Thursday, December 13, 2007

Backyard Hawk

He's back. And somehow he just doesn't seem very happy to see me. Now why is it that this guy just attempts to stare me down, unlike every other hawk that visits who flees at the sight of me? Is it because he's young? Or is it because he's been around for some time but I rarely noticed him when the trees were leafed out and he's used to my being around the yard without being a danger? A giant bore in being present maybe, but not a danger.

I'd been hearing the whining of a squirrel, and realize he's right in Backyard's face. Though when comparing their sizes, I don't think Backyard is going to be taking out many squirrels. I wonder if he's tried and is responsible for my visually challenged group of squirrels?

Yow! Suddenly he transforms into an unmistakable Accipiter. Rather like those little dinosaurs in Jurassic Park that seem cute and then they transform and do in the unscrupulous computer guy.

He preens but his gold eyes don't rest.

He focuses, mid preen.

Then glares again. Wow, grumpy. Am I getting in his way?

Stolid, he stares back at the park.
Did I mention that it's cold? And I do mean cold. It's around 11 degrees F. and dropping.

A little more preening but on the anterior this time. Still his eyes are collecting information. I find Cooper's eyes ever so much creepier than those of a Red-tail. Just think of Pale Male's, and Junior's, and Tristan's (PM III), round innocent looking brown eyes, their fluffy pale heads, though raptors and carnivores, they just don't look the part nearly so intensely.

Look! Legs! This is no stocky bird after all, he's just been keeping his long legs warm

A stretch.

And a quick turn.

He's back covering his legs. I told you it was cold.

He stares fixedly at the birds at the neighbor's feeder. She told me she's caught Backyard sitting on the feeder itself. He's looking very very interested about something.

I really am beginning to think he does not like me at all. Perhaps I am interfering and he doesn't want to come out of the tree while I'm here. Hey guy, Cooper's can take prey in the air, but then again they are secretive and he's been being quite exposed already.
I've now been out here about thirty five minutes, and my hands are beginning to be so cold it's getting downright painful. And me without those little chemical hand warmers nor Backyard's blood flow to my appendages either.
As he seems annoyed, I'll look at something else.

There's are two doves in the next tree above him. Notice how this one has sandwiched herself between two branches. Defense against attack in the way that Pale Male always sleeps with a branch over reaching his head? There have been no birds visible in my yard and only one or two in the neighbor's. Connie, the neighbor, has a section of close meshed wooden fence in front of her feeder and behind it a good sized bush. The birds must feel more protected over there.

I really do feel like I'm turning into an icicle myself.

Oh dear, did I bring his attention to the two doves? I do hope not. I can't take the cold any more. I really really need to warm up. Besides I'll bet I can get a view of him from inside the house.

Oh yes, being in the house is going to be better and there he is. Perfect.

Then suddenly he swoops off the branch and out of sight. Where did he go? He was just waiting for me to go into the house now wasn't he? Not so perfect.
I get around the table, pull open the door. Wings flash over the Spruce with speed and head into the far distance. Well, that looks like that.
A few minutes later I walk past the kitchen window. DRAT! There he is on the ground in the neighbor's yard with prey in his talons. His head whips around, he sees me, and he's off, zipping through branches to the east and High Street.
Fine! I've been wanting to see how he eats and where. Back on goes the coat, the boots, and all the rest of it. I grab the equipment and head out onto the icy snow. Unfortunately the ice on the surface isn't quite strong enough so that one can walk on top, crunch, sink, crunch, sink.

I take to the unshoveled path in the park and head east. The birds still haven't come out of hiding though males of different species are sitting on high perches checking the surrounding area. I hear a repeated, tic, tic, tic, tic. Almost like a fingernail striking a wooden table. I look up. Is the Junco making that sound with his trachea or am I actually hearing his beak tapping together? I walk a good way to High Street searching the trees or any other likely eating spot. Nothing. No squirrel whines, no Crow calls, not a thing.
Then small groups of Juncos and House Finches start coming my way from the direction I'd just been. There are Crow calls from the south. I turn round and start back, crunch, sink, crunch, sink. By the time I get back to the yard, there are no danger calls. I see the neighbor, who's yard was the site of the hawks most recent catch. She's up on a twelve foot ladder that's leaning against her roof with a very large hammer, bashing the ice in her rain gutter. Bash, bash, smash. Ice flies in all directions. I ask what she's doing and she explains the concept of ice dams in gutters and how they make your windows leak. Bash, bash, smash.
Wow, who knew? I'd have been in big trouble if I'd gotten an ice dam, now wouldn't I?
I tell her I saw the hawk in her yard with prey and ask if she saw him. She says no, but come look under her feeder.

She'd seen the feathers yesterday lying in the snow. I suddenly remember that I'd seen a feather in the snow as I'd walked into the yard, but I'd been concentrating on what Connie, had been whacking on her roof.
I go back to look and yes, there they are.

Feathers in the snow, then I see more, and more, and more. Had they been here when I walked the same ground on my way out of the yard while scanning the trees to find the Cooper eating? They belong to a Mourning Dove.

What is that phrase from Tennyson that Marie Winn, author Red-tails In Love, often quotes, " Nature, red in tooth and claw".
The Juncos returned to the feeder as they often do during civil twilight, busily eating, going about their Junco business, before a dash to the Spruce trees to roost for the night.
Then they too were gone. When it was almost completely dark, I began to pull the curtain on the glass door against the night, and there was Doorstep Dove pecking seed on the patio.
I'm so glad she's smart and waits until the hawks have gone to bed before eating at the end of the day.
It was so very good to see her.
Donegal Browne

Double Raptored-A Clarification

Whistle, a Krider's Red-tail, who's figured out that the train through town flushes rodents from the Future Farmer's of America's fields near the train track. Look at how pale she is.

Let's go back to the posting Double Raptored, I thought I'd made it clear but as I've had a couple of questions concerning the issue, I hadn't.

If you remember, before photographing the immature Hawk that's been haunting the backyard, I'd seen a Buteo fly over my head, only perhaps 15 feet up and then it skimmed over the roof of the house. It moved like a Red-tail and was shaped like a Red-tail but from underneath it seemed completely pale. And yes, this bird was a different bird from the immature. In fact I'm convinced it was one of the local Krider's Red-tails.

Here is Whistle's front view. You can see how if this bird flew over you that you just might not see any dark belly band or other dark markings from below.

Hence the reason that the pale bird who moved like a Red-tail and was shaped like a Red-tail--was a Red-tail as it went skimming up and over the roof the other day.

She was just the pale prairie version.

Donegal Browne

P.S. Don't miss the ID correction of Backyard Hawk in the posting below this one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007



This evening when I went to the blog there was a comment from Chris Lyons concerning the Hawk I'd photographed in the backyard. Chris is one of the chief observers of Hawkeye and Rose out at the Fordham nest and an avid birder. He said in part--


I'm fairly sure that's an immature Cooper's Hawk.

The only other possibility is Sharpie, but the relatively unmarked belly, combined with the pronounced white tip to the tail, and the large pale spots on the back, all tend to rule that out.

When you bird in New York City, in places like Van Cortlandt Park, you get a ton of practice with Coopers and Sharpies (and Broad-winged) in the fall and winter. Back in the early 90's, I used to tell other birders "I'm seeing more Cooper's than Sharpies!", and they'd scoff--they don't anymore. Cooper's Hawks are making a huge comeback.


I'd emailed John Blakeman with some other photos of Backyard Hawk and then sent on Chris Lyon's opinion. Here's what John Blakeman had to say--


He' absolutely right. I retract my errant ID.

It was the white patches on the back that caused my error.

And the angles of the photos weren't the best, which failed to reveal the longish shape of the hawk. The photos seem to show a more compact, buteonine shape.

After you posted my ID, after I re-examined the photos, especially in reference to some shots of other Cooper's Hawk which had the same back patterns, I realized my error.

Frankly, my greatest error was to presume that some immature Broadwing was somehow trying to spend Christmas in Wisconsin. Every one of these birds yet alive in the wild is whiling away the winter in the northern parts of South America.

Sorry for the inaccuracy. Glad someone with more ID experience with Cooper's Hawks was able to set this right.

--John Blakeman

Monday, December 10, 2007

Double Raptored!, and a Blakeman ID

A few hours earlier, there were literally hundreds of birds in the feeding area, the branches of the trees, the feeders, all eating as if it were their last meal. Now there have been no visitors to the bath for hours or the feeding area either. Then one sparrow appears.

1:21PM (Central) Then there is a rush. Instead of eyeing one another as usually happens at the bird bath. Today they all plunge in together in a kind of frenzy. Seemingly to finish as fast as possible, though one bird at least is always on alert. At the slightest disruption every bird flees.

1:22PM The male House Sparrow checks the sky and trees.

The Junco keeps watch while the sparrow bathes.

1:23PMNow the female House Sparrow is sentinel as the Mourning Dove drops down in the middle for a drink without even bothering to perch on the edge first. Then she's gone.

Then swoosh, everyone has disappeared. Not a passerine in sight. And there isn't one for quite some time.
3:45PM Eventually I decide to recharge the feeders which have been depleted. I go out with my bucket of seed, fill the three feeders, and then turn back toward the house. A Buteo flies directly over my head, only 15 or 20 feet above me. It flies like a Red-tail, it's shaped like a Red-tail but is ghostly pale, not a mark to be seen. Not even on the leading edge of the wings. Then it skims silently up and over the roof of the house. Gone.

3:51PM I get the camera, bundle up, and go in search of the hawk over the house. Not Buteo shape in the trees to the east. I turn, return to the back of the house, and search the trees there. The top of the Maple tree by the pump house has two dozen small birds in it's top. The smallest twigs at the top, the place the finches sometimes go when there is a raptor hunting. It's very hard to see, as if I'm walking through a cloud. I can't even see the red roof of the park pavilion through the white out.
A squirrel whines, north. The finches are off the Maple and fly as a flock toward the Spruce to the east. Now to the path that runs between the yard and the park, searching the trees, and suddenly, there he is.

3:53PM He's in a tree just off the yard and the path, just beyond the neighbor's shed; an open view of the feeders in three yards. I'm aware I'm too close and begin to walk backwards.

He turns and I'm sure he'll be off. But no, he looks at me, then continues to scan.
I curve around to another view in hopes of being less obtrusive. He checks the top of the tree he's in. A place Juncos, flushed from the Spruce, often land.
Wait, this bird has a fully streaked chest and belly. The other was most likely one of the local Krider's Red-tail. This isn't the same raptor. So this small area is being hunted by two different species without aggression. The neighbors and I have created a raisin in the raisin bread. A place in winter so rich in prey that varied raptors hunt the same area without negative interaction. The Ramble in Central Park with it's feeding area is also a raisin in the raisin bread.

3:57PM Then stock still he focuses on the neighbor's feeder.

His crop is full, yet he shows tremendous focus.

Patterns, he is memorizing prey patterns for another day.

4:08PM He focuses down and watches a squirrel scamper past.

He follows it as it scampers back toward the path.

4:21PM Then back to the feeder. What the birds do and where they tend to go will be fodder for hunting success tomorrow. A gentleman with a big malamute walks towards us down the path. He asks, "What are you looking at?"

4:22PM Shades of the Hawk Bench. I smile and say, "Come and look." And the hawk looks back, mostly at the dog. We talk for a few minutes. He intends to go camping this weekend with his son. Yes, in the frigid weather and the threat of more snow. He tells me about a Red-tail pair he often sees near the High School. It is after official sunset and when I look again the hawk is gone.
I make my shivering way into the house to download the photos for I'm not sure just what kind of immature hawk I've been looking at. At first glance, through the fog, I thought perhaps a Cooper's as that is what I've seen here before but no, something isn't right, too chunky for one thing.
I flip through field guides; I'm still not sure. I download a few photos and send them off to John Blakeman for his opinion. Even he pulled out his field guides, and his opinion, 95% it's an immature Broad-winged. A bird that should have gone south some time ago.
Has this hawk decided to winter here because of this raisin in the raisin bread?
Donegal Browne

P.S. December 11, 2007, I sent John Blakeman, a few more photos after the initial two for further perusal in IDing the bird.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Focusing on the Small Parts

Three females and one male House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, at the cylinder feeder. Note the differences amongst the individuals.

Temperature 14F
New snow- 3 inches

Another view of the same birds, plus an added male. What are the individual differences from this view?

The whole flock arrives and some birds have come on and others off. In fact one male is actually in flight and not on a perch at all. Some males are more raspberry than others but they are all still House Finch.

Which bird is ill?

Can you identify the species from this view? A slight clue is the rusty cap with gray on the neck.

How about now? Note the maxilla and mandible are different colors. The top of the beak is black and the bottom yellow. See the white streak coming down from the beak. One of the main ID marks people use doesn't appear in either photograph. Can you identify it anyway?
Add a single spot mid-breast.
American Tree Sparrow, Spizella arborea

2:09PM It's a gray cold day and Doorstep Dove does her musing from the bath well over an hour earlier than usual.

A grand view of a House Finch tongue. It's quite pointed to match the shape of the beak.

And a view of a Dark-eyed Junco's bottom, just in case that's the only part you see some day.
Look carefully at the very tips of the tail feathers. You can just see the tips of the white feathers that make the distinctive Junco tail flash when they fly.

3:32PM The late in the day musing from the bath is being taken care of by the little Junco today.
Donegal Browne