Some days you go to the park looking for a red-tailed hawk and you're disappointed to see nothing. Other days you might not find a hawk, but you find... a chicken?
Yes, a fresh hawkwatching report. At last. But who was the hawk that was watched?
After getting back from vacation, I'd made trips over to Morningside Park every day from Aug. 17-22, usually in the early evening, and also checked the north end of Central Park on Sunday, Aug. 20. But there'd been no luck finding any of the Divine family. The only sightings of any slight interest were several viewings of Hedda the wild turkey high-stepping about north of the dog run, plus it seemed several blue jays had moved into the area between the dog run and the hospital.
Today just before 6:00 p.m. I was about to go get a bit to eat and I realized that it wasn't raining and a trip to the park was in order. I had little or no hope of seeing a hawk, but figured the walk would at least do me good.
First checking the dog run area, I spent some time trying to see what was up with the blue jays. They didn't seem particularly exercised about anything, but they were "talkative". Giving up on that, I headed south, passing by the Canada geese at the turtle pond (the mallards apparently departed a few weeks ago) and continued past the softball diamonds.
At 6:11 and almost past the softball diamonds, I looked up through the trees at the scaffolding on the south end of the Cathedral School and thought something looked a bit odd about the corner. It looked much thicker than the exposed end of a length of pipe, almost like a chunk of wood. Hmmm, could it be? Yes, whatever was up there was shaped like a bird, it was moving, and it had a hooked beak.
I spent the next 25-30 minutes watching the hawk from the sidewalk along Morningside Drive, debating all the while which one it might be. The coloring of the chest seemed tawny like a fledgling, but the belly feathers seemed more dark stripey. Perhaps it was Big Sister? But did I catch a quick flash of red from a tail feather? Of course, the backlighting from the sun in the west wasn't helping.
After the hawk stretched and changed its position at 6:36 so that it was looking south rather than north, I hied my way around the block and back into the little parking lot between the Cathedral School and its basketball court. From here the breast and belly of the hawk were very exposed, but I was still confused as to which hawk it might be. Furthering the confusion, it now struck me that the hawk's eyes looked very, very dark, like an adult's.
Further confirmation that this was an adult hawk was further provided a few minutes after 7:00 when it almost slipped of the scaffolding as it was stretching. Its tail feathers were almost all exposed and spread out. Although I was viewing them from the under side, they distinctly had a reddish cast to their coloring and a close look at the photo (at right) revealed a single dark horizontal stripe near the end of each feather.
Hawkwatching came to an end at 7:20 when I called it a night because the light was about gone. The hawk had outlasted me and was still in place atop the scaffolding.
So who was it? I pondered whether possibly it had been Mama Isolde, her normal coloring being disrupted by having feathers puffed it to dry out after the miserable weather we've been having. I considered whether i might be the year-old unattached hawk who had been hanging about near the reservoir in Central Park this summer, but the dark eyes suggested otherwise. A mystery, perhaps only to be solved by further hawkwatching.
Despite the heat, I did make a couple visits over to Morningside Park the last two days to check on the hawks. However, there are no new pictures as I was trying to carry less weight around, i.e., no camera. The photo at right is an extra of Little Brother from last Thursday, July 27.
Tuesday's visit was just a half hour, from about 5:30 to 6:00 p.m., and there were no hawk sightings or helpful sounds during a slow pass from the dog run down 110th St. and back.
Wednesday turned out more happily. I arrived at the park a bit after 6:00 and made the pass from dog run to 110th St. and back, staying in the shade all the time, before sitting down on a bench by the turtle pond to savor the slight breeze. At about 6:30, the sight of something large and brown flying through the foliage above the dog run caught my eye, and the pigeons in the area started to vacate.
A minute later, it was more obvious that it was a hawk as a fledgling briefly flew out of the tree above the Bear and Faun fountain and over to a tree near the Washington and Lafayette Monument at the corner of 114th St. and Manhattan Ave. Another couple minutes later, the fledgling flew back to a tree overlooking the fountain.
From the vantage point of the steps alongside the dog run, it was reasonably apparent that the fledgling was Little Brother, hot and bothered by the heat as he sat with wings spread and mouth agape as he panted away. (His crop also looked full, so whether or not the fledglings are hunting yet, they're not going hungry.) It often seemed he had his eye on the fountain, or the water draining from it along the park path. Sure enough, 10-15 minutes later he flew down to the ground and slowly walked onto the path and investigated the water. Drat, it's not really deep enough to dip a beak in or to splash about in. Maybe sitting in it will provide some cooling.
The approach of strollers and dog walkers soon prompted Little Brother to exit the path and he flew over to a low branch close to the pond. I wondered if he'd try drinking from or splashing in some shallow area of the pond, or if was just too deep for him to consider. A few minutes later, he flapped to the ground, then in a moment over toward the pond. Where did he go? Ah, he perched on a dead branch along the rockface, about halfway between path and waterfall. Too bad I didn't have the camera, as it was a perfect place and pose for photos.
Little Brother gave this spot 5-10 minutes, then flew over to the top of the rockface just behind the willow tree in the center of the pond. A few minutes there, and he was off to a tree along Manhattan Ave. near the softball backstop. Another minute and he was back to a high branch in one of the "pigeon trees" by the fountain. Perhaps five minutes later, at about 7:15 or 7:20, he was off into a tree at the intersection of 1114th St. and Morningside Ave., from where it looked like he took off down Manhattan Ave. a moment later.
And that's the last hawkwatching report for two weeks. I'm off to go backpacking. I'm sure I'll be complaining about the trail and the weight of the pack constantly, but at least I'll be somewhere where the daily high temperature will be only about 80°F... and the nightly low around 40°F.