Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Crows vs The Red-tail And John Blakeman

It's raining along the Rock River when suddenly I see the distinctive back of a mature Red-tailed Hawk in the dip of an old cornfield, prey in talons, on the ground. Not far from her are three Crows, also on the ground. They are slowly walking towards her, while spreading, curving round her. They look to be attempting to surround her. She waits, watching them, then gives me a look. The Crows continue walking closer, though as they get nearer they become more tentative in their steps. Ready to leap away at the slightest provocation. I look down and I hear the Red-tail take off, the Crows, no longer tentative, scream at her as they fly after her. The Red-tail heads into and perches in a nearby copse of old Pin Oak. The Crows converge, still screaming and diving at her. This continues for a minute and a half, after which time the Red-tail again takes to the air, flies across the Rock River, and through a space in the branches of the trees on the other side. All are lost to visual observation and the screaming recedes into the distance.
It looked to me as if the Crows were after the Red-tail's dinner as opposed to the usual Crow vs Red-tail territorial issues but I wondered if that behavior was in the canon for these two species.
When in doubt, I ask John Blakeman, and here's what he had to say.
The crows were after the hawk's food. They are trying to feed young, or hatch eggs right now, so they have a high demand for protein, so they are trying to get some easy amino acids from the hawk's kill.
(In case you were wondering that if it were a breeding issue promoting the need for extra food, why there were three Crows participating, it is because Crows are communal when it comes to nesting. Not in the way of multiple nests together but rather as a group tending to one nest. A mob of Crows usually consists of an extended family with selected outsiders in which only one pair actually produces eggs, while the entire group cares for that brood.)
Donegal Browne

(Don't miss Eleanor Tauber's photos of the Frick Ducklings coming in for the night, just below, also posted today.)

Eleanor Tauber Catches the Frick Ducklings Coming In for the NIght

During the early evening one independent Frick Duckling spent quite some time by himself on the float in the Model Boat Pond.
(Why are they called the Frick Ducklings? The Mallards tend not to have successful nests in the Model Boat Pond area of Central Park due to predation by dogs, raccoons, and intrusive humans. A number of years ago a clever Mallard Hen nested a few blocks away on the grounds of the Frick Museum on the other side of Fifth Avenue. She then chose to move her ducklings to water during the Puerto Rican Day Parade. The parade was stopped long enough for her and her brood to cross Fifth Avenue. She got her ducklings into the Model Boat Pond, the only successful clutch in our neck of the woods. Every year since then, a mallard hen appears with her string of ducklings, sometimes seen crossing the Avenue and sometimes not, but it's believed by many to be the same Frick Mallard Hen doing what has worked for her in years past.)

Here comes the Frick Hen with the other nine ducklings.


Plus Mom.

Seven...Eleanor Tauber said she did count all 10 ducklings eventually although they’re not all up on the float as yet in these photos.
Donegal Browne

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Wrong Swallows and The Cooper's in the Backyard.

Gorgeous, but it's another Tree Swallow and I'm on the trail of the elusive Wisconsin Bank Swallow.
I've been out to see the burrows of the Bank Swallows before, thought I've never actually seen a Bank Swallow itself. In the past I've always had a guide. Today I'm trying it myself. Not easy to get around on the country roads when you haven't lived here since birth. Take 26 out of town, then left on County trunk N, right on Vogel, and right on County Line. Not that hard--unless you miss Vogel and find yourself on the way to Edgerton, the next town over. A learning experience, I turn around and look for Vogel again, then County Line.

There they are! You don't notice the burrows right away as most of these have optimum placement, just in the shadow of the overhanging lip at the top.

There are a number of burrows. Though no more than two dozen. Before they began to disappear there were colonies of 3,000 burrows. But never here, the bank is too small and Bank Swallows were never numerous in this state. They aren't even in the book, BIRDS OF WISCONSIN. Another reason they'd be nifty to see here.
Amazingly round for something that's eyeballed and eroding. They go in anywhere from one meter to three and then according to report they open up into a little chamber. Considering the size of these birds and their beaks, that's a lot of dirt removal.
Some seem to have grass growing in front of them. I wonder if that's good for cover or whether that means that they aren't being used. It seems that a new burrow is often dug for every new clutch in a season.
I keep an eye peeled. Checking the wires, checking the trees, checking the burrows. Nothing yet. Rule number one, if you're only looking for one thing and that's it, you are bound to be disappointed. Okay, there are likely all sorts of terrific things around if I just look.

What's that on the top of that Spruce? That's the top of that Spruce. I notice the sky is a clear intense blue. That's terrific.
The Spiderwort has come out in the last day or two and I have to admit it's pretty terrific too.

Up close even better.

There's one! Unfortunately he isn't brown with a brown band across his chest. He's blue, like most everything else today. The sky, the flowers, the birds. Perhaps the Bank Swallows didn't come back this year. Or perhaps they're just shy and here I am standing across from their burrows.

Or has the house construction just behind their bank scared them off? Probably not, it seems that like the Red-tails, a few are beginning to adapt and have begun using "cavities" in man made structures.
I've called it a day, opened the truck door, and am leaning down packing up when I see something light on the wire from the corner of my eye. Like an idiot I stand up in a flash for a better look. It's a swallow, and it's BROWN and it's-- gone. Maybe tomorrow or the next day. You can only have so many terrific things in one day after all. Or that's what I thought then.

The Cooper's in the Garden

Around 6:30PM Wisconsin time, I was walking out the back door to plant a bush. The bird screams were incredible, all kinds in all pitches. I turned around grabbed the binoculars, started searching the trees, glanced down....Whoa! There's a hawk standing in the neighbor's garden. Back to the house for the camera.

And he just stood there looking at me, orange eyes glinting. On the park side, was an oblivious group watching a kid's soccer game, on the tree side were all the neighborhood birds screaming their heads off, then there was me on the third. Mr. Cooper's let me take one photo, picked up his dinner Grackle and took off with all the other Grackles and even a Crow on his tail.

He took off low, but soon whipped through the tree branches took a sharp turn and high tailed it for the next stand of trees, the other birds in hot pursuit. Things got much quieter after that and not nearly as terrific, but there is always tomorrow.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, May 24, 2007

So Get Going!

It came to mind that as Pale Male is the Monarch of Central Park, and he and Lola are citizens residing on the Upper East Side (And I mean ON the Upper East Side), and they are ambassadors of good will and PR for New York City AND as the DEC is under the auspices of the State of New York, that perhaps We The People ought to contact their Representatives for them...I mean it's very difficult to type with talons and so few Americans speak Red-tail.

A call from a State Representative to the DEC, on Pale Male and Lola's behalf, could make all the difference and Charmain has done the research for get hopping!

Hi Donna—

I was able to do some research and have come up with the following government reps who handle the East Side area around Central Park. They are:

State Senator Liz Krueger
211 E. 43rd Street
Suite 1300
New York, NY 10017
Ph: 212.490.9535Fax:212.490.2151

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
1651 3rd Avenue
Suite 311
New York, NY 10128-3679
Ph: 212.860.0606Fax:212.860.0704

Commissioner Pete Grannis
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-4500
Ph: 518.402.8540


Assemblyman Jonathan L. Bing
District Office
360 E. 57th Street
Mezzanine Level
New York, NY 10022
Ph: 212.605.0937

It would be great if they would fight the fight.....C.D.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wednesday Miscellany

It's hot and humid. The day is one piece of uncomfortable business after another-- Phone calls, the DMV, license plates, the bike shop for new tires on the 30 year old bicycle found hanging in the garage so I can get around town, and paperwork. Always, more paper to shuffle and organize.

4:33PM After hacking a couple of mounds out of the untilled garden for the cucumber and mush melon plants, I suddenly see the Bleeding Heart has come into blossom. It's one of those flowers that is somehow "unexpected" no matter how often one sees it.

4:34PM I put a tomato cage around the last patch of Milkweed in the yard grass. There had been several Milkweed patches in the yard that I had carefully clipped the grass around by hand to preserve the native plants. Unfortunately a very helpful relative who was fixing the lawn mower thought he'd help me by testing it on those pesky Milkweed marring the even height of the grass. He felt rather terrible when he found out I'd been saving them so to avoid future milkweed misfortune, the protective wire is better for everyone, particularly the Milkweed.

8:54PM Earlier in the day, I'd been asked just exactly that big nest was up in the pine tree. Well, good question. It could be a squirrel's nest but then again it could be something else. Having no way to get a good look at it, I come back later in the day. My cousin Carol comes out to check as do her two Grandsons Aaron and Cole, 12 and 9 respectively. It looks squirrelly to me.

8:54PM When I look again, there is a squirrel Mom lying prone on her doorstep. Her mammary glands are either very full or very swollen. Is she in labor? Or perhaps her snug nest and warm progeny have caused her to escape for a moment to catch the sunset breeze. Unfortunately the boys begin talking about shooting her in a possibly joking way. Needless to say, I don't find this the least amusing, and say so. I keep hoping that the intimacy of magnification and details of an individual animals life will bring them round to empathy with it. A hope that eventually the first thought about the natural world is not about hunting an animal but rather a prick of curiosity about it's life.

9:09PM Aaron and Cole are now getting into the Easter Egg Hunt of birding, they swing their binoculars with the zipping flight of a Chipping Sparrow. He begins his mating routine, quivering tail, shivering baby bird wings while the female stands on a cultivator watching. The boys say he's very cute and don't mention shooting him. Maybe this will work after all.

9:24PM We mustn't forget the Moon but I almost do. Cole points it out--yes, maybe it is working.

Donegal Browne

Pale Male and Lola---A letter from Palemale Irregular Charmain Devereaux

Pale Male waits, and waits for Lola to return--the withdrawl from the nest is in progress.
I found Pale Male on the nest waiting for Lola heartbreaking. Particularly as we had hoped to find useful information from collected eggs less degraded than those retrieved last season. The reason? If indeed human intervention had caused the problem, perhaps there could be some way of correcting the human induced failure. Now with each day degrading the eggs further, that hope is fading.
Charmain Devereaux, longtime hawk watcher and Pale Male Irregular, expresses what many are thinking in her letter below--
(The letter is also addressed to Marie Winn, author of the wonderful book RED-TAILS IN LOVE. Marie has been the voice of those concerned with the Fifth Avenue nest failure. )
Hi Marie and Donna—

I've just returned from a week in Chicago trying to help my elderly dad with his housing, and have been trying this morning to catch up on your websites to see what's been happening.

Although there are surely plenty of wonderful wildlife stories going on in our area, I'm afraid that my sentimental favorite has continually been with Pale Male and Lola, as they struggle again with an unsuccessful nest. Between both of your accounts, I'm pretty distraught over the DEC's recent inability and lack of interest in retrieving and testing the eggs' fertility. Their response letters to you, Marie, were fairly dismissive, and there was no doubt that they did not hold the importance and timeliness of the egg testing as critically as most of the hawkwatchers and other advisors have.

First, to both of you, a THANK YOU. I appreciate your letters and efforts trying to maneuver around the bureaucracy to gather the help and support that is needed.

Do we have any recourse—any other outside sources (other than the DEC)—that can help us with prompt egg retrieval and testing? Could Len Soucy help in this area? Can we gather up donations for the test from the hawkwatchers? Or must we call it a day? While I'll love them and continue to follow them in awe, regardless of their nesting success, I feel that only through the DNA testing can we be certain of a fertility problem, or "something else"(cradle construction), in which case we can proceed accordingly.

I do believe in miracles, and these two red-tails have continually beaten the odds. I'm just not ready to admit that hoping for miracles is all we have left.

Donegal Browne


Photograph by Robert Schmunk
What is that white bump between the two eyasses?
A THIRD eyass of course!
That's just a teaser. For a clearer look go to Rob Schmunk's site,

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Eleanor's Offering and Newest Hawk News: Isolde Serves Dinner, Three Posts Down

"Beauty everywhere. Pansies and a fly on East End Ave. in the 80’s.......Cheers,Eleanor"
Eleanor Tauber the Mistress of Detail, offers another spectacular close up.
And due to the vagaries of Blogger the newest post on the Divines is three posts down. Scroll down and take a look.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Remember the Moon?

She's there nearly every night so she's easily forgotten, or is it just she's so common she's, well,--overlooked. Her sweep across the sky isn't a one in fifty year event, not something to mark in red on the calendar. She lights the night too often. But what if she did only appear once in a century slipping through her changes? Think what it would be like to see her then. Having only seen those other tiny pricks of light for all your life and then a mysterious matte orb appears. And if that isn't enough, she transforms herself nightly. Larger by far than anything else celestial that anyone living has ever seen. Oh, you wouldn't allow yourself to miss a minute, now would you?
Donegal Browne.

Saturday at the Divines in the Rain

Rob Schmunk of dropped by the Chathedral nest at 6:05PM Saturday. Here's what he saw.

6:05 p.m. -- Isolde was sitting on the nest watching the rain. The kids were taking a nap and Tristan was nowhere to be seen.

Drop down to the next post, Catbirds: the Natural Fledgling Finder,in the comment section for links sent in by a reader with a rundown on the expression "sitting in the Catbird seat". The baseball connection does rings a bell.

Donegal Browne

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Catbird- Natural Fledgling Finder

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber
Eleanor Tauber, sent in this lovely photo of a Central Park Catbird, Dumatella carolinensis, taken early on Sunday morning.
And why is it called a Catbird? Well, it has a distinctive note that is very much like a cat mewing. The old Peterson's I found here in Wisconsin then goes on to say "Song, a disjointed succession of notes and phrases, some musical. Notes not repeated as in songs of Thrasher and Mockingbird."
And then there is their scold--a raucous shrill staccato noise accompanied by much hopping and darting we've discovered as they alert the world to the presence of young hawks.
While in most of Central Park the main hawk alert species are Blue Jays and at times Crows, up in the north end of Central Park and in Morningside Park it is the Catbirds who start the alert, often then joined by the Robins.
These guys are downright spunky.
Tangentially, this reminds me that I've never known why "sitting in the catbird seat" is such a good thing. Perhaps because they tend to look rather pleased with themselves? This might just be the time to try and find out.
(Thanks to a reader, it's already done. Check out the comments section. Many thanks for the research.)
And yes, I'm still not done with Friday's visit to the Divine Hawks, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what was going on during one sequence of behavior...but it will be up soon whether I figure it out or not.
Donegal Browne