Saturday, May 12, 2007

Prairie Man John Blakeman Continues the Discussion about Lawns

White-crowned Sarrow, and the grass just keeps getting longer.
From John Blakeman: He doesn't just do Red-tails, he's a prairie expert as well.

"Those interested in reducing mowed lawn expanses, but for any number of good reasons don't wish to have 6-8 ft prairie grasses dominating an unmowed landscape, the grasses to plant are little bluestem and sideoats gramma. Both are beautiful grasses, but sideoats gramma prefers alkaline soils. Little bluestem will grow in almost all soils, although it prefers or grows best in sands and silts and loams. But I've got it growing here beautifully in clay. It just takes longer.

A mid-height prairie dominated by little bluestem and sideoats gramma, instead of the common tallgrasses such as big bluestem and Indiangrass, can be downright beautiful.

Professionally, I do a lot of little bluestem plantings, often in monocultures (which are no different from true monocultures except that LBS plots need no water, pesticides, or fertilizers -- and are far more beautiful year round).

Let me know if you'd like some JPEG photos illustrating this.

As it happens, the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio just ran an article on me and my seed supplier, extolling the virtues of prairie over lawn. It's at:

This business of replacing acres of mowed turf with prairie islands is beginning to catch on in northern Ohio. I'm working with faculty and a biology class at Northwest State Community College near Archbold, Ohio, where native landscaping is incrementally being installed, starting with two small, demonstration little bluestem and switchgrass plots. Eventually, a significant portion of the campus may be prairie islands, significantly reducing mowing costs and aesthetically enhancing the entire campus setting.

I really appreciate your views on dandelions and the like. I mowed my lawn for the first time yesterday, as the grass was a bit high, in the six-inch range. But the gorgeous profusion of dandelions contravened any mowing for the last two weeks.

Fortunately, my wife Sarah loves our "biodiverse" lawn, filled with dandelions, violets, creeping charlie, and any number of other herbaceous species. Sarah claims that if these species were rare or difficult to grow, the conventional world would be striving for the floral beauty of our lawn.

Last week, I burned off my front yard, an acre or so of tallgrass prairie, along with the acre behind the mowed backyard. Both areas are now charcoal black from the ash. But phoenix-like, the first green shoots of Indiangrass are starting to emerge. By the weekend next, my hills will be a thriving natural green. The prairie season is beginning again."

Donegal Browne

More from Trinidad and Photographer Eleanor Tauber

The Crested Oropendola of the Trinidad rainforest stands on a branch.

The Crested Oropendola displays.

A view of the rainforest from the Asa Wright Nature Centre veranda. In the tree on the right are these strange hanging things, which are the nests of the Crested Oropendola.
( Jealous yet? DB)

Hanging nests of the Crested Oropendola
Eleanor's question, just how do they get into them?
Donegal Browne

D.C. Hawks?

Pale Male and Lola look into their nest.
Hello All,

I just got a report that a mature Red-tail was seen hunting in Rock Creek Park, off Wisconsin Avenue in Washington D.C., Friday at dusk. If you've any news about the Capital's hawks email me.

Donegal Browne

Thursday, May 10, 2007

So What's With Isolde?


6:36pm Isolde sits on rail atop 110.

6:49pm Isolde is perched on the far east finial.

6:51pm For over an hour, according to report, no adult has gone to the nest.

6:59pm Tristan sits in his trademark stance, one foot up, on a pipe running along the side of the cathedral as he has done for the previous half hour, according to Rob Schmunk of

7:14pm Isolde sits on a finial. She looks quite under the weather and isn't preening as she normally would.

7:25pm Still no adult attends the nest. That's two hours now.

7:31pm Isolde flies off the finial and by 7:32 there is a mature RT on the SW chimney of St. Luke's Hospital.
7:33pm A hawk comes off the chimney and goes to the nest leaving the other mature Red-tail on the chimney. I'm surmising here, but I think that Tristan brought the pigeon to Isolde on the chimney. She didn't take it to the nest when she was presented with it so Tristan did. (A neighbor told a hawkwatcher that she'd seen a hawk take a pigeon around 7:30pm.)

7:34pm Tristan lands on the nest and begins to feed the eyasses.

7:35pm Tristan checks on Isolde then continues to feed.
Tristan gently feeds the eyasses.
7:42pm Tristan leans down, picks up the garbage, the remains of a pigeon, and flies off with it for disposal.
7:53pm Are they really leaving the nest unattended for this long this late?
8:05pm As you can see it's quite dark and Isolde is still on the chimney of The Plant Pavilion of St. Luke's Hospital. Is Tristan on the nest? He may well be as a hawk flew that direction but it was too dark to see clearly. It was thought at first to be Isolde going to the nest, but no.
8:25pm Isolde is still on St. Luke's. ???

Is Isolde sick or is she just suffering from the mother's lament, sick and tired, sick and tired of living in that bowl of a nest for weeks on end?

Many thanks for the observations of today's hawkwatchers, Rob Schmunk, Lincoln Karim, Bruce Yolten, and filmmaker Frederic Lilien.

Donegal Browne
(For the most recent posts, click on Palemaleirregulars at the top of the page.)

Divine Eyasses?

Between the twigs...EYASSES?
I don't know what else it could be. Just discovered in a photo taken Tuesday May 8th.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Divines vs The Crows or Tristan and Isolde Do a Pale Male and Lola

6:55pm Tristan viewed from the female side of Gabriel.

(One of the Divine's neighbors, who's been watching the pair on her own for some time, a self proclaimed country girl from Tennessee who goes by Winkie, is on the job observing Tuesday's hawk activities for me.)

7:02pm Isolde is seen briefly sitting on the east end of the nest looking towards Morningside Park.

7:04pm Nearly perpendicular, Isolde feeds. (Blogger didn't like the photo, maybe later.)

7:11pm Isolde rips prey and eats.

7:15pm Isolde stares into the bowl.

7:15:39pm Then settles gently into the nest.

7:19pm Sunset approaches. Tristan is bathed in warm golden light. Isolde is deep in the nest and all is idyllic.

7:25pm Tristan suddenly turns, very alert to north.

At the same time, Isolde comes off the nest like a Valkyrie and heads north with speed. Has the nest been left empty? Why doesn't Tristan take over?
Then when everyone has sped off to see what Isolde is doing, suddenly is heard the strident cawing of two crows in the direction of Gabriel. The leaves obscure the nest and no one can see. Winkie runs over. Indeed, there are three Crows mobbing Tristan viciously on Gabriel.

There's a reason Tristan didn't hit the nest immediately. He kept the high ground to better defend against multiple raiders and also as a decoy and obvious target to attract them away from the nest.

7:30pm Isolde lands on Gab with Tristan. This is a good tactical position if multiple crows return for a try at raiding the nest, both hawks have the high ground. The best position for the first skirmish where they can swoop down on the invading crows. Next, most likely, Isolde would do the air battle protecting the immediate area around the nest and Tristan would fly to the nest and stand over the bowl protecting it. (The positions Pale Male and Lola often take to protect their eggs from unwelcome visitors.) Isolde would not give chase if there were three raiders because that would leave two Crows to circle back and go after Tristan where stationary on the nest, he would be at a distinct disadvantage.

7:32pm The Divines look. Isolde appears much bigger than Tristan. Yes, she's on the high end of Gabriel's horn and her feathers are ruffled, but still...

7:34pm Tristan is off, glides down and heads for the nest but does a pass-by instead. He is then lost from sight in the trees going east.

7:34pm Isolde checks north.

7:38pm Isolde still on Gabriel.

7:41pm Tristan discovered on the far east finial. So that's where he may have gone after his earlier pass-by of the nest. With the trees leafing out it's even more difficult to figure out where they've gone or what they're doing. As will soon become apparent.

7:42pm Tristan who has been calmly scanning the area looks north, then flies down to the north edge of the nest and perches.

7:43pm A Red-tail flies north off the nest, lands on the east edge of the hospital roof, walks north and then turns back south, and takes off for the nest, prey in the beak.
7:45:32pm Isolde? It is Isolde. She lands on the nest and checks the area. O.K. What happened to Tristan. He landed on the nest before, just before someone left... And if he stayed on the nest before, when did he leave? Or has he yet, though he's not seen leaving after she arrives.(They do make one feel rather "slow" at times.)
7:45:44pm She stares down into the nest for some moments.
7:48pm There is a glimpse of Isolde and then she disappears into the nest.

7:55pm Isolde looks to have snuggled in for the night. Tristan flies east towards Morningside Park and Winkie thinks she sees him then turn north through the trees. She checks some of his favorite roosts but doesn't find him. Undoubtedly he is perched with a branch above his head to protect against overhead attacks, a clear sight line and a direct flight path to the nest, just in case. There he'll intermittently sleep and wake, sleep and wake, vigilant until morning when he'll fly out once again to care for his family.
Donegal Browne

The Divines vs The Crows and The Wisconsin Report.

(The Divines vs the Crows coming soon so check back in.)

The White-crown Sparrow starts with a drink and then proceeds to full ablutions. It's just all too tempting.

By the way, do you have some neighbors like mine? They don't fill their bird baths but rather wait until it rains and let them catch rainwater. Unfortunately that's the time when water isn't scarce. It's the other days in which the birds really need it full. Particularly with the heat of summer coming up before we know it.

So have you gone out, and checked to see how your bath is doing?

I wasn't fast enough. These are the Grackles in the tree just seconds after the Crow left.

Suddenly I hear tremendous bird racket outside. A half dozen grackles are after a crow, mobbing him mercilessly. He first tries to perch on the branches of a small tree. But his weight and the size of his feet, don't do well in gripping the spindly branchlet. The Grackles follow. Then after cawing at them and beating his wings threateningly to no avail, he's off and dives into a Spruce in the next yard.

The Crow then comes flying out of the Spruce he'd dived into, like a shot with a Mockingbird hard on his heels, with what looks like a stick of cheese in his beak. Yes, cheese. He may have gone in with it but I was too far away to see it. The color is that yellow orange of sharp cheddar...And it's stiff. It just juts right out of his beak straight on. And the resident Mockingbird is not amused. I begin to wonder if instead of haunting possible nestlings to nab. Mr. Crow was just looking for a quiet place to eat his cheese stick.

And the Robins have begun their hatch.

Why do songbirds remove the shells from their nests after a chick hatches? Well beyond keeping the neighbors from talking about what slobs they are behind their backs. It's to keep odor from attracting predators to the nest. There is some question as to whether baby birds have a scent. If not then they join the young of bunnies and White-tail deer in the scentless category. Think about it. Rabbits leave their young unattended except for a couple of in and out nightly feedings. That way, because the scent of the babies is zip , the sparse short feedings keep the doe from drawing predators to the nest by her scent.

Why do White-tail deer leave fawns nestled in the grass seemingly all alone? I thought the fawn's legs just got tired before mom's did and as they do blend so marvelously, mom could still brows while baby had a rest but thinking isn't always fact. The answer is the same as the one above. The fawns have no scent but the adult deer do. Strange but tree. They're seemingly better off alone. Though they aren't really alone. A cousin told me a story of coming upon a fawn in the grass and then looking at it a bit too lone for the doe's comfort. She came out of the woods running and ready to fight. My cousin found running was the better part of valor himself, only in the other direction.

AND, I've finally found the ultimate Crow attractor bait for the goodies stump. Peanut Butter Cookies. Forget your tasty meats and morsels/ It's peanut butter cookies that tempt the Crows to run the gauntlet of Grackles, Mocking Birds, and Blue Jays in the yard to quench the craving that cannot be denied.

Donegal Browne

Monday, May 07, 2007

And Now the Female Green Honeycreeper

The Female Green Honeycreeper - Photo by Eleanor Tauber
And now we know why the species is called a "Green" Honeycreeper as the male in the previous photo sent in by Eleanor is downright cerulean. I'd begun to think it was one of those strange ornithological mysteries like the Red-bellied Woodpecker. I know, I know, there is supposed to be a rosy blush on them but to call that red...?
Donegal Browne