Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Isolde and Norman Do the Fire Escape, The Uncommonly Beautiful Common Milkweed and a Night Migration-Flying Before the Storm

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca

Before we get to the Milkweed and all the rest, here's a last minute flash from Nara Milanich, whose fire escape hosts Isolde and Norman of Morningside Park and the St. John the Divine Cathedral Nest when the weather gets nippy and the wind blows just right.

They're baa-aaak

Isolde and Norman--our two feathered poltergeists--are back. One of them came by this weekend but we didn't notice till the morning and so it's unclear if s/he roosted for the night.

Tonight they are back roosting, just as the temperature has dipped. Both of them are perched on a railing of the fire escape, one right next to the other, literally two feet from the window (the rail extends out perpendicularly from the building facade, in between our two living room windows, so they are not directly in front of the window but to the side a bit). One is facing the window with an eye to what's going on inside, while the other sleeps soundly facing the other direction.

Last year they generally perched on separate fire escapes, especially to sleep, so this seems new. They both also seem to have more light belly feathers than I remember. Is this the hawk equivalent of parental gray hair?


How terrific that your cold weather visitors are back! Thank you for letting me know.

They did perch further apart last year didn't they? Perhaps it has something to do with the wind direction or conceivably they've just gotten more comfortable as time has passed and the humans haven't done anything untoward.

Isolde and Norman sound like they are currently in a position taken by Pale Male and Lola during the day, most often in breeding season, when they sometimes companionably sit next to each other on the railing of the building we call Linda. That way they can watch each others back. We often used to joke that Lola was watching televison inside the apartment. But likely she was keeping an eye on the inhabitants as well as using the reflection of the window for a back view as well.

Pale Male and Lola most often seem to roost for the night in separate trees though in sight of each other. Every once and a while we'll discover them in the same tree. And to tell the truth they too may roost on fire escapes but we've just never caught them at it.

As to the lighter belly feathers, they've gone through a molt since you last saw them and for whatever reason a hawks coloration does shift somewhat with each molt. According to John Blakeman an older hawk will have lost most of the color in her belly band, but I doubt either Isolde and certainly not Norman is old enough for that to be happening yet. Pale Male might be but he never had much of a belly band in the first place as he's so light colored.

Thanks again for the update!


The Milkweed follicles are bursting. (Look back up at the top photo as we've been talking about our favorite topic, hawks, for a reminder of what the Milkweed looks like currently.) What a strange and beautiful plant. Obviously the seeds are spread by the wind and as the seeds are substantial so are the wind catching fibers. They have a gorgeous sparkle in the sun, add that to large spherical umbels covered in dozens of flowers, I've never been able to understand the prejudice against them. Perhaps it has to do with their being a native plant and not an exotic. Besides, we'd not have Monarch Butterflies without them.

Here is a follicle that has only very recently burst. The long white flossy hairs and seeds are a packing marvel. The pod bursts due to the growth and ensuing pressure of the contents.

Then the contents dry in the sun and the breeze teases out the fibers until they take flight.

A number of follicles in various stages of the process.

Even the dried pods are beautiful.

Work on the nest has come to rather a standstill for the moment as the sparrows have moved into my pile of materials (left) for the winter. There must be fifty or so of them that roost there every night.

It was nearly 70 degrees today but as the evening began to come on water fowl took to the air from every direction with obvious intent.
Wisconsin is littered with bodies of water-lakes, ponds, rivers. And whatever the weather was today, the water birds know it's time to get out of town. Likely in another 24 hours we're going to have a plunge in temperature.

It is thought that one of the reasons that they migrate at night is to preserve their body moisture.
I went outside after full dark and could hear them calling to each other as the flew over heading for warmer climes by the light of a sliver of moon.
Donegal Browne

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