Saturday, October 01, 2005

Checking out the hawk competition

Cal Vornberger writes:

Attached is a photo I took yesterday during the rehearsal for the "Falconry Extravaganza" that's being presented today in the park. While the people from South Carolina were exercising the captive birds the Red-tailed Hawk in the photo came down and sat on one of their perches eyeing the newcomers.
The redtail sat there for 2-3 minutes before flying up into a nearby tree. He stayed around the entire afternoon occasionally flying overhead and peering down at the activities. He is quite pale and quite likely a Pale Male offspring.

PS from Marie

Since the Falconry Extravaganza [the 8th annual one] is being held at the East Meadow -- around 5th Avenue and 97th Street, it's highly likely that the bird in the photo above is the one we call Pale Male III.
For more than 3 years he and his mate had been trying unsuccessfully to nest on a high ledge on nearby Mt. Sinai Hospital [Fifth and 99th]. Then two years ago the pair had a successful but unpublicised nest in a tree just west of the East Meadow. No sign of a nest last year or this year, however. Pale Male III closely resembles Junior, the successful Trump-Parc paterfamilias. Since both Junior and Three have been trying to build nests on buildings at the periphery of Central Park from about the time the first of Male Male's broods reached breeding maturity -- 1998 or 1999 -- we consider it not unlikely that they are offspring of the 5th Avenue nest.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Early Birders' Report

The Lower Lobe was the "hotspot" on Wednesday. Still lots of migrants, though the weather has been cool for the last three days.

Date: Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Location: Central Park
Observers: "Early Birders": Marie Winn, Mary Birchard, Eleanor Tauber,
Kathleen Howley, Naomi Machado, Irene Warshauer, John Holland, Karen Asakawa
Asakawa, Ardith Bondi
Reported by: Ardith Bondi

photo by Lloyd Spitalnik
Cape May Warbler in Fall Plumage

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Lower Lobe)
Canada Goose
Wood Duck (m., getting more color, The Point)
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker (many)
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe (between Castle and Tupelo Meadow)
Red-eyed Vireo (Maintenance Meadow)
Blue Jay
American Crow
Winter Wren (2, Lower Lobe, 1, The Oven)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Many, Lower Lobe)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush (Lower Lobe)
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird (Maintenance Meadow)
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing (small flock, near Bow Bridge)
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler (with Jack Meyer)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Palm Warbler (Maintenance Meadow)
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager (Lower Lobe)
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow (The Oven)
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (m., molting juvenile, looking more like an adult,
Maintenance Meadow)
House Sparrow

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Raccoons guests at Audubon benefit

photo by Cal Vornberger

Last night three raccoons dined among the guests at the NYC Audubon's benefit party at the Central Park Boathouse. Appearing at about 9:45 p.m. in the bushes at the north and eastern sides of the outdoor terrace, the rather under-dressed party-crashers ate large quantites of chicken and pasta that were furtively offered them by the invited guests. The thick-tailed, black-masked members of the Procyonidae family, one that also includes kinkajous, coatis, cacomistles, ringtails and olingos, seemed to especially enjoy the little chocolate petit fours and the miniature cheesecakes from the dessert table.

Photographer Cal Vornberger, whose new book Birds of Central Park was snapped up at the silent auction, agreed that the desserts were the best part of the meal.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Junior, Charlotte and kids -- final report from Bruce

Received this note from Bruce Yolton:

Thank you for letting me share with your readers my photos of the Trump Parc fledglings this summer. After seeing the fledglings almost every day since they fledged this summer, I haven't been able to find either of them since mid-September.

Although I miss seeing them, in many ways I'm happy that I can't find the young hawks. To me it means they've grown up and have "gone off to college". That they can survive, or should I say thrive in the Big Apple is simply wonderful. To me, their disappearance means that everything worked out just fine. The park turned out to be a great place to grow up. There was plenty of food, and the park provided, quite by accident, two fenced in acres of the construction area for them to grow up safely.

I hope they show up from time to time this fall in the park or if they've migrated that they return in the spring.

The Trump Parc nest is still in great shape and I hope that 2006 will bring Central Park two active nesting sites, one on Fifth Avenue and one on Central Park South.

Attached is a picture of the empty nest and its view of the park from early September at sunset.

Blakeman ponders the fate of the Red Squirrel, with a postscript from Marie

A letter from John Blakeman about the Red Squirrel:

I find it curious that Central Park has never had a red squirrel population. It's one of the most common wild rodent species in North America, occupying multiple habitats. There is no reason a population of these frenetic little balls of energy couldn't thrive in Central Park.
But as you can imagine, my on-the-edge mind couldn't help ponder Central Park's other new residents, the active population of our beloved red-tailed hawks, especially as they might encounter the new squirrel. Red squirrels are a bit smaller than the common gray squirrels in the park, and gray squirrels are apparently frequent fare for the big hawks. Pale Male or any of his relatives might elect to sample some more of the fine culinary offerings of New York City, in this case this new, un-tasted squirrel.
Red squirrels are common in all Ohio forests (and those of upstate New York, too). Anyone who has ever watched these energy packs has been impressed. They will challenge larger squirrels and other animals that intrude upon their territories. They commonly make quite a verbal racket when alarmed.
The chances of this single squirrel falling into the talons of a Central Park red-tailed hawk is not minor. It may not happen, but the reality of natural predator-prey relationships is now present in the Park. Should the squirrel be killed by one of the hawks, we shouldn't much lament the act? With the hawks hunting in the park, a full range of natural forces are at play. Before the red squirrel dies at the hands (well, talons) of one of the hawks (if at all), we all need to ponder how we might react. In earlier times, in other places, citizens commonly reacted with horror when red-tails killed barnyard chickens and other loved animals. The hawks for a century or more were commonly shot because of these natural depredations. How will local wildlife watchers react if a local hawk kills this new (and lovable) wild denizen of the Park?
Before it happens, readers and park wildlife watchers might want to privately contemplate their reactions.
Food for thought (bad phrase).

John A. Blakeman

PS from Marie:

I agree with John Blakeman -- [and Tennyson]: nature is red in tooth and claw. So be it. I've posted pictures of this "cute" little critter, but readers should be well aware that it has entered a habitat full of natural predators.

The hawks, too, are living in a dangerous habitat. But for them
homo sapiens poses the greatest danger. Therefore we, as members of that species, can try to interfere when humans make trouble for the hawks: humans who take down their nests, humans who poison their prey --rats and pigeons, etc. But we cannot interfere in the natural battle between the other species.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Mars show is coming

A little before 8 pm last night, when the American Robins I've been monitoring since last spring had settled down for the night in their usual Linden tree dormitory on the north side of the Great Lawn , I walked a few hundred feet eastward and watched Venus setting over the romantic twin towers of the San Remo on Central Park West around 74th St. Venus seems to be the only show in town these days.

Yesterday Tom Clabough, one of Central Park's active amateur astronomers, sent me the information about Martian winter and the article reprinted below, as a reminder that another celestial "event" was in the offing.

<>WINTER ON MARS: The seasons are changing on Earth. Ditto on Mars. Winter is beginning at the Martian north pole, and icy-blue clouds are gathering there. The vast cloud bank is easily seen through 10-inch and larger telescopes. In Buffalo, New York, Alan Friedman took this picture of Mars and its "North Polar Hood" on Sept. 18th:

Mars to be Spectacular in Fall, 2005

By Joe Rao Skywatching Columnist
posted: 19 August 2005
12:39 am ET

Mars is coming back. The Red Planet, the only one whose surface we can see in any detail from the Earth, has begun the best apparition it will give us until the summer of 2018.

Planet watchers have already begun readying their telescopes.

If this sounds familiar, you might recall a similar setup two years ago. This current apparition of Mars will not be as spectacular as the one in August 2003 when the planet came closer to Earth than it had in nearly 60,000-years.

Mars is currently in the constellation of Aries, the Ram and doesn't rise until around 10:45 p.m. local daylight time. There is certainly no mistaking it once it comes up over the east-southeast horizon. Presently shining at magnitude –0.8, it now ranks fifth among the brightest objects in the night sky, surpassed only by the Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Sirius (the brightest star in the sky).

And as it continues to approach Earth, Mars will only be getting brighter in the coming weeks: it will surpass Sirius on Sept. 21 and on Oct. 4 it will rival Jupiter and as a consequence (until Nov. 26), hold forth as the second-brightest planet.

Late on the night of Aug. 24, Mars will hover below and to the right of the waning gibbous Moon. As you will see for yourself, the so-called Red Planet actually will appear closer to a yellow-orange tint – the same color of a dry desert under a high sun.

This time around, Mars comes closest to the Earth on the night of Oct. 29 (around 11:25 p.m. Eastern daylight time). The planet will then lie 43,137,071 miles (69,422,386 kilometers) from Earth measured center to center. Mars will arrive at opposition to the Sun (rising at sunset, setting at sunrise) nine days later, on Nov. 7.

How big?

On Oct. 29, Mars' apparent disk diameter will be equal to 20.2 arc seconds.

To get an idea of how large this will appear in your telescope, Jupiter currently appears about 32 arc seconds across. So, if you train your telescope on Jupiter during this week, keep in mind that Mars' disk will appear more than one-third smaller than that when it comes closest to Earth near the end of October.

Another way to gauge how large this is would be to take a look at the Moon with a telescope and look at the brilliant rayed crater Tycho, probably the most prominent on the Moon's surface. At its best, Mars should appear less than half the apparent size of Tycho (just the crater itself . . . not its rays).

While all this may sound small, keep in mind that this is still an atypically large size for Mars. In fact, from Oct. 23 through Nov. 5, Mars' apparent size will be equal to, or slightly exceed 20 arc seconds; larger than it will appear at any time until late June of 2018.

How high?

From Oct. 29 through Nov. 9, Mars will blaze at magnitude –2.3, more than twice as bright as Sirius, but still inferior to Venus. Mars will still be positioned within the constellation of Aries, the Ram, at a declination of +16 degrees.

This is in contrast the August 2003 opposition, when it was situated much farther south at a declination of -16 degrees. Back then, for observers especially in the northern United States and southern Canada, Mars was so low in the sky that atmospheric turbulence hampered telescopic work more than usual.

But by the end of October 2005, northern observers will see Mars at a much higher altitude. When it reaches its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time, its altitude will be 59¼ at Seattle, Washington and 72¼ at Los Angeles, California.

Meanwhile, amateur and professional astronomers in Central America, north-central Africa and southernmost India will have exceptional visibility, for the planet will pass directly, or very nearly overhead!

Careful scrutiny

Around the time that Mars is closest, amateurs with telescopes as small as 4-inches and magnifying above 145-power should be able to make out some dusky markings on the small yellow-orange disk, as well as the bright white of the polar cap.

But a final bit of caution: even a large telescope will show neophyte observers little when they first look at Mars.

To say the least, Mars will likely prove to be a challenging object: the disk is relatively tiny and more often than not it will usually be blurred to a degree by the Earth's atmospheric seeing. However, if you inspect the planet night after night, your eye will gradually become accustomed to the low contrasts and soft boundaries of the disk mottlings.

The most prominent area on Mars is a dark wedge known as Syrtis Major. You soon might also grow familiar with the Martian rotation of 24 hours 37 minutes. As a result, a particular feature comes to Mars' central meridian about 40 minutes later than it came the night before. So, it would take a little over a month for a particular feature to come back to the middle of Mars' disk if you were viewing it at precisely the same time every night.

Red: A Tough Customer

Photo by Bruce Yolton

Readers have been writing in to express interest and some anxiety about the well-being of the lone Red Squirrel that has been hanging out at the Locust Grove for the last few weeks. I made a sympathetic comment in my latest post as well. To provide the other side of the picture, Bruce Yolton writes:

The Red Squirrel seems to be one tough little squirrel. Fellow birders report a dead gray squirrel near his nut cache on Thursday. I saw him chase a gray squirrel twice his size very aggressively on Sunday. This story may not have a storybook ending.

Judging by the expression on the little guy's face in the photo above,["You'd better not tangle with ME!"] I'd say that Bruce has a point.

PS. In answer to Diane D'arcy, who wrote:
Hi Marie:
I have been enjoying Lincoln's photos of the red squirrel family. Looks as if they have been there awhile if there is a breeding population. Isn't it possible that they have been overlooked despite all your sharp eyes?

I answered: No, the baby squirrels on Lincoln's site are Gray Squirrels. There is still only one Red Squirrel in the park

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New picture of new Central Park mammal

Yesterday Bruce Yolton, one of the photographic historians of the Trump-Parc fledglings, captured [on film, of course] Central Park's first Red Squirrel , as it was caching nuts in the Locust Grove.

It does sound a bit lonely, doesn't it, being the only one of your species on an island in the middle of the sea. [Central Park is, indeed, an island of green in the middle of a sea of concrete and glass.]