Saturday, February 06, 2010

Red-tailed Hawk Update: Kay and Jay of Tulsa, Plus Owls

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert

An update from Tulsa hawkwatcher and photographer Cheryl Cavert--

A few times I have noticed Red-tailed Hawks because of their antics in the treetops as they retrieve a prime stick for their nest - almost as eye-catching as their mating!

Wednesday when I was watching Kay and Jay work on their alternative nesting site in Tulsa, Kay went to retrieve a prime piece of pecan for their nest a block away.

Amazing test of strength, agility, flexibility, balance - gymnastics in the treetops! I have a couple of pecan trees in my yard - it is not easy tearing off a live branch/stick with just my bare hands!

So does she remove it from the tree with her beak or her talons?

Good question Cheryl. I've watched Pale Male remove twigs from trees and I think of it as clipping with his beak, but there may also be some leverage of his weight on the branch that may be contributing to the eventual dismemberment that I haven't caught onto in his case. I've seen the Riverside Park female bounce on a branch and attempt to get it to crack, then take another perch and finish the job with her beak.

Red-tailed Hawks are notorious individualists so let's check out step by step what Kay does in this case.

I just scrolled down to see what Kay ended up with. Go to the fourth photo down and see what the twig looks like that Kay retrieved.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert
Do you see the section that Kay eventually takes? It is connected just left of her beak and has a sort of right angled double twigged end. Kay is standing on the larger stem her eventual piece is connected to, near the major branch of that section of the tree. I was wondering if she was using her weight at all to help snap the twig but it doesn't look like it in this case as her piece isn't being stood upon.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert
I can't tell for sure but now it looks like Kay is holding onto the major stem to get another clipping angle on the selected twig.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert
Now she has it but must disentangle it and herself from the other twigs.

Photo by Cheryl Cavert
Remember John Blakeman's email about the satisfying of the strong urge to build a nest at this stage of the hormonal cascade of the season? Kay looks very focused and perhaps even a little driven if I may anthropomorphize just a touch.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert
Kay arrives and now there is the placing of the twig. Red-tails can be quite particular about placement. They may immediately stick it somewhere and then head off for the next one. Or they may try it in one place, look, pull it out, try it in another, and maybe even another until satisfied.

One one occasion I watched Pale Male attempt to fit a twig innumerable places on the nest and pulled it out every time and tried again. He then stood with it in his beak, surveyed the nest, he does a lot of surveying the nest, then finally just dropped it helter skelter and flew off.

Did he suddenly have something more important to do? Was he frustrated with the whole thing? Did he just loose interest? Or was something else going on altogether? Only he knows.

Photo by Cheryl Cavert
And here comes Jay with a twig of his own. I noted at the Cathedral Nest behind St. Andrew's elbow that in its own way the nest was woven. There were sticks such as the one Jay is carrying stuck in perpendicularly while the material with more "catch" to them were often wedged in on their sides.

In Pale Male and Lola's nest it didn't seem to be so obvious, perhaps because that nest is anchored to the pigeon spikes which take the place of of some of the anchoring uprights. But don't take this too exclusively because there are both kinds of material going every which way.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert
And then Kay arrives with what I would call a twig with more "catch" to it. It goes every which way so has more chance to catch and become entangled with the other twigs, keeping them together. While the wedged uprights help keep the mass in place.

Here is Cheryl's report of the day--

On Wednesday (2/3/10) I had the chance to watch Kay and Jay work on their alternative nesting site. They made quite a few runs for sticks as well as circle over me, checking me out. A few of the business people in the area also came over and were asking questions about the hawks! Thanks for all the information I was able to pass along - so much of it comes from what I have learned from your blog!

You're welcome Cheryl. Do you realize that you and the other Tulsa hawkwatchers are passing it forward? Every time some one stops and asks a question, you share your passion, your enthusiasm, your wonder, your love and your knowledge possibly creating yet another person who suddenly has had their eyes opened in a new way to the wonder of it all.

The urban hawks literally change people's lives.

And as I pass on my passion and knowledge and love for these birds to your and the other readers, so did the people who shared their history with them to me.

When I started, I knew what a Red-tailed Hawk looked like and that was about it. Marie Winn,, author of Red-tails in Love and Central Park After Dark (Correction- It's Central Park In the Dark, sorry Marie!), one of the original watchers of Pale Male, and therefore an original expert of the urban hawk has answered hundreds no probably thousands of my questions. She spent untold hours walking with me through Central park looking for Pale Male's roosts or following Screech Owls after fly-out, telling me so many many things and allowing me to discover things with her. We laughed and laughed at the sheer joy of it all. And beyond that she taught me we could be brave if we wanted to be.

Here we were two tiny women, neither of us much over five feet, then add my daughter Samantha at times under five feet, waltzing through the Ravine in uptown Manhattan in the pitch dark (fearless but not careless) having adventures.

Somehow our passion for the birds made us feel in a way a little bit invincible and we were, we were never bothered even once. Perhaps we were thought of as madwomen I don't know but whatever it was it worked.

One of the best if not the best compliment I ever had was when Marie wrote, she felt of all the birdwatchers I was most like her.

There were other Regulars as well who shared their accumulated knowledge, Ben Cacace, with his little notebook showed me the trees one night that Pale Male had roosted in when he first came to town among much else. James Lewis with his meticulous chart of Pale Male and his mates. A history gleaned from his own notes and those of other Regulars. And the wonderful Stella a lover of everything and a feeder of them too. The other women who shared their knowledge of owls, and let me tag along on their nightly jaunts following them. And every birdwatcher who met me on a path in Central Park and passed on their discoveries. "Did you know that the Red Screech is trilling in the Ramble?" And when I didn't know where to find her, they turned around and took me there.

And the remarkable John Blakeman, who had another completely different set of knowledge when it came to Red-tailed Hawks. He was in on the original breeding trials and has lived with Red-tails most of his adult life. No question in an email ever went unanswered, in fact sometimes the answer or as he'd say his best guess came the same evening.

The wonderful rehabbers Bobby and Cathy Horvath who have taught me so much and allowed me to touch and release some of their charges. Adam Welz who's questions during the making of his documentary made me think of why? The actress and hawkwatcher Eleanor Tauber who watched, and wrote, and photographed, and took joy in the hawks to the end. Francois Portmann with his camera and his smile, Robert and James, and...

Okay, it's 3:30 in the morning I could go on naming people until tomorrow morning at 3:30am, you know who you are and what you have done...

There are literally hundreds of people, including every contributor to the blog, and every reader, who I have to thank for my knowledge, and I thank them every time I share what I've learned and pass it forward, as you and others are doing now.

And of course there are all the remarkable, maddening, exquisite, singular Red-tails who have allowed me to share a little of their lives, who taught me so much and brought so much joy, and despair, though that part wasn't their fault, it was just the way of things: Pale Male, Lola, Charlotte, Pale Male Jr., Isolde, dear Tristan (Pale Male III), Stormin' Norman, beautiful Hawkeye, Rose, Mama, Papa, Atlas, Athena, Mr. M, Mrs. M, Intrepid, Builder, Steam, Mrs. Steam and every Red-tail perched in a tree hunting along a roadside or mantling a kill while being surrounded by a foraging party of crows has brought me knowledge and joy and at times saved my life as my wonder and passion for them was the only thing that made life bearable.

As so to all of you, Robin, Jackie, Karen, Pat, Cheryl, Sally, Anthony, Nara, Aiesha, Robert, Peter and--see I'm doing it again! To all of you, keep doing what you're doing and pass it forward...

But wait we've one more thing from Cheryl before the end of tonight's adventure---

Photo by Cheryl Cavert

Hi Donegal,
I love going out everyday possible and finding something to photograph - preferably wildlife in the urban setting of Tulsa. Besides our stars Kay and Jay, I have encountered numerous other redtail pairs as well as other types of hawks, fox, woodchuck, green heron, blue heron, and bald eagles. I have recorded the sounds of juvenile hawks in the afternoon and a fox calling out at midnight. I have heard owls in my neighborhood late at night - but how does one find an owl in the middle of the night to photograph?

A couple of weeks ago on a foggy weekday morning, a wonderful friend and neighbor called me on her way to work at 7:15 am - telling me there was a big bird in the road, come quick and bring my camera. She called back a few minutes later to tell me what tree it had flown into as she needed to go on. I quickly located the tree and found an owl perched on a limb over my car. I slowly eased out of the car and backed up a few feet to take a couple of photos - and have room to duck in case! It eventually flew off into some pine trees. Another KJRH hawkwatcher, Sally, identified it as a Northern Barred Owl, also known as a hoot owl.
Aren't friends wonderful?!!!!
All my best, Cheryl

I don't know what you folks think, but I'm betting that Cheryl didn't have friends calling her at 7:15 in the morning so she could grab her camera and make a mad rush out the door to get a look at an owl. An owl which her friend might well not have noticed if Cheryl hadn't suddenly started noticing such things with such depth after a certain pair of stalwart Red-tailed Hawks showed up in Tulsa to build a nest on a TV tower...

And yes, Cheryl, friends are wonderful, even the ones you've never laid eyes on.

Donegal Browne


Karen Anne said...

I may well be wrong, but I have the hazy recollection that when the Riverside Mom damaged her beak, someone (John Blakeman?) was thinking she wouldn't be able to help build/add to their nest. But that she then broke off twigs by using her weight instead of her beak.

Anonymous said...

Your extensive recap of various birdie events of the past years begins to sound like a farewell... I hope not... let's presume that you just got carried away in the heat of the moment. It's never too late to thank all the people and animals with whom we have crossed paths over the past eons.

Donegal Browne said...


You are so right! Excellent recall. The season I remember Intrepid using her weight to disconnect twigs was the season in which her beak was broken. She'd bounce until the twigs broke. Therefore she often had rather large sized multi-twigged offerings.

Donegal Browne said...

Well Anon, I'm certainly going through a time of reflection and when Cheryl thanked me for all she'd learned from the blog that she was now passing on to others, I began to reflect on all the people and creatures who had helped me learn all the things that I now know, and set me on the path of learning so much on my own. Yes, I did get carried off in a kind of thanking explosion which may have read a bit wrought and adieu-ish but then again, Tristan, Hawkeye, Eleanor Tauber-- all were here one day and not the next, so perhaps when one is feeling overwhelmed with thanks, though the effusiveness might be over emotional and maybe even a little embarrassing, perhaps, instead of saving it for later, it might be okay to go with it every once in a while, just in case there may not be another chance...:-)

Anonymous said...

There are red tails that live on the eastern edge of Whiteside park. One was making a lot of noise this morning and we stopped to locate him/her and we saw that there was a huge owl sitting quietly and almost completely hidden on a branch. We have seen and heard the juvenile red tails for some time but I had no ideal that owls that big lived in town. Any advice on small fairly inexpensive good bird watching binoculars would be appreciated.

Donegal Browne said...

Hi Anon,

Amazing the number of large birds we suddenly see once we start watching isn't it? As you say the Owl was almost completely hidden does that mean you weren't able to get an ID on it. Or were you?

As to good reasonably priced birding binoculars, I've sent out some emails to a few folks that keep their eye on that sort of thing but in the meantime--
Get out your yellow pages and look to see if you've a camera, binocular, etc. specialty store in your town or near by. Go in an browse. Everyone's eyes are slightly different. For instance some binocs are better for glasses wearers than others, there are many personal variables. Be sure to tell the clerk you looking for birding glasses not something to watch football with or even a multi-purpose pair. I've found that multi-purpose in binoculars means they're not terrific for any purpose. Then have the clerk bring some out and let you look through them, preferably out a window or other distance. See how the modifying bells and whistles work for your fingers, how do they feel in your hand? Is there a color shift? How crisply can they be focused? Is there a bit of purplish glare around things that are backlit? Is this pair something you'll want to carry around with you all the time? Remember you aren't buying quite yet you're browsing. Make a few notes on your favorites w/price. In the meantime we'll see what advice comes in via email. After which time you can not only search outjust the right pair for you but also do some comparison shopping to get the best price.