Saturday, March 17, 2007

Emu Hide and Seek and Naturally Occurring Magnetic Particles in Beaks

Emmie the Emu
Being starved for bird company and the chance to try and figure out why they do what they do, I've nine birds at home and none here, I decided to go and visit Emmie today.
Now I've been attempting to win Emmie over but this bird is no sucker. I've come bearing tasty chopped Romaine lettuce, bitty carrots, last time I even brought giant meal worms.
Forget it.
Emmie is having none of it.
When I appear for a visit he struts off in the opposite direction, neck crooked towards the rear onto his back and head crooked forward in the direction in which he's going. Off he goes sometimes at a coquettish trot, only to peep out from behind his emu house or a tree.

I've read that Emus are extremely curious, so today I've decided not to pay the least bit of attention to him and pay attention to everything else I can think of.
I puttered around. Took photographs of rocks, farm machinery, distant grain elevators. Worked the mud out of the treads of my shoes with a stick. Unwrapped gum and put it in my mouth. Whistled Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf, thumpity, thump. I hear emu feet.
I look at Emmie who may be pretending to be a bush, neck crooked, blending in while still being able to see just what it is I am up to.
Okay what now?
I make sure the camera is ready, quickly scuttle over, trying to skirt the mud, and scrunch behind a very short evergreen. Camera up. Emmie's head pops up. Click. Gotcha.

Emmie the Emu as a bush.
Has Emmie the Emu been attempting to get me to play a game of Emu hide and seek? I walk right at an angle toward Emmie. He walks left and goes behind his emu house. I go behind a fat tree.
When I peek out. There he is. Well I assume the rest of him is there. All I can see is one eye, half a forehead and half a beak appearing from the other side of his house.
I disappear behind my tree, then skitter over toward a new one, slipping in the mud and going down.
After getting back to my feet disgusted at the condition of my clothes, I remember Emmie. He has come out from behind his house as this obviously is something not to be missed. He is standing stock still next to a tree trunk looking through the wire at me with one eye. (first photo)
Now the question becomes, am I actually winning him over the least little bit or does he really think I think he's a tree?
Neither, I'm betting he's hoping against hope, that I'll take another header into the mud.
Donegal Browne


After trying to figure out just exactly how they do it for hundreds of years. Humans may have finally figured out at least part of why Homing Pigeons can find their way home so unerringly!

Many thanks to Kentaurian, long time hawk watcher and science guy, who sent in the fascinating news.

Do homing pigeons really have a natural three axis magnetometer in their beaks?

(Yes, I know the bird above is not a pigeon; it's Doorstep Dove. She's standing-in as I couldn't find a pigeon today. But she and many other birds may well have a magnetic triangulating system as well.) Published: 11 hours ago, 11:23 EST, March 14, 2007 Study:

Iron minerals in birds' beaks may serve as a magnetometer. It has long been recognized that birds possess the ability to use the Earth’s magnetic field for their navigation, although just how this is done has not yet been clarified. However, the discovery of iron-containing structures in the bills of homing pigeons in a new study by Gerta Fleissner and her colleagues at the University of Frankfurt offers a promising insight into this complex topic.

The article will be published online mid-March in Springer’s journal _Naturwissenschaften_. In histological and physicochemical examinations in collaboration with HASYLAB, the synchrotron laboratories based in Hamburg, Germany, iron-containing subcellular particles of maghemite and magnetite were found in sensory dendrites of the skin lining the upper beak of homing pigeons.

A dendrite is a branched extension a nerve cell (neuron). This research project found that these dendrites are arranged in a complex three-dimensional pattern with different spatial orientation designed to analyze the three components of the magnetic field vector separately. They react to the Earth's external magnetic field in a very sensitive and specific manner, thus acting as a three-axis magnetometer. The study suggests that the birds sense the magnetic field independent of their motion and posture and thus can identify their geographical position. The researchers further believe that this ability is not unique to homing pigeons as they expect that the ˜pigeon-type receptor system might turn out to be a universal feature of all birds.

Equally, this concept might not only exclusively apply to birds, since it has been shown that many animals display behavior that is modified or controlled by the Earth magnetic field. The meaning of these minute iron oxide crystals goes farther than their amazing ability to help pigeons home. Research into how they work has caught the interest of nanotechnologists concerning their potential application for accurate drug targeting and even as a data storage device.

The main problem, however, lies in their synthetic production. According to Gerta Fleissner and her colleagues, "Even though birds have been producing these particles for millions of years, the main problem for scientists who want to find benefits from their use will be the technical production of these particles".

Blakeman on Cold Weather and Eggs and What Is That Big Bird?

Photograph Donegal Browne
Eldest of the Cathedral Nest
Yesterday, with the weather taking a turn for the worse Katherine Herzog, a faithful daily visitor to the Hawk Bench who's been contributing her observations, thankfully as I'm enmeshed in taking care of rather unpleasant family business in Wisconsin, asked me to send her weather and eggs question off to John Blakeman, the Ohio Red-tail expert.

Here's Kat's question-

Today the temperature is supposed to plummet and they're predicting rain and snow (up to half a foot) for the next couple of days. I thought PM and L had escaped that wrath of winter weather but at least the clutch is complete and the eggs are not as vulnerable as when they had just been laid?? That's the question I have for John Blakeman: Are the eggs more vulnerable (softer?) when they first come out; and are therefore more susceptible to damage when the weather is severe...cold, wind and snow. Or are they impervious to radical temperature/weather changes?

And John Blakeman's answer-


As bad as the weather might be for humans and other un-feathered creatures who have to purchase and don weather-fighting appurtenances, the hawks are well-provisioned for whatever weather might happen. How many times since the Pleistocene (the Ice Age) has there been cold, thick snows in March?

No problem. The feathers of the hawks easily accommodate the weather, and the eggs are tucked in those feathers and touch the warm naked brood patch on the female's belly. As bad as the weather might be for us, for the eggs it will be nicely warm and cozy up in the nest.

And because they are new eggs, the cold weather---should it cool the eggs for a period----will have no effect. First, the eggs are the strongest right now, with a full thickness of shell. As the eyass grows in the egg it produces carbon dioxide, as do we. This soaks into the watery fluids of the egg and forms a dilute carbonic acid, which in the next four weeks will slowly react and consume much of the egg shell. This weakens it, allowing the baby hawk to poke through the egg at the proper time, a process called pipping.

We are a long from that. Now, the egg is strong and firm, allowing the mother (and sometimes the father) to carefully roll the eggs every hour or so. This keeps all of the internal membranes properly suspended. Unrolled eggs don't grow properly and die (a concern with the pigeon prongs, which might keep the eggs from rolling naturally within the nest bowl).

Actually, raptor breeders know that freshly laid eggs can be stored for a few days, even a week or so, at 40 degrees F without harm. The female does this in the nest by sitting higher on her first eggs, keeping them somewhat cool and retarding embryonic development. When the last egg is laid (the second or third where the parents have sufficient food -- just one often in my rural Ohio areas where corn and soybeans predominate and retard mouse and vole populations), the female hunkers down for the beginning of full incubation with the warm brood patch in contact with the eggs.

This process of starting true incubation at the same time for all of the eggs helps assure all of the eyasses will be the same size during growth, allowing a somewhat equitable distribution (or grabbing) of food. This doesn't often happen in golden eagles, where one eaglet almost always grows earlier and faster than its sibling. The larger eaglet always then just kills and consumes the lessor bird. Golden eagles only fledge one eaglet because of this Cain and Able conflict, regardless of the amount of food the parents bring to the nest. Fortunately, it's not so with our less greedy red-tails.

It doesn't matter what the outside temperature or snow mass might be. Against the female's brood patch, all is well.

But nest watchers are likely to note disconcerting periods of apparent inattention as the adults are away from the nest for up to a half hour. We are not sure on this, but it appears the periodic 15- or 20-minute periods of egg cooling are beneficial. As the egg cools down to, say 70 degrees from the 100-degree+ incubation temp, oxygen can diffuse into the egg at the reduced temperatures. Periodic cooling is probably very important.

So don't be alarmed when the nest is left unattended for short periods in the coming weeks.

Somehow, it all works.

--John Blakeman
What is that BIG bird?
It's was yet another chaotic day of attempting to make order and rational sense out of chaos. Seemingly impossible sometimes but we just have to keep on trying.
I wondered why there had been so few pigeons and doves around the grain elevators. It seems the state has elected to allow a hunting season for them for, as I've heard it said, people don't like them sitting on their churches. (Forget me, Francis of Assisi would be utterly mortified. )
So the soft gentle coos, the morning low note in bird song is mostly missing and has been replaced by more and more and more Starlings making their various strident noises. The Grackles have started to come through and with them various Blackbirds, I even heard a Red-wing today, but mostly it has been hundreds of thousands of Starlings darkening the sky, scavenging the corn fields bare, and mobbing the grain elevators.
I'm once again motoring down the road between the town where I stay and the nursing home where my mother currently lives watching these immense clouds of Starlings and thinking of how few woodpeckers and other cavity breeders I've seen this year. The sun is low in the sky creating that golden light so beautiful on the buildings of Fifth Ave which I am not there to see, and I'm also morosely thinking about how all those Starlings were hatched in cavities where a native bird might have laid eggs. And even more morosely thinking about the fact that I've not seen one Bald Eagle yet this year though Wisconsin is number three for Bald Eagle population in the U.S. I'm definitely as they would say around here, "down in the dumps".
When suddenly far far, we're talking way down the road, I see in the sky...what? A Red-tail flapping? Looks kind of big and kind of wrong. Two ducks almost neck and neck flying in unison. Not a chance.
I'm trying to zoom up there before whatever it is, is lost in the trees, when the bird, as if on cue, rounds it's wing tips down to brake, veers towards me, the sun hits it, and zap, sizzle, the body gleams gold and by golly that's a bright white head! I veer over myself onto the shoulder far faster than I should have and watch this marvelous bird drop her talons and glide in a slow balletic descent across the river.
Another set of thoughts cross my mind. Okay, so now the balance of nature is off with too many Starlings, we humans can be such idiots, but given my druthers I'll take that over not enough Eagles.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pale Male and Lola Have a Late Dinner and The Guy Blowing Up His Pants

Wed, March 14,'07 - Warm, partly sunny - 60's F, 2:30 - 6pm
(Central Park NYC-Hawk Bench):
Just when you think you know something about the Hawks, they do something different...just to show you who's boss. I went to Central Park at 2:30pm and waited, and waited, and waited for Lola to be relieved by Pale at the nest.

Pale had replaced Lola for incubation duty for at least an hour in the morning hours, as told to me by Ric Davis....but when would he return?

The hours rolled on and finally at 5:45pm as the light was fading and dark clouds replaced blue skies with the imminent promise of rain....Pale comes flying in to the rescue with a partially consumed pigeon in his talons....Lola immediately consumed the morsel in the nest, not as I had previously opined that she would not eat at the nest thus keeping her nest parasite-free.

Perhaps since the light was fading she decided to keep the meal and devour it at the nest. Who knows? And she's not talking....only indicating that they have a rhyme and reason known only to themselves.


I have noticed that early in the brooding phase that Lola does tend to eat on the nest, quickly and with purpose and then gets right back to sitting the eggs. Once again we may be coming across an arc of hormones that first becomes strong enough to get a hen to the nest, an urge forceful enough to keep her there until she's finished laying plus a little longer before it completely ebbs so she doesn't suddenly find herself laying another egg over on Stovepipe while she's having dinner. An experienced mother like Lola might know if there were another egg being created to be laid but a inexperienced young mother wouldn't. Once or twice a year I find a perfect fresh egg of any number of species in a bird bath or on the ledge of a platform feeder where a young hen has stayed too long from the nest and egg pops out. Those hens with the strong "stay-on-the-nest-til-it's-done hormones" were the ones who had more eggs to hatch, and therefore a better change of progeny that lived to reproduce. The gene for the strong staying put hormone was a biological advantage.

Particularly for individuals of a species in which Dad is capable of delivering breakfast, lunch, and dinner. D. B.

Chapter 2

The other day when I was out looking for the guy who was shooting in the wildlife area at Storrs Lake, I rounded a curve and saw all this stuff sitting in the middle of the lake. Now remember that it was 70 degrees and sunny. The other side of the lake was full of paddling birds and this side was awash with water in any number of places. Good grief, did somebody really want a fish that badly that they'd be willing to risk going through the ice for an icy swim?

Or had whoever already gone through the ice? There's a thought

Nope, there he was a good ways off from his equipment and...
What is he doing?

Well, after grilling a number of my cousins later, I found that what he was doing was inflating his life-preserver pants.
Life-preserver pants?

Who knew? Well, probably lots of people who ice fish, but then again we don't do all that much ice fishing in New York City.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

John Blakeman on Egg Sitting and Birds at Storr Lake

Just think, eggs mean we may well have some of these to watch before very long. Keep your fingers crossed.
I asked John Blakeman for his thoughts about egg sitting and whether the tiercel might or might not sit an empty nest while the hen was away.

I think the male will occasionally sit on an empty nest, "replacing" the female. But it's infrequent.

Generally, when the tiercel (male) starts sitting, especially for any length of time when the female is away, there's an egg to be warmed.

For our studies, we've used the female's body posture to decide if an egg has been laid, but this, too, isn't always definitive until the last egg is laid. At the start, with no eggs, or eggs still descending in the female's single fallopian tube, she sits a bit higher in the nest, as seen in telescopic profile. Then, when incubation starts in earnest, with the laying of the last egg, the female really hunkers down into the nest as she puts her naked brood patch down onto all of the eggs. That's when I start counting.

Of course, that presumes that I was able to see the higher sitting posture at the start, and that's not always so evident. And then, incubation can vary by 3, or 4, or 5 days or so.

Consequently, it's just a matter of patiently waiting.

My best.

--John Blakeman

The Canada Geese of Storr Lake
And not only geese, but Hooded Mergansers, Ruddys, and Ring-necks. Unfortunately as I was embeshed in a dense understory of brush the ducks kept swimming off and becoming obsured by it.
Maybe tomorrow we'll get into the my saga of attempting to track down the shooter in the trees.
Why is it I can never seem to have just a nice quiet walk in the woods?

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pale Male, Lola, and the Eggs

Pale Male on the 927 nest

As I'm still in the wiles of Wisconsin and not at my normal post at the Hawk Bench currently, I had a number of questions for Katherine Herzog to clarify some points brought up by her on the spot notes of Saturday and Sunday.

Here's what Katherine had to say:

Some answers to your many questions on Sat/Sun, Mar 10 & 11th Pale Male & Lola Observations:

When I arrived late afternoon on Saturday, Ric Davis informed me that Lola had been sitting high and mid-level in the nest...but by the time of my arrival at 3pm, she was sitting deep down into the nest for the first time that anyone had previously observed. The behavior of PM and L looking down into the nest did not happen standing on the edge of the "bowl" of the nest.... they were actually standing in the nest and looking down near their feet. And Lola from time to time seemed to be turning an egg/or eggs. Several people at the Bench noticed this too....that once the sunlight hit the nest fully and directly, Lola was moving something in the bottom of the nest and it did not look like she was rearranging nest material. I can't think of any other reason for both Lola and Pale Male to sit "disappearing" into the bottom of the nest unless egg/s were present....(I can't either. D. B.)

Especially Pale Male who previously had always been seen standing or sitting high on the nest or on the "bowl" rim. For him to take over immediately when Lola took a 20-minute break and disappear into the nest and remain until Lola came back to the nest was the strongest indication and argument for incubation. (Maybe you could run this past Blakeman.)

Could not determine the sex or age of the intruder RT Hawk but it was circling above the nest building and Pale was the first to fly toward it....a few seconds later Lola left the nest to assist. She flew directly back to the nest after only a minute or two....Pale landed on the railing of the Stove Pipe Building (the Satellite Dishes have disappeared, so that name has been retired). As Pale sat there, the intruder RT Hawk made a few lazy circles high over him and then headed north....not to be seen again that afternoon. The 3-hawk aerial ballet was not very aggressive....there was no stooping or battle just PM and L escorting the unwanted hawk out of their territory.

We certainly have seen Lola leave the nest alone, sometimes for 20 to 30 minutes at a time when eggs are in the nest. Other times waiting for PM to come to the nest before taking off. The element of behavior that I'm puzzled about it the continued mating? Does this happen between laying eggs and before a clutch is complete? (Yes, see below. D.B.)

About Lola sleeping overnight....well, unless you have a hearty sole to spend the night viewing her or a camera set up to record 'round the clock activity, no one really knows. We do know that Lola was seen on the nest both Sat & Sunday after sunset. Lincoln Karim observed her a little before 7am Saturday morning sitting on a tree at the 72nd St transverse but she could have been sitting on the nest, say until the first rays of the sun...but also that was before we believed she had begun to lay. What the Hawk Bench folks observe, myself included, is of course incomplete information....the operative word being "incomplete". And until a person or camera can be position over the nest we'll only be able to cobble fragments of observation into educated guesses. I don't give any credibility to "wishful thinking" and tend to call it--for better or worse--as it lays, so to speak.

All the best, Katherine

First of all, is Lola back on her feed? For me that's a possible indicator.

I just looked back at my notes from past seasons and as far as I can tell Pale Male only takes over the nest when Lola leaves if the clutch is complete. Or to be totally specific after I've been reasonably sure that the clutch was complete did that kind of switching take place. It may be an indicator for this particular pair. Though shouldn't be taken as an indicator for all Red-tails. I'm no expert but having watched three sets now, there is a great deal of variation in how-they-get-success, depending on the bonded pair.

In answer to your questions about copulation between eggs and second, copulation after the clutch is complete.

Yes, copulation is necessary to fertilize the next egg after one is laid. (Female turkeys may be able to store sperm for later, but as far as I know Red-tails don't.)

As with most hawk activities during breeding season, to my eye there seems to be a hormonal arc involved with copulation. Just as no eggs are produced immediately upon the first copulations of the season, no eggs are produced during the waning acts of copulation either.

According to what I've read, clutch size depends on prey density. Though as with many things that we originally put down to only one variable, I'm betting there are a number of variables that affect clutch size. Though I'm thinking that Pale Male and Lola are way ahead on the number of copulations needed to produce a sufficient number of eggs for any given season.

I'll look for the specific day in my notes but there was a rather spectacular case of copulation well after, I'm talking weeks after, we were convinced that the clutch was done. It's also the episode where Pale Male flew to guard the nest, hackles on end, then raked his talons back over the twigs repeatedly much the way roosters do.

The clutch was complete and incubation was underway. This day a pair of intruder Red-tails repeatedly invaded the space near the nest. One coming from the south while the other came from the north, then when one was chased the other would come in from behind the nest. There was variation upon variation of intrusion, Pale Male and Lola were having to use all their vigilance, teamwork, and experience to best these birds and by the third episode of this, Lola and Pale Male were no doubt drenched in their birdie version of adrenalin. The last bout was so confusing, for we observers anyway, there were screaming Red-tails everywhere it seemed, that though, four hawk watchers, Lincoln Karim, Stella Hamilton, Samantha, and I, attempted to make sense of what had gone on, who was who, what happened when, moment to moment, we couldn't. In fact when a hawk flew up and began to copulate with Lola only seconds after a bout with the intruders we weren't even sure for a moment that it was Pale Male doing the copulating.

It had been many days since the last copulation had been reported and there were none reported after this one that year either.

As danger is reputedly an aphrodisiac for some humans, perhaps it was for hawks on that day as well. So yes, there is definitely copulation after the clutch is complete, in my humble opinion anyway.

So was the incubation count begun Friday or Saturday? What's the consensus?

Donegal Brown

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pale Male and Lola plus House Finch vs Purple Finch and Wild Turkeys

I discovered these bulbs poking up their first leaves this morning. Just a few days ago one couldn't even see the ground for several feet of snow, but today's sunny 65F is working its yearly miracle.
Today's Update on Pale Male and Lola's Progress
from the indefatigable Katherine Herzog

Sunday, Mar 11, 07 - (Sunny, windy, mid-40's F):

Lola spent most of the time completely disappearing deep down in the nest... invisible even to the probing, high-power eyes of Hawk Bench telescopes. Pale Male has been taking her place when she goes to stretch her wings and to pick up food in caches near the nest.

He is sinking down deep in the nest also, a sure sign that incubation has begun for a least one egg. Other behavior indicates that Lola is not finished laying....they both left the nest briefly to land on the adjacent Woody Building where they mated....after which Lola flew back to the nest and sunk down with just an occasional head bob to indicate her presence.

Pale is continuing to add to the nest....depositing a lovely twig with red buds today. The nest is noticeably fuller than even a few weeks ago...and greatly enhanced from the previous year. An intruder red-tail hawk prompted both Pale and Lola to escort it out of their territory. A consensus of Hawk Bench habitues confirm that egg-laying and incubation have begun!

Best, Katherine

(It certainly sounds like eggs! Kat, was there a specific reason that you could see that caused both hawks to leave the nest unattended? Did PM go back to the nest at some point while Lola got rid of the visitor? I've always wondered what causes the differences in their individual responses to intruders during breeding season. Does Lola always head off the nest if the intruder is female but not male for instance? Does she have more patience one day and not others? What makes the difference when PM and L both take to the air. Why is it that Pale Male will sometimes return to man the nest, one day standing vigilantly beside the bowl watching and on another he's so intense he whips his talons back across the twigs in a tough masculine hawk manner? I'm going to have to go back and look through my notes and see if I can answer any of my own questions. D. B.)

Today's Finch Quiz

Which species is it and why?

At 4:30pm today there were 38 male Purple and House Finch singing in the trees outside the house, all at the same time. This made is difficult to figure out which song was coming from whom and therefore visual ID became important.

Can you ID the species just by eyeballing an individual?

Purple Finch or House Finch?
Purple Finch or House Finch?

Purple Finch or House Finch?

And the hen?
Turkey Time

Photograph by Jackie Brown
The flock feeding around the Amazing Turkey Feeding Machine

See the two sentinels? The birds with their heads vigilantly up and alert. Whenever the flock feeds there are always two birds who are sentinels and don't eat. Quite a number of flocking birds have obvious "guards". Turkeys, African Grey Parrots, Bobwhite Quail...

What I want to know is how individual birds know when it's their turn? Obviously it can't be the same ones every day as they'd never get a chance to eat. Then the question arises as to whether the sentinel shifts are for the day or for shorter lengths of time? How do they decide? Is pecking order involved? Is it a high or low status job? It's time to find a turkey expert.
So many questions about so many things and so little time.

Donegal Browne

Lola Lays an Egg? Cranes, Crows, and a Kestrel

Many thanks to Katherine Herzog for another report from The Hawk Bench

( My questions for Kat follow the notes. D.B.)

Sat. March 10, '07--Partly Sunny, in the '50s (3:05 - 6:01pm):My first sight of the nest through Ric Davis' telescope showed Lola and Pale standing in the nest looking intently down for several minutes at what could be nothing else but the wondrous creation of new hope.

The beginning of her egg laying began this afternoon. Although we can't see into the nest there is surely at least one egg and Lola spent the rest of the afternoon sitting low into the nest, her keen brown eyes barely perceptible through the nest of twigs.

Pale Male brought his mate a pigeon but either she was not hungry or too caught up in her labor to indulge. Pale finished the meal and then "took out the garbage" She stayed sitting low in the nest until sunset and as I slowly walked toward the park 6:00pm.....Pale comes soaring back into the nest for a goodnight smooch. Did not note if he brought food as the light was almost gone. A great day for us all!

All the best, Katherine


Just a couple things to clarify because well...I like clarity and...I've been fooled by these two clever birds before. Plus something you said gives me a bit of a niggle.

When did Lola do her first overnight on the nest? I realize she most likely didn't have any eggs in the nest at that point but I'm looking for comparisons with past seasons.

Also Pale Male and Lola have fooled me before with their standing on the edge of the bowl looking down thing so I'm cautious. When I thought they absolutely must be looking down at something besides the bark in the depression it turns out they may just have been looking at their nest building handiwork.

In my experience over the last couple of years, Lola only did a half sit at first, she didn't go down all the way down onto the eggs until she, or I assumed anyway that she had completed the clutch. Any reports of this half sitting?

And yes, in the past she has been off her food comparatively when she's laying, particularly the first few days

My concern is that if she has looked to be hunkered down in the nest but was only half sitting, that even though the sides of the nest are higher which makes us think the nest overall is thicker, that perhaps the bottom of bowl itself hasn't been raised very much higher than in the two previous years. What is your take?

Cranes, Crows and a Kestrel

My cousin Carol called, and asked if I wanted to go to Farm and Fleet. It's a box store where you can buy everything from snow plow blades for your truck to toothpaste. Carol you see was going, because she needed to pick up a case of motor oil for her husband Harry. Harry beyond besides having Emmie the Emu, also has a number of antique tractors, who like 30 weight non-detergent motor the case. (Who knew?)
Besides I'd been flown over by Sandhill Cranes twice in the last few days without yet catching them on the ground. So as you never know what you might see on the way to Farm and Fleet, why not?
Off we went. As I turned onto High street, there were two of my buddies, the Crows,
sitting in the top of a tree staring fixedly at the power lines. Then two more winged in and sat in another tree and yes, stared at the power lines. I looked. There she was, a little hen Kestrel minding her own business watching for prey in the park.
Of course then I had to hit the brakes, dodge around looking to park the car, grab the camera, crawl out of the door and as these are country birds try to do it as unobtrusively as possible, , which really isn't very unobtrusive, and hope my presence doesn't blow their normal behavior.
My poor relatives are slowly getting used to the fact that going anywhere with me tends to include rapid braking and unscheduled stops along the side of the road. At which point I hop out stranding them in the car, and tromp excitedly off to, as another cousin put it, "God knows where".
The Crows started tree hopping getting closer and closer and the Kestrel started taking notice. First she'd look at me, then at the Crows on the right, then the Crows on the left. First one direction, then another...

And another,

And another.

And another. With the Crows getting closer, she gave me one final look, which wasn't terribly friendly, and with a bob of her tail she was gone.
Back on the road again, it's decided Carol needs to make a stop at Thresherman's Park to take care of some business. That's the place where literally hundreds of those antique tractors live. Not all owned by Harry by the way, which I'm sure Carol is grateful for.
Actually the old tractors are pretty nifty as most are steam powered. One of the best parts of my daughter Sam's summer vacation was when she saw one of these huge steam tractors loose it's front wheel. Not having a front wheel caused the front end to bang abruptly to the ground causing the boiler to explode sending whistling steam fifty feet in the air. I have to admit it was pretty exciting. Though as this sort of thing seems to happen on a semi regular basis the locals didn't bat an eye. And they think New York City is dangerous.
Guess it's all in what you're used to.
The stop was fortunate as I hear there had just been a sighting of Cranes in a corn field on Hwy 51. Just the road we have to use to get to Farm and Fleet. Perfect.
Back on the road again, my eyes searching for birds with intermittent glances at the road as we tootle along, while Carol reminds me not to take out any mailboxes.
Half way there, I hear them. Ger ooo ooo, ger ooo ooo. Five Sandhills high on the left flapping about to fly over. They're high but their call which really reminds me of something from Star Wars is loud. It's easily heard from literally a mile away. And they're all doing it. The calls reach a crescendo and the front two cranes curve their wing tips down and begin to descend. The following three do the same. The sun hits the underside of their wings. They glow white and I understand how sometimes they are mistaken for Whooping Cranes. We've pulled off and watch them glide gently right. We're next to a corn field and I'm hoping they'll drop down for a snack. But no, they are descending in a long drift and end up far beyond us. I get out to look. Beyond the distant tree line and a dip in the topography I see the far edge of a large pond which conceivably with the days warmth has some open water. Though I can't see it or the birds.
This is when I wish they were dropping down into Central Park. In the park, as long as you can make it to the spot where the bird landed, you're allowed to be there. Here, I'm stymied by a large chunk of private property on which I've not right to be. Sigh. Back to the car I go, hoping for another chance, another day.
Donegal Browne