Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Meadowlands Festival of Birding

Here's a press release from a birding festival I'll be speaking at. By the way, the Meadowlands Environment Center is a short drive from NYC:

Second Annual New Jersey Meadowlands Festival of Birding to Take Place at the Meadowlands Environment Center on Sept. 17

Marie Winn, author of “Red-Tails in Love,” will deliver keynote address

LYNDHURST, N.J. – Break out the binoculars and get ready to see some fantastic feathers fly because it’s time for the second annual New Jersey Meadowlands Festival of Birding, taking place at DeKorte Park and the Meadowlands Environment Center on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Noted birdwatcher and author Marie Winn will deliver keynote address. The event is being organized by the New Jersey Audubon Society and Hackensack Riverkeeper, Inc.

"The Hackensack River is a river in recovery and the rich community of migratory and nesting birds in the New Jersey Meadowlands is evidence of it," said Captain Bill Sheehan, executive director of Hackensack Riverkeeper. "The birding here is phenomenal and the Festival of Birding is a great way for beginners and experts alike to experience it first-hand." The day-long event will feature events for birders of all ages and experience, from those just starting out with the pastime to bird watchers who have logged hundreds of hours in the field. An “early bird” field trip to Liberty State Park will take place at 7 a.m. and is only open to those who pre-register. Activities will include bird-watching field trips with expert guides, birding along the Hackensack River by boat, workshops for building bird houses and backyard feeders, and events especially geared to introduce birding to children.

Marie Winn, author of “Red-Tails in Love: Pale Male’s Story – A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park,” will give the keynote address at 1 p.m. in the Meadowlands Environment Center’s auditorium. Her famous book details a group of New York City birders who discovered a pair of nesting hawks near Fifth Avenue. She has published a number of other books including “The Plug in Drug: Television, Computers and Family Life” and “The Baby Reader,” as well as several children’s books and articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

“The New Jersey Meadowlands Festival of Birding is a celebration of the rich birdlife of this urban oasis, and an opportunity for birders of all levels to learn about and enjoy the diverse species found here,” said Don Freiday, Wildlife Sanctuary Director with the New Jersey Audubon Society. The first Meadowlands Festival of Birding was held in October 2004 at the MEC and drew about 100 birders from New Jersey and the surrounding area. This year’s event will feature more attractions and a post-festival warbler walk and hawk watch on Sunday, Sept. 18 at the Palisades Interstate Park Stateline Lookout.

“Mid-September is prime time to find migratory waterfowl and birds of prey in the Meadowlands,” Freiday said, “birding at the Festival will be great.” "When we give our Eco-Cruises, people always marvel at the variety of wildlife that thrives in the shadow of the NJ Turnpike, Giants Stadium and the Empire State Building," Sheehan said. "This festival celebrates that phenomenon."

The fee for the event is $20 in advance, $30 at the door. Children 17 and under are free. A complimentary continental breakfast and lunch buffet of sandwiches and beverages will be provided. For more information or to register for the Festival of Birding, contact Hackensack Riverkeeper at (201) 968-0808 or visit the Web site at

Friday, August 19, 2005

Blakeman on the talon-drop posture & a Postscript from Ben

Referring to yesterday's posting, Mai Stewart sent some questions to John Blakeman:
Dear John,

Perhaps you've noticed the posting on Marie's website about Pale Male and Lola having been seen flying w/ their talons DOWN -- I wondered if you have any thoughts on what's going on, as (Marie noted) mating season is about 4 months away.

Also, on Lincoln's website, he mentions that the kids have been observed playing in a sprinkler and puddle . This is interesting, since I didn't think RTs liked water or avoided it because, as you mentioned, it removes the protective coating on their feathers. Any thoughts about this? Or, are they just being playful kids?

Here is JB's reply:
I read the latest posting with continuing interest.

In winter, the descended feet routine is surely a pair-bonding phenomenon. But from my experiences with red-tails, I don't think this behavior in August is any prelude to bonding or copulation, as it often is in winter. I'll use my convenient explanation that it's "displacement," where the bird responds to some stimulus with another unconnected, seemingly unproductive behavior. In this case, I think Lola's stimulus is to hunt for, feed, and check out her offspring, just as she'd done in the past several summer periods. But she has no offspring this year, so how can she respond to her instinctive habits? She drops her legs. To her, it feels like she's done something, that she's responded to her habitual or instinctive summer impulses. What else can she do?

If this were in October, there could well be a sexual aspect to this, when day lengths are markedly shortening. For old, experienced pairs, that rapid daylength change can prompt some pair bonding and breeding territory behaviors. But here in high summer, the days are still long and not much shortened. Lola has no cares whatsoever. She has ample food, and plenty of time to kill. She's dropping her legs because it feels good, making her think that she's "done something" to respond to her habits in previous years. Hawks are remarkably habitual. They don't do much thinking in any mammalian sense. But with their narrow range of behaviors, they do respond to memories and habits. That's my explanation for the dropped legs in August.
Next August, after Pale Male Sr and Lola have resumed successful nesting, when they have a pair of fledglings learning to hunt in their part of Central Park, hawkwatchers should be looking for the dangling legs routine. If they see it then, my explanation is all wrong, of course. (Trying to determine the private thoughts and emotions of both human and hawk females is often beyond masculine comprehension. Both are so wonderfully but frustratingly enigmatic.)

And no, I'm not surprised at all with the young hawks' playing in the water spray. This is not common behavior, but heat and humidity in the 90s isn't either. Falconers know that immatures (and many adults) really like to be sprayed with water. On hot days, many falconers spray their birds with a spray bottle of water. The birds in the park sprinklers were certainly watching the motion of the water streams, perhaps an initial attraction to them. Red-tails see everything that moves, and an animated, hissing, pulsing stream of water must be considered by a hawk. It has many of the enticing traits of something to kill and eat.
The drenching of the hawks doesn't really remove the oil on their feathers. When they dry off they will understand that on the next day's preening session they will have to be attentive in stropping the beak on the oil gland beneath the feathers on their rumps and carefully spread it over the entire body once again. An hour's play in the water will require some diligent preening, but that's all normal. Yes, they are just kids playing outdoors, learning about water streams and hot days. Notice that the adults haven't been seen in the sprinklers. They may drop into a shallow edge of a pond and take a quick, 30-second "bath," but their sprinkler days are long past.
What I find remarkable is not that the birds were playing (yes, playing) in the sprayers, but that they were doing this right on the ground with humans passing so close by. My first questions about red-tails in Central Park centered on what foods, what prey the hawks could or would capture there. Those questions are now being answered (rats and pigeons, incongruously). Now, I wonder about why these birds accommodate humans so easily, almost to point of utter disregard. As I stated before, out in the countryside a strolling human would be fortunate to get within a hundred yards or more before a perched red-tail would flee. In Central Park, the birds apparently pay little attention to humans. Remarkable. Is Central Park an open, uncaged zoo for the red-tails? Seems so.

John A. Blakeman

Postscript -- an e-mail received this morning from birder and long-time hawkwatcher Ben Cacace:


On Aug 12th I saw the same behavior where the pair of
RTs were flying with talons down. Always nice to see
but I thought there was a reinforcing of the bonds
during the post breeding season. From my notes:

"RT: Lake, 2 circling together from E to perch on SE
tower [of] Beresford, most of interactions w/talons
down including just before perching."

I never thought this was usual post breeding season.

Ben Cacace

How many redtails can live together in Central Park: Q & A

In the next exchange, Mai Stewart asked John Blakeman, [in a longer letter]:,

It occurred to me as I was reading the part about next summer, after PM + Lola have successfully borne offspring, that Central Park is going to begin to get quite crowded -- We now have PM + Lola, PMJ + Charlotte, their 2 fledglings, and there was also some mention, much earlier in the winter/spring, about the possibility of another pair of RTS (altho we haven't heard much about them since).

But if all of the above remain in CP, and PM/Lola + PMJ/Charlotte also reproduce successfully next spring, what do you think will happen? Will they all be willing to put up w/ each other -- or will the older pairs begin to drive away the younger ones?

IF there continues to be enough prey for all (and we have no reason to think there won't be), will they all tolerate each other's presence?

John Blakeman replied :

How will it all end -- or at least, how will the Central Park red-tails reach population stability? Things are by no means stable yet. I originally thought that food would be short in Central Park because there are no voles there. Voles are the staff (or mouse) of life for red-tails virtually everywhere else. But the CP 'tails have learned to successfully take the park's pigeons and rats. Most of Lincoln Karim's recent photos of the immatures show them to have fat, full crops. Those birds are eating very, very well. So far, hunger is playing no part in CP red-tail biology. That's seldom the case in the countryside this late in the season, but New York City has been very good to its new residents. The Big Apple has been a feeding feast for the red-tails.
Therefore, hunger -- at least in the moderate seasons -- isn't likely to play its normal role in causing the parents to drive out the maturing birds of the year. The offspring are likely to extend their residencies as long as possible, even right on through the winter. This birds are so fat that they have no normal compulsion to move on, to get out of the house or apartment as it were. These birds might start to be considered spoiled brats, feeding profusely and easily on the abundant offerings of NYC.
If they are ever driven over to Jersey or anywhere away from the park, these young'uns are going to have a quick ecological comeuppance. Finding and killing wild food out in the countryside is going to present some real challenges for this pair of spoiled kids. There aren't many easy-to-kill rats in the countryside, and even Pale Male himself couldn't capture rural pigeons, who have the good sense not to peck around inattentively at thrown out grain. In the countryside, Cooper's hawks quickly dispatch any pigeon that acts like a Central Park pigeon.
So, what will happen to the Trump Parc youngsters, and the other young red-tails likely to start their hunting lives in Central Park next season? Considered diligence (so far, pretty much lacking on my part) should dictate a plea of ignorance. If the CP red-tail population acted like the normal, rural ones, the fledglings would no longer be fed and would now start to feel the desperate pangs of hunger. Mom and Pop would also start pushing the youngsters off the breeding territory, either by luring them out with dangled food, or more usually by merely neglecting their plaintive cries of food begging. In northern Ohio, at just about the same latitude as NYC, our fledglings are no longer being fed and they are crying out across the landscape for someone to feed them. In desperation they are chasing grasshoppers, and making their clumsy attempts at capturing voles. A few of them will quickly become experts at this and survive the winter. The greater majority will starve in the next month or so. I see a few of these dead birds along rural roadsides and always stop to examine them. They died pitifully weak, as mere skeletons. Sad, but a fact of life for rural red-tails.
Obviously, things aren't going to play out in Central Park as I've described for rural Ohio. We do know that adults in fall and winter are much more tolerant of competitive, interloping birds when their territories have abundant food. And Central Park has an abundance of red-tail food, so how will the expanding RT population stabilize or play out in coming years? That, now, is the greatest remaining red-tail natural history question in the minds of knowledgeable field biologists. So far, there are at least two productive pairs of red-tails in the park. In time, could there be three, four, or five? A year ago I would have said only one pair was sustainable. Now, at least two surely are. I would not be surprised at all if one or two more pairs take up nesting residence next winter.
The real question is how social will well-fed nesting pairs be. How will the adjacent pairs interact with an abundance of food? Could there eventually be six nesting NYC pairs doing their hunting in Central Park? There may be enough food for this, but will the adults learn to tolerate such a number of adjacent pairs? Out here, red-tails commonly have one- to two-square mile breeding territories. In Central Park, could there eventually be a half dozen pairs? Could be, especially if over the coming years there is natural selection for this. In rural areas, there is natural selection for large, isolated, unencroached-upon territories. That arrangement produces the most red-tails annually, over large land masses. But that dynamic doesn't look to be so operative in Central Park. For the red-tails, everything is new and different there.
Does it sound like I'm dodging the question? You bet. Together, let's see what happens next year and the years to follow. The Central Park red-tails are here to stay, that's now certain. Just how many stay is still a question, one that I want to follow. I'm out here in obscure fly-over land, so I can't see the wonderful things you see in the park. Keep me posted. The central Park red-tail story is still only a few chapters long. The closing chapters of rural red-tail accounts won't reveal the final ones of the CP pairs. Nature is still writing the work, so we'll just have to wait until she's done in a few years. A plea of informed ignorance is wisest with this set of birds at this location.


John A. Blakeman

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pale Male seen daily!

Lola with talons descended.
Photo by Lincoln Karim a few years ago

I ran into the photographer Rik Davis at Union Square this morning. [My office and his studio are in that neighborhood]. If you've ever been to the Hawk Bench at the Model-boat Pond, you're sure to have seen him. He's the one whose great photographs of the hawks you see spread out on a bench behind the telescopes.

While others ended their vigil there last April, when it became clear that Pale Male and Lola's eggs were not going to hatch, Rik has continued to spend a part of every day in his usual spot. As you may know I've been posting occasional sightings of Pale Male or Lola on this website, just to let people know that the famous birds are still around. What I didn't realize is that they are VERY very around.

A short conversation with Rik revealed that Pale Male and Lola spend many hours each day perched on the the same places they always used as look-out points: the top of the Carlyle Hotel, the Oreo Building, Linda's 6 windows -- those odd names you may remember from reports earlier this year. You just have to be there at the right time, often in the morning.

A few days ago, Rik reports, he saw an aerial redtail-kestrel encounter. After being pursued by the small kestrel for a while, the redtail pair turned on their pursuer and chased him, Rik recounts

Yesterday morning a little before 11, Rik saw an exciting sight: Pale Male and Lola soaring above Fifth Avenue together with talons descended. This posture during flight is often seen at the start of the breeding season . I've always associated it with courtship and mating [in John Blakeman's use of the word "mating", meaning forming the pair bond]. Yet it's only mid-August. Breeding season is at least 4 months away. These birds are getting a head start!

Anyhow, for those of you still worrying that for some reason our Fifth Avenue hawks will not resume nesting on 927 Fifth next spring, that they will switch their allegience to Central Park West, for example, this is very heartening news.

PS What would be wrong with a new nest on Central Park West? Nothing, perhaps, from the hawks' point of view. From the human point of view here's what's wrong: No "Hawk Bench" there for easy communal viewing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The latest bird report

Yesterday's highlights from the New York City Bird Report- a site providing up-to-the-minute bird sightings in Central Park sent in by the park's birders. It also reports on birds in other NYC parks. [Link below]

August 16, 2005

American Black Duck
Green-winged Teal
Bald Eagle [Flyover, seen from Belvedere Castle]
Greater Yellowlegs
Laughing Gull
Hairy Woodpecker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow
Mourning Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Brown-headed Cowbird

Pale Male sighting-- corrected

Yesterday evening Jan Mannen, one of Central Park's birdwatchers, together with Ben Cacace and two other birders, were at Belvedere Castle looking out at Nighthawks flying over Turtle Pond. She reports that at about 7:15 p.m.Ben Cacace spotted Pale Male perched on the ball atop the Castle's flagpole. The famous hawk sat there, picturesquely, for more than 15 minutes. When he left at a little after 7:30 the group saw him swoop low over the Great Lawn, right above the heads of the players at one of the baseball diamonds there. He landed in a tree east of the Great lawn, and was seen no more that evening.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Perseid Adventures Part II: a small digression about robins

Synopsis: It's August 11th, the night when the meteor shower known as the Perseids is going to be at its peak. At a little after 4:00 a.m. my friend Naomi Machado and I meet at Cedar Hill, a vantage point chosen by our astronomy mentors, two friendly amateur astronomers. But as we settle down to watch we can see that the sky is covered by clouds. It doesn't look like we'll see any shooting stars that morning.

Before going on with our adventure, in the interest of disclosure I must admit that Naomi and I had an additional mission that morning. It was not shooting stars alone that had dragged us out of our beds at 4 a.m. We were also there to pursue a scientific study. Our subject of study was a common Central Park bird: the American Robin

. For almost two months we had been observing an odd phenomenon: just before sunset robins, hundreds of robins, quietly streamed into into a particular Linden tree on the north side of the Great Lawn.

That was pretty strange, it seemed to us, hundreds of robins flying into a tree. But stranger yet was the fact that all the arriving birds seemed to be males. How did we know? Well, male robins can be distinguished from females by the color of their chests.. The males' red breasts are a much darker and deeper russet-red; the females' fronts look a bit pale and washed out. No value judgement here. That's just the way it is.

Of all the thousands of people playing baseball, flying kites, having picnics, or just hanging out at this major Central Park gathering place, none besides us seemed aware that in their midst was a boys' dormitory for robins. Naomi and I loved having this little secret.

By the middle of May the dormitory dropped its single-sex rule. That was when the males began to be joined by increasing numbers of newly-fledged offspring. The kids could also be distinguished by breast color, for they had neither the rich russet color of their fathers nor the pale reddish tones of their mothers. they were completely speckled, like other members of the thrush family. At this point the dorm became a father-and-son or father-daughter club. The addition of the youngsters made the numbers of birds going to sleep at the northeast end of the Great Lawn even greater. We watched the overflow move into another Linden just across the path.

Where were the Moms? It wasn't hard to figure out, for robins are known to have two and often three broods of young each season. The female robins were scattered throughout the park taking care of brood after brood of young. They were incubating eggs, and then feeding and grooming keeping the young warm and dry all night. All the while the robin menfolk, and later the kids from the first two broods of the year spent their evenings socializing at the northeast end of the Great Lawn, smoking cigars, or listening for worms in the ground or whatever it is that fathers and kids do when left to their own devices.

The whole area of birds' sleep is a vast unknown. Look in the index of any ornithology text book and you won't find an entry for sleep. For Naomi and me, this mystery activated our spirit of scientific inquiry. We began to take notes on the bedtime rituals of our fraternity-boy robins.We took notes on the progression of sounds that seemed to characterize their bedtime ritual--from a loud cackle-like call, to softer whinnies to a final chorus of kwick-kwick, kwick-kwicks. And then silence, as if all those robin sounds had been turned off like a faucet. We noted the changes that occurred when the guys were joined by scores of awkward, noisy fledglings.

After a while we realized that our observations were incomplete. We had spent many hours of observing robins going to bed at night. Now we had to find out what happened at night's end. When did the birds wake up in the robin dormitory? What kinds of sounds did they make. Did they fly out all in one big rush, or did they trickle out slowly?

We saw our opportunity when the meteor shower was announced and Cedar Hill was chosen as the best viewing spot. Cedar Hill, as it happens, is quite near the Great Lawn; ten minutes of leisurely strolling would get us to the tree. Here's how we imagined our morning: after pigging out on the spectacle of hundreds of fiery bodies streaking across the sky, we'd hurry over to the Robin Dormitory a little before sunrise, to check how the birds began their day.

To be continued

Black Witch update

I sent my photographs of the Black Witch moth to Mike Quinn, an invertebrate biologist in Austin Texas who tracks these critters on an Internet site. He wrote back: "Thanks! This is only the second Black Witch moth record I have for all of New York [state]." He is posting the photos on his website. If y0u want to know more about Black Witches, here's the link:

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Perseid Adventure

<>On August 11 Naomi Machado, who teaches English to foreign students at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and I, your diligent website reporter, arrived at Cedar Hill at just about the same time -- a little after four in the morning. But why call it morning? It was dark as night as we entered the park, as dark as it ever gets in New York City. That was the perfect level of light for achieving the goal that had gotten us up at that ungodly hour: to see the spectacular array of shooting stars known as the Perseids.

Two amiable amateur astronomers,[sorry about the alliteration but that's the perfect word for them] Tom Clabough and Charlie Ridgeway, had preceeded us at the little slope just south of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by more than an hour. They had both seen some meteors shortly after they arrived, including one flaming orange streak--a fireball. But by the time we made our way to our meeting place halfway up the hill, right in front of the five tall cedars for which the hill is named, the weather had changed. Remember those cedars --they'll be important later.

At 4 am there was a light cloud cover over most of the sky. According to the star guys the clouds had been increasing for almost an hour. Yet this unfortunate circumstance had not kept me or Naomi from coming. In fact, neither of us had even noticed the clouds. Like sleepwalkers [which we practically were] we woke to our various alarm clocks and headed for our various subways without paying attention to what was above us.

More knowledgeable types like Brad Klein, a Central Parknature enthusiast, were more aware of the implications of a cloud cover. He understood the simple equation: Clouds in sky equals cancellation of star show. Brad, who is an Executive Producer for Acoustiguide had been planning to join us at 4:00 with his wife Danielle. Instead he sent me an e-mail a few hours later explaining his absence at Cedar Hill that morning. It was in the form of a little playlet that was acted out just as Naomi and I were making our way to the park:

The Brad & Danielle mini-drama

"It looks kind of overcast from here", said Danielle, barely lifting her head from the fine 100% Egyptian cotton pillow case.

"Umm", answered her loutish husband, and rolled over. Danielle, while contemplating the weave of the extraordinarily fine sheets, deftly flipped her husband to the floor with a deft jujitsu motion of her leg. "Be a dear," she said, "and run out and check the cloud cover".

A moment later, after a few short keystrokes on the cell phone, he was back under the really remarkably comfortable linens, and fast asleep

In fact, the cloud cover was not complete. Dark areas among the clouds revealed patches of sky. It was just moving too slowly. The clouds [mackeral clouds, Charlie called them since they took on the look of multiple fish scales] were moving across the sky from south to north, leaving perfectly clear sky behind them.The constellation Perseus, however, where the meteor shower was to be seen, was well in the north part of the sky by the time we arrived. When the clouds finally moved along to uncover what would have been Perseus and the fiery meteors therein, it was 6 a.m, three minutes before sunrise. By then there was too much light to see any heavenly objects at all.

So we didn't see any meteors at allthat day, not the hundreds that had been predicted. Not a single one. Meteors, it turned out, were not to be the major thrill of that morning's experience. But thrills there were nevertheless.

[To be continued]

More about the Black Witch

View of Black Witch from the side
Photo by N. Wagerik

I can't imagine that you haven't been longing for more information about the Black Witch. Here's an article I dug up from the Sun Herald of Biloxi Mississippi. Wouldn't they be surprised to hear that we had one in Central Park?

The Sun Herald -- Biloxi, Mississippi

Sat, Jul. 16, 2005

Remember Mothra? It was huge... 15,000 tons of ticked off Lepidotpera. It leveled Tokyo, scared any little kid who saw it in a dark movie house and kicked Godzilla's tail until Big G fried it to a crisp with its bad breath, only to have Mothra's kids tie him down with their steel-hard strands of silk.

Mothra was one bad dude, but even it didn't get to use the name mariposa de la muerte (moth of death).

That particular sobriquet goes to the black witch moth. It's had that title since the time of the Aztecs. They believed that, if there was illness in a house and this moth entered, the sick person would die. Its biology had a lot to do with this superstition. Large numbers of black witches would appear in early November, just in time for the feast of the dead.

Couple that with their attraction to the lights in a home and the moth's strong, bat-like flight, and you can see how easy it was to associate this creature with death. Superstitions about this moth can be found wherever it is known. In Jamaica (where it's known as the "duppy bat," "mourning moth" or "sorrow moth"), they share the same myth with the Mexicans concerning death. The Jamaicans also believe that the moth brings bad news to a home. In the Bahamas, it goes by the happier name of "money bat."

It is said that, if the money bat lands on you, you will come into money. In south Texas, people say that, if a black witch lands above your door and stays there for a while, you will win the lottery (a more recent myth, one would think). People in Hawaii believe that the moth is the embodiment of the soul of the recently deceased.

The black witch moth (ascalapha odorata) is one of the largest moths in the insect world and is the largest insect in the Western Hemisphere, with the males reaching a wingspan of 11 cm (5 inches) and the females 17 cm (7 inches). It belongs to the largest family of moths (Noctuidae) with just under 3,000 species in North America. Along with size, the female can be distinguished from the male by the presence of a pale median band (stripe) running through her wings.

Now why would I dedicate this week's column to such a creature? Since late June, Dr. David Held with the extension service in Biloxi has received a number of calls from people about the black witch. Many of the callers have lived along the Coast their entire lives and had never seen one of these beautiful creatures before. I was called to someone's home on Thursday to identify a "huge butterfly."

At first, I couldn't tell what it was. I wasn't able to capture the moth and it flew faster and straighter than any moth I'd ever encountered. Without a specimen to examine, a search of my library was fruitless. Then Held called me, saying that he had a live specimen of an unusual moth. When I got there, I immediately saw that it was the same insect that I'd seen earlier. It was the black witch. Last Saturday in the Sun Herald, there was a question in the Sound Off section regarding a large "black" moth.

The final irony came with further research on the biology and ethology of A. odorata. I found a report of the black witch moth being brought to the U.S. in a hurricane.

In 2003, hundreds of black witch moths were reported within the eye of Hurricane Claudette when it made landfall near Port O'Connor, Texas. No black witches had been seen in Texas prior to the hurricane's arrival.

Immediately after the storm passed through, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the moths were reported along the central Texas Gulf Coast.

Did they come across the Gulf in the storm? Perhaps Cindy brought them to us this year? What will Dennis bring?

Of course, black witch moths are naturally migratory and are abundant throughout the New World tropics. They travel north, usually from Mexico, and have been spotted as far afield as Canada and Alaska. One report has the black witch being seen along the western coast of Africa. Only one official identification has ever been made of a black witch in Mississippi and it was only one of 11 reports (excluding Florida) of this moth east of the Mississippi River.

Like most moths, they are nocturnal. A moth is just a night-flying butterfly, or, more appropriately since moths outnumber butterflies eight to one, butterflies are day-flying moths.

Since they are active at night, it stands to reason that they rest during the day. Some of the most frequently chosen rest stops are in carports, garages, under eaves and on window screens.

There are even cases where they've been found resting under moving vehicles. During the day, you can approach one quite easily. If you have a camera, you can get some pretty nice photos.

Despite their evil reputation, black witch moths are harmless. They're a beautiful creature dressed in brown and black scales with violet or green hues.

A close look will reveal magnificent patterns on the wings. They're usually around only for a day or two, so if you find one of these creatures visiting your home, don't think of it as a harbinger of death and doom. Think of it as a miracle of survival.

Tim Lockley is a specialist in entomology (the study of insects) and is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To have him answer your individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o The Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535.

Flash!! A cosmic mindbender moth in Central Park!

Black Witch [female]

The Black Witch, a tropical moth in the Noctuid family, is normally found in Florida, Texas and points south. Every so often individuals of this species, for unknown reason, migrate north, sometimes as far north as Newfoundland and once, Alaska. This particular Black Witch found its way to Central Park on Saturday, August 12. She [definitely she was a she; males don't have that white band] liked what she saw, or, more likely, liked what she drank at the sap tree, and returned the next night. Two nights in a row. You can be sure there will be a crowd at the sap tree tonight. Note: This moth is BIG!

the Witch next to Nick's hand
to compare size

Nick Wagerik
[Why does this man look so happy?
"I've been waiting to see a Black Witch all my life."

Central Park Bird Report

Here's a nice overview of  the current birding situation in Central Park as the Fall Migration begins to accelerate:

August 12, 2005
Turtle Pond

The Common Nighthawk was seen around 7:50p flying 'low', north of
Turtle Pond. It was recognizable as a nighthawk naked eye. We watched
it for minutes as it climbed and proceeded to head in a WSW
direction. No calling was heard from the nighthawk.

** Total species - 39 **

'Less Common' migrants [6 spp]:
+ Gadwall - 10 on the reservoir
+ Spotted Sandpiper - 1 around the reservoir
+ Laughing Gull - At least 4 on the reservoir
+ Common Nighthawk - 1 seen low around 7:50p from Turtle Pond - it
circled high & then headed WSW
+ Wood Thrush - 1 juvenile over the Oven in the Ramble
+ Worm-eating Warbler - 1 on the Point in the Ramble

'Common' migrants [17 spp]:
- Double-crested Cormorant - At least 27 on the reservoir
- Great Egret - 1 on the lake
- American Black Duck - 1 on the lake
- Chimney Swift - Several seen in various places, the most seen was
10 over Turtle Pond
- Northern Flicker - 1 seen & heard around Turtle Pond
- Eastern Kingbird - 3 locations: S end of reservoir (heard), S end
of lake (heard), E end of Turtle Pond (seen)
- Barn Swallow - 1 over Turtle Pond
- American Robin
- Gray Catbird
- Cedar Waxwing - Small group of 3 over Turtle Pond
- Yellow Warbler - 1 seen checking out the 1st year Red-tailed Hawk
- Black-and-white Warbler - Several around the Point in the Ramble
- American Redstart - Several around the Point in the Ramble
- Northern Waterthrush - 1 on the Riviera E of Bow Bridge
- Red-winged Blackbird - Several around the lake & Turtle Pond
- Common Grackle
- Baltimore Oriole - A few juveniles checking in on the 1st year Red-
tailed Hawk

Year round residents [16 spp]:
- Canada Goose - 10 on the lake
- Mallard
- Red-tailed Hawk - A 1-year-old (1st year) RT continues on the W
side of the reservoir
- Ring-billed Gull
- Herring Gull
- Great Black-backed Gull
- Rock Pigeon
- Mourning Dove
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Downy Woodpecker
- Blue Jay
- American Crow - At least 4 on W side of reservoir mobbing 1st year
Red-tailed Hawk
- Tufted Titmouse - 1 calling & seen in the Ramble
- European Starling
- Northern Cardinal
- House Sparrow