Saturday, May 31, 2014

As Fledge Day Approaches

Photo courtesy of

More than 26 Red-tailed Hawk eyasses are soon to fledge in NYC alone. (Oops...correction- that should read in Manhattan alone.) But we worry what may happen to them as we remember what has happened to so many hawks in the past. 

 We worry about climate change, we worry about all the "bad guys" making big bucks in ways abominable to all the Earth's creatures, including those that propagate the use of horrible rodenticides.  And  just the thought of all  those green house gases floating everywhere, collecting together until the earth is toxic to one and all can make you want to go back to bed forever.

Take heart, there are many who feel just as you do.  And when that happens...

Here is a segment of Michael Brune's Earth Day Letter first published on the Huffington Post.

So here's what I want everyone to remember this Earth Day: The world is a wonderful place. In just 90 minutes, enough sunlight strikes this planet to provide our planet's entire energy needs for one year. The contiguous United States has enough potential wind energy to provide all of our nation's electricity -- nine times over. Renewable energy has become economically competitive faster than anyone imagined just a few years ago -- in many places it is already beating all fossil fuels and nuclear power on price alone. Our progress toward a prosperous society powered by 100 percent safe, secure, and sustainable energy is unstoppable. We will get there -- the only question is how soon. The answer? The sooner the better.
Got it? Now, make like Muir and spread the word!

Find the complete text at ..

I've also been heartened by streaming two American Masters episodes on PBS, about two guys who just kept positive, believed it could be done, and changed the world.   

John Muir saved the Yosemite and started The Sierra Club that still continues the work to this day and Pete Seeger, who got people singing, banded them together with the optimism that they could do just about anything together. Yes, back when the Hudson River was scarily toxic and returned it to a place where people now can swim and wildlife propagate.

So when the world just seems like a conglomerate of many flavored horror and loss, take heart, things can change.  And you can help make it happen.  Others have, why not we too? 

 One step at a time...together.

When you feel the need for a little heartening....
  Stream these American Masters episodes on PBS

John Muir In The New World

Pete Seeger The Power of Song

And remember there are a whole lot of people who feel as you do and are making good things happen by getting together and well....just doing whatever it takes as it comes along.

Oh and one more...  A Fierce Green Fire   (This one expires in four days on PBS Thirteen out of NYC, the link above, so watch it quick or google it and try for an airing on another PBS station.)

And sometimes yes, it all comes down to politics and who has the money.  As my father used to say, "You gotta keep an eye on the bastards!"

Therefore in that vein, the movie "Citizen Koch" premiers in NYC on June 6th.

So New Yorkers go and see it!  

Other cities to follow, support getting the real word out in your area as well!  

As one of the Koch brothers wasn't at all happy about a previous film that showed his true colors on PBS he pulled a massive donation from PBS.  PBS then did not fund post production for "Citizen Koch".  

The makers put it on Kickstarter, and raised the needed $170,000 to finish the film.

We the people made that difference.  So we the people should keep making a difference and plunk down a little money to see this documentary.

Take your friends...particularly those who might need a little enlightenment.

We can all make a difference...together.

Donegal Browne

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Hummingbird Foot, a Photograph Missed, a Mysterious Night Visitor, and Collusion Between Species

Though there is obviously something going on between the bee and the hummingbird, the star of this photograph for me, is the hummingbird's foot.


When is the last time you had a good look at a hummingbird foot? 

 Never, right?

When is  the last time you saw a hummingbird walk?  

Never again?  Yes?

That's because they don't walk.  According to report they can grip a perch and kind of hop sideways on a perch and that is about it.

Had you noticed?   


The prevailing thought as to why hummingbirds don't walk much is that they've traded really workable feet and legs for less weight and therefore better flight specs.

The above photograph has sat in my photo program tray for days.  I knew I was fascinated by that foot but it took time for the why of the fascination to reveal itself.

Yesterday I attempted to write a blog about the missed photographs, or inexplicable moments or mysterious whatevers  which tended to keep me from writing about a particular topic or animal behavior moment because I didn't have a photograph of the behavior to document it, or I had a photograph but didn't have the capper picture to explain what had gone on before.

I'd begun to find it a trap or at least limiting.  Besides many readers have their own experiences which might help illuminate mine.  

We are in this together after all.

Some weeks ago, I'd gone outside, turned in front of the garage and there was a female Robin at the bird bath.  She had a dense patch of mud on her breast about the size of a large chicken egg and was busily wetting a piece of grass.  But the most riveting part of this activity was that she looked happy and excited while she busied herself with the water and the grass. She cocked her head while she worked, her eyes glittered, she was building a nest and looked like she just might bust out in a laugh any second.

Okay, I know.  How does a Robin look happy and excited?  

That was the kicker that stopped me from publishing the observation.

I'd run for my camera but when I got back she was gone.  I watched for her as I went about my business all day.  Somehow I kept missing her because just as dusk was coming on I saw the below object where it had never been before.

 She'd been in the throes of nest building.   And the urge to do the activities it took to make a nest made her look...well the only word I had was happy.

I can trust you to visualize that right?

I'd been working in the yard when I suddenly realized that part of the flower bed had been completely squashed as if something had lain there for sometime.

It struck me that the particular spot being depressed to some extent with slightly higher foliage in front, and other foliage from a very large lilac on one side in particular that would block the street light, made it a good stealth hunting or hiding spot.  
The length was about two and a half feet. The depth slightly shorter.

A little later in the day a neighbor stopped by to talk to me in the back yard and she found a rabbit's foot by the fence.  Just the foot.  No blood or guts.  No entrails as one sees with a kill of a Great Horned Owl ordinarily.

Therefore a mammal larger than a house cat, if indeed the flower bed was used for hunting purposes, as I suspected.  A Bobcat perhaps?  A fox?

No tracks. 

I didn't put the two together right away.  In fact I may have found the depressed spot after the rabbits foot.  Not only do I not have a picture of whatever was there, I didn't even think to take a picture of the rabbit's foot before the woman pitched it away.

Therefore though  a mystery, somehow I didn't feel I had enough evidence even to talk about it.

Geez, words should do in a mystery if that is all you have.  But as some unkind bloggists have taken umbrage  with the tiniest detail of an unphotographed moment one can become over wary.  After all most of us do this for love and curiosity not for profit, fame, or a dissertation. 

Jealousy and pettiness can take ever so much joy out of things.

Best to ignore it, and ENJOY!

Then of course there are the moments when you know SOMETHING is going on between two animals but they don't let you know what it is.

An example...

Silver can make some very intense expressions while bathing.  But in this case, he's rather hot under the collar and I'm betting Squirrel did something he shouldn't have in Quicksilver's opinion.

I'll never know because a split second after the shutter clicked they both looked back at me with their innocent  "What?' faces on.

So get out there and keep your eyes open. 

And remember, you don't need a photograph to talk about it.

Happy Hawking...and other things as well.
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden Nest and Robin Nest Placement...WHY THERE! Reasoning vs Instinct in Robin Reproduction

       Photo courtesy of Ann Feldman 

The Red-tailed Hawk nest at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden once again sports what looks like one eyass.

When last we met, I published the photos of the Robin's nest under the dam, which brought a number of responses concerning Robins and nest location.

 Just a little refresher, there is the Robin's nest just under the walkway on a metal plate.  It is secured in place by a metal rod.

 So far things seem to be working out alright, but that metal rod is connected on the top to the wheel that opens and closes the dam.  Therefore it either spins in place or goes up or down controlling the "doors" and hence the flow of water through the dam openings or lack thereof.  

Its movement has not dislodged the nest thus far.

 First from Sally of Kentucky....  

 Robins nest in very interesting locations don't they? I wonder about their decision-making. We have a pair that nests around the raptor rehabilitation center I volunteer at. One would think that nesting above a hawk's mew would not be a good location, or above the peregrine's mew. I had our education GHOW on the glove yesterday and the parents were making quite a ruckus at our presence-3 ready-to-fledge babies peeking out over the edge of the rafters of the mew! We even had one nest INSIDE our large flight cage with rehabbing hawks inside it! I know one or two made it out to fledge, but not all...I don't understand their reasoning for nest placement.

Next up Betty Jo of California...

I hope those robins aren't the type of bird that first land on the
ground when they fledge.  I have decided that robins aren't the
brainiest birds around. After meeting the one that nested repeatedly in the center of a 2 story tall Hawaiian tree fern--the nest being progressively tipped as the new fronds un furled. When I was working there the landscaper kept a huge extension ladder nearby so he could carefully slice off each frond as it started to tip the nest.  The homeowner said several times before the babies had been dumped.
Sigh--birds have such a hard time.
Betty Jo

Robins fresh off the nest once they land for the first time don't really have the wing works to fly right away. They just trot around behind a parent learning about looking for food and being fed by the parent, usually Dad as Robin fledglings tend to have a staggered fledge, for several days until they get the wing strength to get some elevation. 

When a young Robin first comes off the nest depending on wind and other variables they can end up going rather far on their first flight.  It is possible they'll be able to make it if things go right.

That said...

Yes, Betty Jo, Robins do most often land on the ground when they first fledge as they tend to be flightless for several days.

Sally said, "I don't understand their reasoning for nest placement."

Betty Jo said, "I have decided that robins aren't the
brainiest birds around."

No ladies, Robins don't appear at least to be the brainiest birds around nor do they do much reasoning when it comes to nest building or  placement early on in their lives.

Whereas our beloved Red-tailed Hawks may take several seasons to come up with workable criteria for placement of a nest, as well as what to use for materials,  and how to build it depending on the environment in which they find themselves if neither has done it before, Robins often don't have that kind of time to be successful adapters.

The average lifespan of a Robin is l.l years.  Many are working completely on instinct when it comes to nest placement, building, chick raising, and all the other life skills as well during their first breeding season.

Only about 45% of Robin nests are successful.  Why?  Well besides the vagaries of nature, weather, predators and the like, many Robins at this time of year are nesting for the very first time  so there is little to no life experience and hence reasoning to help them be successful.  

They are flying blind on instinct.

It appears to me that part of Robin placement criteria is something for the nest to sit on, which can be a branch or some human made ledge and they also seem partial to an eave, a roof, or enough leaves above the nest for some protection.  As we've seen, what is underneath the nest even in the case of Red-tails who nest over streets or near railroad tracks or other hazards doesn't appear as important as other criteria.

If a Robin manages to live through its first nesting season, which can mean raising two or three broods of chicks, or at least trying to, they've acquired enough useful life knowledge which could include what works and what doesn't in nest site selection  that they may well then live five or six more years or longer continuing to learn what works and what doesn't and getting better at it all the time.  

The longest life span in the wild recorded so far is 13 years, 11 months for an American Robin. 

I therefore posit that the nests and behavior that Sally and Betty Jo have observed as well as the one I found under the dam are likely the work of  Robins working on pure instinct as they are young and haven't had the chance as yet to learn  enough about nest building and site selection to make better choices.

They can't reason as they've no experience to help them along the reasoning road.

Though I once saw a scientist give a paper at The Field Museum in Chicago about "luck" being a factor in an individual of a species or even a group of a particular species survival, which may then make a difference in the survival of an entire species.  He sold me.

So no matter how atrocious some of  the decisions these birds have made look, a little luck can  go a long way in helping them be successful.  For instance the young Robins in the nest under the dam just need a little of  the right wind  for just a little while to get them to safety, which as this is a very small dam, safety is not that far from the nest at all.

Fingers crossed.

Donegal Browne

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Heads Up--Original Hawkwatcher Marie Winn Puts Out a Watch Alert for the Sheeps Meadow Hawks This Weekend

                      HEADS UP!  SPREAD THE WORD!

Marie Winn,, famed author, (Red-tails in Love, Central Park in the Dark), my mentor in Hawkwatching and so many other things including writing a blog, was asked  if  there was something that could be done to give the Red-tailed Hawk pair who are tree nesting in Sheeps Meadow "a fair chance from the crowds this weekend"?

Marie's answer- 

"Birdwatchers and Hawkwatchers: Keep an eye out this weekend. Report any problems to Richard Feinman at the Urban Park Rangers - 212-360-1408."

Did you put that info into your phone?  Excellent! 
For those who didn't get Stella Hamilton's directions for finding the nest the first time round on the blog, go to

 Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne