Saturday, June 11, 2005

He wasn't arriving. He was departing: A correction from John Blakeman

Photo by D. Bruce Yolton
[re-posted from yesterday]

John Blakeman looked at my posting of Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte at their Trump Parc nest yesterday and sent in the following correction:


Jr. is not attempting to land on the corbel (or whatever it is) in the posted photo. He's just taken off and is gliding away from the nest ledge. He's about 20 feet or so away from the nest, dropping at a slight angle and heading toward the camera.

If he were landing in this body position, he'd have to be in the air, above and behind the nest, putting him on the other side of the wall.

This photo, like all the others of the Central Park red-tails, shows the dynamic aeronautic configuration of the wing and tail feathers. Pure beauty in my eye.


John A. Blakeman

Friday, June 10, 2005

Other Flying Critters

Carolina Saddlebags

As the last of the spring migrants leave Central Park or make their nests there, the park settles into its summer mode. No longer does one run into hordes of birdwatchers from all over the world at every turn of every path in the Ramble. Once again the park belongs to its regular nature community [as it seems to be called], the stalwarts who come not only during the peak birding seasons but all year long.

Now attention begins to turn to other classes besides the Avian one. Perhaps because birders are somehow programmed to focus on flying things, the class of Insects becomes a major focus of attention. Among the insects, two orders have large followings in Central Park, the Lepidoptera [butterflies and moths] and the Odonata [the dragonflies and damselflies].

Turtle Pond is a major spot for Dragon- and Damselfly study, with Nick Wagerik often available as local guru. Turtle Pond is where Lloyd Spitalnik, one of those stalwarts I described above, took the stunning photograph of a common dragonfly called a Carolina Saddlebags. Lloyd's in charge of the bird-feeding station during the cold months. In recent years his interest has turned to photography, and as the photo above attests, he has become an extremely good nature photographer. Below is a link to his website, where you can see many more great pictures of birds, insects, and other creatures.


Junior and Charlotte

Photo by D. Bruce Yolton

Sunset, June 9, 2005,
The Trump Parc, 35th floor

Pale Male Junior coming in for a landing,
Charlotte waiting for a break, the two chicks fine
but too little to be visible by viewers and cameras below.

PS. This is one of the best photos of the achitectural ornament upon which the nest sits. There is a row of 7 of them on the 36th floor of the building, and 4 on the floor below. The nest is on the southernmost of the four. I've been trying to find a name for this kind of ornament, and after much searching in a variety of reference books I've concluded that it is a CORBEL. [Please send in alternative names if you are knowledgeable about this kind of thing.]

Field Notes--Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte

Field Notes-- 6-9-05

Sunset 8:27PM (NYT),
Temp. 90F,
Humidity 59%,
Wind S 5 to 10MPH,
Prey Tally-Pigeon,Rat.

All times PM unless otherwise noted.
6:46 Charlotte on nest edge, panting and preening.
6:53 Junior to nest from NW and 59th.
6:57 Charlotte in concave, both look down into nest
and stare.
6:58 Junior standing on N edge of nest, scans
7:01 Junior off the nest and slow glide over watchers
on Little Hill (Showboat move learned from his father
no doubt.)
7:03 Charlotte, serious preening, "fleaing". She pants
with tongue. Pigeon left by Junior on N edge of nest.
7:27 Charlotte in concave, movenment in legs and head
of tearing off bits of prey, eats some, may be feeding
some to eyasses.
7:35 Leaning into concave, slight up and down feeding
motions at Station 1.
7:37 Charlotte up and takes out trash in beak.
7:41 Junior comes from 58th circles in front of nest,
then lands nest.
7:45 Charlotte returns to nest after break, Jr off,
circles in front of nest several times, alert.
7:47 Charlotte off nest to W.
Kestrel on railing of 3rd building to W. Kestrel up,
Charlotte after.
7:50 Both hawks back to nest.
7:52 Both hawks up off nest.
7:52 Junior back on nest, very alert.
8:00 Nest exchange, Jr. off, Charlotte on.
8:02 Charlotte leans over tears prey, feeds Station 2,
dipping into concave.
8:12 Charlotte stands and turns with used rat in beak.
8:16 More feeding.
8:19 Charlotte takes "garbage" in beak, and off nest.
Nest unattended.
8:21 Charlotte and Junior both to nest from W.
8:22 Peregrine sighted in E. I follow and lose sight
of it at Park Wall and 8th.
8:27 Hawk and peregrine battle, dive, hawk spins,
chase, low and just E of Essex.
8:30 Jr on nest, Charlotte was in battle.
8:40 Air is cooling, Charlotte settles into nest for
the night, disappears. Did not sight Jr to roost.
8:42 Charlotte head appears, alert, then down.
9:02 Exit.
Submitted-Donna Browne

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Why is Pale Male so Pale: Blakeman replies

The tail of a Krider's Hawk
[compare this to Pale Male's russet tail]


Diane D'Arcy wondered in a forwarded note to me if Pale Male's light-colored head plumage might be evidence of some Krider's hawk parentage, however distant that might be.

This is another good question, as those familiar with the several races or subspecies of the red-tailed hawk know that several recognized subspecies have plumage colorations rather different from typical eastern red-tails, Buteo jamaicensis borealis.

The Krider's red-tailed hawk, B. j. kriderii, is a red-tail form of the Plains States that is typically very light-colored, so much so that until recently it was regarded by many avian taxonomists as a separate species, not a red-tail. Krider's' tail feathers are typically almost white, and their heads are very light-colored, usually even more so than Pale Male. But for anyone who has seen a Krider's hawk's head, Pale Male is instantly suggested.
But I don't think that Pale Male is related or the progeny of any Krider's hawks, for several reasons. The most important one is that Krider's hawks tend to stay in the Plains States. I'm sure that an occasional Krider's has been blown somewhere into the East from time to time, but I'm not familiar with any Krider's breeding anywhere east of the Missouri or Mississippi Rivers. They may occasionally drift east, but they don't breed here. Their genes don't get inserted into eastern populations.

Secondly, if Pale Male had a Krider's as a close ancestor, his tail should be pale. It's not. It's as red as all eastern red-tails. Krider's are more known for their white tails than for blond head feathers. I just don't think Krider's hawk genes could have penetrated so far east through multiple generations. I think Pale Male's pale head plumage, also Pale Male, Jr's, is at-the-edge but normal.

Contrasting with both Pale Male's and Pale Male Jr.'s head is the gorgeous dark head and back of Charlotte, Jr's mate and mother of the two eyasses at the Trump Parc ledge nest.

Charlotte's coloration, at least on the head and back, approaches the typically dark forms of the Harlan's hawk, another red-tail subspecies thought to have been a separate species like the Krider's. The Harlan's hawk, B. j. harlani, resides in the eastern Rockies and High Plains, all the way to Alaska, wintering sometimes in Texas.

But for the same reasons, I don't think that Charlotte's dark colors descend from any Harlan's ancestors. Harlan's hawks are even generally further west than Krider's. Charlotte's plumage is just like Pale Male's, but at the other end of the genetic range of eastern red-tails.

Diane's intelligent ponderings on the subject are not out of place. Red-tails of all subspecies vary greatly in their plumage, and that has field identification significance. I've personally marveled at this at national and regional falconry meets where I've seen red-tails from other areas. After trapping and banding a hundred or so Eastern red-tails, and having trained a number, I have extended experiences with these birds. I've also had the opportunity to open the drawers of stuffed specimens at university ornithology labs, and I can always spot the Ohio birds before looking at the labels. The red-tails to the east into Pennsylvania and New York are very similar to Ohio birds, and often can't be separated.

But the red-tails of Indiana, just a hundred miles to the west, have a very different look -- still real red-tails, but the feathers of the head are darker and patterned differently. This Midwest form (generally unrecognized by the taxonomists) extends over into Illinois and Iowa. In Nebraska and rest of the Plains States the birds are very different. In the Far West, red-tails of the subspecies B. j. calurus are decidedly smaller than the giant birds we have out here in the East.

Pale Male, and Pale Male, Jr., are not typically-colored Eastern's. But I still think they are both pure Eastern birds, with no genetic incursions from the West. As it happens, my current Ohio falconry red-tail, Savanna II, is large like all Eastern red-tails. But she has a non-typical buff or brown chest that's almost exactly like the Western B. j. calurus birds. A taxonomist seeing my stuffed bird in a museum drawer would surely think it to be from the West, without first looking at the label (or noting it's typical large eastern size). Red-tails frequently vary greatly in color, in all races and populations. Fortunately, these variations allow us to identify some of the individuals, Pale Male for one.


John A. Blakeman

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Charles and Charlotte


Yesterday one hundred and twenty-five or so people showed up for the Charles Kennedy celebration at the Model-boat Pond. Three hawks were also in attendence. Two, as you can see from Donna's Field Notes below, were old friends -- Pale Male and Lola -- lending their majestic authority to the festivities from various rooftops on Fifth Ave. [See 8:24 p.m.] The third, an old friend of Charles Kennedy's, was Thorndyke, a sixteen-year-old one-winged Red-tailed Hawk from the Raptor Trust,, who was brought by another old friend of Charles's, Len Soucy. Thorndyke seemed to enjoy the party immensely, while all the neighborhood birds went berserk in various surrounding trees and bushes, emitting the same raucous alarm chips we have come to recognize as signals of a nearby hawk presence.

The food was fabulous [church supper style], the Cupcake Cafe cake, decorated with many of Charles's favorite critters -- a dragonfly, spider, cicada, a sexy pair of slugs, a prothonotary warbler [Charles's email address was] and a fine buttercream image of Pale Male, of course, was beyond the beyond in deliciousness. Many a diet went out the window at about 7 p.m. last night. Speeches were made, anecdotes were anecdoted, and a red-tailed hawk received a name.


Charlotte and chicks
photo by LINCOLN KARIM - 6/7/05

There has been a steady debate about what to call Pale Male Jr.'s mate, the dark-headed female currently feeding two chicks on the 35th floor of the Trump Parc hotel on Central Park South. Many names have been bandied about -- Dark Lady, Godiva, Mocha, Shady Lady, Dark Bonnet. Finally Donna had an idea which everyone welcomed at once. Let's name her after Charles!

And so it came to pass. Mrs. Pale Male Jr. was ceremoniously, though in absentia, dubbed Charlotte. Whenever we see this beautiful hawk we will think of Charles, ever a free spirit, ever our friend and inspiration, now flying somewhere in the ether, or beyond.

Donna's Field Notes 6-7-05

Sunset 8:26PM (NYT),
Temp. 86F,
High humidity,
Sun and patchy clouds,
Wind- mostly calm.

All times PM unless otherwise noted.

Pale Male arrived fashionably late for Charles
Memorial Celebration and he remained in view for the
entire party.

5:17 Pale Male perches on Oreo antenna.
6:10 Lola perches on Stovepipe.
7:55 Lola has moved to Oreo antenna, Pale Male
circles, returns, copulation.
7:58 They sit very close to each other on the antenna.
8:07 Still on antenna, Lola preens, Pale Male alert.
8:23 Pale Male up and to NW.
8:24 Pale Male circles back to Lola, copulation.
8:25 They sit together, Lola preens.
8:28 Pale Male up and toward Ramble.
8:35 Lola up and SW above MBP, then treeline, then
veers down W to roost tree across transverse.

8:57 Exit.

Submitted-Donna Browne

Blakeman on Pale Male Jr.

Photo by Lincoln Karim
[taken from the 65th floor of a building to the south west of the Trump Parc 35th floor nest.]


A few quick observations on the new Trump Parc nest success:

First, I'm as excited as anyone in NYC that this pair has successfully bred, for two reasons. The first is the same as everyone's. Who doesn't get excited with new baby hawks?

The second, much more significant, is that this confirms the continuing presence of breeding red-tailed hawks in Central Park. Some may recall my somewhat skeptical views back in December about whether or not Pale Male is a lone story, or if he is the vanguard of a continuing breeding population. From what I knew (much less than the CP locals), I tended to think that Pale Male's breeding successes were curious but anomalous happenstance. From my experiences with rural red-tails, too much of the Pale Male story seemed aberrant, even weird. I didn't doubt in any way the fine account of Pale Male's successes told in Marie's wonderful book. Pale Male's story, by itself, is remarkable and engaging. But could, or would, any other red-tailed hawk step in and replicate these breeding successes in such an adverse hawk breeding environment as Central Park seemed (to me) to be?

The Trump Parc nest settles the question. Red-tails are here to stay, a continuing, magnificent, visible element of the Central Park avifauna. One quick additional note. In the letter you forwarded, Mai Stewart asked if I had ever seen anything like this with rural red-tails, whether any had eggs roll out and then re-nested. Personally, I've never seen this. But breeders of red-tailed hawks (mostly now in Europe, where the species is used for falconry) commonly "double-clutch" the breeding pair by removing the two or three eggs after a few days of incubation. These removed eggs can be incubated artificially, or placed under receptive unmated birds where incubation is eagerly taken on. The original female that had the eggs removed will then re-cycle and lay another fertile set. That's apparently what happened here. But it can only happen when the female has a surfeit of food. There seems to be an abundance of prey in Central Park, although none of it is normal or typical red-tail table fare.

It's been a great pleasure being able to provide some unique perspectives on all of this. I'm so glad it can continue, that we no longer need fear that the eventual demise of Pale Male might close the entire book on Central Park red-tails. Pale Male's own chapter should continue next season, and the developing Trump Parc family chapter will be fun to watch this summer. The red-tails of Central Park shall endure! That's the real story now. Sincerely,

John A. Blakeman

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Charles Kennedy

Above, left, you see Charles Kennedy, [1937-2004] irreverently tweaking the nose 0f Hans Christian Andersen [1805-1875], to the delight of young Davie Rolnick, formerly of East 72nd Street and now living in Rupert Vermont. The photo was taken a few years ago at one of the annual hawkwatcher celebrations at the Model-boat Pond --- a fledging party, a birthday party for Doctor Fisher, a Pale Male coming-of-age party [for his 13th birthday]-- I'm not sure which one. The hawkwatchers seize any opportunity to celebrate.

Today it is Charles's own turn to be celebrated. This evening the hawkwatchers, birdwatchers, bird feeders, dog-fanciers, nature-lovers, Central Park conservancy officials, Zone gardeners and many other Central Park denizen--Charles had a LOT of friends! -- as well as various friends and relatives from all over the country [Iowa especially] will converge on the traditional party spot -- near the statue of Hans shown above -- to raise a glass and to reminisce about this great and unique guy. Charles Kennedy, as just about everyone knows, died last October after a brief and valiant fight with cancer.

Charles was a hero of my book, of the great film Pale Male and of my life. He was a hero to everyone [without exception, I'd say ] who knew him. This party is NOT a Memorial, we are all insisting. It will be a joyful celebration, even though I know that many tears will be shed.

The traditional Bohemian Walnut cake personally decorated for Charles by his friend at the Cupcake Cafe, Ann Warren, will be there tonight. Lee and Noreen, who have done the lion's share of the work organizing and preparing this party -- getting out the invitations, shopping, cooking, baking, planning, organizing, will certainly be there. The friends and relatives will be there. Pale Male and Lola are sure to make an appearance sometime this evening to tip a wing to Charles.

Davie Rolnick and Julia, his mom, were coming down for this event. I even bought a new bed to lure them to stay at my house. Alas, Davie came home yesterday from a trip to Philadelphia felled by a stomach virus. So they will not be there tonight. That's a disappointment. Charles loved Julia and Davie. But there's one thing I know about this evening's celebration: Charles will be there.

Have I forgotten about Pale Male?

Enough with the grandkids! What's with Pale Male? writes a frequent correspondent. Here's the latest Field Notes from Donna Browne:

Field Notes 6-5-05

Sunset 8:25PM (NYT),
Temp. 86F,
Sun with some clouds,
Humidity 43%,
Wind light and variable.

All times PM unless otherwise noted.

>From the Hawk Bench-
Elizabeth reports Pale Male and Lola were seen
copulating on the Oreo Antenna at 8:15 on 6-4-05.
5:02 Both hawks circling, Lola to Carlyle 1, Pale
Male then N. He circles back and makes an attempt at
copulation. Between the wind and Lola's position,
facing out, he's is unable to get into the correct
position and veers off at the last moment.
5:04 Pale Male circles N behind Stovepipe, then to
Oreo antenna.
5:08 Lola up and N, then W, circles back to Oreo
5:12 Lola to Oreo Antenna, they sit together.
5:17 Pale Male preens.
5:19 Exit.


Monday, June 06, 2005

Pale Male's Grandkids

Still waiting for the third egg to hatch. Yesterday it appeared to have a crack in it, so today may be the day. Meanwhile, the two fuzzy chicks look strong and are growing apace.

At last I've figured out how to post Lincoln's picture of the Trump Parc, with an arrow pointing to the nest on the 35th floor. Please scroll down to get to the building and the arrow:


The dark green patch on the left of the building? That's the southern end of Central Park .

Green Heron update

One week [and lots and lots of fish] later:
June 5, 2005

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Amazing denoument on Central Park South

35th floor of Trump Parc Hotel - 59th between 6th and 7th Aves.
Pale Male Jr. and Dark Lady with two newly hatched chicks
June 4, 2005

This year our story seemed to have an unhappy ending when Pale Male's newly reconstructed nest failed to produce chicks.And now, out of left field, an unexpectedly upbeat conclusion. A red-tailed hawk that so resembles Pale Male many of us firmly believe he is an offspring -- Pale Male Jr. he has been called-- has succeeded where the closely watched 5th Ave. pair had no young this year.

Today, in a second nesting attempt at the same spot this year, there are two chicks in Pale Male Jr.'s nest on the 35th floor of the Trump Parc Hotel, with one egg yet to hatch. The first egg hatched day before yesterday and the second yesterday.

From a higher location on a nearby building [more than 30 stories higher], an observer using a powerful telescope can see everything going on in the nest. This is something Pale Male's followers from the hawk bench at the Model-boat Pond have never been able to do, since there has never been access to a higher vantage point. Between 1995 and up to last year we could only see the Fifth Ave. chicks a week or ten days after they hatched, when they were large enough for their heads to be seen above the nest's twig wall. Now Pale Male Jr.'s nest is providing new opportunities for careful observation.

Mrs. PM Jr.,, a very dark-headed female poetically dubbed Dark Lady, can be seen tearing off tiny bits of meat from a previously brought-in bird [sparrow? starling?] and tenderly, ever-so-carefully placing them into the tiny chicks' gaping beaks. The chicks are still so small they can hardly hold their head up. Occasionally one will stretch up its tiny head and bobble it from side to side. They are covered with a yellowish fuzz. On occasion Dark Lady may be seen carefully turning the third egg,, gently nudging the two chicks into just the right position, and settling down to brood the egg, and the new chicks, at the same time.

Keep your fingers tightly crossed for these gallant creatures. The nest has been constructed atop the flat surface of a basin-like ornament on the building's facade. [See for the image of the building and ornament. I can't seem to copy the photo here]. There are no spikes there to keep the twigs in place, and two previous nesting attempts on the same site ran a'cropper--the wind blew the twigs -- and eggs -- off . This time they have miraculously succeeded. Perhaps the nest is heavier now and the weight keeps the nest in place. What will happen when the chicks grow bigger and begin to hop around --- hard to imagine.

The indomitable Donna Brown set up the Swarovski scope at a Central Park vantage point a bit to the north-west of the Trump-Parc, and took down her usual detailed Field Notes. They appear in the posting below.

Donna's Field Notes of Pale Male Jr.'s nest and chicks

Field Notes from Hawk View (Junior's nest) 6-4-05

Sunset 8:24PM (NYT),
Temp. 76F,
Humidity 66%,
Wind WSW 5-10MPH,

All times PM unless otherwise noted. Hawkwatchers:
Kenturian, Sam, Donna, Susanna, Uma.

Hawk View-On rock hill, crowned by Cob Cot, southern
end of park, slightly N and W of Trump Parc. Shady and
pleasant with a snack vender very close, bathrooms a
bit further. Construction of penthouse on adjoining
building may soon obscure view.

5:22 Both hawks on nest looking into concave.
5:23 Dark Lady noticably bigger than Jr., she's very
dark and streaked with fluffy face, even streaked
jodphurs, and sturdy looking beak, Jr looks much like
Pale Male, with slightly less concerned brow, though
still has The BROW and possibly slightly ligher eyes,
but not by much, no molting apparent. Jr on watch,
back to Cobs Cot, Dark Lady forward.
5:24 Jr up and into park.
5:25 Dark Lady pulling bits of food off prey.
5:26 She dips beak with tidbit deep into concave. She
continues pulling bits off prey and then dipping beak
into concave to feed. May be dipping beak into two
5:35 Jr returns to nest with pigeon. Dark Lady
prepares it, feathers fly as she plucks it. She eats
some feathers. She removes entrails. Eats a tidbit
then begins to feed.
5:39 Dark Lady looks into nest, works beak, Jr on N
side of nest, looks in. Dark Lady changes position
slightly to more center nest looks in, definitely
feeding to different position.
5:46 Dark Lady off nest for break, PM on
nest...mantles momentarily.
5:51 Nest exchange, Jr off, Dark Lady on.
5:58 Dark Lady down in nest, tail to Cob cot.
6:06 Tip of tail visible.
6:10 Dark Lady is on nest but can't be seen.
6:36 Dark Lady stands, rips off more feathers from
prey, eats feathers, rips off large chunk of meat,
works it with beak, to make smaller bits (?), starts
feeding, feeds six tidbits. She has a bite. Moves
slightly to different spot, feeds.
6:43 She begins to make feeding motions, one deep, the
next not so deep, then deep, then not so deep.
6:45 Still feeding, tail slightly more W.
6:47 Pulls more meat from prey while holding it down
with talons.
6:52 Very rapid feeding, changes position, head to
different spot.
6:53 Jr circles in front of Trump Parc, keeps
circling, gains altitude, goes past to W.
6:55 Dark Lady pops onto nest, unwelcome visitor?
6:56 Jr circles between Green Roof and Darth Vader
office building, Dark Lady stands, alert and ready.
6:57 Dark Lady starts to settle, then does some kind
of arranging in concave with beak and feet, settles
slightly off center.
6:58 Only tail tip seen.
7:16 Dark Lady high in nest, head showing, quick head
movements, being buzzed by large insect. She settles
7:46 Jr arrives on nest with small rat in his beak he
gives it to Dark Lady, from his beak to her beak.
7:47 Golden light, Dark Lady rips prey and feeds,
dipping beak into concave, different locations. Jr
stands closer to viewer, Dark Lady feeds on the other
side of him. Large insect is back, buzzes Jr., he
makes beak movements.
7:52 Jr triangulating to West side of park.
7:54 He looks down into concave. Dark Lady still
7:57 Bug is back with a vengence, Sam's young eyes say
it is a HUGE fly, it buzzes both Dark Lady and Jr.
7:58 Jr. looks into nest.
7:59 Jr preens feathers, full tail fan, triangulates.
8:00 Humongo fly is back, quick hawk head twists.
8:02 Dark Lady up and off the nest taking the
leftovers for her dinner.
8:08 Nest exchange, Dark Lady on, Jr. off and flies W
past southern most AOL Time Warner building.
8:09 Exit
Submitted-Donna Browne