Archive for: December, 2004

Visiting Pale Male

Dec 31 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

Even though I already saw Pale Male this morning as he flew lazy circles above a panicked flock of pigeons outside my office window, it was a pleasant day today, so I visited Pale Male and Lola's nest site early this afternoon. Unfortunately, neither bird was present. I sat alone on a green bench a small distance away from the hawk fan clique. They were crowded together on their usual bench directly across from the model sailboat pond (formally known as the Conservatory Water) in Central Park. The hawk fans appeared relaxed and almost bored as they talked and joked with each other, their telescopes packed away or standing as lonely sentinals, covered with black cloths. It was almost as though the recent hawk nest drama had never occurred.

After watching large numbers of people, English sparrows, rock doves ("pigeons") and eastern grey squirrels for almost an hour, I felt chilled so I moved on. I strolled around The Ramble and was surprised to find Pale Male sitting in a large tree near the bird feeders. These feeders, each containing either suet with peanuts, black-oil sunflower or thistle seeds, daily host scores of hungry House Finches, American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches, while a small and late-migrating flock of American Robins whinnied overhead. Unexpectedly, these birds were not intimidated by the hawk's presence, even though he watched them intently, bobbing his head in anticipation from time to time.

Suddenly, Pale Male swept low through the bare trees and landed on another branch approximately 23 meters (75 feet) away. He stared at a squirrel that hung upside down on a tree truck, motionless, chattering an alarm. A minute later, Pale Male again flew through the trees and landed on a bare branch that was high over a paved walkway. None of the people below noticed him at all. He watched them for a moment but seemed to grow bored. A few moments later, he moved on again, disappearing through the trees in the direction of The Lake.

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Pale Male and Lola: FINALLY HOME

Dec 28 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

Well, it finally happened. As of approximately 11 am EST, Pale Male and Lola's nest site is free of all distractions (dangling scaffolding) and health hazards (dangling netting). Thanks to all of you who have called, written and otherwise made your opinions known to the Co-op Board members and their minions as they sought to deny these birds their rightful place on this building and in the hearts of people all around the world. Pale Male and Lola are truly the People's Birds.

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Pale Male and Lola: How many ways can YOU spell "liar"?

Dec 27 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

Face it: Today is a crappy day. The malls, museums and movie theatres are crawling with angry, disappointed people and their angry, disappointed kids. Everywhere you look, there is no escape! Besides, aren't you still (just a little bit) angry because the Grinch spoiled your Christmas? ... because Santa left you a lump of coal in your stocking? ... that your holiday dinner drama turned your stomach? Bah, HUMBUG?!

Well, I have a great solution for you! You can use ALL your excess pent-up energy to raise hell on behalf of Pale Male and Lola! Even though it was repeatedly promised by the Co-op Board at 927 Fifth Avenue and by their contractors that the scaffolding that dangles above Pale Male and Lola's nest would be removed today, this was (surprise, surprise!) yet another lie. Er, misrepresentation.

The following humans, Homo hubris disingenuous, are all ignoring the NYC Audubon Society's repeated demands that they live up to their agreement of last week to remove the scaffolding today. As a result, the scaffolding and the netting that hangs four feet from it and into the nest spikes, will remain in place until ...

Hugo (212.737.XXXX),

the Grinchy control-freak building "super" provides roof access to

Brown Harris Stevens (212.906.XXXX),

the uncooperative money-grubbing contractor who owns the scaffolding and the netting that endangers the birds' lives (you'll probably end up talking to Noreen McKenna)

and the morally-constipated Scrooge Richard D. "Dick" Cohen (212.980.XXXX),

the bird/nature-hating chairman of the Co-op board and co-instigator of this nest-pillaging fiasco, along with his Co-op neighbor, former director and ahem, alleged plunderer of Enron, Robert A. Belfer

... all decide they have gotten bored with playing their pretentious little game with us. So please, put your pent-up fury to good use by making liberal use of these er, upstanding citizens' phone numbers to deliver messages of er, dismay, to them.

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Pale Male and Lola: The First Day of Kwanzaa

Dec 26 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

On this first day of Kwanzaa, neither Pale Male nor Lola were anywhere to be seen and their nest cradle was still under attack by the netting that worked loose from its restraints on the scaffolding above it. This netting hangs down into the nest spikes and poses a safety hazard for the hawks. My repeated phone calls (yet another one today, ho-hum. I was kicked into vmail) to the chatty Diana (Preferred Restoration, Inc., 718.328.XXXX), have been ignored because nothing has changed at the site. [I suspect that Diana acts as an answering service, and has no power at all, except to pass messages along to their respective contractors].

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Pale Male and Lola: Christmas Day

Dec 25 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

Christmas Day finally dawned in NYC, clear and crisp. I tried, with limited success, to sleep through my neighbors' raucous parties that finally quieted around 3 am, and finally crawled out of bed at 6 am when my smoke detector alarm sounded, for mysterious reasons. After dawdling in the shower, I finally made it to Central Park where I sat on a park bench blinking in the bright sun, surrounded by flocks of puffy English Sparrows, Passer domesticus. They gazed at me hopefully while I studied Pale Male and Lola's nest cradle. Neither hawk was present on or even near the nest, although Lola did appear briefly to soar low over the sailboat pond, shrieking.

The first thing I noticed about the nest structure was despite the contractor's promises yesterday to secure the netting that hangs from the scaffolding, this has not occurred. In fact, the netting has loosened more and now four feet of net hangs from the scaffolding and is tangled in the spikes themselves. This poses a hazard to the birds because they can either become entangled or entrapped in it and cause themselves serious injury or even death. Of course, if either bird is injured or worse through this carelessness, there will be plenty of negative publicity and loss of business as a result.

I called Preferred Restoration, Inc. and talked with Diana, who remembered me from yesterday, and used my authority as an ornithologist to voice my concerns about the netting issue again. Diana, a chatty and seemingly ardent Pale Male and Lola fan herself, immediately called the contractor at home to make sure the net is secured. I plan to return to the sailboat pond for awhile today to watch them take care of this, although my update on this situation will probably not appear until tomorrow, when I return to my office (the only place where I have internet access).

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Pale Male and Lola: Home for the Holidays

Dec 24 2004 Published by under Uncategorized


I checked Pale Male and Lola's nest today (815 - 845 am EST) and the installation of the stainless steel nest cradle is apparently complete. The "cradle" is comprised of large metal spikes that curve over the top of the cornice and stand up around the edges of the nest. Heavy metal screening lines this cradle and the original anti-pigeon spikes are located in the middle of the structure. This nest "cradle" provides approximately 2-8 inches clearance between the bottom of the nest and the top of the cornice so air can circulate freely. The top of the cornice is covered with a sheet of something (plastic? molded plexiglass?) that is probably intended to protect the masonry. Despite looking at the nest from several angles, I was unable to determine to my satisfaction whether any sticks were present.

Much to my annoyance, the scaffolding was still hanging from the edge of the roof above the cornice (and nest). It still had the banner hanging from it and the netting flapped in the icy winds. I was ready to complain loudly and repeatedly to the advertizing contractors to remove the scaffolding immediately for fear that it scares the birds away, but at that moment, Lola flew up to the nest structure and landed on it. She surveyed her kingdom below, appearing to be quite pleased with the nest cradle while ignoring the scaffolding and its flapping net. In fact, during the 30 minutes when I was there, Lola repeatedly flew in small circles over the structure and landed on it three times. She spent approximately half of her time sitting on the nest cradle. Pale Male was also present, soaring in small circles and approaching the cornice very closely, but he never landed on it while I was there.

I did call the advertizing contractors this afternoon to voice my concerns about the possibility of entanglement/entrapment of the birds in the netting that is dangling down from the scaffolding on the left side. The woman I spoke with said they would get someone out there today to secure it better. (This woman also said that the scaffolding would remain in place until the contractors were certain the structure had been installed correctly, that installation had taken longer than planned so they were unable to make their final inspection.)

Of course, I will check on the netting and I will make a loud noise, in concert with all of you, if it isn't secured adequately.

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PROTEST INFO: ... finally!

Dec 23 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

I visited Pale Male and Lola's building today during a lull in the stormy weather (2 pm EST). The scaffolding had been lowered down to the level of the cornice and was covered with a plastic banner that advertized the contractor's contact information. Perhaps not coincidentally, the banner also served to obscure the three workmen standing behind it on the scaffolding, drilling holes into the stone facade of the building. According to the few PaleMale/Lola fans present, the stainless steel "cradle" had been delivered late in the morning but no one had seen it yet. The Pale Male/Lola fans and reporters were standing in their usual place, directly across the street from the building, unable to really see anything from their vantage point due to the banner.

I leaned against a tree trunk about half a block north of the building so I could watch the progress. It was dark due to the heavy clouds and rain so the only thing I could see was the dust pile from the drilled stone, which was a lovely pink color (obviously the cream colored stone facade is heavily oxidized and sun-bleached). A photographer from the NY Post approached me to look through my binoculars and said the rain was making it difficult to see anything through his telephoto camera lens.

After half an hour, I left to take care of other business and planned to return later (4 pm EST). Unfortunately, by the time I was returning, the rain had become an underwear-drenching downpour combined with brisk winds (16 mph with frequent gusts to 33 mph) so I instead returned to my office to dry/thaw out. I will return tomorrow (the rain is supposed to subside around midnight tonight).

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PROTEST INFO: A Wee Bit of Progress

Dec 23 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

The latest news on Pale Male and Lola's nest site is that the masonry work on the building has been completed, the stainless steel "nest cradle" is finished (courtesy of Champion Metal Workers in Deer Park, Long Island) and it will finally be installed tomorrow, along with some sticks from their previous nest.

The NYC Audubon Society will host a celebratory vigil on Thursday, 23 December from 430 - 6 pm EST on the Central Park side of the street at 74th and 5th Avenue. Christmas carols will be sung, candles lit, celebratory signs displayed and perhaps a few of us will drink a toast (okay, not on the sidewalk -- don't want to be arrested, after all!). I also learned that there is film of construction of the "nest cradle" that will be available soon on the NYC Audubon site.

Don't forget that it is very cold out there (this is coming from a person who spent three hours standing in one place below the boreal owl's roost tree tonight -- I am still thawing out), especially after the sun goes down, so dress appropriately.

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PROTEST INFO: ... and more waiting ...

Dec 21 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

I visited Pale Male and Lola's nest location today (as I did yesterday), remaining in front of 927 Fifth Avenue for two and a half hours. I discovered that nothing has changed (also the same as yesterday). Would it be redundant of me to mention that this was disappointing? Would it be redundant of me to say that, last Friday, the Co-op Board told EJ McAdams from the NYC Audubon Society that nest reinstallation would be completed by today? The latest lie .. er, misrepresentation .. that the Co-op Board told us (today) is that Pale Male and Lola's nest will be reinstalled by Thursday, 23 December. We shall see!

Further adding to my disappointment, I did not see Pale Male or Lola today as I usually do, although I was told that Lola was seen earlier, flying low over the Boathouse Pond in Central Park. I was saddened to learn that a dead Red-tailed Hawk discovered several days ago in Central Park is now thought to be one of Pale Male and Lola's chicks-of-the-year. This would explain why I have not seen this particular bird recently. The bird's body is being necropsied to determine the cause of death, which is suspected to be due to eating a poisoned rat.

It's odd how one person standing in one place can attract so much attention. I stood in the middle of the sidewalk, trying not to freeze to death during my lonely silent vigil, looking through my 10X50 binoculars at the cornice where the nest was originally located. My binoculars are so powerful that I can count people's nose hairs from 50 feet away, so the sight of me standing still with these impressive binoculars really caused a stir among passersby: again and again, people asked me what I was looking at, while others wanted to discuss recent events. One family told me they were visiting from Seattle (my beloved other home!) and reported that the local news media there was providing daily coverage to Pale Male and Lola's plight. As I explained the situation to interested onlookers, I realized once more that there are many ways to provide information and to make an impression on the public and I tend to work best on an individual or small-group basis. Needless to say, I hope today's contribution on behalf of Pale Male and Lola's cause was effective, even though I made it in my own very quiet and unassuming way.

So I had my binoculars today instead of my notebook because I had been looking at a rarely-seen vagrant Boreal Owl, Aegolius funereus, who was snoozing in a spruce tree near The Tavern on The Green. While I held my silent vigil, I watched the antics of Central Park birds when no one was questioning me. I was particularly enchanted by several white-breasted nuthatches, Sitta carolinensis carolinensis, circling the large tree branches above my head, oblivious to gravity, while a tufted titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor, chattered softly from a bush near me, puffed into a nearly perfect ball, looking like a Christmas ornament instead of a bird.

Unexpectedly, Mary Tyler Moore stepped out of the building and waved at the doorman before walking away. I had never before seen her in real life, so I was surprised by how thin and brittle she appeared. Sometime after my toes and fingers had frozen (despite my wool socks and fleece gloves), I saw a solidly-built white man leave the building. He was wearing a dirty orange baseball cap, a navy blue wool peacoat, jeans and a rather nice pair of black shoes. I immediately focused my binoculars on him, magnifying him into a giant with monstrous proportions. Unfortunately, he had his head tilted so I was unable to properly census his nose hairs. He stood outside the building entrance, stared straight into my eyes and then dialed his cell phone.

I accepted his challenge with a soft chuckle and kept my binoculars trained on him. Jabbering on his cell phone, he leaned back to look up at the cornice. He looked back at me, still talking on his phone. He finally walked across the street to the Central Park side of the street where I was located and stood on the sidewalk, talking on his phone all this time.

Suddenly pleased with this little game, I moved into the middle of the cobblestone sidewalk where I was easily visible to him and continued to watch him through my binoculars. He became increasingly nervous. Finally, after a few minutes, I expected him to approach me to scream in my face because he was so obviously agitated. But after a quick glance at me, he instead turned his back to me, walked south along the sidewalk and hid behind a large tree. Still talking on his cell phone. A few minutes later, he cautiously peeked around the tree at me. (Yes, I was still staring at him through my binoculars). He hid behind the trunk again. By this time, this entire event began to seem ridiculous, even silly, but I am a dedicated watcher and I was curious to see what he would do next.

The chunky man continued south along Fifth Avenue after a few more minutes of hiding behind trees, walked across a cross street, hid behind another tree and peered back at me (yes, I was still staring at him). He ended his phone conversation and returned to the sidewalk, then turned to walk backwards while looking at me (yes, I was still staring) before he walked out into the traffic that was stopped in middle of Fifth Avenue. He hailed a cab and quickly disappeared into its dark maw.

I was quite entertained with this unexpected turn of events. Even though I wasn't sure of this man's identity, I enjoyed intimidating him by simply staring at him through my binoculars. In fact, if I had a camera with a telephoto lens, I would have taken his picture, too. My sudden flash of malice was partially triggered by the absence of any progress on nest restoration and partially by events that transpired last week and throughout the weekend.

According to my sources, the building residents hired a cameraman [named Anthony, see peer reviews below for more information and a link to his picture] to videotape us while we protested. This tape is being reviewed by the residents and their lawyers to identify us and to file complaints with the police so we can be arrested and charged with crimes. Unfortunately, I was captured on video by this cameraman on Friday while talking with EJ McAdams, who is negoting reinstallation of the nest spikes with the Co-op Board (hopefully, asking for information while standing on a public sidewalk is still legal, otherwise, I can look forward to free room and board for an undetermined length of time).

So, not to change the subject, but when I returned to Pale Male and Lola's original nest site today, I was determined to write something for all of you who wrote to me to complain that I did not tell you what is happening at their building right now. I hope you appreciate my efforts to tell an entertaining (and true!) story despite the fact that "a whole lot of nothing" happened today. Unfortunately, the silly nonsense reported here is what "a whole lot of nothing" looks like.

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Avian Ambassadors

Dec 19 2004 Published by under Uncategorized

Conservation is sometimes perceived as stopping everything cold, as holding whooping cranes in higher esteem than people. It is up to science to spread the understanding that the choice is not between wild places or people, it is between a rich or an impoverished existence for man.

- Thomas E. Lovejoy

It was barely controlled chaos. We stood, 300 and more of us, in the cold wind with our backs to the nearly naked trees in Central Park. Taxis, busses and cars slowed in the avenue before us, creating a chorus of honking horns, punctuated with whooping sirens from passing police vehicles, ambulances and fire trucks. Several people wandered through the crowd, passing out homemade cookies with mittened hands. It was such a festive atmosphere that one might believe this gathering was a celebration rather than the front lines of a nationwide protest.

"Aaaah, tourists ... " grinned a tall thin man next to me as he hoisted a large cardboard sign over his head that proclaimed in big green letters; "927 = money without morals!" Two people who were camouflaged as oversized Northern Cardinals pirouetted out of the street and back into the crowd after the traffic began to advance. Moments later, a loud roar from the crowd greeted a scarlet double-decked tourist bus that snailed along in front of us, honking spasmodically.

Barely visible behind a huddle of adults and children clad in dark lumpy coats was a telescope and large TV monitor standing on the uneven cobblestone sidewalk. The commanding silhouette of a Red-tailed Hawk slid across the monitor and soared into an orange Manhattan sunset.

This bird was Pale Male, the Central Park Red-tailed Hawk. As his name implies, his plumage is unusually pale for a Red-tailed Hawk. For this reason, Pale Male is easily distinguished from other Red-tailed Hawks in the area, even by novice bird watchers. Throughout the years, this hawk has convinced four different females to join him in his unconventional nest at different times. Together, Pale Male and his consorts raised 23 chicks to independence, which is an unusually high reproductive success for any wild animal. Pale Male and his current mate, the chocolate-colored Lola, have been raising their chicks in his 12-year-old nest during the past three years.

But suddenly and without warning, Pale Male's nest had been removed from its home on the cream-colored stone building that loomed across the street from us. Before its removal, the nest was located on the 12th floor stone cornice that curved gently over the large centrally located windows. But several days ago, at the request of the building's Co-op Board members and residents, contract workers unceremoniously stuffed the stick nest into several large black garbage bags. It seems that the building residents were annoyed by the flocks of telescopes, video equipment, cameras and binoculars daily pointed at their building, upset to step over the occasional pigeon bone on the sidewalk and disgusted by the hawk poop that decorated the green awning above their front door. But the residents of the building apparently never expected that destruction of this nest would trigger such a commotion, that it could provoke a tremendous cry of protest that grew to a nearly deafening crescendo as it echoed across the country and even overseas.

The resulting astonishment of the building's human residents at the magnitude of this protest was simply beyond belief. Even though Red-tailed Hawks are not an endangered species and in fact, there are more of them alive now than at any time in recent memory, Pale Male is exceptional. In fact, Pale Male is the most famous wild Red-tailed Hawk who ever lived. Without the assistance of a real estate agent, the wild-born Pale Male chose to live in an urban area and to nest on one of the most exclusive and expensive buildings in all of New York City. The location of his nest allowed latte sipping crowds to lounge on benches in Central Park while watching each chapter of this hawk's life unfold before their eyes. Thus, we ended up knowing more about these birds than we know about our own neighbors. Pale Male's dedication to his families attracted local affection but with our first glimpse of a fluffy dark-eyed chick peering over the edge of his nest, we all fell deeply, madly in love. Our intense fondness for these birds was easily translated into something much bigger by the media who serves a public hungry for good news: at least two documentaries and one book have been published about this particular bird in the past ten years.

In contrast, none of the residents of this building have enjoyed anything even vaguely resembling this sort of public affection, and for good reasons. Pale Male and his mates have freely given far more pleasure to the residents and visitors of New York City than all of his Co-op neighbors, these so-called "Masters of the Universe", combined. While the building residents are widely viewed as epitomizing social plasticity, rampant greed and unmitigated ruthlessness, Pale Male and his families daily reveal the quiet beauty of every day life while teaching us the value of persistence and instilling in us a profound respect and love for nature and her wild citizens. Even though Pale Male and his families are common birds, their significance to us is uncommon. The sight of these birds soaring above New York City's concrete canyons makes us lift our eyes to the heavens and gently reminds us of our spiritual connection to the natural world. For all these reasons, Pale Male and his families are precious. As Baba Dioum once said, In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught. Pale Male and his families still have many lessons to teach us.

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This essay was written about the gathering in honor of Pale Male and Lola that took place on Sunday 12 December.

Photographs from the Gathering, courtesy of NYC Audubon Society.

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