Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nature red in tooth and claw: Fledgling news--7/29/07

One of Beth Bergman's graphic photos
Jr. and Charlotte's baby, the wayward baby who fledged to 55th street, is now catching its own food. She was at the Baseball field area being dive- bombed by robins. Then she set them right and stole one of their nestlings. I saw it with my own eyes, no adult hawks around. It was a perfect meal, because she didn't have to pull out feathers. She ate every bit, head and all. And then no sooner had she polished off that meal she went and caught a second baby robins and ate every bit of that too. The first baby was eaten while sitting on the baseball field fence. The second baby got eaten on the ground. A second birder witnessed this with me. The pictures stand as evidence. Glorious day.
Beth Bergman

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Planned Parenthood for moths?

The moth container with moth waiting to hear its fate
In answer to my moth dilemma, Jack Meyer, a Central Park birder who leads bird walks during the migration seasons, writes:
You will have to take the moth to a vet, and have it neutered before releasing it.

Along the same lines, Jean Dane had a suggestion I don't think I'll go into further but it involved mothballs.

Karen Anne Kolling wrote in to suggest that Forest Tent caterpillars are not the terrible defoliators I described thm as--Eastern Tent caterpillars are. Her source was not impeccable --Wikipedia --while the the insect guides seem to think otherwise. Still, her advice to let the moth go was attractive.

Amy Campbell sent in words of advice supported by an appealing philosophical framework. Very persuasive

HI Marie,

According to a philosophy delineated in The Little Prince, you become responsible for whoever or whatever you have "tamed." Since the moth came under your wing, so to speak, as a caterpillar, you, if not tamed it, at least you sort of domesticated it by providing it with a safe environment and food for it to carry on its life cycle. A second premise is the understanding that you accept the characteristics of whatever you have tamed,the good and the bad- thorns, as in the LIttle Prince's rose, I suppose warts, personality defects, defoliating habits and all. There are some people who might propose your responsibility was to the caterpillar and not the moth, so you could possibly rationalize a rapid dispatching of the moth. However, I go along with the Little Prince and think the only thing to do is to free the moth. You are the moth's mother, in a way! So, let it go! ( And whisper apologies to the trees!)

Finally, Betty Jo from California wrote :
We who are tender hearted toward wild animals are tender hearted to all life. You could just "accidently" open the window and let it go!

So I did.

Insect moral dilemma of 2007

Remember my Forest Tent caterpillar? I found it in Central Park on May 11th.

It lived in my office in a nice airy jar I bought for it at the Container Store, and every day I went to Union Square Park across the street to collect fresh leaves for it: usually there were little twiglets of elm leaves lying on the ground that squirrels had obligingly broken off.

On June 14 I was a bit worried; my little pet [and excellent procrastinatory device] had stopped eating. How did I know? There wasn't the usual collection of frass [insect droppings] at the bottom of the jar when I arrived in the morning. I went out to get the handsome creature new leaves--maybe it was bored with elm!

Something seemed wrong with the caterpillar. It had stopped its usual munching and was now wandering around the jar restlessly. I was curious to see that from the tip of its adomen it was spinning a thin, silklike thread on the side of the jar. As it went back and forth it was creating a sort of spider-webby mass. Aha! It was a forest TENT caterpillar. This looked like it might be the tent.

Then the next day, June 15th, I found my caterpillar had completely vanished. Below you can see its replacement: a pupa in a fine silken tent.

As you may remember I had a moral dilemma to resolve about this creature. According to Charles V Covell, author of the one and only field guide to moths, the forest tent caterpillar [Malacosoma disstria] is "a serious defoliating pest". If a moth did emerge from the coccoon and if I chose to release it, it would quickly find a mate and the female of that pair would lay a large mass of eggs. She'd wrap it around a twig somewhere and there it would overwinter. Next spring hundreds of adorable little forest tent caterpillas would hatch and DESTROY TREES.

Well, dear readers, this morning I came to my office and discovered that the next amazing phase of metamorphosis had occurred: in the jar was an empty coccoon and... a pretty light brown moth.

When I first wrote about the forest tent caterpillar here , correspondent Jan Lipert wrote: You're in for it now! You've created the Insect Moral Dilemma of 2007. Have you ever heard the saying "No good deed goes unpunished" ?

Earlier, another reader, Cathy Doyle, had written in to suggest that I drop off the caterpillar at a bird feeding area where mom and dad could bring it to their babies. "At least it would be a natural death and he would have done his share in helping the environment and not destroying it," she wrote.

I should have done that, but I didn't. I was too eager to see metamorphosis in action.

Now what?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Romeo and Juliet: the comedy

Grackles lnear West End Ave. last December- photo: Bruce Yolton

Carolyn Kay posted this on e-birds:

At the opening gala for Shakespeare in the Park's Romeo and Juliet a week ago
, guests were seated at tables on the lawn in front of the theater for a preshow dinner. A fledgling grackle decided that the abundance of gourmet food was too good to pass up. She started flying from table to table, startling the well- dressed guests. The young bird would climb up the side of a tree trying to get a good look at the plates of food. Attempts to target a meal didn't work out so well - s/he wasn't on the guest list! Mom and Pop were hopping from tree to tree keeping a proud eye on the youngster. When I saw the flustered bus boys trying to nab the bird in a napkin (!), it was time to rescue it from being rescued. They were relieved to know that the bird was ok, but, they insisted on trying to help it back up into the tree hoping it would leave the guests to enjoy their dessert! A happy ending for the grackle and even for romeo and juliet because it started pouring rain just after Juliet's tonic to sleep scene!

PS from Marie: So the star-crossed lovers didn't die that night, did they. Another reason to call it a comedy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Two posts today

Blakeman wins

The mystery fledgling contest - see below-- had only one responder: John Blakeman!
According to the BBC [who carried the original article, ] 15 of these chicks have been introduced to Scotland in recent months.
Blakeman writes:

It must be a white-tailed sea eagle, a species closely related to our bald eagle.
I believe that many years ago they nested up in maritime Scotland, and recently they've been re-introduced there.
As many know, our bald eagle has recently proliferated and now abounds throughout its continental range in the US and Canada. It would be nice to see this happen with the great British eagle.

John A. Blakeman

Website correspondent Judy Glattstein sent in this picture: Anybody have an idea of what bird it is? Hint: Two hundred years ago it was a British subject. And soon it may be one again.

Another baby update

Remember Liliana? David Speiser, her proud Daddy and one of Central Park's whiz birdwatchers, used to send me great pictures of birds for this site and infiltrate a photo of Liliana among them. Now he only sends photos of Liliana.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Second Triborough Bridge fledgling takes off today

Astoria Park big babies on June 18, a week before the first one fledged
Photo by Bruce Yolton

Jules Corkery writes this morning about the 2nd fledgling's take-off:

Hi there,

After opening his wings and jumping to the perch this morning, he decided to take a little nap at 6:30 am only to have Mother fly over to the nest to nudge him awake and encourage him to follow her.

At 6:50, he got up the nerve and took a courageous flapping flight under the bridge
over the contractor's headquarters and across Hoyt Avenue North to the little shaded cemented area/parking lot. He was on the ground unnoticed (thankfully for that hour of day) and finally got himself onto the fence that separates the lot with the back yards of 19th and 21st Streets. He did get back on the ground only to have Mother encourage him to get up into one of the lots' small trees. He landed on a young branch with his wings still outspread but stayed relaxed and was able to get back on the ground. He entertained himself with dead leaves and watching a squirrel
and a robin going about their business.

I was able to observe this from quite a distance away close to the bus stop on 21st Street. When I left at 8:00 he was back on the fence "branching" the length of it. He
paused under the cover of overhanging foliage. Smart little guy. Mother was still there in the small tree. The jay did find her but gave up as it's a little beyond his jay-dom.

I saw Joe, one of the local park birdwatchers and he is going to go over and keep people away and hopefully keep him away from vehicles and the intersection.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Baby update

Baby 1. Astoria Park Fledgling the First:

Jules Corkery e-mailed this morning:
Marie! One of the babies fledged the Astoria Park [Triborough Bridge] nest!
Bruce Yolton gives more details on his blog:
The Astoria Park nest had its first fledge on Saturday 6/23/07 [that's YESTERDAY] around 2 p.m. The fledgling went to the equipment depot under the bridge near the nest. It was the safest place to fledge. Good choice young one.

Baby 2. 888 7th Ave Fledgling - now in Central Park - photo 6/22/07

Bruce Yolton has been photographing Junior & Charlotte and their back-in-the-fold fledgling every day since the baby hawk was brought back to the park on Tuesday 6/19/07. Great photos on his website -

On 6/22 Bruce took the picture above near the Heckscher Ballfields and captioned it:
She was eating next to a Baseball dugout, and the team playing in Red uniforms were named the Hawks!

Baby 3.
Ten-week-old fledgling , one of two - photo: J. Kollbrunner

Jeff Kollbrunner writes of the Briarwood family [the ones that were on the Audubon webcam]:

Our fledglings are now in their tenth week and doing very well. They are both very strong in flight and practicing their hunting skills routinely. They practice hunting squirrels, rats, plastic cups, broken branches laying on the ground and the occasional newspaper blowing in the breeze.
Today our first fledgling nearly captured its first squirrel. Swooping very low to the ground rapidly from behind the young hawk tossed it talons at the squirrel. It got enough of the squirrel to flip it completely over. As the young hawk made an abrupt sharp turn for a second chance, the squirrel quickly managed to get into a nearby tree for cover.