Friday, November 03, 2006

The Henslow scoop

Books are written about the climbing of Everest or the discovery [or non-discovery] of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. The story of how the elusive Henslow's Sparrow was found, the bird that created a major stir in Central Park this week, deserves at least a few paragraphs. Here's how it happened, straight from the discoverer himself, Lloyd Spitalnik.


Sheila, Harry and I were walking through the Pinetum on our way to the Reservoir. I walked a little ahead, as usual, and spotted a Pine Warbler on the lawn to the right. I hadn't taken too many pictures that day, so here was an opportunity. Because of this little guy, I stayed for more than a half hour taking images. Harry is very patient, but finally Sheila decided to leave.

Within 5 minutes of her departure I saw a little bird through the corner of my eye. It wasn't the Pine Warbler. I said to Harry "Get on this sparrow, it's something really good!" Quickly we called Sheila on her cellphone and fortunately she hadn't gotten very far.

I knew it was an ammodramus sparrow [a group of seven hard-to-find sparrows--MW] but wanted to make certain of its identity. I was on the phone with Sandy [Lloyd's wife -- an excellent birder--MW] describing the bird to her so she could look it up when Sheila got back. Fortunately she had a field guide with her. Then we knew for sure it was a Henslow's Sparrow.

A little earlier in the day, when we were at Sparrow Rock, Sheila had also said she was going to leave .That's when I said to her: "I'm going to find something good. You'd better stay, "" just to bust her chops a little and keep her in the park since it was such a warm day. Of course I never expected to find anything special. Boy was I surprised!

So now you have the story.

See you, Lloyd

Lloyd adds about his website: Http://

By the way, in addition to what's on the "Recent Work", page of my site, I've added an additional ten photos of the Henslow's in "Sparrows & Blackbird"

Thursday, November 02, 2006

You don't need a lot of teeth to be a Central Park birdwatcher

Meet Liliana Speiser, one of Central Park's youngest birders, and, by her expression, one of the most enthusiastic.If she gets as good at birding as her father David -- and she's starting young -- she should be a whiz one of these days.

Photo by David Speiser, who was one of the lucky ones to see the Henslow's Sparrow on Tuesday. I'm not sure Liliana saw it. Her one failing as a birder is an odd propensity to nap just as the best birds arrive.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

It's gone

Big crowd at the Pinetum around 7 a.m. this morning, hoping to see yesterday's Henslow's Sparrow. Alas. It was not found. Many birders are still hunting for it in the park.

Really Rare Sparrow!

Henslow's Sparrow - photo by Lloyd Spitalnik- 10/31/06

I know that something really rare has arrived in Central Park when my voicemail has 4 messages and e-mail has 6.

Yesterday was such a day. A Henslow's Sparrow --"a secretive sparrow of the fields, easily overlooked" says Roger Tory Peterson--was found at the Pinetum by Lloyd Spitalnik. The Birder's Grapevine spread the news, and quite a few birders had a chance to see it yesterday. The Early Birders are heading there this morning shortly after 7. Hope it's there. The photos above were sent by e-mail yesterday with an overly modest note:

Hi Marie, I guess you've heard about the Henslow's Sparrow I found in the park today. Here are some photos. I still have over 600 more to go through. Hopefully I'll have much better but these aren't bad :-} See you.

Check out Lloyd's website -- for other Henslow shots, and other great photos of birds.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Red Bat -- Then and Now

Red Bat - Laciurus borealis

Kellye Rosenheim, who is leading Wendy Paulson's Central Park bird walks when Wendy is in Washington [her husband, Henry Paulson, was appointed Secretary of the Treasury last June] had an interesting encounter with a red bat a week ago. There was one detail in her description that jogged my memory about something I'd read about the same species of bat.

Here, in her own words, is Kellye's well-observed description of her bat encounter[1], followed by a paragraph written by a noted ornithologist fifty years earlier[2], followed by a PS from Marie[3.]

[1] Picture this: 8:30 am, Sunday, October 22, a little chilly. I had a friend visiting from Colorado so we were watching this cardinal in a tree just ahead. All of a sudden, something hissed at it and I thought it was a snake coming out of the leaves to strike at it. But I put my binoculars on it, and it was a bat, with its side to me and the "snake's body" that I thought I saw was its wing extended out.
I could see its face. Its little mouth was open with the teeth showing. It was hanging upside down, not, I believe from the branch, but clinging to a big leaf, kind of hiding behind it. The fur was red all over its body (about 4 inches long) and the skin on its wing was black except where the bones underneath were -- there it was reddish, like its fur. It was just awesome. Eventually, it retracted its wing and went back into hiding, but not before a hermit thrush dove at it as it would at an owl.

As for where it was, exactly, let's say you want to walk down to the Point. You're on the sidewalk running east-west from the Boathouse, and you turn toward The Point on the path. You stop off near that railing on the right and step out onto the rock cliff.

Looking down, you see the swampy area below. If you were to look out at eye level, you'd see the willows on the left, but straight ahead there's a tree, I don't know what kind -- not an oak or an evergreen -- that has oval leaves, pointed at the end, about 4 inches long and the leaves hang down vertically from the twig branches they grow on. They grow in a line down the branch.

The bat was hanging onto the leaf near its stem, or so it appeared. I'm quite certain it was not grabbing onto the little twig branch because we would have seen its feet. The bat itself was at eye level, if you're standing on the cliff there.
It kind of looked like a dead leaf behind some green leaves. In fact, I should say, the leaves on its tree were all still green.

[2] Here's the article I remembered when I read Kellye's description:

In the the August, 1956 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy in an article on page 442 entitled Migration Records of the Red Bat, Lasiurus borealis, the ornithologist John K. Terres wrote:

"On September 1, 1955, I caught a live female red bat with my hands that I saw hanging from the branch of a wild black cherry tree in Central Park, New York City. The bat was only about eight feet above the ground, and bore a striking resemblance to a dead brown leaf. It hung from a twig among a cluster of green leaves, and was asleep when I caught it. I examined it for ectoparasites but found none. I returned it to its perch by putting its feet to the twig, which it clutched, and after a momentary shuffling of its wings, seemed to go back to sleep. When I came back to look for it the next day it was gone." [Note: John K. Terres wrote The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of N.A. Birds, a fine reference resource many of you may have]

[3] PS from Marie: Yesterday morning I went to the spot Kellye described, and stood on that rocky ledge looking down into the Oven. There are only two trees that could possibly be her bat tree, a Black Cherry, pretty much straight ahead, [somewhat shiny green leaves] and a Hackberry with a branch growing out and almost touching the rock. I think it more likely that the bat was in the Black Cherry.

A thought occurred to me as I stood there. Could this Black Cherry have been John Terres' very tree in which he saw his bat back in 1955? I figure that even if he had been quite tall he couldn't have reached out and removed a sleeping bat that was 8 feet up in a tree. Consequently, he must have been standing on an elevation where the trees' higher branches could be seen at eye level. Like the rocky ledge looking down into the Oven, where sharp-eyed Kellye Rosenheim saw her first red bat.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pale Male's "playmate"

A few days ago VJ Barre, a website correspondent wrote:

I have a question about pictures from Lincoln's site - they are of Lola and an unidentified RTH. Lincoln says they look to be playing together, or interacting in a positive manner. However, how can he tell? Reading some of J. Blakeman's past posts about Redtails "normal" territorial behavior, one could conclude that Lola should run off the new hawk, no matter if it's a possible "grandkid" or not. But due to the abundance of food would she tolerate another bird, even end up "playing" with it?

I was confident that the "play" activities of Pale Male and the young outsider that Lincoln suggested was one of Pale Male's grandchildren, were some form of mild territorial behavior.

Then a frequent website correspondent, Karen Kolling, wrote to John Blakeman to get his opinion. Here is his answer:

These sorts of semi-social interactions between resident adults and migrating immatures, particularly in high-quality red-tail habitats (as we now know Central Park to be) are rather common. At this time of the year, the resident adults "know" that the vagrant youngster is not trying to expropriate the territory, and that there's enough food for everyone just now.
Consequently, the presence of these temporal interlopers is often tolerated for a time.

But the young bird is not a playmate in any real sense. Red-tails (and other hawks) communicate by visual displays, as in the stunning courtship dives in February and March. The so-called play is some behavioral jousting to let all parties know their places.

And the question has been raised concerning the possibility of this bird being some second or third generation relative of Pale Male. That's almost impossible, as this bird almost surely has come down from its natal region much farther to the north. It's late October, at the very height of the red-tail migration season. Any of Pale Male's progeny of the region have almost surely departed to more southern regions. This is almost surely is a bird hatched somewhere to the north in New England, or even southern Canada.
But like Pale Male himself, lo those many years ago, it discovered that Central Park is an ideal red-tail habitat and is hanging around as long as possible. I've seen birds like this stay for the entire winter in our Ohio red-tailed hawk "Central Parks," mostly in dedicated wildlife areas and marshes along Lake Erie where large expanses of meadows are filled with meadow voles. In February or March, the resident adults push out the immature vagrants and reclaim the territories for themselves.
Let's see how long this immature sojourns in Central Park. It could be a week, or an entire winter season. Great stuff to watch, especially with a proper understand of the involved hawk sociology.

--John Blakeman