Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Promised Rats Without Poison


The Norway Rat like the cockroach is only found in abundance near human habitation. Why? It's a dirty secret and no one wants to admit it but Norway Rats are where they are and in such numbers because of garbage. Yup, plain old fashioned garbage. All sorts of things are blamed but when it's researched it's GARBAGE that supports rats. If you don't have garbage where the rats can get it, you don't have a city crawling with rats. But gosh....

Let's take some examples from Central Park shall we? Back in the day, there was a good bit of bird feeding near the Hawk Bench which supposedly should cause the area to teem with rats. Doesn't happen as the seed put down early enough in the day where the birds can see it, is gone before the rats come out. Pigeons in particular are the cities automatic daytime vacuum cleaners.

Now I've spent many an evening in and around the Hawk Bench while looking for Pale Male's roosts. Did I see loads of rats? No I did not. I saw two little ones which had been drawn to the area by kids eating sandwiches near Hans Christian Anderson late in the day for several days in a row and ditching the crusts they didn't want to eat under the stone bench there. Pale Male always aware of what is going on in his territory, watched the two rats for several days in a row, then nabbed them. No more rats near the bench. AND the trash cans near the bench are religiously emptied by the Parks employee's before dark. That is key to the lack of rats.

Now an excellent way to find out where the rats and their food are, is to consider where the owls are. Where did the Boreal Owl hang out in 2005? Near the dumpster at the rear of Tavern on the Green for one. Garbage? Yup. And near the playground in the same area.

Playground? You bet. Think about all those crusts, pretzels, and cheerios, that children drop and their caregivers either don't pick up or they end up in a trash can that isn't emptied before dark. And the pigeons are seldom able to truly clean it up before night falls. Either the kids chase them for amusement or the adults chase them out for their reputed disease carrier status. (You're much more likely to get something from another human...they have human diseases which are the ones that are head or heels most likely for us to catch. Humans get human diseases....) Then the rats move in, complaints are lodged....poison comes out. When a little sanitation would have done the same thing earlier in the game.

What about the Short Ear in the Conifer near the parking lot for the Boat House? How many dumpsters are in that parking lot chock full of garbage? And sometimes the garbage doesn't quite make it completely into the dumpster. The dumpsters aren't rat proof...the poison comes out.

When the Westside Screechs went over the park wall, where did they hunt? The stood on the window sills of the townhouses overlooking the trash can coves and waited for dinner to scuttle up.

The mishandling of garbage has proved to be the major culprit hands down in every scientific study ever undertaken. If we deal with that, we deal with the rats without poison. Poof.

Donegal Browne

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Post Further Down

Due to the idiosyncrasies of Blogger, a post appears in the sequence not on the date it posts but in the sequence on the date the draft was begun. Therefore the piece on albinism I finished today but started on the 3rd. is one down, How Different is Too Different?, March 3, 2007. D.B.

A Miscellany

A Mallard hen and drake (below) safe in The Gill, free from the harassment so rampant at the Model Boat Pond, photographed by Central Park photographer Eleanor Tauber.

Once again, tis the season for the Hawk Watchers to battle those who insist on chasing the water fowl relentlessly around the Model Boat Pond with their battery powered motor boats. Technically illegal, all boats are supposed to be powered only by sail I understand, there are always some who find mirth and amusement in attempting to chase down the ducks with their techno toys. And if that's not bad enough they are oblivious to the fact that they aren't the only insensitive types harassing the wildlife and the animals in the Park can be run totally ragged by one motor boat bozo after another. Add the dogs off their leads who have killed the hens attempting to protect their hard won ducklings and the raccoons that eat their eggs, life for ducks in Central Park isn't exactly a walk in the park as it were.

Here's one of the first skirmishes of the season along with an update on Pale Male and Lola by faithful wildlife reporter and duck protector Katherine Herzog.

As the Hawk Bench folks were watching the hawk's nest through Ric's telescope yesterday, we noticed someone constantly aiming his toy speedboat in the "Sail Boat Pond" at the wild ducks obviously trying to harm them. After yelling at the man to no avail, we called the Park Rangers and a nice young Ranger came to investigate. The charge of Harassing Wild Animals comes with a $1,000 fine. If, as in this instance, the person is not caught in the act by a Park Ranger....any ordinary citizen can press charges. We let the guy off with a warning and he took himself and his little red boat out of the park. I encourage anyone seeing any wild animal being harassed to dial 311.....if the people you're calling about are threatening you as well.....then, call 911.

Except for exchanging nesting duties at about 3:40pm with Lola leaving the nest for about 25 minutes....there was no other activity noted. I left the very chilly park at 6:30pm.

Here too, the weather is cold. It's in the twenties with a high blustery wind. Everywhere one looks birds are being swept willy nilly, battling to keep some equilibrium in the wind.

Doorstep Dove and Friend have been making their daily visits to the feeder. Always together, Friend tending to bring up the rear. If Doorstep goes to the bath for a drink, you can bet Friend will suddenly develop an irresistible thirst and will appear beside her for a drink.
They are definitely a pair but Friend isn't taking any chances that another male will get ideas and begin to trail behind Doorstep. Usually they forage about together, then fly up in the branches for a rest while digesting. Not today. Today is different and the change in behavior is constant when they aren't eating. Instead of nipping up to a branch today, they are hunkering down into the grass in the lawn, feathers puffed. This is worrisome; they seem so much more vulnerable to predators while pretending to be blobs of bare earth strewn with leaves.

Why risk it? Is there still some warmth in the ground compared to the air that they are appreciating? Or more likely I would think, they are doing their best to stay out of the air all together, flattening themselves into the earth in an effort to stay out of the wind and conserve body heat. Not to mention avoiding an uncontrolled tumble through the air presaged by a gust that could send them into the side of a building or into the trunk of a tree where they could break a wing. Perhaps their behavior is wise, perhaps the wind is today's biggest "predator".

And how are the catkins of the Pussy Willow faring in this weather? One bud just bursting and another already maturing, they don't seem the worse for wear at all. And look, there are the lenticels, those little "pores" through which gases are exchanged. The tiny portals pricked out in the light, through which the plant breathes.

I was standing behind the nursing home looking to catch a glimpse of the fox I'd seen trotting across the parking lot one evening. Instead there was a rustling in the long grass, a tiny sapling tree bent and wiggled. Squirrel? No. Oh my gosh, it's a giant RAT collecting grass. She's got a huge mouthful of dried yellow stems sticking out several inches from either side of her mouth. She turns her chubby bottom towards me and starts to disappear behind a log. Wait, that isn't a RAT rat, the tail is wrong. It's thicker and shorter than a Norway Rat. It's a Muskrat! And I'll bet it's been decades since I noticed one.

Later I take a side trip on the way home past some wetlands and there on a little elevated spot with a duck was another muskrat's chubby bottom in a pond that may well be vernal. The front end being very busy doing something in the mud but exactly what. she kept to herself. Another unanswered question and besides, how strange. Years and years go by without seeing one and now two in one day? Perhaps it's the season for muskrats to be out and about and I've just missed it in ages. Or is it all this rain? The ponds have spread into the oak groves. The water levels have come up considerably. Are some of the muskrat houses currently flooded? Have they been forced to take a break from their usual digs so they are more apparent than usual? And just what was chubby bottom number one going to do with all that grass? Bedding for baby muskrats? Chinking up the holes where the wind leaks in?

What is that little lump against the light? Closer. A delightfully solid little nest. All intertwined grasses, slim twigs, fibers. Can that be dryer lint? Perhaps a Black and White Warbler's from last season? It's stood sturdy through many a high wind.
...and as we know it's a ill wind that does no one any good, remember that there is still the joy found in swinging in the wind.
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

How different is too different?

An excellent question appeared in the comments section of the previous piece which featured the little albinistic Dark-eyed Junco. A reader asked,"Does an albino bird have trouble convincing potential mates and territorial intruders of his or her species?"

As I said, an excellent question, but as far a I can tell, a question without an excellent answer as yet, because the answer is ,"It probably depends."

First of all a true albino bird is quite rare so very little research has been done solely on that group. I'm told the only problem an albino Red-tail seems to have is that her pink eyes are more sensitive to light therefore giving her a first possible strike against survival and reproduction due to a possible diminishment of hunting success unless of course she's gifted genetically in another way that over rides that aspect. And second of course there are the unenlightened with guns who can see an albino bird more easiler and therefore take pot shots more at her more frequently then they do at her pigmented cousins.

But what about albinistic birds, those with only patches of non-regularly pigmented feathers? When does the difference become too different and interfer with the regular functions of eating, inclusion in a flock for protection and reproduction?

A hight contrast colored lion is considered a better catch than one without with the ladies. In the lion's case the color change is due to excellent and abundant diet. The lion displays his hunting expertise and preferable territory in his coat.

When it comes to White-throated Sparrows, there are two types, those with the bright white stripes on their heads and those in which the lighter stripes are more beige. Scientists have found that the female White-throats find the beige guys preferable in almost every case to the bright white striped males. Why? Are the beige stripes or a tendency towards them, genetic? Or is there some nurtritional aspect that is enticing as in the case of lions? The Girls aren't talking.

How do we know just what the other juncos see that is imperative for Junco-ness? Might it be the case that if it sounds like a Dark-eyed Junco and it moves like a Dark -eyed Junco and it has the manners of a Dark-eyed Junco then he must be a Dark-eyed Junco. That is if the albinistic patches make any impact at all.

This area of Wisconsin is full of albinistic individuals. In fact the Krideri Red-tails may well be a form of albonism that affords a plus in survival due to the many months of snow in this locale.

When we watched the Trump Red-tail nest from Little Hill in Central Park, one day there appeared a young albinisitic House Sparrow. He had a couple of white tail and primary feathers. The other sparrows didn't seem to treat him differently in the flock than any others but then again what do we know of the intricacies of House Sparrow heirarchy.

And later that year when walking down Central Park South, who should I spy but our little albinistic sparrow friend on the sidewalk with a brood of three juveniles chasing him about as he hunted food for them. Did he end up with a less desirable mate or territory? Or as he is obviously an individual that can be recognized did he catch the eye of a local resident who made a point of throwing him a handful of snacks as she came home from the bakery every day? When there was snow, did his handful of white feathers cause his shape to be less obvious to predators so he was passed over on the hunt?

Note that this "normal" male also has white areas, including a white belly and frosted wing edges at rest. And when he takes off there are those two telling white bars on his tail.

How different is too different? At least in birds, all other things being equal, it appears that albinistic birds do just fine in the identity and inclusion in reproduction aspects of life.

Otherwise, the albinistic gene would have a tendency to be weeded out over time and around here that certainly isn't the case at all.

Donegal Browne

Eleanor Tauber Does Buds

And they speak for themselves.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Under the Feeder and Pale Male

The Feather by Central Park Photographer Eleanor Tauber
Wisconsin got a typical Midwestern spring day today. Translation: tornado warnings. It rained most of the daylight hours and by 5:20pm the tornadoes had started to appear. At just that time, a time the birds here are normally vocalizing fit to wake the dead, they were utterly silent. Then two hours later at 7:30 and an extremely dark 7:30 at that, they began to chirp, twitter, and call. A true cacophony of bird vocalizing could be heard through the walls of the house without the windows even being open. Though the National Weather Service gave the all clear for the area at 8:00pm, the birds knew sooner.

The chipmunk finally appeared today. For as long as I can remember a Chipmunk has lived in a burrow under the front step. I'd hazard to say not the same chipmunk, it's been decades, but still there is always a chipmunk in that burrow who appears under the feeder daily to stuff his cheek pouches. And today, there it was fresh out of hibernation. I realized that while looking at chipmunks from human height they come across quite cute, with their sharp busy movements and zipping speed when startled. But when viewed from the perspective of something their own size this guy looks quite tough and not to be tangled with. Look at those toe nails.

Wait a minute. What is that rufusy brown on his sides? I'd been seeing such unusual birds all day, I wondered if he was a misplaced Oregon hybrid.

Nope. The streaks give it away. He's a juvenile
(I find the teensy curved toe nails just fascinating. But then again I find Pale Male's "toe nails" pretty fascinating as well. What is this thing I have for avian toe nails?)

What is happening with this guy? No, he didn't mix it up with a bucket of white paint, he's an albinistic Dark-eyed Junco, who, when I first saw him flit by a few days ago out of the corner of my eye, I admit my first thought was a Black and White Warbler. Wrong shape, wrong size, wrong everything. Nope, albinistic.
Also in today's catch under the feeder, was a Red-winged Blackbird, who had instead of red wing patches, white one's just tinged with rose. The Bird Lady is right. This area is just swimming in albinistic birds. She showed me a specimen of a Red-tail, completely white with only one partial colored body feather and a bit of rose in the tail. But with dark eyes, beautiful.

And remember Stealth Robin from last Spring? He crouches in the grass and then goes after his rivals from hiding. His technique must work as he's back and has maintained the same territory again this year.

And a short note from Hawk Reporter Katherine Herzog---
The weather has been the 50's and sunny....thank goodness the heat didn't last. Both PM and Lola have been dealing with ushering out migrating RTH's and Pale was getting attacked yesterday by a Peregrine Falcon as he sat on the Oreo Bldg antenna. He's so cool, like a judo master he barely moved to avoid the attack....ducking his head ever so slightly to avoid being beaned. He's so used to these guys harassing him he doesn't show, he's the least intimidated. K. H.
Donegal Browne