Saturday, September 22, 2007

Nosy Raccoon Cub Tale

Bob Levy, Central Park story-teller, sends in a little raccoon sequence:

“Hey, how can a raccoon get any sleep with all that noise goin’ on down there?”

“Ah, that’s better. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Bob writes:
Hint: Enlarging the second image will enhance its effect and in truth may be necessary for the viewer “to get it,” so to speak. So enlarge away.

Confession: The images were not created on the same day but are from the same location. A single mom and her lone cub, the latter born rather late in the season, are the current residents of this tree. Recently I have more often than not seen the cub going in and out of this particular opening (there are at least four others in this tree) but I cannot say with certainty that it’s the cub or it’s mother in the second image.

Suggestion: For those who would like to see either of these two Central Park residents their tree is about thirty feet north of the Humming Tomb Stone close to the fence around the Bank Rock Bay construction site. Both raccoons have frequently been seen around sunset. If you go enjoy, but “Shhhh! Please keep your voice down just in case they are still sleeping.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A birding lesson from an expert

Connecticut Warbler -- photo by David Speiser on 9/18/07

Mourning Warbler, photo by David Speiser

When I looked at David Speiser's photos of the Connecticut Warbler and the Mourning Warbler I wasn't sure I could tell one from the other. I asked him if he would write a short description of how he went about identifying these birds, and he obligingly answered. Note, of course, that some of his tips apply only to real-life observation. You can't tell whether the bird walks or hops from a photo. Nevertheless, I thought you'd be as impressed as I was by what goes through the mind of a great birder as he studies a bird before making an identification:


I am not really an expert but I can provide a few I.D hints when trying to separate a Fall plumaged Connecticut warbler from a Fall Mourning warbler. When identifying a bird I generally look at structure and behavior first and then an overall impression of the coloration and at any immediate glaring field marks that are present. If time permits, then I am able to actually study the feathers and come up with an ID. Though this full process is not always possible, a combination of behavior, impression (size, shape) and color usually comes up with a correct ID.

The first difference I would notice is that a Connecticut warbler walks. If I see this right away I know I am looking at a Connecticut warbler. The next prominent feature is the bold often complete eye ring. However, in the photos there is a slight break of the eyering at the back. In fact, I find that birders will mis id a Connecticut, confusing it with a Nashville or Fall Common Yellowthroat when using the eyering as the only field mark. The eyering is also a main issue when separating Mournings from Connecticuts. Mournings in fall will also have a bold white eyering which sometimes can be complete. If you look at the photos you can see a slight break in both the front and back of the Mourning's eyering. The CT's break is only in the back.

The Connecticut is a big bulky warbler. The Mourning is also large but not quite so. When looking at the behavior, both acted similarly so that was not really helpful with this ID. Since both birds were feeding on the ground, this could help to eliminate Nashville because they rarely feed on the ground even in migration.

The next characteristic most birders look for is the big complete bluish-grey hood. In the photos you can see that the CT has a complete hood; the Mourning does not. Also, the Mourning shows yellow or paleness in the throat while the Connecticut will always show a complete hood with no yellow present.

When adding everything together, at least with these two birds: one was walking, had an almost complete eyering, had a full hood and no yellow in the throat. Therefore -- Connecticut!

One was hopping, two breaks in the eyering, not a complete hood, and yellow in the throat: you have your Mourning.

When separating Mournings and CTs from Common Yellowthroats and Nashvilles, it is important to notice structure. Mourning and CT are large and bulky with big strong bills. Yellowthroat and Nashville are small. A yellowthroat will usually show a whitish belly , while a Nashville will show a yellow - white - yellow pattern. A Nashvile and Common Yellowthroat also have smaller finer bills, especially the Nashville. The Nashville, as stated above, will generally not be below eye level.

Also, CTs and Mournings show long undertail coverts, the triangular feathers under the tail. In fact the undertail coverts almost reach the end of the tail in CTs and about 50-75% of the tail in Mournings. Yellowthroats and Nashvilles both show short undertail coverts, projecting slighlty into the tail.

I hope this helps.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

A thank-you note to readers

Connecticut Warbler -- photo by David Speiser on 9/18/07

Mourning Warbler, photo by David Speiser

Mourning Warbler -- photo by David Speiser

Dear Readers,

Since this is not a personal blog, but a Central Park nature report, I try to avoid too much me me me. But I knew as soon as I stepped into the plane that would take me to Prague [again without my computer], that I should have told readers that I'd be gone for another week. Nevertheless it didn't occur to me that anyone would WORRY.

Thanks for worrying. And sorry.


PS In case you're wondering about Prague [and since I'm off and running about me me me]

1. I was born there and was visiting beloved relatives.
2. Monday September 17 was the world premiere of a film my husband [Allan Miller] made, and I also worked on, called House of Life, about the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague.

PPS The day before I left I handed in the manuscript for Central Park in the Dark. Phew. Still a lot of work left to do, but it's in. It will be out next spring. Some parts of it appeared on these pages, in slightly different form. You were there first.

Now, back to Central Park nature news. The two photos at the top are of recent fall visitors to the park belonging to a group of warblers called the Oporornis genus. These are very secretive birds that lurk in dense vegetation on the ground and are therefore very hard to find. David Speiser found them and photographed them.-- and many others did too. I asked him to send a few words helping people distinguish one species from the other. I'll post them when they come in.