HawkArtScience: Hawksaloft.com blog

A kind of hiatus — beyond the Summer — continues as I redesign this site to make the 150+ posts more accessible as more of a raptor resource, and a blog. So, Hawksaloft.com v3.0 is coming.

31 May 2010, Monday
Loose ends...

Kabuki Oil Theatre
The moment the BP rental well blew, the only solution that would work would be drilling the relief well. All the rest has been for show; okay, maybe sincere panic and hope (beyond hope), as these other procedures all failed in 1979. We know that now. And somebody in the business knew it before this happened.

If you watched the MSNBC segment I posted on Friday, you might have watched the weekend's third act calmly with either resignation or seething anger, deep and cold as the ocean floor. Because either these oil men are really big children with no sense of shame or responsibility. Or they are reckless and selfish men, like bankers... only with more money.

As I said, as soon as the well blew, there was nothing that could have been done except, "Drill baby drill... that relief well." So as a safety measure, why isn't this only-fix required up front, before the first ounce of oil flows?

To make this as clear as BP and others are trying not to: on Day One, if the President came out and jumped up and down, yelled, hopped on AF1, etc... no effect. Still, we are waiting until August... for a relief well.

Rough-legged Hawks
We're at the end of May, and we can say the Roughlegs are likely done for the Spring even as other species continue on. I talked about and presented a hypothesis about the Fall, Winter, and Spring based on the poor early Summer '09 weather conditions across the eastern Roughleg breeding grounds. The idea was to test said hypothesis — that if the production of Roughlegs was effected by the cold, wet weather, then we should see few juvenile Roughlegs in Fall, find low to non-existent numbers in Winter and confirm that with the Spring migration numbers in general from the sites that see the most of 'em annually.

In the Fall, aging the Roughlegs seen along the eastern end of Lake Ontario, all were young adult by plumage. No birds of the year. The rarity of the Winter of '09-10 was the juvenile Roughleg, everytime I though I had one (maybe by heavy markings or nearly unmarked tail), I looked close and found that it wasn't. And to cut to the chase, the May numbers at Whitefish Pt. were diagnositic here too (RL numbers w/o any aging info from this site in particular, as May birds are a parade of juvs).

The following table is the same one from April 16th, but updated with numbers, as of today.

All data from Spring counts
2010 (to date)
2009 Total
May '10 (May '09)
Whitefish Pt. MI
229
798
35 (180)
Duluth MN
117
151
3 (19)
Braddock Bay NY
46
172
0 (2)
Derby Hill NY
112
310
1 (9)

The other point here, especially in light of the awful/weak weather conditions experienced at just about every site in eastern North America this Spring, is: at the beginning of the season, what else are you studying? At the beginning of our season, what if the weather is not conducive: what else can we look at this season to advance both our own knowledge and the science of hawk migration? What else are we counting on!

On the other hand, maybe one big day and something-or-other really close is good enough, followed by some pizza... and awards.

Offline now...
I found a note to myself from early April; found it just Saturday. Note to self: reasons to take the Summer off (last post should be 5/31/10): 162 Red Sox games to watch; too many unread books; need to organize direct links to every post -- that means every post is on its own page; create pages with visual links to every photo and video (more images than there are posts); set up slide scanner to convert all my old film slides of hawks and owls and people watching hawks and owls to digital images; continue on with "topical archives" or expand/change list, so I can refer to stuff with more ease and people can find stuff on their own. Then there is a list of geeky/codey items that need doing for upkeep of a site that is now a lot bigger and more dynamic that a year ago.

Alternatively, after 160+ entries, turn Hawksaloft.com into a directed reference site for hawkwatching information... so who knows, but this is the last post for now. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself since last October putting all my collected notes and thoughts online.

And averaging 15,000 'page views' monthly... I'm guessing you might have as well.

28 May 2010, Friday
A history lesson, in 7 minutes & 53 seconds

Sometimes it can be said, "If you've seen one news story, you've seen them all." For the Gulf oil spill, you see images you've seen before: the overhead shot, the oil birds, is there anything on fire (hell-fire). The words are always about the techniques being used, the valiant workers, the loss, the efforts.

Then there is the "blame game." This is how any attempt to ask about any faulty equipment or negligence is labeled by the spinners at large. In an auto accident, it does make a difference if we know the driver was drunk, speeding, aggressive, reckless, again.

Alternatively, in the print/online media, this week we started to get some interesting observations, but "stop the presses." As they say. This eight-minute segment from Wednesday night's Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC is "must see TV."

27 May 2010, Thursday
Molt (& quotes)

Ah, Broadwings molting... 'tis the season. And today's image is a nice close-up of a bird with a feather missing. When you click to enlarge the image you might think another feather — the short one — is a primary coming in, but not so. When that primary does show, it will look like a round black bug stuck to the wing because of the very wide and black end. It will stand out against its pale-tipped brethren.

What shows here nicely is an underwing covert feather. You can see its cohort in shadow against the longer primaries. And since each underwing covert feather does have a subterminal spot on it, you can also count up/out toward the leading edge of the wing: 1, 2, 3 rows of these underwing covert feathers. We don't have this bird in hand, so here we just know that all the extra little markings as you visually approach the front wing edge are all on that row of feathers, not more rows. Again, we'd know this with the bird in hand.

Now the new primary pushed the missing feather out and is growing in at this moment, but we can't see it yet.

Quotes today as all from A.Word.A.Day emails: vocabulary and something else to think about. I like quotes, for the exact same reason most people like them... 'boy, I wish I'd said that.'

"Society is like a stew. If you don't keep it stirred up you get a lot of scum on the top."
-- Edward Abbey, naturalist and author (1927-1989)

"The souls of emperors and cobblers are cast in the same mold. The same reason that makes us wrangle with a neighbor creates a war betwixt princes."
-- Michel de Montaigne, essayist (1533-1592)

"I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty."
-- Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)

"Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: 'Because the animals are like us.' Ask the experimenters why it is morally OK to experiment on animals, and the answer is: 'Because the animals are not like us.' Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction."
-- Charles R. Magel, professor of philosophy

 

26 May 2010, Wednesday
alt.Circus...

This post is a follow-up to last Thursday's When the circus comes to town entry (13 May), about the serious educational and moral problems I have with traveling raptor shows — no matter the intent.

When was the last time your Audubon Society or bird club took a field trip to the zoo? Now I know there are circumstances where you might. But not as a birding experience.

First and foremost, it ain't outside. And that's part of what's missing: the habitat, the context, birds plus who knows what else, the sky and wind too. Get it? You got it here... and there.

The foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that we live forever (or so we tell ourselves). From that comes: we also should maintain life at any cost and under all circumstances (more or less). We pull this off by seeing humans as soul-superior to other living things. This is where our eternal life idea comes from.

Now being that superior to others, we can make decisions all the time that are either in our best interest or theirs... which, if you stop and look around, always turns out to be the same thing. And what's "best" is how animals end up in zoos and at the end of leather tether. This is also how one group of people ends up doing harm to another group of people. Religion is, after all is said and done, about having a superiority complex.

All this requires a bit of sleight of hand/mind. In other words to accomplish the trick, we need to hide something or suspend a part of what we know to be true. In the case of animals, it is the completeness of their lives in the wild. It is what makes them whole. And as any hawkwatcher knows, it makes us whole as well.

The problem with the circus, zoo, and raptors coming to a school auditorium is the lesson is incomplete: basically and badly flawed, because it is not holistic. Here's an example from everyday-people life: in TV journalist Lesley Stahl's biography, she tells the story of a news story told one way, but interpreted completely differently by those who saw on the evening news. The Reagan administration made the claim that "catsup is a vegetable"... like carrots or peas. When this absurdity got out, Stahl knew there was blood in the water and wrote her story. But Reagan's people countered by quickly sending the president out into classrooms where he smiles and bends over and communes with the children (about to have their nutritional standards lowered). Inevitably, this footage ran behind the words of the story, and guess what, people seeing (and hearing) this news report saw a caring Ronald Reagan. The point here is, say what you will and say it over and over, but what you see — zoo, circus, raptor show — is what you take away... and that's an idea closer to pets and farm animals than wild beings who have a full and whole life away from ours, mostly.

What's the alternative to the circus (alt.circus)? It's wild birds in hand alright, but the final act in this show is the release of the raptor back into the wild! In hand wild birds at banding stations are different from the subdued, enslaved creature on tour (BTW, spending most of its time in a small enclosure between gigs). Wild birds caught for banding and then brought over to the hawkwatch for a brief program glare at the handler, and even at you, if the hawk even notices you... imagine that, a human not being noticed. That's a lesson in itself.

altcircus: image 1 0f 4 thumbaltcircus: image 2 0f 4 thumbaltcircus: image 3 0f 4 thumbaltcircus: image 4 0f 4 thumb

 

25 May 2010, Tuesday
Hawks Aloft asunder

Wolfe Island, Ontario has 86 wind turbines and boy have they been hungry. Their favorite food? Hawks, bats, and salad bar of various swallow species. Reading these Cuisinart reports isn't fun, but it's fact-filled, sort of.

To study this stuff, field workers walk under and around the towers to find and identify "carcasses" (the sci term for dead wild things). The methodology is selective for seasonal timing, etc. From there the numbers are statistically crunched... sliced and diced(?).

While each and every report assessing environmental impact is unique to the site, of course, the techniques are somewhat standardized, so they can be compared. What is also common to all these reports is the skew toward — guess what — no particular problems or devastation found, when all is said and done. If one of these reports ever said the ecological equivalent of "OMG" or "WTF", that would be some report! But they don't.

From the May 2010 report, which you can read and download here, you find the following on raptor kills. The term "/MW" is your measure of ecological balance, in energy-speak: "bird or bat (killed) per megawatt." If only we had more hawks and bats, we'd be energy independent in no time.

Twelve raptor and vulture fatalities were recorded over the course of this Reporting Period: six Turkey Vultures, three Red-tailed Hawks, two American Kestrels, and one Merlin. Correcting seasonally for searcher efficiency, scavenger and other removal rates, and the percent area searched, the 12 raptor/vulture and 88 other bird carcasses recovered represent approximately 602 bird fatalities over the course of this Reporting Period. The estimated total bird mortality for the Reporting Period is 6.99 birds/turbine (3.04 birds/MW). The mortality rate for the six-month Reporting Period at the EcoPower® Centre, at 3.04 birds per MW, is consistent with the results in nearby New York and other studies summarized by Arnett et al. (2007). The Reporting Period (July-December) covered slightly different seasons than other studies (e.g., in New York, late April to mid-October or November). Direct comparison of mortality at the EcoPower® Centre and the other wind power facilities will be possible following a full year of field studies in 2010.

Now these surveys are corrected for missing carcasses for reasons such as a scavenger carried in off or ate it right there. From the folks I've talked to about these corrections... well, you can guess whether they round up or down.

Want to see bats? Having trouble finding them and identifying them? Apparently under a wind turbine is a good place to start.

A total of 180 carcasses of five bat species were collected during the Reporting Period. The Hoary Bat (54 fatalities), Eastern Red Bat (44 fatalities), and Silver-haired Bat (36 fatalities), are classified as long-distance migratory tree bats and comprised 74% of all bat fatalities. The majority of bat mortality occurred between the end of July and mid-September, peaking during late August. Correcting for searcher efficiency, scavenger and other removal rates, and percent area searched, the 180 recovered carcasses represent approximately 1,270 bat fatalities over the Reporting Period. The total estimated bat mortality for the Reporting Period is 14.77 bats/turbine (6.42 bats/MW).

The 2009 bat mortality rate at the EcoPower® Centre, at 6.42 bats per MW, is at the low end of the range reported in North America and is considerably lower than the range reported in the eastern U.S. by Arnett et al. (2007). The bat mortality rate at the EcoPower® Centre is consistent with the results in nearby New York and is roughly 30-40% lower than the mortality measured at Maple Ridge, New York (9.42-11.23 bats/MW; Jain et al., 2007). The Reporting Period covered the entire fall period of concern, and so a comparison between sites is valid.

And as this last clip from the EcoPower report suggests, the deaths of bats at the Wolfe Island project is "at the low end of range reported in North America." So not to worry; so says the science.

24 May 2010, Monday
Hawks Today: Derby Hill

Well, it was a very nice day right from the get-go. Energy (and the winds) clearly directed out of the SE and into the El Nino system on Saturday... the Canadian low, gone as a neutralizing effect on the approaching front. Nice.
[see previous post — 5/21/10 — for my pessimistic take on the weather for Friday, at least]

By 8:30 BT(EST), there were Turkey Vultures and a few Broadwings up and on the move, SE wind looking like real deal, and more sun than clouds... prediction time — you can always make one and still just be there: 200 BWs & a 20 southern BE day, today.

In addition to those numbers coming true Saturday, double figures on young molting sandy brown Northern Harriers reminded me of a day on Outer Cape Cod. A three hundred hawk day in late May is a fun day... especially since there hasn't hardly been a decent front in the month!

Already on the move first thing were the Blue Jays: groups of twenty to thirty birds, continued on through the morning. Nice. One more, please.

 

21 May 2010, Friday
Looks like hawks, NOT

Sure it's an El Nino-lookin' thing: a hammerhead of a cold front heading into the Northeast, but the SE winds will likely not be there, out front in any kind of sustained way. Certainly not two-days worth.

Two fronts are in play here. The front on a Canadian flightline, is visible on the visible radar as straight shearing lines... don't see that every day.

So, El Nino plowing on a road from SW to NE; Canada front, draping and drooping. At the confluence of this river of air — calm air. But at the lake and ocean's edge, the winds will generated on a smallish scale by the local circulation of the two temperatures there. Read: sea or lake breeze. Also as the season finishes up, birds are a bit more particular about moving into sunny slots, avoiding/not concentrating under cloudy skies.

Now next week the Northeast is in for a continued flow of above average temps. Some sort of bubble, directly on the heels of these systems. How this flow finishes; how some sort of front passes on the warmest day will give us favorable winds for the hawks and hawkwatchers, or not.

It is ludicrous to use the published chestnut summarized as, "If you've seen one cold front, you've seen 'em all." And say further that that's how the hawks see it... "and we have the numbers to prove it." Again, sort of a unflattering paraphrase of a paper I've cited before.

 

20 May 2010, Thursday
Our history, with extinction

Sitting here, but unread at this point in time, is the recently published Nature's Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology (2009) by Virginia Tech historian Mark Burrow. His previous "history book" was A Passion for Birds: American Ornithology after Audubon (2000), so we can see his academic interests might be ours.

Still, Nature's Ghosts is non-fiction and shelved under "History"... if there is such a section in a bookstore, with the subtitle, "You're here to get an education, bucko." So, not for everybody.

As I said, I haven't read this one yet, but I picked it up because Professor Burrow has a couple of substantive and juicy quotes relevant to the study of extinction at the top of each chapter. I love that in a book.

Before Darwin, all kinds of scientific misconceptions could be heard and read, coming from otherwise great minds.

Such is the economy of of nature, that no instance can be produced of her having permitted any one race of her animals to become extinct; or having formed any link in her great work so weak as to be broken.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1784

But then things changed. No longer were werewolves possible or other ignorances permitted, without politics and its special interests. But first, back to Darwin's time and the dawn of modern science.

Should civilized man ever reach these distant lands, and bring moral, intellectual, and physical light into the recesses of these virgin forests, we may be sure that he will so disturb the nicely balanced relations of organic and inorganic nature as to cause the disappearance, and finally the extinction, of these very beings whose wonderful structure and beauty he alone is fitted to appreciate and enjoy.
-- Alfred Russel Wallace, 1869

You can see from Wallace's passion and his shared travel experiences, why Darwin shared the initial evolutionary theory stage with him. Darwin's understanding and experience was far greater than Wallace, but in him Darwin saw a bit of himself.

In the 20th century and the advent of ecology, we moved to the idea that whole systems might become endangered and were necessary to protect species within.

In general, from a philosophical and practical viewpoint, the unmodified assemblage of organisms is more valuable than the isolated rare species.
-- Victor Shelford, 1933

And well before Earth Day — between two world wars — a change in attitude toward predators began to be heard.

It seems true wisdom to preserve even apparently injurious species from wanton destruction. What moral right has man to decree the extermination of any bird which at worst merely reduces the number of some of its fellows? As biologists can we believe that the earth and all its inhabitants exist solely for the benefit of man?
-- James Chapin, 1932

It was also about this time that what Burrows calls "salvation through science" emerged.

I realize that there are some who feel that when a species becomes rare as in the Ivorybill that it is useless to try to preserve it, and they quote the history of the Heath Hen as an example. I feel, however, that had we known as much about Grouse in general twenty years ago as we do today, the Heath Hen might have been saved, and the same holds true for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Unless we know more than at present there is no hope of saving it.
-- Arthur Allen, 1936

With Earth Day and beyond, even presidents knew what Jefferson didn't.

Nothing is more priceless and worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life which our country has been blessed.
-- Richard Nixon, 1973

Now these are just a few of the quotes from the chapter headers in Mark Burrow's volume, Nature's Ghosts. Of course the quotes are followed by chapter text with more quoting of those people and events that have shaped our thinking and history regarding endangered species and extinction. The progession of chapters is followed by a hundred more pages of footnotes and bibliography... read on.

Empathy for living things comes from many years of observing them in their natural environments, which is why field biologist have always been among the most adamant defenders of wild Nature.
-- Reed Noss, 1996

 

19 May 2010, Wednesday
Sensitive, much?!

Sensitive Fern is a proper name for this plant: first and foremost, it is a fern, not "fern-like hence the name" (as us botanists say on occasion). No, a genuine fern. Secondly, it is sensitive... to frost, or frosty conditions.

Unfolding in mid-Spring — not too early, not late to the season — Sensitive Fern can get bitten by a dip in the temps at or near freezing. This Spring with everything ahead of schedule due to a mild Winter-past, and a lack of snow to melt and ground to thaw, add a couple of weeks to the term "mid-Spring."

The little video above shows a more protected patch of light green Sensitive Fern with only the hint of golden browning from the recent cold snap. This transitions to a nearby, more open, area where all the ferns are toast! I walked a mere five minutes to go from one microhabitat to the other.

Over the very wide range of this species — Onoclea sensibilis L. — in North America, the degree to which it will die back varies, both by latitude and by seasonal conditions.

I guess this is all about small changes, gradual changes, seasonal changes, dramatic changes: a matter of degree, observation, sensitivity.

 

18 May 2010, Tuesday
Pete does Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana...

Maybe like a tour of minor league ballparks, Pete Dunne's Prairie Spring (2009) is a natural history primer for the true fan... of Nature. If you're a "lister" look elsewhere for some Summer reading. This is slightly different Pete Dunne book: five by seven inches, so it mostly fits in a cargo pocket and has that older thicker paper, so the words and images are rough and ride on top.

Each chapter is crowned with a grainy black and white photograph, like you'd find in an older book, even a novel. Still written in the Dunne-style that brings the point back around (to nip you from behind), Prairie Song is a journal of Pete and Linda Dunne's caravan across the American Midwest long- and short-grasslands — bisonlands.

There is plenty of relief here, by way of rivers, small towns, the people of the prairie (not many at the core), the odd ridgeline and even a canyon or two. Not to worry: birds are on the agenda too.

For my part, I taught in a kind of one-room school district way back when... elementary classrooms downstairs, high school upstairs; all in a square, reddish brick building, you know the kind. I like the old fields, bogs, pine barrens, cedar glades (my very own plant community/discovery) and I can roam around in them with or without binoculars. Odd natural islands of all kinds appeal to me, but that's just me. These places are seemingly uninteresting to most. And as a bonus, in addition to be uninteresting at first, they are either hot or cold or windy or so flat that the lack of relief blinds the untrained eye and the mind behind it.

If any eye can open us up to the wonder of the prairies — without being too Zane Grey or Laura Ingalls Wilder — it's Pete Dunne. In addition to being able to read directly from the image above (after clicking), you can read a few more pages over at Amazon.com to get a feel for the thing.

 

17 May 2010, Monday
“Hawks don't need the wind”

The old wit, wisdom, and ego check for hawkwatchers goes, "Hawks don't need the wind, hawkwatchers do." But without proper weather patterns, how is one to judge the success of the season? And what is "proper" in the short history of hawkwatching?

Wave theory for hawkwatching (weather-hawks) works two ways... and in between. Ideally, and in the textbook description of a hawk flight a big wave of Spring birds is generated by a strong front with an unobstructed path stretching, often diagonally into the Northeast. El Nino patterns are a bit more like a snow plow than a windshield wiper, but still good if the timing between systems is wide enough to gather up and bring some birds. Now some sights are best for the former and some for the latter — Braddock Bay and Derby Hill, for example.

What you don't want is a battleground of both. Where the two weaken each other and nobody wins... weather system or hawkwatcher.

Wave theory sort of running in neutral is a week or two of daytime highs in the 6os, then a couple pushing seventy... What the hawkwatcher wants to see on the long-range forecast is some 70s followed by a high in the upper 40s, with snow, in early April. Later: 80s, then 50s... a roller coaster; an ocean. So this Spring is flat-lined, and we're seeing more of these seasons recently.

I guess I'd ask this question now, "Do hawks need the wind?" The old chestnut —up top — works as a lesson for the hawkwatcher, but do poor weather patterns for hawkwatching have an impact on survivorship for hawks?

14 May 2010, Friday
Picture this...

Hawks aside, here are two focus points for the our energy futures... and with those, the rest of the planet timeline. First, damage control of the corporate kind seems to be as important as other kinds. But it's important to be doing everything, including figuring out how much oil is coming down the pipe toward us.

The figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills.

Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who is an expert in the analysis of oil slicks, said he had made his own rough calculations using satellite imagery. They suggested that the leak could “easily be four or five times” the government estimate, he said.

“The government has a responsibility to get good numbers,” Dr. MacDonald said. “If it’s beyond their technical capability, the whole world is ready to help them.”

Scientists said that the size of the spill was directly related to the amount of damage it would do in the ocean and onshore, and that calculating it accurately was important for that reason.

BP has repeatedly said that its highest priority is stopping the leak, not measuring it. “There’s just no way to measure it,” Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said in a recent briefing.

Al Gore, writing in The New Republic, looks at both the disaster in the Gulf and what might come of it, or not. Here's his last thought from that piece. Take it from the top.

It is understandable that the administration will be focused on the immediate crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. But this is a consciousness-shifting event. It is one of those clarifying moments that brings a rare opportunity to take the longer view. Unless we change our present course soon, the future of human civilization will be in dire jeopardy. Just as we feel a sense of urgency in demanding that this ongoing oil spill be stopped, we should feel an even greater sense of urgency in demanding that the much larger and more dangerous ongoing emissions of global warming pollution must also be stopped to make the world safe from the climate crisis that is building all around us.

 

13 May 2010, Thursday
When the circus comes to town

When the circus came to town, in a bygone era, everyone thought innocently about the people, their lifestyle, and the animals in tow. It was all about the show ("Greatest... on Earth"). The same guy who sold us the circus, in the semi-modern era, had another famous line attributed, about suckers ("One born every minute").

Our romantic notion of circus life and the treatment of the animals is a bubble burst. Zoos too. I hope, in addition to problems with the conditions under which these individuals are imprisoned, we aren't fooled into thinking they serve a greater good — education.

When the circus comes to town these days, it might be visiting a school near you.

Today, The Raptor Project (www.raptorproject.com) visited my elementary school to the delight of our students. He brought with him an amazing array of birds: Bald and Golden Eagles, Barred, Barn, Eastern Screech, Eurasian Eagle and Spectacled Owls, Kestrel, Peregrine and Aplomado Falcons, Harris and Broad-winged Hawks, Crested Caracara, and yes, a Gyrfalcon.

Jonathan Wood did two shows for our entire school in the gymnasium complete with some free flying birds (two owls decided they wanted to take up residence in the rafters!). Then we moved to the library for an up close and more intimate talk with the fourth graders. They were able to watch a Golden Eagle catch a tossed rat with its talons and then devour it during the talk. They watch a Barn Owl take its food then fly to a secluded corner to devour its meal in privacy. They learned about special adaptations these raptors have as well as many other interesting facts that hopefully got them hooked on birds of prey.

My highlight was being able to hold the Aplomado Falcon! I've seen them in Texas a few times, but up close - what a gorgeous bird!

I wish every child could experience this - or something as exciting to do with our natural world. Hopefully, programs like Jonathan Wood's will get more children excited about the natural world around them.

Make no mistake, this is the circus... repackaged. I have no doubt this is an entertaining day of circus-like performances by birds of prey acquired in a variety of ways. But is it educational... in an ecological sense? Are these birds exemplars of their kind; ambassadors of their species? No.

The modern peer-reviewed literature has caught up and matches up with much of the best natural history writing. To be ecological and right for that matter, our stories — certainly since Earth Day — are all about plants and animals, wild, and in context. Whole. To define raptors in parts: talons, feathers, beaks; or out of context: away from the large landscapes that give them (and us) meaning, is not educational. Not whole.

Now, you know this if you have been out and found wild things, especially hawks and owls, for yourself. You know better.

This particular "act" — The Raptor Project — can also be seen annually at the New York State Fair, sponsored (unfortunately) by the state parks system. While it's not on the midway, that is close by. After viewing the hawks and owls you can go see the world's smallest horse and the bearded lady.

 

12 May 2010, Wednesday
Science... all the buzz

So it's only an experiment, but mosquitoes in a laboratory setting now ignore DEET (the world's most common personal insect repellant ingredient). This is an annoying adjustment for us, but in areas with Yellow Fever this is a big deal.

The scientists have thus seen that the sensory cell on the mosquito's antenna has stopped reacting to DEET. This have many explanations, such as the protein that binds in to DEET having mutated.

Yet another reason why the fragmentation of forests — making our woods more patchy by farming then development — decreases bird numbers. Starting with the first three paragraphs of this study summary, I hope you'll be intrigued enough to continue reading.

About half of all bird nests don't survive due to predators, particularly in fragmented forest areas, but why? University of Illinois researchers monitored both the prey and predator to find an answer.

"Rat snakes accounted for a high percentage of cases of nest predation," said U of I researcher Patrick Weatherhead. "Our hypothesis was that because snakes spend so much more time on the edges of the forest, that's where bird nests should be most vulnerable. And in fact, we never found that."

He explained that rat snakes, which in eastern North America are the number one predator to nesting birds, go into the forest to feed, then return to the edges to regulate their body temperature, breed, and shed their skin. "Clearly, a lot of the time they are on the edges they're not actively hunting, because nests on the edges were not at greater risk from the snakes than the nests on the interior of the forest."

In a recent report, it seems that across a variety of bird groups, if you migrate you have a smaller brain than if you are a bird that stays put. Here's a concluding thought from this study. Take it from the top.

Normally a larger brain offers many advantages. Then why is it that in the case of migratory birds natural selection has favoured smaller brains? The study highlights various explanations, but the general idea focuses on the possibility that a large brain does not necessarily have to be better. According to Daniel Sol, "the brain is an organ that consumes a lot of energy and develops slowly and this can be too costly for migratory species which must travel far and have little time to reproduce." At the same time, the reduction in brain volume could also be caused by a decrease in cognitive functions no longer useful to migratory species. He goes on to say that, "For birds that travel a lot, exploring their surroundings produces more costs than benefits since the information which is useful in one place is not necessarily so in another. It also exposes them to more dangers. For these reasons we believe that for these species, their innate behaviour can be more useful than learned behaviour."

Whether birds are changing quickly, quick enough, or not is the subject of one study after another. Or so it seems. This is the subject of the day: change in the face of climate change. No study is likely to be the concluding one, in fact each is a piece of the puzzle... where we're working on several puzzles and the pieces are mixed together at times. Who knows which are the corners, and for which puzzles. Think of it that way.

In a selection experiment with blackcaps from southwest Germany, Francisco Pulido and Peter Berthold at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell were able to show that first non-migratory birds are to be found in a completely migratory bird population after only two generations of directional selection for lower migratory activity. The strong evolutionary reduction in migration distance found in this study is in line with the expected adaptive changes in bird migration in response to environmental alterations caused by climatic change.

11 May 2010, Tuesday
The Daily Show, #12

Molt Appreciation Month continues.

The image at the right expands out into two molting birds that look just like two other molting birds previously displayed here!

This Turkey Vulture (see also 27 April) and another Red-tailed Hawk (5 May) both are molting primaries during migration — an inconvenient thing to be doing in transit. But it happens.

Now during May (and June), we can observe this happening in these two species plus others nearly every day. Over the length and breadth of the season, the percent that exhibit molt is tiny. Essentially this is happening because the birds at this time are both on time and behind schedule. While the timing can vary within a species because of age, sex, breeding status, those birds that are pulling up the rear of the survival of the fittest train often are molting. The molt is on a biological timer — based on the category of the bird and the absolute date... or better, angle of the sun in the sky and the lengthening day.

In both the TV and Redtail, the new primaries coming in look just like the surrounding ones. When we see Broadwing molt later this month and into June we'll see something a little different.

When you are in the mood to read some more about all kinds of birds and how they molt, why a group of evolutionarily-related species molt the way they do, and more check out the brand new Steve Howell bookMolt in North American Birds — a Peterson Reference Guide.

For more on the hawks, Brian Wheeler covers this stuff in his Raptors of North America (Eastern and Western volumes) patterned after Dick Forsman's chapter in The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East. Then within the context of each species, molt is discussed again.

 

10 May 2010, Monday
It's just quotes & kettles...

“You can’t just let nature run wild.” “A tree looking at a tree really doesn’t do anything.” Those little gems came to us from the Yogi Berra of government, Walter J. Hinkel — Secretary of the Interior under President Nixon... a liberal-socialist, by today's apparent standards (both of 'em).

Hinkle, died last Friday in the state where he was governor (Alaska!), twice. Imagine being elected governor of Alaska and completing not just one term, but a couple. Those were the days.

Wally Hinkel was a character, in any time, but also had this idea that when elected one should actually try to serve. The NYTimes had a nice, long obit on Saturday. Interestingly, he was around for another famous oil well blow out.

“Let’s find new ways, better ways of doing business so that our industries can prosper and our environment flourish at the same time,” Secretary Hickel said. “The right to produce is not the right to pollute. America must prove to itself as well as to others worldwide that it has the ability to clean up the garbage it has left in its wake.”

Errol Morris, documentary filmmaker, said (on Twitter):
"Apropos of nothing. My definition of a stupid person. A stupid person is a person who treats a smart person as though they're stupid."

Here are several quotes from the last two months I saved from A.Word.A.Day emails:
"I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be."
-- Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

"A gun gives you the body, not the bird."
-- Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

If you chase after things — like hawks or quotes — with a touch of passion, you'll see something new every day. Sometimes, the opposite. You'll come across a quote that says just about the same thing another does. Now there are two theories here (for the short course). First, it's just a reworking of the original, which might not actually be the original in the first place. This might be conscious or un-, meaning the reworker honestly didn't remember that thing that stuck in his mind... maybe just because it was such a good quote. Second, it is the exact same sentiment cupped out of the stream of our consciousness, where the two quote-makers came up with a thought, crafted it into words, and passed it on independently, but yet not so. And I have no idea which these are. Certainly some thought tweaking here.

"We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."
-- Richard Dawkins, biologist and author (b. 1941)

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
-- Stephen Roberts, database architect (b. 1967)

Today's image is a kind of juxtaposition. In the ocean of air we have Broadwings making visible the invisible. Reflected below, is a satellite snapshot of the Gulf Coast oil disaster taken last week. In this ocean, the spill looks like a pale "S", or better, the metrological symbol for a hurricane.

7 May 2010, Friday
Water crossings (3)

To recap: most hawks, even water-crossing species don't, because it's tricky and precarious business; if a lot of hawks easily went out over water as a short cut on their migration, then the biggest hawkwatch sites wouldn't work; some species do cross, but go out over water for other reasons too; and when they do go out for real, they have a determined and different flap/behavior... no soaring out to sea, casually.

Last Monday night, Alvaro Jaramillo spoke at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on his new Birds of Chile field guide. Al is an elite birder and talked about discovering new species in the land of his birth. Although he grew up in Toronto, Al had a youthful passion for his Chile before he even visited it to look for birds and gathered books of the birds there like other kids would read Robert Louis Stevenson or science fiction. I, of course, have never visited Chile but recognized one of his slides as the GPS path of an adult female Peregrine Falcon named "Elizabetha."

The migration of this bird from one end of the western hemisphere to the other; down both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines with water crossings here and there, but mostly over land, is pretty neat. Baffin Island to Chile, and back.

DIY Peregrine: You can spend as much time as you have, now and again, flying with this bird along her course. Starting with the link to the "Southern Migration," you'll see a water crossing of necessity that doesn't take the direct route, but the shortest, and at the last opportunity. Then overland, but off the Atlantic coast comfortably within sight of land on a weather system with a combination of light winds and easterly flow, so as not to be pushed away from land.

When the next front strengthens with westerly winds, this large and strong Peregrine, turns into land. Florida to Cuba to Central America, next. Zooming in and checking the satellite or hybrid landscape adds a dimension of what the bird sees... without the all-important prey items. Here you'll have to imagine the chases and kills. It's good if you've seen this activity at a place like Cape May.

There are layovers in places; pauses for whatever a Pbird does when hanging out. The Spring return — "Northern Migration" — is more determined, direct and essentially overland, until Baffin Island is in sight. Check out the journey.

 

6 May 2010, Thursday
The Crossley Guide, coming soon*

What's the best TV sitcom ever? Unless you savor your reruns of Three's Company at 3 am, the list boils down to I Love Lucy vs. Seinfeld in every poll or critics' choice. In baseball the question begets a question from the knowledgeable baseball fan. Which era? It's Babe Ruth, for some. In the modern era of baseball, it's Willie Mays.

The early days of anything had its pioneer, which also served as the model of greatness moving forward. But at some point, something or someone comes along and the former looks a little tired; a bit dated. That's okay, when you think of things in terms of the era.
[In Boston Red Sox baseball terms, I am not referring to Billy Buckner. I said "era" not "error".]

The original Peterson Field Guide to Birds is the I Love Lucy of field guides. Greatness, with many copiers, but no equals (Pough and even Robbins/Singer... copiers).

Now, The Sibley Guide to Birds is Roger Tory Peterson's Seinfeld. Yes, I'm saying David Sibley equals Jerry Seinfeld, in a manner of speaking. But there are more shows on TV, more ways to value baseball players, and more field guides on the shelf than just the two at the top. There's old school, there's new school, and then there's after school.

The cost of printing used to prohibit the extensive inclusion of photographs (the plating process was separate and expensive). Now, with computer publishing, photos don't cost extra. So we have our Wheeler guides to hawks with ninety images to illustrate Redtail greatness. Gulls, shorebirds, etc. have their own detailed photo guides.

Coming soon, but online for your tasting, is the Crossley Guide. Richard Crossley has conceived and actually implemented a breakout idea for a general field guide to bird identification. As you look at Richard's plates, think about a couple of previous attempts at a general color photo guide to birds. There was the truly awful Audubon series with it's leatherette cover and partial book jacket that kept falling down around its ankles... a harbinger of baggy pants to come. And once you tossed the cover and got it open, the few photos were easy to acquire, backyard snapshots of everything sitting around in postures one almost never sees in the wild.

I have always liked Ken Kaufman's Focus Guide to birds. His images are just right, and he then Photoshopped them into place for a fine birding guide anyone could carry confidently into the field. On the downside, it looks so much like the Chandler Robbins guide, illustrated by Arthur Singer, that most didn't catch the important difference of real birds vs. drawings. And then came Sibley.

So what (my old friend) Richard Crossley is doing with his idea of image, gestalt, wordlessness and recognition is mind-blowing. And it will revolutionize bird ID practice, discussions, and the scope of what each species is. Whether you have seen a bird and want to figure it out or you have been perusing his intuitive selection of what/how a bird looks and then you see it and know it too, I think you'll find Richard's guiding eye a game-changer for your birding endeavors. Again, check out the Crossley Guide samples online.

* In the world of field guides and other academic pressings, "coming soon" is a relative term. This is not "dog years," people. Think more in terms of geology, where glaciers are moving fast... in comparison to the uplifting of mountain ranges. Still I think waiting — as long as it takes — for Richard's guide to bird ID to arrive will be worth it. Stay tuned.

 

5 May 2010, Wednesday
The Daily Show, #11

Well, one Bald Eagle was low enough to get my imaging attention on Saturday. There was a steady stream of higher birds, always fun to see the BE, even as a dot.

May into June brings plenty of the big birds, once a rarity, into view across the Northeast. These Balds at this time are mainly from Florida and the Gulf Coast — dispersing after their early breeding season is completed. GPS tracking for the northern Bald Eagles, reported here, strongly suggests (small sample for sure) that even the juveniles pass by in March, but any bird can pass at any time... meaning there's can be a latish eagle in amongst the southern population birds.

A really long-term study of Bald Eagles reintroduced on the West coast shows, on the one hand, that Bald Eagles are quick to catch on to a new prey source when another thins out. But also, it is still tricky business being a top of the line predator in today's world.

An unprecedented study of bald eagle diet, from about 20,000 to 30,000 years ago to the present, will provide wildlife managers with unique information for reintroducing Bald Eagles to the Channel Islands off California. The scientists, including researchers from the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory, found that eagles fed mainly on seabirds from about 20,000 to 30,000 years ago to the 1840s and 50s, when humans introduced sheep. The seabirds provided an abundant source of carrion for the local eagle population until the pesticide DDT wiped out the eagles in the 1960s.

 

4 May 2010, Tuesday
Molt, baby, molt

May is Molt Appreciation Month, if you hadn't heard. Don't believe me? In a few hours anyone who Googles it, can prove it. Ah, the Internet.

As May rolls around, not only can you find soaring hawks moving by your friendly neighborhood hawkwatch with flight feathers missing, but if you look closely (use your scope) you'll see why they are missing... as new little stubs are growing in place.

Like new anything, these feathers are often darker and certainly show more detail/markings that the surrounding old and worn ones. Think of everyday life out in the wild, the bird tumbling and spinning in the sun and rain. Then think of that faded, but favorite, Grateful Dead tee that has been tumbling and spinning in the washing machine so many times... since '72... in Palo Alto.

Migrating and molting do not go hand in hand, but it happens all the time in a limited sample of any population. Every year. These are juvenile birds and immature birds and non-breeding adult-looking birds whose bodies have started a process that should be happening on the breeding grounds. But oops. So here we are privy to something in the hawks that, for many other groups of birds, goes unobserved.

I've had several posts of birds showing the progression of their molt. In some it's gaps and new growth happening on the fly. In other birds, like two recent Roughleg entries (April 16 & 19), we can see a mix of feather types: adult and immature types. In large birds, like most of our hawk species, it takes a few rounds of change to get to the final, adult look. And when you click on today's thumbnail, you see both: missing and mixed in the Redtail.

Hot off the presses, and just in time for Molt Month festivities, there's a new Peterson guideMolt in North American Birds by Steve Howell! While this colorful book is the first of its kind for the progressive birder, it is a reference guide and not a field guide. Still, for us on this side of the pond, it tells the story of molting strategies for all our bird groups — big and small — in a book meant for us mere mortals. Brian Wheeler has a chapter on hawk molt in his Raptors of North America (Eastern and Western volumes) patterned after Dick Forsman's chapter in The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East.

Any of these volumes with their molt info might work as the perfect platter for serving up those tequila shots at your molt party in May (or June). You'll have your guests molting in no time.

3 May 2010, Monday
Spill, baby, spill

I need to take a moment away from the laser-fine focus of this blog (please, if you can figure out what that is, let me know...). I've been following the oil spill news and commentary a little, although not as much as the hawk migration weather, and it is, for the oil disaster, news as usual: can we find an oiled bird to focus the evening news on, who is to blame, and what is the next story so we can move on... a bomb in Times Square works (or doesn't).

If you'd like to take a few minutes to get some oil spill news (beyond the obvious big "D" disaster that oil spills always are), here's just two things: Grist.org coverage and Paul Krugman.

For the opposite of "fair and balanced," I bookmarked a couple of pieces over at the environmental site, Grist.org. I have linked to Grist before, and while they have — as there is with all Earth-related groups including Audubon have — a suburban-urban point of reference that bores me to tears, one of Grist.org's first commentaries was a good one. Its concluding sentence leaves us with more to conclude than the spill is the problem... read it from the top to get the whole story.

Rather than protect the Gulf, we seem determined to destroy it in pursuit of cheap car fuel and cheap meat. Is it too late to reverse course?

In another of the many Grist.org articles last week was their "Worst Week Ever..." environmental summary.

That's just this week. Looking back at the whole month of April, we had Massey's Big Branch mine disaster, another coal miner death in West Virginia, an oil refinery explosion in Washington state that killed seven workers, an 18,000-gallon oil spill from a Chevron pipeline into the Louisiana Delta, and, as mentioned above, a big oil spill at the world's largest continuous coral reef.

The connection running through every one of these disasters, of course, is dirty energy -- oil and coal. Only a fool would refuse to see the need to end our addiction.

Speaking of which, the U.S. Senate looks likely to turn its back on the problem for the year. Plans to introduce a climate and energy bill this week -- albeit one that's disturbingly friendly to the fossil-fuel industry -- are on the skids because of a spat between Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

And, while there are many many more Grist.org takes on Spill Week (and in the weeks to come), you can check out what the Conservative "Drill baby drill" crowd is saying too.

Last but not least, NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman comments on this moment in history and how, if there is any voice that matters alive in the environmental movement, something good might come. Krugman points out that as visible pollution has faded, so has visible concern... and the political clout of environmental groups. Well, things are visible again.

[...] As the photogenic crises of the 1960s and 1970s faded from memory, conservatives began pushing back against environmental regulation.

Much of the pushback took the form of demands that environmental restrictions be weakened. But there was also an attempt to construct a narrative in which advocates of strong environmental protection were either extremists — “eco-Nazis,” according to Rush Limbaugh — or effete liberal snobs trying to impose their aesthetic preferences on ordinary Americans. (I’m sorry to say that the long effort to block construction of a wind farm off Cape Cod — which may finally be over thanks to the Obama administration — played right into that caricature.)

And let’s admit it: by and large, the anti-environmentalists have been winning the argument, at least as far as public opinion is concerned.

Then came the gulf disaster. Suddenly, environmental destruction was photogenic again.

<<Future Present Past>>

They've got the urge for going, and
they've got the wings so they can go.

— Joni Mitchell

Hawk•art•science blog
Truth and beauty. Art and science. Entries here will be on that flightline, although I will stray from the hawk-part on occasion, or will I? I aiming this beast at hawkheads and/or the young seasonal revolutionary biologists. It's for the flexible and young-at-heart too.
Comments, questions, excited utterances, and/or exasperated afterthoughts from you, dear reader, are welcome and will receive a reply. — Tom Carrolan
(Image above: "Recent self-portrait No.3, 2009")

Original recipe Hawksaloft.com
The Hawksaloft.com website was launched in 1997, following three years of printed handbills, plus numerous emails, all voicing my alt.hawkwatching ideas in New England. If you've been here before, the original site is archived in all its old-timey graphic glory. To navigate the old way, just click on Psychedelia the Hawk Owl and be transported back in time... trippy. Any bookmarks or links found anywhere online still work.

Not everything that counts can be counted and
not everything that can be counted counts.

— Albert Einstein

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Color, which is the poet's wealth, is so expensive that most take to mere outline or pencil sketches and become men of science.
— Henry David Thoreau

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One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself,
What if I had never seen this before?
What if I knew I would never see it again?

— Rachel Carson