Archive for the 'Fieldnotes' Category


Alan F. Poole’s Ospreys: The Revival of a Global Raptor

In my half century life, there has been a great recovery of Osprey populations after ruthless persecution and even more ruthless chemical warfare. Luckily, this long-distant migratory bird is highly adaptable. They readily take to artificial nesting spots: 3 of 5 pairs in North America nest on human-made structures, many deliberately placed for them.

Pandion haliaetus is found around the world in four subspecies. The largest concentration of these fish hawks is found (in breeding season) in the Chesapeake Bay region. Driving across the Potomac River Bridge, for instance, is remarkable for sightings of flying birds, and nesting sites. Pandion haliaetus carolinensis is the subspecies we’re familiar with in North America; genetic evidence suggests the birds spread out around the world from North America during the Pleistocene.

Curiously only the Australian/New Guinea population is a southern hemisphere breeder. Others winter in the southern hemisphere (South America, Africa, India, SE Asia) but don’t breed there. Interestingly, not so much is known about the Japanese population. The cover photo is of one of the least populous subspecies, P. h. ridgewayi, found in Cuba and the coast of Belize.

Hazards abound. Fish farmers in winter months take a toll. The birds are a bellwether for toxins; our chemical civilization continuously releases new poisons into the ecosystem, and tens of thousands of the old ones pre-date testing requirements. Eastern Europeans still shoot them; the generally good news on recovery from the UK (over a million people have visited an osprey nest site in Scotland since 1959), France, Germany, and Scandinavia is not seen in Poland and nearby countries. The Mediterranean crossing during migration still bristles with guns.

Osprey’s have 8-9 feet of intestine. Fish make up 99% of their diet. They’ll eat almost any fresh or salt water fish, but particularly like the species that school in shallow waters.

About half of each year’s young don’t make their first birthday. For those that do make it, they usually take an extra year in their wintering areas before returning north to breed. So a bird born this year won’t return until 2021. Adults, of course, return every year, often unerringly to the same nest site. Mates spend the winter apart. Their winter grounds are often very contained, just a few square miles. The trip back north in early spring is faster than the trip south, when they often stop to rest up and eat. (Females in particular are pretty weak after breeding season.) Cuba is the route south of the majority of birds in the east.

Alan F. Poole has spent years studying these birds. He writes a good book. Pictures from a banding I helped out at in 2010.
Another in 2012.
And again.

In 2016, a pair of Osprey nested on a light tower at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, sorta-kinda in sight of my apartment. There were young, but no repeat performance.

Trump reminds us how fragile such victories as the Osprey recovery. An authoritarian party of profiteers-in-death can sweep away the good works of the past. He’s trying to gut science from the EPA and other parts of government at the behest of the plutes, polluters, and future-killers. The Republicans are the party of death for humans, animals, and planet. In a very important action this week, the rape-minded Injustice, B. Kavanaugh, signaled his Federalist Society mission loudly and clearly: to strip the ability of federal agencies to regulate.

Wild Remains

For some, the aesthetics of the native meadow will take some getting used to.

Raptor Wednesday on Thursday

Having spotted this Red-tailed Hawk on the roof of my apartment building when I returned home last week, I hurried up the five flights to see what I could see.
The bird was mantling over its prey, spreading out wings and tail feathers.
Classic raptor behavior. We surmise from this that the bird is trying to conceal its prey from others.
Like, um… so it seems a good surmise. This other Red-tail was also a juvenile. I wonder if these were siblings? (Saw four adult Red-tails soaring together over Green-Wood recently; more recently this last weekend, saw three from my window along with a Common Raven, but in the excitement and the cloudy light, I didn’t get any ages.)
Access to our roof is via the stairway bulkhead. The wind was fierce. I didn’t want to go out, which would probably have scared off the hawk. So I held the door to keep it from being banged open by the wind with one hand and took pictures with the other.Here’s the other hawk, the one without the pigeon lunch.
Nicitating membrane, the other eyelid of birds, visible here.
I retreated as quietly as I’d arrived. The neighbor right below this corner could hear the bird screeching. Sometime later, I noticed one of the hawks flying downhill, with a gull behind, the gull probably eager to pick at scraps, if there were any.

Raptor Wednesday

Walking home, the low November sun in my eyes, I was not at first sure that the shape on the corner of my apartment building was. I briefly wondered if there was an architectural flourish I’d never noticed. The silhouette quickly resolved itself. A Red-tailed Hawk.
With prey. And screeching at the other Red-tailed that landed on the parapet nearby. The source of this buteo excitement was a pigeon, probably one of the crew which regularly perch atop this roof.
A very stiff wind was playing havoc with the hawk’s feathers.
Mantling, or spreading wings and tail to shroud the prey, and rending squab, the bird screeched and watched the sky. The other Red-tail, also a juvenile, was still around.

Going to this leave a cliffhanger, or roof-hanger… until tomorrow.

11th Month Insecta

There are still a few insects in the cold.
On Friday, this wasp, bumble bee, and fly were active. There were other flies about, and other impossible-to-photograph diptera, and a lovely leaf-hopper or two.
Some kind of gall on a crab apple. Exit hole visible.
Remember last January when I found a large cocoon that I thought belonged to a Polyphemus moth? On Friday, at the same willow oak, I found another.

Paper wasp paper.
Saturday was much colder, but this Fall Armyworm was on the march.
Also on that cold and blustery Saturday, we found three different harvestmen, each one on lichen or moss. Of course, we were looking at lichen and moss, so…

Why Birds?

Why not mammals, asks Simon Barnes in The Meaning of Birds. He doesn’t use the example of dogs and cats, but these do illustrate our affinity for our fellow warm-blooded, lactating fur-balls. Of course, these are domesticated animals, tamed for precisely their human-philic characteristics. Wild mammals, which we nevertheless try to cute-ify and commodify, know better. They don’t want much to do with homicidal maniacs. Except for a few exceptions (and places), mammals are quite scarce to the eye. Cagey, elusive, nocturnal. (Did you know that the majority of mammal species, by far, are bats?)

Most birds, on the other wing, are diurnal. They’re found everywhere. They’re beautiful, sing marvelously, and fly, all extremely powerful attractions that have pulled us towards them for a very, very long time.

This is, in short, a book for the bird or nature skeptic in your life.

The forces of death — really, there’s no other way to describe them in 2019 — want to dump toxic dredging material in Jamaica Bay, a vital area of habitat in New York City. A bill before Governor Cuomo to extend the anti-dredging law awaits his signature. He must be waiting to see if the people can talk louder than money over the issue. Here’s more about the issues and the legislation, which has passed both houses in Albany.

I’ve cut and pasted this letter from Joshua Malbin on the nysbirds-L/ebirdnyc mailing lists for inspiration if you’d like to add your voice communicating to the governor. As always, personalizing such things is the best way to go.

“I am writing to urge you to sign S.4165/A.5767 into law. This important bill would extend permanently protections for Jamaica Bay against dumping hazardous dredged material that are currently set to expire in 2022.

The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is one of the most widely acknowledged and respected bird sanctuaries in the Northeastern United States, and the bay itself is an ecological treasure all New Yorkers can enjoy. People fish in its waters year-round.

The constant threat from city, state and federal agencies to use the deep portions of Jamaica Bay as a garbage dump for contaminated sediment has long been one of the biggest threats to the future of the bay. While these threats started to appear decades ago, they have found new supporters as various dredging projects around the city have created a need to get rid of sediment that is often contaminated. In addition, the research that has more recently come to light highlights the amazing role that the deep portions of the bay play in supporting massive amounts of marine life that would cease to exist should they be filled in.

Please sign sign S.4165/A.5767.”

Incredible that we have to keep on doing this, right?


Went on a walk last weekend in Central Park in honor of Alexander Von Humboldt and the late mycologist Gary Lincoff. We met at the Explorer’s Gate, next to the Humboldt bust. The baby vomit stench of ginkgo fruits, rotting and crushed on the sidewalk, deterred us not.

The venerable American elm behind Alex reaches over the wall to the right and sends branches well below the street level down below to the park level. It’s cosseted by cables linking the outstretching limbs. It’s a good metaphor for the park itself: it takes a lot of support to keep this going, to handle the millions who pour into its bounds every year.

Seen amidst the conversations:
A very pale Mallard variation, presumably a feral domesticated bird.
New York City, baby! Big as a Sherman Tank and just a few feet away from the second most crowded bridge in the park.
Hackberry Star Gall, caused by a psyllid, Pachypsylla celtidisasterisca, a kind of true bug.


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