Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nuthatch Underwear, Sparrow Motive, M. Downy Returns, Ravens in General, and Tower of London Ravens in Particular

White-breasted Nuthatch not only shows her underwear but also her unusual perching method of grabbing the feeder with her toes on the fly. Then she flipped around facing the opposite direction and shopped the feeder for the fattest sunflower seed. (They actually do look for the biggest, fattest seeds.)

There is some kind of ruckus going on in the grape arbor again. It's about the houses, also again. There is one on each upright of the arbor. A male House Sparrow is inside the south house fighting off all comers. What is the big deal about these houses? I could understand if it were breeding season but why now?

The female House Sparrow has secreted herself behind the post. See her standing on the pipe to the right of the post? Male Sparrow can't see her. He comes out and flies to the other house on the other end of the pipe.

In the meantime, as he flew out, female sparrow came round to the front. She is in the vines in the bottom left of the above photo. Then she flies up into the house.

Male Sparrow has gone into the second house on the other end of the pipe. Then suddenly he comes bombing out and heads for the first house. Female whips out of House One and Male dives in.

Then the mystery of the house attraction is solved! Male sparrow's head pops out and he is eating what looks like a grain of wheat. Evidently, one of the caching birds, perhaps the newly arrived Blue Jay, has been stashing grain in the houses. I need to find out if Red-bellied Woodpeckers cache. He's back as well.

Not to be fooled again by the female, male also keeps an eye peeled below the house.

What's going on in the Spruce tree? Sight lines just aren't good enough.

Male sparrow comes out and perches on the roof. Better but still not good enough.

Female sparrow bombs him off. And at this point, I have to leave. DRAT! I don't know how it all turned out.

Male Downy Woodpecker is back also as of today. Look at his eyes. There is something about certain highly active species of bird's eyes: Woodpeckers, Hummingbirds, Nuthatch. Somehow they seem to bulge more than other species. It reminds me of hyperthyroid humans.
I found this position fascinating. He's bracing himself with his vertical tail while his body is at a near 45 degree angle vertically. How does that work?
Blog contributor Jackie of the Tulsa Forum with some goodies about Ravens--
Hi, Donna:
Your recent postings about the crows, your fondness for bird group names, and your interest in things British put me in mind of our Tulsa Hawk Forum discussion about ravens a couple months ago. Here are some highlights, as well as some links of interest.

"A group of Ravens is called 'An Unkindness'. It can also be a 'Constable' or 'Conspiracy', though, depending on what they are doing at the time. For example, an unkindness of ravens might torment a dog and steal its food. A constable of ravens is stationed at the Tower of London. A conspiracy of ravens might be seen lurking in the shadows of a garbage dump."
Regarding the famous Tower of London Ravens (from Wikipedia): "It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens in residence at the tower for centuries. It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer.[5] However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of the legend that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the White Tower, the monarchy, and the entire kingdom would fall…. The earliest known reference to a tower raven is a picture in the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1885. This and scattered subsequent references to the tower ravens, both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century place them near the monument commemorating those beheaded at the tower, popularly known as the "scaffold."
This strongly suggests that the ravens, which are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told by the Yeomen Warders to tourists.[7]
There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven, perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran.[9] However wild ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around meat markets (such as nearby Eastcheap) feasting for scraps, could have roosted at the tower in earlier times…...[10]

During the Second World War most of the Tower's ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving a sole survivor named 'Grip'.[10] Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place.[12]

There are currently nine ravens, whose wings are clipped to prevent them from flying away, and they are cared for by the Ravenmaster, a duty given to one of the Yeomen Warders….as of November 2006):[13]
Gwylum (male, 18 years old)
Thor (male, 15 years old)
Hugin (female, 11 years old)
Munin (female, 11 years old)
Branwen (female, 3 years old)
Bran (male, 3 years old)
Gundulf (male, 1 year old)
Baldrick (male, 1 year old)
Fleur (female, 4 years old)
The oldest raven ever to serve at the Tower of London was called Jim Crow, who died at the age of 44.[14]
In 2006, ahead of the H5N1 avian influenza scare, the ravens were moved indoors; as of July 2006, they are once again free to roam about the grounds within the tower complex." (I removed footnote markers for #6 and #8 after 1885 and Dunraven. For some reason, the posting here insists on replacing them with a couple of funky icons.
Two other entertaining links: BBC article about The Ravenmaster, the officer in charge of the Tower's ravens.
More on the Tower and the Ravens in
Jackie (Tulsa's KJRH Hawks Forum)
Some years ago I visited the Ravens at the Tower of London. In the Ravens opinion it is they that run the place. They are also officially Constable Wardens of the Tower of London, or so I was told by one of the human Constable Wardens. According to report the avian Constable Wardens, can be quite disagreeable if crossed. There was something about them that caused most visiting humans to stand aside when one came their way.
I was also told that the Ravens were first made Constable Wardens because that was the way their rations could be drawn from the military commisarian. Currently the daily Raven Rations include 6 ounces of meat and bird biscuits soaked in blood. Once a week they get an egg and periodically a rabbit as the fur and other odd bits are good for them as they'd be eating that sort of thing in the wild.
I knew the Raven's wings were clipped but I also know they are very smart and willful so I asked if any of them had ever escaped. I was told, absolutely they have. One was a Raven named Grog who was rather fond of the beverage he was named for. (Grog is watered rum.) Raven Grog escaped in his 20's so no doubt he'd had time to figure out and beat the security system. He was last seen standing in front of a pub called the Pitcher and Rose.
But my favorite escaping Tower of London Raven is George. Now keep in mind these guys don't manage to sneakily grow their flight feathers out without the Ravenmaster noticing and then glide over the wall in the dark of night. Oh no. An escaping Tower of London Raven has to walk out. And he has to walk out a secured door or jump out a low secured window. Remember the Crown Jewels are kept at the Tower so the security isn't frippery.
Well, George managed to escape. In fact our buddy George the Constable Warden Raven managed to escape repeatedly. Each time he'd made yet another clean break, George would walk, bold as brass down the middle of the sidewalk, until he reached the fire escape he had his eye on that day. Upon reaching the fire escape he would climb the fire escape to the roof. On the roof, he would proceed to the buildings large television antenna, that he'd also had his eye on and proceed to dismantle it. To be honest, he chewed and tugged them to bits. And of course everyone in the apartment building would loose their BBCTV reception.
Amusing at first perhaps, but George was so good at getting away, and demolishing antennas that before long the neighbors were up in arms about him. So to save the neighbors their television reception and possibly George's well being if an irate neighbor caught him in the act, he was moved to the "protective custody" of the Welsh Mountain Zoo.
And they never did find out just how George was managing to circumvent all efforts to stop his escapes.
Two other Ravens have been banished for "conduct unbecoming". I'm told these two found it quite amusing to menace the tourists and on occasion to jump at them, and even, now and again actually give someone a nip.
It sounds to me that these particular Ravens could have used some large Raven toys to dismantle and puzzles for mental stimulation. Given an enriched environment, they might not have lost their Constable Warden status. But then again being extremely willful, it might not have made any difference at all.
Donegal Browne

Friday, October 17, 2008

Eastern Bluebird vs House Sparrows and Migration Surge

I look outside. There are Eastern Bluebirds in the back yard for the first time in many years. A small flock is flitting amongst the upper branches of the trees then down into the deep shade of the grape arbor, then into the Spruce and back to the arbor.

In a moment three have landed near the wren house with the quadruple sized door chewed wider by squirrels. One Bluebird flies up to the door, peers in, and enters. Then I remember that Bluebirds communally roost in birdhouses and cavities during cold weather, even as they migrate, and these no doubt are checking out the house for possible evening accommodations.
A host of House Sparrows arrive scolding and mobbing the Bluebirds.
Bluebird Two goes for the high ground. He goes to the roof of the house and watches as Bluebird Three flies west with a number of Sparrows chasing her.
The trapped Bluebird flies out and one sparrow follows.
The other two House Sparrows watch them go.

In ten minutes the Bluebirds return to the yard unharried by the sparrows.

Interesting as the sparrows don't use the birdhouse at this time of year, in fact they didn't use it during nesting season, but they seem to be attempting to keep the Bluebirds from using it.

I wonder if the Bluebirds will sneak back into the birdhouse come evening. I make a mental note to check and see.

White-breasted Nuthatch is madly hatching sunflower seeds into every possible bark crevice he can find.
There is another surge of Robins passing through and they've been bathing one right after another.
Female Downy Woodpecker has returned and she too is scrutinizing the bark only she is mining it for insects. Well at least I think she's after insects, perhaps she's snitching Nuthatch's sunflower seeds.
Suddenly this week having arrived with the Juncos, House Finches are applying themselves to the feeders.
And as the sun lowers, the flocks of calling and responding geese pass over.
Back to the terms of venery, this is a curling skein of Canada Geese.
I've not seen Chewy the Chipmunk since the 13th when I discovered him much later than usual still filling his cheeks. Then poof, after days of his constant presence in the feeding area, he was gone. I strongly suspect that with the 30F degree nights that Chewy his retired to his burrow for a nice long rest. Rest that is, with frequent visits to his pantry for intermittant feasting.
Dusk Bunny is out so it's time for me to check the birdhouse for Bluebirds. Trying the flashlight collection, I choose the one with the weak batteries. I want to see if the Bluebirds are there, not blind them. I head across the back yard with my, as it turns out, weaker than I thought flashlight. I can't really see a thing. When the house is about 20 feet away I angle the flashlight up and---what it THAT?? Two eyes gleam at me from the top of the bird house!! I nearly jump out of my skin.
The owner of the eyes seems a little startled too and takes to the air. When the bird gets high enough to be slightly back lit by the night lights in the park I see it's a little Screech Owl. Wow, I wonder how many nights she's been out here. Or is she just passing through and decided to sit on the birdhouse and wait for mice to go for the seed on the patio.
Wow, again. Those eyes were-- surprising.
Oh right, I'm supposed to be looking for Bluebirds. I go closer, angle the flashlight, and look in. Not a one inside. Either the sparrows deterred them or perhaps they weren't fond of the giant sized entrance.
Wait, I check the ground for feathers. Nothing. That's a relief. Not that I've known Screechs to eat Bluebirds but one just never knows in nature does one?
Donegal Browne


Hurrah! News from Tulsa Hawkwatcher and photographer Cheryl Cavert on Kay and Jay of the KJRH Tower nest!

Hi Donna,

As I was driving home yesterday around 4:15 pm, I noticed a hawk-like shape on Jay's favorite high perching pole at the KJRH Tower in Tulsa. I parked and took a few pictures to look at later on the computer - as with the gun-metal grey skies, I could not tell for sure if it was Jay or not. It looked like it was probably Jay and after watching him preen for a couple of minutes, I decided to park a couple of blocks away to the north, a position that provides a good view of the tower without straining the neck!

As I drove to my new position, I could see another possible hawk-like bird circling in closer from the west. I quickly parked and hopped out with my camera and binoculars - and yes, it is definitely a red tail hawk. She circled closer then landed on the KJRH nesting platform. Jay glanced up and also took off from his slightly lower perch, circling around to also land on the nesting platform.

I could see their heads bobbing up and down occasionally like they were engaged in some nest keeping duties. I went back to the south base of the tower and as I arrived, Jay prepared to leave, circling off the northwest towards the Arkansas River. After a couple more minutes of nest duties, Kay also flew off, soaring to the northwest into the treeline Jay disappeared into.

The area in Riverparks (southwest of the KJRH tower) the recent observations of Jay occurred (ie. Jay riding the Prairie Wolves), is now under heavy daily construction. In the past couple of weeks tree workers have also done a bit of tree trimming, including trees I have seen the RTs perched in at various times, as well as removal of dead trees and stumps. However, the big one I have seen a RT and a bald eagle perched on at different times is still standing near the edge of the river bank. So maybe Kay and Jay are enjoying Riverparks a little further north where it is a bit quieter right now.

I will keep looking for further nest/courtship behavior as well as photographing whatever local urban hawks I come across, hoping to spot Thunder!

Go get 'em Cheryl! It's very exciting to see Kay and Jay at the nest possibly considering just what might need fixing up for this season. Thank you for you sightings and photos. Hawk Season is beginning earlier this year now that we know this pair.

I began to wonder just how much earlier and emailed Catbird, of the Tulsa Forum for the relevant dates for Kay and Jay from last season so I could compare them with those of Pale Male and Lola and that of Isolde and Tristan of the Cathedral at St. John the Divine.

Here is a portion with some of my thoughts on the matter from my email.

" As to early... Well, I'm thinking that in Tulsa, you'd need to get your babies out of the nest and well along before it gets too hot and the prey base suffers.

What Kay and Jay are probably doing at the moment is adding to the nest which can go on for a bit. Also Jay has to present at least two nest sites to Kay so she can have a choice. Lets hope she chooses the TV tower!

Some believe that nesting in RTs, cycles with the birth of prey litters. I don't know when there are major births of rabbits, squirrels, voles, etc. in Oklahoma but I'm betting it's before the grass burns off in summer. Pigeons and rats reproduce whenever there is enough food, though in cold climes in winter the young don't always make it."

And here are the stats that Catbird sent back--


Both eggs had been laid by March 3 (Thunder's egg laid first, earlier), and Thunder hatched March 31, and Thunder fledged on May 24th.


Looking back at my notes and at the "History of the Fifth Avenue Red-tailed Hawks as of 2/23/05 For the Cult of the Pale Male" by James Lewis, I'd say that Kay and Jay are two weeks if not more, ahead of Pale Male and Lola on Fifth Avenue and about a month ahead of the St. John the Divine Cathedral nest.

For Cheryl and the other Tulsa Hawkwatchers, keep an eye peeled for the bringing of twigs. That will become more and more frequent as time goes by. I'd be interested to know if Kay also brings twigs to the nest. Pale Male tends to bring the lion's share of twigs to 927 Fifth Avenue but Lola is the one who tends to strip the bark and gather dried grasses for the bowl itself.

When it comes to Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte, Central Park's Southern hawks, both birds bring twigs regularly.

If you're diligent in watching, you are likely to see Kay and Jay copulating in January. (They make a vocalizationg during the act that sounds remarkably like gulls.) Mark the date as it is usually about a month from our first sighting of Pale Male and Lola copulating to the first egg being laid.

Also keep your eyes on the sky for the courtship display, which will occur before copulation. Jay will do some swooping flights. Then both Kay and Jay will circle, counterclockwise to each other. And as their hormones surge ever stronger usually, first the male will dangle his legs and white thighs and then the female does it. Some birds will then slowly drift down to a perch and copulate.

So much to look forward to! And I know Cheryl will be out there with her camera searching the skies as will other Tulsa watchers. Send us all the news folks, we can't wait!

Donegal Browne

P.S. At to Thunder, we suspect that in urban areas some juveniles of the previous year do stick around though they are unlikely to be allowed inside their parent's territory during actual breeding season.

Don't despair, during this time of year, we have often seen the bonded pairs flying with other Red-tails high in the sky that we suspect are their young from previous years.

And if there is open territory near that of Kay and Jay's and a handsome male happens along in a year or two to claim it, you never know, the Mom may turn out to be Thunder.

We suspect that Pale Male Jr., Tristan previously of the Cathedral Nest, and the female Intrepid/Caroline of the Riverside nest are either children or grandchildren of Pale Male.

P.P.S. My apologies, due to other responsibilites I'm very behind in responding to email but I'm working on it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Red-tailed Hawks, Sandhill Cranes, Bluebirds, Oh, and a Cow Part I

I had just come out of the library in Milton, mulling over something mundane, like where I'd left the car or how expensive water is here, when suddenly I hear, "Kheeeeeeee, kheeeeee, keeeee!" Whoa, that's a Red-tail on the warpath. I look up and, yes, there, absolutely, is a Red-tail hot winging it to the north. (The opposite direction to the one above.) I run to the car and dig for binoculars, the camera, anything with magnification.

When I look up again, there are three birds in the sky, very high, circling. More digging. Two look like Red-tails and the other is big, bigger then they are by twice maybe? They go behind the tree. Finally the camera, and I see no birds.

Then an RT comes from the north to south, begins to gain altitude, (photo above), and gone behind a tree again. My next two photos show sky with a very faint totally unfocused bird/blob in the sky. One on the north side of the frame and the other center. ???

Another Kheeeeee! and a Red-tailed hawk goes from south to north.

Then the above bird appears from the NE. Perhaps a large gull, or water bird of some kind, who may or may not have been in on any of this in the first place but is just stumbling through.

And then it goes east.

The next sighting between the trees, may be the original very large bird. Light is gleaming off what might be a white head. She's coming from the south and then circles back toward the south and behind the tree.

A Red-tail comes zooming out of the north and after the large bird with the contrasting head.

Then what looks like possibly two gulls come out of the east. ??? Or a gull and a ?

I finally make it past the offending trees and into someones yard, and nothing. Not a bird in the sky. I look at the times on the photographs. It all took place in under two minutes. No wonder I'm confused.

But that's not all.....

Continue down to Part II. Remember Blogger gets cranky if it feels there are too many photos per post and it was getting very cranky about what has currently become Part II....directly below.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Red-tailed Hawks, Sandhill Cranes, and Bluebirds, Oh, and a Cow

I turn to go, and wait just one minute. In the yard is a tree, a tree with only one limb, alive or dead, a tree that is chock full of cavities! Could there be owls in there? There has to be something, I'm betting. Something or someone who likely comes out at night?

But a friend has asked for me to take a photograph of a particular tree, in prime foliage, with a special shape, out in the country. I've got the directions , but as I'm always getting distracted by the wildlife I'm notorious for "misplacing" myself. I'm going to give it a shot anyway. I head out of town, directions in hand. Guess what?

I follow the directions very carefully, I'm on the right road--eventually, but you know what? There are a whole lot of trees out here and I don't see the "one". I'm just about to turn back...

I glance up to the right, and there is a big female Red-tailed Hawk. Alright! I know to drive past her. Somehow it makes them slightly less ready to flee. But I'm on the right hand side of the road, as is the hawk, and there is no place to pull off. I take a couple shots out the passenger window and remember how one of my cousins who was digging for his camera in the glove box got flattened along with his car, literally with some speed demon watching a crop dusting plane, squashed them both.

She's looking off the other way, looking for prey. I'll chance finding a place to turn around and come back as the other side of the road does have a verge in which to pull off. Off I go. I pass three houses close together. Somewhat unusual out here. Likely relatives who all work this farm. Where is she?

Where did the hawk go?

There she is! She switched trees. I look at her and she looks at me. Perhaps slightly annoyed that I've reappeared to possibly bug her.

Alert, she looks farther up the road. And pointedly watches something.

She rouses. A dusty black car pulls up beside me with an older couple inside. The woman says, "Oh, we thought you were having car trouble."
"No, no, very nice of you to stop and check though. I'm taking pictures of the hawk." I point. The hawk is watching us in a rather relaxed way with interest.
The wife says, " We have a lot of hawks around here. There are Whooping Cranes in the field over yonder." The husband rolls his eyes and says, "Sandhills." I nod.
"Thanks, for the tip. I'll get some pictures of them too."
"Thanks again for checking on me"
As they tootle off, I look back up at the hawk.

No more conversation to eavesdrop on she's decided to head off. Drat!

She heads into the trees just as the black car passes the intercepting road. I'm betting that the hawk is very familiar with those people. They only live 25 yards away. And she seemed far more relaxed about me once they were talking to me. I'm betting that the "lots of Hawks around here" are this female, her mate, and their progeny in the correct season. And she recognizes them in much the same way as Pale Male and Lola recognize those they trust too.

I turn to look at the Sandhill Crane Pair. They are really very far away but the male spots that I'm looking at them immediately.

And in the blink of any eye, the female hunkers down behind the edge of a dip. With only her head visible. I take some photos of the foliage and I notice that there is a flock of small birds flitting around. They go to a wire then flutter to the ground and then right back up to a perch. They are quick. I can't seem to get any under magnification. What are they?

It turns out that they are Bluebirds. A small flock of them. I've always wondered why blue and rufous were good colors to be. Seemed to me that you'd stand out all the time and someone would eat you. But at this season the Bluebirds blend in rather well. And as they are teeny predators perhaps the coloring also helps them sneak up on insects

Even the littlest predator can get "that look" of focus so familiar in Red-tails.

Ah yes, and there is the glare. "You know don't you, that you're disturbing the prey? To say nothing of disturbing me."

What's that?

He fixes on it and flit. The game's afoot!

Then it is back up to the hunting perch. Look how blue his back is in that particular light.

I get the eyeball once again.

Back to hunting.

Ah, Tree Red-tail has returned and is checking me out on the way past.

Tree Red-tail just keeps going. Eventually disappearing beyond the field into the far tree line.
Time to get back in the car to make sure I'm back to where I know where I am before dark.

I pull over to check out something in the hedgerow to my left and when I look to the right, there is Bessie, the Holstein, eyeing me. She does have a very nice set of horns which are perfect for Halloween, don't you think?
Did you ever wonder why in a big herd of Holsteins that there will be one or two Jerseys? For the dairy herd uninitiated, that's the reddish one behind Bessie. Also note that Daisy there has just raised her tail. Do you know what that means? Glad I took the shot when I did. At any rate, the reason for the Jerseys in a Holstein herd. Jersey Cows have milk with a very high butter fat content. It's higher than the Holsteins, which makes for more choice milk. So why not have a whole herd of Jerseys. A few farmers do, but a Jersey doesn't give as much milk as a Holstein, so it's a compromise due to economics.

I'm almost back to Milton, in fact far less than a half mile to the house.

I scan the sky and there is yet another Red-tail, circling across the sky.

Coming my way in fact.

With a lovely glide directly above my head.
I head into the house and open the drape....
Guess who?

Central Park nature photographer Eleanor Tauber made a jaunt to the Conservatory Gardens and made some luscious photographs--here are two to savor.

Photo Eleanor Tauber
The Bath

Photo Eleanor Tauber
And the Water Lily