HawkArtScience: Hawksaloft.com blog

<<Future Present Past>>

15 April 2010, Thursday
Unlikely full crops

When looking at birds for FC or NFC (see Wed, April 7th post), the meal makes a difference as to whether you are likely to detect the recent event or not. I say this from having looked at a lot of hawks for just this thing — present or absent.

From my experience, hawks that chow down on mammals and/or birds as a rule, boast the full crop more often than those who dine from the light menu — fish, herps, and invertebrates. Instead of "stick to the ribs," it's fill out that crop.

Redtails and Roughlegs are far more likely to show a full crop than are Red-shouldered Hawks and Broad-winged Hawks, as the latter two prefer amphibians. When Red-shoulders do show, it's often early in the Spring ahead of the abundance of their preferred food, and they've found a small mammal instead. Hence their bulge.

All three accipiters can regularly be observed to have full crops (or not). In the falcons, the American Kestrel rarely flies by with a distended crop, while the Merlin and Peregrine do.

Our fish-eaters, along with our wetland species are noteable when they do have a full crop: Osprey and Bald Eagle; Northern Harrier (snakes don't bulge, apparently). Now it's not impossible. If you visit Derby Hill during Spring, there's an image of mine on the count board of an Osprey carrying half a bullhead, with a full crop... the other half?!

So, after you get in the habit of looking for this feature in general, drill down and compare the frequency with the food.

14 April 2010, Wednesday
The Daily Show, #8

It's been six months or so, so ya wonder: will I still know one when I see one... and the first one, will likely be just one. And yesterday, when I got my first Broad-winged Hawk of the Spring, an adult bird of course, I knew it right away... at 40x in the scope, coming up and making the BW cup-a-soup (kettle for one). I was just discussing the satisfaction of finding your own birds with someone who also proudly claimed his own first BW a few days earlier, and it was important to him to have found it himself... like it was a treasure, to be hunted, and found, like a chest of gold, or a continent. Young at heart: knows no bounds.

Today's TDS image is not a Broadwing, but an adult female Red-shouldered Hawk seen April 3rd — not the first of the year, not the last either. As I mentioned before, the immie Red-shoulder is the enigma of both the Spring and Fall flight in my mind. The tail end of the Spring migration for all species involves the non-breeders, sort of by definition. For the Shoulders, this far end of the bell curve is more likely to be adult-like birds than the plain ones.

On the side here, the breeding season is not an auditorium presentation... like it's still going on whenever you get there. Maybe the breeding season is more a train... it eventually leaves the station, maybe on time, maybe a little late, depending on the day and circumstances.

Here's a note from a recent posted hawk report. It kind of exclaims, like these reports sometimes do, a factoid.

Also noteworthy was a very late adult red shoulder.

Now this bird was not just late, it was like Mad Hatter late... for a very important date. But the species and the odds involved tell us: not to expect (a juvenile) or judge (late). And even if the last five Red-shouldered Hawks you see for this Spring are the immature kind, the total number of immies will be very small and still a puzzle as to why we don't see them in numbers proportional to the adults.


13 April 2010, Tuesday

When John Burroughs wrote about the coming of Spring and the birds, mostly, he titled the book after a wildflower — the Red Trillium or Wake-robin. It was also known as Stinking Benjamin, because being a Spring bloom meant this meaty-red flower with an old-meat bouquet attracted flies and other early insects out and about looking for Winter's leftovers... in the form of recently thawed deer, etc.

But the Wake-robin of 1871— the same species as now — flowered a full ten days to two weeks later than the ones I found in full flower yesterday. Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond in Concord MA, like John Burroughs along the lower Hudson River, recorded the comings and goings of wild things in their notebooks. So we can see the marked differences, and it's all showing earlier flowering times.

The simple study of phenology, then, shows us these changes. Another sign of change: in the early 1900s, Wake-robin and many other nature study volumes specifically by John Burroughs were in widespread use as classroom readers. Children honed their reading skills by reading about the natural world and plants and animals around them! Imagine that (if you can).

Things change. Have we, as hawkwatchers, reached the low ridgeline of awareness (as in, "awareness comes before action")? No: HMANA has shifted from a research director to a cruise director... well, maybe that's to acknowledge the rise in the sea level, or maybe not.

So as you enjoy the Wake-robins, maybe think about the Broadwings overhead, in some of the same ways and different ways.

12 April 2010, Monday
On the climate front...

For hawkwatchers, after a quite singular but strong bubble of the kind of weather that brings the birds, it's back to a lack of "typical" systems organized around one front at a time (El Nino, class of '09-10, still in session). Over this last week there were as many little lows and secondary front on the map as you want to interpret, so no southerly flow near enough to matter.

On the climate front, the pattern should be clearer, but it's not. Damn those liberal, elite, media members whose own heads can't get around the hoax that is global warming. Those elitists can't tell the second most important story here either: that the commie, pinko bed-wetters want to spend us into the poorhouse in the process of solving this fiction. Well, April fools... all of 'em.

Ahead of an article by NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman, Grist.com's David Roberts summarized this important piece. Couldn't say it better myself, so I won't. Here's the succinct message, in part:

The consensus of mainstream economists is that responding to climate change is both necessary and affordable.

This basic fact, like the consensus among climate scientists, is often obscured in media coverage, which emphasizes controversy and extremes. But at least within the economics profession, there is no "other side" that believes climate policy will destroy the economy. The "other side" is composed of fossil-fuel industry groups and the conservative politicians and think tanks who do the bidding of fossil-fuel industry groups. Within economics, the consensus in favor of action is broad and stable...

There is no credible case -- scientific or economic -- against taking action. The mainstream press seems incapable of making that clear, so kudos to Krugman for doing it for them.


Now in addition to his NYTimes gig, Paul Krugman teaches at Princeton and his research there has gotten him a Nobel prize! The article appears on the cover and within the New York Times Magazine on Sunday. Hmm, second week in a row with something sciencey in the magazine section.

Two (2) IFs (big) for hawkwatchers and any radical/seasonal biologist: if you want to see more raptors — point census-wise and otherwise — then you need to know these arguments ... and which are the ones that speak for the hawks. Second, if you know the science, both environmental and economic, then you need to speak of them, out loud. We speak of the wind and from which direction it blow, often. Just expand on that...


9 April 2010, Friday
Beast balance, how to

I've had this little flip book — "Animal Husbandry" by Ruth Hayes — for over twenty years... always kept it. Now some have laughed, while other have failed to see the humor. To quote the late great Patrick Swayze's character, Dalton in Road House (1989), when asked about his own persona, "Opinions vary."

You can now flip the pad digitally, plus the tab on the far right allows for saving to your computer for future use. The visual message here is about our animal side and how we may be able to keep it under wraps, but only temporarily. I think it follows along with a reoccurring theme about our animal nature and how it's a good thing to embrace as we better relate to the world around us.

My friend Charleen liked the message and did the flipping of this tiny book with its very stiff pages. We did a few takes, and I used the one where she didn't curse.


8 April 2010, Thursday
Bluebirds, Bogart & other personalities

I was looking at a sequence of photos I took of an Eastern Bluebird pair defending a nest box, albeit briefly from an onslaught of Tree Swallows. But in my images, this pair are the only birds on the planet; it's all their stage. And even in silhouette, we could tell the male from the female. We know this from a common place — our common lineage (our DNA) from ancient common ancestors. But even within these roles, there is evolutionary room for many performances and interpretations of a common script.

Linking behavior — outward expressions of our organic selves — among all manner of species is generating a lot of new studies, as we re-think behavioral science in light of its hardwired nature (in our DNA).

In addition to everyday survival-of-the-fittest stuff, we also are confirming — a little here, a little there — that having a "personality" is not just human. You might still today hear a scientifically-minded, but older, mind cry foul! (anthropomorphism!) for making this human attribution to another (lesser) species. Yes, I'm saying anthropomorphism — using a trait thought to be solely human to describe animal behavior — is really our way of acting/staying superior. A Disney movie, and the like, are the only cases where this label likely applies, and there it is clearly used to provide a juvenilely-minded world-view... until further notice then, forget this old label.

So, the studies are coming out one after another. Each using DNA to link a behavior to a gene. Some are simple stories, while others are long stories of heritage going back to ancestors shared by us all (where the "us" is most extant vertebrates). A recent study might have cleverly been subtitled, "Your inner Zebra Finch" as it connects — via a gene complex — speech learning... both bird song and human speech.

Remember though, like all science, no one study is the final word or even the correct one until the study is reinforced by others, maybe getting the same or similar results elsewhere. But an open and young mind is the way to go here... as a recent study suggests!

On the one hand, all species (include humans here) are a lot alike due to their long organic history and heritage on Earth. On the other, within species there are individuals, each living out a life in stages. Often with a personality all their own... like us. Define it anyway you want, but if we have personalities, then so do other species. Burst the bubble; get over it. Connect.

Natalie Angier, NYTimes Science columnists and author of the very neat sciencey book The Canon, compiles several looks at animal personalities in an article last Tuesday. Here again, these individually expressed behavior sets (a personality) are hardwired (DNA), but give each species a variety of member-types so as to add spice to life and change to choose from over time. This "choice" is not an individual decision, evolutionarily speaking, but comes from external environmental pressures... to change, to survive, across generations.

On the life stages front, a recent study on Wandering Albatross found similar changes in this species over an individual's life as has been seen in land mammals:

The male wandering albatross, which can live more than 50 years, modifies its foraging behavior with age. Researchers in France have, for the first time, shown such changes by studying aging in these birds under natural conditions. The scientists have discovered that old males forage in different waters from younger males, and are less active at the sea surface. However, none of the classic markers of human aging are altered in old albatrosses, which underlines the importance of taking account of foraging efficiency in studies on aging.

On the mating game, yet another species — representing for its group — has been shown to be monogamous... committed. Not only do male frogs care for their young, but now we've learned they enter long-term relationships!

Maybe not so different, is a very long overview of the work to date on gay behavior in animal species (include humans here). Of course ideologies enter into everything that everybody does... not knowing that and acknowledging it upfront is no way to go through life, or explain life. But according to Jerry Coyne, UChicago evolutionary biologist, in summarizing this summary over at his blog, the New York Times Magazine article does a pretty damn good job with this daunting task. Check out both.

That was then, this is now (Part II).

7 April 2010, Wednesday
FC or NFC?

For a few thousand accipiters and other coastal migrating hawks, I made a notation next to the time for each bird: FC or NFC — "full crop" or "not full crop" based on whether I could or couldn't see a bulge indicating a recent kill and meal. I'm sure there's a better shorthand, but I was also trying to discover a better hawkwatch on Outer Cape Cod. Dealing with a bushel of myths and misinformation, plus a dozen recommended sites that sucked... the technical term we use in hawk migration science... that's what I've used over the years. Then on Plum Island, I was both relocating the site slightly and dealing with nonsense about the flight there.

That was all awhile ago, but the other day I was pointing out all the early NFC birds, that followed a long (and optimal) flight day prior. Then, the later birds came up and by with FCs. Maybe the NFC birds took care of business on the previous evening, maybe not. But that's what we were seeing. Seeing preceeds discussing.

In any event, I look to see if this feature shows or doesn't just as I would ID the bird or look at its plumage. I do it without having to think to do it from all the years along the Atlantic coast. In addition to looking at the crop for a study, one can do it for the interesting addition it makes to the other things to see and think about.

But there was a time, not too long ago, when that bulge indicating a recent meal, was a bit controversial. At the Cape May HMANA Conference in the mid-80s I was on one of the panels with someone else who was looking at full crops on migrating hawks. When the panel entertained questions, one of the old guys — a founding board member of New England Hawk Watch from Connecticut — rose not to ask a question, but to correct that presenter. He pointed out that the bulge wasn't a full crop. It was merely the bird either tucking or not tucking its head... "like a heron," he said. He finished his statement, remained on his feet, maybe to intimidate "the girl" or maybe to better debate the point. Silence from the presenter, as I don't think she knew quite where to begin.

From the side gallery, came another question directed at me... it was Pete Dunne, not debating that old smelly point, but blowing right past it. Along the same lines, but not, Pete asked me, since I had also collected crop data, "How does your coastal data compare to this ridgeline work?" It took me a (long) second to realize what Pete was doing, but when I caught up, I just answered his question, then to complete the loop, I asked her a follow up for clarification, and on went the Q&A. I listened for it over the next months and years. This "heron" comparison never reared its ugly head again.

That was then, this is now.

6 April 2010, Tuesday
Reading the future

While I am not unaware of the future of reading books, magazines, and newspapers (the iPad, duh). The big date (release of the iPad, double duh), also coincided with a significant raptor show, so I was: away from my desk, out of the office, indisposed, incognito, enraptured. Emphasis on those raptures.

Baseball (ie, 164 Red Sox games... I hear there are other teams, but that's only a reality when they play the Sowx)... baseball is underway as well. I was however very much in touch with iPad news, pre-reviews, and all things iPad prior to that opening day. Hawks, Sox, iPad... what a weekend.

If you read the "fair and balanced" negative/lukewarm iPad take on things, remember these are the folks who also dissed: Galileo... fast forward: cars (for the loss of horses), TV (for radio), the computer mouse (for key commands), the CD & DVD, the designated hitter, the iPod, iPhone... well, you know.

Two recent takes and reality checks on these naysayers, to put this in perspective: first, more music is now purchased than is illegally downloaded! Can you remember way back when the music industry was squealing about this issue? Can you remember way back when the music industry was bucking Steve Jobs' model for pricing and selling music online? Today, the iPod and digital music is our way of life, yes?

Can you remember what state of the art cellphones looked like the day before the release of the iPhone? Have things changed? Sure the iPad is a big iPhone. And the iPad is a type of tablet computer (if you can't tell a pink Dodge Dart from a red Mini Cooper). But the iPhone touch experience is such a direct game-changer, that just being a big iPhone is the start of something big, literally.

That brings us to the print media (plus network TV), which are having some financial and distribution issues, yes? Well, Steve Jobs thinks (Jobs = knows) what the solution is. Be a doubter, but beware. For my part, I still buy and read books and magazines, but I can see where he's got us heading. When the price is right, we'll all be reading and watching, plus emailing, tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, and doing a lot on the iPad. And the NYTimes will come out in print on Sundays only.

So if reading interests you, here are some recent reads about reading, and its future:

  • We have been moving away from ye olde black and white print with limited B&W images for quite awhile now, both with the advent of the wholesale computerization of the printing process and desktop publishing. With the internet and its web component (http://www...), color is now free (doesn't cost 20% extra), even page after page of birds in a color glossy field/desk guide doesn't cost extra, and so there's no limit on the pictures as it's no longer a big deal. This is covered nicely in a pre-iPad NYTimes article.
  • Another recent piece talks about the loss of the book cover as a lure; as an advertisement... have you ever seen a person, just like you — judged by their cover — made note of the book they were reading, and then searched it out to see if you'd like it too? Well, book cover design — the out-there stylings — are not lost. This web site (insert irony here) will keep you in touch with some wild book jackets.
  • Not only will book design be altered forever by the new digita, but so will newspapers and magazine. You can already see this on the NYTimes site where video and rich color slide shows augment the print edition of the paper. As we go forward, and if you are a reader with an interest in the presentation of the stuff you'll be reading (and supplementing/watching), here's a designer's thoughts on just that.
  • Last, the iPad itself. BTW, have you seen any articles, TV news pieces, etc. on the iPad? Have you been in hibernation?! Check it all out, but do check out the thoughts of my old friend, Andy Ihnatko. Not only did Andy and a couple of others spend a very long time with iPad on press day (while most reporters gave it five minutes and dashed off to report on it), but Andy's writing one of the first iPad books, so his access to the iPad has been early and often. Here's his penultimate piece concluding this first go round of info on the newest thing over at the Chicago Sun Times, where he's the technology columnist and a friend of Roger Ebert (any friend of Andy's...). But also from this link, there are more of his iPad columns plus an hour-long video talking about the iPad on a weekly podcast ("podcast"... there's a term we didn't have before the iPod came along). Andy is a writer and featured speaker who travels the world nowadays... so, still an interesting guy.

5 April 2010, Monday
The Daily Show, #7

The hawkwatch is the place to see stuff. Call it what you will, this Red-shouldered Hawk: basic I, sub-adult, young adult, second summer, etc., ad nauseam. The key here is: did you see it? Or if pointed out, would you look? Of course you would... you're reading this.

From my observations, the first thing a buteo acquired in its second summer is the adult-type tail. So just seeing this in flight is expected and one should keep looking, all over, and do the mental checklist thing.

Doing that leads to a complete picture of the bird — variations, indeed variability (by way of building a personal sense of what's a common look and what is different...as in "hmm, haven't seen that before").

This once over lightly of each and every bird is the reason I "go to the scope." I've already identified the bird in most cases when I go in for a closer look: to age, sex, look and see.

This is a very important point: it is not necessary to know and conclude in order to just enjoy.

2 April 2010, Friday
Hawks Today: Amherst Island, Ontario

Fourteen Roughlegs on April 1st... no fooling! On or about this date each year though, on Wolfe or Amherst Island you should get a big number. Over the last three years, that total ranged between sixty to almost 100 Roughlegs. Not this year.

Toward the end of the northbound Roughleg movement, the Islands (or in the proper years over on Pt. Peninsula), act like a catch for mostly immature birds. But also other (likely) non-breeders. This year, as I semi-predicted, monitored during the Fall migration, counted over the Winter, and now can say with some certainty, there was a near-zero breeding season last Summer for Roughlegs and then there was a nearly snowless and mild Winter, such that not many adults birds came down. This combination of quite different events has meant very few Rough-legged Hawks around and about, even today when the best numbers might be observed... well, they were, just a handful.

The field complexes on Amherst Island are huge and beautiful — full or empty of birds. The silence is enormous too. But then there's a Harrier coursing over a stretch of field with two more standing around, also watching. You pick up a distant soaring Roughleg in the shimmer. Then another one.

Hawks on April 1, 2010:
Turkey Vultures -- 3
Northern Harriers -- 9
Red-tailed Hawks -- 9 (all adults)
Rough-legged Hawks -- 14 (11 light morph, 3 dark; no juveniles)
American Kestrels -- 5 (2 pairs, plus one male)

Northern Shrike -- 1 adult bird in the exact/same location as early March.
Meadowlarks and Snipe were calling everywhere I stopped.
In transit: another four Redtails & two Roughlegs.

1 April 2010, Thursday
The Daily Show, #6

More so in the Spring, birds occur in more shapes and sizes than other times of the year. This is an ID issue if you use behavior or think that if you've seen one Redtail, you've seen them all. The same for the Red-shouldered Hawk... or any other species going by.

A variety of weights in birds, after a long Winter of any kind, along with the range of sizes due to RSD (Reverse Sexual Dimorphism) present all the time, makes for a very wide range of possibilities and all in the same species. Lighter birds not only appear more slender, but they will be blown around more and generally act like a smaller quicker species.

I think most birders with some hawkwatching experience "get" male Red-shoulders, but the females often pass for Redtails. Small male Red-tailed Hawks in a crosswind will shorten-up their stroke and pick up the flap, flap, flap glide pace.

Any day is a good day to follow birds in Spring and work on finding a hawk that changes your mind and broadens your horizon.

<<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