Saturday, February 27, 2010

M Nest Comparison, The Effect of Cheese on Quicksilver, and Blackwater Eagles Have a Hatch!

The M nest from last season, 2/14/2010 6:08PM
This is the nest two weeks ago.

The M nest from last season 2/14/2010 5:58pm
And this is the more current model.

Unfortunately both days in which I had a chance to photograph the nest were rather late in the day so the clarity isn't what it might be. But in the latest version if you look carefully there appear to be two or three sticks in which the ends are pale, as if they were freshly broken from a tree. This isn't visible in the nest from two weeks ago, even though the time of day and therefore the light is at least somewhat similar.

I'm slightly heartened that work may be being done on it.

ATTENTION LOCAL ROCK RIVER EAGLE VIEWERS- There has been some concern that only one Eagle is being sighted along the river instead of the usual two. The reason only one is being seen at a time is likely that the other is sitting on their nest.

So far I've not talked to anyone who knows where the nest is located, if you know please let me know. My second option is to attempt to get a hold of a small boat and reconnoiter for the nest's location by water. Anyone with a boat who'd like to join in the adventure?

Quicksilver and I cool our heels in the Milwaukee Airport on Friday. Metaphorically of course Silver doesn't really have much in the way of heels being zygodyctal.
And no that isn't mu nose it is someones are in the foreground.

Unfortunately this cooling of heels wasn't because our flight was delayed by weather in NYC. It was delayed on the shall we say whim of the corporate office. In the past I've had great experiences with Midwest Airlines. The employees were very friendly and helpful, the seats were commodious comfy leather, the food was very good, and the chocolate chip cookies yummy. But that was before Midwest was taken over by Republic. Hiss. The employees being mostly Midwesterners are still friendly and helpful but the seats have shrunk to pretzel presses, there is never enough food to go around, and horror of horrors I think they've changed the recipe for the cookies.

Okay Silver and I could have lived through all that but yesterday after we'd all been loaded into a nearly full plane, a voice comes over the intercom explaining that gosh, we aren't going to be taking off on time after all, because corporate has decided that we're going to wait around an hour or so for some employees to get here so they can deadhead to NYC. WHAT?

A planeload of paying customers is going to wait for employees to get on at some unspecified time because the corporate headquarters is penny pinching? Clueless about courtesy? Their convenience is more important that ours? And of course the time is unspecified though they said an hour know.

What does this have to do with birds? Well Silver was as usual traveling with me and Silver travels in the plane's cabin inside a case that fits under the seat. Dandy for a certain amount of time, but we'd already done a flight from Madison to Milwaukee, laid over 45 minutes--Okay Silver did draw a crowd five deep by talking to them and counting fingers, doing his part in educating the public about bird brains not having quite the same definition as it once did but by the time we got on the plane to NYC we were ready to get on with it.

We sat the first hour, Silver having already eaten his supply of apples and nutri-berries and feeling no flight vibration as a real lack of travel progress, he never talks while the flight is actually underway, began quietly to say--"Want cheese", in a little voice wafting up from under the seat. He repeated it a little louder and a little grumpier, "Want CHEESE". I offer some more nutri-berries and he made a quiet but somewhat disgusting spitting noise. My, my we are grumpy aren't we? (Good thing my seat mate, liked birds and had a sense of humor, hey?)

By this point the folks had decided to let us deplane and wait. Better than sitting in the pretzel benders but the kicker was you had to take all your carry on baggage with you. Sigh. Better than having Silver graduate to mimicking the smoke alarm for sure. So off we go lugging our stuff: parrot in case, camera equipment, computer bag with a half dozen external hard drives, in search of you guessed it- CHEESE.

Now we could have gotten a ham and cheese sandwich from one of the little kiosks, but the last time I did that in Milwaukee I got food poisoning. Tomaine not being in my current plan, we walked farther and there was a place that sold nachos. Ah HA! Nachos have cheese. We get the nachos. We take them back to the gate, and Silver puts on another show, albeit a rather unintentional one. This one is called (Drum Roll, please) Watch the Parrot Eat Nachos. Many photos were taken, the crowd had something to do, we got back on the plane, the long awaited missing employees showed up, FINALLY. We took off and most of the rest of the passengers were treated to many free cocktails in hopes they'd forget their ordeal.

Now it's not that I have anything in particular against alcohol, it's just that after two sips I tend to fall down and who needs that so I don't ever drink. And please, can you imagine a drunken parrot? Not good, not good at all.

So beyond the suddenly boisterous passengers we made it to LaGuardia, didn't have to stand on the bus back to the city, though it looked close there for a minute, and about 12 hours after leaving Milton we got to the apartment in NYC. And Silver wasn't really the worse for wear at all. Ta da! The wonders of cheese.

Blackwater Eagle News from Robin of Illinois--

Thursday afternoon, the papa eagle brought a fish to the nest. This is often, as noted, a sign that there is about to be a hatch, and today, one egg was seen with a hole in it and the hatching process, a slow process, has begun!

Screen Capture, Robin of Illinois
First Blackwater hatch of the season. Hatchlings are a wonder; such a teeny little thing that turns into a great big eagle if all goes well.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Red-tail Update: The Ms Do Something? Just Exactly What Isn't at All Clear

I was driving down County Rd. M, scanning for the Red-tailed Ms, and sure enough there was the formel on her power pole. Having had enough of looking at her back the last time round, I decided to drive up the road adjacent to the pole, and then turn around so I could see her front. Well, I hadn't taken into account the lack of plowed verge so I did have her front, but I was extremely far away. She of course looked my way but did stay sitting, and scanning. I'd noticed on the way in that there were small flocks of birds foraging on the land around her. I couldn't tell the species I'm afraid, but they were bigger than sparrows and smaller than Robins, with a pale anterior and a brownish unstreaked back. I know that's only about 50 different birds.

She kept scanning and I attempted to creep up a little.

Then she was off, though I'm not sure if it was me or if she was after something.

She curves.

She looked like she was folding her wings and going closer to the ground which gave me the impression she was after something.

Then she began flapping again. Note as she is going towards the left there is a bird flying right, hot winging it for the cover of the Spruce tree.

She flies on.

Over one of the Gilmour's buildings

Now I'm not sure if the bird just above the leafless small trees on the left is Mrs. M or if it is another bird.

I think that was another bird because here comes the formel into frame on the right. Is she chasing that bird?

There is a bird up and slightly left of the left most evergreen. That's the mystery bird.

Because here comes Mrs. M. Both then head across the field beyond a barn and silo and out of sight. For some reason I look back toward her power pole.

And look who is in one of the trees in that direction. It's got to be Mr. M. I can't find him in my initial photos but I they don't show that particular tree. He could have been there all the time or he may just have slipped in when the formel left. One pair of eyes just isn't enough to keep up with two crafty hawks.

This is how he looks to the naked eye.

He leans forward toward the field.

I look over and the formel and the mystery bird have reappeared from behind the barn and silo.

Here's a crop.

The smaller bird doesn't take to the Spruce but rather flies in the tree line.

As does the hawk.

The smaller bird now seems to be curving back in an invisible circle toward the direction in which I and the tiercel are situated.

He's still in the tree leaning forward watching with acute focus.

Here's a crop of the previous photo.

Then he's up and traveling in the treeline on a curve in the opposite direction from where the formel started. He curves towards her and she curves toward him making a big O if both flights were connected.

He comes out of the twigs and looks to be attempting to catch an air current for some altitude.

He gets some height and then flaps like crazy closing in on the area in which the formel and mystery bird were last seen coming his direction. I've completely lost track of the other two.

Then Mr. M crashes through branches makes a right turn back toward the horizon in the photo. Suddenly everyone is out of my range of sight. What just happened? Did the formel herd the mystery bird the tiercel's way and then he nabbed it or was he hunting something else altogether? Curiouser and curiouser.

Donegal Browne

Is That the Sentinel Crow?

When I looked out in an attempt to gauge just how much snow was coming down, lo and behold I caught a crow unawares on the stump. This whole season the moment I look out a sentinel starts cawing and they're gone. But not this day.

I was adjusting the camera so I'm not sure if the second crow had been there all the time behind the stump or not. I think due to the spread wing he's just flying in but that's a probably.

Stump Crow gives Crow 2 the eye. Crow 2 remains vigilant. I wonder if he is the sentinel crow? Has Stump Crow been ignoring his warnings?
Stump Crow continues to eat and Crow 2 looks tough.
It appears to me that Crow 2 has spotted me. Have crows figured out that humans are less likely to be active when it snows and that is why he isn't crying the alert?
More alert behavior.
Then a fixed stare at Stump Crow.
Stump Crow flies off and Crow 2 watches him go.
Crow 2 checks the front side of the stump.
A look towards the feeding area.
A look possibly to spot Stump Crow...
and then a second later he is gone too. It's all rather inexplicable. One would have thought that Crow 2 would at least have gotten up on the stump for a bite before leaving. But if he's on the job, he's on the job. Rather like the Secret Service Agents, that don't get to knosh off the buffet table at events after all.

From faithful contributor Robin of Illinois, the hatch is imminent--

The Hatching Process:

I discovered both of the M crows yesterday but I can't quite figure out what they were doing. At any rate there are so many pixels involved they won't all fit on today's post. They'll be up soon.
Donegal Browne

Monday, February 22, 2010

Updates Galore: Fordham's Rose, NYBG Great Horned Owls, the Ms, their RTH Neighbors, Blakeman on People Feeding Eagles,and Trampoline Jumping Eaglets

In regards to yesterday's video of the people who fed and attracted an aggregate of Eagles--


The video of the clustered eagles on the ground, being fed fish, was pretty stunning.

But it’s not really so out of character for bald eagles, once they learn that humans have available food for them.

Interestingly, a similar thing was seen back in the late 19th century here on Sandusky Bay, on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Lake Erie is the shallowest and most productive of all the Great Lakes, with hundreds of tons of fish harvested each year both for sport and commercial sales.

In recent years, most of the Ohio Lake Erie fish catch has been for sport fishers. There is still a large commercial fishery across the lake in Ontario waters.

But at the turn of the last century, Sandusky, Ohio was the largest fish processing center on the entire Great Lakes. Fish offal from the processing was often simply dumped back into the lake or bay, attracting large flocks of bald eagles as seen in the video.

Like red-tailed hawks, bald eagles can quickly and easily adapt to human structures and presence when food is available. The older presumption that they won’t abide human activities anywhere near their nests or roosts has been proven inaccurate time and again.

Just this year, a local pair of eagles abandoned their nest near Sandusky Bay and built one in a tall tree in the front yard of a suburban neighborhood. These people will be mowing the lawn under the nest, drive their cars into the garage beneath, and otherwise conduct life as normal. The eagles above are most likely to merely watch all of this and pay no attention.

What’s the likelihood of this? Well, several years ago the same pair nested in a nearby backyard. Their three eaglets hoped out of the nest and dropped down unto a backyard trampoline where they jumped up and down with the same delight as a child, as the photo shows.

–John Blakeman

After weeks of hop flapping on a pile of twigs the trampoline must have been a true joy!

Photo by Richard Fleisher
And from longtime watcher of Rose and Hawkeye at Fordham, Richard Fleisher has an update on the New York Botanical Garden Great Horned Owls, Rose, a newly named feathered Vince Lombardi--


Finally got to the Gardens on a nice sunny winter day and was treated with some shots of the female Great Horned sitting pretty high up in the hole of the snag.
(A change to a higher sitting position by a female on the nest can be a clue that there has been a hatch. D.B.)

Photo by Richard Fleisher
Follow-up to Debbie Beckers post on the Plant Talk blog, I saw a Red tail sitting in a tree on the Forest Trail not far from the GHO nest. I do think there was one mistake in Debbie's post, the second Red Tail she reports seeing around the Owl nest was in all likelihood not one of last years brood but rather Rose's new mate.

Photo by Richard Fleisher
I also continue to see both Red Tails very busy fortifying the old nest on campus and roosting close to one another in trees near the nest site. I do not have a good sense of her new mate but I hope to take many photos of him once she starts sitting on the nest.
Photo by Richard Fleisher
No name as of yet for Rose's new partner but given that Hawkeye was named after a Fordham alum my inclination is to call him Vince after another famous alum Vince Lombardi.

Finally, I was also able to get this shot of what I believe is a Red-bellied woodpecker (my id could be wrong) that was also taken at NYBG.


Richard Fleisher
Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies
Political Science Department

Hi Rich,

I'm with you. I too believe that the immature is likely Rose's new mate. Interesting that both she and Isolde went for young tiercels. I wonder if that is common practice with formels holding territory on their own?

And I'll go with Vince for the name of the new guy in town, after all I'm currently in Vince Lombardi territory here in Wisconsin. I had no idea he came out of Fordham.

It's good to hear that Rose and Vince are roosting near the Fordham nest. From my experience with other urban hawk pairs, it sways the odds to that nest site as opposed to the one in the NYBG.

There of course is no way to tell where the poisoned rat that killed Hawkeye came from, but as he had avoided being poisoned for years previously while he and Rose were more often frequenting Fordham, and before the second generation poisons as well which is a wild card, somehow I felt it safer for more hunting to be done at Fordham.

Would it be possible to approach the folks at Fordham and ask, that if they must use rat poison, that they do not use the new second generation type that is especially lethal to the hawks and perhaps even use one of the rat poisons, considered more avian friendly especially during nesting and fledging season? For some years, there was special consideration given in that matter in Pale Male and Lola's territory in Central Park during breeding season particularly as fledglings, as you know, would be less likely to be cognizant of the signs of a poisoned rat and avoid them.

Many thanks for the update Rich! Great shots of the GHO, and that looks like a Red-belly to me too--a female.


Kim Gilmour, the first new hawkwatcher to follow the doings of the Red-tailed Hawk Pair on Cty M in Rock County Wisconsin has an update--

Hi Donna:

On my home today I was scanning the side of the road as I usually do and saw a pair of hawks perched on the top of the billboard on Cty M near the I90 overpass. I was wondering to myself if these were "my" hawks who nested last year across from my land. I slowed down when I got near the nest and saw another pair of hawks perched by last years nest. I can only hope they will again use the nest. I am going to start to carry my binoculars and spotting scope so I can keep track of activity. I am hoping to find where the pair nest that were perched on the billboard, am I correct in assuming that they should be nesting somewhere close to that? I also see you have pictures of the wooded ravine off Ivanhoe Dr. in Milton. That is directly across from my side of the subdivision, is there nesting or something there I would want to keep track of as well?

When will I begin the see nesting activity if the pair are going to be using the nest? Thanks for all your information and I look forward to seeing you at the nesting site this year.


Hi Kim,

Thank you for the update, it is very interesting. As to the pair of RTHs on the billboard, it is interesting that they were there together. How close together were they perched?

Ordinarily if there was one hawk on the sign, I’d think that the hawk was hunting but as they were both there, and if they were perched a few feet apart I might wonder if they had just copulated. Their nest might be close by or it might be anywhere within their territory which we are presuming until we know more, the unofficial standard of about 2 square miles..

How far away would you say the overpass is from “your” hawks nest tree? Now is the time when the bonded pairs will be firming up the boundaries of their domains which during the off season can be somewhat fluid. The hawks on the billboard may have been doing something that dealt with boundary issues as well.

As to the original Ms in their previous nest tree, that suggests to me that they are working on that nest site but it does not preclude their working on another site in another spot as well.

What exactly is happening in the Ivanhoe Ravine is a very good question. I do know that the Red-tailed hawk that was sitting on the power pole across from your shop, likely the formel of the pair we watched last season, flew from the pole directly toward the trees in the ravine and disappeared. This makes me think that if indeed that hawk was Mrs. M, that the ravine area is part of the Ms territory.

Any and all hawk activities could be occurring there. They might be building a second nest, she may just have been hunting, or she might have become annoyed with my presence and knew she’d lose me if she flew to the woods in the ravine, it could be just about anything as I didn’t find her once I got there, but the entire area certainly bears watching.

Donegal Browne

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blakeman on Red-tails vs Great Horned Owls, Defining Haggard, Plus Shakespeare and The Taming Of the Shrew

Photo-Donegal Browne
Rose at on a roof at Fordham preparing a meal for a nearly fledged eyass.

In the previous post down, there was a report about an interaction between Rose with a brown-tail for back up (yearling Red-tailed Hawk) and the Great Horned Owls of the New York Botanical Garden. I asked Ohio Red-tail expert John Blakeman to comment. He was unaware at the time that Rose had lost her mate Hawkeye some months ago.


Weird, from several points.

But first, the red-tail haggard would not attack the owl. She knows better. Contrary to the presentation, the tiercel owl was bigger than the formel hawk. The owl weighs more, and is really much stronger than the hawk.

I'm certain that all of this is territorial. This is just the time of year when nesting red-tails are booting out of their territories all of the unwelcomes. Usually, they can't displace great horned owls, just as was seen here. The big owls just hunker down and let the hawks flap about and get their blood pressure up. But no red-tail will (more than once, anyway) attack one of these lethal Tigers of the Night Sky.

But what about the immature red-tail participating in this territorial dance? Under normal circumstances, this immature bird should be no more welcome in the adults' nesting territory than the owls themselves.

Here's my only explanation, but it's pretty speculative.

I think the formel haggard would allow the incursion of the immature red-tail only if the pair bond with her normal mate were either dissolved or weakened. Has the haggard tiercel red-tail died? Has he moved off somewhere else? In either case, the formel can allow the incursion of a new potential mate within a day or less. This is one reason that mated, nesting red-tails do so much flying around in January throughout the entire breeding season, continually signally to the mate that "I'm here, all is well."

In this case, perhaps the tiercel haggard is not there, or not well, which prompted the formel to allow the immature to come in and strut his moderate stuff.

There are a few records of immature red-tails pair-bonding and nesting with full adults.

This was not any pack hunting. Red-tails simply do not do this in any deliberate or practiced manner. This was just the immature finding what was to him an un-mated adult with a territory that he might be able to take up residence and begin nesting.

But, if the immature was a formel herself, all of this falls apart.

Nonetheless, the owls are safe, regardless of the red-tails' show of the flag (well, the flared feathers).

--John Blakeman

Here are Mr. M (top) and Mrs. M (bottom) two haggards of Wisconsin.

If you'll remember photographer Francois Portmann and I were discussing the female pronoun used as the universal pronoun in hawks when one doesn't know their sex. Francois had included a link to an essay which spoke about the "she" pronoun issue, but also gave a definition of haggard supposedly used in falconry which didn't match up with the way John Blakeman used it.

This is the definition from the essay--
"Haggard is the falconer’s term for a bird whose training came too late, leaving her inclined to take off on her own, ignoring his whistle to return, and so causing him hours of worried effort, perhaps losing her altogether to the wild."

This was used with a reference to Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew which as I trained and worked as a Shakespearean Actress, and had I run across this during my character research would have colored my performance of Kate with a bent to her being purposely uncooperative and kind of a jerk. Not that Petruchio doesn't deserve it you understand but it does make her less likable.

Here is John Blakeman's definition--


No, this is not a generally-regarded falconer's definition of a haggard. Too complicated, and not useful, either for falconers or raptor watchers.

Simply, a haggard is an adult raptor. For a red-tail, it's a bird gaining or possessing a red tail. Purely, in falconry usage, a haggard has never been trained for falconry. A falconer may be flying a 5-yr old bird that was trapped in its first migration. It's now an adult, but will never be a haggard. Haggards are always wild birds. Falconers never trap or attempt to use a wild-trapped (there is no other kind) haggard.

Now here's another falconry term, which has no usage for hawk watchers. We falconers talk about the age of our bird by referring to how many molts it's been through in the falconer's care. When the bird is carried through a summer molt, it is said to be "intermewed." The 5-yr old bird would be said to be 5x-intermewed.

Wild hawks are not "intermewed." They pass the molt on their own, without a falconer's assistance, so the term has no use among hawk watchers.

--John Blakeman

Therefore plainly, a haggard is a wild bird, plain and simple. She is not tame. There has never been an attempt to tame her and therefore she has not failed in any way, been incompetent, uncooperative with the program or just plain jerky. She in short has been herself. And a hawk being herself is a great thing of beauty.

I then went off to research the etymology of the word haggard in regard to hawks. (Sorry my OED is in NYC so I had to make do with the available Internet sources.)

Main Entry: 1hag•gard
Pronunciation: \ˈha-gərd\
Etymology: Middle French hagard
Date: 1567
1 of a hawk : not tamed

Ah ha! The original usage taken from Middle French in 1567, is an untamed hawk, i.e. a wild hawk. As Shakespeare lived from 1564-1616, had noble relatives on his mother's side of the family that may have been falconers, and Shakespeare spoke French, ( He wrote several scenes in French in Henry V.) we can surmise with some confidence that his definition of haggard was the original, i.e. a wild hawk.

Therefore the take on playing Kate in Shakespeare's play would be that Kate in her wild free fierceness is being what she is naturally is, an unrestrained creature of beauty and will. She is not being uncooperative, she is not failing in training, she is being herself. A beautiful unrestrained formel.

But wait! Look what happens around 1913 to the definition of haggard--

The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48
Haggard \Hag"gard\, n. [See Haggard, a.]

1. (Falconry) A young or untrained hawk or falcon. [1913 Webster]
2. A fierce, intractable creature. [1913 Webster]
I have loved this proud disdainful haggard. --Shak. [1913 Webster]

The above definition prefaces its definition with (Falconry) which could mean it is a word used by falconers for a wild hawk, i.e., a haggard.

Then other dictionaries pick up this definition and bend it a bit further--


a. Appearing worn and exhausted; gaunt.
b. Wild or distraught in appearance.
2. Wild and intractable. Used of a hawk in falconry.
An adult hawk captured for training.

Suddenly instead of falconers using the word haggard for an untamed wild hawk, it is about "of a hawk in falconry", a hawk that is human held and therefore likely in training. And look at what haggard as a noun has become--An adult hawk captured for training ???

It completely skewers the original meaning and getting back to Shakespeare if you are a modern actor or director researching the play it skewers the play as well. Part of the reason Taming of the Shrew is considered in modern times, rather a "problem play", is not only for Petruchio's treatment of Kate but for that inexplicable last speech where Kate goes down on her knees and seems to recant her previous behavior to Petruchio. Often done these days with a wink and a nod on Kate's part towards the audience, as if she is just humoring him and keeping him from embarrassment in public, which doesn't really quite work.

But what if the original definition of the word haggard were used to color the play. Ordinarily Kate is a wild hawk, fierce and free but Petruchio instead of being played as a falconer who can't make her cooperate by not feeding her, etc. and must take her by force. obviously Kate doesn't bond with him, but let's say for yayas, that Petruchio is played as a tiercel at some point along the way, a tiercel who has invaded Kate the formel's hawk territory, taking the prey she regards as hers, zooming through her territory as an interloper, she would take after him and rebuff him but with his continued attentions she begins to be wooed , in her last speech Kate talks about Petruchio putting himself in danger for her, defending her, feeding her as teircels do for formels in courting and keeping her safe--- as a mate would--- that speech becomes the moment in which she makes a pair bond with Petruchio, she accepts him as her bonded mate, in RTH parlance her talons drop and she accepts him, the food he offers, and the ensuing sexual favors, and they will then live life as a team, a duo in cooperation.

My apologies for going on about this for those of you who don't know the play. (Read it or get it on DVD, it's wonderful even if not exactly played these days likely as the Bard had in mind.) But for me to see the transition in meaning of a word Shakespeare uses in the play for Kate, was an epiphany as to possibly being able to put what Shakespeare actually had in mind back in the play so that it works like it should.

Boy oh boy, would I love to try it.

Now from the sublime to people who just haven't a clue how dangerous what they are doing is...and with three little kids right there with them. Watch this video that Robin of Illinois sent in. I've also sent the link to John Blakeman who I know he will have a few choice words to say about it--

Over 30 Eagles in the back yard.

The father says the reason the immatures are so close is because "they have something to prove". Something to prove, my great Aunt's pajamas, the immatures are often hungrier and less well fed due to inferior hunting skills than adults and they haven't learned a healthy fear of people yet...healthy for them but also healthier for the people who are being dopes. And their hunting skills are not being honed they are just being taught to be beggars dependent on people.

Besides Eagles are famous for snatching food from each other and from all kinds of other species including bears who are much bigger than we are.

And as my Great Aunt used to say, "Och, the loonies, Saints preserve them!"

Donegal Browne