Friday, August 21, 2009

Barn Swallows and Nests in the Car Wash

August 20, 2009 Barn Swallow Update.

Here are the chicks of the Farmhouse Porch Nest and they're growing by leaps and bounds. Last time we checked in all that could really be seen were their backs in the top of the nest.

Now we have more obvious eyes, which they are using to make sure I don't make a leap for the nest. You can readily see the eyes of the left chick, but did you notice the eye nest right? Look a third of the way down the white feather in the nest. See it?

Watch how the eyes subtly change over time in the sequence.

Right chick is obscuring her eye even further.

Still watching but lower.
Oops. Look at that! A very sleepy third chick has risen from the depths of the nest.
Third chick just can't keep her eyes open. Though the other two seem to be vigilant enough for all.

They all appear to be getting sleepy and Mom and Dad are beginning to do flyover buzzes of my head. Time to retreat.
August 22, 2009
What a difference a day makes!
Their faces have really filled out.

They've also begun to develop that fiercely focused expression of adult Barn Swallows.
Focus on the appendages just right of the right chick's head. What are they and who do they belong to?
I just realized that I'm missing a shot in the sequence. You'll just have to wait until tomorrow to see which one and what is happening. Tell you the truth, Barn Swallow chicks remind me very much of those animated bomber planes in cartoons of the 40s and 50s.
Left chick has faded into sleep which is what I should do soon. Though I wish someone would fly in and feed me now and again. Of course I don't know how I'd feel about a diet of bugs.

Here's word from Mai concerning the dialogue between she and John Blakeman on the last post--
Hi Donna,

After hearing from JB I thought many of your readers would be greatly interested in his comments, so am pleased you published our conversation! He is so knowledgeable, and has such a fascinating job at the Plum Brook Station -- I never would have known something as wonderful as this was going on if I hadn't known him. Thanks for sharing with us all.

How's kitty doing? Is she now strictly a house-kitty? And do you think you'll every be coming back to NYC? I miss hearing about your NYC adventures, altho that may be selfish, you may have found that you prefer life in Wisconsin!

Best wishes,

Hi Mai,

You’re welcome. And many thanks to John Blakeman for passing it along for all to share.

As to Pyewackit the cat, she is doing just fine and yes, she is a completely inside cat these days. In fact she shows absolutely no wish to leave the house at all-ever. If she is watching birds through the patio door and I open it to go out, she scampers to the other side of the kitchen and waits until I close the door before coming near it again. It looks to me that Pye is a cat who knows which side her cat chow is buttered on and is taking no chances that something might happen to turn her into a hungry foraging stray again. And that is just fine with me.

Do I prefer Wisconsin to New York? They both have things about them that I love. The real issue is my parent’s house. As we all know, the economy isn’t the best right now nor is it a grand time to sell a house. I own “most” of the house that my parents owned here in Wisconsin and someone needs to take care of things until it can be sold for a reasonable price. And that someone has turned out to be me. Flying back and forth frequently can add up, as can a landscaping service for mowing and winter care for snow shoveling. Normally I would have spent hawk season in NYC but this year I’d discovered the Ms and wanted to notate and observe a pair of rural hawks to compare with my urban hawks experiences. Though I still likely would have headed to the city for longer then I did this hawk season,( Remember I photographed and observed the Riverside nest earlier this year?) to visit my old haunts and the bonded pairs that I’ve watched nest all these years had it not been, that early on Charlotte and Junior abandoned their nest and Isolde and Norman didn’t appear to be nesting at all. Therefore I stuck with the Ms. Particularly since until almost fledging time I was the only watcher which meant if I left WI there would be a huge gap in the observations of my first readily accessible rural nest. I learned a huge amount which very much affected my thoughts on the perennial early fledging of urban eyasses and how that situation should be handled. So no I don’t prefer one place to another. It is more that I prefer the place at any given moment in which I can learn the most about our beautiful adaptable astounding Red-tailed hawks.

From Karen of RI, an observation--

Some sort of birds build nests up in the top of one of the washing bays in a do it yourself car wash near where I live. I have been assuming them were swallows, but haven't taken a good look.The nests seem to be up in a cranny between the inner horizontal roof and "the attic" so to speak, so I haven't actually seen the nest(s).It isn't a very busy car wash, but I would have though it would be too busy for them. Apparently not, since this is the second year I've seen them.I'm happy to say the elderly owners don't seem to mind the birds being there.

Fancy you should mention birds nesting in the car wash. Not long ago, I too was in a car wash. It was one of those models in which you use a brushed hose and scrub away on the vehicle yourself. I kept hearing the cheeping of chicks coming from high up the wall but I couldn’t see a nest. Hmmm. Then I saw a parent fly in. Then another parent bird fly by into the adjoining cubicle and pop down out of sight. They were Starlings. Starlings will use anything resembling a cavity for nesting purposes. In this case there was an about 8 inch gap between the overhanging roof and the wall. The wall itself was built with cement block and from the flights in and out it appeared that the concrete blocks had not been finished over on the top and the Starlings were nesting in them.

Of course your car wash birds could be another species but Starlings are the only ones that I have seen do it. They aren’t terribly picky.

As some of you may have heard there was a rather dreadful thunderstorm in NYC that did in a number of trees in Central Park.
Robin of Illinois kindly sent in this link for those who would like more information.

And in the same vein Karen Anne Kolling of Rhode Island wrote with her concern for the wildlife of Central Park--
I just read the news about the storm and trees down in central park. I hope Pale Male and Lola are okay, and the other birds, as well as the hawks elsewhere in the city... Any news?

Good question. I’ve been told that the known Red-tails that frequent Central Park have been accounted for. I am not surprised by this as these are savvy hawks. They wouldn’t allow themselves to be caught in the open in a storm like that if they could at all help it. They likely hunkered down in a sheltered spot, even possibly the lee side of a building, and waited it out, like the very smart birds that they are.
Donegal Browne

Monday, August 17, 2009

John Blakeman Answers Mai's Questions about Crummy Red-tail Hawk Feathers and a Miscellany of Birds

April 5, 2009.

Here is the Red-tailed Hawk pair who nested on County Rd. M, Rock County,WI. Or the Ms for short. Here they are in their fine Spring breeding feathers before the wear and tear of tending eyasses takes it's toll on their plumage.

Though after observing both rural and urban Red-tails, it appears to me that the rural hawk feathers stay untattered and look fresher longer than the ones being worn by their urban counterparts. I surmise that scraping against a building is more damaging than scraping across a tree branch.

Now the dialogue between Ohio hawk expert John Blakeman and long time blog reader Mai--

Hi John,

Long time no talk! Hope you're having a fine summer. What are you up to this summer? Of course, you know about the tragedies of two of the RSP young ones. "Slow" signs will be going up sometime on the highway, but it remains to be seen whether that will help. Unfortunately, RSP is much narrower than CP, and much closer to fast-moving traffic.

I felt bad for the remaining RT fledgling, who obviously missed his/her siblings. But I assume that at some point, he/she will find a mate and start, so won't be alone.

I was noticing in the pix today on Lincoln's website in the closeups of the RSP female RT, that there seems to be a darkness, like a dark line, at the outer edge of her left eye (right on our screens). I wondered whether it indicated something wrong, like the beginning of a growth on her eye?

I'm certainly not an expert and could be completely wrong -- what I'm seeing could be completely normal. Would appreciate your thoughts.

Best to you,



No, nothing wrong with the RSP formel. She's in the molt and looks pretty ragged. She's lost some feathers around her eyes, making her look abnormal. Nothing amiss.

I will be trapping a new red-tail in Sep or Oct, as Savanna II died last winter. I'm seeing a good number of immatures this year, so our hatch was good---unlike last year when very few fledged. It was the lowest number of successful nests I've ever seen. Back to normal this year.

I'm nicely involved in a bunch of prairie landscaping projects this summer, and continue to advise NASA in the management of their 6400-acre Plum Brook Station here in northern Ohio, restoring vast expanses of native prairie. Very exciting.

Keep in touch.

--John Blakeman

Hi John,

Many thanks for your response, I'm glad to know what's going on with the female RT. I knew you'd know the answer! Those parents seem committed to that territory, which is nice because it provides us with good views of them and their nesting activities, including eyasses, but unfortunately has some terrible hazards.

You've probably also noticed, on Donna's website, that there appear to be an RT pair in Tompkins Square Park. TSP is also not a large space, so when/if this pair decides to have a family, I hope the people in that area will be careful and thoughtful of the RTs. I'm afraid NYC is going to run out of parkland for these determined birds!

You do have an interesting life! Your projects sound as though they're not only enjoyable, but mightily worthwhile. Is/will the Plum Brook Station be open to visitors, once its "native prairie" restored? It would be very interesting to see what the prairie originally looked like.

Good luck finding a new RT, altho I do have qualms about keeping such magnificent wild creatures in captivity!



First, take no concern for the red-tail I'll be taking from the wild. If it were to sit merely in some zoo cage, or even in some state park's animal display area, I'd be a bit concerned myself. But understand that my falconry red-tail will have virtually all the advantages (psychological, medical, nutritional, safety, and flying and hunting) that wild birds have. In fact, my captive falconry birds have it better. They have all of the above, in spades, but still get to do everything a wild red-tail does except mate and breed. And that's not really a high priority for them. At least a third, perhaps half, of all the wild red-tails simply never breed. (And that's why NYC and other cities are being invaded by red-tails, who can't find an empty territory in wild rural areas.)

And just as everyone has seen with the eyasses produced in NYC in the last two decades, fewer than half ever attain full adulthood. That's not so with falconry red-tails, who almost universally live rewarding, full, long lives.

Here's the crucial thing. When I trap a red-tail in autumn, she is first alarmed, as she's a wild animal. But within two or three days in my care she realizes that things here aren't so bad. Good food every day, shelter from rain and storms, and the opportunity to fly each day. She soon finds that this falconer guy actually provides rewarding experiences, which finally results in wonderful hunting events. We don't hunt puny little field mice. She finds that when she sits on my fist out in the field, somehow, a bunch of cottontail rabbits start running away. Chasing, killing, and eating those is about as good as red-tail life gets.

And that's the crucial matter. A falconer's birds are flown free. The bird on each hunt (and during most advanced training sessions) has the opportunity to simply, as we say, "fly over the hill," deciding to return to a life in the wild. I've never had a hawk do that. They always elect to fly back to my fist and be cared for, flown, hunted, and sheltered. Life for them is exceptionally rewarding and good. They know that. If it weren't, they wouldn't voluntarily come back after each hunting flight. These birds aren't dumb. They know a good thing when they live it.

One last point, and this is crucial for an accurate understanding of all of this. If I were to trap a haggard and try to use it for falconry, the bird would instantly fly over the hill at it's first chance. I once did trap a haggard, for some research I was conducting. I kept it for a winter, and could always detect its profound aversion to living in captivity. That's because red-tails become mentally hard-wired to life in the wild in their first winter. By next spring, this year's eyasses will be mentally hard-wired adults, incapable and unwilling to make any mental adjustments to life in captivity, no matter how good that might really be. This is why falconers never, ever trap or use wild haggards.

But the bird I will be trapping will take a week or so to get adjusted to life in a big outdoors mews (hawk enclosure). Because this is the bird's first autumn, it soon thinks that, hey, this must be what happens when I get this old. Let's see what happens.

For these newly-trapped and well-cared for birds, it's all natural and good. They fit right in with things as they find them, which are very good.

So, take no concern for the hawk's mental state. She will be as happy and rewarded (actually, more so) than any of her wild, un-trapped compatriots, a good number of whom will not survive the winter.

Right now, the 10 sq-mile NASA Plum Brook Station is off limits to the public, for safety reasons regarding the rocket engine and other tests done there. But I've convinced PBS officials that we should let the public in on John Blakeman-led field trips, to seed the stunning natural history of the site. They have fully supported this, and tomorrow (it may thunderstorm here) I will be leading a 2-hr field trip through the natural areas of PBS for scientists and employees at the NASA Glenn Research Center 60 mi away in Cleveland. They want to see the phenomenal nature stuff at this almost-wilderness site.

I'm also conducting a half-dozen public field trips this summer and fall. Eventually, a representative portion of the Station may be open to the public from time to time, to experience the landscape-scale prairies I'm restoring there, putting it back the way it was in presettlement times, 200 yrs previous.

Yes, it's a stunning opportunity (and obligation) I have at Plum Brook Station, one that so few are ever afforded. The site was the easternmost large tallgrass in North America, where the fertile Midwestern prairie soils began. I'm privileged to be able to restore much of this, perhaps 2500 acres, eventually to it's original state. It will match (or exceed) anything in Iowa or Illinois.

Can you imagine the feeling of standing next to a giant, open meadow field where I've planted the original prairie grasses wildflowers, and this year, seeing some of those gorgeous flowers come into bloom, once again after 150 years? Then, next March I'm in charge of setting the place on fire, recreating the landscape fires Native Americans set at the site for several thousand pre-columbian years. The fires, with quarter-mile flame fronts and 20-ft flame heights coursing over these meadows are one of the most awesome events in nature. And I'm the guy who lights the first drip torch and tells the crew where to make the first flame fronts.

The tallgrass prairie, of course, is dependant on the restorative nature of annual spring fires.

Nothing like it in all the world.

--John Blakeman

Many thanks to John Blakeman for forwarding gthe conversation and to Mai for asking the questions. Last but not least, for newcomers, the address for Lincoln Karim's website is

I was out puttering around the countryside when I discovered this flock of Canada Geese also puttering around and having a grass snack. The appearance of my vehicle prompted them to stare but they weren't bothered enough to make a break for it.

Going a little further down the dirt road, I spied a flock of Wild Turkeys I got out of the car but let it idle and left the radio playing. The turkeys gave me a look but as I wasn't turning off my engine they seemed perfectly happy to be observed. When I did turn the car off and got out for a better view a number of turkey heads popped up on alert and stared. keep in mind I was at least 100 yards away but after a moment they then changed their foraging angle to bring them to the field's woodline instead of foraging at their previous speed and angle.

Barn Swallows in Wisconsin did typically nest in barns but now that so many barns have fallen into disrepair and even fallen down, one pair decided to nest in one of the top corners of this farmhouse's porch.

When I first discovered them, two of the chicks were up and looking around. By the time I got the camera...

They were down and peering with their big shiny insect hunting eyes from behind bits of feather and fluff.
I'd love a look at their whiskers--perhaps tomorrow.

Screech Owls, Thompkins RT, and Leap Frogging Kingbirds

Photograph by Francois Portmann (As this is a broken lined link, you may have to type it into your address bar to get there.)

South African filmmaker Adam Welz releases one of the Horvaths rehabilitated Screech Owls--7/20/09

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photograph by Francois Portmann
For more of Francois' beautiful photographs of the release follow the above link.
Plus for Adam Welz's take go to...
Also from Francois a look at one of the Tompkins Square Park Red-tailed Hawks.
8/05/09Francois says--

Hey Donna,

The same 2 hawks are hanging in Tompkins Square Park this summer, seems that dominatrix (Valkyrie D.B) is always there and keeps the light supercilium male away (he could be the one seen at Gramercy Park!!) both birds have scraggy tails and could be molting?


For those without long memories, both these Red-tailed hawks wintered in or near Tompkins. Usually the wintering immatures at this park leave come summer, and winter elsewhere the next year. But these two, a male and a female, have stayed now nearly through a full year.

I can well imagine that they both have scraggy tails at this point as most of their habitat is made up of buildings. And buildings are very tough on tails and wing-tips that tend to brush against them.

Yes it is getting along toward molting season. Particularly the case for these non-breeding adolescents as they will molt earlier than their breeding adult counterparts.

I'm actually quite excited that these two have stayed around and it should be this molt in which their tails will take on the distinctive orangey red of adult and ready to breed Red-tailed hawks. Could Tompkins Square Park (and Gramercy for that matter) finally be getting a bonded pair and their nest?

Photograph by Jackie Dover
It's catch up time and if your memory is long you'll remember a thread about Kingbird's started by Jackie Dover of the Tulsa Hawk Forum--
I understand that Kingbirds are related to the Scissortail Flycatcher, Oklahoma's state bird. To my ears, their jabbery vocalizations sound very much like those of the Scissortail. And the babies chatter much as the adults do.I’m attaching one more Kingbird photo, this time, of one of the babies "leapbirding" over a sibling, apparently just to get to the other side.
Jackie Dover
Tulsa Hawk Forum
Donegal Browne