Friday, December 22, 2006

Yesterday was SOLSTICE DAY

One of these was on the Lake on Solstice Day!
Wood Duck on Reservoir - Photo by Cal Vornberger

First, a note from a website correspondent. Then an article from today's Guardian, a British newspaper


The other day you wrote about the winter solstice in and around NYC ... .

Another interesting fact, at least around here is that East as in the place the sun rises changes with the seasons, it moves to the right and then to the left... I did not learn that many, many years after I had thought there was one East and the Sun always rose there and one West and that the Sun always set there. True East and West are variants of the seasons...

This is not a rocket scientist, just somebody interested in the Heavens...

Happy New Year !


Here's the article. Note the last two sentences...Guess I'm a pagan too.

Stonehenge ceremonies start early

Steven Morris
Friday December 22, 2006
The Guardian

Some had turned up in flowing robes while others were wearing lovingly-crafted winter solstice wreaths decorated with berries and ivy.The problem for the assorted pagans, druids and pantheists who arrived at Stonehenge yesterday morning to celebrate the winter solstice was that they had arrived a day early.Around 60 people had gathered at the stone circle, cloaked in frost and fog, to celebrate what they believed was the winter solstice. The staff who guard the precious monument in Wiltshire explained they were 24 hours early.

However, they allowed the disappointed, and in some cases embarrassed, celebrants on to the site anyway to take part in rather muted ceremonies.The winter solstice tends to be more muted than its summer equivalent anyway.

Almost 20,000 people showed up this summer whereas last year 1,500 came to the winter version.As it always does, English Heritage had discussions with druid and pagan groups to decide when the winter solstice should be celebrated.

Many people think it always falls on December 21. However, the solstice varies and the time when it ought to be celebrated is open to different interpretations.

The astronomical moment of the solstice was actually at 22 minutes past midnight today - and so English Heritage and many pagans believed the solstice celebration ought to have been celebrated at sunrise this morning. They had asked celebrants to arrive at 7.45am today.

The head of the Druid Network, Emma Restall Orr (also known as Bobcat), said: "Pagans are not entirely scientific. They are more guided by nature."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Home sweet home, his and mine

Red-headed woodpecker at its Riverside Park roost hole

Red-headed woodpecker with characteristic white back markings
Photos by Cal Vornberger [author of Birds of Central Park]

Though this site is dedicated to nature in Central Park, here's a bird I'm including even though it's not in the park because:

1. It's an uncommon, rarely-encountered bird around here

2. Almost every serious Central Park birder has made a trip across town to Riverside Park to see this bird

and finally

3. This bird has chosen to roost, perhaps for the winter-- in a tree right outside my house.

It's a Red-headed Woodpecker. Lenore Swenson, an Early Birder, discovered it last Sunday, while covering Riverside Park for the NYC Christmas Bird Count. She called Tom Fiore, who has a special liking for Red-head Woodpeckers [I believe] and he passed the news along to the world.

Question: Why is its head brown and not at all red?

Answer. It's immature. The Riverside Park bird actually has a few red head feathers already but you can't see them on the photograph. By spring its head should turn a bright bright beautiful red.

If you want to see a nice picture of a Red-headed Woodpecker with a really red head look in your stamp box or drawer. The bird on a commonly used 2 cent stamp is a Red-headed Woodpecker..

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cantor to Post to Spitalnik

Trumpeter Swan on Reservoir - 12/16/06

photos by Lloyd Spitalnik

Remember Tinker to Evers to Chance? Well, Cantor to Post to Spitalnik, that's how the news was passed down about the Central Park Trumpeter Swan, a very unusual bird that made an appearance at the Reservoir on December 16th :

Irv Cantor, an ace birdwatcher who goes way, way back, first spotted an unusual swan siting on the dike in the Central Park Reservoir.

[actually ace birdwatcher David Speiser's wife Kimberly was jogging around the Reservoir on Saturday morning when a fellow jogger told her about an odd swan she'd seen there.. When Kimberly got home she mentioned it to David. But he didn't follow up. So he was not #1. Maybe Kimberly's jogger friend was.]

At the Boathouse a little later Irv Cantor met Peter Post, another ace Central Park birdwatcher who goes way back, but not as way back as Irv Cantor. He headed for the Reservoir. As soon as he saw the bird Peter called Lloyd Spitalnik, yet another ace CP birdwatcher. He told him there was an unusual swan on the Reservoir that was either a Tundra Swan or a Trumpeter Swan. Lloyd headed right over with his camera.

Post script:

Before leaving for the Reservoir, Lloyd called yet another ace birdwatcher Harry Maas, who dropped everything, raced to the park, and got there even before Lloyd.

Once at the Reservoir the binocular gang debated about the species of swan. Was it a Trumpeter Swan, America's largest, or a Tundra Swan, our smallest? [Both are nevertheless big, big birds]. A decision was finally reached. It was a Trumpeter Swan. An exciting discovery. But since there is a reintroduction program for this species in New York State the bird is not yet on the official state list. Once it is established it will be added to the list.

Alas, the swan did not stay for the Christmas Count the next day. Now THAT would have been a coup for the Central Park Count. But by 7 a.m. when a number of birders arrived at the Reservoir to search for the swan it was gone. But perhaps because it's not officially on the state list yet it couldn't have been counted anyway. Ah sweet mysteries of birdwatching...

Here's a link to a good discussion about telling Trumpeters and Tundras apart

Monday, December 18, 2006

It may not be Rocket Science, but...he's a Rocket Scientist

Red-tailed hawk seen overhead at 10:16 a.m. at the Count
Photo by Bruce Yolton

Two days ago I posted a letter I'd gotten from a reader concerning the number of redtails seen on the Central Park Christmas Count. In my reply I noted that the number of redtails reported in the final tally is a rough estimate. I ended by saying : "In short, reporting flying birds of prey at a Christmas Count is not Rocket Science."

The reader wrote back to say:

Just an FYI: I work for NASA.

How many redtails at the Christmas Count?

Some of the Ramble Team just before starting out at the Christmas Count
Missing, among others, Bruce Yolton, who took this picture.
There is more info about the count, and more pictures on Bruce's site:

To give you an idea of some of the complicated calculations that are part of a Christmas Count, and also an idea of the close scrutiny Central Park's redtails receive, here's a letter I just received from a knowledgable reader followed by my response:


I saw the note on your blog [12/17/06] about ten red-tail hawks being counted
in the Central Park Christmas count today.

Would you happen to know what the adult/juvenile breakdown was
on that count?

I know of seven red-tails who would be about, the three nesting pairs
and at least one juvenile that has been hanging about. Two juveniles
if the one I have seen in the north woods is not the same as the one
who's been "playing" with Lola.

However, Bruce Y. and I briefly discussed last weekend whether there
might be another adult or pair who have claimed the area on the west
side south of the Pool.


I answered:

The ten was a very rough estimate decided upon at the compilation after the count. The total red-tail sightings of the seven separate reporting groups was 13. Since all but one of the sightings were of birds flying, it is assumed that some of the sightings were of the same bird. The groups must give times and directions of flight [i.e. redtail 10:16 am flying W] of all flying hawk sightings. Then if the times seem close and the direction works out, it's assumed it was the same hawk. So that's how it was reduced to ten. But it's perfectly possible that some of the others were also repeats. Also, many of the reports did not include info about whether it was an adult or immature.

In short, reporting flying birds of prey at a Christmas Count is not Rocket Science.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pale Male Fly-out on the day of the Christmas Count

Lincoln Karim took this photo yesterday [12/16/06] as Pale Male was settling into his night roost in an Oak on the west side of the Great Lawn.

I was there this morning, together with Lincoln, to see the famed redtail wake up and fly out from the same tree. Sunrise was at 7:14 a.m today. Pale Male took off at 6:56 a.m. just as the day was getting lighter. He flew to another tree just a little to the west and stayed there for about ten minutes. Then another adult redtail came into view and Pale Male took off in pursuit. Was it Lola? No. A quick look up at the S. tower of the Beresford showed that Lola was still there at her favorite night roost. The other bird must remain unidntified. Pale Male escorted him out, but rather politely, we thought. Perhaps it was Charlotte or Junior.

Christmas Bird Count

Pale Male & Lola, both counted at the Christmas Count this morning
Photo by Lincoln Karim

Today was the day for the annual Central Park Christmas Bird Count. About 50 people gathered at the South Pump House to spend a few hours ranging through designated sections of the park and counting every single bird. [The Ramble team had 342 House Sparrows, 122 White-throated Sparrows, 65 House Finches, and 20 Northern Cardinals, among others]

The appointed hour for meeting was 8 a.m. I was part of the Ramble team. Bruce Yolton was on the team too, taking photos which I'm sure he'll post on his website soon. Check it out:

The major disappointment of the morning: no owls were found by any of the seven teams, not a Long-eared Owl, not a saw-whet, not a Screech to be found There were ten different redtails seen, however, as well as a Cooper's Hawk, and a kestrel.

The most gratifying moment: our team found a Rusty Blackbird feeding near Bank Rock Bridge. It was the only uncommon bird found at the Count.

The weather was balmy and beautiful, the best I can remember of any of the 15 or so Christmas Counts I've attended. Most of the birdwatching community was there -- a notable event.

Below, from the NYC Audubon website, is a brief description and history of the Christmas Bird Count.

Christmas Bird Count

Volunteers have been counting birds on the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for 106 years, and their efforts represent a valuable resource for learning about bird behavior, movements and ultimately conservation. Much has happened in the last 100 plus years, and the CBC is a great way to discover those changes. Again this winter, groups of citizen scientists, led by a compiler, will head out and count birds in 15-mile radius circles on one day between December 16 and January 7. The collected data will be added to an ever-growing database. This resource provides valuable information to research scientists who study early winter bird populations across North America. Click here for an extensive bibliography.

The first CBC was led by scientist and writer Frank Chapman of the New York Audubon Society. On December 25, 1900, 27 Audubon conservationists in 25 localities posed an alternative to the “side hunt,” a Christmas tradition of teams competing to shoot the most birds and small mammals. Chapman and his group instead identified, counted, and recorded all the birds they saw, founding the world’s most significant citizen-based conservation effort.