Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sad second anniversary

Photo by Cal Vornberger --2004 - the last successful nesting

Yes, two years ago today was the day they took down Pale Male and Lola's nest. Who could forget.

Call me Pollyanna if you wish, but my thoughts today are on the good things that happened as a result of the nest-removal crisis of December, 2004. In no particular order here are some:

An infusion of new people into the Central Park nature community--many new enthusiasts who first showed up at the Bring Back the Nest protests and then stayed to become Central Park Regulars -- Donna Browne for example and many many others. The Trump-Parc hawkwatchers,[Bruce Yolton, for instance] the St. John the Divine hawk worshippers -- both tight-knit groups were largely composed of people who first showed up in December 2004.

John Blakeman -- who first wrote a letter to my website the day after the nest was taken down, offering his services as an adviser in the crisis, and who soon became a great fount of information about red-tailed hawks . Always willing to answer questions, even when asked again and again. This is a rare resource for all of us, and we have the crisis to thank for it. And of course John Blakeman himself. Thanks.

Many new website friends I've made over the past few years, correspondents who have written many times, asking questions, offering advice, sending questions and pictures and, one unforgettable time, sending a box of avocados and limes from her backyard trees for all the hawkwatchers to share.

Finally -- and this one is a mixed blessing, -- the creation of a new celebrity in our midst: Pale Male. Thanks to the huge media coverage of the nest removal, our hawk has become as famous as any Hollywood star. It's fun to provide a celebrity sighting to so many tourists in the park, to watch their excitement when told that they're actually seeing the world famous hawk on that branch there, or on that rooftop there.
It's also a little -- well -- off-putting. We're here in the park to get away from all that, the celebrity culture, the world of sound bites and publicity agents and reality show on television. No, this isn't the Pale Male Reality show, I want to say. No, that's not the reason we're all here.
But if Pale Male brings people in the park, maybe it's a good thing after all.
The park works its magic in mysterious ways--it can infiltrate peoples' lives, it can transform a celebrity seeker into a nature lover just like that.

Those are my thoughts on this cold December anniversary. And one more thought creeps in, a hopeful one. Maybe this is the year for babies in the nest again. Hope is the thing with feathers, right? Red tail-feathers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

First Frost

A Restless Bush Cricket on a leaf near Delacorte Theater
[Click on photo to enlarge]

It's been an unusually balmy fall. If I'm not mistaken last night was the first time the temperature dropped below the freezing point in this part of the country. The first frost. Here's why this makes me sad:

For the past few weeks I've still been hearing occasional cricket song as I walk through the park. Certainly not the glorious chorus of late summer and early fall, but a few little chirps here and there A cheerful sound.

A week ago, on November 29 to be exact, a small group of us wandered through the park looking for owls. We had to settle for a little hotbed of singing crickets near the north end of the Reservoir. It was a remarkable sound for late November, and a sign that the temperature had not yet descended below 32 degrees.

The sad reality is that come the first frost and that's the end of most insect life, at least the life of the adults.. Eggs have been laid that will hatch in the spring, cocoons have been formed from which larvae will emerge in the spring, and some insects in adult form will live through the winter in hibernation, to come to life in warmer weather.

But there will be no more cricket song after the first frost. John Keats shows a knowledge of this in the famous sonnet I've copied below when he notes that the frost has wrought a silence. That's the sad part.

But the silence is only in the outdoor world, Keats reminds us. All bets are off if an insect's life cycle is altered through human intervention,. A cricket finding a place in a nice warm cottage will sing long after cricket and grasshopper song has vanished from the woods and fields.

Keats implies, at least by omission, that crickets do not sing in summer, only grasshoppers do. Of course we know this is not so.

On the Grasshopper and the Cricket

The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper's--he takes the lead
In summer luxury,--he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket's song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper's among some grassy hills.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The fatal Memorandum

First, a correction:

I got a letter of the name of that memorandum wrong in my posting of a few days ago --Thought it was an acronym for Migratory Bird Treaty Memorandum. But its officially called a Migratory Bird Permit Memorandum. [I've corrected it now]

So it's MBPM-2

Sorry about the mistake.

A number of people have written to ask what they could do to try to get rid of that memorandum. I'm reprinting below a long Petition someone came up with around the time of the crisis. I don't know if it was ever sent in. Maybe we should give it a try. And maybe it might inspire some of you to come up with other ideas:

Pursuant to Section 11-0311 of the Environmental Conservation Law
Commissioner Erin M. Crotty
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233–1011

WHEREAS the Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a species of bird defined as a “protected bird” under the Environmental Conservation Law of the State of New York and as a “migratory
bird” under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and

WHEREAS section 11-0505(5) of the Environmental Conservation Law states that “No person shall rob or wilfully destroy a nest of any protected birds unless a permit shall first be obtained from the department,” and WHEREAS section 11-0505(7) of the Environmental Conservation Law states that “No person
shall at any time disturb a nest box or any structure constructed for the purpose of harboring wild birds whether or not such structure is inhabited by wild birds, except for annual maintenance of
such structure or when deemed necessary by the owner of the property whereupon such structure is located,” and

WHEREAS the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as codified at 16 U.S.C. 703, provides that
“Unless and except as permitted by regulations made as hereinafter provided in this subchapter, it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture,
kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or eggs of any such bird,” and

WHEREAS the above-cited provisions of the Environmental Conservation Law contemplate the issuance of permits for the destruction of nests of protected birds, including Red-Tailed Hawks, and expressly permit the disturbance of nest boxes or other structures constructed for the purpose
of harboring wild birds, including Red-Tailed Hawks, when deemed necessary by the property owner, and

WHEREAS federal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibition against the taking of nests of migratory birds, including Red-Tailed Hawks, has been undermined by a U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service policy memorandum, which interprets the Act as prohibiting only the possession of nests, or the destruction of nests containing birds or eggs, and thus as permitting the destruction of nests not containing birds or eggs, and

WHEREAS the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act appears to be an attempt to weaken bird protections that might present legal obstacles to activities such as logging, mechanized agriculture, and construction, and

WHEREAS an individual Red-Tailed Hawk, known as “Pale Male,” and a series of female mates have actively nested for over a decade on the façade of 927 Fifth Avenue, in the City and County of New York, successfully fledging 23 offspring, and

WHEREAS the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently advised the corporate owner of the property at 927 Fifth Avenue that federal law permitted the owner to destroy the nest at that location because it contained no eggs or birds, and

WHEREAS, on December 7, 2004 – a date which will live in infamy among New York’s defenders of wildlife – agents of the property owner destroyed that nest and prevented its reconstruction by removing the metal reinforcements that had secured it, and

WHEREAS the revival of raptor populations within the City of New York has been a goal and a proud achievement of local and state wildlife conservation efforts, and

WHEREAS the Red-Tailed Hawk known as “Pale Male” has become the most recognizable symbol of the revival of Manhattan’s raptor population, of the ability of the ability of wild birds to coexist with humans in New York City’s urban environment, and of the need to accommodate and facilitate the presence of wildlife within that environment, and

WHEREAS the visible presence of breeding raptors in our midst is an asset of incalculable and unique significance to the City and State of New York, and

WHEREAS section 11-0311 of the Environmental Conservation Law empowers the Department of Environmental Conservation “to give to any wildlife or fish, other than migratory fish of the sea, protection or additional protection to that afforded” by the Fish and Wildlife Law, upon the filing of a petition signed by ten more citizens and stating the grounds on which such protection is necessary and giving their addresses;

DESIRING to afford further and greater protection to the health, safety, and reproductive success of Red-Tailed Hawks than is provided by the laws of the state of New York or by federal law as
currently interpreted and enforced by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and
EXERCISING our right to petition for additional protection of wildlife species pursuant to section 11-0311 of the Environmental Conservation Law,
RESPECTFULLY PETITION, upon the grounds herein given and for other reasons that could be elaborated more fully in a public hearing held in the City of New York pursuant to section 11-0311 of the Environmental Conservation Law, for the adoption of regulations
Prohibiting, within the City of New York, the destruction, disturbance, taking, harassment, or collecting of Red-Tailed Hawks or their nests, or the disturbance without a permit of any structure used by Red-Tailed Hawks for nesting purposes, and

FURTHER REQUEST that the Department use all appropriate means within its statutory authority to enforce such regulations and those laws and regulations now in effect.