Friday, December 15, 2006

What's happening when Pale Male gets up

Two planet, a bright reddish star and a sliver of a waning moon are promised for Sunday and Monday mornings.

Sunrise will be 7:15 on December 18th. You won't have to get up all that early to see the show -- 6:35 a.m should do it. And guess what? That's exactly the time Pale Male gets up these days.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The annual SOLSTICE message

sunrise over NYC
I seem to post this every year. Here's last year's, with the dates changed for 2006-2007.

Many of you think, as I long did, that the winter solstice -- December 21 --marks the time when sunset begins to come later, and sunrise earlier. Maybe it works that way at the Equator, but not in this neck of the woods, New York City, nor, almost certainly, in yours. Nothing really changes on December 21st.

According to the US Naval Observatory's statistics for New York City, the sun set at 4:29 pm yesterday, December 13th. That is one minute later than it set the day before. From now on the sun begins to set later and later until July 2, 2007.

And yet December 13th is more than a week before the actual solstice which will be at 7:22 p.m on December 21
this year. The difference is at the other end of the day. Though the sunset is getting later, the sun will continue to rise later and later long after the solstice day.

Today, Dec 14, the sun rose at 7:12 a.m. The sunrise will not start getting earlier until... January 10th! On that day the sun will rise at 7:19 a.m, one minute earlier than the day before. After that it will rise earlier and earlier and the mornings will get lighter and lighter. January 10th is the turn-around day for sunrise.
It will rise earlier and earlier until June 21, 2007.

So I am proposing two new holidays to take the place of the old pagan celebrations of the solstice. Let's give a cheer for December 13th and January 10th--the glorious Turn-around Days for 2006-2007
. They hold out the promise that the Early Birders, the Wednesday morning birdwatching group whose meeting time is 7:00 a.m., won't have to convene in the dark for much longer, and that soon those hoping to see Pale Male and Lola settle in at their night roost trees will be able to come at the end of their work day, not in mid-afternoon..

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Geminid meteor shower

Wednesday, December 13

The Geminid meteor shower, possibly the year's best, should peak late tonight in the moonless dark sky. The best time should be from about 10 p.m. until moonrise before dawn. Bundle up very warmly, find a place with a wide-open sky view and no glary lights, lie back on the ground or in a reclining lawn chair, and watch the stars. The best direction to look is where your sky is darkest. Give your eyes at least 20 minutes to dark-adapt. You may see a meteor a minute on average.
[source: Sky&Telescope magazine]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Residents and Visitors

Three residents and two visitors in the park today:

Northern Cardinal
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik
[though there are plenty of cardinals in Central Park, this bird was actually photographed at the Bronx Botanical Garden]

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Photo by Cal Vornberger

House Finch
Photo by Cal Vornberger

Hooded Merganser
Photo by Bruce Yolton

Pied-billed Grebe
Photo by Bruce Yolton

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pale Male, Superstar

Pale Male & Lola at Great Lawn, Dec. 10, 2006
photo by Lincoln Karim

Some thoughts about the past:

Celebrity worship is not a recent phenomenon. “There’s always been a cult of celebrity,” Joyce Carol Oates once noted. “The instinct to worship is so deeply embedded in the human soul, we naturally look to individuals elevated above the masses, however minimally they might be elevated, and temporarily.”

It was only a matter of time before one of those individuals chosen for worship turned out to be elevated above the masses quite literally: Pale Male, the first avian superstar, flying above the Model-boat Pond while pursuing a flock of pigeons, or making lazy circles in the sky with his true love Lola.

After the nest-removal crisis and the public hue and cry that followed, Pale Male Superstar moments began happening in the park. You’d see a few strollers ambling along, tourists, perhaps or New Yorkers taking a shortcut to get to an appointment. Then someone would look up and scream “It’s Pale Male! Look, it’s him!” They’d all begin to jump up and down like contestant on Jeopardy. It was a celebrity sighting like any other, something to tell the family when you got home, the way you’d do if you spotted Meryl Streep shopping at Zabars, or Johnny Depp getting into a taxi.

The name Pale Male was a crucial ingredient in creating the hawk’s celebrity. You can’t have celebrity without a name. Doubtless the fact that the hawks had names was an important part of the overwhelming public response to the nest-removal crisis. People who knew and cared nothing about birds were able to anthropomorphize them into a humanoid couple whose "love nest" had been torn down by a wicked landlord.

But it was not just the fact that the hawk had a name. The name itself -- Pale Male -- had a particularly engaging sound—it pronounced trippingly on the tongue. Even the echo of Pall Mall , either pronounced as Americans do, to rhyme with ball, or with the upper class British pronunciation, Pell Mell , gave the name a special charisma, a zing. People liked to say it—Pale Male. Pale Male and Lola. The names could pull the emotion lever all by themselves, even without the pathetic story of the nest removal..

People wept when they heard that Pale Male and Lola’s nest had been destroyed. It seemed like a brutal act perpetrated on the birds by heartless humans, causing them suffering and anguish. What could be worse than having your home destroyed after ten idyllic years and 23 children? But that certainly was not the way the birds perceived it. They had no understanding of the machinations of a privacy-minded Board of Directors who hated the public attention these famous hawks focused on their building. From the birds’ point of view it was all much simpler.

As Ohio redtail expert John Blakeman explained it, redtail nests are destroyed by natural forces all the time, by storms, winds, torrential rains. The birds don't "suffer" when this happens. They are hard-wired to deal with it. They'll just build a new nest when the next breeding season begins. They often build a new nest even if an old one is not destroyed. Indeed, according to Blakeman, a single nest having a ten-year run is rare indeed.

Though the nest-removal crisis was a perfect media event, though people loved to read about how the billionaires repented of their sins, hired an architect and spent big bucks putting up a new structure for the bereft hawk couple, the outcome was almost certainly not advantageous for the hawks. Instead of building an expensive stainless-steel structure on the ledge it would have been better to keep them off the site somehow. Then they might have built a nest in a tree somewhere in the park—it was still early in the season -- and the following April’s nest failure might have been precluded.

The spring after the nest-removal crisis the hawks sat and sat on eggs, from March [2005] until the middle of June, almost a month too long. But in spite of everything, most of the hawkwatchers remained optimistic.. On the day Pale Male and Lola finally abandoned the unsuccessful nest that first year, I find in my notes: Ah well, I do believe they'll do fine next spring.

P.S. They didn’t.

Did you have problems with this page yesterday and the day before?

Experimentally, I put some photos on the website in an unorthodox way. It seemed to work. But now I know it was a terrible idea. Many people have written that their computer froze, or something else terrible happened I don't even understand, when they called up those pages.

I've deleted one whole post from the website, the one with the nice photo of a Long-eared Owl, which I had copied from an old website of mine. Obviously the two systems don't happily co-exist. And I've deleted Bruce Yolton's photo of swans on the Central Park Lake. Nothing wrong with the photo, just with the way I transferred it to my website.

Sorry, everyone. I'll try not to stray from the straight and narrow again. [But it's so much fun to experiment...And the present system of transferring pictures to the website is time-consuming, AND often doesn't even work. ]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Swan Lake

We haven't had Mute Swans on the Lake in Central Park for several years. When the phragmites-infested strip known as Swan Island, once the favorite nesting ground for swans, was covered with black plastic and drastically altered as part of the Conservancy's much needed restoration plan, the resident swans took offense and off. [By the way, does anybody know the name of that particular rhetorical device, another example of which is He stood his ground and her up?]

Now there's another pair sailing around the Lake. Mute Swans, being an introduced species, are not beloved in the ornithology world. But they are beautiful and give the Lake a touch of class. That's my own opinion. I hope I'm not drummed out of the corps for uttering it.