Thursday, November 04, 2010

Want to Live With Pale Male? And What are all Those Gulls Doing Now?

11/04/2006, Four years ago to the drizzling day a damp Pale Male, surveys his kingdom from the 927 Fifth Ave. nest.

So maybe he'll be doing it again tomorrow. Now wouldn't it be fun to live with Pale Male? Well not so much live on the nest exactly, but how about an apartment in 927?

If you happen to have a spare 26 million laying around, one of those sets of ringside windows can be yours.

(Boy would you have a lot of new friends who'd just die to come over for tea, or what?)

From Robin of Illinois from the NY Times Real Estate Section--

Wasserstein Estate Selling Co-op in Building Where Hawks Raised Hullabaloo
Published: October 29, 2010

The 12-unit co-op at 927 Fifth Avenue has been home in recent years to some rather famous people, including Mary Tyler Moore, the shoe designer Kenneth Cole and the CNN news anchor Paula Zahn. The list also includes celebrities of another species: two red-tailed hawks named Pale Male and Lola, whose nest on the 12th-floor cornice caused a hullabaloo on the co-op board, with city and federal officials stepping into the fray.
More: Click on the link

Yes, the gulls are obviously migrating through. Today as I drove down a country road, I looked over and, WOW, conceivably thousands of gulls were wheeling over a field and a thousand or more were just sitting around in the dirt.

What's going on?

I pull over, and scan the area.

Ah ha! There is a tractor that likely is disc-ing the field, doing a turn around with the discs lifted. Gulls obviously having the proceedings down. Discs up, no goodies.

Discs down and the feast continues. Some of the gulls may be either full, or doing sentinel duty as they just stand there as the tractor and the hordes pass by. See the single gull standing on the left behind the machinery?

She's still standing there.

She's turned but still there and looks to be getting company in the standing around section.

If you look further over in the field, you'll see a scattered group of gulls waiting for the next pass by the tractor. Perhaps the pickings are so good, one can take a little time to digest, before going for it once again.

Actually, I think there is a system to all the madness, as there was when the very large flock of gulls took turns foraging for earth worms in the park behind my house some years ago.

Look to to the far right of the photograph. Those birds aren't eating, they're just mostly standing around.

It appears that they are going in stages. As one group goes from the end of the line to the front, the tractor discs a new portion of ground as they arrive. Looks crazy but if you watch carefully, it is rather orderly about giving everyone a chance to eat.

Okay, now the tractor has turned and is heading toward the back of the line who are still standing around. But look, birds are coming from the right, flying over the tractor and taking on the new ground that's just been exposed. The others wait until they're the end of the line and can go forward and be the front of the line on the newly turned ground themselves.

What do you think?

Now we're getting to the end, of the end of the line, of this tractir pass with only a few birds waiting to make the cross.

There they go.

By the way, the farmer and the gulls are an example of a grand symbiotic relationship, i.e. both parties benefit from the other.

Farmers these days, try to avoid disturbing the soil anymore than they have too. Turning over the dirt brings all sorts of pesky weed seeds to the surface as well as all sorts of insects. But our buddies the gulls, being omnivores, just gobble up whatever is turned up. Plus depositing some of the best fertilizer known to man into the soil.

Speaking of avian droppings, many a church in the middle ages kept pigeons not only for pigeon pie, roasted squab, and omelets but for their extremely valuable droppings. The droppings were collected and were so precious that in some areas, it was one of the few ways that a hard money poor church, could buy those extras only to be had by spending coin.

Just think of all that city pigeon created fertilizer (and ready cash) going to waste, because it isn't collected. It's an invisible ready made cash crop.

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Wildlife Mall and What IS a Kettle?

Remember the strip mall that hosted Wiley Mallard Hen and her ten ducklings? Well it seems that whenever I visit for printer paper or a cartridge of ink there is always an avian episode. Sometimes nominal and sometimes not.

Today, first off it was an American Crow having lunch on the roof. I have noticed that quite a number of avian species seem to be partial to those flat roofs for dining. I suppose that if the food in question is bigger than bite size, branches being roundish and hence not terrific tables unless they're quite old, and who knows what can happen if you take a leisurely lunch on the ground, a nice flat roof is a dandy option. There's a 360 degree unobstructed view and as many of these malls were only just recently corn fields or pastures, the roof perch makes you king of the mountain.

Crow gives me a perfunctory look.

Then it's back to fine dining at the rooftop cafe. I go in for my paper, come out, and am getting into the car when suddenly all hell breaks loose as birds start screaming.

I pop back out of the car, and there are two young gulls having a severe quibble over some edible right where I'd just walked not 15 seconds before.

Above me and the two screechers are, seemingly out of nowhere- I could have sworn they weren't there when I came out, a flock of gulls.

And of course being gulls, they're all putting their two cents worth in, at the top of their syrinxs.

While dipping, wheeling, and swooping about.

Then as suddenly as they appeared, they wheeled off and disappeared.

Speaking of gulls, here's the group that lured me into finding the bird feeders near Woodman's the other day. Karen Anne Kolling of Rhode Island left a comment on that post--"kettle up?"

I most often see it, kettling I mean, done by Turkey Vultures but other birds such as gulls do it as well. They circle, swirl, wheel, glide, even flap now and again riding the geothermal currents in what looks like some kind of organized activity.

What you see is called a kettle.

And a bird ascending in the kettle is kettling up or one could say they as a group, kettle up.

Okay, I may have made that up in the moment, turning the noun into a verb, but there is quite a bit of precedence for that so I'm going with it.
Conceivably, once one knows what a kettle is, the words kettling or even the use of kettle up, makes sense.

And there is a second issue--I suspect the angle and the lack of a third dimension is the culprit, but a photograph of a kettle never really looks like a kettle of birds does in the moment.
One needs to see one live to get the real feel of it.
Then you might ask, why the word kettle, in the first place?
There is some dispute as to just how the usage originated. Some say it is because the birds look like boiling water in a kettle as they swirl around and others think it is the birds themselves who outline a kettle in the sky.
I have my own opinion but I'm not telling.
It is the time of year when kettles are quite common so go have a look for yourselves and see what you think.
We've had-- why the name? Now how about-- why do they do it?
It is thought that vultures kettle as a cue that they are ready to migrate.
Though when I've seen any number of species kettle, it appears to me like a very visible way to gather the clan for the next leg of the trip, or to group roost or whatever and not necessarily only just gathering the clan for the original take off to migrate.
Perhaps that's a problem of semantics.
Also turkey vultures are very heavy birds after eating and have trouble even getting off the ground after a heavy meal. Therefore finding some nice geothermal currents could make the difference in getting up in the air or just standing around for a couple of hours digesting on the ground if there is a calm.
Then there is also the example, if you watch there seems always to be an example that doesn't really fit the cut and dried definition of a behavior.
At any rate, a few weeks ago I saw five Turkey Vultures and three Red-tails seemingly all kettling in the same geothermals. Were they all trying to attract others of their species to migrate? Or perhaps they kettled to get some altitude without having to flap their tails off and use up all those calories?
Perhaps they even had different reasons for being there and were just going about their own particular species business without interfering with the second species.
Good geothermals can be hard to find some days.
The Red-tailed hawks did not appear to be herding the vultures out of a territory which is a common interaction between the two species. In fact once two RTHs who were near each other reached a certain height they flew off to the east. The third RTH, kettled up for a bit longer, got to about the height in which the first two had exited the kettle and then the third left to the east as well.
The Turkey Vultures, on the other hand just kept swirling for as long as I watched.
"Different strokes..."
Donegal Browne

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Woodman's Feather Mystery and a Strange Duck

Photo Donna Browne
Remember back in early October, I discovered a great many feathers surrounding the Woodman Supermarket in Janesville, WI?

There were feathers in the gravel, under the bushes, and sticking to the grass in the lawn. At first I thought they were all pigeon feathers but on closer examination I realized there were a good many gull feathers there as well.

Looking around I didn't see a single member of either species. What was going on? Well...

Photo by Donna Browne
Upon leaving the store the other day, I looked up to see a kettle of birds circling above a small strip mall kitty corner from Woodman's.

Photo by Donna Browne
On closer examination they looked like gulls.

Photo by Donna Browne
I hit the brakes and abruptly took a right, almost hitting a couple pigeons that had flushed suddenly from the ground. (Glad to miss the pigeons. But sorry, I missed the shot. They hot winged it out of there.) Then I looked to see where they'd come from.

Photo Donna Browne
Just as a flock of sparrows came out of the bushes and repositioned themselves under a---WHAT? A bird feeder! Look up at the stores in the photo of the mall above. There is a Wild Birds Unlimited and they have a number of feeders in the small green space between the road and their parking lot. Now look in the upper right hand corner of this photograph. See the beige building with the orange roof trim? That is Woodman's, where all the feathers are laying everywhere.

Thinking back I've seen Red-tailed Hawk circling about an 1/8 of a mile from this point several months ago. And three years ago I watched a Cooper's flying at car roof level from small tree to small tree in the Woodman's parking lot.
Mystery solved. Obviously the bird feeder is the draw for the seed eaters, (plus there are the wind currents around the little mall creating a place for birds to kettle up) and that nice flat roof of Woodman's is the dining hall for any raptors who happen to be taking their dinner from the birds availing themselves of their dinner at the feeders.
I always feel much better when I've figured it out. Whatever "it" is at any given moment.
Photo by Pat Gonzalez
Pat Gonzalez has a new video camera and has also discovered another strange duck in the New York Botanic Garden.
I was at the NYBG earlier today trying out my new toy. The mystery duck there seems to have attracted a friend. Here's some video I shot.
I've attached a photo. Is this another farm duck?


It looks like a hybridized individual to me. One that is at least partially a "farm duck".

D. B.

Lola Hunts from Sally of Kentucky

Photo by Sally of Kentucky
The Beresford from across The Great Lawn

The large brown bird on the tower of the Beresford.
(See post two down, if you didn't catch the beginning of the saga.)

Photo by Sally of Kentucky
The "brown bird" on the tower, larger.

As Sally pointed out in a later email. This bird has the characteristic, pale backpack stripes of a Red-tailed Hawk.

The Beresford is within Pale Male and Lola's territory. They tend to do mornings on the west side of the park and afternoons tend toward the east side where their nest site is.

It isn't completely unheard of for a mature Red-tail that isn't Pale Male and Lola to be around this area in Central Park but this bird is completely exposed, and just looking at her even at this distance, I'm betting she is Lola.

There is more of a differentiation in color between Pale Male's head and his back.

Photo by Sally of Kentucky
The "brown bird" on the tower in flight.
It's Lola. The belly band is visible even from this distance and the head is brown as opposed to golden as Pale Male's is.

Photo by Sally of Kentucky
The Wood Ducks at The Point.
And a couple of true beauties they are. What a treat!

Donegal Browne

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back to the Mystery Carcasses

Photo by Brett Odom
You'll recall that Brett Odom not only looked out his office window and instead of seeing Charlotte or Pale Male Junior on their previous nest site, he began seeing a pair of Peregrine Falcons. Then before long this carcass appeared on a neighboring window ledge.

And we all began to wonder just what was that up there?

Photo by Brett Odom
Then before many days had passed, Brett looked out again and there were two of whatever it was. But at least now we could look at two different angles of the mystery species. I was very interested in the tail view of the left carcass which showed a fan of white scalloped feathers on the end of the tail.

In the meantime, I had sent the photo off to the wildlife rehabilitating Horvaths for their take.

Bobby Horvath sent back this email--

Hi Donna, Possibly a woodcock? They are showing up now or some other long beaked shore type or plover type bird visiting Central Park. Glad its not any of the city's hawks for now.

Ah ha! I started flipping the pages of the field guide. The Woodcock and the Snipe, a bog wading bird, both have that white scalloped edge to their tails.

In the meantime, Brett Odom had also been busy.

Photo by Brett Odom
Look what Brett has circled? Is that a beak? Both he and Bobby take it to be one.

I'd been so busy looking at tail feathers that I'd not taken that to be a beak necessarily. Wasn't it too broad? But then I gave it very close scrutiny. The tip has two curves! It is a poorly defined slightly open beak thus of course it looks "too broad".

They're absolutely right, that's a beak.

Take another look at the first photo, the single carcass. We'd been taking the white "stubs" as the sort of very top of the legs. But then I kept wondering what that skinny long bit was that appeared to be sticking out of the right bottom of the bird.

Then when the second carcass arrived with it's visible scalloped tail and it's very skinny legs, I said, "Hmmm".

Maybe those white stubs aren't the tops of legs at all but rather portions of the stubby tail? And that skinny bit is a skinny leg. Which means the bird is lying differently than we'd thought.

In the duo photo, look at the skinny bits. You can now see two skinny parts coming out of the original carcass. Yes, two legs, and one seemingly without a foot?

That makes the white stubs conceivably the stubby tail with the dark brown band above the white scalloped tail feathers-- that of a Woodcock.

Bobby nailed it!

As Bobby pointed out, the Woodcock are coming through at the moment. And Woodcock are one of the species of birds which tends sometimes to have a very hard time with NYC windows. I've been in one of the vet's offices on the Westside, with Silver, when people arrived one after the other with dead or injured woodcocks. An entire flock flew into the windows of a building nearby.

It is conceivable, that these two birds, the carcasses, may have already been dead or badly injured and were picked up by the Peregrines and cached as extras . That would help explain the lack of loose feathers on the ledge.

Does anyone know if Peregrines eat at their close cache? Or do they take the food somewhere else to eat?

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

Photograph courtesy of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Donegal Donna Browne