Saturday, February 04, 2006

Hawkwatching nomenclature explained

HI Marie,

I looked through my snapshots and put together a group of photos in which the buildings visible from the Hawk Bench overlap each other from shot to shot. That way I hope those who've never visited will be able to get the Bench eye view of the sequence of buildings as they go north and south from 927.

In the center, the shorter building between the two larger ones, is 927 Fifth Avenue. As we tell the many people who come by and ask where the nest is-If you look above the middle window on the top floor, you'll see a cornice and on that cornice is the nest cradle, and above that...Can you make out the twigs, that's Pale Male and Lola's nest.

A few floors down is where Mary Tyler Moore, one of Pale Male's big supporters used to live.

If you look carefully on the roof, the perpendicular item furthest to the front right, is the grated chimney on which Pale Male has been known to stand and warm his under wings on chilly days.

The building to the left, north, we call Woody, because Woody Allen used to live there. Many photographs of the hawks in flight have been taken with the windows of that building in the background. As that air space is often a runway for take offs and landings.

The big square "box" on the top of Woody is the cover for the building's water tower. Look down to the right and left of the "box" and you'll see there is a roof garden with some small trees, often tended by numerous gardeners. Currently Pale Male and Lola are bringing twigs they've clipped off the trees inside Central Park to the nest. But as time gets tighter for nest building, Pale Male will often fly just next door to Woody and snip twigs off those small trees with his beak. Lola also collected long dry grasses from a flower bed up there with which to line the nest last year.

And come time for Pale Male to give his nuptial gifts of rat and squirrel to Lola he will sometimes stash them for her, one level down from the garden, in the space between the two sections of the building on the south side.

To the right, south of 927, is Dr. Fisher, more on that building when we can see all of it. But yes, it's called Dr. Fisher because of course Dr. Fisher lived there. An avid hawk watcher, he graciously allowed photographers to shoot the nest and it's inhabitants from his terrace.

The buildings may seem rather small and far away compared with the photographs that you've seen of the hawks and the nest. But we have an entire battery of binoculars and scopes that make the hawk watchers views comparable to the ones you see in the pictures. The Swarovski birding scope pointing at 927 in the picture is one of them. It was generously donated by the company, Swarovski Optik, to the Hawk watchers of Central Park and it's in use virtually everyday.

The body of water just behind the day's worth of supplies and equipment is the Model Boat Pond, above which Pale Male and Lola will often do aerial displays while courting.

More to come,

Donna Browne

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bruce's Blog

Bruce Yolton, a birder and photographer who chronicled the Trump-Parc nest and family last spring and summer, and since then has been taking fine pictures of Central Park wildlife [see his photo of the Great Horned Owl, above] has an appealing blog that often recounts the park's nature happenings . You can check it out at Http://

A few days ago, under a whimsical headline, he posted a final report on the Great Horned Owl. This is it, in its entirety

Elvis Has Left The Building

The Great Horned Owl that arrived on December 18th appears to have left the park on Friday evening, January 27th. It was great fun while it lasted!

For the past week many Central Park birders have been searching for the big owl, hoping it had merely moved to a new spot in the park. Today, a week after the bird's last appearance, we are sadly accepting reality. The owl is gone.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Report from the Hawk Bench

Lola on Stovepipe -- Photo by Lincoln Karim

Donna reports on the Fifth Avenue Hawks. For those who are a bit mystified, I'll ask her to clarify the terminology she uses in these reports-- the Crows, Woody's etc. some of which dates back to the early days I wrote about in Red-tails in Love, and some which she seems to have originated. I'll post her reply . The photo above provides a hint for identifying Stovepipe.

The Hawkbench, Pale Male and Lola
1 Feb 2006
Temperature- 43F
Wind-NW 3-5 MPH
Humidity- 51%
All times pm unless otherwise noted.
Rik's morning report, numbers of twigs brought to the nest from the trees of Central Park from the west. Pale Male and Lola both do some standing, some walking, and some looking down at the nest.
1:40pm Pale Male on Linda 1, surveying domain, crop rounded. Lola on Oreo grated chimney, anterior west.
2:22 Both on same perches. 16 Mallards and 1 gull swimming around in Model Boat Pond. ( Never once does a gull appear in last season's field notes swimming around in the MBP.) (?) Numbers of gulls cruising sky above MBP.
2:28 Kentaurian is seen coming towards the Hawkbench from the south.
2:29 Kentaurian arrives at the Bench, looks up at Pale Male on Linda 2, spreads his arms wide and calls, "Pale Male! WHAT are you doing? It's February, get up and DO something!" And right on cue, Pale Male is up, flies around Woody several times, flushes some pigeons off the roof. Circles in front of top Woody windows, then above Woody, behind Woody, and zips off towards the Carlyle and behind it.
2:30 Lola is up off the Oreo grate, circles, then to 79th, then over MBP and soars off west, lost in trees in direction of the Boat House.
2:33 Pale Male rapidly flapping back on 5th to the south, circles the roof of The Crows, flushes pigeons, chases gull from Crows area and over Pilgrim Hill. Pale Male back to Woody, flies past top floor window, circles above Woody, circles above 927, chases 2 gulls, herding them higher and higher away from 927.
2:37 Chases two gulls toward Oreo, then further north and then back to Stovepipe. All the pigeons by the MBP take to the sky banking in unison.
2:38 Pale Male returns and perches on Linda 2.
Someone says, "Guess those birds know who's boss."
2:51 A few gulls are back circling above the MBP (But NOT above 927.) calling. Pale Male doesn't look at them. Left foot tucked up, he continues to survey the area, alert.
3:04 Lola discovered circling above 927, then Woody, then south and perches on NE corner of watertower cover of the Ugly White Condo.
3:15 PM and L, still same perches.
Both of Lola's perches of today were favorite copulation spots of last season.
3:25 Exit.
Submitted-Donna Browne

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Now you see it, now you don't

Here are two photos of a lovely Red-bellied Woodpecker. They were taken seconds apart by Lloyd Spitalnik, an accomplished nature photographer, whose website you can see by clicking on the link below. [ ]

If you look closely at the first photo you'll see something rarely captured on film or photograph: the woodpecker's specially adapted, long, long tongue.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The curtain is rising

photo: Lincoln Karim

Your posting today concerning deliberate nest refurbishing at both Central Park red-tailed hawk nests fits perfectly with red-tail behavior at the NYC latitude.

As noted in the Januarys of previous years, there were moderate hints of nest activities. But now, it's almost February, and the nesting sex hormones have kicked in big time. The hawks now have just one thing on their minds. The days are decidedly lengthening, with a slightly earlier sunrise and a later sunset each day. New minutes of daylight are beginning to accumulate each day, and that's the sole initiator of nesting in red-tails. Nothing gets hawks more excited about breeding than the longer days. Nesting has nothing much to do with anything else, neither food, nor temperature, nor precipitation, nor winds -- nothing but increased daylength.

As expected, the 2006 Central Park red-tailed hawk nesting season has now begun. In six months, there could be as many as six new eyasses ready to soar through the Manhattan air.

Let the nesting (and diligent observations) begin!!

And a note about the now-absent great horned owl. From the beginning, I've been impressed with the hawks' tolerance of so many humans so close to their daily hunting and perching activities in the park. The hawks have simply accommodated their behaviors to those of humans, recognizing that those hundreds of two-legged primates down there just don't matter much.

But all winter I've been rather surprised that the owl hasn't perviously taken its leave. My experience with these giant owls in the wild has been that they are rather intolerant of humans. I think most great-horneds would have exited Central Park after about the second evening of residence. This owl's tolerance of people coming right up underneath its day perches is quite astonishing, and I believe, uncharacteristic. Great horned owls just don't like people (or any other animal) around either their perches or their nests.

Therefore, the owl may have finally given up and left, the plethora of easy-to-kill rats notwithstanding. It may have been a young adult, now flitting about from woodlot to woodlot somewhere in New Jersey or up the Hudson.

Of course, the owl may be seen again in Central Park in just a day or so, and it might take up residence, permanently accommodating itself to humans. If so, that would be wonderful. But if not, owl watchers have had a wonderfully lengthy encounter with this unique species. Out here in the rural wild, we never, ever, get to discover or observe the day-roosting spots of owls, or the night roosts of red-tails. You people -- in the heart of one of the world's greatest cities -- have been able to see things we can't see out in more typical raptor habitat.

We needn't worry about the red-tails, though. They've begun their reproduction show, and it could be a real hit, a double comedy this season. The 927 nest surely will be thicker and more likely to produce eyasses, and the Trump Parc pair is now experienced. Experienced red-tails are almost always very good at replicating their earlier successes.

This should be another exciting year with Central Park red-tailed hawks. The curtain has opened and the play has begun with scene one, with the two pairs bringing new twigs to the two nests. It will be a great drama, and because of all of you wonderful hawkwatchers in the Park, the entire world will be able to see it, even in New Haven or Peoria. For those of us out here who can't get tickets to the theater, we appreciate your firsthand accounts and pictures.

I'm excited!

--John A. Blakeman

The Grackles from Bergdorf's

Photo: Cal Vornberger

Veronica Goodrich is one of the Trump-Parc hawkwatchers. She can actually see Pale Male Junior and Charlotte's nest from a window in her apartment. She also happens to be a Personal Shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, the department store at 59th St. and Fifth Avenue just across the street from the Pulitzer Fountain.

"This activity" she refers to in her report below, is the arrival of a large flock of Common Grackles in the pear trees that surround the fountain. These, as you may know from numerous earlier postings here, are the very grackles I've been monitoring since last October. They're the ones I thought had finally headed for their winter quarters down south...BUT...check out Veronica's report:

My observation of this activity takes place on the fourth floor of Bergdorf Goodman, in my dressing room. The times are usually around 4:30 to 4:45pm. That's usually when I have one of my last clients in for the day, trying on clothes.

First a few grackles swoop around the plaza and perch on the very top of the plaza fountain trees closest to to my store. Then about thirty follow this swooping and settle into the trees. All of a sudden hundreds turn the corner of the plaza, rolling and swooping , a perfect ballet of sorts, until the very last one rests on top of the plaza trees. This drama takes all of about 5 seconds total. There they perch for the eve and could be mistaken for the very last leaves of the season except for their loud chatter.

I always keep an eye out for this happening to share with the
fitters, husbands, clients and whoever else is in the room at the time. It happens every night...quite a show for my clients!!!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Serious nest-building uptown and downtown

Pale Male with twig near nest - 1/29/06
Photo by Lincoln Karim

Many reports of increased activity at the Fifth Avenue nest. It may be that the nest-building hormone has kicked in. Many sightings of one or both of the pair on the nest.

Other reports of much busy housekeeping by Charlotte and Junior at the Trump-Parc nest. Many more sightings of this pair at their nest, as well.

An intriguing report

Bob Levy writes:

Central Park “owling” January 29, 2006

This mostly rainy Sunday afternoon was not the best for my bird-watching excursion in Central Park. The most notable sighting was of a lone Gray Catbird at the dock on Turtle Pond. This bird has been here for weeks feeding on the shriveled berries on a same shrub. It made a few soft calls today. I hoped one of its own kind might answer but there was no reply.

I could not find the Great Horned Owl. The red morph Eastern Screech-Owl was in the “old” cavity. There was no sign of its mate.

This was not one of my more interesting walks until I observed some intriguing activity by the cohabitating gray morph Eastern Screech-Owls. [These are the ones I refer to as the West Drive Screech-owls MW] I arrived at their abode well after sundown and assumed they had already flown out but I decided to wait around anyway hoping they had not exited. I have been wondering if these two are already breeding and tonight sat on a bench thinking about the possibility of seeing one of the pair coming back to the cavity with prey to feed the other inside sitting on a nest. Would you believe that at that moment, (it was 5:35 PM) one owl flew over my head, shot directly into the opening of the cavity and disappeared inside. What a delightful coincidence.

I kept on waiting to see what might happen next. My expectation was that one owl would fly out to continue hunting. Wrong. At 6:02 PM a second owl came out of the shrubs behind me, went to the tree and landed on the rim of the opening. It bent over and leaned inside. With its back to me I could not see what it was doing but it soon turned to face me. It sat in the opening for a while longer but then shot down to the ground where I lost track of it. I stayed an additional fifteen minutes but when the rain started to fall again I gave up my vigil.

I did not see if either owl had carried anything to the tree cavity but I suspect that they did. I believe this species builds their nest with the “leftovers” (i.e. Fur, skin, etc.) of prey. It’s a good bet that I what I had been watching was the collection and delivery of building materials, so to speak. That is just an educated guess, of course, but I think it’s a good one.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Donna at Red's flyout

photo by Cal Vornberger

27 Jan 2006

Rufous Morph [Red-phase]Eastern Screech Owl - Ramble
(Otus asio or Megascops asio depending on your field guide copyright date.)

5:02pm Owl visible but recessed in cavity. Head turned in, two dark breast bars appear to be "eyes".

5:20 Red still at farthest recess but head turned forward, eyes half open. Blink, blink.

5:23 Eyes completely open.

5:24 Long trilling vocalization, resonates deeply in cavity. "Bounce song".

5:25 Red moves forward, anterior even with opening of cavity. Area under neck swells as the syringes, modified upper bronchii located directly below the trachea, expand. Bounce song.
Bounce songs continue sporadically until 5:29.

5:29 Last bounce song from roost. Red suddenly puts head slightly out of tree cavity and focuses intently to northwest, very alert. Continues to focus. Listening?

5:31 Flyout, to west and then north.
Jim previously had played a recording that he'd made of the gray morph Riviera Screech Owl one evening as the owl had vocalized from a branch after leaving his roost. It was bounce song.
Now Red is doing bounce song. Questions do arise.
According to the Cornell Department of Ornithology's website, All About Birds...
"The trilling song on one pitch, sometimes known as the Bounce Song, is used by members of a pair or a family to keep in contact. The male will trill to advertise a nest site, court a female, and when arriving at a nest with food. The descending Whinny is used in territory defense The songs usually are used separately, but sometimes are heard together."

The plot thickens!
Cornell also says,

"Eastern Screech-Owl pairs usually are monogamous and remain together for life. Some males, however, will mate with two different females. The second female may evict the first female, lay her own eggs in the nest, and incubate both clutches."

Remember Marie's theory about the 72nd St. male?

(What happens to the second female if she doesn't evict the first?)

Or is the Riviera gray actually a different Screech from the 72nd St. one, he's moved, and is hanging out somewhere to the northwest in a roost as yet undiscovered?

Has Red found a third Screech male altogether in a roost we haven't found?

Once again, "the games afoot".

Donna Browne

PS from Marie My theory was pretty much disproved, I'm afraid, if you check back to letters I posted after I aired it.

Q & A with John Blakeman with a postscript

photo by Cal Vornberger
My letter to John Blakeman:

Hi John,

Last December in an essay about GHOs you wrote:

"But if anyone sees a second great-horned in January or February, then things could get very interesting next winter."
Did you mean that those are the months it's likely for another bird to show up? Why would Jan or Feb be more propitious for mate-finding than April or July? And wouldn't the hormones that govern breeding season be running low by Jan or Feb, making it unlikely that any kind of pair formation would take place.

Here's JB's answer:

By January and February I meant that these were the last two months when mating typically occurs in GHOs. Most great-horned's are on eggs by the end of January or February. By March, pair bonding or mating is almost always over. As with red-tails, young, inexperienced new pairs can be very much off the normal mating and nesting time frames, but because GHOs take so much longer to both fledge and train their owlets, they have to start very early. Many great-horned's are sitting on eggs by Christmas. Others (at the northern Ohio, New York City latitude) will nest, as I mentioned, in January and even into February.
But I think mating or pair bonding occurs long before nesting, probably in October or November. Therefore, I don't see much chance that the current Central Park GHO is likely to nest this season. By now, a second bird should be present. And there is also the absence of any discovered nest. These big owls don't build nests. They merely expropriate existing big nests from the previous season, usually those of red-tailed hawks.
Right now, I'd say that this owl is likely to take up permanent, year-round residence in Central Park, with no mating or breeding attempts until a second owl is seen in the same area. I don't think that's likely until late next fall or early winter, and then only if a second owl of the opposite sex happens by. Because of the depredations of West Nile Virus upon great horned owls, there is not a large "floater" (young, yet-unpaired adult) population, so the chances of a new owl coming into Central Park and "hooking up" with the present one is small.
But of course, this is Central Park, and the things raptors do there don't always match what they do out in rural or wild areas.

John A. Blakeman

PS This is great info but possibly moot since the GHO has not been found for the last two days