Saturday, September 03, 2005

Pale Male and Lola sightings

August and September have always been the months when Pale Male and his various mates have been hardest to find by their faithful observers. There is much evidence that in August and early September they do their most extensive traveling. After all Pale Male's second mate, Chocolate, who eventually became Mom I in 1995, was found injured on the Palisades Parkway on September 3, 1994. The Palisades Parkway--that's New Jersey.

This year they seem to be ending their travels on the early side. There have been many Pale Male and Lola sightings during the last week, some on their favorite Fifth Avenue perches, such as the Oreo Building., and others in the Ramble.

Perhaps because of their nest failure last spring they're starting to get things in order on the early side. Great. We need a nice thick second layer of twigs for the next nest. Everything is looking very promising, as I see it.,

91 species of birds in Central Park yesterday

As the Fall Migration nears its peak, the park is hopping with birds. Here's yesterday's list from the Central Park page of the NYC Bird Report web site. [See my Links page for the URL of this fascinating site, run by some of the city's best birders.] By the way, the D after some birds indicates an out-of-the ordinary sighting. If you check out the NYCBR site, you'll find a comment after each bird with an asterisk, giving more information--who saw it, where in the park, etc.

Double-crested Cormorant*
Great Blue Heron*
Great Egret
Snowy Egret*
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron*
Canada Goose*
Wood Duck* (D)
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler* (D)
Northern Harrier* (D)
Red-tailed Hawk*
American Kestrel*
Peregrine Falcon*
Spotted Sandpiper*
Ring-billed Gull*
Herring Gull*
Great Black-backed Gull*
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Monk Parakeet* (HS)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo* (D)
Chimney Swift*
Ruby-throated Hummingbird*
Red-bellied Woodpecker*
Downy Woodpecker*
Hairy Woodpecker* (D)
Northern Flicker*
Eastern Wood-Pewee*
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher*
Alder Flycatcher* 50%
Willow Flycatcher* 50%
Least Flycatcher*
Great Crested Flycatcher*
Eastern Kingbird*
Yellow-throated Vireo* (HD)
Warbling Vireo*
Philadelphia Vireo* (D)
Red-eyed Vireo*
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tree Swallow* (D)
Barn Swallow*
Tufted Titmouse*
Red-breasted Nuthatch* (D)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren*
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher*
Swainson's Thrush* (D)
Wood Thrush*
American Robin*
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird*
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing*
Blue-winged Warbler*
Nashville Warbler*
Northern Parula*
Yellow Warbler*
Chestnut-sided Warbler*
Magnolia Warbler*
Black-throated Blue Warbler*
Black-throated Green Warbler*
Blackburnian Warbler*
Prairie Warbler*
Bay-breasted Warbler* (HD)
Blackpoll Warbler*
Black-and-white Warbler*
American Redstart*
Worm-eating Warbler* (D)
Northern Waterthrush*
Mourning Warbler* (D)
Common Yellowthroat*
Wilson's Warbler*
Canada Warbler*
Scarlet Tanager*
Song Sparrow*
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak*
Bobolink* (S)
Red-winged Blackbird*
Common Grackle*
Brown-headed Cowbird* (D)
Baltimore Oriole*
House Finch
American Goldfinch* (H)
House Sparrow

91 species (excluding hybrids and reported with full confidence)
An asterisk indicates that related observation listings exist on species page.
Click on any bird in the list for more information.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Blakeman on Mobbing

Here's another question that fell through the cracks. It was sent in a few weeks ago by Jack Meyer, a Central Park birdwatcher and bird walk leader. I just forwarded it to John Blakeman. Here is Jack's question and Blakeman's answer:
I've just been reading John Blakeman's explanation of mobbing in which he says songbirds only mob hungry immature hawks. Does he include Blue Jays as songbirds? Yesterday I saw Pale Male being mobbed by Jays while he straightened his feathers after bathing in the Gill. It was definitely Pale Male, not a young bird. There were also many Robins present and vociferous, but I did not note whether they were actually taking part in the harassment. I didn't pay a lot of attention to what was going on as I was hoping to find some early warblers along the water, and this was an annoying distraction. Jack
Blakeman's response:

In the broadest sense, blue jays are "songbirds." But specifically, they are corvids, in the family of crows and ravens, and as such are behaviorally rather different from all the other passerine ("perching") birds. >From time to time, blue jays will mob any sitting red-tail. Most passerines (birds in perching bird families) mob red-tails only in the spring and early summer, when they are trying to defend nearby nestlings and fledglings. As you've noticed, blue jays are a bit more maniacal and will pester a sitting red-tail much laser in the season, perhaps even into the fall.
I've seen this several times, just as you've described, and I can't explain this mobbing. But who can explain any of the often sordid behaviors of the corvids. This ornithological family is famous for strange, albeit clever behaviors.
The jays were "aware" that Pale Male had doused himself in his bath and therefore couldn't fly with any alacrity. In these conditions they were free to pester the sitting hawk. But they were probably also intelligent enough to refrain from such carryings on when the hawk was in flight with dry feathers. Experienced red-tails have a wonderful way of luring pestering birds within the range of their lightning-quick talons when being pestered in flight.
Here in Ohio, in a major red-tail field study, we were perplexed at finding the red epaulet feathers of male red-wing black birds in most red-tail nests. How can a red-tail capture so many red-wings? Red-wings are robing-sized and very agile in the air. They should easily avoid capture by the large, somewhat lumbering red-tail. Then, we saw how the Ohio red-tails so easily and frequently captured the male blackbirds.
Each morning, in June and July, the resident male red-tail would fly off and begin his daily hunting routine, perching at a spot for a half hour or so, looking around for something to capture, and then moving on a half mile away to another hunting perch. As the red-tails moved from one hunting perch to another, they often flew over large hay or alfalfa fields, and each of these had a breeding population of 10 or 20 nests of red-wing blackbirds. Male red-wings have harems of five or ten females, each with a nest. As our red-tails flew over these hay fields, the resident red-wing male would ascend and start mobbing the passing hawk. On the first day, the red-wing stayed rather distant from the hawk, diving at it no closer than 10 or 20 feet.
On the hawk's hunting rounds the next day, the bird flew over the same hay field. On the second pass, the red-wing male was emboldened at his "success" in driving off the intruder on the previous day. By the end of the week, the blackbird really began to defend his females and their nests by physically attacking the back of the flying hawk as it passed over the harem of blackbird females. All during the week, with each day's closer approaches by the blackbird, the hawk never changed his behavior in the least.
Then, finally, as the male blackbird had done on several previous days, it again physically attacked the big, lumbering hawk as it passed 30 feet above the red-wing nests. But the red-tail had been setting things up all week, luring the blackbird ever closer each day. On this final, fateful day for the red-wing, the hawk flipped over on its back and in an instant grabbed the red-wing out of the air. The hawk diverted from its daily hunting route and took the captured blackbird back to its nest.
The red-tails learned to sucker the mobbing red-winged blackbirds ever closer in their daily flights across the hay fields, allowing the testosterone-crazed red-wings to think that their ever-closer mobbing behaviors had caused the hawks to fly out of the fields. In truth, the hawks were cleverly luring the blackbirds into easy killing range.
Your bluejays are more intelligent than the Ohio red-winged blackbirds, and they aren't so likely to attack or mob a free-flying red-tail. But if one would become inattentive and get too close, it might become a culinary diversion for Pale Male.

John A. Blakeman

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Star event coming up

A great tip for all lovers of the natural world, just in case the sky clears:

by Steve Beyer — long-time Hayden Instructor;
author of "The Star Guide"; and
Adjunct Professor of astronomy at
the College of Staten Island, CUNY

Now through mid-September, plan to enjoy cosmic jewels, Venus and
Jupiter in conjunction. Brightest celestial objects after the Sun
and Moon, they present a spectacular sight side by side in the early
evening sky.

Shortly before sundown, if the sky is clear, go to a spot with a good
view of the western horizon. As sky colors fade and dusk deepens,
soon Venus, then Jupiter will appear in the west-southwest, a slight
left turn of your head from where the Sun touched the horizon. You
might remember and savor detailed telescopic and spacecraft pictures
of Jupiter and Venus, but to unaided eyes both planets look like
bright, beautiful stars that don't twinkle.

If clear skies cooperate, day by day, you can watch both planets
appear to move closer together until their minimum separation on
Thursday September 1. Then, Venus and Jupiter will seem to span
about the width of your index finger extended at arm's length. After
that date, the division increases, with Venus moving to the east
(left) of Jupiter. On the evenings of September 6 and 7, the
crescent Moon joins in to add even more magnificence to the vista.

Although these objects appear to line up as seen from our
perspective, they are really far apart in linear distances. On
September 1, distances from Earth are these: the Moon, about a
quarter of a million miles; Venus, 105 million miles; Jupiter, 576
million miles. For rough comparisons of relative distances, if the
Moon was as far from your eyes as the tip of your nose, Venus would
be a bit farther than first base is from home plate on a baseball
field, and Jupiter would be at a distance about twice the length of a
football field.

After enjoying the aesthetics of simply looking up at the evening sky
to see Jupiter and Venus moving along their orbits, check out close-
up views of these planets at web sites including those of NASA and JPL.

Clear skies!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Unfinished Business

Earlier this month I wrote the first part of a long narrative purporting to report on the events of the early morning of August 11th. That's when the Perseid showers were supposed to reach their peak. Hundreds of shooting stars in the sky: worth getting up at a truly ungodly hour for such a spectacle .

In Part One
I intimated that though I never saw any shooting stars that morning, other things happened to make it all worth while. In subsequent postings, however, I never told what they were. Under the guise of continuing that narrative, I went off on a digression about a dormitory for male robins. To tell the truth, I had several other digressions in mind, about owls and moths and other critters, possibly postponing the conclusion of my original story until Christmas.

But at the start of my vacation ten days ago I decided that enough was enough. I promised that before the holdiday's end I'd tell what really happened on the morning of August 11th. Today's the last day to keep that promise. Here, then. is a quick summary of my Perseid adventure:

3:30 a.m. Alarm blares. Leap into clothes the way firemen leap into uniforms and boots as they slide down the pole. Out of the house and on the street by 3:42, shoelaces untied. Grab coffee in container at 24-hour coffee shop on Boadway, find cab, instruct cab driver: "Fifth Ave. and 79th Street, park side please." It's obvious that he doesn't understand why anyone would want the park side in the middle of the night. [Note: it is dark as night at 3:45 in the morning]. Driver drops me off on the building side. Mop up spilled coffee, pay, cross the street, enter park. Head for Cedar Hill to meet up with Naomi [featured in the robin digression] and two astronomy guys, Charlie Ridgway and Tom Claybough. Though the park is deserted I can see flashlights up ahead to the left of the path. Hope it's Perseid-watchers, not park's famed muggers. It is. [Threat of muggers in Central Park wildly exaggerated throughout country and world. New Yorkers like to perpetuate that myth, God knows why.]

4:a.m. Settled down on rock outcropping where others are sprawled. They're chatting, not looking at sky. Why? I wonder out loud. That's when it's brought to my attention that the sky is completely overcast. Oh. I'd been in too much of a hurry to get there and also too groggy and sleep-deprived to notice. . [Up with the mothers [rhymes with authors] until 11:30 previous night, observing night lepidoptera]

4:15 - 4:45 : Idle chit chat about. . . guess what? Robins. Charlie tells me that last April 10 at 3:50 a.m. , when he was at the Great Lawn attending some other star-gazing event, he heard robins beginning to sing. Then he recalled that even before that, just before sunset at the same location-- a favorite star-gazing spot, having a view of a broad expanse of heavens-- he saw a huge gathering of robins on the Great Lawn. "I had never seen so many robins in one place before," he subsequently wrote in his blog. I was hugely gratified. My robins. I told him about the male robin dormitory that Naomi and I had discovered in a nearby Linden tree. He promises to send me the relevant pages of his blog. [Subsequently he does.]

4:45 Charlie and Tom are fiddling with their mobile devices. They're checking some star-gazing website. I gather that another astronomical event is scheduled to happen in a few minutes. We all begin to gaze at the southwest part of the sky.

4:50. It appears, a bright star-like object in the southwest part of the sky. It's a pass-over of the Space shuttle, they say. Hard to believe. It travels in a stately manner from southwest to northeast. Then it vanishes.

5:a.m. Charlie calls out Look!. Swooping down the hill behind us and disappearing in the wooded area just east of the park wall is an owl! If any sentence deserves an exclamation point it's that one. "A large, heavy-bodied bird with a buff or grey or white underside," Charlie wrote later. I was too excited to observe carefully. An owl sighting is always amazing in Central Park, and especially when no owls had been seen in that area for more than a year. There would be no regrets about missing a few hours of sleep that morning.

5:20 More excitement: Bats swooping quite close to us, ending their day just as the human day is about to begin. There are 5 species of bats that have been seen in Central Park. These were probably Big Brown Bats, the name of a species as well as a description.

5:33: The beginning of civil twilight, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory's website. That's when you can begin to see objects in front of you. I guess civil twilight is what they used to call dawn.

5:28: It's still cloudy, but now Tom and Charlie point out Aldeberan, the Hyades and the Pleides in breaks in the clouds. Also Mars.

5:50: A flight of Chimney Swifts passes overhead -- five or six of them.

5:55: Sharp chips heard from the eponymous Cedar trees just to our south. We turn to look. Out fly five birds who perch on a pine a few feet to the west. A Mockingbird family. They sit and preen. We sit and wonder. They had been there, sleeping, all the while.

6:03 Sunrise. Sky pinky. Clouds moving quickly to the north. Sky almost completely clear now. Perfect for watching the Perseids. But too late. Nothing can be seen. It's day.

Blakeman answers an August question

A question I received received for John Blakeman [reminiscent of earlier concerns about the Trump Parc fledglings] and the Ohio Hawk expert's response:

Hello Marie,
I have an observation for Mr. Blakeman. I live in central Pennsylvania, south of Harrisburg. Our neighborhood is bordered by a forested ridge, a swamp and a military warehouse with an airfield - just giving you an idea of locale. Over the past few days I have heard and spotted a juvenile Red Tail. It's call is the same each time - 3 short "cree"s over and over. It is very loud, I can hear it over the morning PA Turnpike traffic. It sounds distressed. I have also heard, in response a few times, several elongated "cree"s. I am assuming this is an adult calling to the juvenile. The juvenile seems to be flying pretty well and does not seem to be hurt. I've seen it circle with a warm air current updraft, soar from our neighborhood to the ridge and navigate from tree to tree. My concern is that I seem to hear the juvenile quite frequently and I wonder if he is starving? I thought it was late in the season for juveniles to be calling out for food. I have not been able to get close enough to see the bird's condition. (it has not been at our property that I know of or seen) How worried should I be? I'd hate to be observing one of our gifts from nature dying a slow death.

Thank you - Becky
You are experiencing classic August red-tail behaviors of a bird-off-the-nest. No, it's not starving -- yet. But the mournful, plaintive begging cries indicate that the parents are no longer feeding the youngster. It's now on its own for the procurement of food, and just as I previously worried about the Central Park red-tails fledglings, August is the crunch time. It's now learn-to-hunt-or-die. I believe that most of these begging birds in August just don't have what it takes to survive on into the fall and winter. They need lots of prey to hunt (which the Central Park birds obviously have), and they need to be able to consistently capture the food animals. The latter follows the former. Your begging red-tail must first be hunting in an area with abundant prey. Secondly, it must learn rather quickly how to capture that prey each day. From the descriptions of the bird's territory, I'm not so sure it has abundant populations of voles, the primary, sustenance food of rural red-tails. The grasslands at the airfield may work.
Your bird is still flying around, so it's not at the edge of death. But it's loosing weight each day. Someday soon, it will cross an irrevocable tipping point and slide quickly into such weakness that it can't fly. It will curl up under a bush somewhere and quietly die.
Some of these begging birds, however, are in really good shape. They are just rather bratty and fully expect Mom and Pop to continue to feed them as they have in earlier summer. In this case, the bird actually is able to hunt and capture food, but prefers to delay this as long as possible. If it can last until mid-September, it's likely then to ascend to some high winds or thermals and begin migration to the south. These migrating birds grow up very quickly and learn to hunt with alacrity.
Let's hope your bird is one of these. If not, don't lament the poor bird's loss. To do so is to impugn the necessary interplay of ecological forces. Remember, nature (not to be anthropomorphic) is never "concerned" with the fate of individuals. It's the fate of populations that determine the survival of species, not individual specimens, no matter how humanly pitiful might be the plight of the less fortunate. Only the fittest survive, and if a population is to survive, more young than can survive are produced each year.
Here, of course, is where humans should not take lessons from nature. For humans, it's the survival and prospering of all individuals that should be of greatest concern. Each of us should strive to abrogate the cruel laws of nature in the lives of ourselves and our neighbors, worldwide. I mention this because although I don't (much) anguish over the annual deaths of these young red-tails, I try not to assign any such natural fate to my fellow man, claiming, as some do, that it's just "natural." Hence the differences between ethics and religion, compared to ecology and natural history.

John A. Blakeman

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Central Park's North End Birds, including 8 warbler species

Though the north end of Central Park is generally considered the best birding location,  few reports come from there.  Perhaps this is because it was once considered an unsafe place, a haven for muggers and drug dealers. But  ever since a major Conservancy  restoration of the North Woods was completed a number of years ago,  I  believe it is as safe to walk there as in the Ramble. Here is yesterday's report from Phil Jeffrey, who is the public-spirited person running the e-birds listserv these days. [Ben Cacace was his predecessor.] There is info about e-birds on my Links page.

DATE: Saturday, 27th August 2005
LOCATION: Central Park - Ravine and North Woods
REPORTED BY: Phil Jeffrey

Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler (2, female type)
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler (female)
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart (many)
Northern Waterthrush
Canada Warbler
Baltimore Oriole

An unusual and somewhat distressing sight: an American Robin (juvenile
moulted mostly into adult plumage) was chased out of a tree by another but
in mid-flight plunged straight to the ground, striking with an audible thud.
I crossed the Loch to retrieve it and it had broken it's neck, although
the berry it was feeding on was still in it's bill. Seems unlikely it died
in mid-flight, but it was either that or a radical loss of control. The
flight feathers seemed in good condition along with the rest of the bird
(apart from the impact injury).