Saturday, February 03, 2007

More signs of spring: Jack reports

photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

This morning I heard a Cardinal singing by the Azalea Pond. And a Red-winged Blackbird sang once by the Riviera (complete song this time, not just throat-clearing gurgle).The Pied-billed Grebe at the Reservoir is getting the black band on it's bill.

Only 42 days until the first Phoebe! (That's to my date, St. Pat's day)
Jack Meyer [will be leading bird walks during spring migration!]

PS from Marie: St. Patricks is March 17th. My earliest Phoebe record is on March 12th.

PPS Now that the Red-winged Blackbirds are singing, you might want to read Bob Levy's book about his adventures with redwings in Central Park. It's called Club
George: The diary of a Central Park birdwatcher.

Sticks at the Beresford

Pale Male and Lola at the Beresford -Jan. 17, 2007

Reader Nan Brodsky saw a photo on Lincoln's website and asked this question:

In photos of PM & Lola at the Beresford, there are branches showing. Do you think this was a former nest for someone or possibly a private stash for them to take to their 5th Avenue location?

I sent the question to John Blakeman. Here's his reply:


About the small pile of sticks at the Beresford building perch. I'm certain that this was never intended by the pair to become a new nest site. As everyone has seen, Pale Male and Lola continue to favor the 927 nest site. It will be used once again this year (and we hope, successfully).

The Beresford sticks are merely incidental to the tendency of experienced red-tails to carry around sticks in the late fall and winter. As with so many other red-tail behaviors, this stick-carrying is ritualistic, not cerebral or decisive in any higher mammalian way. The birds were just going through the motions. They've already got a nest in place, and they may perceive that all is essentially well with it.

But because the pair is a fully functioning, experienced breeding pair, with no momentary concerns, they have a continuing, low-level, background impulse to attend to nesting matters. And no nesting activity is more elemental or basic than snapping off a twig or two and carrying it somewhere in the territory and parking it.

Actually, I've never seen any of this with my wild nesting red-tails in Ohio (but that might be because I simply don't spend any significant amount of time out in the cold winter landscape looking for my distant red-tail pairs---too little to be seen). I think the Beresford stick pile is just another manifestation of the ample and available prey in Central Park. Pale Male and Lola have food in abundance, even when it gets cold and snowy. Consequently, they've got a lot of free time on their hands, as might be discerned from Lincoln's photo of the pair sitting up there shoulder to shoulder. Do they look like they're worried about anything?

That's not real lubby-dubby love in any human sense. Red-tails don't have the brain parts to accomplish any of that. But this physical closeness happens only when the birds have no worries or concerns, when they can concentrate on both their nest and the incidental things happening out in the landscape. The stick pile, like the shoulder-rubbing mutual perching, indicate that things couldn't be better for our pair.

--John A. Blakeman

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Woodcock in Oven

On Tuesday at the Feeder-filling Squad weekly work session in the Evodia Field, several people mentioned that they had seen a Woodcock in the Oven earlier. It's another early harbinger of spring. I didn't find it. Yesterday a website reader, Lysiane Ribeiro sent in the picture below of a Woodcock she saw in the Oven yesterday.. Lucky Lysiane.

PS Now that the weather has turned wintry, the birds are really emptying the sunflower seed feeders completely by the fiollowing Tuesday.. And the moment the newly-filled suet feeders are put up, waiting woodpeckers are there gobbling away. Very gratifying.

PPS I'm the suet lady this year, taking over from Lee Stinchcomb who is in Florida until June. [Marianne Girards also brings in suet.] Every week at no charge I get a nice packet of organic beef trimmings from Whole Foods at Union Square . Nothing but the best for our Central Park customers! [We're preparing a Certificate of Appreciation for the meat dep't at Whole Foods.]

American Woodcock in Oven--1/30/07
Photo by Lysiane Ribeiro

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Shouldn't they be working harder on the nest?

Pale Male and Lola relaxing at the Beresford - 1/29/07
Photo by Lincoln Karim [Click on photo to enlarge]

Mai Stewart, a regular correspondent of this website, sent a letter to John Blakeman about Pale Male and Lola's nest-building schedule, and John responded. Below are both letters:

Hi John,
I've really enjoyed all your commentary on Marie's website during the past several months.
I've been wondering -- I thought January began the time that our favorite RTs would begin working on the nest again, in preparation for (hopefully) new little ones this spring -- yet, we've seen very little activity in this regard, so far -- am I wrong/misremembering?
My concern is that because there's so little activity, perhaps PM/Lola believe the nest is complete, and they aren't working on it because they believe they don't need to do any more, whereas I'm afraid that if a substantial amount of nest-building doesn't go on again this year, we'll end up w/ the same situation as the past 2 years, i.e., eggs which don't hatch, and no new babies.
I'd love your thoughts on this -- perhaps it's too early, and I'm just too anxious?
Mai Stewart

Here's Blakeman's response:
You are correct on both accounts. Yes, the birds are often more active at the nest in the last week of January. But likewise, it's still early in the season and we can't tell anything yet about what's to happen.
I've noticed this in my rural red-tails. In some years, there is a great deal of activity in late January and early February. But in other years, almost nothing happens until mid-February.
Frankly, I have no idea what causes this variable seasonal nest activity. I don't see it connected to temperatures, snow, or anything else. And I haven't really documented this at all, as it's just some impressions I've had. I haven't worried about serious nesting or mating or copulating activities until late February, when these all become actively pursued.
The early, deep-winter portion of the red-tail nesting season is pretty tentative. It's fun to see new pairs and nests, and the beginnings of the refurbishing of old nests. But none of this seems to have any predictive value on March through April nesting successes.
The fact that there may be a third pair of red-tails somewhere in Central Park may be a factor. Instead of leisurely attending to nest refurbishment, the resident red-tail pairs may be devoting more of their mental attention to the location and distant activities of new residents of Central Park (if any).
As before, I'd really like to see the 927 nest get built up to a much greater depth. If it happens, we won't see that until sometime in March.
Let's wait a few more weeks before we lose any sleep on any of this. (But it sure is a delight to watch and contemplate everything. How blessed we are to be able to do this with this great raptor, and for you and the others, right in the center of one of the world's greatest cities!)
Keep me posted on anything new. I'm stuck out here in rural Ohio, where my resident red-tails are having to spend all of their waking hours searching for voles, which now are pretty safe beneath the recent snows. My red-tails are concerning themselves with gaining daily food, not cavorting with legs dangling (for those who don't know, a provocative red-tail sexual activity) or even bringing a few new sticks to the nests.
My wild birds are parked up on utility poles and trees diligently scanning the countryside for a vole that might mistakenly poke it's snub nose out above the snow to sniff and see what's up there. For rural red-tails, without ample pigeons, rats, and other urban fare, it's crunch time, when hawks often have to rely only on ample fat reserves. A red-tail can go several days, even up to a week, without finding anything to eat.
It's at times like these that the red-tail will revert to its innate power and prowess, and deign to take much larger available prey such as squirrels or cottontail rabbits. When pressed (as now), these great raptors can take the larger, exposed mammals when mice and voles are safe beneath the snow. This is why the species is such a success across the continent. There isn't much that can keep them suppressed in the winter south of the deep extensive snow habitats in the northern tier of states.
By comparison, Pale and Lola are living in a red-tail's paradise, with ample and easy-to-catch winter food. For them, life is good in Gotham.
--John A, Blakeman
Lola on Fifth Avenue nest with "cradle" - 1/29/07
Photo by Lincoln Karim [click on photo to enlarge]

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Talking about harbingers of spring, a few days ago Amy Campbell wrote from Rockport Maine,

This morning in the sub-zero chill, black capped chickadees were singing their spring song. I decided it couldn't be all THAT bad!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Today's report

Northern Pintail in Central Park at sunset --photo taken a few years ago
by Cal Vornberger

From e-birds, an up-to-the-minute report of bird activity on a freezing winter day in Central Park by Howie and Anita Stillman, two faithful [and hardy] park birders. Note for anxious swan-watchers:  the pair seems to be moving southward...

PS The Pond is the southernmost body of water in the park, around 59th St. and Fifth Avenue.

Central Park, The Pond, Monday, January 29, 2007

A male Northern Pintail was seen on the Pond around 10AM south of Gapstow Bridge (of course, south of the bridge. The rest of the Pond is frozen).

Also a couple of Mute Swans in the same place. The usual stunning hybrid ducks are swimming around.

Dennis G. reported a Red-tailed Hawk attacking a Kestrel near Azalea Pond around noon.

Howie & Anita Stillman

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Spring Watch

House Finch -- Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik -

Jack Meyer reports:

Today I heard House Finches singing in the Ramble. And yesterday I saw a male House Finch giving food to a female on a branch, so they must be thinking of Spring. Jack