Saturday, May 14, 2005

Field Notes -- by popular demand and two relevant photos

Donna Browne, wearing her Wildlife Inspector badge,
Connie English, [a website correspondent] and
Norma Collin, a Regular, at the Hawk Bench on May 9, 2005.
Photo by Marie Winn's cellphone camera [!]

a peak migration birdwatcher horde
[there were about 35 more people to the right]
8:00 a.m. 5/11/05 at the Maintenance Meadow
Photo by Marie's cellphone camera


Mai Stewart, a frequent correspondent, writes:

I love Donna's fieldnotes, and, if she's able to do it, would love to continue to read day-by-day reports, at least until the hawks abandon this nest -- but if that's too much, then as often as she can. In any case, she has given us wonderfully detailed, fascinating information, which almost makes me feel as tho I've seen the hawks up-close myself. Many thanks to all, Lincoln, Donna and you, for keeping us so close to, and helping us stay involved in, this very special part of life.

Here, then, are Donna's Field Notes for May 12. In studying them, I would say that an end to the Fifth Avenue Hawk's nesting season is approaching. Lola is leaving the nest for longer periods of time, and the nest is beginning to be left unattended for longer periods of time. Perhaps like the hundreds of birdwatchers now filling the park's woodlands with excited little cries of "Did you get the Blackburnian Warbler?" "No, but did you get the Black-billed Cuckoo?" , Pale Male and Lola are taking time off from their extra-long nest vigil to do a little birdwatching at the very peak of the north-bound migration.

Field Notes 5-12-05

Sunset 8:04PM (NYT),
Temp. 67F,
Wind NNE 5-14MPH,
Gusts to 18MPH,
Humidity 32%,
Prey Tally- 1 pigeon.

All times PM unless otherwise noted.
Stella reports nest exchange at approx. 2:30, Lola
off, Pale Male on. At one point Pale Male left the
nest in an attempt to get Lola to return, she did not
and Pale Male returned to sit the nest.
4:05 Pale Male on the nest. A Kestral flies from the
W over the MB Pond and disappears E between 927 and
4:15 Pale Male alert towards Ramble.
4:31 Still staring toward Ramble.
5:04 Sits nest head to S, watching NW.
5:07 Stands up, digs, moves twig.
5:28 Pale Male stares through twigs to NW.
5:32 Pale Male off nest to Ramble, Lola up Madison.
5:38 Lola on Stovepipe, moves to step down, then to
railing at rear, eats portion of pigeon.
5:41 Whets beak to left side, then to right, errant
feather flaps, steps further right on railing.
5:43 Off railing and down Madison Ave. Nest still
5:45 Pale Male arrives on nest.
5:48 Lola to nest, Pale Male off, Lola scratches head.
Some head feathers remain sticking up. Pale Male
circles up to Rusty Top, Lola stands on nest alert W.
5:49 Lola standing in concave, bends in, then preens
5:51 Lola down.
5:52 Lola stands, head to concave, then down, head to
6:18 Lola stands, resituates and down, head to N.
6:22 Gull from over 927 from E to over MB Pond to N.
6:38 Lola head up, alert to N and W.
6:46 Lola off nest to N and perches railing of
STovepipe, partial back to bench.
6:48 Lola on back corner of railing, Stovepipe.
7:06 Lola up and circles.
7:08 Lola to nest.
7:10 Pale Male to nest from W, then Lola down Madison
from 72nd.
7:30 Pale Male still on nest.
7:31 Exit.
Submitted-Donna Browne

More California cousins

Several readers have noted that it seems rather late for the California redtails to be starting a nest. I agree. Maybe they are just practicing. But anyhow, they are not the only ones out there. A website correspondent from the west coast writes:

The two hawks that have been seen are not the only ones in the LA area. We have a pair that have a nest in a steeple of a church on Wilshire Blvd. near Crenshaw Blvd., and we have a pair that have a nest on the tall white building at Northrup Grummun at Marine and Aviation in Lawndale. I am quite familiar with the ones at Northrup, they have been there for several years and we see them teaching the eyasses to fly and perch.

About 2 years ago, there was a cute sight when we had a stiff breeze and one of the hawks was teaching a baby to land on a telephone pole. The hawk came in and landed perfectly, the baby flared and put his feet down just as a stiff gust hit him. He was pushed back about 20 feet, decided that this was not a good day for lessons and promptly flew back to the nest.

I also have seen some around the LAX airport, but do not know where they nest. We also have some up near the Hollywood sign. So LA has several pairs, they just haven't made a media splash until now.


Friday, May 13, 2005

California Cousins?

Click on the link above for an amazing continuation [metaphorically] of our story. The article tells of a pair of redtails in West Los Angeles who are constructing a nest on a movie theater in Westwood, Callifornia

And special thanks to David Schenfeld for alerting me to this article.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Update on the Pale Male&Lola Fieldnotes

Pale Male and Lola on the Nest yesterday, 5/11/05

Donna's daily Field Notes are still available on I'm no longer posting them, as I told Donna, because the thought of Pale Male & Lola continuing to sit and sit makes me a bit sad. Donna sent me a letter today telling her feelings about still going every day and taking notes on the comings and goings from the nest:

From Donna Browne:


I realized I'm no longer sad at the Bench, in the previous day-to-day way. I'm sad about the bigger picture, when it comes to mind, as in people being so self-absorbed and ignorant as to rip the nest down in the first place,
but that isn't everpresent by any means.

Now I watch for the gradual process of how nature will ease the birds away from the nest. The little daily steps that I know will happen and are happening but which I can't identify yet. But next time, with some other pair, (I expect PM and L will do just fine with hatches in the future.) I WILL know the steps and know that they are small, incremental, with no jarring shocks, at least for the hawks. It is not the same this year for them as when the eyasses died in 2002.

Now I think about the fair easy summer Pale Male and Lola will have once they leave the nest. Hunting only when hungry, bathing in Azalea Pond, spreading their shiny new feathers to the sun, all fat, healthy, and primed for the winter. Then in December, just like last year, Pale Male will think, time to put a twig or two on the nest. A few more in January, and the circle starts again with twigs and dancing on Fifth Avenue.


Only in New York

There are a few compensations for living in the Big Apple besides Pale Male & Lola. Matthew Wills sent in the following: 

Where: Backyard between between E. 48th/49th and 3rd/2nd, next to Turtle Bay Gardens
When: 11:45 a.m.

A male summer tanager has been hanging out this morning in the norway maples behind the townhouse I work in. He is absolutely spectacular.

I'm always envious of you lucky folks in the parks during the weekday, but occasionally the little islands of green between our city blocks draw down something delightful. Past sightings here this spring include ruby crowned kinglet, tufted titmouse, hermit thrush, palm warbler, and white throated sparrow, in addition to blue jay, crow, morning dove, house sparrow, and that street chicken, the rock dove.

A Bird Heard is a Bird Seen

Hooded Warbler

Yesterday was a BIG DAY, with most birders reporting at least 18 species of warblers as well as many other songbirds. I personally saw 4 scarlet tanagers within two hours. The day was also notable for numbers of birdwatchers gathered in the park.. At one point I counted 53 birders staring into one tree at the Maintenance Meadow. I have a photo to prove it.

Today seemed a different kettle of fish [a different kettle of kingfishers?]. Fewer birds, fewer birders, although the NY State Audubon was doing a birdathon and had a small herd of bird enthusiasts bopping around the park. Still there was quite a variety of birds to be seen and, in the end, the day may have been almost as good as its predecessor.

At about 9:30 a.m. after a good three hours of birding, [and after three hours of good birding] I was late for an appointment. Just as I approached the Point on my way out of the park I heard a bird song : wee-o wee-o wee-tee-oh. Unmistakable. A Hooded Warbler, always a good sighting in Central Park.

For several minutes it sang its whistled song. I was late and had to keep going but several birders went down to the Oven to try to find it. I hope they did. But here's a reminder: A bird heard is a bird seen. That's the rule on various birdathons, and a good rule it is. For a bird with as distinctive a song as a Hooded Warbler, its song is as good an identifier as its black hood.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A BIG bird day

Last night the winds were from the southwest. ,Everyone was expecting a big bird arrival today and we were not disappointed. It was a thrilling day. Below is a list sent in by one of the bird-walk leaders from the American Museum of Natural History, Joe DiCostanzo. I've taken the liberty of emphasizing a few birds that were especially exciting:

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Canada Goose
Spotted Sandpiper (The Lake)
Rock Dove
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Black-billed Cuckoo (West of Maintenance Meadow/north of Tupelo)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher (Calling sw of Willow Rock)
Eastern Kingbird (east side of Tupelo)
Warbling Vireo (Hernshead and Azalea Pond)
Red-eyed Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo (south of Belvedere/north of Tupelo Field; singing)
Blue Jay
Tree Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
House Wren
Swainson's Thrush
Veery (numbers; including singing birds)
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling
Nashville Warbler (Maintenance Meadow)
Yellow Warbler
Northern Parula (many)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (several)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler (Belvedere and Maintenance Meadow)
Prairie warbler
Black-and-white Warbler (many)
Bay-breasted Warbler (east of Tupelo)
Blackpoll Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler (Maintenance Meadow)
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler (male northeast of Azalea Pond)
Chipping Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager (males and females all over)
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (numbers scattered throughout Ramble)
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

PS -- I didn't see the Philadelphia vireo, a much-desired sighting.On the other hand Joe seems to have missed the Great Crested Flycatcher. The Early Birders saw two of them in Shakespeare Garden.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Blakeman answers a question about the temperature on April 19th

Catherine Labio, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and French at Yale University, sent in an incisive question for John Blakeman:

In your post of last Friday you raise the following question:

"Since April 19 was an exceptionally hot day here in NYC, is it possible that the mantling behavior observers saw on that day did not signify that a chick had hatched but rather, that it was very hot up there and it was time to cool the eggs off."

I have also been wondering about what effect the heat spike might have had, but what I have been wondering is this:

Could the mantling have indicated that a chick (or more) had hatched, as was initially thought, but that the mantling stopped because the bodies of the chick or chicks were unable to adapt to the sudden spike in temperature and that it/they had died within the first few hours of life? In other words, if the hatching coincided with an abrupt jump to 85 degrees, could that have compromised an eyass's ability to make it through the first day of its life?

I realize that John Blakeman mentioned that "Red-tails are very capable of changing their metabolic rate to maintain constant body temperature." But is that also true of a newly hatched bird?

With warmest regards,


John Blakeman sent the following answer:

Eyasses do not have the ability to regulate body temperature. They are effectively "cold-blooded" and must stay tucked up next to the sitting adult to maintain body temperature. But body temperature can vary widely without harm for short periods. The 85-degree weather would certainly have no bad effect on the eyass. In fact, that's about the temperature the little birds would like to have when newly hatched. Red-tails hatched in captive breeding projects have no difficulty with being exposed to 85 degree conditions for moderate periods. The warm weather was a positive, not a negative.

News about the new edition of Red-tails in Love

First a word of explanation and then some real news:

Many of you have been writing me about your difficulties in getting a copy of the new, updated edition of my book. Here's what happened, as far as I can understand it.

When plans were being made for publication of a new edition the book had been out for more than six years. At that point the book had settled into a pretty predictable pattern--selling a nice, modest but steady number of books every year. The publisher calculated that they would just about run out of stock at the time the new edition was due to come out, in mid-April, 2005.

The plan was, that just at the time Pale Male and Lola's new chicks of 2005 would hatch and new attention was focused on the hawk the new edition would be be published As usual, the hawk nest would generate media attention, the publisher would promote the book a bit, and they would have plenty of new books in the bookstores.

Based on this plan, [and here's where a terrible decision comes in] the Random House marketing department decided there was no need to assign a new ISBN number to the new edition. Life would just go on for Red-tails in Love with the same old number. A unique ISBN number, by the way, is assigned to every book that comes out. It is the way bookstores order books from publishers, or from book jobbers like Ingrams. I knew nothing about this decision.

But the best-laid plans of mice and men... Along came December 7th, and the nest-removal crisis. Suddenly and unexpectedly a lot of attention was focused on the Fifth Avenue Red-tails, and, by extension, on my book. But not at the expected time. Four months too early the book was mentioned in the papers. I was interviewed on various TV programs, and copies of the book flew out of bookstores.

Soon it became clear that the publisher was going to run out of books months before the new edition was ready. What could they do? They had to do another quick printing to take advantage of this windfall. [Even so there was a period of time in January when there were no books to be had anywhere in NYC.]

Alas, as publication day came around for the new edition of Red-tails in Love, there were no chicks in the nest. But there were still quite a few copies of that new printing around in bookstores. AND, most unfortunately,they had decided not to assign a new ISBN number to the new edition.

So when people went to their booksellers, or to their on-line bookstores to order the revised edition, they were simply sold the old version. And there was really no way to order it. Because it had the same number as the old edition, and the old edition was still in stores and in warehouses. In a way the new edition didn't exist until the last copies of the old edition vanished.

The story is confusing, It took me a long time to get to the bottom of it and there's no reason why it should now be clear as clear to you now. But anyhow, I felt I should try to explain, and to say to all you faithful readers who kept trying and trying:

I'm so sorry!

But here's the good news:

Linda Ellis of J. Michaels Books, a bookshop in Eugene Oregon, had been corresponding with me, via this site, about her difficulties in ordering my book. She said that the people at Ingrams, the book jobber she deals with, told her that there was no 2005 edition, there was only a 1999 edition. And since that was not the edition her customers wanted, she didn't know how to proceed.

I wrote her and gave her the background about the ISBN number. And I suggested that maybe they were running out of copies of the old edition. Maybe if she simply ordered the old ISBN number from Ingrams they'd send the new edition.

Today she wrote me:

Dear Ms. Winn:

Thanks for your letter. Good news - we did order what appeared to be the older edition through Ingram and it was the new edition that was sent to us.With cordial regards and thanks for your attention,


I wrote and asked if I could give her e-mail address and phone number for readers of my website who might want to be sure and get the new edition. She answered "Of course, we'd be happy to handle any orders of your book you send our way."

Great! Here's the e-mail address and phone number for Linda Ellis at J Michaels Books in Eugene Oregon:

Monday, May 09, 2005

Blakeman writes: our man still has it -- he's merely mature, not geriatric

An important question concerning Pale Male's age was raised:
Could Pale Male's age (around 14, I think) have anything to do with the eggs not hatching? As he is older for a red-tail hawk, will there come a time when the eggs he fertilizes are damaged in some way due to his age? I hesitated asking this question because I (and everybody else, I'm sure) don't want to think about how many years Pale Male may have left but it's been in the back of my mind. Again, thanks for sharing such a wonderful story.
Debbie Haroldsen
Debbie has raised a biologically relevant question. Aging males of most vertebrates produce sperm of reduced viability. But I doubt that this is presently a factor here. First, the pair was seen (gloriously) to copulate profusely before eggs were laid (at least before intense incubation was seen -- no views into the nest have been available). There is every reason to believe that the eggs were fertile and viable. They have been in the past, and there is no evidence that Pale Male's spermatozoa failed to successfully wiggle their ways to Lola's awaiting oocytes.
A 14- or 15-year old red-tail is merely mature, not geriatric. Pale Male continued to hunt, feed, nest-build, and conduct all of the other functions of his life with full alacrity. I see no evidence to suggest that our man doesn't have it any more. I believe there are a number of reports of birds of Pale Male's age reproducing successfully in the wild. I personally knew of a nest that was in continuous occupation (well, two nests, alternating between nearby woodlots) for over 25 years. Of course, I have no way of knowing if the a single male was the lone sire for that entire period. I doubt that one was. But nonetheless, there will likely on two or three males there, and they annually produced offspring.
When Pale Male begins to age out, I think other things will first become evident. He's likely to be less active in hormone-driven nesting behaviors in January and February. He's likely to spend most of his reduced energies merely hunting, not in breaking off twigs and carrying them to the nest. He's less likely to ascend and engage in courtship dives.
When these diminished behaviors appear, it would not be unreasonable to expect a challenge by a new, rising male, a two- or three-year old young adult looking for a prime territory and mate. With youthful testosterone concentrations driving the new bird's behaviors, Pale Male may face a challenge that he might -- someday -- elect not to defend.
It's possible that some January Pale Male will just disappear, with a new young male in his place. Our patriarch might even elect then to remain in Central Park, but take no role in mating, copulation, nesting, or brood-raising. He may retire from the duties of fatherhood and while away his remaining days merely hunting for himself.
But I wouldn't count on any of this happening soon. Our man has another three or four years, at least, I think, before age starts to slow him down. Right now, he's the High Patriarch of Central Park red-tails, with no observed diminution of his earned high repute. His spermatozoa still swim with vigor, I'm sure. Nothing else of his has diminished.
John A. Blakeman