Saturday, January 26, 2008

Squirrel Bane the Immature Red-tail Returns

Temperature: 29F.
Wind: 30MPH

Photograph: Samantha Browne-Walters
The Model Boat Pond or the Conservatory Waters as it's more properly called, refilled since it's yearly cleaning, has frozen into a thick glossy sheet of ice.

No reports of Pale Male and Lola visiting the nest today. Once again Pale Male is hunting the area. Just after he disappered behind this water tower cover---

Pigeons burst into the airspace above the pond and if you look carefully this one seems not to be taking the sage advice, "Don't look back, they might be gaining on you." but rather seems to be looking back over her shoulder to see if Pale Male is following her.

Squirrel Bane, the immature Red-tail who birders say has been capturing squirrels and seems to hunt them almost exclusively as opposed to other prey, was back once again, yes, hunting squirrels. She's reasonably easy to find because once the squirrel's notice her presence they whine even more heavily I'm told than if it were just any Red-tail. She does seem to have some technique and makes a habit late in the day of hunting so that she sits so the sun is in her prey's eyes.

All the squirrels here have been alerted so Squirrel Bane glides off toward fresh territory.

Strawberry Fields is full of the sound of rustling leaves. And it's not just the wind. Dozens upon dozens of White-throated Sparrows are working the leaves by hopping, brushing the leaves back with both feet, and then doing it again, to bare one small area of leaves after another in search of food.

And look here! The Snow Drops are now in bloom in Strawberry Fields. Often the first place in the park where they rouse themselves and thus the first spot in Central Park to announce that whatever the weather feels like, Spring really isn't as far away as we think it is.

Donegal Browne

Friday, January 25, 2008

Spikes, Pale Male Hunting, No Screech Owls, and Pinkie Takes on the Duck

Photos: Samantha Browne-Walters
The report from the Hawk Bench: There have been one or two sightings of twigs being brought to the nest as well as Pale Male and Lola landing on the nest and surveying their territory. Today Pale Male around 3PM, looked to be hunting. First he zoomed from somewhere on 5th Avenue down into the trees just NW of the Model Boat Pond. Next he circled higher and higher above Oreo. Then took several swoops into trees, landed, watched, and took off again.

In this photo he is sitting in the stand of trees just across the path to the south of the Hawk Bench. He then soared across the Model Boat Pond and landed in the top of the tallest tree within the park on a diagonal with Green Awning Building. Then we lost him, only to have him reappear sailing into the trees in front of the Lion Building.

Bethesda Fountain
Here it seems that the pigeons have made friends with another winged creature and either are going along for a ride or are organizing to give her one. Note she's looking down at the pigeon newly landed on her hand.
Yes the disfigured cherub also has wings but for the moment focus on the spikes at the left edge of the photo. I'd been told when the steel frame went up over the nesting cornice that the spike ends had been bent round on the tip for hawk comfort during the building process of the frame, but here we have round ended spikes that aren't on the frame but rather in normal perch thwarting positions. Interesting.

The observer arrived at the Screech owl's tree at 5:14PM on Wednesday and was surprised that the male wasn't dozing on his doorstep. 5:30PM came and went without the sight of a feather let alone a whole owl. Then 6PM came and went with no fly-out. Did the owls go out early, very late, have a falling our, or has the Mrs. decided to choose an alternative cavity for egg laying?
Pinkie notices the DUCK!
Remember Pinkie the Laughing Dove we found in the snowbank? He's the one on the white compote. That's right, Pinkie does not have a handle on his tail.
It was cage scrubbing night so Pinkie was walking around the dining room table waiting for his cage to be done, when suddenly he took it into his head to fly.
We've discussed before that Pinkie's ancestors were domesticated to the inth degree and that Pinkie while not the brightest avian bulb is very sweet with people. He also can't fly worth diddly and tries to beat up pigeons four times his size.
As I said, Pinkie decided to fly. Making his best flapping effort, even remaining somewhat upright for the ride, he traversed three feet and plopped into the compote. At which point he climbed out with some difficulty, perched on the side and was actually quite satisfied with his performance until he noticed--The Duck.
What? A giant bird? It must be battled!
Pinkie then proceeded to puff himself up to full height, bowed three times while "laughing" and then began to peck the begesus out of Duck's bill. Duck being more polite and made out of china besides, did not respond. This further infuriated Pinkie, who redoubled his pecking efforts.
Some minutes later, feeling he had pecked Duck into complete and utter submission. In fact actually petrifying Duck in place with his mighty beak, Pinkie settled down quietly, with a rather self satisfied expression, to wait for his cage to dry.
Donegal Browne

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pale Male and Lola Dance and Tracks in the Snow

Pale Male on Linda 2

The Pale Male and Lola report today from Elizabeth MacKuen. She reports that the Fifth Avenue Pair were seen south of 72nd and Fifth today, circling with each other above the park with their talons dropped.

Hawk season is on it's way!

And in Wisconsin, there are ten more inches of snow, hawk season is a touch behind that of NYC. And as there is fresh snow how, about some fresh tracks.

This one is easy. The exclamation point design of Blaze and his bunny friends. Long back feet and short front ones.

And here's a trail underneath the snow. That looks like a little rodenty mammal who's wise enough not to be too obvious and become a Red-tail snack.

Now who made these? I've not seen these before.

And are these from the same paws as the one's above except they've sunk in the snow? I didn't know what either were so I started researching them. It did occur to me that Fluffy had been around and they might be his. But Opossum tracks in sand at least, supposedly show the opposable back toe clearly and the front and back tracks overlap. Not the case here but deep snow could well change an animals usual gait.

Here we go. It is Fluffy. The front track is larger and there is overlap onto it. It's definitely Opossum.
It's good to learn something new everyday, now isn't it?
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Red-tailed Hawks, Eastern Screech Owls, and a Cougar

Temperature: 32 F.
Wind: Variable
Definitely Cloudy
Precipitation: A few dozen snowflakes at 3PM
3:30PM Neither Pale Male or Lola are in view on the nest or environs of 927 Fifth Ave.

Nor are either on the Stovepipe railing or atop Oreo's antenna.

Every tree seems to have a squirrel that is whining but there isn't a raptor in sight. I also realize anew that the going-to-bed-three-hours-before-sunset squirrel rule doesn't apply in Central Park. It seems that is just for country squirrels.

4:16PM A number of medium sized birds flush from the lake into the trees on Cherry Hill. An immature Red-tail glides in from the east and perches. It then flies over the lake and is lost in the trees near the drive. But by this time I'm on the hunt for Screech Owls. I'm not really sure where they are and of course because of the cloudy cold weather I've yet to see someone with a pair of binoculars so I can ask for directions. I continue to walk west. Some weeks ago, I'd been crossing the park and seen a photographer with hordes of equipment rushing south late in the day on the west side so decide to go in that direction. Perhaps he was attempting to catch fly-out or then again perhaps he was late for a dinner date.
I head south, and low and behold two Red-tails fly over further west and go into a tree. One has a pale head. By the time I get past the trees, I see an immature but not the adult who seemed to be after him. And then he too is gone. I continue south, hoping for owl inspiration. By the time I get down to about 70th, I see a park worker scanning the trees. Aha!
I ask if he's seen the hawks, "Yes", he says, but he's lost them as well. This is how I meet Nott, a terrific guy, who's keeping tabs on the birds in his working area.
Then I ask, "So Nott, I'm looking for the Screech Owls would you happen to know where they are?" And he does, and nicely points out the tree and cavities that are their day roosts.
Then a gentleman walking his dog, comes by and tells us that a hawk has knocked a squirrel off a tree. The squirrel seems to have a broken leg, can't climb back up the tree, and the Red-tail is trying to catch him.
I say, "Where?" Just over that little hill, our informer tells us. Nott has to get back to work, so I head over the hill, thinking. Knocked a squirrel off a tree? Pretty unusual for a Red-tail to do that, unless the squirrel is being double teamed by two birds and Red-tails rarely do that. A squirrel does to Red-tails what they do to dogs or chasing children they just go to the other side of the trunk or branch, zip. Red-tails usually take squirrels that are caught on the ground between trees.
By the time I get over the hill, there are a number of people with dogs looking at the ground. I don't see the Red-tail. Perhaps scared off by the proximity of the people and dogs looking at the squirrel?

4:46PM Suddenly the immature Red-tail comes flying in from the east. Lands, looks, and switches trees. I get a look at her eyes. They're light but not that light, this may be a second year juvenile. Then again it just could be the dim light.

In the meantime, the squirrel, note he's not using his right leg, has made it up the tree. The RT peers around the trunk.

The squirrel switches positions. No blood anywhere and now he's hanging by both back legs. I'm wondering if the squirrel didn't see the RT coming until the very last second and either flung himself off the tree, probably unlikely, or possibly more likely, missed his grip and fell just as the RT got to him.
Squirrel factoid: Squirrels do sometimes fall out of trees while doing normal scampering around up there. One of the uses of their multi-purpose fluffy tail is that of a parachute on these occasions. They also attempt to twist into and land in a position that will absorb the shock without damage to themselves.
And as now the squirrel's leg seems to be back to working at least somewhat, I'm thinking that the RT didn't break the leg, but the fall may have shocked some nerves, or dislocated something, that has now decided to come back into play. Perhaps hanging upside down zapped it back into place?

Because when the Red-tail switches sides so does the squirrel with plenty of time to get away. His legs seem to be working just dandy again.
4:54PM The brown-tail peers around the trunk from the other direction.

Then she notices the group of dog walkers that has gathered and flies off east again. Her flight spooks another squirrel and the RT half heartedly heads for it, misses and continues out of sight.
I head back over the little hill toward the Owl tree.

5:02PM Mr. Screech is still sleepy but he's got half an eye peeled just in case.

5:04PM Then his head whips around to the north. I wonder if the hawk is back for another try?
Enough already, it could be anything. I'm not sure when these guys fly out so I decide to stick where I am.

5:10PM Something has caught his attention close enough where he's looking a little cross eyed. Still no sign of an owl in what I'm told is the female's cavity.

5:22PM Male Screech Owl's pre-fly out toilette is in full swing. He preens his chest and belly. Scratches where needed and tends to his wings. Then he starts moving his head and neck in a motion very similar to a cat with a hair ball and ejects a pellet.
5:29PM Something attracts his attention and he stares fixedly.
5:30PM He flies out and lands on a branch in the same tree, just to the right and slightly above his roost den.

5:31PM Who's head should now pop out but female Screech Owl.
5:47PM She flies out to the south. I didn't see much in the way of preening, though at this point it is quite dark but she may have done some of her tending inside the cavity. Perhaps she has the larger bedroom?

5:37PM Mr. Screech is still in his original fly out position. I exit so as not to disturb his hunting.

And in from Carol Studebaker: It seems there is a Cougar that was last two miles from me in Wisconsin. It would be pretty exciting to see that out the kitchen window right about now. Instead of the new 10 inches of snow and more on the way.
Donegal Browne

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bitter Cold and Behavior

One possibly good thing about the bitter cold at least for the grainivores, was that the raptors, nearing the end of the day had gone on to less bird wary areas to hunt snacks. The House Sparrows come back from where ever they have spent the day out of raptor sight, and perch in the sun on top of their brush pile.

As sparrows don't mind bunching up if it's raining, I've seen them sheltering together in hordes on the lee side of dumpsters in Central Park, I gave them their own old wash tub amongst the brush t0 perch under in truly inclement weather.

The second possibly nice thing about this weather are the Dr. Zhivago-est ice crystals growing on the windows. And as you can see the window is truly quite beautiful. But geez, is it worth it?
Temperature: -12 F.
Wind Chill: -25 F.

Earlier in the day, One Eye I (I think it was I as opposed to II or III) stopped in for a sunflower seed snack and the cold wasn't cramping his style at all

Later in the day, I glanced out and then I looked back again. The rhythm was off. Instead of buzzing around in a usual Junco manner, this male was somehow scrunching along the snow on his belly. Is he crippled? Have his legs frozen?

This is Butch on the 14th. This is how I've seen Juncos walk around in the snow. Their little skinny legs just a working, hoppity hop hop, taking the bird to the next seed. In fact I've never seen a Junco fazed by cold or snow in any way. In a new fall of powder, I've seen them land, nearly disappear into the mini-sized snow bank, "swim" their way out and go about their business. I mean it is really cold out but--

Oh no, there's another one that's completely hunkered down. Now Mourning Doves often hunker down on their feet but when they want to move they walk, they don't scrunch erratically.
Alright, this guy is looking at a seed he likes--then-- lurches in it's direction. That looks, shall we say unusual

Though he's looking perfectly happy eating his seed.

Aha! Then I see it. Look under the bird's belly, no appendages in sight. At first I thought they were doing a one leg hop while keeping the other up in the warm belly feathers, but under magnification what I thought might be a leg and foot are sunflower seed hulls. What the Juncos are doing is hopping, motivating forward while keeping their legs up. The legs aren't extended to get a powerful hop, so it's not strong, then the legs remain up, and don't extend on the landing so the legs and feet are for the most part never exposed to the 25 below wind chill.

They are doing belly flop landings with no doubt some braking of the body by the retracted feet and legs but even so it's not the most graceful move ever. But warmer in the circumstances trumps finesse any day.

Here's Friend and he's squatted down on his legs as well but his feet come out enough to walk. Though come to think of it, it's a species difference, Doves walk and Juncos hop ordinarily, hence the different effect of the posture on mobilization in bitter-weather-leg-preservation.

Besides look at what Friend has to withdraw his legs into. He can better afford the brief exposure to the elements.

Once again the inclement weather has gotten the Crows on the move. For three days previous to the temperature plunge, Crows were seen flocking and passing on. This mob of Crows, newly arrived this morning to the area, spent the rest of the day foraging in smaller groups and are now banding back together again.

The moon rises above it all sailing, always sailing her celestial pattern.

Now it is Doorstep Dove, Friend, and three Juncos, and not one of their ten legs in sight.
Donegal Browne