Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Friday Miscellany-M Nest, Peregrine, Cockatiel, Pasta Preparing Crows, and the Dove

Photo: Donegal Browne
This is the view of the nest site used by the M Red-tailed Hawks last season from the far side of County M. In the last few days I've gone by several times a day and scanned the area. I haven't seen the M hawks, in fact I haven't seen any hawks anywhere since the last big snow storm.

The snow has drifted but even so there are very few bare spots in open areas beyond that plowed beside thoroughfares. The least depth in open areas is about 8 inches and the drifts can be several feet. I did notice due to crow tracks, that in the lees of large trees in woody areas without much understory that there are bare spots so perhaps the hawks have changed their hunting habits for the moment. Or perhaps they've gone even further and decided to try their luck with a late mini-vacation slightly further south.

Yes, the crows are still around. But being adaptable omnivores they aren't tied to the availability of the rodent populations like the raptors are in Wisconsin. Therefore the crows are the largest diurnal birds I've been seeing. But even they have slim pickings as the tracks in Threasherman's Park declare. The crows are walking from lee to lee checking the bare areas under the trees for possible food. Another clue is that I have to clean out the bird bath once a day in order to keep it reasonably free of pasta particles. The crows are back to putting dry and/or frozen pasta in the bath to make it more to their taste. But for whatever reason they are also back to being incredibly wary. I haven't been able to photograph them tending the pasta in the bowl this time round.

Photo: Dongegal Browne
Here is a slightly closer shot of the M's previous (and we hope current) nest.
The nest held together well since last season and there have been changes but it is hard to tell if they've been managed changes by the hawks or whether the changes are weather and tree movement adjustments to the "weaving" of the nest.

The nest across the field and on the other side of the RR tracks that may have been an alternate site for last season is no longer visible. It appears to have completely disintegrated.

Photo: Francois Portmann

From photographer and birdwatcher, Francois Portmann--

I stumbled on these pics of an immature Peregrine at Jamaica Bay from back in August. Nothing exceptional except that the prey is not native!
Looks like a Cockatiel from Australia!!


Indeed it is not native and Francois is right, it is a cockatiel originally from Australia. Someone was careless with a pet and the bird escaped.

It perhaps was for the best that the young peregrine gave it a quick death and had lunch rather than having it perish from hunger and cold as winter came on. Cockatiels are not adapted for New York's weather.

Sitting in the last rays of the sun, a Mourning Dove who may or may not be Doorstep, perches amongst the twigs in the Maple tree before flying off to her roost for the night.

Donegal Browne

Red-tail Update: The Red-tailed Hawks on County Rd. M, outside Milton, Wisconsin, and the Morningside Hawk Late Bedtime

Photo: Donegal Browne
March 15, 2009 The tiercel, Mr. M, camouflages himself with leaves and pokes his head up.

Budding hawkwatcher, Kim Gilmour, who with husband Roy have property across the road from the the M's nest writes--

Thanks for the prompt response. Roy said he saw a couple of hawks, sitting in the tree in the last week or so. Am I to assume that they will be or are already beginning to start to nest? If so I will start to carry my binoculars and spotting scope so that I can check it out on my way home from work. I still have the two jobs so can't go over every day but I can also let Roy know to keep watching. I haven't yet witnessed any pairs circling but will keep an eye out and keep you informed.

Rural hawks often have a territory of 2 square miles give or take so it is quite possible that they may be sky dancing out of our view from the road. I didn't see them do it last season either though I was on that road several times daily and I always am looking for hawks.

As you can tell from the date on the photograph, by March 15th, there was a hawk sitting the nest. And they were doing it full time as I watched them switch places that day.

Pale Male and Lola copulate for at least a month before they take to the nest full time. It is currently February 11th, so yes there is very likely nesting activity going on. They will be twigging, arranging materials on the nest and also copulating.

Photo: Donegal Browne

March 15, 2009
Also there was a foraging party of three Crows attempting to harass the sitting bird off the nest on the 15th, the hawks may have been sitting for several days when I discovered them. Add Roy's sighting of two birds in the tree helps confirm that there is nesting behavior going on now.

Pale Male and Lola copulate for at least a month from our first sighting of copulation to Lola's first overnight on the nest. As it is February 11th now, that further points to current nesting behavior when compared to their behavior last season.

So keep your binoculars and spotting scope handy and check them out when you can.

As you look, if you hear a sound that is like a noisy gull making a repeated staccato sound, that will be your hawks copulating. The sound may help you find them.

Though the act does not take long. Copulation in most species of birds is very quick, only about 5 seconds or so in Red-tails. If you see the formel, Mrs. M, perched flat instead of in her usual upright stance for perching, it is likely the Mr. will be showing up very soon to tread her.

Often they will then sit companionably in the same area. There is rarely any sitting close enough to touch, but they will sit companionably close, well close for hawks, for awhile after copulation. Be aware that it is normal for them to face opposite directions in order to keep a look out in case there is anything they need to take care of within the territory.

Afterglow is no excuse for non-vigilance in hawks.

From Nara Milanich of the fire escape roost as of Wednesday the 10th--

Our friend stopped by last night briefly, hanging out on the escape for a minute before taking off at dusk.
Tonight, s/he is back [Likely Isolde D.B.), surveying the snow from the rail of the fire escape. S/he's been there more than an hour, just looking around, and it's past 7:30. Every other time, s/he has tucked his/her head under and gone to sleep at dusk. So why the late bedtime? Is it the snow? Incidentally, we don't see the mate anywhere around.


Let's just surmise for now that it was Isolde on the fire escape as the photos of your previous visitor have been her.

Why was Isolde wakeful? A very good question but unfortunately not one we can answer definitively as far as I know.

Bonded pairs do keep in visual contact at this time of year so unless something has gone amiss she would likely already know exactly where Norman had gone for the night.

Would the snow have obscured her actually seeing him when she checked in on him periodically as they do and made her wakeful?

Or as we know now that hawks do on occasion fly around at night, was Stormin' Norman out cavorting with the snow? Highly unlikely I realize but as it was Norman, who's usual behavior tends toward the very energetic and non-stealthy, who can tell?

Or hawks being such visual creatures did Isolde just like looking at the snow?

Or was it just the fact that her usual long sight was impaired, if it was, and it kept her awake and even more vigilant, than usual? As she would have been waking every few minutes anyway to check in on her surroundings as birds do at night.

Or for those who prefer a romantic deeply anthropomorphic explanation--perhaps she was thinking of her former mate of many years, Tristan, who disappeared around the time of a snowstorm just about this time of year two seasons ago.

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Will the County M Red-tailed Hawks Use the Same Nest and Prairie Wolves Consider College

Photo: Donegal Browne
2009, County M parent watches over the branching eyasses
New hawkwatcher Kim Gilmour, who took an interest in the Wisconsin County M nest last season, has some questions about what might happen this year--


I have property on the corner of Cty M and Dannenberg Dr. in Milton and watched with fascination the hawk nest located across the highway from Glacial Estates. My husband and I had spoken with you several times and I was able to witness the fledgling with you one evening.

My question to you is will the hawks be back to use the same nest? And if so when would they return to freshen the nest or lay the eggs? I am hoping that there will again be inhabitants so that I can watch and hopefully photograph them this year.

I appreciate your information on this and if you feel they will again use this same location look forward to seeing you again this season and I assume you also will be interesting the viewing and photographing as well.
Kim Gilmour

Photo: Donegal Browne
2009 Secundus M

Hi Kim,

I am so pleased you got in touch! I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your company last season.

As to whether the hawks will or won't use last season's nest in the oak in the middle of the field again, unfortunately there is no cut and dried answer. Though I'm with you in hoping that they do.

There is a lot of uncertainty on the hawkwatchers minds in a number of locations at the moment. As Red-tailed Hawks take twigs to more than one nest site at the beginning of the season in order to give the female a choice, you can never be sure which it will be until one begins to look more like a serious nest than the other and eggs are laid in it.

Photo: Donegal Browne
2009 Primus and Secundus M

Soon if they haven't already started they will be working on two nests, Red-tails are wired to build this time of year and they’ll off refresh the previous seasons nest while a little or a lot of work on a second site that gives the female a choice of nests. Keep an eye peeled for their activities. There was another nest, which possibly was last seasons alternative nest just the other side of the railroad tracks.

Yes, they will return to the old nest if it is in the running for possible use. They may first appear, stand on it and check it out, then rearrange some of last year’s twigs and then go off and find fresh material, to make as Sally of Kentucky says, "Their nest-orations." At the same time they may be hard at work making a second nest also.

In past years, Pale Male and Lola took a few twigs over to the Beresford but as far as anyone could see, the site wasn't a real alternative. A secondary nest can end up being just a jumble of a few twigs or can actually look like with a little work that it would be ready for eggs.

Be aware that last season's nest is deep. First off they had me thinking that there was no one up there for quite awhile even though they were in the process of incubating I later realized. Then when I finally knew that they were incubating, they fooled me again about their hatch date by not feeding the eyasses while I was watching for quite some days.

Also eventually watch for Mr. Ms disappearing trick while sitting on the eggs. Often an incubating bird will scrunch down and completely disappear into the bowl of the nest. Last season Mr. M would take twigs from other parts of the nest and pile them in front of his face when he looked out so he could peer through the jumble and keep an eye on me while I couldn't really keep an eye on him. If I'd move to the other side of the nest, he'd take twigs and barricade that view, sometimes taking the ones he'd just used on the other side.

I’ll go back to my notes and try for a slightly more specific time frame for you. I do remember that the incubating bird was well snowed on at least once.

I look forward to seeing you again on the verge of County Trunk M.

Hooray for Hawk Season!


Photo courtesy of The Chicago Sun Times
Urban Coyote at Quiznos

From blog contributor and hawkwatcher Nara Milanich,
THEY'RE BAAAAACK and in a mini-pack this time--


Dear All,
Columbia Public Safety reports the possible presence of coyote's on the Morningside Campus.

Three animals identified as coyotes were observed in front of Lewisohn Hall this morning, 911 was contacted and NYPD responded. NYPD spotted one of the animals and confirmed it was a coyote. The one coyote that was seen by NYPD and CUPS went behind the CEPSR building and it is believed exited the campus.

An additional sighting by CU facilities was called in approximately 10:00 AM this morning but was not confirmed. All members of the community are advised not to approach these animals.

If there are any sightings, please call Columbia Public Safety immediately at 212-854-5555 or Barnard Public Safety at 212-854-3362.

Thank You,
Dianna M. Pennetti
Director of Public Safety

Three Coyotes together might be a little harder to capture than the singles that have arrived in the past. And remember folks, as it is advised not to approach them, and even if you find yourself shopping next to one in Whole Foods, no petting allowed.

Donegal Browne

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Dinosaur Color Barrier is Broken! And a Red-tailed Hawk Nabs a Rattlesnake

An illustration showing the likely colors of Anchiornis huxleyi.

Bill Walters, scourer of the New York Times, sent in this article. They've cracked the dinosaur color barrier! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. For me, it's up there with when scientists finally came round to the idea that birds are dinosaurs or decendants of dinosaurs depending on the flavor of the opinion.

Evidence Builds on Color of Dinosaurs

Published: February 4, 2010

Until last week, paleontologists could offer no clear-cut evidence for the color of dinosaurs. Then researchers provided evidence that a dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx had a white-and-ginger striped tail. And now a team of paleontologists has published a full-body portrait of another dinosaur, in striking plumage that would have delighted that great painter of birds John James Audubon.

“This is actual science, not ‘Avatar,’ ” said Richard O. Prum, an evolutionary biologist at Yale and co-author of the new study, published in Science.
Dr. Prum and his colleagues took advantage of the fact that feathers contain pigment-loaded sacs called melanosomes. In 2009, they demonstrated that melanosomes survived for millions of years in fossil bird feathers. The shape and arrangement of melanosomes help produce the color of feathers, so the scientists were able to get clues about the color of fossil feathers from their melanosomes alone.

Image courtesy Chuang Zhao and Lida Xing
And from John Blakeman the link from National Geographic. At this link the top photo on this post is in video so he twirls for a full 360 degree view.

The colors of the reptile are here:

And they were determined by the shape of cellular structures that contain melanin.
First True-Color Dinosaur

Sinosauropteryx, a turkey-size carnivorous dinosaur, is the first dinosaur—excluding birds, which many paleontologists consider to be dinosaurs—to have its color scientifically established.

In 1996, Sinosauropteryx was also the first dinosaur reported to have feathers. It was found in the Yixian formation, 130- to 123-million-year-old sediments in Liaoning Province in northeast China, which have since produced thousands of apparently feathery fossils.

In a report released online today by the journal Nature, an international team of paleontologists and experts in scanning electron micrography infer that this dinosaur had reddish orange feathers running along its back and a striped tail. (Read the full story: "True Dinosaur Colors Revealed for the First Time.")

Why would a dinosaur need a striped tail? Many birds, the living descendants of non-avian dinosaurs, use brightly colored tails for courtship displays.
For more--- (It's so long it's broken so you'll likely have to type it into your address bar.)

The Red-tail Has Rattler for Dinner--my favorite video find of the week.
I love the Red-tail's approach. They're clever, coordinated, and quick, but then we knew that.

Donegal Browne