Friday, December 19, 2008

Red-tail Hawk Update--The Thompkins Square Brown-tails

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photographer and Hawkwatcher Francois Portmann, managed to find and photograph both the Thompkins Square Park Brown-tails.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Francois believes the hawk with the heavy belly band, above and in the next three photographs is a female.
Photograph by Francois Portmann

He reports that she's larger than the other bird. On a previous sighting this bird was perched in the park while the other, who seems fond of pigeon hunting, flew over. She called to him.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

She looks to be quite a dark bird, rather like Charlotte or Norman. Who, where many hawks are cream or white, these birds are more beige.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Though as she's caught a rat, perhaps part of the dark effect may have to do with the time of day.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

This bird, Francois reports, is smaller than the first and likely a tiercel.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

True to his penchant for flushing pigeons, he does it again.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

To the railing he goes, with something in his crop already. He stares up, perhaps deciding how best to get one of those pigeons.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

I love this photograph. His posture makes him look like he is levitating in the way Rudolph Nuryev did during a leap. Though this guy does it as easily as breathing. Note the size of his toes and "ankle". Compare them with the Formel's in the photo of her that is fourth from the top.

I hope to see much more of these two.


James Blank who has contributed Turkey and Hawk photographs to the blog, unfortunately saw an interesting Red-tail incident the other day when he didn't have his camera with him. (Let that be a lesson to all of us.)

After the latest snowstorm save one, Mr. Blank saw a mature Red-tail sitting in a tree overlooking an open area quite near where a crew was taking a jackhammer to frozen ground, looking for some cable or other. Red-tails being very patient when they feel they have the prospect of a good thing, sat there for some time. Then suddenly the hawk swooped out of the tree and toward the ground to make a grab. Her talons went down, there was a great puff of snow, the talons came up empty, she then did a three or four contact hopping motion and finally came up with a good sized rodent for her lunch. Which she flew away with to eat in peace.

An experienced hawk, she no doubt knew that excavation equipment tends to send rodents out of their burrows and was waiting for that to happen. But on that day, there was quite a number of inches of snow on the ground so did the rodent appear above the snow so the hawk could see it and then catch it? Or can hawks as owls do, listen for prey under snow and then make sightless grabs through that snow?

I'll ask John Blakeman.

Donegal Browne

P.S. Mr. Portmann wrote that he did see a downtown hawk collect a London Plane fruit. The fruits of the London Plane are about half the size of a Sycamore fruit but also have the fluff inside them. No more details on this as yet but I've asked.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What is THAT doing in Kay and Jay's Nest? Crow at the Bath? And Scat and Tracks.

Screen capture courtesy of Jackie of Tulsa and KJRH TV
Jay, I think, stands in the Tulsa nest next to two Sycamore fruits. (Many thanks to Jackie for the fruit ID.)

Now just what are those doing there?

Screen capture courtesy of Jackie of Tulsa nd KJRH TV
These fruits are about the size of golf balls.
It isn't as if Red-tails don't sometimes bring some curious things to their nests. In the NYC nests we've seen newspaper, plastic bags, foam rubber noodles, bits of rubber, insulation, for instance beyond the usual twigs, strips of bark, dried grasses and bits of other foliage.

But might there be a specific method to this madness. A sycamore fruit is really many many nutlettes, each connected to a bit of fiber or fluff that floats the seeds hither and yon to possible new growing spots.
I don't know how many Sycamores we have near Red-tail nesting sites in NYC but we certainly have many many London Planes which produce a smaller version of the Sycamores fruit. Though I've never seen any taken to the nests. Which doesn't mean it hasn't happened you understand. We don't see everything from the ground. Though when I did get a look into Pale Male's nest, I saw no fluff.
Is there a thought on the Tulsa Hawk Pair's minds that the fluff might make good nest lining?
Lola has a tendency to choose her nest lining very carefully. She pulls strips of bark off trees. I've also seen Charlotte with tree bark strips. There is also a good bit of dried grass gathered and that I did see in Pale Male and Lola's nest.
Fluff does seem like something nice to sit on and likely it would be a good insulator as well.
Was fluff used in past Tulsa seasons and the hawks know where it comes from and so the fruits were brought to the nest in preparation for use?
That would be long range planning as the fruit has to reach the next stage of maturation and break open in order to have fluff visible.
In many parts of the country the Sycamore nutlettes tend to float about in February and March.
I can't wait to see what happens!

I don't know that I've ever seen the Crows tarry at the bath for anything except pasta prep so today was unusual. Can you figure out what is going on?

It took me forever to figure out what the Crow was doing. Why I'm not sure as it is a common activity. Perhaps because with Crow behavior it is often somewhat convoluted. But if I have sussed it out correctly, the Crow was warming her feet.
Friend sits on the wire waiting for the squirrels and I to leave.
And he is beginning to loose patience.
It is after civil twilight but the birds are eating when normally they would have gone to roost long ago. The storm is going to be bad and they know it.
Coming across these rabbit prints I was reminded how tracks change depending on the medium they are left in or in this case the depth of the medium.

In deeper snow, the exclamation points of bunny tracks can turn into a print of the back feet and a drag for the front. Or the rabbit just sinks into the snow, so that sometimes the prints can be at the bottom of the body depression or just a wallow of a depression. See all types in the photo above.
This is a very low res photo but it was the only one I got of three of the rabbits in the same frame, before they bounded off in three different directions. This is what always happens with a group of rabbits who are flushed. I suspect it is wired in as this course would force the predator to make a decision as to whom to chase. And a split second of decision making time might make the escape successful for all.
I ran across a 1950's field guide of animal tracks in the library which also included painstaking drawings of scat. This made me remember that when I found scat I should share the knowledge. For those who don't know what scat is. It's feces. Or in common parlance--animal poop. This particular scat/poop is quite common and most will no doubt recognize it. Yes, it is the scat of the Cottontail Rabbit.

Here is a macro shot. In life these examples were about three quarters the size of Cocoa Puffs.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Winter is the time of hunger and cold. Even during the most severe low temperatures, blinding snow, and high winds the Crows must forage diligently to keep their relatively large bodies fed. They don't hunt ready made meals like the raptors, nor do people put out Crow buffets as they do with the seeds and suets for the other winter birds.

I can't tell you how many people in Wisconsin have told me that they HATE Crows.

Why do they hate Crows?

Because they say, the Crows tear up their trash.

It's almost a phobia--teeth clench, eyes flare. Now I've literally watched for years, waiting to see Crows disrupt someone's garbage. But all I've seen are the Crows of winter working carefully through the snow looking for something to nourish themselves in the cold.

And it isn't as if I'm just not catching them at it. I've also not seen the tell tale clues of ripped garbage bags and blowing trash.

The Crow turns her face into the wind and continues her search for food.

Southern Wisconsin has just had yet another winter storm. This bout brought 7 more inches of snow, followed by below zero temperatures. Tomorrow is to bring a further foot of snow. And yesterday I watched the Crows forage endlessly and methodically across the park without the look of much success while sinking knee and thigh deep in the snow.

Today was garbage day. A little before noon, I looked out the front window, and low and behold there stood a Crow on top of the neighbor's lidless garbage can determinedly trying to rip the garbage bag open. Four Crows stood below the can looking on with focus. I ran for the camera.

Unfortunately, when I raised the camera to my eye, the Crows took to their wings and fled with speed. One Crow, up left corner of photo, landed in a tree though almost out of my sight line.

Drat! I took a second to rearrange the string of Christmas lights and when I looked up again, three more Crows were now perched in the tree where the first had landed.

Two Crows fly down and land on the bag. Note the debris at the foot of the can.

Then inexplicably the two Crows fly to the snowbank.

The rear Crow is looking up with focus. Did something fly over?

Then it's back to work.

Three Crows remain perched in the tree. The Crow on the bag retrieves a wad of something wrapped in paper toweling and throws it to the ground where the second Crow goes down and begins to unwrap the find.

A third Crow flies in and the Can Crow throws down something unrecognizable and the third Crow flies away with it.

Second Crow watches Third Crow take off.

Suddenly there is the rumble of a garbage truck coming down the street.

Can Crow flies into the Mountain Ash in my yard and though our eyes meet doesn't fly off immediately which is unusual.
The other Crows sit in the perch tree as the trash truck approaches. I look back at Can Crow, he looks at me, and then flies over the roof of the house. I head for the glass door and discover Can Crow in the back yard foraging through the snow.
Silly me, I think, well that is that. I grab my coat and head for an appointment.
Only later did I realize that it wasn't the garbage truck that had come down the road. It was the recycling truck that had appeared. It would have emptied the green and yellow recycling bin. The garbage would have continued to sit there waiting for another company's truck (different color and shape) to pick it up. There was still more time for raiding which I missed.
Could that be the reason the other Crows waited perched in the tree.
Could Can Crow really have distracted me on purpose?

Whatever the answer to those questions, because the trash raiding is so rare and conceivably dangerous due to attracting negative human attention, I believe the Crows only engage in the activity when they are desperate for a meal.

Remember Squirrel One and his attachment to the red bowl? In the comments section, blog contributor Karen Anne Kolling suggested that perhaps One saw red bowl as a sort of infinite bowl of plenty. Contributor and squirrel rehabber Carol Vinzant suggested that perhaps he wanted a sled and wouldn't that be a wonderful documentary. It was all in fun of course, but it once again brought to the fore that we really don't know what an animal may be thinking and why, beyond the basics, and even there we tend to assume. In fact I'd been turning and turning the episode around in my mind since it happened without being able to even theoretically come to a conclusion.
Carol Vinzant made a simple but brilliant suggestion. Find another red bowl, bury it in the snow like the original, and see if Squirrel One reacts to it again.
Unfortunately I don't have an identical plastic bowl. It was in my parents house and may well have been for ages. I do suspect though that it may have been a bowl that some product was bought in. Whipped butter? Holiday Whipped Topping? Frozen something? Therefore if you recognize the bowl as a product container let me know. Or if you happen to have one you don't need anymore and would like to donate it, we'll figure out a way to get it here.

Juncos seldom get off the ground to feed.

But now a few visit that do fly up to the feeders immediately before and during the snowstorms.

And like Mrs. Goldfinch previously, Junco dallied on the feeder, sheltered from the snow, after eating.
For whatever reason, I seldom see the opossums these days, but the bunnies, perhaps four or five of them, visit every night to eat sunflower seeds.