Thursday, December 12, 2013

Resurrection Genetics, Girls Who Look Under Rocks and a Remedy for Stuck Babies

Finally I've gotten news that scientists in a position to actually do what I've been thinking about for some time, may be on the verge of actually trying.

And what might that be?

Resurrection Genetics.  

Could we go back and plug the holes in ecological systems in which we humans have caused the extinction of species?  

Should we?

Whether we should might just depend on what the species was?  Right?

 Is there really a place for the Wooly Mammoth in the 21st Century beyond a zoo?  I don't know and am very wary.  What kind of life is one in which an animal is not free? Besides there is also the Jurassic Park problem....

Just because we have the DNA, frozen Wooly Mammoths are periodically found in glaciers, doesn't necessarily mean we should bring them back, right?  At least right now...

BUT...what about the Passenger Pigeon?

The last confirmed sighting of a Passenger Pigeon was in 1900, after that there were only a few in zoos.  As many of you know, the last Passenger Pigeon was Martha, who lived in the Cincinnati Zoo and died in 1914.

When Martha died she was packed in a 300 pound block of ice and shipped to the Smithsonian Museum, where her skin was mounted, but the rest of her was preserved in the Smithsonian's "wet" collection.  Her DNA has been carefully preserved for low these many years.

For those who don't  know, the species,  Ectopistes migratorius, was shot into near extinction by market hunters putting them onto the tables of restaurants and into Eastern butcher shops.  But the last remnants are thought to have been extirpated by habitat loss. 

And as far as  I can find, Passenger Pigeons didn't really reproduce in captivity.  Well captivity then anyway.  It may just come down to the lack of room for a courtship flight, who knows?

Is there a place for the Passenger Pigeon in today's world?  

Could they survive?

Actually the newly resurrected Passenger Pigeon, would be extremely close to the original but strangely and I don't have exact details as to why, wouldn't be exact from what I understand.  The bulk of it's DNA, is identical to the Western Fan-tailed Pigeon, the Passenger Pigeons closest living relative.  The DNA of the Western Fan-tailed Pigeon which is supposedly identical to most of the Passenger Pigeons DNA would be used along with the DNA taken from Martha which of course is Passenger Pigeon DNA to produce the new living Passenger Pigeons.

I need to find out why, but back to the conundrum under discussion.

Earlier today I ran across a book online published in 1914 by the Princeton Press, the year Martha died, titled "Western Natural Resources, What They Are and How They Can Be Conserved".  

Back in 1914, it appears that any number of "game" species including the Fan-tailed Pigeon were on the verge of extinction due to hunting and habitat issues according to the above book. 

In it many species of animals which are doing just fine today, had been on the brink of extinction, not many years before the book was written. 

 These species are currently in large enough populations that they are no longer considered threatened.  Therefore is now, the near hundredth  year anniversary of Martha's death the time to bring her species back as well?

And by the way, it wouldn't be poof!  Passenger Pigeons!  It is thought the work would take numerous decades before it was completed.

What do you think?

I  ran across this book the other day.  

If you know any preteens or adolescents similar to the  girls the women who read this blog were, this book would be a tremendous holiday present.  

I wish I'd known about some of these women growing up.  

The six female naturalists highlighted are Maria Sybylla Merian, Anna Borsford Comstock, Frances Hamerstrom, Rachel Carson, Miriam Rothschild, and Jane Goodall.

This book is a dandy and though copyrighted in 2000, it still appears to be available through  the Dawn Press website.
Next up...not ordinarily anywhere near my topics, but I love the fact that an auto mechanic came up with a simple semi-low tech very practical way to extricate human babies stuck in the birth canal.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pale Male and Octavia Back on the Nest! Comparative Nesting Behavior- Einstein and Quicksilver

 Photograph courtesy of
Octavia (left) and Pale Male (right) on the nest of 927 Fifth Avenue as if there had never been scaffolding.    They are the epitome of  adaptive urban Red-tailed Hawks.

And look at the nice full crops on those hawks.
This photograph was taken on Saturday.  I also had reports from hawkwatchers on Friday that both hawks had been seen on the nest as well.

Remember when Silver was excavating the old chest of drawers for a nesting cavity.  And when he also kept opening the kitchen cupboard doors, dumping things out so I had to tie them shut?  And he tended to do all this in secret?

Well, I ran across another example of similar cavity prep on youtube in an African Grey called Einstein.  

Note the parrot only goes in and out when the human isn't looking.  You hide your nest site.  Also when the owner comes back in the kitchen and is talking all sweetie pie to the parrot, Einstein stands on the drawer with slightly ruffled feathers, pacing, turning a little and has a special look in her eye. 

I suspect that if the woman had attempted to get Einstein on her hand at that moment she would possibly have had her hand nabbed.

Grey's working on their cavities get quite defensive of the area.

From Robin of Illinois and Jackie of Tulsa--

From Jackie: (Would that publicity could reverse ALL the stupid ideas out there.)
Happy Hawking!

Thursday, December 05, 2013


Just in from long time Hawkwatcher Stella Hamilton,

Stella reports- The scaffolding and netting have all been taken down. I went to Hawkbench  to see it for myself. I have also been notified by another hawk watcher that Octavia has been on the nest . 

 More this weekend. 



It appears that all is well. There is free nest access on 927 Fifth Avenue once again.

  Let the Hawk Season begin!

Happy Hawking!

The Oscar Mayer Red-tail

 Photograph by Paul Anderson

For whatever reason, Paul Anderson of  Wisconsin has a tendency to run across all sorts of avian wildlife while at work. In the past he's  stumbled across Bank Swallows nesting in a construction site,  Sandhill Cranes traipsing between parked semis, and his latest, a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on the windowsill of the Oscar Mayer Plant in Madison, Wisconsin.  He said originally the hawk had been looking in the window but by the time he got his phone camera out she refused to turn around.  

Typical isn't it?

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Thanksgiving Fiasco, the Hosts and Guest from HELL or ( Photos of Cooper's Hawk and Avian Prey Not For the Sensitive.), the Collision of Diametrically Opposed Universes Shatters Worlds

Let me make it clear, this is not what I saw when I very mistakenly called out to the family in which I had been invited as a guest for Thanksgiving, "There's a hawk in the tree! ", but rather-
What I saw was more similar to this though at first the prey was hidden beyond the twigs and under the hawks talons.  I stood still so as not to flush the hawk with any quick movement.  Whereas the others being beyond the view of  the window could rapidly get my camera out of the bag etc,  while I stood stock still and slowly reached my arm out  to be handed my camera.  

Now perhaps if I'd known that the hawk had nabbed a woodpecker, possibly out of the feeder directly in front of the window.  A feeder in which no cover whatsoever was provided for the feeding quests or even allowed in this circumspectly shaved and trimmed yard typical of Wisconsin even though this was like putting up a sign, PLEASE EAT THESE BIRDS, to any predators including the farm cats that live in the barn behind the house.... 

A caveat: As I put up feeders, a rather unnatural arrangement, which offers little or no natural cover for the feeding birds,  I go to great lengths to try and make the feeding area as safe as I can  for the birds at the feeder as hey, yes I'm feeding them but I'm feeding them so I can watch them at my convenience therefore I owe them. 

But as usual I was so focused about seeing a hawk and so programmed to share,  likely nothing would have made a bit of difference to my commentary.

When a raptor makes an appearance, I go automatically into Hawk Bench Mode and I share the information with the world. 

 It's a New York City mode,  the folks on the Bench want to know.  Plus the more eyes focused on our collective interest of the moment, the bigger chance of tracking the current focus of our attention as time goes on, right?   And as everyone is looking at SOMETHING the passers-by,  utter strangers, most often want to know what is going on too. And let me add, they are utterly delighted to have  a hawk pointed out for them in the middle of New York City.

This has been my universe.

I had completely utterly forgotten I was in a completely other universe.

If only I'd kept my mouth shut.
I say, " Oh, I think she got a Woodpecker."  This isn't something I'm dying to see, you understand,  but I don't want the Accipiter to go hungry and they eat  birds. According to the research, the majority of birds taken are injured or ill or elderly. It supposedly helps keep the flock healthy. But I'd ever so much rather she'd have taken a Starling or other exotic of which there are horrid hordes... but nature is nature.

Then the hawk begins to wiggle the prey, and a Thanksgiving family son in his 50's who obviously is not familiar with the urges of young hawks, in that they can tend toward, it was so great killing it the first time, I'll kill it a second time, behavior.  Which our Accipiter then goes through the motions of  doing.
The hawk leaps on the prey again.

The son once again says, "It's moving!!"  

His eighty-five year old mother, cries out angrily, "It's killing MY woodpecker!!!!"

I try to say calmly, "No, the woodpecker is dead. It is too late to try and save it.  The hawk is moving it."

I do not say, That isn't your woodpecker, she was a free bird, with her own life, and  her own choices.  She made the decision to come to your feeder.  No one owned her.  She was free!

Mom then asks, "Are they protected?"

I'm getting a very bad feeling about this,.  I say quietly, "They're protected."

My friend, a wife of one of the brothers, says nothing.

Mom says loudly, "I don't care if they are protected or not, GET THE GUN!"

I think,   I can't really be hearing this.  GET THE GUN?

My brain has frozen...This is a federally protected bird...  Protected since 1918 by the International Migratory Bird Treaty... You just can't go around shooting them!  Well evidentally they can...

This is going to be BAD.  VERY BAD.

I've got to get the hawk to fly without making the situation any socially worse.   Could this Thanksgiving possibly be any more excruciating?

I'm their guest from hell.

On the other hand they are my ultimate hosts from hell, and if this hawk gets shot, I'll never forgive myself.  Do I threaten to turn them into the Feds?  Obviously reason isn't going to be working here.

Sharpie has acquired immediate varmint status, and nobody is going to be asking anybody for a permit, which they likely wouldn't get anyway, it's a BIRD FEEDER issue, not the slaughter of the all the farms chickens....  Which they don't raise anyway.  In fact they rent  their land to commercial enterprises to crop,  there is no livestock whatsoever on this farm.

All this amazing crap whirls through my head in about 2 seconds.  There has been enough ruckus for the Sharpie's attention to be drawn to the house.

But she still isn't moving.  Finally she takes off towards the east.  I run for the back door.

Sure enough Dad is in the mud room loading  the gun.

Oh God.  What do I do?

 I don't pause I just run past Dad and head out into Wisconsin winter in my shirtsleeves and don't even notice.

Where is she, where is she?

If they shoot her I'll never forgive myself.  I'll have to report them or they'll just keep doing it. They can't afford it. 

Ugly, All utterly ugly.  What do I do to stop this?


I'm so hoping she is gone so there doesn't have to be a confrontation.  Talk about bad manners.

But no, there she sits right there in a tree in the back yard.  NO!

The brother who said the woodpecker was moving, appears with the gun.  He starts to take aim.

I am between the hawk and the gun but she is far above my head and can easily be shot over my head.

There is nothing to be done.  I turn square towards him,  plant all of 5 feet and 100 pounds of me and say in my best potent Shakespeare voice, DO NOT SHOOT THE BIRD.

He is completely full of adrenalin and isn't into be interrupted at all.

He responds loudly and confused, "WHAT?"

I hold my ground and say again, "DO NOT SHOOT THE BIRD."

He sputters and bounces the gun, says things but I'm too far gone to make sense of any of it or even remember it.

For whatever reason, I say, "Well if you're going to be angry, I can just go home."

I have no idea why.

He sputters, turns around, and goes into the house.  

I totter towards the hawk without even taking a picture of her in her current perch.  I know I have to get her out of here but I'm feeling really shaky legged.  I keep coming and  she finally takes off.  

The woodpecker is heavy for her.

She flies with the typical flap, flap, soar,  of  the Accipiter.

Keep flying.  Keep flying. 

 Then she turns to the NE.  I will her not to land on the power poles.  Keep flying out of sight.  Keep flying.

I  turn around, walk  towards the barn, and hide. 

What happened?  What?  I'm the company and I implied he wasn't being nice to the company?

Just as  I had had no idea anyone would shoot a hawk right in front of me, as matter of factly as buttering a roll.

 They had no idea I would mind if they did.

Different universes.

And as I hadn't driven myself and therefore had no car to escape in, eventually I went back in the house and took pictures of everyone gathered at the Thanksgiving table.

Then we played Turkey Track Dominoes, which I 'd never played before.  In fact I'd never played any games that used dominoes.  In a blur, I won by hundreds of points.  It embarrassed me.

Then time for the obligatory offer of leftovers.  And during  that shuffle, the Mom looked at me with tears in her eyes, and said, "Wouldn't you be very sad if your Woodpecker died?"

I said, "I was very sad that the Woodpecker died.  But I'd also be very sad if I knew the hawk was starving."

Other voices swept over us.  Then I had my coat on, my cake carrier in hand, and was gone.

Different universes.

Donegal Browne

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Miscelleny and a Culprit


These are a few of  the mean House Sparrows.   

For whatever reason this flock of sparrows seems much more aggressive to other birds than I've seen other flocks behave at other feeders.  They jump at the juncos, they gang up on the Goldfinch, and they even manage to chase away the White-breasted Nuthatch.  

Nuthatch are not known to be timid birds.  In fact they can be downright hostile if another bird gets between them and the sunflower seed they have an eye on.

I begin to notice that the male House Sparrows appear to sit atop the fence or the sparrow pile being hyper-vigilant most of the time.
 Females tend to eat in protected spaces.  (It isn't that it happens to be snowing slightly this day. ) Ordinarily, as many of you know, when it snows feeders will be mobbed by many species, stocking up calories for a cold moist roost.

It just wasn't happening.

Two days later, on the 13th,  the only bird I see is Silver guarding the white chest of drawers looking territorial  and contemplating flying at my head.  

Digression Alert!  Silver is so intent on playing guard dog he won't even get a drink of water out of his own bowls  which are in other rooms.  Rather he flies down to the floor, drinks out of the cat bowl, and flies back up to the top of the dresser and waits for the interloper. 


One would think that birds don't have much in the way of expressions, their "lips" don't move, right? But they do have expressions.  Look carefully at Silver.  His expressions are expressed with the shape of his eyes at any given moment, his body language and the position of his feathers.

Silver is giving me his "make my day" expression.  

Can you see it?

Back to the issue--The feeders have remained empty.  The Squirrels aren't scolding.  I begin to suspect that there is a hawk skulking out there somewhere. 

 2013-11-15, 12:26 PM

 I hear a Crow calling.  I look outside from the first floor and can't see anything but a male House Sparrow on top of the Sparrow Pile. (photo left) I run up the stairs and there is a Crow delving for insects in the mulch.  

Is the sentinel Crow in the Pondorosa Pine?  Note the shadow of the pines,  right.  I switch rooms and windows.

 Yes.  She's there.  She looks straight at me and doesn't move or call the alert.  

I've been attempting to get the Crows to call me when they arrive.  I run back down the stairs, grab some whole wheat bread in the kitchen, and head outside.

When I come into the Sentinel Crow's view I stop and hold the bread in the air for her to see.  I walk over to the little shelf by the feeders and deposit the bread.  It appears they weren't interested in the beans I'd put out earlier.  Then I walk purposefully into the house without looking  back.

12:29:35 PM  I run back up the stairs and wait.  Looking down I once again notice how much closer the Sparrow Pile is to the feeders here than it was in Milton.  Wait.  Are the Sparrows being more hostile due to some territorial issue due to proximity?
12:30:30 PM  A Crow lands, checks out the bread, and takes a fragment.  Part of which falls to the ground. 
12:30:34 PM  Another piece of bread is pushed into the beak.
12:30:37 PM  She then goes for  a third piece in his beak.

12:30:42 PM  That done, Crow stares up at  me for several seconds and then flies off  photo left, West.

Crow only gets a few feet before half the bread falls into the wood pile.   I can't get a picture because she is directly below me.  I press my head to the glass.  She methodically retrieves the bread.  Looks back up again and then continues her flight in the original direction.
 12:31:07 PM   Position may be the impetus for the Sparrow problem.  The only way to find out is to move it.

Fast forward to 11-28.  The only species sighted were 2 House Sparrows on the top of the Sparrow Pile much earlier in the day. 

12:40PM  I  grab the full trash bag, and go outside to put it in the bin.  Just as I pass the garage, bringing the feeding area into view, a Cooper's hawk bursts into the air, possibly from the feeding area or maybe from atop the Sparrow Pile.  The hawk heads  across the yard toward the corner of the block. 

Drat!  I don't have the camera.  Where did she go?  I can't see her!

I fling down the trash, run into the house,  grab the camera, and run up the stairs.

 And the culprit is found!  She's sitting in the Chinese Elm on the corner, scanning.  I hit rapid fire on the camera, her head turns toward me and she's in the air flying north through the treeline of Spruce.

 And she's gone.  

But I've got her number now.

Happy Hawking 

Donegal Browne

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pale Male, Octavia, and the SCAFFOLDING Plus John Blakeman and Pearl the Red-tail's Age

 Photo courtesy of

As of November 21st,  the  scaffolding on 927 Fifth Avenue, the site of Pale Male and Octavia's nest, is now two floors below the nest.  

This is better.  

As the Fifth Avenue pair are human habituated, I've no doubt that even with the scaffolding in its current position, that the hawks will visit the nest site if  and when they feel like it.  

It behooves the workman to finish as rapidly as possible because as time passes the hawks will become more and more hormonal, their invisible boundaries will harden, and though Pale Male and Lola never physically touched anyone on the building in the past, that I know of,  it is remarkably unnerving to have a Red-tail doing close fly-bys at your head and screaming.  It gets your attention.  

Trust me.
Remember Pearl, the Red-tail who demonstrated a variety of maneuvers to elude me?
This was the shot that made me wonder if Pearl was female instead of  my first take, which was that the hawk was male.

John Blakeman who always has his eye on the ball, read the blog and emailed me.  He said, female!

(Not the sharpest shot but remember documentation not beauty is the way to go at times.)

Mr. Blakeman looked at Pearl's belly band, which is quite light and said that Pearl is at least five years old.  The belly band fades over time.

 Now if I hadn't included that shot would we have gotten that tidbit?

Here she is again.  Her  belly band truly is quite light. 
Many thanks John.

And from long time contributor Robin of Illinois, the coyote and the cross country team...

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne

Friday, November 15, 2013

Quicksilver the African Grey Parrot, Skittles the Candy, and Conan O'Brien Goes Birding in Central Park

Quicksilver  the African Grey Parrot gives me "The Look".

 "The Look" is usually preceded by Silver deciding that some action is required around the old homestead.  

The intensity of this "action" varies.

On the low end of action, the mood where is is a little bored and being mischievous, he tends to be out to surprise you.  For instance, he may follow you into the bathroom and give your bare toe a slight pinch while you're brushing your teeth.

  You are surprised. 

 And because you are surprised, you then make a little surprised sound and you jerk your foot back.  Silver finds this to be a total hoot.  He laughs while you tell him he shouldn't be on the  floor.  Number one, he may get stepped on,   and number two, pinching people isn't nice. 

Silver does not care.

On the high end of action, ordinarily when Silver is very hormonal or very angry, "the look" as he marches across the bed towards you, precedes a sudden leap at your hand, your telephone, or maybe even a scary plastic bag you're holding and an attempt to bite the crap out of it or you. 

Figuring that a lot of this when not just blind hormones was coming from boredom and or some kind of pent up parrot hostility, due to my bossing him around all the time--

Stay off the floor!  

Do not entice the cats to chase you!   

NO! Do not chew the furniture, the window sill, that DVD, my copy of Wild Birds Of America, that giant box of Tide, MY TELEPHONE, DO NOT POP THE BUTTONS OFF THE TV CLICKER...

You get the picture.   

Tangent Alert!  On one occasion when I fell asleep without meaning to in the middle of the day, neglecting therefore to put him in his cage for a nap before I drifted off,  Quicksilver mosied over to my computer keyboard and popped every single one of the tops off the keys.   

Try going on line and finding a diagram of your particular keyboard so you can put them back in the right places with nothing but a space bar.

Back to our story...

I figured Silver might enjoy something new.

Enter the Skittles.

I'd heard that some African Greys will do almost anything for a Skittle and Silver might even attempt to charm me to get one.

(Do understand I'm not talking lots of Skittles, just  one every now and then.)

Skittle Day 1

I allow Silver to see the bag.  He knows a candy bag when he sees on.  He grew up with children.

I dump a number of Skittles into my palm. I put my hand out for him to choose one.
 Silver looks at the Skittles and chooses a yellow (lemon flavor) with his beak.  But instead of transferring it to his foot and then taking bites the way he'd usually eats a holdable piece of people food, he keeps it in his beak and shells it like he would a seed.

Does he think it is a seed?  No.  He's thinking.  See the way his eyes aren't particularly focused on the outside world?

It does have a hard outer covering comparable to a husk.  Note the hard tiny bits of candy shell falling through the air.
But it's candy too.   He gives me a positive look and chews as fast as he possibly can.  (The reason his feet are in focus but his head isn't.)

He is very focused internally.  Note part of  his tongue is now touching a portion of  candy which is not covered by the dry candy shell.   More shell flakes off.
 As Alex the African Grey Parrot used to say, YUMMY!

 Okay, back up about 14 years.  When he and Samantha were both much younger.  When no one was looking one Christmas Sam would give Silver a piece of peppermint candy cane.  Dry, he didn't want it.  He wanted it from her mouth.  And would go over and start excavating around in her mouth gently with his beak if she was within range.

Eventually she fessed up and asked why that might be?

After thought and getting her to demonstrate the behavior, I posited that the reason Silver would always want to extricate a piece of hard candy from Sam's mouth but was  uninterested in the candy before it went into her mouth, was because being he has no saliva, he couldn't taste the sweetness without some moistening. 

I have no idea if this is true as I've no way to truly test it, but as a working hypothesis it was never disproved as anything that needed moistening in order to taste had to come out of people's mouths and Silver knew it and went for it.  

As to the skittles they are dry but they have an intense fruity smell.  And if you "open" them, they're moist.  Perhaps the aroma made the difference or perhaps he'd seen people eat them previously. ???

DAY 2  When presented with Skittles once again in my palm, Silver chose bright green, the new sour apple flavor  He started the shelling process, and immediately spit it out on the floor.  Then looked at me expectantly.


I gave him another pick. 

He then chose yellow again, the color and flavor he'd originally picked.  He shelled it, ate it and I got another positive look.

Day 3 and 4 he chose orange. 

Day 5 and 6 he picked red, strawberry.

Interesting pattern so far.  He finds a flavor he likes and then has it again after changing flavors after one lemeon.  Then for whatever reason after two takes he becomes adventurous and now tries a new color.

He never chose green again, and at least so far is totally uninterested in the dark purple, grape skittles.  Now whether he'd give them a shot if they were the only choice may be next up.

Now for something completely different and very funny...who says birders don't have a sense of humor?
A wonderful clip from 2005 featuring Conan O'Brien taking a walk with the late Starr Saphir and company, on one of her famous Central Park bird walks, unearthed by long time reader and contributor NYC Bill.

Plus, who knew the Swiss were such dreadful litterbugs?

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pale Male's Nest and The Scaffolding- Glenn Phillips Exec. Director of NYC Audubon and John Blakeman on Red-tail Nest Loyalty

Photograph courtesy of
As most of you know,  Pale Male's long time nest building, 927 Fifth Avenue,  has scaffolding over the front of it as masonry work is being done currently. 
Building management did communicate with NYC Audubon about what time of year was best to do the work before it was scheduled.  And at least one longtime hawk watcher was then asked for an opinion as to what the least disruptive window for the hawks would be as well.
 From Glenn Phillips, Executive Director of NYC Audubon--
Hope all is well... just wanted to give you a heads up that 927 Fifth has started some facade work. They have been working with us to reduce impacts, and waited until this year's eyasses were fledged before starting, and they intend to finish work on the front of the building before the end of the year to avoid conflicts when PM and consort return to the nest... They have been very proactive and supportive, and should be congratulated for working to ensure the nest's safety. 

True, it would be dreadful if the facade suddenly fell off the building crashing our favorite pair of hawks and a nest full of eggs or eyasses onto the sidewalk.
That said, I don't believe that a catastrophe was about to happen but while biding our time and worrying about how the hawks feel about all this,  it might be slightly consoling to think that if there were a safety issue it would be discovered and fixed during this work. 
(Shhhh...Also keep in mind we've made life miserable for 927 before and we can do it again if necessary.  Which I'm pretty sure it won't be. They do NOT want all those "crazy hawkwatchers"  making a racket in front of  their house again now do they?  So take a deep breathe, let it out, relax those shoulders...and I'll let you know when it's time to start making the Honk for Hawks signs again.  I still have mine so I'm ready.)
 Numerous emails from readers and phone calls have come in  from hawkwatchers concerned not only about the duration of the work that's being done, and the scaffolding,  but also about all that netting on the building in which talons might be tangled. 

I agree the netting totally and utterly sucks.  
Here's the deal,  NYC has some extremely strict iron clad rules and codes concerning protection for pedestrians while masonry work is being done over their heads.  They have to make the area debris-tight while they work.  Hence the mandatory netting.
In fact compared to all the scaffolding, netting and who knows what all,  that was on my apartment building when the brick was being tuck pointed some years ago, this is less, thank goodness. 
 It will come down faster.

Which brings us to the very important factor--WHEN will it come down?

927 management has communicated to NYC Audubon that the scaffolding will come down on the front of the building before the first of the year.

Yes, we'd all be very much happier if it were down NOW as we worry that Pale Male is being upset, but here is a word from Red-tailed Hawk mavin, John Blakeman on the matter  Red-tails and their nests--
I just learned of the 927 fa├žade work. If the scaffolding is down by even 1 Feb, all should be well. First of January would be better. 
I'm not sure everyone understands the typically vagrant nature of RT nests. Pairs have  extreme fidelity to territories; those don't much vary from year to year (in location, at least; size, yes). But RTs commonly in rural areas simply abandon a perfect, oft-used nest and go off and build another a quarter-mile distant. For no good reason, other than apparently they really enjoy building nests in Jan and Feb. 
PM could start a nest at the Beresford any year, scaffolding notwithstanding.

John Blakeman

It's true.  The Beresford has always been Pale Male's second option to show his mate for her consideration for many a season. 
I think that particular choosing  behavior is wired in, and goes beyond just giving the formel a choice, (She is the boss during nesting season after all.), it is that the tiercel being the one who is constantly thinking of contingency plans as he's the guy on the wing while the formel is eating her way into egg-nancy, or on the nest  He's got to have a back up in his "pocket" just in case something happens to the first choice nest site.   
Pale has a back up.  Not the first choice for any season so far, but he is prepared.  Comforting that.
Something occurred to me earlier today, Pale Male, being an older hawk with literally decades of urban experience,  has seen scaffolding go up a thousand times and seen it come down just as often, all over the city.  
In fact,  he knows it always does come down eventually.
Red-tail Hawks are masters of patterns.  It is their hunting ace; it's how they make their living.  They watch the patterns and they remember them.
Of course I'd strongly prefer that Pale Male not be bothered in any way, but perhaps because of experience, and the fact he was first to choose this environment he knows the scoop and may not be as bothered as we might surmise.  Or even if he is bothered, he will do what it takes, as he always does,  yet again this season.
Besides  Pale Male is no dummy, he knows he's got all of us for back up.   
As we had he and Lola for back up while the protests went on back in 2004.  Many early evenings while we all protested, while we danced, sang, banged pans, whistled, held signs and egged on the honking cars of Fifth Avenue across from 927,  Pale Male and Lola sat in the trees behind us just beyond the wall biding their time at the edge of Central Park...backing us up.

And we'll bide our time as they did for a while longer yet too, as they go about their pre-season business.  Yes, we'll bide our time, we'll calmly pass by, we'll check out the netting, and we'll let the hawks see.... Not to worry, we're still around and we're still on the job.  You've got back up.
Happy Hawking,
Donegal Browne

My apologies to all for the lack of postings of late.  
Back in June, I was helping  a friend of mine from college days, Mark Scarborough, prize winning newspaperman, do the technical work on the photographs he was using for the book he was writing, EDGERTON, when without warning and while taking a break outside the paper talking to colleagues, he suddenly dropped to the ground.  And my oldest friend was just....gone.

I took up the task of  finishing off the loose ends for Mark's book and being in deep grief the loose ends have been far harder to tie up than I'd bargained for.
Once again my apologies.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Red-tailed Hawk Tactics for Eluding Observers

The Mill Race, off the Sugar River, WI 4:51PM 

The sound of scolding Crows, an alert so often used by Central Park Hawk Watchers to locate Red-tailed Hawks, works in the country too.

The cawing was from crows perched in tree tops.  This was the first.

4:52pm  And the second, both looking toward the same spot, a copse of trees, across the highway bridge which traverses the Mill Race.
 4:54pm I head for the other side of the road across the Race. I'm momentarily distracted...What are THOSE? 

Any ideas?

 Back to the Red-tail chase on the Race.

4:55pm  This seems to be where the Crows are looking but I don't see Mr. RT.  I start walking a curve around this group of trees.

4:56:01pm  Ah ha!  Got him.  Do you see him?  He's just left of center looking left to the West.
 See him now?  

Look for the shape of a Red-tail with his back turned. Just right of the pale barked tree.

 In this case brighter leaves obscure his head.  Got him?  You can just see a touch of his pale side. And he's perched with an open flyway available for flight into the sun.  

A rural Red-tailed Hawk maneuver to ditch unwanted attention. 
4:57:21pm He has turned his head to look at me. His eye is just left of a small branch.  We look at each other. He knows I know he's there. It won't be long now.

4:57:56pm  And into the sun he goes!  I wait until I and the camera are not completely blinded and hit rapid fire.  The next three frames are all taken in the same second.

4:57:57 This guy is doing some flying.  He goes into a glide for  the tree line where he will be obscured by foliage when the light falls on him again.
4:58:01pm  Crikey!  He's  going to cross the road in the opposite direction  I've just come from and at this point I think, well that's it.  He's going to keep on flying and I'll never catch up.  

4:58:02pm Unlike the Central Park Hawks who would just be heading in that direction to go about their day to day business, likely paying no attention to me whatsoever, this hawk is ditching me on purpose.  And he'll just keep going until I'm ditched.  DRAT!

 5:58:02pm WAIT!  He hovers briefly above the pole.
4:58:02pm  He's turning and looks ready to perch on the electric pole.  My, my, my, that's rather human habituated for a rural Red-tail.  
 (Never under estimate a Red-tail, remember?)
4:58:03pm  She looks at me and then turns back to look down the Race.  Why didn't she keep flying away from me?  

Its the Crows!  Or that's my current bet at any rate.

They're still over there and she doesn't want to be mobbed again!
4:58:19pm  Yes, I realize I've suddenly changed pronouns.  I was thinking the bird was male but now there is a niggle that perhaps the hawk may be female as she looks bigger on the post than most males though the hawk may just be fluffed up against the cool weather.

She also appears to have quite a light belly band which according to the hawk savvy John Blakeman, barring she is just a pale Red-tail, may mean she is an older experienced hawk.

 4:58:21pm  We hold, looking at each other.  She's monitoring  my eyes.  Which I know but...
...when a truck comes rumbling down the road, which with her eyesight, hearing, and vantage point she knew about far before I did,  my eye automatically flicks down at it and she's off with speed.  
Had I been a partial of a second slower I might well have lost her in the trees.  See what I mean?

(This is the reason hawking with a partner or a group can be very helpful even for the most experienced hawkwatchers.)

4:58:36pm  Normally she'd have zoomed straight off into the far tree line and I may not have seen her go.  But for whatever reason, I'm hypothesizing the Crows, she doesn't go that way.  She's heading East which exposes her against the sky.

4:58:36pm  She sticks to the cover she has, the power lines and the bare tree in the distance.
4:58:36pm  Still sticking to the wires.
4:58:36pm  Going for some altitude.
4:58:37pm And still higher.  Note that the previous 5 frames, before this one, encompass 1 second of time
4:58:39pm  In the last two seconds she has begun to gain more altitude and to circle round more toward my side of the road. 
4:58:40pm  She begins a soar.
4:58:41pm  About now is when I realize that she is going to use the tree to which I'm adjacent for her own purposes as she is about to disappear behind it.
4:58:41pm  I decide to duck around to the other side of my tree
which isn't as quick as it might be due to the understory.

4:58:46pm (She hasn't suddenly gotten this close, I've just cropped the photo for a closer look.)  5 seconds later, when I regain my view, she is in a bank.  

And it is a much brighter view of her due to her angle on the sun, the fact that she is crossing the road so she isn't in timber shade plus the exposure of her pale underside.  She limited that exposure to me by making her move when I had to go round the tree in order to keep my eye on her.
4:58:46pm  It took her only 1 second of obvious exposure to cross the road.
4:58:47pm  Then she is out of the bright light and nearly to the power lines on my side of the throughfare.  It doesn't appear that she has  taken the option of going East and into town. 
4:58:47pm Take a good look at where she is in relation to the power line.
4:58:48pm  She whips down and goes below the upper arm of the left electric pole.

4:58:49 And heads for the trees.
4:58:49pm This is a crop of the previous picture. Look at her focus.  And her wings are in a similar position to a downbeat of  wings while flying but she is holding that pose.  She doesn't bring them up.
4:58:49pm  She's into the tree and now the wings look bowed.
4:58:49pm  And a crop for clarity.
4:58:49pm  Her wings are now almost completely up.  Still hustling through the tree.
 4:58:49pm  Can you see where she is?
 4:58:49 pm  Crop.  Can you see her now?   I take the brown patch beneath the branch to be her left wing.  Up and right there are feather tips.  Her tail?

4:58:50 And she's out in the golden light.  Traversing through the tree took her less than a second as well.
      She appears to be looking down.

4:58:51pm She begins to bank right and down.

4:58:52pm And suddenly she is in the tree,  makes a quick turn, apparently goes out the back and well...she's gone.  

From the time she originally turned, looked down at me from her perch near the Mill Race, and I looked back up at her, 4:57:21 pm,  and 4:48:52pm when she just ditched me by zipping out the other side of a tree,  was all of 1 minute 31 seconds.  

She completely blew me off in less than 2 minutes. 

Look back at all the tactics she used against me in that 1 minute and 31 seconds.  This bird is savvy.   In fact she's rather a jewel.  


Well... being that back in the day,  the Sugar River and the Mill Race had so many mollusks living in them (they still do), that there was a thriving industry in the making of mother of pearl buttons, perhaps we'll just call the hawk, Pearl.

And if Pearl turns out to be a tiercel, which he may, I just looked at his skull shape in the "looking at each other" photo, we'll still call him Pearl.

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne

P.S.  Quicksilver the African Grey Parrot appears to have given up a small amount of his attachment for the chest of drawers and has taken a liking to the old dance, "The Bunny Hop". He's begun whistling it and bobbing his head in time.

Why?  So far he isn't saying.