Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sunrise and sunset and Owls

First screech owl moments before fly-out, December 10, 2005

2nd Screech Owl just before fly-out, December 10, 2005

Both Screech Owls just after Fly-out-- 5:10 pm, December 10, 2005
Photos by Bruce Yolton

Today the two screech owls that roost together in a tree hollow right at the edge of a busy car road flew out a few minutes after 5:00 pm. [[Amazing night photos hot off the presses above] By the end of the month they will be flying out closer to 5:15 pm. That is because the time of sunset will be fifteen minutes later by then.

Many of you think, as I long did, that the winter solstice marks the time when sunset begins to come later, and sunrise earlier. Maybe it works that way at the Equator, but not in this neck of the woods, New York City. Nothing really changes on December 21st.

According to the US Naval Observatory's statistic for New York City, the sun sets at 4:29 today, December 10th. That is one minute later than it set yesterday, or the day before. From today on the sun begins to set later and later until June, 2006. Hurray!

And yet December 10th is more than ten days before the actual solstice,
December 21. The difference is at the other end of the day. Though the sunset is getting later, the sun will continue to rise later and later long after the solstice day.

Today the sun rose at 7:09 a.m. It will keep rising later until... January 9th! On that day the sun will rise at 7:20 a.m. After that it will rise earlier and earlier and the mornings will get lighter and lighter. January 9th is the turn-around day for sunrise -- another day to celebrate.

So I am proposing two new holidays to take the place of the old pagan celebrations of the solstice. Let's give a cheer for December 10th and January 9th--the glorious Turn-around Days. They hold out the promise that the Early Birders, the Wednesday morning birdwatching group whose meeting time is 7:00 a.m., won't have to convene in the dark for much longer, and that soon owl worshippers will be able to gather at Owl Fly-outs at the end of the work day, not in mid-afternoon.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Grackles after the snowfall

Common Grackle in October

Common Grackle in April
Photos by Cal Vornberger

This morning New Yorkers woke up to find the city c0overed with snow. My first thought was: now at last the huge grackle flock roosting at 59th and Fifth will have to head south.

I arrived at the roost a little before sunset, ready to find it deserted. Wrong. Pomona, the scantily clad Goddess atop the fountain which the roost trees surround, had snow on her head, left shoulder, and covering the fruit in her basket. The roost trees were full to brimming with starlings and grackles. More were still arriving. Leaves covered the snow under the trees, newly fallen leaves.

But while virtually all the trees visible on the park's perimeter are as bare as Pomona, the pear trees around the statue still have quite a few leaves. They seem to be the very last trees to lose their leaves. The oaks in the park are also clinging to some leaves, but those are brown and papery. The leaves on the pear trees are still somewhat burnished, and still provide a bit of cover for the roosting birds.

When will the leaves be gone? Will the birds keep roosting there once the trees are bare? These are finite questions, and I'll know the answers ere long.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Little Red in the Snow

It snowed last Saturday -- the city's first snowfall. Just before joining the bird-feeding squad at the Evodia Field three days later, photographer Cal Vornberger [] checked to see how Little Red, the park's one and only Red Squirrel, is doing at the Locust Grove. Here are two great pictures from that photo shoot. [You thought only models in Vogue Magazine have "photo shoots"? No, all Central Park star-quality critters seem to enjoy posing for photographers.] Note that the squirrel has moved on from Black Walnuts to acorns

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Today is the anniversary...

December 7, 1941.

December 7, 2004

Both days will live in infamy.

For those of you with a long memory, today is the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the awful attack that took so many young lives and precipitated our entry into World War II.

Also, as readers of this website remember well, it is the first anniversary of the removal of Pale Male and Lola's nest from the spot where it had served as home for 23 chicks since 1995.

Of course the trashing of Pale Male's nest is on a different scale from the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. For many of us, however, the callous removal of the hawks' closely-watched nest by the management of a residence for the rich and powerful was an event that caused lingering anger and sorrow.

Pale Male and Lola with chicks --May 1, 2003
Photo by Lincoln Karim

Our anger has partially dissipated, assuaged by the building's swift decision to put up a new structure where the hawk pair could rebuild their nest. In January and February, 2005, watched by their admirers at the Model-boat Pond in Central Park, Pale Male and Lola did, indeed, build a new stick palace in their old spot on 927 Fifth Avenue.

Our sorrow has not gone away. When the nesting attempt failed last spring and there were no chicks in the Fifth Avenue aerie for the first time in ten years, hundreds of Central Park hawkwatchers, together with new Pale Male admirers all over the world, continued to grieve. Some of the anger still festers.

We're waiting for a better outcome in a few months -- little white heads poking out of sticks in the nest. Then we'll really forgive and forget.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Owl Fever

Eastern Screech Owl, December 4, 2005

Northern Saw-whet Owl - November 12, 2005

Long-eared Owl - near Tanner Spring --October 25, 2005
All photos by BRUCE YOLTON

Above you'll find the three common owls of Central Park. In years past Long-eared Owls often spent their winter in the park, using an evergreen on Cedar Hill as their daytime roost tree. Last year, for the first time in over 5 years, the Long-eared Owls--referred to as LEOs -- didn't come. Or in any event, they weren't discovered. Now the search is on for owls, any owls. The phographer who sent me these thrilling shots seems to have an eye for these nocturnal raptors; many of us missed the Leo and the Saw-whet.

Meanwhile the screech owls are year-round residents. The one pictured above is one of a pair that roosts together in a tree hollow on the park's West side. According to Bruce, last Sunday's fly-out time for the first owl was 4:55 p.m, and 5:07 for the second. [At least half a year ago I promised to tell the story of how screech owls came to be regular residents of Central Park. I'm still planning to do that. Soon...]

Monday, December 05, 2005

Two lingering warblers and another fast-action shot of a Wood Duck

Cal Vornberger, whose book Birds of Central Park might solve some of your holiday gift problems, writes

Hi Marie:

There was a late-lingering Yellow-rumped Warbler down by Triplets Bridge [just west of Balcony Bridge] yesterday [11/4/05] in company with the Northern Waterthrush that has been there for a while.
Yellow-rumped Warbler

I found out what type of oak trees those are on the east side of the Harlem Meer: Turkey Oak. They are so named because they come from Turkey. They are cold resistant and the ducks and geese seem to love the large nuts. Most of the acorns are gone now but the Wood Ducks have taken to diving for them where the oak tree's branches overhang the water.

Here is a photo of a Wood Duck who snagged a Turkey Oak acorn three days ago [12/2/05]:

Female Wood Duck with acorn

Photos by Cal Vornberger