Friday, March 21, 2014

The Sandhill Cranes, Emily and Alfred Plus their Canada Goose Pair Buddies.

Sandhill Crane Emily, right, and Alfred, left, are foraging in the mud, in the same field in which we last saw them.  This may bode well for a possible nest in the area.
The pair continues to poke their beaks into the creek and the mud along the sides for seeds and other goodies.

Sandhills are omnivores though in some regions they are mainly herbaceous and may augment their native food diet with cultivated waste corn, sorghum, and wheat.

Northern Cranes and those hard on breeding tend toward a more varied diet which includes small mammals,  berries, insects, snails, reptiles, and amphibians.

 Alfred notices me.  Drat!
And the pair begins heading away while keeping an eye on me.
Vigilant stances.  Then cars come from both ways and both Cranes take to their wings while I'm attempting to get the car further off the road.
 They don't go far, just into the cornfield further down the road.
That's when I see the Canada Goose pair.   Ah, could these be the pair from yesterday who were crowding the Cranes?  Interesting.  The Gander gives me a look.
And off they go as well.   And that leaves an empty pasture.  Off I go to see if Arthur and Guinevere the Red-tailed Hawk pair are sitting their nest yet. They are the Red-tailed Hawks we found perched in the dead tree with the rodent with a short tail.

No sign of Arthur or Guinevere other then their somewhat bough obscured nest, left of center mid photo.

It is that expectant time of year after all.   The waiting time.  The time when all strain for the sound of pipping and the cracking of eggs.

Two posts today, so keep scrolling down if you haven't seen the post on the Teneke Bald Eagle Nest and that of the Gough Red-tailed Hawks.

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne
The Teneke Bald Eagle Nest which technically isn't in this particular fence row though it looks like it might be.  It is actually located in a marshy area at some short distance from the fence row which borders this field. 

  This is the Eagle nest I found last season and asked for permission of  the land owner to cross part way into said private land through the marsh on the other side.  I suggested that side beyond it would be closer to come from the other side but also so there was absolutely no way I'd damage any crops in case he thought I couldn't recognize a corn stalk.  I was refused. Sigh. 

Therefore I'll do what I can.  There is a creek that runs into the area with access from the road.  In Wisconsin all waterways are public access.  Therefore if I can come up with some kind of  very flat boat that might make it up the shallow creek, I might be able to get a little closer later in the season.

In the meantime, I want to see if the Eagles are actually using the nest and if there is an Eagle sitting on some eggs up there.

 A mid-range crop.  No bird noticeable yet.
And an even closer crop of a long range photo. Yes!  See the top curve of the white head?  It is on the left side of the bowl.  So they are using this nest, they've laid, and are sitting!  

Next up a look at the Gough Red-tail nest which is not far down the fence row.  As raptor expert John Blakeman suggested,  Bald Eagle and Red-tail Hawk territories sometimes overlap.
The Gough Red-tailed Hawk Nest, without any trace of a sitting Red-tail.

Then I traveled further down the fence row looking for hawks.
Aha!  See the hawk near the top of the tree?

I'd say this was the female.  Did you notice the chubby look and a kind of heaviness?  As longtime Pale Male watcher Stella Hamilton would say, "That hawk looks eggnant!"

It won't be long now.  Possibly even tomorrow, they'll start sitting if the formel's look is any clue. 


I'd followed the tree line down to the corner and turned right.  Their is a grayish spot in the tree that doesn't look quite tree-ish. I stop and scan the trees with the long lens on the camera.
 See him center?  That's the tiercel from the Gough nest.

He appears to be hunting.

Then he turns his head maintaining eye contact with the formel in her tree near the corner of the intersecting treeline.

Back into the car to hit three more spots before sunset. 

I head for the territory of the two pale belly band-less Red-tailed Hawks.  I can't find them.  Running out of time.

Next on the list, Alfred and Emily Sandhill Crane.
Therefore, I'm posting this and check back if you didn't see a Sandhill post before you saw this one.

Got it?


Happy Hawking!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

New York City Hawkwatcher and Photographer Francois Portmann Hits Audubon Magazine and He's a Smash! Plus Sandhill Crane Antics

Photograph by Francois Portmann

For those of you who have neglected going over to the Link Referral column on the right, and clicking on Francois Portmann's Photographs, you  have been missing some absolutely spectacular work.

And now Francois  has the feature photo spread in  the March-April issue of Audubon Magazine and he is brilliant.
Photograph by Francois Portmann

See what I mean?  


And it isn't just his proficiency with a camera, which of course he has, it is catching the bird moment as well as, in this spread's case the juxtaposition of  Breezy Point, the urban environment across the way, and birds from the Arctic.   It's art in a major way.

 So go ahead.  Check it out.  We'll wait.

Click on Francois's link first-- then click on the link to Audubon Magazine where you'll get a sort of multi-media version of his photographs in the spread when you click on Gallery.

If for some reason that doesn't work for you, here is the link for the magazine and the article by Scott Wiedenthal.  Once you get there scroll down the article a couple paragraphs and click on "Gallery, more images of snowy owls..." 

Honest, we really will wait for you to get back.  It's worth it.  Trust me.
Remember Emily and Alfred, the Sandhill Cranes featured on yesterday's blog?  

(I know, I know, they weren't Emily and Alfred yesterday, but suddenly today I know their names.... my whimsy must have clicked in.  What can I tell you?) 

Well if you look particularly at Alfred, the crane in the rear, also look at his rear.   Instead of being completely gray back there as all the field guides tell you he should be, he has rusty brown feathers on his back and also the lower part of his neck.  This is quite common.

Hmmm.  Why might that be?


Next check out Emily's beak.  After you left her yesterday, she leaned down and foraged around just into the water in the mud.  See the glob of mud sticking to the tip of her beak?

The mud will be relevant in a minute.

The reason that many Sandhills have this rusty brown tinge on some of their feathers is because their feathers  have actual rust on them.

How did they get rust on themselves?  You might well ask as they aren't prone to snuggling with old rust bucket cars in scrap yards.

Well, in any number of places in which Sandhill Cranes spend their time, the soil has iron oxide in it.  Therefore they forage around, get some mud stuck on their beaks like Emily and then preen...Ta Da!  Rust colored feathers.

And their feathers will remain that color until they molt out and new ones come in.  Who knew?

And speaking of odd tidbits about Sandhill Cranes, the next one is in relation to Canada Geese.
You'll remember how Emily turned around and appeared to be yelling at the Goose who was so close to her?

There are Canada Geese who are imprinted on Sandhill Cranes because they were raised by Sandhill Cranes and therefore want Sandhill Cranes for mates.  (Not the case here as eventually that goose went off with another goose.  More likely the geese were having some kind of territorial issue.)

At any rate, how do geese end up imprinting on Cranes in the first place?

Well you might ask.  

For whatever obscure reason, every now and again a goose will lay an egg in a Crane nest.  This would happen after the Crane nest had been built but was unattended as no crane eggs had yet been laid.  

The Cranes are off doing Crane business,  a goose passes by the empty nest and lays an egg in it.  The Cranes come back, and don't seem to be bothered by this as they brood the goose egg along with their own after they lay them and also parent the gosling.

Precocial young like goslings, imprint on their parents directly after hatching, and if the "parent" happens to be a Sandhill Crane, they grow up learning to dance and attempting to seduce Sandhill Crane colts into being their mates, as well as migrating with flocks of Sandhills.

Fascinating isn't it? 

Now go watch some birds, you just never know what you might see.

Donegal Browne


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pale Male and Octavia Update, Sandhill Cranes Part 2, and Audubon Advocates Wins a Big One!

Photo courtesy of

Just in from hawkwatcher Laurie Nelson,

 When I got to the hawk area today,  I couldn't tell if a hawk was on the nest.  The egg cup is deep enough  that the brooding hawk could not be seen.  After a little while Octavia came flying from the north on Fifth Avenue but flew past the nest and then came back and landed on the south end.  She stood there for a few moments and looked around.  She then walked over and looked down into the cup.  She waited several more minutes then put her head down and appeared to do something.  Pale Male then appeared and got out and she got in.  Why didn't Pale Male come out when she got there?

Well, that is a good question Laurie, and we'll never know for sure, but it is our best guess that Pale Male, and we hear from  watchers of other nests as well (Tristan up at the Cathedral was the same) that other hawk dads with long experience absolutely positively love to sit on eggs.  As long as I've watched Pale, he periodically has to be prodded a little to give up the bowl.  It has occurred to me that perhaps he might be taking a little nap as well during nest sitting if he knew his mate was up to watching the territory if he closed his eyes for a few minutes. 

Thanks for the update!  Keep them coming, Laurie.

When last we saw our two Sandhill Cranes, Female had turned and  was giving someone a piece of her mind.  And as when I went back over my photographs I found no one besides the nearby goose in that area, so I'm assuming that Goose did something untoward and is getting blasted, (this is a Sandhill Crane after all, the loudest bird in North America), for  whatever it was.  Standing too close? 

 I've no idea what a Sandhill's idea of personal space is.

Supposedly the female in a pair of Sandhills starts a courtship
dance with her mate by a vocalization but evidentally that wasn't what was happening as no dance ensued.

I can't exactly tell where this move is coming from or is being done for the geese or the mate either.  Perhaps there is just something interesting in the grass.  ???

Forgive my indecisiveness, but I just went to utube to watch a Sandhill courtship dance again as it has been years since I saw my first and last one live and now I am completely flummoxed.

Okay note how similar the pairs positions are complete with beak direction and all the rest.   Except the female is turned away slightly.  In the dance I witnessed and photographed they would have been in exactly the same position.  More like this...

 And every move they made would have had the same precision as synchronized swimmers.

 And in the dance  I saw, both birds would have come forward completely in unison down to which leg started first and opened their wings.

But just now when I went to watch a video there was a whole lot of the male hopping around and jumping and looking rather erratic.  Perhaps a difference in hormonal levels?

According to what I've read, Sandhills "dance" at the drop of a hat. They will dance for just about anything...Hello to the flock.  Introducing the colts.  Helping all the colts in the flock learn to dance.  Private lessons for  their own colts.  You name it they dance it....   But I saw nothing comparable to what I'd seen in...maybe 2006?   I'm going to dig out the pics before I begin to think I've gone round the bend.

In the meantime, below is a link in which adults attempt to teach the colts of a flock to dance.  Some young do appear somewhat startled by all the hopping around.


Big Win for Florida's Conservation Lands

Public outcry causes DEP to shelve controversial land surplus program. 

Limpkin with Dinner by Charles Lee
 Limpkin with dinner. Photo by Charles Lee.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has ended its controversial program to sell tracts of conservation land. Instead, DEP will now focus on selling surplus state lands developed for state offices and other constructed facilities.

One example is the A.G. Holley Hospital tract in West Palm Beach, where the agency has a $15+ million offer on the table. The Governor’s budget proposes that these non-conservation land sales will help add funds to the Florida Forever Program for new conservation land purchases.

The cancellation of DEP's Conservation Land Surplus program is a big win for Audubon Advocates.
Your incredible outpouring of written and public comments convinced the Governor and DEP to drop the program. Almost every organization concerned about the “special places” of Florida went to work to organize its members to comment on surplus land proposals to DEP. Florida’s major newspapers published many editorials which opposed the surplus land program and urged the Governor and DEP to abandon it.

Many Florida political figures were outspoken in defense of Florida's conservation lands. The list includes current Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) and former Senator Paula Dockery, as well as the Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC), led by former Department of Environmental Regulation Secretary Victoria Tschinkel and former Governor Bob Graham.

The original, computer-generated proposals list of 167 properties included significant areas of wetland, open water, and quality upland habitat. Included were sites noted for protecting species such as the Florida Scrub-Jay. As comments poured in from all over the state, properties were gradually dropped from the list. Yet, after months of public hearings, over 2,000 acres of the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area in the Green Swamp still remained.   

 There was a universal plea to drop the Green Swamp properties. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, who manages the site, and the Polk County Commission both opposed the Area's inclusion on the surplus list. However, removing the property would have dropped the list to only about 1,000 acres. Selling this remaining land would not even generate $5 million, let alone the $50 million in revenues projectedDEP’s decision to drop the list in its entirety was the best thing to do.

While Audubon has criticized DEP for these Surplus Conservation Land mistakes, it’s now time to say thank you. Please click here to send an email to the Governor and DEP.

In the end, the Governor’s office and DEP listened to the people and responded by doing the right thing. In today’s political atmosphere, stepping back from a mistake is a seldom seen quality and it’s very good to see it happen here.

The new surplus land list, consisting of non-conservation properties, mostly built and developed or purchased for non-conservation purposes can be seen by clicking here.

 If the links above are not working click below..

Monday, March 17, 2014

Real Men Don't Kill White Deer! FOUND!! Arthur and Guinevere's Nest! What Happened to the Ms? The Sandhills Are Back in Town and John Blakeman on the Possible Nest Move of Mom and T2 of Philadelphia

There are a few unbelievably beautiful white and albino deer wandering the fields and forests of Wisconsin, between 60 and 75 of them.   These deer are thought to be the largest number of these creatures in the world.  And though it is the largest in the world it is a very small gene pool indeed.  Only one in 200,000 deer even carry the gene let alone manifest it. 
And the reason there are this many here, if you can call it many, is because the Native American tribes in the area hold them as sacred and did not and do not kill them.  Plus it is against the law for anyone to hunt them currently.

WELL....the farsighted Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, and the Deer Czar he hired for an exorbitant amount of money have decided it might just be grand to let people hunt them.  Wouldn't you like to be one of the very few in the in crowd to have a white deer head in your living room?  

Therefore sign the petition if you can, if you cannot there are plenty of other things you can do to help save these stunning the link!

Next up, It must be Spring, though who could tell with this weather; the Sandhill Cranes are trumpeting into town in formation and are just on the verge of "dancing".

I'd heard the Sandhill Cranes calling as they flew over, as you can hear them from bijillion miles  away, but I hadn't presumed  they'd be close so  I'd gone out to look for Arthur and Guinevere, the neighboring Red-tailed Hawk pair.

I almost dropped my teeth, just as I left town and not all that many feet from the road a Sandhill pair looked to be on the verge of doing their seasonal synchronized dance as they were already moving in partial synch.  Though currently not quite time yet, when they do get going no chorus line in the world is so completely in sync as they are.

And there they were starting things off already much to the interest of the Canada Goose who littered the field they were all in.

They then noticed me and my camera in the window of the car and I thought the male might just stride over, grab my camera, and fling it to the ground much like an enraged movie star goes after a member of the paparazzi.

But instead they pulled themselves together and did the part of the dance where they stride off  in opposite directions. 
They then walked back toward each other again.

Until their heads overlap.  Note that the Canada Geese are staring...

And THEN... the female whipped around and gave somebody a piece of her mind!

                                                 END OF CRANES PART I
For whatever reason Blogger has started dropping photos again, therefore in order for you to see the full sequence, you'll need to tune in tomorrow.   Sigh....but in the meantime check out Arthur and Guinevere's nest and the wonderful John Blakeman speaking about the doings of Mom and T2 in Philadelphia.

(Guin, left, and Arthur, up right)
Yesterday we left Arthur and Guinevere going into the treeline after a ditching maneuver.  They didn't fly that far though they were being very secretive.   I was suspicious.  I scanned the trees further along in the opposite direction and BINGO,  there was their nest. 
See the nest center?  When the trees leaf out this one could be tough to watch but it is nearest Red-tailed Hawk nest to the road I've come across since we spent the season with the pair called the Ms outside Milton.

Speaking of the Ms, Sally of Kentucky sent in a comment asking if I knew what had happened after the 2008 season in which we watched their nest and saw them successfuly raise Primus and Secundus their two eyasses of the season.. 

The Ms changed nest sites after 2008.  I wasn't able to track down their new nest site due to private property difficulties but I did see the pair now and again sitting on the power poles hunting the railroad tracks, that backed the  field which held the oak they originally nested in.  I also saw them hunting birds in tandem in a spot they preferred for the purpose for several years.  They appeared to be doing just fine.

Speaking of changing nest sites, it looks as if the Red-tailed Hawk pair, Mom and T2, who have previously nested on the Franklin Institute may change their nest site to a light tower, Della Micah of, asked Ohio hawk expert John Blakeman about this as well as other hawk issues pertaining to the pair.
Below are the questions from Della Micah and John Blakeman's answers brought to my attention by Jackie Dover of Tulsa by way of Robin of Illinois...

Della Micah:  With so many questions about what is going on with the hawks this spring, I decided to check in with John Blakeman to see what answers he might have, and he kindly provided the following perspectives:

Q)  Is it still possible the hawks will return the old nest at the Franklin Institute?

A)  There is still an outside chance that residence will be taken once again at the FI nest ledge --- but red-tails are famous for doing just this - electing for no good reason to build and use a new nest not far from the previous nest.  I hope the FI pair decide to return. But that is now in real question. The next week or two will tell.

Q)  Why might the hawks do this?  Is the recent brutally cold winter a factor?

A)  Weather or past experiences probably play little or no roles. Instead, I think it's just the nature of red-tail pair bonding. The building of a new nest by the pair is not unlike a young human couple moving into a desired new house or apartment. The whole endeavor strengthens the pair bond, sense of territoriality, and all the other social accoutrements of red-tail pairing. All of this results in stronger nesting and parenting behaviors.

Q)  Why would they pick that Amtrak lights tower?

A)  One factor that might be at play, one that I've been concerned about, is the low elevation of the FI nest. It's simply not very high, compared to adjacent or nearby nest support structures. Red-tails seem to prefer higher nest sites. They can see things better up there; eyasses can fledge more easily (lots of glide time before hitting the ground), and the nest is more easily watched by the non-sitting haggard. I think this is why Pale Male has had such fidelity with the present and historic Central Park nest. It's twice or three times as high as the Central Park trees.

Q)  What is the significance of this week's intruder hawk?

A)  The haggard interloper was a migrating floater (unmated hawk), attempting to mate (not copulate). Very natural and normal in March. The same thing was seen at the Cornell nest, where a haggard floater actually went to the nest with a sitting resident formel, perhaps on an egg. Nothing good or bad will happen from these threesomes. Short incidental things.

Q)  Is it possible that even though Mom and T2 have frequently copulated this spring, they will not get it together to build a good nest and lay eggs?

A)  Nest building is a profoundly enjoyable activity of mated pairs. They are not going to forego that cavalierly. I think virtually all copulating red-tail pairs will nest, and most often have eggs. If not, there is some underlying medical condition preventing ovulation and egg formation --- which by itself would have probably stopped copulation.

Q)  And a check-in about T2's broken wing feathers on his left wing - will this be a problem for him in any way?

A)  T2 is fine. The tips of these primaries are commonly broken off during the year. The bird is very slightly disadvantaged, but it makes up for it and works around it. The feather will be replaced in the summer molt.  It is of no concern, and is a rather common occurrence, and happens most often when chasing and taking squirrels in trees, where the feather tips get caught in branches.

For the complete original posting with photos go to--,

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Divine Isolde at St. John's and Arthur and Guinevere Red-tailed Hawks

Arthur, and Guinevere with a vole or a mole, give me the eye
I'd seen Guin fly into this dead tree and stopped the car, when suddenly Arthur hot winged it from across the field so they both could stare at me.
Arthur then looked up the road while Guinevere kept an eye on me.
Then I made The Mistake...I turned off the engine of the car.

Now it could have been whatever Arthur saw up the road but somehow the timing was too was my cutting the car engine.

(Note that the hawk on the right has the thicker "ankles".) 
Note that Guinevere, like any experienced thrifty Red-tail did not drop her dinner upon taking off.

Notice they changed sides.  Guin is now up left and Arther is down right.
And they then widen away from me so that a predator would have more difficulty keeping track of both hawks.  They make me choose to watch one or the other.

As she is more visible from my view, I choose Guin, and loose sight of Arther.
Then completely unintentionally I look over to try and find Arthur, don't see him, and when I look back...

As blogger is dropping photos, we'll leave Arthur and Guinevere here for the moment.

Photo courtesy of Rob Schmunk
The beautiful Isolde on the nest behind St. Andrew's elbow at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.  

For more on Isolde and this nest, check out Rob Schmunk's blog-

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne