Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Twins Meet the Blue Jay! And a Territory Question

Photos and commentary by Cheryl Cavert

Wanted to share some of the latest sightings of Red Tails in Tulsa. I watched the two Langenheim Twins for a bit this morning as they waited, calling for breakfast, and being repeatedly mobbed and chased by irritable birds and non-friendly humans.

I was told by one person that was outside with their camera, that one had perched near her window but a coworker banged on the window to scare it off and was ready to run outside and chase the other one away too. Then another person chose to take the short-cut across the bridge where the hawk was perched, rather than going a different route around, which scared Viola off the bridge (and he thought she was an owl!!)

Rose, one of our spotters who first brought the Langenheim juveniles on our hawk-radar, has named them Sebastian and Viola.

(Rose also sends us updates! D.B.)

SEBASTIAN GETS MOBBED- incoming, duck!!

Viola cooling off in the grass.
(Remember it was 100 degrees plus in Tulsa, Oklahoma. All pretty lively for such hot weather.)

Viola taking off for a different bridge perch.

Sebastian getting mobbed yet again!
(I wonder if the angry smaller birds ever use the light patch on the hawk's heads as a target? Looks awfully handy to me. D. B.)
From the Tulsa Forum, Catbird had a question about territory--
From Calvorn's site: "In a study commissioned last year by Audubon, pairs of red tails were spotted breeding in nests at 32 locations throughout the city and hawk watchers say they have spotted hundreds of unattached red tails across the five boroughs."
Does this mean that the unattached red tails (juvies??) live / hang out, sort of in between the claimed adult territories?
Some of the unattached Red-tails are juveniles and some are matures without mates or territories as yet. For instance in the winter the Ramble, a wooded section of Central Park, is crawling with RTs, Pale Male and Lola don't care. It isn't breeding season and Central Park has so much prey that there is plenty of food for everyone and more.

During breeding season the unattached will sometimes sneak into other RT territory just to hunt new ground but also they can appear to challenge the pair. There have been several instances in Pale Male and Lola's territory (and I'm sure others but because of location and clear sight lines you can really see what is going on at Fifth Avenue), in which a pair of RTs will appear and there is a pitched battle over the land and nesting site. Pale Male and Lola never have any trouble running them out but you have never heard so many Red- tail battle cries in your life.

There are some portions of the city, where I'm betting Red-tails are sighted and have territory but either they haven't attracted a mate, or they have a mate and nest but no hawkwatchers have as yet nailed down the location. There are parts of town where there are no hawkwatchers living locally, or they aren't in touch, so they are, so to speak, "under the radar"..

I don't believe that the "hundreds of sightings" referred to, were all of different individual birds. I'm sure a number of them were sighted more than once. Territory size differs. Outside breeding season the Red-tails go exploring farther afield. And of course, there are the juveniles who are hanging around waiting to grow up.

In places with a lower prey base and/or seriously cold or snowy weather, Red-tails migrate to more fruitful areas during the off season. John Blakeman tells that country hawks will also, come winter, chase their previous seasons young away from the natal territory when the prey base is low. Sounds mean but it's perhaps better for everyone. It saves wear and tear on the prey population of the natal territory and also gets the youngster into the floating population of RTs that are likely on their way to greener pastures, open territory, and possible mates.
The Manhattan Red-tails, and most probably those in the other boroughs as well, but I can't speak from experience, don't migrate. There is plenty to eat year-round and it usually isn't all that cold. We can't be sure as they aren't banded but there are juveniles in Central Park until the following spring when the adults start paying a good deal of attention to boundary lines. Come Spring the previous year's young either find areas that haven't been claimed or take off for perusing vacations.

Donegal Browne
P.S. For the next two weeks I'll be more out of contact with technology than I'll be in contact with it due to the Pennsic War therefore, just keep sending in your updates and checking for new posts. I'll pop in and post as often as I can!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blakeman on RTs and Snakes, Cavert on Tulsa RTs and 100 Degree heat, Kolling Gets the Scoop on Condors

Photograph by Chery Cavert
Jay does his duty as sentinal of the territory in 100 degree Tulsa heat.

Hi Donegal,
It is hot in Tulsa - the high was 100 today!! As it has gotten hotter, the trail of the Red Tail Hawks has gotten colder. We have not spotted Kay or Thunder again for over a week. Jay waits patiently at the KJRH nesting tower on a variety of shady perches every evening and has also been spotted on the tower perches in the morning.

Photograph by Cheryl Cavert

I posted the one of him trying to stay cool on the KJRH observation thread, right after someone posted about how hawks handle temperatures --

"An interesting observation about our current temperatures and birds. This from a paper published online at Stanford University..
The ability to maintain a high and constant body temperature enables birds to exploit a remarkable range of habitats -- tropical, temperate, and polar. This achievement is not without cost, however. The "expense" of metabolic heat production must be repaid by taking in sufficient energy to balance what has been expended, and mechanisms must be available to shed excess heat when necessary. If the environmental temperature falls, birds raise their metabolic rate to prevent their internal temperature from falling as well. In contrast, if the environmental temperature becomes too hot, birds must mobilize water to lose heat through evaporative cooling (as we do when we perspire) and avoid death from overheating. Since birds have no sweat glands, heat must be lost through the respiratory tract by panting, or in nonpasserines by the rapid vibration of the upper throat and thin floor of the mouth ("gular flutter").

This can pose a pretty big threat to urban birds as the concrete jungle acts as massive heatsink during the day and takes a long time to cool. A bunch of strenuous activity late in the day can be hazardous to the birds (like being pursued by Blue Jays). That's probably why the hunt to so much at dawn, besides catching nocturnal prey heading back to the den."

Forecast calls for a string of days flirting with 100, lows in the mid 70's.

We have had some sightings of the Langenheim Twins.
(More on the Langenheim Twins tomorrow, plus Cheryl's photos of them being mobbed. D.B.)

The hawk hangout in my neighborhood has not produced any sightings of red tails lately, but I have seen a Cooper's hawk hunting there about every evening.

I have attached a couple of photos of Jay on one of his evening perches. This evening he looked particularly hot - photo is blurry due to the distance and lighting, but his beak is open and he was not calling out!

We will keep exploring and mapping our various sightings, always hopeful that we come across Kay and Thunder hunting or hanging out in the cooler shade of Tulsa's urban forest.



Yes, Red-tails commonly sit on one foot and extend the other one out into the air, with the clinched fist you described so accurately. They do this when they are utterly contented, usually when they aren't even watching things in the landscape.

And the Oklahoma Red-tail capturing a rattlesnake is also not uncommon. Red-tails find snakes of all kinds pretty easy to capture and kill, and apparently good tasting. Of course, a bite from a rattlesnake could be fatal, but the snake apparently can't so easily sink its fangs deep enough through the feathers to inject venom.

Actually, the snake usually has little opportunity to strike. The hawk takes the snake as it is seen slithering along in the grass. The snake never knew what hit it. An adult hawk has the good sense and experience to nail the serpent in the head, not on the back.

Inexperienced immature Red-tails, however, can get themselves into trouble trying to take a larger snake. I watched a falconer's first-year Red-tail try to take black snake, and it hit the snake in the back, not the head. Wrong move for a constrictor snake. We got to the writhing ball of snake and hawk in just a minute. The snake had wrapped itself around the now startled hawk, who had no idea how to extricate itself from the writhing contractions of the encircled snake. We two falconers had to be rather careful ourselves, trying to untangle this avian-reptilian mass. We weren't too concerned about the snake biting us. But the hawk kept lashing out with its talons, trying to strike something. Had the hawk landed a pair of talons on one of our hands, it would have never let go.

Fortunately, it was a smaller black racer, just about three feet long or so, and we were finally able to unwrap if from the terrified hawk -- who I'm sure never deigned a feeding attempt at a slow-moving snake again. Lesson learned.

Those who watch rural Red-tail nests commonly see snakes being brought to feed the eyasses. Red-tails will eat just about anything they decide to capture. Snakes, when available, are common culinary fare, even poisonous ones.

--John Blakeman

Photograph by Karen Anne Kolling

Karen Anne looks out her deck door and sees a very strange bird at her feeding station. Gosh, it looks remarkably like a chubby Ground Hog. But Karen Anne has been a busy woman and tracked down some information that we've been looking for--

HOW ARE THE CONDORS AFTER THE BIG FIRE IN THEIR NECK OF THE WOODS? FROM KAREN ANNE-- "Here's an email I received in response to an inquiry I sent about the condors."


We have confirmed that 2 of the 3 chicks survived the fires, and based on GPS data, we believe the third also made it, but have not been able to confirm this due to the nests' remote location.

We have been able to account for all but two of our wild birds, and it has been over a month since we last saw these two. We have not given up on them yet, however, as time goes by, it is not looking good.

Please visit our website to learn more, and perhaps make a gift to the condor emergency fund that will help us get back on our feet after this crisis.

Thank you for your interest!

Sayre FlannaganWildlife Biologist
Species Recovery
Ventana Wildlife Society
19045 Portola Dr. Suite F-1
Salinas,CA 93908831-455-9514

And remember photos and more on Tulsa's Langenheim Twins tomorrow--and their new names!

Donegal Browne

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pale Male's Foot, Charlotte Does Air Conditioning, The Tulsa Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawk vs Rattler

Pale Male on occasion will stretch his foot out, turn his talons in, ting, ting, ting, tingggg, and just sit there. It does give a lovely view of his well turned tarsus but still, it can look, well lets face it-- odd. Particularly when compared with the startlingly taloned view of the other foot.

Red-tails have special rules for behavior while on the nest, and I've seen them walk gingerly by the eyasses with their talons all turned under making them rather look like they've lost their toes somewhere. But no, I'm assuming that they're curled under to avoid any unsightly mishaps with sharp objects and the babies.

And now for something completely different, a pair of demonstrative pigeons snuggle on the edge of the Model Boat Pond. Or the Conservatory Waters if you happen to be looking at your Central Park Map. It's just that they never got around to building the Conservatory and they did get around to sailing model boats there.

Some complete with their own grog barrels.

Remember when poor Charlotte double clutched and then spent the hottest part of the summer roasting on the corbel of the Trump Parc with her young? Well, Brett Odom, the man with the view of the 888 7th Avenue nest site, reports that Charlotte was standing, wings spread, breezin' her body, right in front of the air vents enjoying the air conditioning from the room within. No dumb hawk she.

Photograph by Amadeusmax
For awhile this was the mystery eyass in Tulsa. Who was she? Where did she come from? Eventually when things were sorted she turned out to be one of the Langenheim Twins. Whose photos I was going to put up for comparison but the computer seems to have momentarily eaten them. Tomorrow is another day.
THE TULSA HAWKS--How many are there?

The local folks first brought together by watching the KJRH nest atop the TV tower on a CAM have now taken to the field as bona fide Hawkwatchers in the flesh. And they are going to town!

Rose Culbreth, discoverer of the Langenhiem Twins, reports hawk watchers popping out of the woodwork in droves along with experienced and budding wildlife photographers.

Jackie Dover has developed into the Map Mavin, and her maps are extremely helpful with new hawks popping out at nearly the rate of the hawkwatchers. Check them out, they're downright nifty.

Hi, Donna:

We had a busy weekend, as you probably know by now. Here is the latest map update on what we're now calling the South Tulsa Map, with two sightings added (Remington Tower--just off the map a tad; and Manion Park).

We have also added two other sightings in North Tulsa, in the general area of the Tulsa Int'l Airport and Mohawk Park. I'm enclosing a new map of this latter area, as it is not included on the original map (now called South Tulsa).

We have also added two other sightings in North Tulsa, in the general area of the Tulsa Int'l Airport and Mohawk Park. I'm enclosing a new map of this latter area, as it is not included on the original map (now called South Tulsa). And I'm sending another new map, of all the sightings in the entire Greater Tulsa area. One new sighting is noted on this map--near the Tulsa Fairgrounds. At this time, neither of the other two maps --North Tulsa nor South Tulsa--happens to display that particular area. The Greater map will help you out with that one.

Jackie Dover
Tulsa Hawk Forum

And Tulsa Irregular Sally of Ky posted this marvelous link on the Tulsa Hawk Forum from youtube of a Red-tail nabbing a Rattle Snake. It's rather a stunner. The topic came up because one of the Tulsa watchers reported that snake was served up to the eyasses from one of the nests. (I wonder if they thought "it tasted just like chicken" too?)

Donegal Browne

Monday Miscellany: Looking at the Little Things--Buster, Chewy, the Energizer Chickadee and More

This is Buster (aka Trib from the Triborough Nest) of Astoria Park. Now that you know who he is what is the next thing you look for having to do with a fledgling? His crop. Yes, he's eaten. Whew. That's a relief. And no matter how many times I've seen a full crop, I'm always delighted to see the next one as I then know no one is going hungry.

This is Chewy the Wisconsin Chipmunk. Wait a minute why does his back have a part down the middle? Because he's wet. It's been raining and unlike squirrels who use their tails as umbrellas, a Chipmunk tail just doesn't do the trick.

Now check his cheeks. For those who haven't seen many Chipmunks, they have internal pouches to stash food. They are short of wearing apparel sporting pockets. They then carry the seeds to their burrow and store it for the long deep snowed in winters of Wisconsin. Speaking of which, just where is Chewy's hole these days? Off I go to investigate. Both Chewy and the backyard shrews prefer burrows under the edges of concrete or asphalt in wet weather.

After scrutinizing all the available hard edges, I come across the entrance to Chewy's burrow. It leads under the driveway. I know it's Chewy's and not the Shrew family's due to size. See Sharpie for comparison.

This is parsley. Just garden variety parsley, which is beginning to blossom. Look closely. There are literally hundreds of beautiful tiny flowers opening up to the sun.

And remember the Energizer fledgling Black-capped Chickadee? Where are his eyes? See them? They're black like his cap. Therefore a predator can't tell where he's looking nor does a contrasting gleam give him away as easily, that he is a creature at all.

But look what happens when he sleeps. His eyelids match the sides of his head so that one does not notice so easily that he is asleep. He could still have his black eyes open and we'd not see them due to his cap.

Ah, and the roadsides are full of the Chicory that's in bloom. Blue flowers are not all that common if you give it some thought. And this, no less a beauty, because the species itself is common.

Remember the post about the squirrels disagreeing as to which of them should have the one dry spot on a tree during the torrential rain storm? And is was coming down in buckets. There was a request to see the photos once I could bring them up. Now keep in mind these aren't beauty shots, these photographs were taken spur of the moment to document the squirrels behavior through a wet window.
The clouds were dark, but then they'd been dark for hours. The air went from no raindrops to bejillion per second in the blink of any eye. With tremendous winds to boot. The two squirrels were both taken unaware, and both taking into account the wind that was blowing sheets of rain, both bombed over to exactly the same tree and the same spot. It turned out to be the only place in the area in which the trunk was dry. There was a squirrel scuffle--

And the squirrel on the left was chased off the dry area and to the side where she was getting somewhat wet. Not as wet as if she were on the opposite side which was being saturated mightily but she's definitely getting wet on her left side.

While the squirrel in the dry spot is hunkering down and thinking about his own business, the squirrel on the left, who's getting wet, is creeping her way up the trunk towards the advantage of --THE HIGH GROUND. The place to be in any battle, just look in any book about military strategy.

She then is able to turn the tables but she doesn't press her advantage. She's willing to share and as she's in the power position, bottom squirrel decides that he won't push the issue either. Both squirrels ride out the storm keeping a close eye on each other. But at least it's a dry eye.

Ever notice how many shades of green there are?

And this is the Mad Monarch. He was flying about FAST! This way and that over the Milkweed patch. Back and forth, up and down. I'm not sure what he was about, but anthropomorphically speaking, he looked to be celebrating something terrific.

How do you tell a Turkey Vulture from a Black Vulture or perhaps even other large species?
The first thing after the wings is a quick look to see if the head is red. It can often still be seen even if they are extremely high in the sky.
What might this one be up to?

He gains altitude through taking several circles each one higher than the previous ones.

And before too terribly long, he's reached the height of the top of the electrical pole.

Where he glides in and makes a rather clever landing for such a heavy bodied bird. If they've just eaten their fill, Turkey Vultures absolutely must have some wind to work with or they will remain grounded until one appears.
I waited and watched for another half hour though virtually nothing seemed to be happening. And that's how I found out that the vultures don't roost on the tower at night but rather sail over to the trees to take their rest.
Keep watching-- even the littlest things.
You never now what you'll find there.
Donegal Browne

Monday, July 21, 2008


It's been a year, if not two, since I've checked in on the York, PA, Turkey Vultures. This power tower is on top of a hill. On top of a hill that overlooks a landfill, woods, yards, a major highway and farms. The possibility for a buffet for vultures are nearly endless.

It's late in the day, so one would assume that these fellows have eaten and are now doing the very necessary preening that all birds do. But perhaps even more necessary for vultures as dinner remnants are even more likely to carry "passengers" of various kinds than a more usual dinner for birds.

For whatever reason, an American Crow is on a shorter structure of a different power line and is raising Crow Cain. I am also hearing a Catbird scolding and for a few moments I thought I heard what might have been Red-tail begging, but it was too short lived to track it down in the dense trees and understory in the direction the sound was coming from.

Whatever is going on has attracted the interest of a number of the vultures. I'm not sure if they've a vested interest as in possible "food", or whether it's more like watching a little news or a TV drama before going to sleep for the night.
Here's a juvenile Turkey Vulture who doesn't seem all that interested in the drama concerning the Crow and Catbird and is beginning to get that young bird drowsy look. She of course is not only missing the red head of a mature vulture, but she's also without the yellowish knobbly irregularities of facial skin so common in Turkey Vulture adults.
Ah, the group is watching a truck head up the hill toward the landfill. Perhaps they're wondering as I am what a truck is doing going up there on a Sunday, later in the day? Does someone actually have Sunday garbage pickup in the Little Bible Belt of Pennsylvania or is something being disposed of discretely? Only the vultures know for sure. And perhaps not even them.
Because, after all the looking, one vulture takes off and starts circling toward the land fill. She's doing the lazy circles so common in vulture sky travel...
...but she's definitely heading for the truck and the landfill. (In reality I didn't see the aberration in the wing that seems apparent in the photo. I think it's an aberration in the photography process as opposed to the bird.)
Eventually some 10 or more vultures take off and join a kettle that raises them into the 94 degree heavily humid air and then they drift over towards the dump. The truck is leaving now so they are unlikely to be disturbed at their meal, whatever it turns out to be.
So some of nature's number one clean up crews goes into action, the others preen and as it gets closer to bed time, some drift into the trees in the opposite direction. I'd thought that perhaps they'd roost for the night on the tower, but there seems to be a definite migration towards the woods. Perhaps they lay themselves open to some kind of predator if they remain in the very open struts of the tower. Though I do wonder who eats vultures? Or perhaps it's the thunder storm that is about to blow in. Foliage does give some cover after all from the rain. I suppose one does lay one's self open to lightning strikes as well, up there on that nice metal tower on top of the hill.
It's a rather prickly business being a carrion eater in the modern world. Many humans are so distanced from nature that they aren't familiar with the importance of what these birds do. In fact some people find them not at all attractive with nasty dining habits.
Not a bit of it, they are specially evolved to fill the necessary niche of garbage disposers. Their heads are free of feathers because skin doesn't catch and keep as much bacteria as feathers are likely to do.
They're rather heavy clunky fliers but it isn't as if they've got to out fly their lunches, now do they? What those big clunky wings do give them though is plenty of surface area to mantle with. Thus preserving their personal portion of the food.
The list does go on as these birds are quite specialized to succeed in the world of left overs. I was thinking a good bit about specialization today.

The Thistle has developed rather substantial prickers to protect it's seeds so that they're still there on the seed head and ready to float high on the wind come maturation time. Though they don't protect them all, for small birds do find ways of harvesting them for food.

No these aren't our indigenous raspberries. These are an exotic called Wineberries though I would assume closely related to our raspberries. Note the stems. Every possible place on a stem for a sticker, has one. Now berries are supposed to be an evolutionary advantage because mobile creatures eat them and disperse the seeds to a larger area. So why all the stem defense? Is it possibly to protect the canes, which produce berries for a number of years before giving way to new growth? The berries don't have prickers.

Now in some species of raspberry type berries, in Wineberries in particular, the very ripe fruit commonly falls off the stem and tends to break into individual fruit enclosed seeds. Whereas in Red Raspberries the over ripe fruit often stays on the stems and dries. Are these berries specific to particular eaters? And as the Wineberries evolved in a different ecosystem entirely are their berries particular to an eater that isn't even in this ecosystem? Possibly, but there seem to be more than enough dispersers of their seeds to allow them to thrive without cultivation.

As you yourselves know, for the curious-- there are so many questions and so little time.

Donegal Browne