Monday, August 20, 2012

Jeff Johnson Looks For Zena, Opera Star Hunts Tangerine, and Ranger Rob to Rock for the Horvaths

Photos and commentary in italics by Jeff Johnson

As many of you know, Pale Male's mate Zena is missing and hawkwatcher Jeff Johnson has been on the hunt for weeks.  I've had computer trouble so we're a bit behind on his posts, but we'll catch up.

Reached the Park around 1650 and searched on the west side still hoping that Zena is just frequenting areas where she's not usually seen. 
Buff color pigeon fooled me into thinking it was Pale Male. Metadata time 1734.
 This little glade is usually teeming with all manner of small birds and rodents. It seems a great place for red-tails to hunt. Metadata time 1734.
 Beresford SW Tower check. No Red-tails visible. Metadata time 1740.
 Beresford NW Tower check. No Red-tails showing. Metadata time 1740.
 Oreo antenna check from the Great Lawn with no Red-tails visible though they may have been around for there were several veteran hawk watchers along the SSE and southern perimeter of the Great Lawn as I passed through. Metadata time 1746.
 927 Nest check from the Sailboat Pond with nobody visible. Metadata time 1802.

 Tangerine is a Box Turtle brought into the Park for some outdoor time. This is a different turtle than the one I saw the 6th of July. This owner regularly brings his turtle into the Park for R&R. When he learned I was looking for red-tails he said he'd been warned recently by a friend that hawks of any sort will consider turtles as fair game. I thought this was the same sort of alarmist rhetoric that people also proclaim about poodles and cats being snatched up by "Chicken Hawks". I told him I thought this was highly unlikely behavior and anyway he had nothing to worry about because I'd not seen nor heard a Red-tail since getting into the Park.  Wrong headed thinking on my part. Metadata time 1810.
 As happened yesterday, Opera Star swooped into the local air space from out of the blue. If Tangerine's owner had not stepped in as a shield, Opera Star would have made physical contact with the Box Turtle. There was a flurry of wings and waved arms with Opera Star brushing the denim jacket the owner was wearing and then flying past. I was incredulous while the guy crouched over Tangerine nearly shouted "Did you see that? Did you see what just happened ?"  It all took place in a matter of seconds and I got a streaked useless blur of the actual hunting pass. Opera Star flew around to perch in a tree about ninety yards to the SSW. Metadata time 1817.
 Opera Star keenly interested in Tangerine. Maybe it's just the learning curve of hunting the right prey that's involved here. Metadata time 1817.

As we know Red-tails are opportunistic hunters and willing to make a strike at just about anything that appears prey-like, eatable, the right size, and possible.  Beyond the usual voles, rabbits, and other rodents in the country plus pigeons, rats, and squirrels in the city, depending on their environment, Red-tails have been seen eating any number of things, including skunks, ducks, snakes, and lizards.  I watched a fox and a Red-tail compete for a road-killed skunk one afternoon.  (The fox won.)
Opera Star keeping tabs on Tangerine. Metadata time 1818.
His attention is diverted to a squirrel behind him. Metadata time 1719.
 For several minutes he seemed more concerned with the nearby squirrel than watching Tangerine. Metadata time 1723.
 Then Opera Star looked fixedly at Tangerine and launched from the tree. Tangerine was scooped up into his owner's arms and Opera Star changed course in his dive and grabbed wing fulls of  altitude so he could overfly the Playground and find a north side perch. Tangerine was hastily evacuated from the Park by an owner who now has aerial threats to be on guard against in addition to the  wayward foot steps of pedestrians. I'm amazed that Opera Star made two serious attempts on Tangerine. As you often say Donegal, "Never underestimate a Red-tail". Metadata time 1825.

Note that Opera Star didn't seem the least concerned about Tangerine's owner, nor does he appear to have a totally empty crop and therefore desperate.  This is a very human habituated hawk who for whatever reason is fixated on that turtle. I've never seen a hawk take a turtle but that of course doesn't mean they don't. Though how they'd get into the shell is another matter.  (I suppose there is always the old, nab, fly high in sky, and drop method.) 

Is it the orange splashes on the turtle that make Tangerine so tremendously alluring?  Or is it possible that our urban Opera Star, Central Park being rife with turtles in its bodies of water, has stumbled across and eaten turtle before?  

And let's face it, once the technique is down,  a  turtle is ever so much slower than a squirrel.

Opera Star perched in a tree on the north perimeter of the Playground by east 77th Street.  Metadata time 1826.
 Playground scene. Metadata time 1826.
 Opera Star's six. Metadata time 1828.
 Playground scene from the NE. Metadata time 1829.

Back to the east side of Opera Star's perch, we see a very brave squirrel chittering at the Red-tail who's an unwelcome guest on this tree limb. Metadata time 1831.

Playground scene from the south perimeter. Metadata time 1837.
 Squirrel continues to berate Opera Star. Metadata time 1842.

Still giving that Red-tail an earful of squirrel chatter.  Metadata time 1443.
Not content with it's verbal harangue, the squirrel now leaps onto the same limb with Opera Star and edges closer. After seeing a fledgling Red-tail go after a seven inch diameter Box Turtle I wouldn't be surprised to see that this intrepid squirrel knows martial arts.  Metadata time 1845.
No ninja style attack here, as Opera Star looks backward the squirrel skitters away. Metadata time 1846
I had to depart scene without seeing how this interaction played out. Didn't see Pale Male or Zena either, though i hope they may have been around the southern perimeter of the Great Lawn an hour or so ago.

Remember Ranger Rob?  He who helped rescue one of Pale Male's poisoned fledglings and then delivered her to the Horvaths for rehab?  Well during those days I discovered that Ranger Rob has an alter ego who is a dynamite guitar playing rocker!

Rob is doing a benefit with his band at the Mercury Lounge, NYC,  on August 25th for the wonderful rehabbing Horvaths.  Check out the link below!  Spread the word!  Be there or be square!
Donegal Browne


Karen Anne said...

I would think that flipping a turtle over would avoid the shell problem. Lucky Tangerine!

Donegal Browne said...


I have a feeling that Opera Star LOVES jumping on things that move. :) And yes Tangerine is a very lucky turtle.