Saturday, December 24, 2011

Could This Be Violet of Washington Square Park? Plus Doorstep Dove and Friend

Photograph by Francois Portmann

In the past three days, pro-photographer and birder Francois Portmann has run across this Red-tailed Hawk, we're calling Maybe-Violet, twice in areas outside Washington Square Park.

Could she be Violet?

Here is what Francois had to say about his most recent sighting of December 23rd--

Hi Donna,
More on Maybe-Violet from Washington Square Park,
Today we crossed paths again.
Same scenario when she has to turn or adjust herself on perches, she tries to use the right foot but needs the help of her wings.
Note the band on first 3 shots.
(Violet's right appendage is banded. D. B.)


Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Note the band on the right leg which is behind her.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Photograph by Francois Portmann
From Francois' note about his earlier sighting on December 20th.

Hi Donna,

I believe this is Violet from Washington Square Park,
She was mostly hunting perched from buildings, always on her left leg.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

As John Blakeman has watched a good bit of Violet on the NYTimes Hawkcam, I sent him Francois' shots of the 20th for his opinion on whether this Maybe-Violet might be actual Violet of Washington Square Park. Here's his response, even before the news that the hawk's right leg is banded, as is Violet's, which became apparent in Francois' photographs of the 23rd.

Mr Blakeman wrote-
The chances of two dead-leg RTs in Manhattan (or all of NYC) is vanishingly small. I don't know anything about the location, but if a one-legged RT was seen there, it just had to have been V -- regardless.

The promised update on Doorstep Dove and Friend--
I assume as there has been Accipiter haunting going on in the backyard, with coming dusk Doorstep Dove, right, and Friend, left, don't automatically catch the last of the sun warming their toes on the edge of the electrically warmed birdbath.

Sometimes like yesterday, they hunker down under the feeder, making them less easy to pick off, plus there is always the availability of a late snack while watching the sunset.

Donegal Browne

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Blakeman on Sharp-shinned Hawks, Sharpies vs Coops, and Mitch Says Riverside Mom Has a New Mate

The Accipiter on the birdbath the day of December 15, 2011. I said I was leaning towards it being a Sharp-shinned Hawk and asked if anyone wanted to go on record.

John Blakeman took up the challenge.


I think the Accipiter is a sharpie, as it appears to have little or no neck, with the head glued down on the shoulders.

Another view of the visitor of the 15th.
Mr. Blakeman continued,

The other give away, which I couldn't discern from this photo, would be the appearance of the eyes. Sharpies always have bigger-than-normal eyes, compared to the size of the entire head. They look like they just stuck their talons in an electrical outlet,with expanded, startled eyes.

And yes, Accipiters will take winter baths (as will peregrines, even red-tails sometimes).

--John Blakeman

And remember the Accipiter that visited earlier in the month?

Can we all say this bird looks "robust" compared to the Sharpie above? I think that robust may be the keyword to the "feel" between the two species, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned, if you only get a glance.

And as Mr. Blakeman pointed out, there appears to be much more neck on this bird. Go ahead scroll back up and look. See? He's so right.

This is the Cooper's Hawk that was haunting the back yard and finally showed herself on December 5, 2011, sitting on the Big Nest, taking her ease waiting for a sparrow to pop out of the twig pile a few feet away.

One of the things I should have done in the first place when the Accipitor appeared on the 15th was to compare the photos from the two different visits. I remembered that Dec. 5ths bird was bigger but by how much bigger is rather startling once the photos are viewed. It is extremely helpful to have two birds in the same area when it comes to sizing them.

The Cooper's suddenly appears to be almost Red-tailed size in comparison. Of course if there was a Red-tailed Hawk photo in the same area and I had a photo for us to look at, she'd probably look like Godzilla in comparison to the Cooper's Hawk. It's all relative.

And another lesson to be relearned yet again. I missed Sharpie's exit in this photo the first time through the photographs as there was so much glare in the picture from the window glass it didn't appear even worth looking at. It just goes to show...always look at everything you've got. Not for the perfect photograph's sake but for documentation, documentation, documentation...

And next up from NYC Astronomy buff and birdwatcher Mitch Nusbaum--

I was on my bike when this bird flew as I approached the light post he was perched on. I drove by him and stopped where I wasn't conspicuous and was able to image him twice. I thought his dark eyes would indicate an adult bird.
(It appears to be a reflection off feathers around the eye at first but as Mitch found out, there is actually a little slice of yellow iris visible and therefore an immature. D.B.) Also Riverside mom has a new mate. And best wishes about Violet. Seasons Greetings, Mitch N.

Donegal Browne

Coming up- The Newville Red-tailed Hawk hunts, Doorstep Dove and Friend hang out, and Silver has another bath frenzy in the roosting pan.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

John Blakeman on the Snowy Owl Irruption and Another Typically Mysterious Accipiter- Cooper's or Sharp-shinned?

I looked out, and WHAT? There is now yet a different Accipiter haunting my backyard? This one is quite a bit smaller and has the cheek to sit on the birdbath.

And why is it that whenever I see an Accipiter, the tail is obscured? Note the end of the tail, considered a definitive field mark, rounded for a Cooper's Hawk and straight across for a Sharp-shinned, isn't in view.

The tail tip isn't in view here either. Though compared with the previous sighting which was very likely a Cooper's Hawk, not only is this bird smaller but the head appears rounder.

According to Peterson's Field Guide to Hawks of North America, Sharp-shinned Hawks rarely raise their hackles (the feathers on the back of their heads) whereas Cooper's Hawks very often sit around with their hackles raised.

Eventually "he" made a break for the House Sparrow's twig pile without any luck as far as I could observe as he took off before long having likely seen me lurking behind the glass.

Anyone feel confident in making a definite ID?
I'm leaning towards a Sharpie this time.

And next up, an essay from John Blakeman concerning ""real" rural Red-tails and the recent Snowy Owl irruption landing many in the U.S.


You've noted the extreme wariness of rural RTs in regard to humans. I marvel at the lackadaisical attitude NYC RTs have toward humans, with whom they pay so little attention. Not so with our "real" rural red-tails.

Also, the RT sitting on the wire was, typically, an immature (told by it's slightly longer tail). Haggards almost never park themselves out on such thin wires. But hungry immatures, as your photos show, will do this.

I sent a long discourse to Marie Winn on snowy owls, for posting over there; but she's in China, so it won't go up until next week, perhaps.

As you may already know, there is a massive irruption of snowy owls invading the US from arctic Canada. I'm sure there have been many spottings in Wisconsin already. Many have been seen crossing at Sault Ste. Marie, MI, and we've got a bunch of them here in N Ohio that have crossed 50 or 60 miles of open Lake Erie.

Most are immatures, indicating that there is a lemming high in the arctic. That caused massive reproduction last spring, with up to 10 to 12 hatched owlets per nest. Now, those yearlings are starving in the arctic winter, so they are flying south. Most will never make it back to the arctic by next spring, as hunting voles down here is harder than finding abundant lemmings up there.

Adult snowies can handle the more difficult hunting conditions of the winter, so they stay up there during a lemming population high. But alternately, in a lemming low, there are few immatures that are produced, and many adults begin to starve and fly south in winter. If there lots of immatures in the irruption, as now, it's a result of massive spring reproduction, which resulted from a lemming population high.

But if the irruption is mostly adults, that indicates a widespread lemming low. Even many of the adults, then, begin to starve and are motivated to fly south in search of winter food. That may be the case in 3 or 4 years, when the lemming population curve reverses.

--John Blakeman

Thank you, John, for the essay and also for the RT gender and age ID from the previous posting. It will be very interesting to see how the unusual current lack of snow in much of the Midwest will affect the hunting of the visiting Snowy Owls.

There is no doubt an irruption in progress, but I suspect the lack of snow may be helping to contribute to the many human sightings during this one.

I've not had a close encounter with a Snowy Owl this year as yet, but several decades ago I saw my first fly out of a snowy field in Wisconsin, a scant half dozen feet from my windshield as I parked the car on the verge for another reason and accidentally flushed it. My jaw dropped and stayed that way until it disappeared beyond the horizon. They are stunningly beautiful birds.

Donegal Browne