Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Grosbeak and 3 warblers, all yesterday, all Lloyd's

Rose-breasted Grosbeak [male] -- 5/4/07

Yellow-rumped Warbler -- 5/4/07

Parula Warbler -- 5/4/07

Nashville Warbler -- 5/4/07


Friday, May 04, 2007

Queens/Audubon Webcam

The Queens redtail nestlings are three weeks old! The picture above was taken yesterday. On my previous posting about this nest I had a faulty link for their webcam. I corrected it, but here it is again. It's pretty amazing to watch the parents and chicks in REAL TIME. And many thanks to Jeff Kollbrunner and the New York City Audubon for this great opportunity. [More info about the nest on Jeff's site.]

And the winner is...

Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

The photo above makes identifying the bird easier, though it's still a pretty unusual position to find a


[Both whippoorwills and Chuck-will's Widows sighted in the daytime are usually seen asleep. looking like a bump on a log. They're almost never photographed with their bill agape, as in David Speiser's photo yesterday.]

Two reader's came close --- Nan Holmes and Bill Trankle, who both identified the bird's family as Night Jar or Caprimulgidae.

The winner is MARGO BELLER, who got it right to the species.

Below, two warblers photographed yesterday , [and two of the yellowest] courtesy of birdwatcher and photographer David Speiser
Yellow Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler

By the way: no warblers nest in Central Park. They just pass through on their way to somewhere else. But both the Yellow and the Blue-winged nest nearby, in Westchester and Putnam Counties and perhaps in some other city parks.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


O.k., dear readers, how many of you can figure out the identity of this prehistoric-looking creature opening his gaping beak, with spring green and the blue sky of a nice spring day in the background.

This photo was taken in Central Park. It was taken today. The photographer is whiz-kid birder and photographer David Speiser, who just e-mailed me the picture and made my jaw drop almost as wide as the bird's in the photo above.

Take out your Sibleys and...Name That Bird. [If you are among the lucky few to have actually seen the creature in Central Park today, you are hereby disqualified from this contest.]

Hint: This bird HAS been seen in the park before. But it doesn't show up often.

Second hint: The picture in Sibley [or Peterson, or Geo] won't help much. For one thing, the Field Guide birds ihave their mouths [and sometimes their eyes] shut.

Non-warblers worth noting

David Speiser sends in some recent photos with a note saying: I think it is important for birders to realize that Spring migration is not only about warblers.
Note from Marie:
As it happens yesterday was a wonderful birding day, when 24, yes, TWENTY-FOUR species of warblers were seen in Central Park by many, many birdwatchers. You can check the warblers, and other birds seen yesterday on that valuable resource, the New York City Birding Report site --
Here are three beautiful non-warblers currently stopping over in Central Park. [Some of the orioles will stay and raise families in the park]

Field Sparrow

Eastern Towhee

Baltimore Oriole

All photos taken on May 2 by DAVID SPEISER

Another special non-warbler, probably an annual visitor to Central Park but VERY hard to find, is the Whippoorwill. This year one was found, sleeping and blending into the scenery as usual, on April 30. The photo below is by LLOYD SPITALNIK

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

About the nest failure & warbler pix

Before returning to the painful question of what went wrong at 927 Fifth, here are photos of two spring migrants, a Worm-eating Warbler and a Hooded Warbler. I saw a Hooded Warbler yesterday near the Humming Tombstone, and a Worm-eating Warbler today [8 a.m.] at Belvedere Castle.

Worm-eating Warbler
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik [taken in April, 2006]

Hooded Warbler
Photo by David Speiser - taken 5/1/07 near Humming Tombstone

Back to the nest-failure discussion

Hello, Marie

I've been doing a bit of reading, and I was wondering if nest temperature variability could be a greater problem than actual cold. What do you & the other expert hawk observers think?

Deirdre Johnson
Youth Services Librarian, Mount Kisco Public Library

I answered:
There's always been the same temperature variability at the nest. The eggs hatched every year, from 1995 to 2004, with a total of 24 chicks fledging during that period. Every single year, year after year. After the nest was removed in December 2004, and the new "cradle" was constructed and attached to the ledge in Janary 2005, the eggs never hatched again.

The hawks diligently rebuilt the nest after the nest was removed anjd added new sticks every year, laid eggs, incubated. etc. but something prevented the eggs from hatching. I don't see how temperature variability, or any other condition that was present during the 9 successful years [extreme cold, blizzards, heavy rains etc.] could be responsible for the nest failures now. It's either that Pale Male, by amazing coincidence, suddenly stopped being fertile exactly then, though he continues to show all behavioral signs of fertility [copulation, nest building, etc.] OR there's something about that new structure that impedes egg development.

Deirdre wrote back again:
It's just that I've noticed -- with more primitive organisms, anyway -- that wide swings in temperature seem more deadly than simple cold. And I thought that such temperature swings might -- perhaps -- be happening in the new nest, because the cradle structure allows a lot of air underneath, so it probably isn't as well insulated as it used to be. I thought that might make the nest more subject to temperature variability than it was before December 2004.

PS from Marie

If you look back at some of John Blakeman's speculations about the spikes conducting cold within the "cradle", maybe they go together with Deirdre's final comment to support the case that SOMETHING about the new structure on the ledge at 927 Fifth is preventing the eggs from developing


John Blakeman answers correspondents

Pale Male with just-captured American Kestrel
Photo by Scott Zevon 5/1/07

I wrote John Blakeman yesterday to tell him that Pale Male had been seen [and photographed] with an interesting new prey: an American Kestrel. John answered back::

About the kestrel. Come on. Red-tails can't catch kestrels, period. They are adroit little falcons that can easily avoid the hawk's pursuit.

That's what we used to believe about red-tails and the locally common red-winged blackbird. Against all understanding of the hunting abilities of red-tails, an intensive local study of red-tail nests discovered that virtually all of them had the red epaulet feathers of male red-winged black birds in the nests. Just how the hawks were capturing these fast blackbirds was a mystery.

Then, the secret was discovered, another revelation of the high intellectual abilities of the red-tail. At the time (early 1970s), there were still many fields of alfalfa being grown in northwest Ohio. The researcher, Mr. David Cornman, conducted an intensive multiyear study of 99 red-tail nests and territories in Ohio's Wood County (county seat, Bowling Green).

David noted the following. As a red-tail flew across an alfalfa field each day (red-tails are remarkably reliable and punctual in rotating through their hunting territories in the spring), he noted that male redwings would universally ascend from the hay field, where each male blackbird was the mate of 5 to 10 nesting female redwings. The male blackbirds would rise against the passing hawk in an attempt to lure it away from the nesting females so vulnerable in the alfalfa.

David watched this numerous times. On the hawk's first passage over the field, the defending male redwing would aggressively confront the hawk, but remain beyond it's reach. The hawk was mobbed all the way across the field.

The next day, on the hawk's hunting rounds, the same thing happened. The black bird mobbed the hawk, and the hawk flew un-hassled across the field.
But each day, the hawk's lack of response to the blackbird's mobbing behaviors further emboldened the pestering blackbird. Each day, the blackbird got ever closer to the hawk, which paid no apparent attention to the much smaller bird.

But finally, when the trap had been set, the blackbird mistakenly got too close to the hawk, even sometimes dropping down upon its back. As quick as a cat, the hawk flipped over and snatched the blackbird. An easy lunch for the hawk's eyasses.

There is no doubt that the hawk cleverly set this all up by so nonchalantly flying across the hay field each day, thereby eventually luring the male redwings into easy grasping range.

This, almost surely is how Pale Male got the kestrel. Smart hunter, our man.

John Blakeman

Karen Anne Kolling sent the above photo [without attribution] and asked:

Is the photo above showing moulting on the chest?

John Blakeman answers:

No, the feather gap on the chest is not a result of molting (or, moulting---I prefer the less-English Americanism).

It's merely a photographic artifact of the bird's preening. He was diligently stroking the feathers through his beak, he had merely fluffed out the ones on the flanks.

He may have molted some of the interior down feathers, along with some initial coverts (body-covering feathers), but it never leaves such a gap. The molt begins in earnest when the first primary and secondary wing feathers, along with tail feathers, are dropped. My red-tail just started her molt last week when I found a dropped red tail feather beneath her perch.

One more question, a very important one, from Bill Trankle of Indianapolis, Indiana:

Marie, I was wondering if Pale Male and Lola will remain bonded with three failures in a row. The drive to pass on genetic material is all-encompassing to these creatures, so is there a chance they'll go their separate ways in order to find a more successful mate (since I'm sure they aren't trying to reason out what happened like we are!)? I'd be interested to hear Herr Blakeman's take on this.

They may not have successfully raised any chicks this year, but our royal CP hawks are still an amazing inspiration to us all . . . .

Blakeman answers:

No one should have any concern that three consecutive years of nesting failure might cause a "divorce," that either Pale Male or Lola might direct attentions to any new mates.
Not a chance.
As long as both pair members are in good health and the prey and nest site continue to be available, the pair will remain. Many raptor textbooks note that like many waterfowl, raptors "mate for life." Actually, from banding and other field studies, we know that their fidelity is not as profound as formerly depicted, especially with the peregrines. The falcons do shift allegiances from time to time. But red-tails are much more reliable.
For old, established red-tails in ideal habitats, baring disease or injury, neither member of the pair is going to stray, either geographically nor matrimonially. The combination of several important factors will continue the pair's fidelity. First, is the settled nature of their occupation (and defense) of their prime territory. Central Park and 927 Fifth Ave is home, and a good one, indeed.
Secondly, prey abounds, probably more so than in any rural, wild territory (at least in the East or Midwest, where we don't have the ample summer populations of easily-captured ground squirrels found in the West in the first half of the summer).
Additionally, the nest site is preferred by the pair.
Lastly, they've produced and incubated eggs. That, alone, can keep the pair together in March through April.
No, the pair isn't presently feeding eysasses. But the little ones are not crucial to the maintenance of the pair bond. It's all of the above. No concern.
--John Blakeman

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

PLASH! Charlotte and Junior have chick!

Bruce Yolton just wrote in:
I've gotten confirmation of a chick at 888 7th Avenue

Faint red arrow points to the nest, on the 34th floor of 888 Seventh Avenue.
Photos taken a few days ago

The nest, behind a panel

Another view of the ledge and nest on 34th floor.

How did get these pictures? Amazing!

Other babies nearby

Inwood Hill Park Mom & two chicks - 4/28/07
This and next photo by Bruce Yolton, with many more pix on his website

Three chicks at Highbridge Park in Upper Manhattan
Two chicks at Queens / NYCAudubon nest 4/28/07 and letter from Jeff Kolbrunner. [Click on his link to see a great webcam of the nest!]
Photo by Jeff Kollbrunner


I want to thank you for posting the information regarding the NYC Audubon sponsored Queens, NY Hawkcam currently running on my website This was very nice of you and we are honored to be mentioned. Everyone that follows this pair and the other magnificent red-tails throughout NY is one big extended family that has their favorite pair. We also follow Pale Male & Lola closely and are saddened by their situation the last few years.

We hope that the Hawkcam in Queens may provide the fans of Pale Male & Lola another avenue for some enjoyment this hawk nesting season. We are fortunate to have been able to gain both the approval and sponsorship for this wonderful project to show the full cycle of the red-tail hawk nesting process. We want to welcome everyone from your site to share in the experience of our red-tail family Mama and Papa as they raise their young.

The two youngsters were two weeks old on April 26th. The Hawkcam can be viewed twenty four hours a day. As chance would have it the nest was constructed under a bright light and the camera sensitivity provides images at all hours.