Outdoorsy

Jun. 18th, 2012 11:38 am
eregyrn: (-Saw-whet - Spring)
Thanks to all for the birthday wishes yesterday. :) We actually had gorgeous weather here, so I took the opportunity to do something I've been meaning to do for a while, which was get out kayaking again. It surprises me to realize that I probably hadn't been out for 2 years, and as soon as I got back out on the water, I remembered how much I just plain enjoy it. The river is lovely and the feel of kayaking is lovely.

This time, I was excited to get out on a stretch of the Charles River that I'd never been on before. Charles River Canoe & Kayak has several rental spots, all of which I've been to, but I didn't know they'd opened up a new one upriver at Nahanton Park in Newton, on a 12 mile stretch of the river unbroken by any dams!

In a sense, this was my downfall; so was going by myself. Because whenever I go out to do things by myself, I always wind up being over-ambitious. Previously, I think I have not done paddles much longer than about 6 miles round trip. This time, I took advantage of a little canal that cut across a big loop of the river -- at the end of which, I had to actually get out and walk through a waterfall over rocks (in flip-flops, because I'm dumb), dragging the kayak under a bridge to get back to the river and go back the long way, downstream. In my head, this made sense, because paddling downstream is always easier, and I'd noticed on the way out that the wind ought to be mostly at my back on the return. But I sort of didn't do the math in my head to estimate how long a trip that would really be. When kayaking, I tend to manage about 3-3.5 miles per hour. I paddled 2 miles to get to the half-mile short-cut. That brought me back to the river 8 miles upstream, which I then had to paddle all the way back to the rental site. And while I was indeed going with the current on the way back, the current isn't so strong that it carries you at any speed. So, yeah. That was about 3 and a half hours' worth of constant paddling, more than I'd ever done before, and the river was twisty enough that I still had stretches where I had to paddle against the wind.

But it was great, even if my arms are kind of limp noodles today.

I don't have any pictures of any of that, because I don't tend to try to mess around with electronics in a kayak, since it's all so wet. Instead, have some pictures from a few weeks ago, when Diane and Katie and I took a day-trip up to the White Mountains in NH. I was the instigator of this plan, because it has seemed for a while now, to me, that it is ridiculous that I have lived up here for over 20 years and never been up there, and never driven up Mt. Washington.

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Many more pictures below the cut, half of cool animals and half of scenic mountain vistas: this way... )

Conclusion: the White Mountains are really pretty. And I want to see more waterfalls.
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Remember the hawks at Harvard? We had all kinds of Drama earlier in the spring, and then the upshot of that was pretty unclear. But my guess has been that the resident pair didn't raise any young this year, because of the disruptions to the mating season.

I will sometimes see one or the other of the adults perched on a weathervane. But a couple of weeks ago I found BOTH of them perched on a steeple around the corner from my office, so I went out to get some pics.

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A few close-ups below... )

Meanwhile, in Nature News, we have also acquired bunnies.

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More details below... )
eregyrn: (- Saw-whet - Spring2)
So, I have a LOT of pics to share, spanning the last month or so. Pretty spring flowers! News on the Harvard hawks! Baaaaaby owls!

A tease:

IMG_0286 IMG_0404 IMG_0420

Follow the cut for more and bigger pictures... )
eregyrn: (Hawk)
No. However, there are signs that spring is coming -- redtailed hawks in nest-building mode!

In fact, today I was out around lunch-time in Harvard Square, unfortunately without my camera (it was raining), when I looked up to see a flock of pigeons startled up off a building's roof. When you see that it's always worth looking to see whether they were put into flight by a hawk -- and on this occasion, I got to see what I think was Harvard's redtail pair flying together up JFK street and circling around the area of the T station and in front of Holyoke Center. One of them then landed on the flagpole on top of the Citizen Bank, which left his/her partner nowhere nearby to land, so s/he circled several times more before taking up a perch on the weathervane of the First Church (a favorite of theirs).

Nice to see them out and about! And together.

Meanwhile...

IMG_4729

This is NOT one of the Harvard pair. This is a different adult redtail, resting in a tree along Belmont Avenue in Belmont, right near where I get the bus in the morning. While waiting yesterday morning I happened to look up in time to see this hawk land in the tree, and pulled out my camera.

A couple more behind the cut... )
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Yeah, I have a lot of other updates to do, but for now... someone passed this video on to me, but unfortunately it has no embed function. It's a video from the BBC in which they put a camera on the back of, first, a peregrine falcon, and then a goshawk, and filmed the birds-eye view of their flights.

http://www.wimp.com/hawkssee/
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Man, am I behind on posting about the hawks! Like, seriously. So without further ado...

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First, I wanted to point you to this person's Picasa album, which they left me the link to in a comment on my other blog:

http://picasaweb.google.com/anja.slim/Hawks?authkey=Gv1sRgCJWDtOrpws2hBQ#

Some truly amazing and high-quality shots taken during the hawks' development during the month of May. (Upon asking the photographers, they said that they'd used a digital SLR camera with a rented high-powered lens.)

Click for more, lots more... )
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Am a few days late, here, but... here is an update on the hawks and their chicks, dated Tuesday the 25th. (I knew I wouldn't be able to get up there to take pics for the rest of the week, so made it a point to go get an update.)

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More behind the cut... )
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Gah, very behind here! These are pictures from last Saturday, when [livejournal.com profile] jenlev and I were very generously given access to the 7th floor of the building overlooking the hawks' nest, and by dint of some ingenuity and 2 hours' worth of persistence, we got ourselves set up to take a metric ton of pictures, that then got whittled down to what you'll see here.

Folks who have Jenlev on their flist as well will have seen these already. :) All of these except one are pictures that she took and is kindly allowing me to reproduce. Technical notes: Canon 7D, lens is the EF 28-300 (410 optical zoom), 1000 iso, no lens hood, using a UV filter, shot through window glass. I got a number of the same pics, but in all cases, hers were better quality than mine.

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Follow the cut to more pics and explanations... )
eregyrn: (Hawk)
OMG OMG!!! Ridiculously exciting! This will teach me never, EVER to walk anywhere without my camera!

So I was walking back to my office from an administrative meeting late in the afternoon, where coincidentally we had just ended the meeting all chatting about the Harvard redtails and my blog with pics of them, and I was saying no, I haven't even seen one in weeks, and...

I had a hawk fly right over my head, by the Faculty Club, and land in a tree across the street. I could tell immediately that it wasn't one of the redtails -- too small, and a banded tail (and the babies with the banded tails aren't even born yet) -- and wasn't a peregrine either (brownish, not grey). I was able to run around and get a look at it from the front, with the sun behind me, and then it flew off over Houghton Library and away.

Just got back to the office and looked it up -- it was an immature Cooper's Hawk! (!!!) I've never seen one before, at all -- and apparently we've got one in Cambridge!

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Coopers_Hawk/id

(Actually, I'm trying to decide if it was a Coopers or a Sharp-Shinned. I THINK its tail was more rounded with a white band on the end, which points more towards Coopers. It looked EXACTLY like the pic of the immature Coopers at far left at the bottom of the page linked here.)

EXCITING!
eregyrn: (Hawk)
... But leaf-blowers are not conducive to listening for hawks. Also, I have just discovered that it has gotten a wee bit too chilly to rush outside to try to spot hawks, without a coat on. Brrr.

Anyway -- little hawk news, but a couple of pics.

From Monday the 19th, one of the redtail adults on the flagpole on top of the Harvard Coop; sadly, a somewhat fuzzy picture:

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And from yesterday, the two adults showed up circling over the Faculty Club and Barker Center, and I got this shot:

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That's it for now. It's nice that they're still coming around within ear-shot, though.

Under the cut, some other fall nature pictures... )
eregyrn: (Hawk)
The lack of posting kind of relates to the lack of much hawk news, but it seems only fair to do a wrap-up post on that, at least for now.

After about Sept. 8th, I really wasn't able to find any sign of the two juvenile redtails around campus. Presumably, they finally left, to go off and establish territories of their own. *sniff*! I miss them. Also sad is the fact that once they change into their adult plumage, I'd never recognize them again anyway. (I barely figured out how to recognize them as individuals as it is.)

Interestingly, the adults have been around -- mostly either circling overhead, often hunting together and calling to each other as they do so; or, a few times, one or the other of them sitting on the good ol' First Church weathervane, not affording very good pictures. Below is the best pic I've gotten recently -- when they show up circling and calling over my building, and I can sometimes run out and get a shot before they circle away out of the patch of sky that I can see.

IMG_1164

There is a nice large-size copy of this, if you click through.

Also interesting, but somewhat confusing, is the fact that I am now, for the first time (?) hearing the adults use the same kreeeeeet-kreet-kreeet cry that the juveniles used all the time, in addition to the adult kreeeeeeeaaaar! call. I put a question mark, of course, because now I can't be sure whether I did sometimes hear the adults give that first cry in the past; although mostly, the evidence was that when I heard the call, it was from a verifiable juvenile. These past few times, I have heard the adults using it as they hunt together.

Finally, on a completely different note, I thought I would share a couple of pics of an interesting meteorological phenomenon that I witnessed on Sept. 8th and 9th, both times in the late afternoon as the sun was setting. The phenomenon is Parhelion, commonly called "sun-dogs".

The top pic was taken in Watertown, MA; I would estimate, betwen 5:45pm and 6pm. The bottom pic was taken on Harvard campus, in front of the Science Center, probably around the same time on the following day. (I was up there taking some pics of a pair of hawks flying around; they sounded like juveniles but later examination of the not-terribly-good pictures suggested it was more likely the adults.)

Watertown:

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Harvard:

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So it seems that the story of this year's baby hawks at Harvard is over. But if I get any more interesting shots, I'll be sure to share them here! And we'll cross our fingers for next year.
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Short report this time, with a lack of particularly spectacular pictures, but here we go...

IMG_0964

Like that weathervane? Get used to it...

More behind the cut... )
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Unaccountably, the juvenile hawks are not yet gone. It really should be right around NOW that they go off, but they are still here, crying their little heads off from various perches and in flight. I guess we'll see if they are around next week at all. But in the meantime...

IMG_0790

More pics behind the cut... )
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Today, we have some pictures taken over the past week, and a hawk video! So, let's get started...

It's official: one of the mockingbirds has definitely learned the juvenile hawk cry (kreeeeet-kreet-kreet). We managed to spot one while it was doing it. I guess that explains that incident a week or so ago, when a "hawk" was in a tree near Mem Church and I just could not see it. Yesterday, though, I received proof that while the mockingbird's is a good imitation, it's not quite as loud or resonant as the real thing. But, I'm getting ahead of myself...

It's been hot and humid this week, which has made it less appealing to go on hour-long circuits through campus, looking for the hawks at lunchtime. I kept doing it, although I'm sure that the birds were intelligently hunkered somewhere in the shade where I couldn't spot them. On Monday, I did hear a single cry, and managed to spot one of the hawks far above, circling on thermals; and then followed him until he landed on the top of one of the Memorial Hall weathervanes:

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More pics and video below the cut... )

So, clearly, the juveniles haven't completely left the area, although I suspect they are right on the edge of doing so.

Thanks to a tip from Margo, I found that the Harvard Recycling Newsletter has a "Campus Wildlife" section, and they've been reporting on the hawks each month. That tipped me off that the folks in the MCZ's Ornithology dept. have been informally monitoring the nest (which is across the street from them). I was able to call them up, and get a rough idea of when the hawks hatched (~ May 8), and when they started flying (~ June 20).

Some more digging around on the web turned up the rough estimates that after they start flying, fledglings will spend 6-7 weeks still being fed by the parents before they're really catching food on their own. Around 10 weeks, they should be independent of the parents. This means that, if they began to fly around June 20, then I first started seeing them around the 4-week mark. The 10-week mark would roughly be the end of next week.

It's nice to know that the parents would have kept feeding them through this period (not left them to sink or swim in the learning-to-hunt dept., as I originally feared). And at least I know that in the next couple of weeks, I shouldn't be surprised if sightings of them drop off completely. (The quiet adults are going to be much harder to spot. For example, I'd NEVER have seen the one in the tree above, if the juvenile hadn't been with it and drawing attention.)
eregyrn: (Hawk)
*headdesk* One of the local mockingbirds appears to have learned to mimic the juvenile hawk cries. I'm screwed. (On the bright side, that explains why sometimes I hear that cry, and CANNOT find the hawk in the tree, even though it should be relatively easy to do since the hawks are enormous.)

Since this may be the same mockingbird that I noticed, this past spring, had learned with great precision to imitate the chirp-chirp of a car alarm being activated... yeah. Seems likely. #@&^%@ mockingbird.

(I feel that the joke is slightly on the mockingbird. If I'm not mistaken, one of the reasons mockingbirds imitate other birdcalls is that most songbird calls are territorial advertisements? So in effect, the mockingbird is trying to warn ALL types of other birds away from its territory? But the juvenile hawk call isn't a warning; it wants to attract other hawks, which you would think would be the last thing a mockingbird would want to do.)


I also meant to note earlier that it's amazing how, once you start looking for hawks, you see them. I know there are red-tails out Waltham way. (There was one in the big oak tree behind my house once this past spring, in fact, being mobbed by a combination of jays, crows, and mockingbirds.) Well, last weekend, when I was out kayaking, I heard a juvenile's cry from a golf course in Newton, along the river. And this past week, I saw one flying over Moody St. on two successive days. Couldn't tell if they were adults or juveniles. [livejournal.com profile] jenlev will cackle: I nearly caused a traffic incident with the second one, which had set a flock of pigeons in motion as I was driving by, and was circling amongst them right over the street.
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Ohhhhhhh, today is going to be one of those days. I can tell already.

I was greeted this morning, as I got near my office, by the sound of one of the juvenile hawks crying somewhere nearby. I managed to follow the sound into the Yard (between Widener and Mem Church), only to have it go silent, of course. (And then, pick up as I decided to give up and go to the office; of course.)

Well, I thought, at least that means they're still around!

Just now, I heard the cry again from inside my office. Grabbed camera, rushed out... heard it faintly one more time to provide a sense of which direction it was coming from... and then, nothing. *sigh*

So that's how it's going to be. They're still around, and they are BIG TEASES.

Today is already hot and humid, and it's going to get worse. Not a great day for tramping around at noon, but I may as well try. (With my luck, the hawks will all be too smart to be active in the middle of the day, and will be sitting open-beaked in the shade somewhere, making no noise at all.)

Anyway, on the subject of this post...

I like watching nature specials as much as, or more than, the next person. And of course any nature special involving orcas is going to especially draw me in. But I watched this Wild Kingdom episode over the weekend, about a guy filming orcas, and I just want to say... look. I get that doing specials like that is all about constructing a narrative. Really, I do. But I would prefer a bit more basic honesty in them. Let me explain.

So there was this guy, who is a cinematographer, who decided to go down and study the orcas on the Crozet Islands in the extreme southern Indian Ocean. These very remote and uninhabited islands have a breeding elephant seal colony, and penguins. They're one of the places particularly known for the orcas in the area having developed a hunting strategy in which they body-surf up onto the beach to snatch seals. So this guy decides to go down there and film them, and try to swim with them, to get some underwater footage, and see how the orcas tolerate him.

The special makes a lot of the fact that this is dangerous (not a lot of people go diving with wild orca pods, I guess), even though they also have to admit that there is no record of orcas ever attacking divers. Ever. But you know, nobody wants to be the first. But that wasn't what bugged me. The show went into some detail about how this guy gets dropped off on the island for a 3-month stay (the islands are uninhabited, remember; the boat drops him off and won't come back for 3 months), with all his stuff in a wooden crate, and he's planning on staying in a tent the whole 3 months (on islands near the Antarctic), and so on. Which, fine -- yes, impressive.

But here's the thing. Somebody was filming him the entire time.

You can TELL, obviously, because there are all these shots of him tramping across the island, and shots of him from above setting up to film the orcas, and shots of him sitting amongst penguins, filming them, and then when he goes diving, there are shots following him underwater (i.e. none of these seem to be able to be accounted for by him setting up a fixed camera in order to get the shots).

And, it's like... that old comment about how Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, except backwards, and in heels.

At one point, there's a giant storm that hits the islands, with 50 mph winds and all, and he hunkers down in his little tent, and the next morning, the little tent is half-covered in dark volcanic sand. And he's all, "I was worried that my tent would blow away, and I don't have another one". And I'm thinking, "Yeah, but what about the tent that the film crew must be using? Surely they would let you share?"

And, I don't know... I was just more irritated than usual about the lack of transparency, or honesty, in the narrative, call it what you will. "Lone cinematographer camps out on remote island and swims with orcas!" sounds great, in theory, but he's hardly ALONE. The narrative made quite a bit out of the risk to him in diving with the orcas, and how they got used to him and seemed to come to accept his presence... but they really didn't, did they? Rather, the story there is, they accepted HIS presence and that of at least one other diver, who was filming him filming them, and... how does that change the equation? The question of whether wild orcas will be inclined to regard one diver as pinniped-like enough to be prey? But it's two divers and their equipment, not one. (Plus, orcas are just smart enough to know the difference. They don't mistake humans for seals.)

I guess I don't see what the problem is with setting up the narrative to admit, "We dumped this guy plus a film team on the island, so that we could film what he was doing". Instead, the narrative was just very carefully constructed so as to try to make the other cameramen invisible -- you got plenty of shots of the guy's little lonely tent, but no shots of the tent that they must have been using, etc.

I suppose it's very remotely possible that he did the entire thing himself, setting up a series of fixed cameras in order to film himself, and then walking back to set up specific shots of him tramping across the island or whatever; I suppose it's possible to trigger those by remote, and perhaps even pan with them (though I don't know how you'd focus). Don't know how to explain the underwater shots of him, though. I guess I'd have to watch it again more closely to analyze the shots. But there were like 5 other cameramen credited at the end, so... I don't think that was it. I think they were there with him. And for some reason the entire show just wanted to pretend they weren't. And I find that weird, and annoying.
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Time marches onward, and as they grow, the juvenile red-tails become more elusive. Thus, I have a few days' worth of watching to report, but not very much that's spectacular.



Above is a movie that I took on Friday the 7th, when I spotted one of the juveniles high up in the big locust tree in the Barker courtyard -- thanks largely to the outraged sounds of mockingbirds and robins (the hawk itself was silent). Sorry for the poor quality -- most of it is taken at the extent of the 40x digital zoom, and as you can see, it was a windy day. It also didn't help that the hawk had his back to me the whole time, mostly resulting in a brown blob, with the occasional head popping up to keep an eye on harassing smaller birds.

This 2-min. video was edited down from about 5 mins' worth of footage, to show the "interesting" bits -- stick with it to see a mockingbird come quite close (around 0:32); grooming behavior that is interrupted by a darting squirrel (1:05 - 1:55); and a precipitous ending in which the hawk tries to nab another squirrel.

There followed several more days of only sporadic success, hawk-stalking-wise.

Picture 5

More pics and another video beneath the cut... )

And that's all for now, I'm afraid. I'm braced for the fact that, any day now, the juveniles will depart, taking with them their distinctive, easier-to-find (than the adults) cries. It seems to me that they are getting a bit quieter now, and that their circles of exploration are widening. One of these days, they're just going to be gone, and I'll be sad.

But, until then, I'm watching the skies! And the trees, and the rooflines...
eregyrn: (Hawk)
So! More updates, including several days' worth of watching...

It hasn't, admittedly, been the most spectacular week for it, but I do still have some interesting photos. One of the things I've noticed lately is that my ear is becoming VERY attuned to the crying sound of the juveniles. In part, this is good, because if it wasn't for that auditory cue, they'd be a lot harder to find. (Frequently, one of the two will be silent, while the other is noisy; or they'll initially be noisy, and then fall silent. The luckiest days are the ones where one of them keeps calling long enough for me to triangulate on them.) But in part, it's bad, because I start wondering if I'm REALLY hearing them or not. And there's nothing more annoying (in bird-watching terms, that is) than possibly hearing the bird-call you want, and then everything in your vicinity starts being noisy -- you really wish you had a "mute" button for everything else (traffic, lawnmowers), so you could stand and really listen to see if you actually hear the noise again.

IMG_0369

More pics below the cut... )

The other notable event from this week is that I located the nest! Through some judicious googling for clues, and then walking around up on Oxford St. yesterday, I finally spotted it. (It looked smaller, from the ground, than I had expected it to.) I got some pics, but they aren't terribly interesting. (It's a nest. In a tree.) The best news is that it's in a tree right next to a building, and there are windows right on level with it, and the windows belong to a library, so they are quite accessible. I went up there and spoke to the librarian, who confirmed that it was the nest the pair had used this year. (She was wistful about the fact that since the fledglings had flown, they don't seem to come back very much.) This is good, as it means that next spring, I can go up there and see if I can get some pics of the hawks on the nest, and the babies in the nest. *crosses fingers*!

There was some hawk-drama in the courtyard here this morning -- one of the juveniles in the big locust tree, being mobbed by mockingbirds and jays. Then the second one showed up, and drove me nuts because it was crying and I could hear it, but I couldn't *find* it amongst all the leaves. I got some pictures and a little video footage of the one being mobbed, including some preening, so if it turns out to be any good (and if I can edit it properly), I'll post it next week.

Finally -- anyone who has become really curious about urban hawks after reading all of this might want to check out this book: Red-Tails in Love, by Marie Winn. She wrote it in the mid-90s, about a pair of red-tails making their home in Central Park, NYC. I hear that the paperback edition has an update from 2005.

Also... Nature - Pale Male is the first documentary film about the original Central Park male hawk, from 2003 I believe. (I haven't seen it yet; I have it requested from my library.) Apparently there is a second film that isn't out on DVD yet, "The Legend of Pale Male", which I'm looking forward to as well. (Pale Male was the original male who showed up in Central Park in about 1990 or 1991, and he's still making his home there, and raising broods.)
eregyrn: (Hawk)
Yeah, I'm sure y'all will get tired of the hawk-spamming eventually. But I'm still captivated; so sue me.

IMG_0316


This post actually compresses several days' worth of hawk-stalking, because the hawks, they do not always cooperate...

More pics below the cut... )

I also finally remembered that my camera has a video function! So I was able to get some footage of the juvenile on Friday:



The inane commentary at the beginning is courtesy of Deborah and I. *rolls eyes*

The sharp "chip-chip" noises are the local robins, protesting the hawks' presence. The second juvenile hawk is up in the top of that big locust tree between Barker and Dana Palmer. The "kreeeeee-kree-kree" sound that you hear periodically is that hawk (that's a cry asking the parents to come feed them; which the parents won't do at this point, as they're supposed to be learning to hunt for themselves). At about 1:24, you can see this one react to its sibling taking off and flying over the roof of Barker. Stick around to the end and you'll see this hawk take off.

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