way. But still when I looked over into the grain field I was a little stunned. Whoa, that's a lot of Geese all in one place.

Much more subtle but also very surprising, was the sight I saw when I glanced west. I missed the shot but when I first looked at the dead tree that Steam had been perched on the other day, previously, there he was in the same tree, possibly even the exact perch but instead of looking north he was staring straight into the sun to the west.

Unusual because a Red-tailed Hawk rarely if ever stares into the sun while hunting or evading an intruder. They do exactly the opposite. Remember when Mr. M lured me into looking directly into the sun, momentarily blinding me so he could allow the Mrs. to exit the nest without being seen? And

Plus when hunting who would you rather blind, yourself or your prey? Not a toughie to answer. But Steam was looking into the sun, possibly because that dead tree is the tallest around and while exposing him due to the lack of foliage, he has a 360 view to watch for the approach of intruders. In this case, I'd surmise he had his eye on another raptor who was coming from the sun to put him at a disadvantage. In fact just as I looked up at him he took off from the perch due west, at height.

To be honest, I'm not at all sure that I've ever seen his mate, but I believe he has one because, one- he's mature, two- holds a territory, three-I have heard the begging of fledglings but always in places in which I would be trespassing if I went to track them down.

But back to all those Geese--on my approach they all started moving in mass away from me. If I shifted direction they did as well in the opposite direction with a good bit of honking. At me or to each other I'm not sure.

They all looked muscular, good exercise that flying, but also chunky and sleek feathered in a well fed sort of way at the same time. Everyone looked to have been getting plenty to eat.

When I stopped, so did they and immediately started up eating the fallen grain again. There was also a certain amount of "tail pinching". Exactly what precipitated these interactions I'm not sure, but suddenly a goose would bring his wings half up, lower his neck and head to his neighbor's tail level and go for him. The neighbor immediately turned tail and scooted away with the first goose rushing after him for a few steps. Rarely was there any contact. Mostly it was all about giving a posture threat that within seconds turned into everyone seemingly going back to contented eating.
I had to leave and couldn't watch for them to do it, but as there wasn't a goose anywhere the next day, at some point as evening came on they all took to their wings and joined the hundreds and thousands of other geese racing south before the storm.
I'm sure that Steam and his mate, perched in their night roosts, bathed by the light of a beautiful crescent moon, opened their eyes and watched them go only to settle back in after a preen or two to sleep but all the while monitoring with their ears the wide swath of movement and night sound above their heads.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What is Steam the Red-tailed Hawk Doing?

This used to be a woods with wild flowers, oak, apple, hickory, walnut trees, just to name a few, Dogwoods with white berries and the stunning leaves of scarlet in the Fall of Staghorn Sumac--now it is a mud slide waiting to happen.

It is supposed to be a demonstration area for old construction equipment at the Thresheree. But it was created by said machines by people without the least concern not only for wildlife but also without the least concern for the land and what happens when you strip it of the vegetation that holds it in place. I was steaming. In fact when I got to my doctor's appointment an hour later, my blood pressure was through the roof.

So there I was sliding around in boots covered with mud to the knee, turned around and started stomping the other way down the hill, (if one can stomp while sliding), to get back to my car...

Wait a minute! Is that a Red-tail in the top of that dead tree?

Cropped down, yes, that's definitely a Red-tail. And I'm betting it's Steam the male of the pair who owns this territory.

Suddenly Steam seemed to look at me, he is really far away, but it certainly looked like he did. Then he screamed the Red-tail's battle cry Kheee, keee and took to his wings.
What did I do? Geez.
In fact what was he doing in the top of that tree. An extremely exposed position. Rural hawks just don't do that around people.

Okay, where did he go?
Ah ha! He's heading north in a hurry.
And just like urban Red-tails in Central Park whenever possible when going in a straight course, he's taken to the tree line to get to where ever it is he's going.
He soars towards the other side of the trees, opposite me.

Then begins a steep inclined flight. Is he just skimming the tops of the trees or does he have something else in mind? He then disappears behind the trees.

He reappears heading this way.

Then regains the linear flight along the tree tops.

Steam starts power flapping with focus.

He is definitely powering up.

He makes a course correction and continues folding his wings to his sides for a swoop--and I lose him in the sun. Drat, drat DRAT!
But I keep clicking away just in case the camera might catch what I am missing.
And it did catch something! Though I'm not altogether sure exactly what.
This is a crop of a larger photograph and to make matters worse this isn't the area on which the camera was focusing, but beggars can't be choosers so---
I think that is steam just going into the leaf less tree up center. Now he could have been hunting and has just nabbed some prey but as he screamed we're not talking hunting were talking offense. Likely an unrelated raptor, possibly a juvenile who is kind of clueless, that he has "convinced" to vacate the spot he is now in by flying at her.
If you look to the right of the photo and then down, there are a couple of blotches that might just be a bird getting out of Dodge.
That's my hunch anyway. What do you see?
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What About Hawkeye's Mate Rose?

(Pretend that there is a photograph here of Hawkeye and Rose standing amiably together on the Fordham Stadium lights. My photo program is currently frozen. What can I say?)

A response to yesterday's post from Chris Lyons, one of the chief watchers of Hawkeye and Rose at Fordham

I'm seeing a hawk I presume to be Rose perching on various sites at Fordham University--perches she and Hawkeye tended to favor. I haven't been able to get a good look.

Only way she'd lose the territory would be if a rival pair pushed her out, and I don't know of one in the area right now. She does need to take a mate in the next few months, though.

I wondered too if she made the connection between Hawkeye being taken and her own capture and rehabilitation. I don't believe science has a definite answer to that question right now, but we can be sure she was mainly living in the moment, as animals wisely do, at least in her waking hours. Anybody who has lived with a bird knows that when asleep, they give every sign of having a dreamlife, like us. Her relationship with Hawkeye was the most significant of her life, by far, and I don't see how she wouldn't be seeing him in her sleep. But perhaps over time even those memories fade. And perhaps it's rank sentimentality to ascribe such feelings as love and loyalty to what some scientists consider little more than feathered instinct machines--

On the other hand, there was Loren Eiseley's story of a pair of American Kestrels--hope this link works.
(It worked for me. D.B.)

Chris, thank you for the update. It's good to know that Rose is in place watching over the territory.

The female of the Houston nest seemed to have abandoned the territory after her mate died and her fledglings disappeared. She of course was young and the territory did turn out to be ill fated for hawks. I've always hoped she found a new mate and a safer place in which to nest.

Rose and Hawkeye did have a long string of successes and they seemed well bonded not only with each other but to their territory and preferred type of nesting site so I think there is a very good possibility that she will stay.

Isolde made a great attempt to keep the nest site behind St. Andrew's elbow at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine but likely the workman over her head, the scaffolding, and Norman's inexperience may have convinced her that taking a year off or at least changing nest sites was the way to go.

There is hope of course that once the work is finished that she and Norman may return but then again perhaps the highrise apartment building south of the Cathedral may have made it a far less desirable spot for nesting than it was previously. One never knows exactly how changes affect a hawk pairs breeding ground criteria.

Chris when did Rose and Hawkeye begin their courtship flights? January? I would think that she will have chosen someone by then if not before.

I hope the new guy isn't as inexperienced as Norman was. I'm afraid he was rather a trial for Isolde. There were times that if glares could kill, he would have been very, very dead.

Oh yes, there is no question that birds dream, and I do believe that Rose could be dreaming of Hawkeye and I can't imagine that she wouldn't. He was her other half for so many years. And they seemed to very much like each other's company. They were often seen perching a few feet from each other. Something that doesn't happen at all often in some hawk pairs.

There have been studies done on birds which prove they have a REM sleep state. And in my personal experience which is anecdotal of course, it does appear that my parrot dreams. When my African Grey, Quicksilver, was very young and a newcomer to the household, it seemed that occasionally he had nightmares. Everything would be quiet in the apartment, blinds closed, and all peaceful with nothing to cause him to startle, and suddenly he would make a little squawk and fall or fling himself off his perch to the bottom of his sleeping cage.

As an adult the only time he makes that parrot squawk and dumps himself off his perch is when a hawk flies by the window. Could he have seen a hawk at three or four months old and was dreaming about it? Not likely. That instance in the cage was the first time he'd displayed that behavior while he was with us. Or is it possible that that action and the dream of a hawk shape is wired into African Greys? A particular physical reaction is wired into some poultry for behavior when certain outspread wing shapes appear, which they've never seen in real life.

Though, perhaps it is different or expanded in African Greys--When Francois Portmann discovered the Houston Dad was grounded, he called me and I ran out of the house with one of my cat carriers to have something to put the grounded hawk in once we got hold of him and to transport him to the Animal Medical Center. And as I'd run out of the apartment without money, on my way back to the hospital I stopped by my apartment for a minute to get some. I'd set the carrier down in a darkened area so as not to stress the hawk and gone into another room for my wallet so I'd have cab fare, when a family member happened to walk (perhaps six feet away) in the proximity of the carrier with Silver on her hand. The carrier was on the floor, Silver was on a hand, and obviously the hawk didn't have his wings spread in a flight shape inside the box. None the less Silver shrieked, flung himself to the floor, and started to run in the opposite direction.

All I can figure is that Silver smelled the hawk. Something that would likely be disputed by most scientists as the assumption is that all birds have a lousy sense of smell.

Though that particular carrier is still an issue though it has been scrubbed, bleached, and sanitized within an inch of it's life. Not only does Silver still freak out about it, but the cats run from it as well. I have no explanation other than some sort of associative trauma reaction from the previous experience of discovering a hawk on their home turf.

Donegal Browne

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rose and Hawkeye at Fordham and the Thresherman Cranes

2007- Rose of Fordham prepares a pigeon on top of the nest building. A fledgling is on an adjacent roof where he is standing on a pipe, possibly a piece of antenna and now he's gotten there he doesn't really know what to do with himself. He's been pacing back and forth on it. Like most RT Moms with a new fledge, Rose would prefer if he were closer to the nest site. She is preparing the prey in what would be his full view if he turned around. She seems to be going about her business but she is also completely aware of what the fledgling may do at any second. Why?

Because when a fledgling sees food he flings himself at it. (Note how she got him off the precarious pipe? He'd been walking back and forth, back and forth but the moment he saw food he automatically flew to it. She got him off the pipe and gave him dinner. Kind of a two in one technique on Rose's part.) Which he has done. In order not to get taloned by her son, Rose has taken a last second dive off the building. The youngster stands over the prey right where Rose was a few seconds before and looks after her. Looking like he is wondering why she took off. Self preservation would be the answer to that but he hasn't realized the danger he can be to a parent when his instincts take over.

More on Hawkeye and poison from Margo of VA--
Damn!! What must we do to convince the "authorities" that poisoning is not going to solve the rat problem, and that, if they will just let the wonderful hawks do what they do so well, kill rats, that everyone will be way ahead of the game.
My heart breaks to think of the void in the life of Rose. Hawkeye's death is so very senseless and underscores how truly thoughtless and self centered some humans can be. There needs to be a ground swell of indignation of the type that brought back Palemale and Lola's nest.
Damn, I can't stop crying.

Margot Treybig
Hardy, VA

Well said. With excellent sanitation and raptors, there would be no excuse for poison.

And as we were talking about ways to keep garbage from feeding large populations of rats, I just read that to prevent infestations of insects and rodents that the Smithsonion, they freeze all their garbage until right before it is picked up. That of course would work, wouldn't it. :-) Wouldn't want Old Abe's hat or Dorothy's ruby slippers gnawed on, now would we?

Regarding Hawkeye and Rose, they were together and bred successfully for many years. Though, as they were already a pair, and nesting, when they first came to the attention of watchers we don't really know their ages nor how many years they were paired. They were well bonded as Hawkeye waited for Rose when she went to rehab at the Horvath's for an injured wing. She was hurt during nesting so Hawkeye didn’t’ have a strong biological imperative heavily urging him to re-mate immediately.

I just thought of something. Rose saw Hawkeye being picked up and as she went to rehab herself, I wonder if she might think there is a chance that he'll come back. I don't know if they think in that way or whether they stay "present", but they do memorize prey movements for future use, so are not completely "in the moment" all the time.

Of course Rose is still missing half the team that holds the territory. Before too long the territorial lines for breeding grounds will be hardening up again and soon she may be having to protect the territory from interlopers all by herself. Which can be difficult when the intruders come by in pairs. Isolde at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine nest, didn’t have to hold the territory for very long as Tristan's disappearance occurred hard on the time she usually ovulates. It's thought that she took off and found Norman when she was sure Tristan was gone. Norman was very young and inexperienced but the biological imperative spoke and she took what she could find.

If Rose stays in the territory of Fordham/NYBG and I suspect she will try to hold onto it as she and Hawkeye were so successful there, she may have to protect the natal grounds for awhile by herself, which could be trying. Even so, she does have the advantage of knowing the area very very well and she is no young dummy but rather a smart experienced clever Red-tail female of good size and maturity. Eventually she'll like a male who comes by and he'll be allowed to stay or she'll go find one she does like.

And it will all start again. Even so, Hawkeye will always be missed.

The Thresherman Crane Family takes flight on the 21st.

A Horvath Hummingbird Release and The Green Heron Snacks

Hummingbird photos courtesy of the Horvaths
And from wonderful NYC wildlife rehabilitators Bobby and Cathy Horvath, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird release, a Archilochus colubris about whom Bobby has to say--
This female came in last week after hitting a window and had an injured right wing

Ruby-throats are the only widespread species of hummingbird in the East.

Luckily she ate on her own immediately so we had hope.

Only three to three and a half inches long and a weight of only a few grams.

Today we took her to Westbury Gardens and happily gave her another chance to migrate.

She hung around for a bit and then took off like a bullet.
Cathy brought the feeder tube and gave her 1 last quick drink before she took off.
We're working on the eagle from last winter [The one that had so much mysterious gunk on his feathers that he was grounded. D.B.] and hopefully he can go in 2
or 3 weeks after conditioning. He’s molted enough by now to make it.
We'll have to meet with the DEC to band him and hopefully release him right after. We'll let you know when and where.
The catch of the day from New York City's Pat Gonzalez-- A Green Heron eating something mysterious...a wee turtle perhaps?
Donegal Browne