Friday, July 27, 2007

From Bob's almost-too-cute file

Bob Levy, author of Club George: The Diary of a Central Park Birdwatcher, sent in the picture above and wrote:

Here is another photo from my almost too cute for words file. These two playful characters are cubs. They were alternately grooming each other and playfully wrestling outside their den about twenty-five feet up a tree in the Ramble. Forgive me but the photo is not as sharp as I had hoped it would be because I used a hand held camera with a flash after sunset.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pale Male and a curious fan

This morning Eleanor Tauber, a regular Central Park birder and photographer, sent the three photos above and wrote:

I found out close to 10pm that “Pale Male” was on PBS tonight, and put it on. What I didn’t expect to happen because it never has before is that Fiona [my cat] would watch too — she’s never done that before.

So here’s some photos, and a photo of Fiona’s face with Pale Male looking like he wouldn’t mind carrying her off to the nest for a meal! ;o)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Green" Heron

This morning on the Early Birders' weekly walk, Eleanor Tauber snapped this picture of our morning's most glamorous bird: a Great Blue Heron with a backdrop of sea-green duckweed looking for a fish near the Upper Lobe.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Did you know that a Mother is a homograph?

Ultronia Underwing with leaves of the English oak -7/22/07

Dark-banded Owlet 7/22/07 -- check out that dark band

These moths, and many others I've been posting on this site in recent years, were observed by a small group of Nature-lovers I call the Central Park Mothers.

A quick word about the word “Mother” as used above. The word is an example of a particular verbal oddity called a homograph. A more familiar verbal form is the homophone, one of two or more words that have different meanings and spellings but are pronounced in the same way. Word pairs like site and sight, or break and brake are homophones. Cents, scents and sense are a trio of homophones.

A homograph, on the other hand, is one of two or more words that have different meanings and pronunciations but are spelled the same. The word “sewer” is a homograph: when pronounced to rhyme with “bluer,” it’s the place where sewage goes; when it rhymes with “rower” it means one who sews. It's the same with the word "mother."

Most of the time people use it to refer to a maternal female whose name rhymes with brother. In the use I'm making when I post pictures of moths, however, the word rhymes with author.

The Central Park Mothers have been meeting for the last few weeks at their special moth-attracting tree, an English Oak not far from the Boat House restaurant. Though it seems to be oozing less sap this year [that's what attracts the moths] there have been a surprising number of moths arriving. The two pictured above were seen last Sunday. And one of them, the Dark-banded Owlet, has only been seen in the park once before, on May 9, 2004.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Save our nature photographers

Bruce Yolton's website focuses on urban wildlife and hawks in particular. I often get letters from readers thanking me for directing them to this site.

I am reprinting below a post that appeared on Bruce's blog two days ago, describing a threat to his future as a Central Park photographer. I hope that many of you will send protest letters to help ensure that Bruce's valuable service to nature lovers can continue.

[By the way, Bruce's is not the only Central Park nature site threatened by these new regulations. Other popular blogs and sites are similarly under the gun. And even though I'm not a nature photographer, I often USE the photos of these other photographers
that they generously allow me to reprint. This blog would be impoverished if these photographers were kept from taking their wonderful pictures.]


This Site At Risk - July 21, 2007

The New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting has proposed strict permit rules for photographers in the city. The proposed changes are a new Chapter 9, amending Title 43 of the Rules of the City of New York. Under the new rules, any group of two or more people using a hand held camera (still or video) for more than 30 minutes at a single location (Section 9-01 (b)(1)(ii)) or any group of five or more people using a single tripod for more than ten minutes (Section 9-01 (b)(1)(iii)) would have to obtain a permit and present proof of $1,000,000 of insurance.

These new regulations would severely limit my ability to photograph birds in NYC. Since I generally photograph with other birders and use a tripod, I would be subject to the ten minute limit. Given that the city wouldn't allow me to apply for a general yearly permit, but require me to apply for a permit for each location/time, if I didn't want to break the law, I would have to stop my nature photography in the city.

I encourage readers of this site to protest the proposed regulations by writing or emailing Julianne Cho, the Assistant Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting. The contact info is:

Julianne Cho
Assistant Commissioner
Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting
1697 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

The comment period is open until Friday August 3. If you write an email, please copy Chris Dunn, at the NY Affiliate of the ACLU office. If you're a NYC resident, you might want to copy your City Council Member.

For more information, see the NYCLU website.

This is the letter I wrote...

Julianne Cho
Assistant Commissioner
Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting
1697 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

Dear Julianne Cho,

I would like to comment on and strongly object to the proposed changed to the NYC Film Permit Rules.

I study and photograph raptors in New York City, specializing in Red-tailed Hawks. My blog,, attracts thousands of visitors a month, and indirectly supports tourism in NYC. To practice my hobby, I must use an expensive, large Canon 500mm lens and a tripod. To any police officer, I look like a professional photographer, even though I am an amateur.

When there is a rare bird sighting it is common for a group of four to ten birders to observe the bird. These sightings happen anytime and anywhere in the city, although usually in a city park. If I joined a small group of bird watchers, I would only be able to photograph a bird for less than ten minutes under the proposed regulation changes. I usually spend two to three hours just to get a few glimpses of some birds, so the ten minute limit is unacceptably small.

The regulations would not allow me to pre-apply for a yearly permit. Due to the random nature of birding photography, the bird would be gone before a permit could be issued. Since the regulations, do not allow an amateur photographer to register with the city to get a yearly permit, the regulations would effectively make birding photography for more than ten minutes illegal in the City of New York.

I also find the requirement that a photographer with a tripod need $1,000,00 in insurance to obtain a permit unnecessary. My tripod is less dangerous than a baseball, bike or skateboard, all of which do not require insurance to be used in a city park. Why the bias against photographers? Can you provide any evidence to show that a still photographer with a tripod, is more dangerous than someone playing sports in public?

This season, I photographed eleven Red-tailed Hawk nests. Would I have to apply for a permit for each location? And in the case of a new nest discovery, would I have to wait 24-48 hours?

The new rulings, which I assume are to prevent paparazzi and film crews from disrupting city streets, are too broad and vague. Your regulations should concentrate not on limiting photographer's rights but on protecting public welfare and regulating commercial activity. Require commercial photographers to have insurance and set guidelines for not obstructing city streets or sidewalks. But don't regulate photographers.

Nature photographers aren't a problem in New York City. Be careful not to restrict us. If the proposed regulations are adopted, I would support any litigation against them in the Federal Courts by the ACLU.

Please propose better regulations and save the city from endless litigation!

Thank you,

D. Bruce Yolton

Pale Male and Lola are cited yet again

Karen Anne Kolling, who frequently sends in items for this page, e-mailed a story from a Rhode Island daily, the Pawtucket Journal, that does not fail to mention our famous redtails. I chuckled when I read about the champagne toasts. It's straight from my book--actually, from a Wall St. Journal article I wrote that preceded the book by some years but that started the ball rolling.

Three juvenile red-tailed hawks get a birds’ eye view of the scene in Pawtucket’s Slater Park last week.

Journal photo / Mary Murphy

Raptors find themselves in their element in urban areas

09:29 AM EDT on Monday, July 23, 2007
By Karen Lee Ziner
Journal Staff Writer

Each spring in recent years, a pair of red-tailed hawks have nested on an old cooling tower at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, delighting onlookers as they shriek and soar and teach their fledglings to fly.

Since 2000, a pair of peregrine falcons have returned each spring to their nesting box on the old Fleet building downtown, making history in a state where no peregrines had nested for 49 years.

In the city’s West End, a pair of red-tailed hawk newcomers soar over the Cranston Street Armory and feast on rodents.

And of late, a pair of peregrine falcons have been observed around Pawtucket City Hall, possibly scouting for a nesting site, according to Mike Tucker, an Audubon Society naturalist and manager of the Caratunk Wildlife Refuge, in Seekonk.

Urbanization usurps natural habitats, spelling trouble for, or even contributing to the demise of, some wildlife.

But certain raptors are adapting to cities. And with their impressive talons, fearsome beaks and feats of flight — peregrines swoop and dive on prey at speeds of up to 200 mph and red-tailed hawks soar on 4-foot wingspans — they can captivate seasoned nature lovers and neophytes alike.

“It’s a very positive development for conservation and mankind,” said Daniel E. Varland, co-editor of the book Raptors in Human Landscapes. Varland lists peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks, osprey and Cooper’s hawks as among those birds of prey that are surviving in cities. In some parts of the country, he said, small falcons called merlins have moved into urban areas.

Tucker notes that eastern screech owls nest in some Rhode Island cities, and bald eagles hunt in winter along the banks of the Seekonk River in Providence. He has also seen an American kestrel during the winter and a great-horned owl breeding in the city.

“The fact that they’re in these cities … allows us to associate with them and learn about their behavior and appreciate them,” said Varland. “There are a lot of people that really never get out of the city, and this allows an exposure that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

University of Washington researcher John Marzluff, who studies how birds respond “to the loss and isolation of the remaining patches of forest,” because of urbanization, said, “The typical story that conservation biologists have been telling is that when urbanization comes in everything goes extinct. Or that people who are really interested in nature go outside the city.”

But Marzluff said his research, and that of others around the country, tells something of a different story.

Peregrine falcons, cliff-dwellers that were pushed to the brink of extinction by DDT exposure, are now nesting on skyscrapers and bridges. (A 1972 ban on DDT and subsequent captive breeding and release programs led to their recent removal from the endangered species list.)

Marzluff noted “Pale Male” and “Lola,” a famous pair of red-tailed hawks that nested on an exclusive New York condominium building, captivating city-dwellers who bonded over the birds and celebrated with champagne toasts when the chicks fledged.

“Those are neat, big powerful birds that attract people’s attention — especially for kids, to see a hawk catch and kill something” can be riveting, says Marzluff. In fact, Marzluff said, urban ecology studies “have been showing that evolution happens very, very quickly in response to living with people. Some birds have changed plumage or even color or behavior within 20 years … that process of adaptation is what allows them to live” in proximity to humans.

Urban life is not without peril for raptors. Though their nests on skyscrapers and building ledges help protect them from human predators, they can die from ingesting poisoned pigeons, get electrocuted on power lines, or collide with traffic — particularly fledglings.

Still, many are either holding their own or increasing in numbers.

“There is still a lot of nature in cities, and it’s a good way for people to become engaged, because it’s right there in your backyard,” he said.

TUCKER, MANAGER of the Caratunk Wildlife Refuge, leads many major bird-watching trips locally and around New England. As such, he knows where the city raptors nest.

On a recent summer morning, Tucker brought a reporter and a photographer to Slater Park in Pawtucket, where he knew that a pair of red-tailed hawks had been nesting. The nest is gone, but the hawks are still around, he said.

Just as Tucker pointed out where the nest had been, a man sitting 20 feet away in a parked car pointed toward a red-tailed hawk in a tree.

The man was Wolé ÁlÀdé, an Attleboro resident and professor of literature at Quincy College and Roxbury Community College. ÁlÀdé said he often visits the park “to read, to take a walk, and at the same time, commune with nature.”

He has been watching the red-tailed hawks at Slater Park for at least three years, and owls as well.

“If we could only listen to what they say, they’re actually trying to talk with us,” he said.

Tucker’s next stop: an asphalt parking lot behind an industrial area in Pawtucket.

“See the osprey?” he said, pointing to a nearby cell tower. As Tucker focused his birding scope on the tower, crows began mobbing the osprey and chased it out of its nest.

In small locust trees nearby, Tucker identified a family of downy woodpeckers; a family of black-capped chickadees, a northern mockingbird, an American robin, an American goldfinch, and a mourning dove. “What I liked about that,” he said later, “is that it demonstrates how a small patch of vegetation in an urban area can attract birds.”

Tucker also points out that there is a bigger picture here.

While some raptors are adapting to urban environments, “there are many more birds in serious decline because of loss of habitat. There are birds out there that need large expanses of mature forest or specific kinds of wetlands. Many birds in the Northeast are declining rapidly because they need grasslands,” he said, such as northern bobwhite, grasshopper sparrow and bobolink. The American kestrel is an example of a raptor that is declining in the Northeast, he added.

MANY OF THE official bird counts in Rhode Island focus on sanctuaries and other favorite resting stops for migratory birds. Those include Roger Williams Park, which attracts many spring migrants, Swan Point Cemetery, and Lonsdale Marsh on the Central Falls-Lincoln line.

One urban birding club, the “Brown Boobies,” has kept tabs on birds seen around Brown University on College Hill since 2005.

The nearly 100 species on their campus bird list includes a number of raptors: turkey vultures, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, broad-winged hawk, bald eagle; peregrine falcon, merlin and osprey. (Some birds were migrating through, but others have been seen regularly on campus, according to the group’s Web site,

Tucker also receives anecdotal or firsthand accounts of interesting and unusual birds in the area, including raptors.

About a month ago, a man sent Tucker some photographs he took outside Pawtucket City Hall. In his e-mail to Tucker, the man wrote “that he has seen these two birds hanging out around City Hall, perched up high. He didn’t know what they were.”

But when Tucker studied them, he said, “I was surprised to see that they were peregrine falcons.”

A volunteer Tucker sent to check out the situation spotted the peregrines outside the City Hall. Tucker believes they are not the peregrines from downtown Providence, and “they seem interested in the area, so who knows.” With luck, they may nest there next year, said Tucker, explaining that if they haven’t nested by now, they’ve missed the window for this year.

And, Tucker has also seen an American kestrel, a species of falcon, “hanging out where Route 195 branches off of Route 95 north” for several years in a row, during non-breeding seasons. “It is certainly a migrant that has made that area its winter territory,” said Tucker.

Tucker also knows of a great horned owl that nests “near a congested area near Routes 295 and 44, and a pair that nests on the East Side of Providence.

And, several years ago, someone phoned him from North Providence to report they’d found a baby owl stuck in their chimney.

“I’m on a list of people allowed to rescue or recover birds of prey. I gathered all my stuff together, I hopped out of my car in this urban sort of neighborhood — people were standing out on the front lawn sipping drinks as if it were a social occasion,” he said, noting that the screech owl “had attracted a lot of interested neighbors.”

Inside, he found the owl “sitting on a log behind the fireplace screen, calm as could be. It was healthy, so I took it to one of Audubon’s refuges to release it.”

To learn more about the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, visit the Web site