Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hawk wants to eat Cat? Not likely.

Hawk eyes cat for its breakfast

Janesville Gazette
(Published Tuesday, August 21, 2007 11:32:51 AM)

A hawk looking for breakfast in the form of a tabby cat swooped from a nearby tree and crashed through a screen into the porch of a Janesville house last week.

Dave Langowski, 1705 Eastwood Ave., was enjoying his own breakfast at the kitchen countertop with a clear view through the French doors to the porch."I look up and here's the hawk, flapping around in the porch," Langowski said. "And Kramer's going after him.

"Kramer is the cat that moments before had been lounging on the porch, minding his own business and watching chipmunks and squirrels."I jump up and open the door wider and holler, 'Kramer, get in here,'" said Langowski, 62. "You think a cat's going to listen to me? It's not going to happen."

Dave Langowski of Janesville holds Kramer, one of his two family cats, as he looks through the hole in his screen left by an immature red-tailed hawk that dive-bombed into Langowski's porch last week to attack Kramer. 'Somehow, I've got to get ahold of Kramer,'

Langowski said he thought to himself while assessing the situation. 'He's going to lose this war.'A

"Kramer, look at the talons," Langowski said later in recounting his story. "You don't have any claws on your front paws. You're going to be toast.

"I don't think he realized what he was getting himself into," said Langowski, adding that Kramer is as goofy as the Seinfeld character he is named after.

Langowski and his wife, Josie, cherish Kramer and a second cat, Reggie."Somehow, I've got to get a hold of Kramer," he thought. "He's going to lose this war."

But Langowski also was looking at the bird's talons, thinking: "Kramer, you and I are in trouble."I grab a chair to protect myself to go out and rescue Kramer."

He got a hold of Kramer, threw him into the house and slammed shut the French doors.

Then he had to get rid of the hawk, which was hanging from one of the screens. But both screened doors were locked.

"He's watching me-no pun intended-like a hawk," Langowski said.

Scenarios ran through his head: He could grab a blanket, throw it over the hawk and run it outside. Or he could cut the screen where the bird is attached, hoping it would fly out.

But after another look at the wicked talons, he decided to consult his neighbor, an outdoors guy.

When he and Jim Rhoades returned, the hawk was perched on a white wicker chair. Now, they were outside looking in. The hawk was glaring at Langowski with that predator's eye.

They planned a diversion: Langowski rushed the porch through the French doors and headed straight to one of the locked doors. Jim, outside on the opposite side, started making noises.

Langowski opened the door and got behind it. The hawk flew at him, again not grasping the whole screen thing. Langowski rattled the door a bit, and the bird found the opening and flew away.

The hawk is fine. Kramer is fine. The other cat, Reggie, is fine. In fact, Reggie is very fine because he watched the excitement safely behind the French doors.The porch screen is not so fine. It's got a 2-foot hole.

As for Langowski?" It was too early in the morning for me to have a drink," Langowski said.

Very amusing I'm sure, but very probably not the reality of the situation. That was my first thought, as was also the thought of the local Raptor Lady. She says there are any number of possible scenarios for the hawk's behavior and cat eating isn't even one of them. Here's one possibility. Note that the screened in porch, is screened in on three sides. The hawk may have been looking to nab one of the Chipmunks or Squirrels the cat had been watching, through two screens on a corner of the porch. The hawk may have taken the dive without really taking screening into the flight plan. It is a young bird. Remember hawks crash through foliage with abandon at times.

What does Mr. L. say? That the hawk was flapping about on the porch and the CAT went after it. At that point the hawk is completely flipping out and attempting to protect itself or flipping out and just trying to get away. It is undoubtedly confused, to say the least, and a Keystone Cops Scenario develops, thankfully without anyone getting hurt.

In my experience, an animal having a strong urge pays no attention to the screen in a screen porch even if on a normal day, they realize it is a barrier.

Many years ago I was sitting on my screen porch with my cat, Gwen, and Goldberry, my Wire-haired Fox Terrier. We are all minding our own business. The neighbor's smallish, but arrogant and ill tempered dog marches into our yard and begins barking at the cat. In the blink of an eye, Gwen has burst through the screen, to the outside, and is taking on the neighbor's dog. In the time it took for me to see the cat-sized hole in the screen, Goldberry the dog, burst through it to go help her buddy the cat, and there is a now a dog-sized hole in the screen. By the time I get out the screen door, Goldberry has lifted the neighbor's dog up by the neck and is shaking it as if it were a rat. No small feat as the neighbor's dog, is nearly the same size. The cat is looking for a new opening. I tell my animals to stop. The do. All ends well, no one is hurt. (Goldberry had a very soft mouth. She once leapt off the back porch and grabbed a sparrow out of the air. When I rushed over to save the sparrow, she gave it to me and there wasn't a mark on it. In fact, it wasn't even soggy. It flew out of my hand as if nothing had happened.)

Therefore if animals that know a screen is a barrier but in a hot moment go through it anyway, I can well imagine that a hungry young hawk seeing a squirrel through the double screening of a corner, wouldn't give it a second thought either.

Donegal Browne

P.S. As yesterday's blog didn't show up due to Blogger weirdness until about an hour ago, I pushed the publish button last night repeatedly, you may have missed it. Therefore scroll down to the next entry if you didn't read the one about the Cooper's Hawk hopping around in the backyard.

(For more recent posts, click on palemaleirregulars at the top of this page.)

Friday, August 24, 2007


7:27:05PM I glance out and there is a Hawk, one of the Accipiters, double foot hopping around the backyard. It's an immature and it's hopping up nearly a foot, coming down, and hopping back up again. Sometimes with a double BAM, BAM at the end. Exactly the way very young Red-tails "kill" rocks and branches.

7:27:20PM The hawk stops for a moment. Prey in talons? I can't tell. Click. Unfortunately the flash goes off. It's late in the day, and we're getting the last few drops of the 15 inches of rain we've gotten this week. She hopping again and I can't keep up.

7:27:52PM Another pause, I hit the timer. She hops out of frame. I try to follow, but the click happens and it's nothing but a blur. She leans her beak down to her talons and comes back up with a bit of gray something--feather fluff?

Then the prey gets away, and makes it into the cover under the Spruce. The Hawk crashes after it.
7:28:30PM (Approximate) The hawk runs out from behind the Spruce chasing the prey, which is too short to ID in the grass. She makes another grab, glances up, sees me and takes off, w/prey?, N. Suddenly another immature, much smaller (a little brother?) seems to fly out of the Spruce from about six feet up and takes off after the first hawk. Were they double teaming the prey? Or is little brother just trying to mooch?

7:41PM The larger immature flies back into the deciduous tree near the Spruce and perches. Hotly followed by the smaller who perches next to her, she's off and so is he. And that is the last I see of them.

And here I am with one, count 'em one, photo to hopefully make an ID, as I wasn't sure during the interaction which passed nearly in the blink of any eye. I usually use the tail but didn't get a good look and the photo doesn't help. Roger Tory Peterson says that the streaks on a Cooper's don't go all the way down the belly. Well that's possible but hard to tell. Though the neck area does look "warm" color wise, which is also a possible clue for a Cooper's. There is always size, 14-23 inches for a Coopers, 10-14 for a Sharpie, but as I didn't run out with a yard stick...

Maybe back to a longer view for some perspective. Hmmm.

The Canadian Peregrine Fund has a very nice raptor ID section. (Too many people thinking they see Peregrines when they don't?) They've another possible clue. If in flight the head protrudes beyond the wings-Cooper's. I'd say that was the case with the male but I couldn't swear to it.

I stare at my single photo yet again. Wait a sec, what is that hawk staring at? Didn't she have the prey in her talons at that point? What is that in the grass?

I crop it and look closer.

So as not to put you through what I went through, I'll tell you right now, what I then thought is NOT the case. I looked and said, "Oh no, is that a Mourning Dove?" I'm filled with dread. When did I take that bad photo of Friend, Doorstep Dove's mate, today? It was late, because I decided it was too dark to really take crisp photos through glass. I start scrolling for the photo so I can check the time.

I saw the hawk at 7:27PM and I took the picture of Friend on the patio at-----7:19:46, approximately 7 minutes earlier. This is terrible. I then remember I'd looked out when I happened to see the hawk to check to see if Friend was still there and saw the Hopper instead.

By this time it's after 11PM and I've completely lost any shred of scientific objectivity. It's pitch dark but I have to know. I'm going out to look for feathers. I get the flashlight and march across the wet grass towards the spot, with a bad feeling in my stomach. The light hits gleaming eyes in the dark. One of the neighbor cats stands chewing. She's eating something. Boy, could this get any more horrible? The cat runs and I sweep the flashlight back and forth back and forth. Triangulate between myself, the house, and the Spruce. And I see...

A large rotting cucumber leaf. There isn't a feather anywhere. I take a picture of the leaf. It's in exactly the right spot. Back to the house to look at the previous "prey" photo.

Yup. Scroll back up and look again. Keep in mind that the "prey" photo has been enlarged in a major way, and it's from a completely different angle. but look, you can see the stem of the leaf between the grass blades on the left.

Besides , if I hadn't been freaking out I would have realized that I would have been able to see a dove above the grass blades when it ran for cover. The light bulb goes off.

What other large bird have I seen back there that I could mentally compare with the hawk for size? A Crow! I've seen an American Crow, very near there. Flip, flip, Corvus brachyrhyncos is 17-21 inches. Bingo! She was bigger than the Crow. Accipiter cooperii it is!

Donegal Browne

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Final Babies Of The Season Are Weaned and BEAKS

The third time is the charm. Success, finally, for the young local Cardinal pair? After two failed nests, the couple had some difficulty with figuring out how to build a sturdy nest, they've fledged at least two healthy young. The youngster above, looks to be a male. And yes, he's a fledge not an adult in molt. Look at his beak. A mature Cardinal of either sex has an orange beak.

And here is his sister foraging under the picnic table.

A female House Finch hurriedly has a meal between cloud bursts. Note her "finch" shaped beak and the raw spot at the corner of it. Feeding young, the poking food into erratic young beaks, can often cause irritation in that spot for the parent.

Dad Chipping Sparrow finally has undisturbed meal. Even yesterday, his youngest of the season was still sporadically begging

Speaking of Chipping Dad's youngest, here he/she is, busily working away at getting seeds ground down small enough to swallow. (Notice how much slimmer the sparrow beak is compared to the "finch" model.) Just a moment before, the fledgling stopped in mid chew, gagged slightly and then went back to chewing

The pattern of the soon-to-be rufous cap is plain to see on the top of his head.

A young House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, the brood seemed to have six in it, clings to the rope of the feeder up next to the eaves, in an attempt to stay dry during the latest shower.

House Sparrow Dad gleans seeds from the grass. He and his hen just raised a brood of six. They all still travel around together making their own little mini-flock.

House Sparrow Dad stands erect giving me a look. Note the high contrast of the black and white on the clean country male of this species. And he's giving us a good look at his "finch" beak that makes him along with the Brown-headed Cowbird, the Dickcissel, Bobolink and Lark Bunting in the "Finchlike Bird" category in many field guides.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What is that Cormorant doing? And what are those thumps on the roof?

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

Remember the Double Crested Cormorants that frequent The Model Boat Pond in Central Park and scarf down the fish that are carefully released into it's waters every Spring?

It turns out they tend toward "special behavior" when they feel threatened. Here's a link to an article from the New York Times about the Cormorants that nest in our Harbor, sent in by Bill Walters, fount of many a good link.
NEW YORK REGION August 22, 2007
A Queens College biology student has been traveling to an island in New York Harbor to study the feeding habits of cormorants, which are prodigious vomiters.

And from Karen Anne Kolling frequent contributor to the blog, a report on her enterprising local gulls--

I live near the water, so there are lots of gulls around. They like to drop the shellfish they catch on the roofs of houses here to break open the shells. I can see the appeal of the roofs for this, because if you watch them trying to drop shellfish on a rock, they have to be high up enough to have the fall do damage, but that's about high up enough for the wind to blow it off course and miss the comparatively small rocks.

So a brief visit to the lawn and deck gives an idea of what shellfish they are catching. Mostly there are the remains of crabs but there is the occasional quahog and once even a conch, although the latter had not been eaten. Everything else is picked clean, fortunately.

I haven't figured out how they get the quahogs, which live several inches under sand that is covered by at least shallow water all the time. Do they actually poke around in the sand until they feel them, or do quahogs occasionally come to the surface for some reason.

At first I was grossed out by the remnants of the crabs (few things more creepy than a bunch of legs lying around), but now I just run over everything with the lawn mower and hardly notice. I hardly notice the thumps of stuff hitting the roof any more either.


I'd love to know if these gulls use sentries when dropping goodies on people's roofs. Maybe Karen will check it out for us.

Donegal Browne

ANTS: What is going on?

Are all of these ants? Two different species of ant? Or is there a species that is displaying a form of Myrmecomorphy? Ant mimicry. There was a tremendous wrestling match going on.

This evening was about ants. Possibly because the rain finally stopped for the moment, there are ants everywhere. At first I thought these winged individuals might be new queens going for a nuptial flight, otherwise why are they all standing on an ant hill? And some did fly off, but others were dragged back into the nest. Did the ants discover a nest of termites?
I'm looking into it...
Donegal Browne

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Apologies to the Gulls.

It starts out, with my watching the squirrel on the picnic table eating corn.

Suddenly he turns and looks toward the park. There they are, THE GULLS, circling above the park. And I'm going to find out what exactly it is they're up to this time. I'm on a mission.

I run out the door barefoot, without a hat, without a camera, without anything (okay, yes, clothes) and splash through the saturated yard, it's been pouring rain for three days, and head towards the park. Where I stayed for an hour watching the gulls before finally returning home, grabbing the camera, no tripod-they might find it too weird, and scampering through the puddles back again.

I discovered that my crack about attention span was completely off base. Also I had the discovery of my unknown prejudice, that Gulls might be a little on the dim side, compared to say Red-tails, Parrots, and Pigeons anyway, and that though a flocking bird that they might well be a little on the every-bird-for-himself side of things when it came to pecking order.

Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in a flock that has not been polluted by humans and easy garbage pickings.

Lets start with a few observations that I'd gleaned without knowing that they might prove helpful in Gull behavior. What's the story on all those worms? They're dead.

It's been raining here, pouring as a matter of fact with very few breaks for days and days and days. There has been 12 inches of rain in some parts of Wisconsin in the last three days. In Vernon county north of here there are 8, count 'em, 8 damns that are leaking and in great danger of bursting. Evacuations abound. Including a mass evacuation of the earthworms from the saturated soil

But if they come up in a spot with standing water--it's curtains. With so much standing water, the earthworms are drowning by the thousands. I'd started noticing it two days ago and as the rain increased so did the worm casualties.

Then the question was why weren't they being eaten by the Robins. Well, because sometime in the last week every Robin in the vicinity has gone. Poof, not a Robin to be seen anywhere. They seem to have started their leisurely seasonal trip south.

Could the Gulls have appeared to feast on the bounty of exposed earthworms?
It seems possible. But they don't pull them up making them visible from some distance to an observer as Robins do, so that's yet to be seen. There is no doubt though that they are here eating something and there seems to be plenty for everyone.

On my first trip over to the park, immatures for the most part were standing sentinel. Yes, the birds on the lights are the watchers and they watch from the lights surrounding the area the flock had chosen to feed in.

They were feeding in the sand of the infield and the grass of the outfield of one of the fenced baseball diamonds. When I left the walkway to go through the gate. There were several loud cries, not sure from whom, but the flock then began to take to the air and moved feeding areas.

Once again these are birds which are not trusting of humans and have their own thing going, thank you.

Just a few birds at first took to the air circling when I crossed the invisible, at least to me, at the at point, boundary. They continued to circle until they had gathered most everyone but the sentries. The three sentinels on this street light pole turned from the baseball field to a broader span of view, which included me.

The bulk of the flock than went SE to a nearby very low spot that encompassed three football fields, with a perimeter that included, several park driveways and a highway.

This lone sentinel had been stationed to the east, several fields away, near the highway even when the bulk of watchers had surrounded the western baseball diamonds.

That sentry was watching a man and two dogs who were in the parking lot to the SE.

On the extreme NW another single bird watches the parking lot from a stadium light.

Wait, a minute. When I was here before the three sentries on this light, between the baseball and football fields had been immatures. Now they are mature birds.

The sentry follows the man and the dogs.
One dog leaves the path and a call goes out. Some Gulls take to the air most flying back to the W and the baseball are.

More birds go up and W.

Many of the birds on the ground are no longer eating but rather are upright and alert.

I step up on the curb from the parking lot, these birds are a good 1050 yards away and more birds go up and head back to a new area in the baseball fields. Keep in mind the dog who started the alert was on a lead and had only strayed a little off the sidewalk. My stepping into the invisible perimeter may have activated something as well.

A good percentage are now in the air going west to the new spot.
Instead of going directly west they curve slightly more south this time.
A few go directly east and then south, flying over this sentry who had been in the far NE corner. They fly directly over the lone sentinel who is in the NE corner. One of the flying birds call.

The lone sentinel calls back and he's into the air as they all fly out of the park to the far east by northeast over the high school to possibly the sports field behind that. Are these birds the vanguard, the ones who go in search of the next foraging spot?

A few mature birds have decided to remain on the football field.

Most have elected to fly over to the baseball diamond.
In the meantime, sentry One of the three, has disappeared while I wasn't looking.

But another bird arrives to take up the missing sentries spot.
Then another call is heard and the calling bird heads for number Three's spot, Three calls and leaves and the new "Three" lands. Both Two and Three may have been signalling before the call that it's time for them to be relieved or perhaps neither is sure who is going to be relieved and they have to be ready so they don't get knocked off the pole. The "call" seemed to clear it up.
Substitute in.
And here comes another bird who calls and relieves number One, who calls back and who actually had just gotten there, but he was a "sub" after all.

And here comes number Two's replacement. Again the call and response from the two. The one coming and the one being relieved. If I hadn't been paying attention, I would have thought the the birds who came in were aggressively stealing the sitting birds spot. That isn't the case at all, it's just Gulls sound rather aggressive and raucous to humans, it jaundices our take on the events.

At intervals of about 10 seconds all three of the sentinels in this pole position were relieved. Every bird is new. Who would have thought? This is a complicated social structure without a doubt.

Some birds have now migrated toward this area which is west north west.

There is a call and response and the nearest parking lot sentinel is relieved but not replaced. He takes off as the other lone sentinel did, who was also not replaced---in the direction of the outriders.
More rain is starting, it's getting on towards supper time and the park attendance is pretty much down to me and the Gulls. I remain on the concrete and don't have the bad manners to infringe on the curb or grass.

All seem relaxed. In fact a couple seem to have snugged down into the wet turf. Or perhaps being gulls who do spend time floating on bodies of water, they may have snugged down in a puddle and are feeling quite at home.
There were many things going on I couldn't decipher. There was much calling which I couldn't figure out as well. At least to my ear the calls don't vary but they seem to to a Gull's ear as they respond differently or else there is body language that communicates with the call. But the replacement of the watchers as if it were "time" for them to be replaced tells me there is much social structure in a healthy Gull flock that we are downright clueless about.
Bravo for birds!
Donegal Browne