11/26, Isolde Guards the Compost Hill

Red-Tailed Hawk
Isolde at the Compost Hill, Nov. 26.

I missed out on hawkwatching on Friday and Saturday having been out of town for Thanksgiving (although I did see a hawk perched over I-95 near Charlotte Saturday morning). But Sunday came and I had adequate time. After seeing two reports of hawk activity near the Great Hill in Central Park (last Sunday by Lincoln and then yesterday by Jim O.), I decided to spend the afternoon looking for Tristan and Isolde, the Cathedral Hawks. Success was fairly quick but only halfway.

Since Jim had indicated his video of the hawks was taken near Sparrow Rock, I headed there first. Arriving at about 1:45, I had barely been there a minute when something large flew not far overhead. At first I thought it was yet another gull, but this bird was heading east, rather than south or west like the gulls. Better yet it had "spread fingers" at the end of its wings. With most of the foliage having fallen from the trees, I was able to keep an eye on it as it flew over the compost hill and then did a U-turn back into a treetop.

By 1:55 I had the hawk in the D-50's viewfinder, and it definitely looked like a red-tail: right shape, belly-band, etc. But hey, the tail feathers are brown and white stripey, so it's a first-year. Hmmmm.

Red-Tailed Hawk at Central Park's Compost Hill Red-Tailed Hawk at Central Park's Compost Hill

The mystery of this juvenile hawk's identity was probably solved ten minutes later. As I was maneuvering about looking for a better photo angle, and then kicking a stray soccer ball back to where it belonged, the hawk disappeared from its branch. Damn. I trotted back up to the top of the service road in the compost area, checking treetops to the west and the sky to the south. Turning around I saw a hawk coming from the north and landing higher up the same tree, but in less time than it takes to count to three, it was back in the air and flying south towards the Met. Ah, this seems to have been the juvie that Lincoln has reported several times, alternately calling it Stinker or Poopee.

I had moved back to Sparrow Rock while trying to keep an eye on the departing first-year, but several minutes of scanning the sky suggested it wasn't coming back. Okay, perhaps I should head over to Green Hill where I'd be better able to scan the treetops about the Great Hill. But whoa, there's a hawk perched in the tree where the juvie was five minutes ago. And there's a red gleam coming off its tail in the sunlight. An adult!

Red-Tailed Hawk Red-Tailed Hawk

A bulb fitfully begins to glimmer in the brain. This newly perched hawk is either Tristan or Isolde, and the first-year was an interloper who has just been chased off. Or fled before it could be chased. D'oh.

It doesn't take long before I decide that the new red-tailed hawk perched atop compost hill was Isolde. The belly band was darker, the shoulders seemed brown, and frankly, it was just built more like Isolde than Tristan. The breast feathers seem a bit more tawny than I recall from June or July, but that may just have been the viewing angle.

Red-Tailed Hawk Red-Tailed Hawk

At this point it had been less than a half hour since I arrived in the Sparrow Rock vicinity, but it would turn out to be pretty much all the hawk activity I'd see. Isolde stayed put for the next two hours, hardly budging except to reverse her perch three or four times and occasionally do some stretching. I strolled away a few times to check the Wildflower Meadow and the top of Green Hill to see if I could espy Tristan, but no luck. And Isolde was still in the same spot whenever I came back. The only other interesting sighting was a bat which began flitting about over the meadow around 3:50.

Red-Tailed Hawk Just after 4:00 I called it a day and began heading out of the park, heading west along the service road and then north over the Great Hill, scanning treetops for signs of Tristan. No luck; just more bats. Passing by the Cathedral, there was no sign of hawk activity, although I found out later that Bruce had seen Tristan there Saturday, perched on Gabriel's horn.

Posted 11/26/2006 06:24:00 PM by Robert

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