Saturday, November 18, 2006

Her eye is on the sparrow

Photo by Eleanor Tauber [sent as a Thanksgiving greeting]

[Though the House Sparrow is not really a sparrow, now that I think of it. It is in the Weaver Finch family. ]
At Thanksgiving time, I’m realizing how grateful I am for the beauty in just about all tTThhhhhpThough the House sparrow is not really a sparrow, now that I think of it. It is in the Weaver Finch familyhings — my eye is on the sparrow!


At Thanksgiving time, I’m realizing how grateful I am for the beauty in just about all things — my eye is on the sparrow!


Friday, November 17, 2006

What finally happened to Pale Mary?

Immature Red-tailed Hawk seen 7:15 a.m. on 11/15/06
Photo by Eleanor Tauber [with the Early Birders]

Many people have been wondering what happened to that immature Red-tailed Hawk that appeared in the ludicrous "Pale Mary" article I posted earlier in the week. [See Photo above for a view of the striped tail of an imm. redtail]

Katherine Herzog has done some digging and Donna Browne posted an update on her website - Http://
I'm including it below, with thanks to Donna and Katherine:

Katherine Herzog, hawkwatcher and researcher, has unearthed some information on the Brown-tail mentioned in The New York Post's article of November 2nd.

Kat got in touch with Mike Pastore, Director of Operations at Animal Care and Control, and he very nicely emailed her back with the information that the young hawk was found dazed and weak, and therefore was able to be approached and captured by a caring individual.

The Post article relates that after being rescued the brown-tail went first to The Animal Medical Center and then was given into the care of Animal Care and Control (ACC).

Mr. Pastore of ACC, told Katherine that the hawk was then rehabilitated by Bobby Horvath of Long Island. (Thanks, B. H.) And when fit, she was released where she had been found, in Queens near the 59th St. Bridge.

No information yet on exactly what might have been wrong with her; never fear we're still digging.

But don't you just love having a successful ending to a rescue?

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What it's like to be a writer

Readers occasionally ask questions about being a writer. Here's a piece I wrote some years ago that might cast light on the subject:


The package arrived as I was daydreaming about William Boot. Boot, you may remember, is the unprepossessing little guy who writes a nature column entitled "Lush Places" in Evelyn Waugh's comic masterpiece Scoop.

One of the reasons I like to think about Boot is because I too, write about nature, and Boot's prose style serves as an odd source of inspiration: "Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole..."

But I dream of more than Boot's exemplary style. Thanks to a case of mistaken identity, Boot's newspaper, The Beast, sends him to cover a revolution in the mythical country of Ishmaelia. There Boot survives hair-raising adventures and manages to scoop the rest of the foreign press corps, before returning to the plashy fen and his playful sister Priscilla, the one who once altered an article he had written about the habits of the badger by substituting "the great crested grebe" for "badger" throughout the manuscript, whereupon a certain major in Wales "challenged him categorically to produce a single authenticated case of a great crested grebe attacking a rabbit."

Boot's metamorphosis from quiet country writer to world- famous foreign correspondent always feeds my fantasy life whenever the going gets tough in the nature-writing business.

When the UPS man handed me that small package a few weeks ago, I knew within minutes that I too was involved in a case of mistaken identity. Actually, the mistake had to do with the book contained in that small package. With two birds in its title and pictures of three birds and a large speckled egg on its jacket, this book gave every indication of being a bird book. That's why it was sent to me.

It turns out that Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, has nothing to do with birds. It's a book about writing, a genre I usually avoid. But Fate had brought this book to my doorstep, and so I decided to read it. I ended up reading it twice and expect to dip in it again in times of need. For Anne Lamott understands better than anyone that writers need help and that writing is a deeply unpleasant occupation.

She describes what happens when she sits down to write: "You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again...There are voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed... There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind you have meningitis..."

This woman is uncanny. Just a few moments ago I felt a little pain too, but mine, I thought, might be a brain tumor.

Writers, she goes on to say "want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout -- the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self- loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation..."

Yes, she has put her finger on it. It's that old double whammy of grandiosity and self-loathing that makes writing so unbearable.

It's thrilling to know that all writers go through this in order to produce the smallest crummy thing. There may be one or two exceptions who just love to write, who sit down and can barely wait to start. But Anne Lamott tells you how to deal with the likes of them. Hate them, she advises.

It's not only because she gratifies every writer's deepest and whiniest sense of self pity that I recommend this book to other writers, amateur or professional, without reservation. She also gives some useful tips for overcoming the problems she describes so poignantly.

For grandiosity, Ms. Lamott recommends attacking your job in tiny increments -- short assignments, she calls them -- and then making sure you finish each little part. Finishing things, every writer knows, is the hard part. Take it bird by bird, as Ms. Lamott's father once advised her panic-stricken ten-year-old brother who had a report on birds due the next day and he had not begun it, though he had had the assignment three months.

Her other piece of useful advice has to do with first drafts. Don't be afraid to write atrocious first drafts, she says, though in place of atrocious she uses a word that cannot be printed in a family newspaper. It rhymes with pretty. And she warns that perfectionism is what stands between you and that excremental first draft; avoid it, she exhorts.

I didn't find the rest of her advice all that useful, but that may be because I don't write fiction, and some of her chapters have to do with characters and plot. I still enjoyed reading those sections, however, because they are very funny, and filled with stories about the author herself, her childhood, her family, and her son Sam. She writes so well, in fact, that it's hard to believe that she, too, has trouble with writing. That's what's so deeply comforting about this book.

There was one thing she didn't mention, and it happens to be something that works for me: finding inspiration in the works of others. Inspiration is a curious thing--like the Muse invoked by the Ancients. It can descend from all sorts of places. Sometimes, before I start to work, I am inspired by reading something by a great prose stylist like Joseph Mitchell. And then again, sometimes the Muse is summoned by the words of William Boot: "Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole..."

[Published in the Wall Street Journal on December 7, 1994 with the title: All Happy Writers are Alike: Detestable]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pale Mary -- or how not to be a journalist

Lola over Central Park - 11/13/06 --Photo by Lincoln Karim

A week ago Monday, 11/6/06, I received a call from a New York Times reporter. "Have you heard anything about Lola's accident?" he asked me . I was alarmed. After all, it was the New York Times calling. I asked him to tell me the details. He e-mailed me the following press release he had just received:

Contact Gary Kaskel,
United Action for Animals

Pale Mary, the falcon mate of Pale Male, is at the Animal Medical Center after collapsing in a Queens park on Monday.

The famous falcon couple living on Fifth Avenue got worldwide attention a couple years ago when the building tried to evict them. Residents of the tony coop included Mary Tyler Moore and newscaster Paula Zahn. The threatened eviction caused an onslaught of outrage and was eventually cancelled.

The birds now fly over Manhattan and Queens in a daily ritual observed by many admirers.

Animal rescuer Joe Mora was watching the birds from the Queens side of the park under the 59th Street bridge when he saw Pale Mary dive and eat a crow. Moments later the falcon became wobbly and lost flight, landing near the East River. Mora, knowing the identity of the famous falcon, rescued her from the ground and took the bird to Animal Medical Center in Manhattan where it is recuperating.

The bird's prognosis is unknown at this time.


Well, I felt a lot better after reading the release. The "falcon mate of Pale Male"? Only someone completely unknowledgable would call a red-tailed hawk a falcon. But that was the least of it. Everything else was wrong, What would Lola be doing in Queens? That's not part of the Fifth Ave.Hawks' territory.

And how in the world did any of the people who saw this accident identify the bird as Lola? Maybe Lincoln Karim, who watches Pale Male and Lola like a hawk, can always identify Lola, even ouside her territory, but I certainly can't. I easily identify her in context. If I see a dark-headed redtail in Central Park between, say 65th St. and 90th St. I assume it's Lola.

This is peak red-tailed hawk migration season. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of redtails are passing over the city, heading south. It is pretty ridiculous to assume that any single red-tailed hawk found in the area is a relative of Pale Male's. Pale Mary indeed!

The New York Times reporter was glad to hear that the story was unreliable and dropped it. I spoke to someone at NYC Audubon, who passed the info along to a reporter at the NY Post. But did they drop it? Not on your life. Though they could no longer claim it was Lola, somehow or other they forgot that there have been no offspring in the Fifth Avenue nest for the last two years, and they transmuted the fallen Queens bird into...Pale Male's Daughter.

Donna Browne [] posted the New York Post.article on her blog today. Read 'em and weep.


November 2, 2006 -- A year-old red-tailed hawk who is believed to be a daughter of Pale Male, the city's reigning raptor, is recovering from a flying accident.
The bird plummeted to the ground on Monday while flying near the 59th Street Bridge.
Joe Mora, an animal rescuer who was under the bridge watching a pair of red-tailed hawks, said that for some reason, the bird became wobbly when she dived to eat a crow and fell to the ground.
Mora took the hawk to the Animal Medical Center, where she was treated and released to the city's Animal Care and Control agency yesterday.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Joining the redtails on Fifth Avenue....a red bat!

A friend of Kellye Rosenheim's clicked the camera on her cell phone at lunch-time today as she was passing by 1065 Fifth Ave [88th St.] That's the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park off in the distance. Don't forget you can enlarge photos by clicking on them -- then you'll really see it's a red bat.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Note to correspondents and one more acorn

Mystery acorn #4- What am I?

NOTE: If you write me for the first time please include a clear nature subject in the subject line -- like "Acorn ID" or "hawk question" or "I love Moths" or the like. If an e-mail arrives with no subject, or with a word like "confused" or "Disagree" etc. in the subject line, I assume it's spam and delete it without reading.

A turkey for Thanksgiving

First ACORN is identified correctly by Dan Weaver who writes:

Turkey Oak, you can't walk around the reservoir without stepping on one. Dan

PS from Marie:
Acorn #2 is also from a Turkey Oak. Note the shaggy, hairy cup.