Saturday, April 28, 2007

Great news at the Cathedral

Last years Cathedral Chicks a few weeks after hatching. This year's nest is in the same place.
Photo by Bruce Yolton

Donna Brown sends in news. It looks like two chicks, at least, have hatched at the Cathedral site. Parents are feeding. More anon.

More tests for bad chemicals? The discussion continues

Donna Brown sends in a question:

Would it be possible when an examination of the eggs take place that they be tested specifically for the pesticide that is pumped into the ground in the park to save the trees?[ MW: This was for the Japanese Long-horn Beetle, a terrible threat to Central Park's hardwood trees. In fact we could lose them ALL] I understand that the chemical was applied about the time that the eggs were laid in the last two years.
I understand from Bruce that quite a number of dead squirrels were found this year during that time, therefore it was in the hawk food chain. It may have nothing to do with it but perhaps worth a shot.
Could it be affecting the viability of eggs? If it is affecting fertility we aren't likely to find anything as it would have done it's temporary or permanent damage and then likely passed through their systems.

I sent off a quick reply and then sent Donna's question on to John Blakeman. Below, my reply and then Blakeman's:

I discussed it with Ward Stone last year. He thought it was highly unlikely--they would have shown physical effects of ingesting the stuff -- and also said it was expensive to test for it and he didn't have the budget for it. Etc.. etc. Of course we could pay for the test ourselves, or get NYCAS to fund it. I somehow doubt that any amount of chemical would "un-diploid" the eggs if they'd been fertilized . But what do I know. I'll ask Blakeman what he thinks.

Blakeman replied the same day. Studying his response, I would say that I don't see a real need to do this one extra, expensive test, especially with the possibility of false positives.:

Marie and Donna,
Donna, your concerns regarding a soil-injected tree pesticide are important. But as with the tests last year for conventional egg-destroying pesticides on the retrieved eggs, I don't really think the chemicals are likely to be a factor, for several reasons. First, pesticides that easily bioaccumulate or cause secondary predator poisonings are pretty much (not always, however) prohibited.
Secondly, if the pesticide was concentrated enough to kill the egg, both Pale Male and Lola should have exhibited their own poisoned behaviors. I've seen a number of red-tails that come into one of the three raptor rehab centers in my area, and this species really looks sick after ingesting anything untoward.
Had Pale Male consumed a poisoned squirrel, he would have, as the British falconers say, "gone off," showing himself to be really down and out, plainly sick. He would have failed to hunt or eat, perhaps for as long as a week or more. Winter red-tails can easily go 5 to 7 days without food, as they sometimes must after a winter snow storm that covers the landscape and hides voles and mice.
I diligently keyed up Lincoln Karim's daily photos, and continued to be astounded at the frequency of the twig-carrying. I'm absolutely certain that this happens much more frequently with the CP hawks than with my rural ones, and it reflects, I'm certain, the abundance of food they have in the park. Twig-carrying after the nest is well along, after the hen is sitting, is usually rather infrequent. With PM, the bird was hardly seen without a twig in the beak. If he were poisoned or didn't feel well, that's the first thing he'd give up.
And I'm certain that no poison could disrupt or destroy the chromosomes. The ploidy state of the egg cells should be clear. [Marie's emphasis]
For the right price (high), an analytical chemist could certainly detect any of the pesticide in the egg, given two conditions. First, he would need a sample of the product to run through an HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) device. From this, he'd get a typical scan or plot for the product. He'd then send some fluids from the egg through the HPLC spectrophotometer and see if it could match the scan peaks. If only a few nanomoles were present, they'd show up.
But in fact, that might be a false positive, in that the chemical was found present in the egg but in such low concentrations it may have played no part its failure. HPLC spectrophotometry is stunningly perceptive, detecting the smallest concentrations of known chemicals.
Then there's this consideration. The pesticide may have been metabolized or chemically changed after ingestion, either to a more or less active form. All of that, of course, was supposed to have been thoroughly characterized before the pesticide was approved for sale.

John A. Blakeman

Friday, April 27, 2007

Riverside Red

Yes! Sighted at 7:45 a.m this morning in his usual area.

Now on to the hawks.

Beginning the discussion about Pale Male & Lola

Pale Male brings fresh twig to nest on Thursday, April 26, 2007APhoto courtesy of

Aimee Van Dyne wrote:

Do you think it makes sense to just request that the building take the whole nest structure down? At least then Pale Male and Lola can begin a search for a new nest site (the Beresford?) and not waste any more time on the old nest.
So unfortunate!
Hope you are well,
Aimee Van Dyne

I answered Aimee:

We're actively pursuing the idea of retrieving the eggs much sooner this year, in order to see if they were fertilized. If the eggs prove to have been fertilized, that would providepretty good evidence that it's the "cradle" at fault. Otherwise, people say it's PM's age, and nothing can be done. Too bad they didn't do a microscopic study last year, [see Blakeman's letter below] but it may be that the eggs were too far gone by the time they were retrieved.

Anyhow, taking everything down probably won't help. Pale Male & Lola are likely to endlessly keep bringing sticks that would keep blowing away. That's why we chanted "Bring back the spikes!" at the protests in 2004. The "Cradle" must go, if it turns out that the eggs
were indeed fertilized, and the spikes must be installed on the ledge in the way they used to be. It'll take some doing to persuade the powers-that-be at 927 Fifth Avenue to do that. But there's a chance that they'll go along, if we can demonstrate that the cradle is at fault, not the hawks.

PS I doubt that our hawk pair would actually nest at the Beresford. They have been using it as an afternoon and evening perch for years, when the setting sun gets in their eyes on east-side buildings. My guess is that they want a nest facing west. not east--because of protection from NYC's prevailing winds which come from the north-east and our most devastating storms, the famed nor'easters.

Here's John Blakeman's letter. sent two days ago, explaining what's at stake in the microscopic examination of the egg material:


Unfortunately, as I understand it, the eggs were retrieved very late last year and the pathologist who received the retrieved eggs was only able to do a gross anatomical examination, not a cellular or tissue study. This did not determine the "ploidy" of the eggs. If the cells were diploid, they would have had a complete, double set of chromosomes, half from Pale Male and Half from Lola. If the cells were haploid, having chromosomes from only Lola, they would have been definitive evidence of Pale Male's impotence.

I'm not convinced that the lack of gross embryonic structures in last year's eggs indicated haploidy, non-fertilization. The eggs sat on the nest un-refrigerated for weeks before being retrieved. The delicate embryonic tissues could have enzymatically degraded, even without bacterial contamination. I believe that some biochemical tests could have been used to determine the former presence of an embryo. If the eggs were cooled from the start of incubation, the microscopic embryo would have never developed and couldn't be seen upon gross examination.

If all of this occurs again, the eggs should go immediately (within the present week) to be analyzed microscopically. All the cogent questions would then be answered. The putative involvement of pesticides is no longer (and in my mind, never was) a consideration. The real question asks if the eggs are haploid, that is, unfertilized, or diploid, fertile, revealing that temperature or rolling problems caused the failure.

Now let me cover my tail right here. The eggs may, indeed, be infertile. Pale Male may have passed his day of potency. Yet there is no present evidence for this. He is extremely healthy, behaves perfectly, and copulates freely. From everything I know about red-tailed hawks, the chance of his impotence is very low, a position I believe would be confirmed by the many who have bred diurnal raptors now for 20 years or more. Check with Dr Tom Cade or any of his experts at the Peregrine Fund. They've bred hawks and falcons from around the world and would confirm my views.

John A Blakeman

Note from Marie: Plans to retrieve the eggs are in the works. The DEC is cooperating and will request approval from the building. Virtually all the hawkwatchers I've spoken to, or heard from indirectly, are in favor of early removal of eggs. Everybody wants answers to the pressing question of what went wrong for the third time this year.

Here's a silver-lining note from a reader:

Doyle wrote:

If eggs don't hatch, the only positive I'd see is that PaleMale will not become so ragged and tired.
I remember seeing pics of Jr, after he was fetching meals for Charlotte and his 2 babies. He looked RAGGED AND RUN DOWN. And he's a youngster.

I think tending to a family at Pale Male's age could do him harm.

At the same time, if there are no babies this year, hopefully it's due to the nest structure and not something adverse taking place in nature. (besides old age.)


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Today, a report on Riverside Red. Tomorrow the discussion about Pale Male & Lola's nest begins

This morning I couldn't find the red-headed woodpecker who's been wintering [and now springing] in Riverside Park, directly across the street from my apartment house. Lori McFadden, a regular website reader, just wrote in to say she saw the bird around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24. She sent in the picture above.

Tomorrow: the discussion begins: What went wrong again for Pale Male and Lola? [Two possibilities] What is being done to answer that question? [Something!] Can we do anything to prevent failure in the future. [Maybe.] I'll publish a prescription for action from John Blakeman and some letters from readers.

Queens nestcam and other local redtail nests. PS about red-headed woodpecker

Below, a link to the Queens redtail webcam, sponsored by the New York City Audubon, showing two recently hatched chicks on a building-ledge nest in Queens.. " It will appease many sad hearts," writes website reader Paula Florio. I hope the news of other local redtail nests that follows will also help temper the disappointment so many of us feel about Pale Male & Lola's valiant third try.

Upper Manhattan
1. Inwood Hill Park
2. Highbridge Park
both have two nestlings
info about these nests from Robert Schmunk

Inwood Hill Park Mom with one of the two nestlings
Photo by Bruce Yolton

Bronx - Fordham
Hawkeye & Rose--the Fordham redtails -- April, 2007
Photo: Richard Fleischer

All looks good with the Fordham pair - Rose and Hawkeye. They are using the same nest as last year. It is located on a ledge of one of the buildings on campus. They have been sitting on the nest since approximately March 20th (same schedule as last year) and the eggs should hatch around the first week in May.
Given the horrible weather, I have not been able to get the scope out but this week's change in the weather gave me an opportunity. I attach some recent photos.
I will keep you updated.

Richard Fleisher
Political Science Department
Fordham U.

For more news on the St. John the Divine and the Central Park South redtail nests, keep checking Bruce Yolton's blog
and Donna Browne's blog: Http://

Earlier this morning spent more time than usual at Riverside Drive and 92nd Street, looking for the red-headed woodpecker He didn't appear. He may be napping. Or he may be on his way somewhere else. Recent sightings, anyone?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Good news and not so good news

Lola on nest - 4/23/07
photo courtesy of
The good news -- warm weather brought in a treasure-trove of birds yesterday Photos below.

No news--- and hope just about gone-- at the Fifth Avenue nest. There are plans being made for an earlier retrieval of eggs this year. Microscopic tissue analysis, not done last year, should indicate whether, in fact, the eggs were fertilized. If they were,then it is likely that something about the new structure on the ledge is preventing the eggs from developing properly. Otherwise the answer may simply be Pale Male's age. Without such evidence we can't take steps to change anything that might be standing in the way of nest success for Pale Male and Lola.

Yellow-throated Warbler - 4/24/07
Photo Lloyd Spitalnik
[Note: At first glance I thought Lloyd had sent me the photo upside-down and asked him to re-send it. I had failed to notice that the pine-cone is right side up. Obviously, it's the bird feeding upside-down. Great photo.]

Blue-headed Vireo [once known as Solitary Vireo] - 4/24/07
Photo by David Speiser

Black-and-white Warbler 4/24/07
Photo by David Speiser

Summer Tanager at Tanner Springs - 4/24/07
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher -- 4/23/07
Photo by Bruce Yolton
[Note: this tiny bird with a long tail and white outer-tail coverts looks a bit like a miniature mockingbird.]

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pine warbler seminar - a correction

OK class, you're about to learn a lot about Pine Warblers and two of their photographers and, while you're at it, something about the creator of this website.

The first photo is of a Pine Warbler. A very pretty little bird, isn't it? It was photographed by David Speiser, a Central Park photographer.

The second photograph is of a Pine Warbler also. It was photographed by Lloyd Spitalnik, a Central Park photographer also. Lloyd's name is clearly visible on the lower left of the photo. Which brings us to the third person mentioned above, who sloppily provided the wrong attribution for that second photograph. She will try to be more careful next time

Beautiful birds arrive as hope for the hawks begins to diminish

While early spring migrants have been trickling into Central Park since early March when the first Phoebe was sighted, the trickle is turning into a torrent as of Saturday. That was the first really warm day after a long cold spell in New York and the migrants are pouring in. David Speiser, one of the park's best young birders, distinguished also as Liliana's Daddy, has been sending in bird reports and photos. Thanks David. Below are 5 of his recent beauties:

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet -4/21/07

Swamp Sparrow 4/20/07

Pine Warbler - 4/22/07 [a very yellow one -- many pine warblers are drab, hardly yellow at all]

Orange-crowned Warbler - 4/22/07 [Note-- this is a regular, but hard to find early spring warbler. Quite a coup to get a good picture of one.]

Louisiana Waterthrush-4/21/07
[5 photos above by David Speiser]

Other species seen by various birders during the last 4 days: Indigo bunting, Northern waterthrush, many hermit thrushes [must have been a big migration of them day before yesterday--I saw one in tiny Gramercy Park] yellow-rumped warbler. .Lots of Golden-crowned kinglets must have arrived yesterday. You could hear their thin "seet seet seet" songs throughout the park. fLots of flickers calling loudly--ke-ke-ke-ke-ke!. The robins are building nests and squabbling over territories throughout the park.

Also arrived in Central Park, the migratory birdwatchers, those who come regularly but only during the migration seasons. Their number will increase as May approaches. By May 5 they may outnumber the birds.

Pale Male & Lola and other hawks

Soon I'll be posting a report about other red-tailed hawk nests,successful ones, in other parts of NYC. And if Pale Male and Lola's nest fails again this year, I promise we'll have a full discussion on this website of the possible causes of failure, as well as some proposals of what to do next. But give it a few more days. Don't uncross your fingers quite yet.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

All REDS alive and well

Two correspondents checked up on Little Red to make sure he was not the squirrel pictured in in Pale Male's talons the other day. Relief! All is well. Thanks, Kathy and Ciro.

Kathy Massaro writes:

4/21/07 Red has yet to eat her last premium shelled walnut half. I saw her this afternoon, going in and out of a different tree (two up, the one at the very end of Locust Grove).

Ciro Monaco writes on 4/21/07:

Hi Marie,

I became very concerned about our friend Red when I saw your posting which explained that she might have fallen prey to Pale Male. I took a good look at the picture of Pale Male and after analyzing it carefully decided that it is probably the hind quarters of a gray squirrel in his talons. I still had to check up on our friend today just to make sure.

It took a few minutes to find her, but there she was scurrying down the tree I was standing in front of to greet me. I was so glad to see she's still alive and well, caching her nuts and chasing away any other animal that comes into her territory. She's one tough cookie!

All the best,

Ciro Monaco Jr

[Ciro sent some great photos which I'll post later. Having a bit of trouble with connections today.]

PS The other RED is the Red-headed Woodpecker at Riverside Park and 92nd Street. He was gleaming in the sunlight at 8:00 a.m. this morning, flying back and forth among his usual trees.