Saturday, January 17, 2009


White-crowned Sparrow
Photo by Murray Head 1/15/09

My face is red, and not only from the cold. As Lloyd Spitalnik and Richard Koeppel pointed out in my morning mail, that bird all puffed up in the cold I posted yesterday is a White-CROWNED Sparrow, not a White-throated Sparrow. The White-crowned, a slightly bigger bird, is a much less common species in Central Park than the White-throated. It has a conspicuous white crown, no yellow lores and a pinkish bill [see above] and is not at all difficult to tell apart from the White-throated Sparrow[see below].
White-throated Sparrow

Friday, January 16, 2009

Puffed up may mean cold, not conceited

Northern Cardinal

European Starling

White-throated Sparrow

According to The Birdwatcher's Companion, Christopher Leahy's one-volume encyclopedia of bird information, a bird's body feathers are "layered and overlapped in such a way as to trap and stabilize a layer of air next to the body and greatly slow the outward radiation of body heat. These feathers are under muscular control and can be raised to increase the air space and amount of insulation. This explains the familiar cold-weather sight of birds 'fluffing out" their feathers. "

Murray Head's photos, above, taken in Central Park yesterday when the temperature was hovering around twenty degrees, perfectly illuminate Leahy's verbal description.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pale Male & Lola's chances for 2009

Pale Male & Lola, March 9, 2008
Photo courtesy of

On 1/6/09 I posted an intriguing note from John Blakeman in which he described extensive Redtail nest failures throughout the midwest in 2008 . He attributed them to
extreme weather conditions in the area and wondered whether Pale Male & Lola's nest failure last year might not have had a similar explanation. As he wrote:

If there are persistent strong, cold, rainy winds, even in the best wild nest, too much cold air can get down through the nest and cool the eggs, especially when the mother has to stand up and slice (defecate), or when she stands up to start tearing some prey her mate has brought her for food.

Many readers began to look through last year's weather archives in search of an extreme weather event in the New York City area during the 2008 incubation period.. Donna Browne described her search and her subsequent correspondence with John Blakeman on her blog Pale Male Irregulars []

As Donna wrote:

The only wind information I had at the point that I emailed John Blakeman was for March 8th, the day with the strongest wind for the month of March 2008, 64 mph wind gusts buffeted the area. The temperature ranged that day from a low of 33F and a high of 48F. I asked Mr. Blakeman whether those temperatures with gusts of wind that strong could have cooled Pale Male and Lola's eggs.

Here is his response--


Yes, 60-plus mph gusts, especially at a nest against a wall (as is 927) could cool the eggs. But had incubation begun in the first or second week of March?

Well, when did incubation begin in 2008? Donna wasn't sure. Here's a note I posted on this site on March 7, 2008:

The date on which Lola first spends the night on the nest, which is also the time she and Pale Male begin to exchange sitting duty so the nest is attended at all times, is a landmark for Hawkwatchers. It may not mean that actual incubation has begun -- there are probably a few practice days that go by before egg laying begins and incubation begins in earnest. But we keep track of that date. It means that real incubation is imminent--will begin within a few days. Yesterday, March 6, was the day!

Though I wrote that the commencement of exchanges might only have meant that incubation was imminent, theoretically there could have been eggs, very vulnerable new eggs, in the nest on March 8, 2008. Therefore, the March 8 windstorm Donna describes might have been the extreme weather event Blakeman was wondering about.

Time will tell...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The sky show tonight

Waning gibbous moon as it might appear [with a telescope] tonight around 10 pm

Sunset today is at 4:52 pm, and civil twilight ends at 5:22 pm. [At the end of civil twilight it is dark enough to see the brightest astronomical objects.]

What planets will be visible tonight?

Venus sets tonight at 8:49pm . It should be visible as a bright star in the western part of the sky after 6 pm, and will be setting at the western horizon around 8:30 pm.

Saturn rises at 9:28 pm. If you're still awake, you should be able to see it above the eastern horizon by 10 pm or a few minutes earlier. The gibbous moon [ 83% illuminated] will be rising at about the same time tonight, and so its light might obscure the planet somewhat.

And that's it for planet watching tonight -- if the sky is clear, that is. Otherwise, enjoy the snow or the rain or whatever else the night has in store for you.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Local eagles

Photo by Rob Mastrianni - 1/3/09

Rob Mastrianni is a Park Ranger at Inwood Hill Park, which is just a hop and a skip to the north of Central Park [Well, a longish hop and skip, but it's easily accessible by Subway. ]

He leads a Winter Eagle Watch program every Saturday at 8am on the Dyckman Ballfield (the very northwest of Inwood Hill Park, at the Hudson River).

He sent me the photo above and a note:

On 1/3/09 we saw 2 adult eagles and 1 immature at 8:10am. This week, 1/10/09 at 8:20 and 8:50am we saw 2 adult eagles. It is such a rush to see these amazing raptors so close to the city!

Sounds well worth going! Here are subway directions, from the NYC Dep't of Parks website:
By Subway: Take the 1 or the 9 train to the 215th Street stop. Walk North to 218th Street. Take a left and walk on 218th Street. The entrance to the park is at the end of the street.
OR Take the A train to 207th Street. If you are in the last car of the train (near the handicap elevator), proceed west to Seaman Avenue, then north to Isham Street. If you are in the first car of the train, you will exit onto Isham Street.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

LEO in a snowstorm

During yesterday's beautiful snowstorm a nameless birdwatcher led Bruce Yolton to a Long-eared Owl sitting in a tree at the edge of the Reservoir. You can find other pictures of the owl on Bruce's blog

Though there have been a number of owl sightings in Central Park this fall and winter, we have yet to find a regular roost.

This week we're beginning a serious owl hunt.