Saturday, September 29, 2007

Look into my eyes, if you dare

Bob Levy writes:

I had so much positive feedback about my images of a particular Central Park Raccoon den that I’m pretty sure many will enjoy this. The first two shots appeared on Marie’s post of Sept. 22 entitled “Nosy Raccoon Tale.” I’m certain this latest image is the same Raccoon cub in the first of those shots and is likely the same one I caught snoozing in the same tree cavity. This new image was made at sunset in the same place. The light was not the best as you can see but if you zoom in you will find it rewarding. The sideways pose is great but what really “gets me” are those crossed paws. And there is no danger gazing into those eyes. No, this Raccoon could not be possessed but it sure “gotta hold” of me.

PS from Marie: It took me a little time to figure this one out. After zooming in twice I realized that one of the paws I thought I saw was actually a paw-like bump in the tree trunk underneath, and only the kid's head and ends of paws are sticking out of the den hole. I found the picture oddly haunting, and now I'm looking for an exorcist .

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Turtle Yoga

Bob Levy, a frequent night-time observer of Central Park wildlife, sends in a sunny, daytime reverie about two kinds of turtles basking peacefully on a single log. But are they merely basking? Bob thinks not. [Photo and caption by Bob Levy]

“Very good but try harder to get your other leg off the ground and don’t forget to breathe and don’t strain.”

For a change here's something I can recommend you try at home. I serendipitously stumbled into a turtle-yoga class. Not being an expert I found It hard to interpret the significance of this one-on-one situation involving members of two different species. The smaller one looks like a Painted Turtle and the other a Red-eared Slider. Can you turtle experts out there offer an explanation?

Later at home I managed to successfully perform this turtle-yoga pose myself. It was fairly easy to do for a short time but I could not hold it as long as these turtles did. At least five minutes had passed when I left them and and they continued to maintain the pose with poise, so to speak, as I walked away. I suppose their specialized anatomy was a plus. To keep those legs up it probably helps to have the advantage of a shell.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blakeman Q & A about hawks' play

Photos courtesy of --September 20, 2007

Over the past week or so has posted photos of Pale Male apparently frolicking in the grass.  I guess this is mostly a question for John Blakeman, because I never realized hawks "played."  Is this typical behavior?

I guess I shouldn't be that surprised; as a predator a hawk is no less fierce than members of the cat family, and as everyone knows, cats LOVE to play.


Jaime A. Cruz, Jr.
Nassau Wings Motorcycle Club

A. by John Blakeman
About Palemale's recent "play" sequence of photos.
When I saw the first one, where the big bird is descending out in the open turf, I immediately wanted to know what drew the hawk to the site. What was it dropping down on to? I wasn't able to see anything of interest.

This seemed pretty anomalous to me.

No, red-tails don't "play" in any mammalian or childlike sense. Yes, eyasses and new fledglings "play" with sticks, feathers, and pieces of food But these behaviors are used to hone reflexes. And yes, the birds "like" to do these things. But they are more of normal psychological and physiological development than a joyous response activity.

These things can certainly look to us as though the birds are "having fun," playing as it were. But in fact, these are very serious neurological development events. The joy factor -- if there is one -- is purely incidental, and very minor, if it exists at all.

And as a teacher, I know that this is also closer to reality for young children who play with dolls or sticks or bicycles. Looks to us as though it's only childish fun. In fact, it's the serious work of growing up as a youngster.

For us adults, who do things like play cards, read books, play golf, or even just go for a walk, we do have fun. We really do play.

But was Palemale playing as he dropped down into the expanse of turf in Central Park? Not by any normal definition of the word. He probably saw a mouse wandering around down in the grass. Maybe even a grasshopper, which red-tails consume from time to time. Unless some other graphic evidence can be presented, this sure looks to be prey-related.

--John Blakeman

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A ninteresting and a ninsightful nitem

Photo of eyases at Cathedral of St. John the Divine by Bruce Yolton

Chris Karatnytsky, notable North Woods owl finder, sends in a Ninternet Nitem:

Did you know that "eyas" is something called a "false split"?

What's common among an orange and an omelet... and an uncle and an umpire?
Earlier all these words used to take the indefinite article "a", not "an".

They were coined by a process called false splitting. Let's take
orange. The original word was Sanskrit naranga. By the time it reached
English, the initial letter n had joined the article a, resulting in
"an orange". The word for orange is still narangi in Hindi, naranja in
Spanish, and naranj in Arabic.

This false splitting caused what should have been "a napron" to become
"an apron". The same process transformed "a nadder" into "an adder", and
reshaped many other words.

The n went the other way too. "Mine uncle" was interpreted as "my nuncle"
resulting in a synonym nuncle for uncle. The word newt was formed the same
way: "an ewte" misdivided into "a newte".

Could false splitting turn "an apple" into "a napple" or "a nail" into
"an ail" some day? Before the advent of printing, the language was primarily
oral/aural, resulting in mishearing and misinterpreting. Today, spelling
is mostly standardized, so chances of false splitting are slim, though
not impossible.

This week we'll look at a few more examples of words formed by false splitting.

eyas (EYE-uhs) noun

A nestling, especially a young falcon or hawk.

[By erroneous splitting of the original "a nyas" into "an eyas". From Latin
nidus (nest), ultimately from the Indo-European root sed- (to sit) that
is also the source of sit, chair, saddle, soot, sediment, cathedral, and

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rare photo of sleeping monarch [non-mammalian]

Last night Brad Klein, an avid Central Park naturalist, sent me the picture to the left and a fascinating e-mail:

Where do Monarch butterflies spend the night, Marie?

I knew from reading Robert Pyle's monarch book (years ago!) that they don't migrate by night, but find a convenient leaf or twig around sunset, and settle in. But I've only seen it twice, both times during the Fall migration.

We spent the afternoon at the Hook mountain hawk watch, and saw 100+++ monarchs over the course of the day. At home, we sat down to dinner on our terrace facing south down Amsterdam Ave. We were watching the monarchs go by. Maybe 25 over the course of an hour or so. One drifted down in lazy circles and landed on a shrubby plant overhanging the terrace. It yawned mightily and stretched its tired wings, and I said to Danielle [Brad's wife] 'I think that one is going to spend the night here.' It really did look tired somehow, although I can't say exactly why.

The sun set, and the waxing gibbous moon rose, and sure enough, our guest is out there this minute resting up for tomorrow's leg of her journey toward Mexico.

This morning Brad sent an early morning e-mail:

To our great surprise, Sleepy fluttered off at 6:58 this morning. It was about 63 degrees F.

We had thought s/he would wait until a bit of direct sunlight fell on her perch, but no. An early departure, SW, toward the Hudson R.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Goshawk

The Goshawk, a book by T.H. White [author of The Once and Future King, among many other books] has been out of print for many years. I'm a big T.H. White fan and have always loved The Goshawk. Now, New York Review of Books Classics has reprinted it as part of the "Classics" series of worthy books that have gone out of print. Its publication date is October 2.

I thought I'd mention this here because:

1. Many of you are hawk fans and this book is about a man who tries to train a hawk according to the ancient rules of falconry.
2. I wrote the introduction for this new edition
3. In my essay you'll come upon a brief quote by John Blakeman, a name familiar to all readers of this website.

Below I've included a link to the NYRB Classics page describing the book. If it seems of interest, I think you can order it from the site. If not, you can order it from Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. It's a paperback--not horribly expensive.