Saturday, February 18, 2006

Donna was at last night's fly-out

Male Screech just after fly-out 2/17/06-Photo by Bruce Yolton

Westside Screech Owl Flyout 17 Feb 2006

Sunset: 5:38PM
Temperature: 36 F.
Wind: Gusts to 20MPH
Humidity: 35%
Initial Watcher count-5

5:41 Screech 1, assumed male-Mr. S, face is cat like, becomes visible in hole.
5:46 Blink, blink.
5:47 Eyes wide open, awake, alert.
5:50 Flyout, extremely low to the pavement w/oncoming car. To middle small deciduous bush on western slight rise, viewed from west, east of evergreen mountain bush.
5:52 Watcher count-9
5:55 Up and to south, next rise over, deciduous small tree branch, at approx. 3.5ft.
6:00 Flight to south, large deciduous tree, lower branch. Anterior south.
6:02 Hop to twig, 6 inches up, same branch. Scratches head, quick preen of shoulder.
6:03 Screech 2, exits hole, assumed female, Mrs. S, frown face, to west and adjacent rise, low foliage. Not discovered.
6:05 Mr. S to next tree over, wind picks up considerably, he changes position to retain balance. Wing stretch, down, and side. He stares at Watchers.
6:08 Mr. up. Lee and Noreen spot him. Perch in open lower branch, another large deciduous tree to south. Benches and trash receptacle near.
6:09 He triangulates, tenses, joggers go by, he doesn't pounce, tension leaves body.
6:12 Seems to stare at Watchers to west.
6:28 Triangulates, tenses to go, doesn't, man with dog.
Watchers down to 4, very cold and windy.
6:38 Mr. S still sits same perch, stares west..
6:47 Mr. S up and to west. Two of us follow
6:48 Squeak is heard, Screech sized dark shape blows/flies(?) west over wall, then cuts north.( ?)
6:50 Exit.

Marianne reports Red Phase Screech visible in hole today.

Submitted: Donna Browne

Blakeman's tolerant view on names for hawks plus a final word about "mating"

A comment on Ben's reluctance to use assigned names for the hawks.
That's another controversial issue. On one end is the concern for inappropriate anthropomorphism. The assignment of a human name tends to connote human traits. Bad.

On the other end would be the assignment of a mere number or letter, "Hawk B," for example. This keeps out the emotion and is entirely "biological."

But hawks aren't numbers or letters, either. Each has a unique personality, location, and genotype. Consequently, I have no objection at all to the use of good names. "Pale Male" was an artful compromise between the anthropomorphic and the inanimate. Lola is just a nice human name. Personally, giving just numerical identities is inadequate if you are studying more than a few hawks. There must be some way to keep track of the birds you are studying, and because we are social creatures who use names, real names work best for hawks, too.

We only need to keep in mind that the hawks are not human or animal caricatures. They are unique wild animals unto themselves. That's the great story, and their assigned human names should facilitate our understandings of their "animalness."

--John Blakeman

Here's a postscript about the Mating/Copulation issue, sent in by JB as a response to my posting yesterday:

My original intent with the more strict use of "copulation" related mostly to biological pair bonding, not to the sex act. The public -- as I do -- will turn a sly smile when they hear of another "mating." But they need to understand that the greater event has been the pair's social bonding, the "marriage" if you will, of the two hawks. That's the really interesting story, how the two birds encounter, tolerate, and abide with each other when it's so otherwise against their nature. It's so counter to their normal, nonsocial behaviors. Hawks are nonsocial predators, but real mating (bonding) is so social.
--John Blakeman

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Two-violist fly-out

Two prominent New York City violists happened to be in attendance at last night's West Drive Screech-owl fly-out: Jean Dane, an owlwatching regular, a composer and a top-level NYC freelancer and Dawn Hannay, a violist with the New York Philharmonic since 1979. Is there some secret pheromone mysteriously emitted by Otus asio that attracts lower-register-stringed instrument-players?

PS Fly-out was at 6:05.

His Guyness on a landmark day

Photo by Lincoln Karim
Feb 6, 2006

Charles Kennedy used to call Pale Male "His Guyness," an especially appropriate epithet to attach to this picture taken on the day the Fifth Avenue pair were first observed mating.

Peace, John Blakeman. I know the right word is "copulating"; I just don't like using it in normal discourse. "Mating" is universally used by all but academics to indicate sexual congress among animals. If hawk specialists or falconers use the word "mating" to mean "forming a pair bond," that's fine. But it's not the way the general public understands it.

When someone looks up and say "The hawks are mating!" everybody understands that they're "doing it." Meanwhile, it feels, well, gross, to say or write "copulating," a cold, scientific word that almost no one uses in ordinary conversation. I feel exactly the same way about using the term "eyass" to indicate a hawk nestling or fledgling or juvenile. Using it seems pretentious, intended to make sure people understand that I know a whole lot more about hawks than they do. Eyass? Oh, does that mean a baby hawk? What a dummy I must be.

By the way, "copulate" seems to be an old word going back to the 14th century. Perhaps it felt more natural to use it in the Elizabethan era, though it doesn't seem to appear in Shakespeare. Here's an entry from the Online Etymological Dictionary:
copulate Look up copulate at
14c., from L. copulatus, pp. of copulare "join together, link, unite," from copula "band, tie, link," from PIE *ko-ap-, from *ko(m)- "together" + *ap- "to take, reach." Originally "to join;" copulation in sense of "to join sexually" is first attested 1483: "Made one flesshe by carnal copulacyon or bodily felawshyp" [Caxton].

What's with Junior and Charlotte

Photo by Bruce Yolton
One of the Trump-Parc pair --2005

The south-end hawkwatchers haven't really convened as regular monitors of that nest. It's too early. I expect that reports will begin to come in regularly once the hawks themselves regularize--that is, in a few weeks, when incubation, we hope, will have begun.

In the meanwhile I've received news via that impeccable source, the grapevine. It seems that Veronica, who can see into the nest from her apartment and inspects it briefly every morning before she goes to work, says that nest-building has definitely begun. And, according to the same reliable, twining source, Veronica has seen Junior and Charlotte copulating at least once.

Just as I was about to post the brief report above, an e-mail with detailed information about the Trump-Parc pair arrived from Ben Cacace. He has been monitoring Pale Male Junior and his various nesting attempts for many years.. In yesterday's posting here I noted that many serious birders don't like to refer to any of our closely-watched hawks [even Pale Male] by name. Ben is one of them, as he explains below:


[Today, 2/16/06] I was in the park for the first time after work for a half hour of birding. I spotted the Trump Parc pair. Here's a synopsis of what I saw. You know how much I prefer to keep the hawks nameless. I refer to them as the male and female.

-Arrived at the south end of Central Park at 5:30pm. It's still a bit early in the season for me to start birding after work before it gets too dark. I was hoping to see a raptor or two. The Peregrines were on my mind but I probably arrived after the falcons (wishful thinking) went to roost.

After entering at the 7th Ave. entrance I spotted a person, sans binoculars, looking up at something. I noticed he had spotted an adult Red-tailed Hawk perched about halfway up a tree. The hawk was in the northernmost of four trees forming a fairly straight N-S line.

Shortly after spotting the perched male of the nesting Trump Parc building hawks, I saw that the dark female was tending to the nest on the west face of Trump Parc. She was adjusting things and resting for a bit on the ledge.

At 5:35p the female flew up to one of the light boxes north of the nest platform. A minute later she flew around and landed back on the same light box. Close to 5:45p the female flew well up to a perch just below the copper roof of Hampshire House west of the nest building.

At 5:49p the male took off - sideways - heading towards Columbus Circle. At 5:51p the female lifted off the perch on Hampshire House descending without a beat to a place just west of Heckscher Ballfields near the west edge of the park.

I looked to see where the male went to roost for the evening but couldn't find his spot.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

P.S. Last night's Screech fly-out

Immature Cooper's Hawk 2005
Photo by Cal Vornberger

Both West Drive owls flew out quite late last night, the male at 6:05 , the female 5 minutes later. The rapt audience included Lee, Noreen, Jean, Bob L, Fred, Gabriel, Dennis and a passer-by who stopped to watch the show and vowed to return.

About half an hour earlier, just as the sun was setting, a big adult Cooper's Hawk, probably a female, landed on a tree very near the owls' roost tree. The screech-owl, already alert at the entrance of his roost-hole, kept an eye on the hawk. Five minutes later the hawk lunged at a lamp-post directly across the Drive from the owl. We could hear an impact, but it all happened too fast to see exactly what happened. Odds are the hawk grabbed a sparrow who was heading for a night roost just a hair or rather, just a feather too late. The raptor sailed off eastward, across the Lake. The owl seemed to relax and look about elsewhere on the West Drive where many joggers were taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather.

Spiffy? Unmade Bed? Pale Male?

People often write in proposing names for the birds I feature here,--names, for instance for the Great Horned owl that recently visited Central Park or for last year's fledglings from the Trump Parc nest.

Often these letters are emotional pleas of a sort. For instance:

" And when, as children, we read children's books, didn't all our favorite animal characters have names?? What about one of the most famous, and beloved, of all, "Winnie the Pooh? What about "Bambi"? What about "Peter Rabbit"? What about "Charlotte's Web"? "

Here's my response to someone who wrote me with a suggested name for the Great Horned Owl She wrote that she was appealing to me because I'm the "designated name-giver." Perhaps she made that assumption because back in 1991 I came up with the name Pale Male for the large bird of prey that had moved into Central Park that winter. Much easier to say Pale Male than "the light-phased red-tailed hawk," don't you agree?

Dear Chris,[I wrote]:

No I'm not the designated name-giver. And anyhow, though there have been exceptions, almost all the birders I know are opposed to names for "celebrity birds" other than descriptive ones that serve as a short cut -- i.e. Pale Male. I didn't name Lola, and it took me a long time to accept that name. So there you are.

Of course you can call the GHO any name you want. And perhaps you'll persuade a sufficient number of others to use that name so it will just slide into place. But to me it seems a bit embarrassing [anthropomorphic in the bad sense of the word] to give critters "human" names. I personally am happy with GHO. If there were other GHO's around and we wanted to be able to distinguish one from another for the purposes of record-keeping [and possibly some scientific use of our records] than I'd be more inclined to name. And then I'd still lean towards descriptive names.

Cheers, Marie

I'm writing this because one of Central Park's "big gun" birders came up to me on Tuesday as we were filling the feeders at the Evodia Field and said: "Marie, your names for the West Drive owls are ridiculous."

"What names?" I asked.

"Spiffy and Unmade Bed," he replied..

Another of the ace birders added: "If you're going to name the West Drive owls Spiffy and Unmade Bed I'm taking your site off my Favorites. "

I laughed of course, but now I feel obliged to defend my honor just a little bit. Nobody has named those owls anything, and we're not planning to. We're just being lighthearted-- kidding around. So lighten up, guys.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Screech-owl excitement with Donna and the owl-prowlers

Still a lot of snow in Central Park three days after the Great Blizzard
Photo by Lincoln Karim 2/12/06

Donna's report for last night's screech-owl fly-out:

5:22PM A Sharpie comes flapping down the drive, north to south, and lands 4/5 of the way up an oak on a branch that arches over the roadway. She sits there alert, hunting. It's early yet, not an avid Owl Watcher in sight, though walking towards the owl tree I see a photographer right under it taking pictures.

5:34 I reach my destination, and there he is , the Beau Brummel of Screech Owls: standing at his ease, perfectly groomed like any good dandy, dozing in his "doorway".

5:37 What? No snow on this part of the bench. It's dry. Alright! Sit and keep the boots out of the snow and the feet stay warmer. The Carlyle's in view above the trees, neither Pale Male nor Lola are perched on it's roof lights. The Sharpie still sits in her tree. . The photographer starts taking photos with his flash. Two pedestrians query him and he points up at the owl. They can't seem to spot it. He waves his hand at Mr. Screech, perhaps hoping for a movement to help the pedestrian's eye. Mr. Screech does not deign to respond. They wander on.

5:44 More flashes from the camera, Mr. Screech retreats back just a touch, the wind picks up, snowflakes fall from the branches. Tonight's is a pink sunset, set to the slurring sound of tires in slush. Barbara arrives, then Lee, then Jean, converging from all directions.

5:49 The Sharpie is gone. The hellos are over, Jean and Barbara chat quietly, Lee and I stand and stare fixedly at the owl standing in his "doorway". You can miss his exit in the bat of an eye.

5:58 He's OUT. I'm standing on the far sidewalk just a touch south of the hole and he takes a curve out passing south of me. Then he's off for a long hop to the northwest. We head onto the snow covered path. Crunch, crunch. There he is, not as high as last night's first leg but higher than most evenings previous to the snow. He sits, we watch. Jean heads back to monitor the hole and Mrs. Screech.

6:00 Jean sees the Mrs peek out. Ah, she's still there.

6:05 Mr.Screech takes off towards the trees adjacent to the archway. We look, we scan, we peer.. We don't find him anywhere. Lee comments that this has been a disappointing flyout. Barbara, Lee, and I stand together in a little knot under a tree, deflated. Barbara says, What was that? We say, What? She asks, What does a Screech Owl sound like? Lee cups her hands over her mouth and does quite a good call. I'm impressed, I smile, and look up.

And there he is. Preening no less. Completely unconcerned, not more than five feet above our heads and fewer feet away, in the tree we're standing under. He preens his miniature feet, his tummy, scratches his head, does a double wing stretch, works on a shoulder, wiggles his tail. Wait. Alert, he triangulates. Is he taking off? No, back to that right foot again, back to the tummy, another stretch. The view couldn't be better.

6:08 Another tail wiggle, he's off. Toward the west and maybe a bit north. Where is he? I think I see him, in the wide crotch of that tree, quite high this time, nearer the wall, perfectly still. There! Is it him? Barbara gets her binocs on him. Yes indeed. We watch.

6:12 He's up and away and because of the angle we haven't much of a clue.. Where did the little bugger go this time? Over the wall? To the other side of the arch? . Before we go further afield, Lee decides she'd better go get Jean, still at her station watching the owl hole for a possible Mrs.exit. Barbara and I walk through the tunnel, still looking, and pause on the north side to wait for the others.

6:19 We begin to chat quietly, still scanning, slowly walking north. When I turn her way, the park wall is her backdrop. I can't believe it. Little gray wings flapping in silence. LOOK! There! There! A Screech Owl whips past from south to north, at mid-wall level behind Barbara's back and disappears into north.

Of course at this point, we can't be sure which one it is as Mrs. Screech could easily have exited the hole behind Lee and Jean's back as they walked our way.

6:23 Barbara! Up by the wall, see that scraggly tree? Is that him right next to the trunk midway up? Lee and Jean arrive.It could be. Barbara checks with her binocs. No, not him. Sigh. Someone asks, what kind of tree is that? I say, I don't know. One that has twiggy leafy lumps that look like Screech Owls.

6:30 We walk north towards the park exit, happy. Not a disappointing flyout after all.
Donna Browne

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

West Drive owl-watching and star-gazing report

Saturn, by telescope

After watching the West Drive owls' fly-out pattern for so many months, it's fascinating to see a consistent change in behavior now that there's a thick snow cover everywhere.

Until now the exiting owl[s] always flew to low perches on trees or bushes. Sometimes they were seen almost at ground level. But now their post-exit perches are high, usually in the upper third of their landing tree. Clearly they can see over the park wall from these high perches. The owl-watchers speculate that perhaps they are checking out garbage-can rodents on the side streets off Central Park West. A few years ago Lee and Noreen saw a screech-owl on a brownstone ledge around 74th or 75th street. It was gazing at a curbside garbage can. This might be a better hunting strategy when the park is snowed in.

Last night Regular owlers Lee, Donna, Jean, Gabriel, Mitch and myself saw the male owl fly out at 5:40, making his first landing on a high branch quite near to us. A few minutes later he flew to another branch to the north. Just about then the female appeared at the hole's entrance. She popped down again as she usually does. Now she surprised us by zipping out of the hole, heading directly west. She perched on a fairly high branch about half way between the Drive and the wall.

Not a sound was heard. Suddenly there he was, His Spiffiness himself, perched right next to her. The two owls were exactly the same size -- no sexual dimorphism among Screech-owls, according to authoritative accounts. Finally we could see this for ourselves. This is not the case with Great Horned Owls, by the way. In that species, and among most other owls and hawks, the female is considerably bigger than the male.

The two little owls sat there companionably for quite a few minutes. Then they were gone, not to be seen again that evening. It's possible that the female looped around and returned to the nest-hole. That would have to be what she did if there were eggs there; otherwise they'd cool. Perhaps she had already dined. Perhaps the male would bring back a meal after a successful hunt. Eventually we'll know more about what's going on down there. But not yet.

It was an enchanted evening. The air was exceptionally sharp and clear. The snow glittered and though the path was treacherously slippery we all avoided falling on our faces. The stars and planets seemed as bright as in the country. Mitch, an amateur astronomer, named many of them for us. The brightest one we'd been seeing low in the east was, indeed Sirius the Dog Star as someone had suggested a few days ago. We were all familiar with Mars -- we'd been watching its progress for months. But now Mitch pointed out Saturn shining brightly and steadily in the east.

Most exciting of all, we saw Space Satellite LaCrosse III gliding past Beltelgeuse above Orion's belt and then making its way between the two stars of Gemini. Lacrosse III was launched in 1989, Mitch informed us, and was flying at an altitude of 400 miles. It was supposed to appear at 6:37 according to an Internet site Mitch had consulted, but it appeared at 6:39. Why the delay? Atmospheric drag, Mitch explained. The term delighted us. We hadn't much of a clue as to what it meant but it sounded sort of racy. A moody dance? An airy disguise? On a note of high silliness we, like the owls, dispersed.

How to Succeed at the Hawkbench--#3

Left of The Octagon is Rusty Top, named for the rusty raised roof on the upper east section of the building. The slightly lower western section of the roof has railings and exhaust pipes which were used last season for perching.
North of Rusty Top is a building, two rows of three "windows" in the viewed side of the water tower cover, which is so seldom used it has no name.
Next up is a structure named in two sections. The rear area, with what appears to be a rounded doorway with a small hexagonal window above it, is called the Villa, infrequently used for roof perching. The front section is Smokestack, with a variety of exhaust pipes with round vented tops and a railing across the front. The hawks used these last season for perching, food stash, and at least one instance of copulation.
The furthest pale building to the north is Stovepipe, a huge favorite of both hawks. Follow the "steps" down from the roof and you'll see the vertical "stovepipes"that give the building its name. The "steps" also have handy railings, very often used by the hawks for perching during the off season as they offer great views for hunting. And during the breeding season, their many uses include, perching, copulation, eating, scanning for intruders, and cleaning prey. The hawks can often be seen circling above Stovepipe as well.
At the base of one of these railings Pale Male has been known to leave dinner for Lola before switching places with her on the nest. Lola would make a bee line for the food, eat her fill and then return to the nest to take over again. On at least one occasion, Pale Male was seen later in the day, finishing up Lola's leftovers.
Currently there is scaffolding around the upper sections of Stovepipe, offering added high perches during breaks and after work hours, but the presence of human activity has changed the hawks perching habits earlier in the day when compared to last year's habits.
Note-Just to the right of the stovepipes, if you look carefully, is a white satellite dish. Newly appeared it tended to be the most obvious marker on the building for novices at The Bench last season. Therefore some of last year's notes call Stovepipe, Satellite Dish sporadically.
To the right is the Oreo Building. Note the brown masonry with the white vertical stripe. The brown sections being the "cookie portions" and the white being the "frosting" of the Oreo cookie. This structure is very hawk friendly.
Look to the top of it's water tower cover, now to the right side. There is the grated chimney where Lola stands, spending large amounts of time. She warms herself in chill weather, and when the season is right, assumes the crouched, tail raised position that entices Pale Male over for copulation on the chimney.
On the left of the roof of Oreo is an antenna, another favorite perch. This time of year one of the first places one checks upon arriving at The Bench. It's an important sentinel position. If Lola is perched there and decides to leave for lunch, Pale Male will frequently take her place. Copulation also takes place here, and in the afterglow Pale Male and Lola will often sit side by side. One of the few positions they indulge in that humans see as "affectionate". Not that hawks are positively not affectionate, it's just we're not hawks so may not always recognize it when we see it.
(One afternoon, right before Pale Male Jr. left Charlotte and the kids on the nest to go hunting, he touched beaks with her. A hawk kiss? I can't say, but interesting as it's the only instance that we've observed.)
On the next level down of the Oreo, the perimeter of the floor is surrounded by more railings. The hawks makes good use of these as well, depending on weather, season, and sun. The tree that partially obscures the view of front wall is a favorite for clipping twigs to add to the nest.
Just to the left and behind The Oreo is The Shelves. A building for very rare activity.
Next up, the buildings from the nest to the south.

Donna Browne

Monday, February 13, 2006

Post-blizzard reports from Barbara, Jean, Amy and Bob on East and West owls

I didn't get to the post-blizzard fly-out last night, but put in a plea to the various owl-watchers to keep me informed. Three faithful previous correspondents and one brand new one sent in reports, all describing the events of the evening of 2/12/06:

The first is from Barbara Kent, a newly-addicted owlwatcher:

This eve I cross-country skied out to see our West Drive Screech Owls. I wasn't going to take any chance of missing any fly-out, so actually this time I was the first out there, later joined by Jean, Lee, Amy (a lovely woman from Rockport, Maine), Gabriel, & a couple I didn't get to talk to.

We got a good show. I'd estimate that I arrived around 5:30 when "spiffy male" was already living up to his name in full view, framed by his tear-shaped hole. I'd say he flew out around 5:50, this time surprising us perching quite high. He was still at this high perch when I had to leave around 6:45 pm. We were surmising that his higher perch was due to his being thrown by all that white stuff covering his potential dinner. Lee theorized that once we all left, his prey would probably come out in the open, following the well-plowed paths. Several times we saw the "unmade bed" female pop up to fill their plane tree hole, but she never flew out while we were there.

Jean Dane, a violist and one of Trump-Parc hawkwatchers of last season, sent in her notes on the same fly-out. Her time of fly-out is a few minutes earlier than the first reporter's, but Barbara did write "I'd say.." indicating an estimate. Looks like Jean checked her watch:

Well, I thought flyout might be later this evening, because lighter, with all the snow ­ wrong: he went out at 5:42 ­, about 10 minutes earlier than we've been seeing. He also flew higher than usual, and stuck on a high branch ­ still up there when we left. On the way home I was wondering if maybe he knows that all that lower, shrubby stuff is also flimsier = would have caused shower of snow and given away his whereabouts?

A couple of minutes after he flew out, the female's head appeared in the doorway ­ just for a few seconds and then she popped right back in. She did that again, every 5 minutes or so, but for longer periods ­ up to about a minute at a time. We thought she might fly, but all she did was peer out to see what was happening.

What was happening was many many people walking on Park Drive, cross-country skiing on Park Drive, dragging kids on sleds on Park Drive. Lots and lots of very cheerful people ­ good snow today, very good snow, excellent snow.

The final report on the West Drive owls' fly-out last night was sent in by Amy Campbell. I sent her directions on how to find the Owl Bench. This account of the fly-out is my reward:

Dear Marie,

I saw the flyout last night! The owl flew from the hole about 5:45 or a few minutes later and, according to regular watchers, flew onto a much higher perch where he remained, feathers all fluffed out, for the half hour we watched. Meanwhile the other bird made periodic appearences at the entrance, I'd perfer thinking more like Juliet coming to the balcony than the housewife taking time out from chores appearing at the window to see who's walking by. Now I can see why it's not as difficult as it might seem to follow the birds - it's quite light with all the street lights. And with the snow I am sure it was even brighter last night!

Thank you so much for the directions. I only regret not thanking the nice people - Barbara, Jean and Lee, I think were their names, for their warm welcoming on the cold night.

What about the
red morph Screech-owl , the one up the hill from the Boathouse? Bob Levy was there. He writes:

Marie, here is my first ever Post Blizzard Central Park Owling Report:

February 12, 2006

At about 4:00 PM I noticed that it had stopped snowing and decided to go to the park to see the record snowfall first hand. In my haste to get there I forgot to put on my watch so I cannot tell you with any precision what time I made the following observations. Somewhere around 4:45 PM I recognized Lincoln Karim aiming a video camera mounted on a tripod at the red morph Eastern Screech-Owl in its “old” den. I have been considering the theory that the red morph was absent from this particular tree cavity on cold days or during inclement weather but today presented evidence to challenge that notion. The temperature was about twenty-eight degrees and with the wind-chill factor it felt like twenty. It was only an hour since the biggest snowfall on record had stopped falling on New York City but I found the red morph in this shallow opening with a substantial portion of its body exposed to the frigid air. These facts did not support my theory. I have not ruled it out entirely, but I am close to scrapping it.

I left the owl and walked on but it was slow going on the slippery paths. As the light started to fade I had to make a decision whether to go to see the two gray morph owls fly out or go back to watch the red morph. I realized the ice and snow would slow me so much I would not make it in time to see the gray morphs. At this point I was afraid I might not get to the red morph quickly enough to see it leave. I opted for the red morph. As I approached I saw Lincoln lifting his tripod unto his shoulders. Seeing Lincoln preparing to leave I knew without asking that I had missed the owl’s fly out. Even so, as Lincoln passed me I asked, “Did the red morph fly out”? “Two minutes ago” he replied.

I was disappointed but undaunted. I had not asked Lincoln which direction the owl had gone but from my experience watching this particular bird I knew in which direction it most likely had gone. I began to search the area immediately west of its tree cavity. I moved as quietly as I could, stopping every few feet to listen and look before going a little further. I could not believe my good luck when only twenty feet from its den I heard the tremolo call of the Eastern Screech-Owl. I moved toward the sound and waited hoping for another call. I heard a second tremolo and knew I was close to the owl but I could not see it. As I did not have my watch I do not know how long I was there but I think it was ten minutes or more. There were seven tremolo calls in all. They were short and widely spaced. After its last call the red morph shot out of a tree and, flying only ten feet above the ground, disappeared again heading west. The owl had been about fifteen feet away during the entire episode and I had not known it.
For those who have observed this red morph, I wonder if you think it seem to be rather chatty? Many birders have heard it call on several occasions. I am still looking for a source to explain what these particular vocalizations might mean but I have not found it yet. Still, I do not have to completely understand it to enjoy it.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Quick screech update during the Big Blizzard of '06

Photo: N.Y. Times - 2/12/06

It was snowing lightly at 5:50 last night when the male Screech-owl left his hole in the West Drive London Plane. Martha, Mitch, Jean, Donna, Barbara, Helen, Lee, Noreen and I -- owl addicts all -- waited for a half hour longer, hoping to see the female owl fly out. She didn't appear. I guess she was waiting for a home delivery.

Today a Nor'easter has arrived, blanketing the city with snow. It's 3 pm and still snowing. People are skiing on the streets of Manhattan.I don't think I'm the only one thinking and worrying about the owls and other Central Park critters. . But I know I'll miss the fly-out tonight. I don't have skis or snoeshoes and I left my boots in my office downtown.

Continuing to the north, more hawk-watchers' nomenclature

From Donna:

Look north to the left of Shipshape [at the far right]. Before the eye reaches the next building on Fifth Avenue you see The Carlyle Hotel. It stands at 76th and Madison, a block east of Fifth.

Now look at The Carlyle's top, the gold pinnacle, then continue down to where the green roof meets the beige stone of the hotel. There, near that line of demarcation is a row of floodlights placed at intervals to illuminate the roof . These floodlights, whether for the view, their foot warming possibilities, or both, are among Pale Male and Lola's favorite perches. For hawk watching ease, they're numbered from the first light we can see from the Bench starting on the left, and continuing numerically to the right. Hence Carlyle 1, Carlyle 2 and so on.

Last season Pale Male and Lola celebrated Valentine's Day by copulating while perched on The Carlyle, a five star hotel.

To the left of The Carlyle is The Green Tile Building, named for its roofing material. On the south facing side of Green Tile, on the south end of the roof, there is a white building with a bit of railing between the chimneys that jut up. The area behind the railing and to the side of the white building, seen only from the south end of the Model Boat Pond, was a prime initial stash place for Pale Male's prey gifts to Lola during courtship. Though by far most hawk meals in Central Park are made of pigeon, Pale Male most often brought Lola her special favorites, rat and squirrel.

For another perch of significance, look at the the west facing windows of Green Tile, second row down, third window from the right. There is an air conditioner jutting out from that window. Both hawks use it, and Lola spent a good deal of time perched on that air conditioner during the days preceding egg laying. When a Red-tailed visitor appeared in their territory during those days, Pale Male would begin herding the intruder out of the territory. For some reason unknown to us, sometimes Lola would watch as Pale Male ushered the intruder away, and at other times, she would leap into flight and go after the visitor like a bullet. We've wondered if the first kind of visitor might have been immature hawks and the second roving females looking at Lola's guy. Then again the difference in behavior may have had nothing to do with the visiting Red-tail at all but rather with a difference in Lola's patience level on any given day.

After The Green Tile Building, going south, is The Octagon Building. Only very occasionally used for perching, we do see the birds circling above it very frequently. It's position or shape may tend to produce optimum wind currents for gaining altitude.

Okay so far, going north from 927, the nest building, are Woody, Shipshape, The Carlyle, Green Tile, and The Octagon. Next up will be Rusty Top.

Donna Browne