If it has seemed quiet on this blog since last June, well, that’s my mistake — I migrated to a full website at BirdsDowntown.com last year and, in the midst of a whole lot of projects and web work, forgot to set up a redirect. 

The birding opportunities continue to amaze me here in the Paper City, so I hope you’ll check in regularly at the new(ish) site. 

(c) Greg Saulmon

(c) Greg Saulmon

UPDATE, Friday morning: Some time between dusk last night and dawn this morning, the wayward hawk found its way back up to the nest.


Original post:

A check on the Red-tailed Hawk nest this afternoon found some drama: one of the young hawks found its way to the lower level of the nest platform and couldn’t figure out how to get back “upstairs”.

I watched for about two-and-a-half hours, and when I left as it started to get dark the little one was still separated from its siblings. The adult hawks know it’s down there — the mother checked on it several times — but it also missed two feedings during the time I watched.

The stray little hawk seems reachable in terms of the adults delivering food, but the spot it’s in doesn’t allow for the jump-flapping exercise necessary to keep building the strength for fledging.

Of course, if the hawk is already strong enough, fledging may just be the next logical step — and the only step out of this predicament.

(c) Greg Saulmon

This year, Holyoke’s downtown Red-tailed Hawks built their nest directly under a building’s security light. (c) Greg Saulmon

The latest issue of Audubon Magazine includes a short piece about research on the impact of city lights on urban birds.

The research, which involved blackbirds, was performed by scientists working with Jesko Partecke, a researcher with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. The institute has posted its own summary of the research here.

In a nutshell: For ten months, the researchers exposed blackbirds to a constant light intensity at night. Birds exposed to light had gonads that grew a month earlier than birds who slept in the dark. The birds with night lights also had testosterone levels that rose earlier, and they began singing around one hour earlier each day. At the end of the breeding season, they molted earlier.

“All of this indicates that, from a seasonal perspective, the animals are ready to breed earlier,” Partecke writes in the Max Planck Institute summary. “These findings are clear evidence that the artificial light we find in towns and cities can dramatically change the seasonal organisation of wild animals.”

Lead researcher Davide Dominoni told Audubon that one implication is troubling: urban birds that breed and lay eggs too early might not be able to find adequate food supplies for their offspring.

The research makes me wonder about the implications for this year’s brood of Red-tailed Hawks. As shown in the photo above, the adults built their nest this year directly under a building security light that stays on all night.

Will that somehow impact the development of this year’s brood? Or, is the nesting season too short to have an impact? And: Is it possible that the adults deliberately chose a well-lit location as an additional measure of security against potential predators?

I had a brief moment of panic when I went to check on the Red-tailed Hawks today and found no birds on the nest.

Had I totally mis-judged when the chicks might fledge?

No, it turns out. The brood, and one of their parents, had just moved over to a shady spot on the platform where they’ve made their home this year:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

The chicks’ flight feathers are coming in, but their heads are still pretty downy, making me think they’re a little bit younger than last year’s brood at this time. The little hawks fledged on June 4 in 2012.

Here’s another recent shot of the brood:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Here’s a confession: until last Sunday, I’d never seen a female Red-winged Blackbird.

But then, driving along the canal in the city’s South Holyoke neighborhood, I saw a male perched on a chain link fence. I pulled over, hoping to snap a photo. The bird flew away. And then it started to rain.

I waited.

Several more males landed on utility wires overhead. When they flew away, they flew down toward the canal, out of sight over the steep bank. When the rain died down, I scurried under a fence to see where they were going.

At the water’s edge was a band of reeds and cattails, and two female Red-winged Blackbirds were busy snatching insects and tending to their well-camoflaged nests.

Some of the photos below may make this spot look like a bucolic marsh, but looks are deceiving. Across the canal is a row of factories. Back up the bank and across the street is a tire store.

It’s a world inside a world, and it’s one I’m glad to have discovered.

Here’s a slideshow of photos from the outing:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

I found the Northern Flicker above hanging around near the same factory where the American Kestrels have their nest, and near the spot on one of the canals where the Canada Geese nest.

I’d actually gone out looking for the Kestrels when I ran across this bird — a good reminder to keep your eyes and ears open and to be ready for anything, even when you think you know what you’re looking for.

But speaking of trying to find specific birds: during Bird-a-thon I noticed that a strip of an old canal bed near the Flats neighborhood had attracted a number of Yellow Warblers. I went back the other day to see if I could get a few more shots of them, and they were still out in numbers. I saw about a half dozen along a short stretch of Canal Street over a period of 25 minutes or so. Here’s one of them:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013