Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Mail has been coming in about my posting of 2/14, entitled SOME CONTROVERSIAL THOUGHTS

2/15/05 -- Mail has been coming in about my posting of 2/14, entitled SOME CONTROVERSIAL THOUGHTS. Here for example, is a letter from Debra Lott that made me feel I had been a bit insensitive:

I wanted to speak up for the other side of the fence. Yes I know many folks fell off of the bandwagon after the resolution of the nest crisis, but I expect there are also many like myself who continue to quietly monitor the progess of Pale Male and Lola. I have a full time job during the day and spend my nights and weekends writing. I cannot spend long periods in the Park. I am grateful for sites like yours and Lincoln's that allow me the opportunity to watch Pale Male and Lola's progress.

Yesterday, my husband and I went to the Park to view Christo's Gates. I thought John Blakeman's take on them very sensible, that they will do no lasting damage to the Hawks. As much as I enjoyed the Gates, which I did, that is not why I will remember yesterday in the Park. We walked to the Sailboat Pond, my very first vist there with the intention of seeing the nest. When we got there, people were lined up at several telescopes.

I heard the murmuring in the crowd that Pale Male and Lola where on a building close by. When my turn at the telescope came and I looked through it, there they were, in all their majesty. I have only ever seen pictures of them, mostly from Lincoln's site (why isn't he working for National Geographic? His pictures are incredible!). The wind blew through Pale Male's feathers and my breath caught in my chest. Many people were in line at the telescope, so my first look was much too short. But I saw them, together, for the first time. I am still feeling the sense of awe they inspired.

Yes, the Gates were there, but so were Pale Male and Lola. What will I remember about yesterday? What do you think?


Debra Lott

After John Blakeman corrected my ID of the red-tailed hawk in Isaac Shapiro's photo below, I posted the correction though I was quite chagrinned to have made a mistake about the hero of my very own book! Then with the subject line reading "True Confessions", I e-mailed Blakeman to tell him I had made a public correction. I also asked a question. Below, my confession note to JB, and his response:

Dear John,.
Ok, Done. I confessed to the world. But come to think of it, what WAS that bird doing in the heart of PM and Lola's territory? [That spot is directly due west of the nest. I'm sure I've seen Pale Male in that very tree many times.] Is this another "only in New York" thing, or a common occurrence?


Let me see if I can make some sense of the plethora of red-tails in Central Park. First, there are far more red-tails in Central Park than there should be. Only a single pair would be expected in a similar rural area. But there may be three pairs, and who knows how many un-mated (see how the word properly works?) other birds.

In rural areas, in conventional woodlots, no resident adult would ever tolerate the presence of any other red-tail so close to a nest site at this time of the year. So yes, this seems to be another unique factor in the CP red-tails. For me, they grow more different from the rural pairs each week, it seems.

The short explanation must surely involve the availability of food. Remember, the ability to capture abundant prey is life itself for a red-tail. When prey are scarce, when an adult must spend many hours each day peering across the landscape for a mere twitch of a mouse or rat whisker, life is so competitive that the resident hawk will absolutely not tolerate any territorial incursion by any adjacent interloper. Most rural red-tail territories in the East and Mid-west are in the range of 2 to 4 square miles. But Pale Male and Lola appear to have a minute territory of only about 0.4 sq. miles.

Not only is their territory uncharacteristically small, they conversely produce giant broods. Here in rural Ohio, an area not much lacking in ample red-tail food, red-tail pairs average about 1.5 or fewer eyasses each year. In all the years I've watched wild pairs here (about 35 yrs), I've never seen a nest that fledged three offspring. There simply isn't enough food to feed three of these explosively-growing blighters as they near fledging size. But Pale Male and his consorts have done this repeatedly. The only explanation is an extreme abundance of easily-captured food in Central Park.

That must be why these other, interloping birds so casually perch and fly within what should otherwise be the exclusive landscape of Pale Male and Lola. They have so much available food that they have a much reduced impulse to drive out adjacent hawks that also hunt the same prey in the same areas they do. Abundant food is prompting a great deal of intra-specific (same species) tolerance.

Central Park is turning out to be an absolute red-tailed hawk paradise, lacking absolutely nothing the species seems to require.

And here's another thing most NCY hawk watchers aren't aware of. Out here in rural, conventional red-tail habitats, no RT would be caught dead (well, alive) perching so close to humans as they apparently do in CP. Out here, when strolling toward a perched wild red-tail on, say, the edge of a woodlot some quarter mile away, the bird will quickly fly off when I approach within several hundred yards. Rural red-tails just don't abide strolling humans nearby. Central Park red-tails have learned that humans aren't much different from the grazing cows or deer that rural birds commonly see and tolerate. No one in NYC ever takes a pot-shot at sitting red-tails, only lots of digital photos. The birds have learned to merely disregard most human threats.

You people are getting to observe red-tails with an approachable intimacy exceeded only by us falconers with the trained birds that sit on our fists.

Take advantage of all of this. I know of no other place where this species is so approachable and consistently observable. You have a peculiar wild and regal spectacle so close at hand. Only in the Big Apple. It's great.


John A. Blakeman

For those of you who read the text below before 2:45 on Monday, 2/14, please check it again. I've corrected a mistake I made.

Eben Shapiro, an editor at the Wall Street Journal, [and father of the photographer], sent this great shot of an immature redtail with Christo's Gates as a backdrop, taken near the model-boat pond, along with the following note:

This photo was taken at approximately 2 45 p.m on Sunday, 2/13/05, by 11-year-old Isaac Shapiro, a fifth grader at PS 9. Isaac has taken an intense interest in the fate of Pale Male and his family and has spent a fair amount of time on Fifth Avenue this winter, watching.

When I first posted this I assumed it was Pale Male, because of the light-colored head, and its location smack in the heart of Pale Male's territory.. But a quick e-mail from John Blakeman pointed out that I was mistaken. He wrote:

"Isaac Shapiro at P.S. 9 is to be commended for his wonderful shot of the red-tail with a pair of "Gates" as mere background.

But this bird has light-colored eyes and a brown, banded tail. This is an immature red-tail, not our vaunted Central Park patriarch. Fine and majestic, nonetheless.

Nice shot, Isaac. Shows that The Gates are no impediment for our red-tails."

Isaac's hawk may very well be the light-colored immature redtail that has been living in the Ramble all winter, often hanging out near the feeding station. We sometimes call him "The Suet-eater" because...well, you can figure it out.