Saturday, January 21, 2006

Owl heroics and owl acrobatics

Red-phase Screech Owl back in the Black Locust hole

Great Horned Owl in new tree near Azalea Pond

Last night [1/20/06] the fly-out gang was honored by the presence of Ed Lam, distinguished artist and author of Damselflies of the Northeast. [A.O Wilson has called this book "a small masterpiece". Here's a link to Ed's website:] Ed took the two pictures at the top when the owl was nobly perched quite near the trunk of his latest roosting tree a bit to the west of the previous day's location.

A few minutes before the owl's 5:20 departure into the night, he moved out to a thin branch. There he performed the acrobatics captured by Bruce Yolton in the three photos below. Bruce's headline and caption is:

Great Horned Owl Yoga

Some pre-fly-out stretches. What should we call the last one? The DeLorean?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Jaba the Hutt?

From a website correspondent:

Perhaps it's disrespectful to the power and resilience of such a fine hunter, but whenever I see a picture of the GHO in repose (such as the one above taken by Lincoln Karim), I can't help but think of Jaba the Hutt from the Star Wars movies! Not a very flattering name, but it gives me a chuckle every time.

Bill Trankle
Indianapolis, IN

P.S. from Marie: Faithful early-morning walker Jack Meyer reports that the GHO is still in the area of the Azalea Pond today. Since the local weather is warm and mild, I expect the fly-out audience will be large.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Guess whoooo's still here

Photo by Bruce Yolton

Jack Meyer's daily report just in:

This morning the grand panjandrum of the park was in a tree just a little to the NE of its usual hangout, slightly nearer to Azalea Pond. I was about to give up on it when a flock of crows arrived and noisily pointed out the location.

PS from Marie:
For those word-lovers among you [maybe that includes every one of you], here is an amusing etymology for Jack's word "panjandrum". It's from a website called World Wide Words:


A mock title for a person, real or imaginary, who has or, claims to have, great influence or authority.

The actor Charles Macklin retired from the London stage in 1753 and opened an entertainment in Covent Garden that he called the British Inquisition. Every evening at seven o’clock this featured a lecture by Macklin followed by a debate. These became popular for a while; so much so that a playwright and fellow actor named Samuel Foote was provoked to attend. Among his many accomplishments, Foote was a master mimic, aided by a devilishly sharp wit; he seems to have barracked Macklin without mercy. Macklin was unwise enough to claim as part of a lecture on memory that his own was so highly trained he could remember any text he had read just once. Foote composed on the spot as a challenge a bit of nonsense that has since become famous:

So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop. “What! No soap?” So he died, and she very imprudently married the barber; and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyulies, and the grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at top, and they all fell to playing the game of catch as catch can till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.

It is said that Macklin was so indignant at this nonsense that he refused to repeat a word of it. Most of Foote’s invented words in this piece vanished as quickly as they appeared, but grand panjandrum survived to become a part of the language, no doubt because of its cadence and internal rhyme, and was later shortened just to panjandrum.

(By the way, though no soap appears in Foote’s piece, it is unlikely that he is the source of the expression, which first appeared in America more than a century later. If Foote had been the origin, we would have expected some examples to turn up between these dates.)

Found Him

Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

I don't know how we missed him on Wednesday morning. Maybe the fact that it was pouring had something to do with it. But a brief search a little before fly-out time [which was at 5:20 p.m.] revealed His Royal Highness not far from the Azalea Pond.

By the way, Wednesday, January 18, marked the month anniversary of the GHO's discovery in Central Park.

Red Squirrel: Killing with kindness?

Red Squirrel -- January 15, 2006
Photo by Bruce Yolton

Bruce writes:

I'm a little concerned about the Red Squirrel. Someone had left a large amount of bird seed and a large number of nuts below his tree. This only made him need to defend his territory against the gray squirrels in the neighborhood. It's not a pet. I don't think it needs to be fed.

The bird feed had attracted a large number of birds, who in turn most likely attracted the Red-tailed Hawk. It would be unpleasant, if the outcome of all this "helpful" feeding, would be that the Red Squirrel got eaten by a raptor!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

New Raptor found but old one missing

Received this morning from photographer and author Cal Vornberger:

You don’t see this guy too often in the park. This was taken at the Harlem Meer.

Meanwhile this morning, in the rain and high winds, the Early Birders [just barely plural -- only Ardith Bondi and I] failed to find the Great Horn Owl in its usual haunts. As a consolation, the red-phase screech owl was seen snoozing in its usual black locust hole

PS You're right. It's a Bald Eagle.

Bob Levy, a writer and a Central Park Regular whose new book, Club George, will be published next March, sent in a report yesterday about the two closely watched Ramble Screech Owls. An advanced look at his book jacket may be seen at the end of his report.

Location: Central Park
Subject: Red and gray morph Eastern Screech-Owls
Date: Monday January 16, 2006
Reporter: Bob Levy

I have been investigating reports that the gray morph Eastern Screech-Owl has been spotted alone in the “new” tree cavity. I have not witnessed that myself for a while but I have seen Gray Squirrels inside. This evening I found two Gray Squirrels poking their heads out of the hole. I think it reasonable to assume that the “gray thing” people report moving inside is one or both of these critters.

Meanwhile, the red morph is sometimes definitely seen at the “old” tree cavity but always alone. I heard the red morph make its tremolo call or trill nine times last Thursday before it flew out. Two others were there to hear the calls too, We hoped that they would be answered by the gray morph. They were not. After the red morph flew out a mournfully moaning Gray Squirrel nearby presented evidence that the owl had not gone far but we could not find it. When the squirrel stopped moaning and scampered away we assumed the owl had gone too.

I last saw the red morph Sunday evening again at the “old” cavity. This owl never ceases to surprise me. I was alone after a couple of other birders had succumbed to the intense cold as I should have but I stubbornly (i.e. obsessively) remained. When the red morph came out I expected it to fly off. Instead it perched two or three feet in front of its den and sat for several minutes twisting its head this way and that and doing a little preening before racing off. Even then it delivered another surprise. In my experience when it leaves it's "old" cavity the red morph typically heads west and occasionally south but this time it rushed due east. Go figure? I tried to follow but gave up after a futile search.

This evening a number of birders gathered to watch the Great Horned Owl (yes it is still in the Central Park) fly out and I asked several observers about the screech-owls. Neither had been seen today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hawks work on national holiday

Pale Male arriving on nest as Lola works on twigs -----3:13 pm 16 Jan 06
Photo by Lincoln Karim

Bruce sends an owl report from Sunday


The park looked wonderful with a light dusting of snow, Sunday. In the morning, it was cloudy and the paths were icy. The Great Horned Owl had moved to a new location, NW from its previous spot.

GHO in its new location

Immature Red-tailed Hawk lands on a tree nearby the GHO

GHO keeps a close eye on the Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk flew off to the feeders, but soon returned and went to three different trees surrounding the GHO. In the span of about 15 minutes, we were treated to four Hawk cries. Then the Immature Red-tailed Hawk flew NE out of sight.

Photos and text by BRUCE YOLTON

Monday, January 16, 2006

OWL News

Yesterday Jack Meyer's report of his daily bird walk did not include the Great Horned Owl. Uh oh. But then various determined birders -- notably Bruce Yolton and Tom Fiore -- scoured the Ramble and found the Grand Duke or Duchess roosting in a tree not very far from its original roost. I'm afraid I was deterred from attending the fly-out by rain and a swift drop of the thermometer from he 50's to the 20's. But a few hardy owl-worshippers were undaunted. Photographer and Early Birder Ardith Bondi sent me a report this morning:

Hi Marie-

For the record, after Tom Fiore found the GHO for us yesterday at about
4PM, we watched it fly out. It left its perch at 5:15 and flew to a few
more perches before going towards the Lake. As we were carefully trying
not to slip on the ice in the dark on our way to Bow Bridge, we caught a
glimpse of it flying over the water just east of the bridge. There were
lots of alarm calls from the ducks on the far shore.


Stay warm-


Note: I don't know who found the owl first. I know Tom is usually out bright and early. But again for the record, I know Bruce Yolton saw it at 11:30 yesterday morning.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Blakeman: more on GHO's --Marie responds--

GHO just before fly-out
Photo by Bruce Yolton

A note from John Blakeman -- 1/14/06

A nice posting on the owl, by de la Torre. Absolutely accurate on every account.
One additional note on great horned owls. Their numbers are reduced in many areas of the East and Midwest from the West Nile Virus wildlife pandemic that recently shot across the continent. Owls apparently got pretty zapped by this virus. Large numbers of great-horneds were brought to raptor rehabilitation centers. The big owls appeared to be particularly vulnerable, and there was some evidence that they poorly acquired post-infection immunity. The birds weren't wiped out, but their numbers were significantly reduced in many broad areas.
Great horned owl numbers have probably not recovered to those of pre West Nile Virus days. Consequently, there are fewer "floaters," unmated young adults looking for mates and territories. This reduces the chance of the Central Park owl finding a mate this year or next.
Have I noticed in the owl postings that the bird has been observed flying off at night toward a Central Park lake or two? It's not going over there to hunt for fish. To me, this indicates that the bird has noticed the waterfowl sleeping in the area. We'll see what happens, if anything.
--John A. Blakeman

Response from Marie

1. I agree that the owl is not at the lakeside to fish, though I have heard of GHO's standing in shallow water and catching fish.

2. There are always many rats at the lakeshore areas to which the CP horned owl has consistently flown after fly-out. Not sure why -- perhaps people leave food remnants there, people always being attracted to water edges. That in turn would attract rodents. Or perhaps the emergent vegetation at the shores have seeds that bring in rodents. I would guess that these rats are what the owl is hunting.

There are, indeed, many mallards and other waterfowl in the lake during the GHO's hunting period. They don't seem to be sleeping. I see them in the lake right near the tree where the owl is perching, dark shapes gliding in the water quite near the shore.. I've watched the bird in the tree for long minutes, trying to see if there's any sign that he is paying attention to these ducks swimming right past him. No head movements indicating this. As the owl perches, ducks all over the lake are quacking every few minutes - to the left near the Lower Lobe, to the right near the Ladies' Pavillion: Quack, quack-quack, quaaack. Again, no sign by head movement that our owl with his/her phenomenal hearing is paying attention. When he's not doing his pussy-cat preening-- from our vantage point below the owl SO resembles a large cat doing a thorough fur-lick -- he seems to be looking intently down at the ground.