Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mute Swans, Great Horned Owls, Squirrel Nabbing Red-tails and I Make a Nest

Photo by Paul Anderson
Mute Swans,
Cygnus olor
Actually they aren't mute they hiss and wheeze. They're the ornamental park variety, exotics which have become established in the wild. They eat aquatic plants and seeds, which one of them seems to be doing, with head and neck disappeared into the water. The other is keeping a close eye on the activities of the nearest duck.

Photo by Paul Anderson.
Exactly why the huge swans feel the need to keep such a sharp eye on the much littler ducks I don't know. Perhaps swans have a need for a particular allotment of personal space--or else.

Photo by Richard Fleisher

Photos of the Great Horned Owl 3/17 at the Botanical Garden.

Beginning to wonder, I am no expert on GHO but it seems to me that we are either approaching or past the normal gestation period for a GHO (average of 33 days).


Is it possible that there has been a hatch but we just haven't seen the owlets yet as they aren't old enough to peek out? Not much chance that the NYBG is open at night so you'd be able to see if both parents fly out to get food for the little guys. Though to tell the truth, I know that both Screech Owl parents will go out to forage for the young come evening but I don't know if that is the case with GHOs.

Photo by Richard Fleisher

Photo by Richard Fleisher

Photo by Richard Fleisher
Hmmm, looks kind of grumpy doesn't he?

Photo by Richard Fleisher

Photo by Richard Fleisher


I had another adventure today at the NYBG. I recently purchased a small HD camcorder and took it with me into the forest for the first time. Incredibly, while not too far from my previous encounters with Rose and Vince, I saw this beautiful raptor touchdown on the top of a tree. As I got closer, I noticed it was playing cat and mouse with a potential meal. A tough NYC squirrel. I got some video. The squirrel lived to run another day.

I'm not sure if this hawk was Vince, or the juvenile Red-tail I saw at the Twin lakes last time or perhaps another hawk.

Click this link for the video.

If this is Vince, Rose won't be eating many squirrels while sitting the nest. It is a very common sight to see a young Red-tail attempting to nab a squirrel that's in a tree. It just doesn't happen, not if the squirrel is healthy and smart enough to stay in the tree--and most all of them are once they know the hawk is there.

As anyone knows who as a child tried to get a close look at a squirrel hanging from the trunk of a tree, the minute you come closer they just head for the other side of the trunk--and they can do it all day. Even a Red-tail who has managed to herd a squirrel out on an isolated limb is still out of luck as squirrels can scoot round to the bottom of the limb and then back up again behind the hawk.

The secrets on the hawk's part to squirrel nabbing is stealth and patience.

First, the hawk must come in and perch without attracting any notice. If the hawk is noticed all the squirrels in the area will sit on limbs and whine at him, and whine, and whine until he gives up. And as we know a squirrel on a limb is not dinner.

Second, once perched without notice, the Red-tail must be patient and not give himself away by making a vain attempt at a squirrel in a tree. He must wait until a squirrel is on the ground and far enough from a tree for the hawk to make his move, grab the squirrel with a very firm grip, squirrels John Blakeman tells us have very tough skin, and then put it out of commission before the squirrel can damage the hawk. Squirrel grabbing is quite a dangerous business. Those teeth and an ensuing infection can mean a hawk's demise.

TANGENT: I had a cousin grab a squirrel by the tail who was used to being hand fed. The squirrel curled right back up to his tail and bit clean through her thumb. Obviously something to be avoided.

If you want to see the photo without the watermark, please go to my flickr page.
Once there, click the file marked red-tail hawks 2010. The two photos are called chase1 and chase2.


Photo by D. B.

What is this you ask? This is my experiment in hawk nest building. Okay, okay, it was an idea that, well, progressed.

You see, when I'd pick up fallen twigs before mowing, no don't get me started on mowing, for some time I'd piled them up against the house near the feeders to make a refuge for the smaller birds so they could whip into the pile and not be such easy prey for the Cooper's and Sharpies.

Yes, I know everyone has to eat but as the feeders are unnatural they also gave the Accipiter's an unnatural advantage. Just trying to even things out, folks.

Okay, back to the pile of twigs. The pile had grown taller than me and people began to tell me having them piled there wasn't good for the house. Plus it would draw mice, who eventually would want to take up residence in the house.

As the weather was good finally I began putting the twigs into a wheelbarrow. Now, I've always wondered if I actually knew with any specificity what was actually needed to make a nest hang together. I mean how many times had I watched Pale Male stand on the nest for many minutes on end staring at certain spots of the nest, making a decision, and then setting out to rectify whatever problem he was seeing.

By the time I'd trundled the barrow across the yard, wondering where I was going to put the refuge, I'd decided that if I put the many barrows full between the maple and the spruce I could experiment with "nest building". I admit I didn't put them on one twig at a time. I began by piling some up. The "wall" developed bulges that looked like it would give way.

Ah ha, that's where the vertical twigs would come in. I stuck some in. Jiggled them, and wiggled them. Firm? Stared. This helped the current problem but made others visible or created them. I stuck in some more. Stared. Suddenly I realized that Pale Male's staring was comparable to a beaver listening for the trickling of water. The danger signals for nest imperfection being visual after all.

I also had seen Pale Male attempt to put a twig into the nest in a variety of places and then lay it down as if he'd just lost interest in the process and go find another twig. I realized this wasn't Attention Deficit or lack of interest on his part, he'd just come up with a twig that wasn't workable for any of his known problems and therefore had gone off to find one that would work.

After using up my many barrows of twigs, I felt itchy for more. I noticed that the neighbors had been pruning their woody plants and had laid a whole new pile of small branches, potential twigs, out by the street for the city to pick up. I was having twig envy. I wanted those twigs.

You just can't go marching up and take the neighbor's pile of sticks even if they are throwing them away. I was going to have to 'fess up and ask them if I could have them. Boy is this going to sound really weird to regular non-hawkwatching people. It probably sounds pretty weird to even hawkwatchers but I needed those twigs.

So down the sidewalk I went, explained my purpose for wanting the twigs, "I'm experimenting with how hawks build nests..." a slight pause, a few good natured laughs on all our parts, and then they said sure, take 'em, and even helped me fill the wheelbarrow.

Thank goodness I already have an accepted reputation for eccentricity in the neighborhood otherwise....

Donegal Browne

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Sandhills Return, Red-tail Updates: The WI Ms, NY Riverside Park, Isolde and Norman, Mama and Papa Plus Portmann Vultures and

Crane photographs Donegal Browne
I'd been out looking for the Sandhill Cranes for days. They are considered the loudest bird and I'd heard them (from anywhere up to two miles away) but hadn't found them. Then on the way to town I remembered that I hadn't gone to the bank first and so was turning around which pointed me in the correct direction--and there they were circling.

Exactly what they were up to wasn't clear as there wasn't any likely looking marshy area and then I saw an Ultra-light aircraft and almost began to hop up and down, not easy in the car, as some Whooping Cranes are accompanied by Ultra-lights to show them the way. Immediately though I remembered this was a Spring migration so no one would be showing anybody anything---they'd already know the way from taking the trip in the Fall. Besides these guys weren't nearly white enough for Whoopers.

Why the aircraft then? Perhaps someone just happened along and was getting the grand view? Filming? I don't know. But it did explain why the Cranes might be morphing through different flight patterns--there was something weird up there with them.

This stance of their wings reminded me very much of insects.

Then the aircraft flew off and the Cranes began getting organized.

First they grouped up and then tidily hit a V and winged off.

Photo by Francois Portman

"Sunday morning at Riverside Park, the female Red-tailed Hawk has left the nest for a few minutes to dry up her soaked feathers. She has been on the nest through 48 hours of heavy rainstorm that uprooted trees, downed power lines and claimed five lives across the Tri-state. The nest is standing strong:"

See the rest of this great photo sequence at
Also from Francois--
Hey Donna,
just posted a blurb about vultures and a gallery at:
In time for the world cup build-up!!

Photos of County M Red-tailed Hawks Donegal Browne
Yesterday I finally may have hit the jackpot with the County M Red-tails and whether they were using last year's nest. I'd been past the site numerous times already when--WHAT? There's a hawk up there!

I left the motor running and was shooting from the car window but she immediately say me and I thought well that's it. She'll be flying off any second.
But instead she stared fixedly towards the treeline beyond the nest.

And continues to give me the back of her head. What is she up to?

Still viewing something that isn't me. How strange.

Back to giving me the back of her head.

Okay, fine. I get out of the car and start getting the scope out. There are a few beats. I try to get the camera on for digiscoping and...

Off she goes, right in front of me.

Crosses the road and doesn't immediately veer towards the farm which is the usual pattern. More distance is usually better than less.

She continues.
Why is less distance better today? Then it hits me. They've done this to me before. And I fell for it again.
While I'm busily watching the first bird doing look-at-me, the second is coming into the nest tree from the back side, getting into the nest, and will be utterly invisible by the time I look. I look. Yup, not a bit of bird is showing above the rim of the nest.

There was a switch-off this evening at 7:00 at the red-tail nest at the
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with one hawk entering the nest and
the other leaving. Possibly there had been a switch earlier at 6:40, but
that time I only saw a hawk exiting the nest area. It appears to have
been a 20-minute dinner break for Isolde.

So... it looks like egg incubation has started at the cathedral between
last Wednesday and today. This suggests the hatching "window"
could open as early as the weekend of April 10.

In the three previous years that we know Isolde successfully brooded
a clutch, the earliest hatch was about April 26. But nestwatchers have
reported some other NYC red-tails (at the Riverside Boat Basin and in
Briarwood) started brooding eggs a week or more earlier than "usual",
so I was not surprised that it also happened at the cathedral.


I've always loved watching the Cathedral nest and was afraid I might have mistimed my arrival in NYC for their hatch because of the early incubation, but Rob says I should hit it just right. Yea!

Aside from getting really wet Mama & Papa had no issues with the soaking rain storm and the 75mph winds this past weekend - - nesting going on for 16-17 days now.
Donegal Browne

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pale Male and Lola's Nest Since the Apocalypse

12-15-2004 The nest is gone, everything is gone. No spikes, no twigs, no nothing.

Why are we talking about this? I thought a bit of a recap overview might be nice as we're back talking about "THE NEST" and whether it will be successful or not this year. Why? Because it is Spring and with Spring comes the eternal hope of hawkwatchers that this year will be the one. You never do know know..... right?

(For whatever reason this photograph won't let me crop it so though not stellar you can see there are now some twigs up there but the nest isn't very wide nor high. but considering they've had just a month or so to work on it, they've been extremely busy hawks.)

Ohio's John Blakeman sent Marie Winn a note concerning the matter a few days ago,

The size of the 927 nest is more than ample this year. Any failure now cannot be a result of incubation heat loss through protruding metal spikes or even wind penetrating through the nest. The birds and the bowl of the nest are now far above the underlying pigeon spikes, and the nest parallels in size and shape of those in open trees. If there is an insulating warmth problem during incubation, it will be the fault solely of the birds themselves.
But they are experienced nest-builders, so there is every reason to believe they've properly completed adequate nest construction this year.
If there are no hatched eyasses this year, the only explanation I'll have will be the one that others proposed in previous unsuccessful years, that Pale Male now has geriatric semen insufficiency. He may be shooting blanks, dare we say.

But we can't know that for a month now. Here's hoping that once again eyasses grace the heights of 927 Fifth Ave.

One other conjecture, one that I've raised also with The Franklin Institute red-tails in Philadelphia. Both Philadelphia and New York had lengthy periods of deep and persisting snow in January and February, right when the haggard formels of both nests normally put on weight and capture sufficient food to support three eggs. Given the somewhat challenging hunting conditions in the New York and Philadelphia winters (and likewise here in northern Ohio) I would not be surprised to see red-tail clutches of one or two eggs, instead of the more typical twos and threes.

--John Blakeman

03-28-2007 Pale Male and Lola are about to do a nest switch. Note she can incubate and still have her "chin" resting on the top of the twigs. Also the side of the nest where Pale Male is standing isn't as high as the front section.

In the meantime I'd written something as well about the nest and the chance for success-- Karen Anne Kolling then sent it to Marie and John,

03-28-2007 Lola vacates the bowl and Pale Male goes in and does a turn. He is standing, I'd say, astride the eggs and so in the lowest portion of the bowl as he turns but his head, part of his back and tail still show.

Marie and John,

Ref John's letter on Marie's blog today, Donna has seen the nest innards from the roof, and below are two comments from her blog. I doubt, just logically, that PM would be afflicted by a physical problem coincidentally with the trashing of the nest and the structure being built, just imho. Kind of adds insult to injury to blame him for what the denizens of the building did.

Karen Anne said...

That's a very impressive nest. I keep hoping they will eventually get it thick enough to offset whatever that structure underneath it has done to disrupt the reproductive situation.

Blogger Donegal Browne said...


That is what I hope as well, but when I was on the roof looking down, it seemed that the bowl itself receives a new lining each year as the grasses and bark from the previous year have deteriorated but as more and more of the sitting hawk disappears each season it seems that the bowl itself isn't rising just the sides of the nest. Also the bowl is right up next to the wall where previously the "eyebrow" masonry was flush up against the masonry of the wall itself, now there is a space because of the cradle. Cold air can blow under the cradle and be forced through the smaller space at the back with more of a rush right up into the edge of the bowl. They could be putting more twigs in that space which might help Let's hope that Pale Male and Lola have felt the breeze and have made that section extra thick.
Lola certainly had had her head in the bowl for extensive work the other day. Fingers crossed.

01-04-2008 A photo of the bowl of the nest with the previous season's eggs in it. Note the blur of white on the bottom left edge. That is a portion of the overhang just above the nest. The bowl is circular and so continues further out of frame. You can't see it in the photograph but I could leaning further over. As the side rim is lower than the front rim, so is the back edge of the rim sparser and less thick still. The back edge of the bowl is quite close to the wall.

At which point John Blakeman responded--except I'm not sure how I got his response and so haven't located it yet. It will show up eventually But if you go to Marie's site, the current top post has some lovely thoughts on why we do what we do every year just as the hawks do too. Check it out

01-28-2008 The day the pigeon spikes were clipped from the center section of the nest Lola had just been making passes at the workman above her head. She then landed on the nest and I surmise she is standing on the back rim of the nest which must be a little more substantial than it was three weeks before but it is still not of the height of the front edge and also possibly less thick than that front "wall" of twigs as was observed earlier in the process.

02-28-2010 Pale Male and Lola's nest 927 Fifth Avenue
But look at the nest for 2010 and compare with 2007.


Let us hope that though more of the sitting hawk disappeared from sight each year that in the meantime with the previous years debris beneath the inner bowl as each new year's lining was added that the bowl itself has become more and more impervious to external factors as time has passed.
I wasn't digiscoping in 2006 so I don't have any photos that are comparable to the following years, but looking back at my field notes is illuminating. The sides of the nest weren't much higher that the rim of the inner concavity itself as I was able to see Lola's head, neck sometimes her back and almost always her tail when she had her brood patch on the eggs and was in complete incubation stance.

03-14-2010 Here are two views of the Ms nest from last season (and we hope this season) photographed 5 days apart.

03-09-2010 Can you find any "nestorations" that might cue us that work was done on it during those five days?

Photo Courtesy of Gene Mancini of the Franklin Institute
FIRST EGG DAY TWO AT THE RED-TAILED HAWK NEST ON THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE IN PHILADELPHIA (Note the bits of newspaper and is that a portion of waxed paper or plastic bag up left? They seem to use lots of evergreen as well in this nest .)

And the link, courtesy of Robin of Illinois--
Much more to come--Sandhill Cranes and guess who I saw sitting on top of a certain oak tree in a certain field? Plus updates from all over--life is just getting in the way of the important stuff, like HAWKS, but I will catch up and so will you.

John Blakeman, Video of Charlotte and Pale Male Jr., An Eagle's History

Photo by Donna Browne
02-28-2010 Lola stands in the bowl of her nest, the sides of which appear more substantial this season.
John Blakeman, on this season and Pale Male and Lola's nest on Marie Winn's blog-
And John identifies the mystery hawk in yesterday's NYBG post--

The hawk in the photo is almost surely a sharp-shinned hawk. It's size, coloration, sitting posture, and outline are pure sharpie. And hoards of sharpies are now in migration northward.

--John Blakeman

The amazing history that can be tracked from a numbered band on a bird's leg!

From Robin of Illinois--
T>From a r
eference on the Blackwater Eagle Cam Web Log.

I emailed Brett Odom, he of the ringside seat on the 888 nest, asking how things were going with Charlotte and Pale Male Jr. Here is what Brett had to say and he even sent along a video---I just love the way Charlotte walks!

Hi Donna.

Charlotte and Junior have been very busy at the nest. I see them both every day that I am at work. I have attached a video that I took of both Charlotte and Junior back in January when Junior first showed up from his "vacation".

Charlotte is the obvious hawk on the left while Junior is behind the glass. You will notice a twig move on the right side of the nest at about the 4 second mark and you can faintly see him back there rearranging the nest.

According to my records, the 2007 egg showed up on April 1 and the 2009 egg appeared on March 24. So we are getting close to brooding time.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

SEND THOSE THANK YOU NOTES, 1 Fifth Hawks, NYBG Update.Rabid Cat, the Cops and the Coyote in Chelsea

Photo by Donna Browne
Lola and Pale Male on the 927 Fifth Avenue Nest

In regards to sending thank you notes for the new policy on rat poison in some areas of NYC during breeding season, some suggestions from Robin of Illinois—

GREAT idea ... I did send a Thank You note to Bennepe and asked if he would suggest the rat baiting cessation program to the NYBG as there are nesting pairs in that area too.

Do we need to be worrying about the Unisphere pair too?

Thank you for thinking of it. I hope LOTS and ALL of your readers send thank-you notes to Commissioner Bennepe as in his position public opinion and numbers really matter!

Great idea yourself Robin!

When sending your thank you note please include Robin’s idea of asking Commissioner Bennepe to suggest the rat baiting cessation program to the NYBG, I'd add in memory of Hawkeye, and for the area surrounding the Unisphere which also has a nesting pair. And what about Isolde and Norman up at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine...they eat many rats now that the pigeon population has been so reduced in the area.

Here’s the link, and remember numbers DO matter so send the link to your hawk loving friends so they too can say thank you as well!

Photograph by Zach Lemle

From Zach--
Here is an establishing shot of the building, 1 Fifth. The bottom of the picture is roughly the 18th floor. This is the view of the front. The nest is in the rear, but you can at least see at what level it is. I'll try to get a shot from the roof of a building on 9th street that can see the back on 1 Fifth.

Photograph and commentary from Zach Lemle-- The arrow points to one of the little outcroppings that the hawks have chosen to use...except the arrow is not where the nest is the same little outcropping but the one in the back of the building. There are 4...if you go clockwise and consider the arrow to be #1 then the nest is in #2, the northeast corner one. The arrow is of of the northwest corner.


Here are highlights from my latest adventure (Thursday, March 11th). So sorry for the bad quality. It was cloudy most of the day.

9:47am - Shortly after leaving the Webster Cafe (2 1/2 blocks away from the garden entrance) after a nice breakfast, I see a small hawk, (kestrel? peregrine falcon?) in a tree by the Metro North overpass. What a cutie! A good omen.

10:00am - I entered the New York Botanical Garden through the Moshulu (pedestrian) gate.
11:12am - saw a sharp-shinned hawk in a closed-off section between the wild-wetland trail and forest. At least, I think it is a sharp-shinned hawk because of the red eyes and the seemingly square tail feather. He took off before I could put on my zoom lens.

11:41am - FINALLY spotted a red-winged blackbird along the wild wetlands trail.

12:53 - While looking out for Rose and Vince, I see a brown, wet fur-ball dive into one of the twin lakes. The muskrats have entered the building. Of all the images I shot yesterday, this is the one I'm proudest of. I love these critters!

1:11PM - While shooting the muskrat, a large turkey vulture flies right over me. This is the third time I've seen one of these at the garden this year.

I also shot some video which I've posted on youtube. I've saved the best for last, check out the muskrat squeezing himself under the walkway. Wow!

Pat Gonzalez
The New York skyline, where eagles roam: NY Times

New York is getting wild again. The cabaret laws are still strict, and the smoking ban is still in place. But in the last few weeks there have been sightings throughout the boroughs of creatures more commonly seen on the Discovery Channel.

A coyote, already a familiar sight in Central Park, took in the late-night scene at 24th and 12th in Chelsea. A seal sunbathed on the sand in Great Kills Park, on Staten Island. Opossums staked their turf in Brooklyn. And a dolphin may have gone for a swim in Newtown Creek.
No member of any species should go for a swim in Newtown Creek.

Most strikingly, perhaps, bald eagles — those powerful symbols of American strength and solitude — have been making forays into Manhattan, that isle of iniquity off America’s eastern shore.


Animal General

Dear Bill Walters,
I am writing to share a veterinary alert that Animal General received today from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regarding a positive rabies test in a cat in Riverdale.
*On March 5, 2010 a feral cat in the North Riverdale section of the Bronx tested positive for rabies. This is the first animal to test positive for rabies in the Bronx in 2010.
*The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages owners to ensure that their pet are up-to-date for rabies vaccination.
*Veterinarians will consider rabies in the differential diagnosis for any patient with a history of exposure to a potentially rabid wild or feral animal, and/or if presenting with progressive neurologic disease.
*To date this year, a total of 69 animals have tested positive for rabies, including the cat mentioned in this alert.
*There continues to be an outbreak of raccoon rabies in and around Central Park in Manhattan for which a Trap, Vaccinate and Release (TVR) program has been implemented to help prevent further spread of the virus.
*Maintaining vaccination against rabies is required for all dogs and cats in New York City, including indoor pets. Any unvaccinated dog or cat that may have been exposed to a rabid animal is required to enter into 6-month isolation in an approved facility or be euthanized. If a pet is up-to-date with its rabies vaccine but potentially exposed to a rabid animal, a booster vaccine should be given as soon as possible, and the animal should be confined and observed for 45 days in the owner's home.
*Any healthy pet dog or cat that has bitten or scratched a person is required to be confined and observed by the owner (in most instances) for 10 days.
*Additional information about rabies is available on the DOHMH website at including summary data for NYC. DOHMH has also recently published a guide to human rabies prevention, available at
If you have any questions about your pet's rabies vaccination status, please e-mail or call our receptionists at 212-501-9600 to schedule an appointment if your pet is overdue. I'd like to remind you that Animal General does not charge for vaccines, so if your pet is overdue please call to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
Best wishes, Karen Markham

That isn't everyone's news of the day but it's time I got some sleep so, until tomorrow--

Donegal Browne