Saturday, February 12, 2011

CORRECTION to previous post about owls

Please note that the directions for locating the 4 Long-eared Owls noted in the previous post were INCORRECT, due entirely to my error. The owls were in a stand of pines on CHERRY HILL, not in that hilly knoll between the Boathouse and Bethesda Fountain. They might be there again today.

I spent a lot of time searching for them in the wrong place. Then Deb Allan came along and pointed me in the right direction. Thanks Deb. I hope no one else went astray because of my faulty directions.

I finally saw the the owls myself at around 3:15 pm today [2/12/11], By then they were no longer all in one tree as they had been in MURRAY HEAD's photos taken earlier in the day. Only one was in the original pine. A second was in a beech tree nearby. The other two were nowhere to be seen. Apparently they had been harrassed by a couple of rowdy squirrels, causing them to disperse.

What could be better than ONE Long-eared Owl in a pine tree?

Photographer MURRAY HEAD has the answer:

Four Long-eared Owls in the same pine tree!




and FOUR!

If you want to see them for yourself, head for a hill not far from the Boathouse [in the direction of Bethesda Fountain] where owls have been found in previous years.

Luxurious Leggings

Pale Male, 2/6/11
photo courtesy of

Regarding the photo above, Bill Trankle of Indianapolis, IN , writes:

Is it just me or do pictures like this just make you want to pet those leg fuzzies? I'm sure he'd have a very negative reaction to such ministrations, but they look so luxurious!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Yesterday's report--and it's no warmer today

Varied Thrush -- Central Park 1/16/11

Date: 10 February 2011 Observer: Rafael Campos R.
[from ebirdsnyc]

CP today was complety frozen, temperatures below 30°F. Nothing visible in the little open water at the Reservoir, Lake totally frozen. But it was worth the visit, I got the thrush!! Little pockets of activity, with a large flock of Grackles, Blackbirds, Cowbirds + some White-throated Sparrows, near the Delacorte Theater.
Thanks to T. Fiore, with whom I crossed paths around midday, pointing out to me the Varied Thrush. Great views!!! At the feeders, the most unusual, was 1 Fox Sparrow among the numerous Juncos, White-throated Sparrows.
The list:

(American) Herring Gull
Common Pigeon
Mourning Dove (1, feeders)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (feeders)
Downy Woodpecker (feeders)
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch (2)
Carolina Wren (1, maintenance field)
American Robin (4)
Varied Thrush (1, feeding with some Robins)
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch (4, Strawberry Fields)
American Goldfinch (feeders)
House Sparrow

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Blakeman provides tail details

Pale Male and Pale Beauty on the Hotel Carlyle roof, 2/7/11
Photo courtesy of

A few days ago hawkwatcher Mai Stewart sent a query to John Blakeman about Pale Beauty's tail feathers [as seen on the website on 2/5/11] . Below, Mai's question and the Ohio hawk expert's illuminating reply:


Hi John,
I was somewhat startled to notice in Lincoln's pix today the pale color of Pale Beauty's tail -- very light red, even white towards the top, where it meets her body -- and wondered whether this was a normal variation among RTs, or a function of her age? I.e., as she gets older, will her tail darken to the same intensity as PM's, or do you think it will remain as it is now?



Thanks for bringing this photo to my attention. I hadn't seen it. And yes, this feather is uncommonly light-colored.

The feather, which falconers call a central deck feather, right in the middle of the tail (ornithologists call tail feathers "retrices"), still has rusty hues, but it is markedly lighter than normal. Is this normal? Maybe. Maybe not. There is a moderate chance that Pale Beauty, like a good number of Red-tails, has genes for leucisticism (formerly, and incorrectly, "albinism").

A very few Red-tails, from before hatching, are authentic albinos, birds unable to synthesize any tissue pigment. They are pure white in all feathers, and have whitish eyes. Only a few of these have ever been studied, and they appear to have a number of other physiological problems, resulting in their early deaths. Very few, if any, of these true albinos ever survive to adulthood. Pure albinism in many animal species is related to a host of other biochemical defects.

But among all the Buteo hawk species in the world, it appears that the Red-tailed Hawk is most commonly leucistic. I trapped and studied one and observed two molts before it was released. There are now many Internet postings of photos of leucistic Red-tails. They are seen each autumn at all the major hawk migration points, such as Hawk Mountain.

From field reports of their occurrence here in Ohio, I estimate that one Red-tail out of every 1000 to 5000 displays leucistic feathers at some point in its life. And the following relates to Pale Beauty. l hypothesize, based upon my field and lab observations, that the leucistic trait is expressed much in the manner of gray-headedness in humans; it is not much seen, or only in low intensity, in early age. But as the hawk with the gene(s) gets older, more and more feathers molt out white.

And in the first stages of Red-tail leucisticism, in most cases, only large flight feathers are first affected. In Pale Beauty's case, her central retrice sure looks to have the gene. There just isn't much reddish pigmentation.

So this could be really interesting. If she really does have leucistic genes---and the paleness of her head, too, might give a hint of that---we just might see a partially white tail feather a year from now. Two or three years from now, a good portion of the retrices, and probably some wing primaries or secondary, will molt out white.

Often, there is a curious pattern of unpigmented white against normal pigmentation, all in the same feather. Half of it, often in an angled, slashed pattern, is white, with the rest normal.

Now clearly Pale Male, if he has leucistic genes, has not expressed them. At his age, he'd be angelic white if he had a full complement of leucistic genes. But I'm very curious about Pale Beauty's weakly-pigmented central tail feather. It may be a hint of something to come.

And of course, what might be the feather pigmentation, then, of new Pale Male/Pale Beauty eyasses this year, if either---OR BOTH---have Red-tail DNA for white feathers? This could be very interesting.
Or, Pale Beauty's weakly-pigmented tail feather may be merely incidental to some other, non-leucistic genes. That feather may drop down in next summer's molt with normal pigmentation. Hope we can watch this.

--John Blakeman

Monday, February 07, 2011

Creatures at Pilgrim Hill

MURRAY HEAD writes on Monday 2/7/11:

Today on Pilgrim Hill... the last of the snow celebrants posed for me.