August 30, 2006

8/30, Hawkwatching

Red-Tailed Hawk atop Cathedral School
Do you know this hawk?

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.

Red-Tailed Hawk atop Cathedral School 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.

Red-Tailed Hawk atop Cathedral School 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.

Red-Tailed Hawk atop Cathedral School 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.


  1. Just to add yet another local Red-tailed_Hawk into the mix here is a photo I took just west of the tennis courts in Central Park. This is at the latitude of 95th St.

    At the time I thought it was Pale Male but it turns out to be another Red-tailed entirely which was brought to my attention by Lincoln Karim. This adult has dark eyes. The belly band isn't dark enough to be the hawk in your photo though.

    If you've seen this hawk in the neighborhood plese let me know.

    Unfortunately I didn't make a trip to see the Red-tailed Hawks in your neck of the woods and have not familiarized myself with those adults.

    Thanks for the images of the St. John the Divine family and sharing the photos from your vacation.

    Ben Cacace
    Manhattan, NYC

  2. Did you receive my previous comment from Saturday?

  3. Ben,

    Sorry about the slow response. I have comment moderation turned on -- which was good, because there was a blast of a dozen-plus spam comments while I was on vacation -- but I haven't gotten into the habit of regularly checking for comments.

    A problem in deciding who was the hawk I saw on August 30 was that we were coming out of the rainy period, and you know hawks look much different when they've been "fluffing up" their feathers to dry out. It's possible that the hawk I saw that day was Mama Isolde from the Cathedral, and just didn't recognize her. However, it also seems like there were too many dark brown feathers along the upper breast than Isolde has, so it more likely seems to have been a transient.

    In any event, I have not made any hawk sightings since August 30 in the Morningside area. Of course, it might be a matter of my choice of timing. But somehow it feels Tristan and Isolde are currently on vacation, and should be back in a few weeks or months to preapre for next season.