February 28, 2007

2/28, Chilling on 110th St.

Didn't bother to bring my camera with me when I came to work today. Big mistake.

At 4:30 I stepped out to drop my taxes in the mail (nice refund coming -- I see a new camera lens in my future) and took advantage of the delightful weather to stroll over to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to see if the red-tailed hawks were about. No one on the roof, no one on the nest. But from the 112th St. overlook of Morningside Park I swung my small field glasses (them I did remember) south, and there they were, Tristan and Isolde chilling out together on the railing atop the Cathedral Gardens, i.e., the Barnard College dorm and faculty housing at 352 West 110th St.

This marked only the second time I had seen the Cathedral couple together in the past six months, and the other time only lasted a minute or two. Today they remained in place for at least 25 minutes, Isolde calmly looking around the neighborhood and Tristan doing a lot of preening and scratching. They were still there at about 5:05 when I headed back to the office.

Tomorrow I'll remember my camera.

February 25, 2007

2/25, Spring Approaches

For all the talk about another three weeks to the start of spring, that's astronomical spring. Climatologists, i.e., the people at my office, will note its beginning in just a few days, on March 1.

And the signs that it's coming are in the air. I've noted in some of my recent posts about how chatty the small birds in Central Park's Ravine have been of late. Lincoln has been shooting more and more photos of His Paleness and his royal consort adding twigs to their nest, and finally caught the couple having a nooner atop the Oreo building last Sunday. The Trump Park hawks are also working on their nest, although they seem to have moved a couple blocks and we may have to start calling them the Carnegie Hall hawks.

But what of the Cathedral red-tailed hawks, Tristan and Isolde? Last weekend it looked like there were a few new twigs on their nest, but it wasn't until Jim posted a comment the next day that we had a report that one had been seen at the nest.

I still haven't seen Tristan or Isolde at the nest myself, but I can at least report that I've seen my own sign that spring is approaching the Cathedral nesting site. I've only made one hawk sighting in the vicinity of the Cathedral since last autumn, and that was an unidentified hawk perched on the statue of Gabriel on Jan. 15. Today, though, after a fruitless hour at the north end of Central Park, I was passing through Morningside Park at 5:20 on my way to 113th St. Hey, who's that in the tree at the bottom of the 116 Steps? Yay! It's Isolde!

Isolde took off 30 seconds later, heading north. But again, this is the first time I've seen her or Tristan over in Morningside Park in months, so the short viewing was more than sufficient.

Perhaps some pictures later, after the Oscars are over and I have time to decide which came out least crummy in the waning light. One or two of Isolde might come out, plus there's a bunch of the crowd of sparrows and cardinals who were going nuts in the Ravine.

February 18, 2007

2/18, Hey Buddy, You're Missing Your R4

First hawk sighting on Sunday came in Central Park, although one might question whether it was a hawk. I entered the park at West 100th St. at 3:35 and five minutes later was walking along the north edge of the North Meadow. Something hawk shaped circled about very low and dived toward the ground 125-150 feet south of the police kiosk only to pop back up immediately. Unfortunately, I made the wrong choice in which direction to go as I tried to figure out where the bird had gone. A minute later, it repeated the activity to my right, on the other side of a low hill. By the time I got around to the other side of the hill...

What I found was a flock of 15 Canada geese foraging where the wind had cleared the snow off the grass. They didn't seem particularly perturbed like a predator had tried to pick one off. Hard to imagine a red-tail going after a full-grown goose, especially if it had buddies to prove protection.

Oh, well. Onward. Over to the compost hill. No sign of hawks on the Fifth Ave. rooftops. Down Lasker Hill and into the Ravine. Ah, some activity around the seed log as various small birds forage, and a couple people I wouldn't normally think to be birdwatchers (one stocky guy was in a Michelin man coat and wearing a do-rag) were pointing out the various birds to each other.

At 4:04, I looked up to see...

Juvenile Red-Tailed over Central Park North Woods

I know from past experience that it was going to take getting the onto a computer and some messing about with Photoshop to get any idea which hawk it might be. But at least I was certain it was a red-tailed hawk. But once at the computer, hmmmm, check out that tail.

Juvenile Red-Tailed over Central Park North Woods

Really close examination of the full-size image (click through to the Flickr website and then click the all-sizes button) reveals it's a juvenile and it's missing the R4 tail feather.

Seem like I've heard about a hawk like that recently. Indeed, Ben filed a report to the eBirds mailing list two weeks ago indicating that he had seen "Lola's playmate" flying about the Great Lawn area missing a tail feather. However, his post indicated it was the R5 rather than R4.

Checking back through the pix I took of a juvenile ted-tail in the North Woods yesterday and last Sunday, I can't really tell if it was missing a feather on the right side. And I have no recollection of a gap when I saw it flying about on Saturday (which doesn't mean much). But in any event, the obvious question, is there just the one juvenile in the park, or two?

Anyway. The juvie soared about overhead for a minute or so, twice almost hovering in what I assume was a stiff headwind. Then he dived down and to his right, heading somewhere on the northeast side of the Great Hill or over toward the Harlem Meer.

I hung about the Ravine a minute to take some pictures of the seed eaters. It was most of the usual suspects: sparrows, cardinals and a nuthatch.

Northern Cardinal in Central Park Ravine

There was also one red-bellied woodpecker who briefly joined the scene whom I hadn't seen in previous visits to this, ahem, neck of the woods. But he's too fast and I'm shivering, so no in-focus pix to share of him.

Now up the hill and into the North Woods. I wander about for 15-20 minutes, but no hawk sign. It's cold, and tomorrow's a holiday. At 4:35, it's been just an hour, but time to exit.

2/17, Hawk in the Projects

It was already after 4:00, but with sunset getting later every day, I opted to make a quick pass over to Central Park on Saturday. For reasons I'm still not clear on, I decided to go via West 102nd St., rather than 103rd St. (where the parakeet nest is at) or 97th St. (passing by a Starbucks).

Good choice.

Only a block and a half from my apartment, in the middle of the Frederick Douglass Houses, a hawk was perched right over the sidewalk halfway between Amsterdam and Columbus.

Red-Tailed Hawk in the Housing Project

While I looked around to see if I could identify him, he looked around for prey.

Red-Tailed Hawk in the Housing Project

Okay, fairly light belly feather pattern. What color are the tail feathers?

Red-Tailed Hawk in the Housing Project

A nice brick red. So it looks like Tristan, the male adult red-tailed hawk from the Cathedral nest, is hunting outside the park.

As I'm taking pictures, at least ten people pass by. None looks up, none asks what I'm doing. One almost gets nailed when Tristan decides to lighten his burden. And when a hawk does that, it means... yes, he's flying away. First up to the trees along the 103rd St. sidewalk. As I head that way, I get another glimpse of him moving on to the northeast.

Drat. Might as well head over to the park and see what I can see there.

Passed by the Pool. Took the service road over to the compost hill to check the rooftops along Fifth Ave. Nothing. Down Lasker Hill and then head up the ravine. Nothing going on here, although the birds in the treetops are pretty chatty today. Across the wood bridge and back along the ravine to the trail which leads up into the North Woods.

At 4:50, as I'm negotiating some ice where the path gets steep, a squirrel runs across the snow 10-12 feet ahead of me. He stops. I contemplate a picture of a grey squirrel on a stark white background. Then he jumps onto a near-by tree.


A hawk comes zooming from the northwest down to where the squirrel had been, takes a swipe at where it had jumped, and then flies into a branch overhead.

Juvenile Red-Tailed in Central Park North Woods

Looks like the juvenile from last Sunday. She's not staying put either. After a minute she flies west to thr trees between the road and the Great Hill lawn. I follow, get one glimpse of her flapping about, but then lose track of her as I get closer to that spot.

Just after 5:00, I head back across to the North Woods. Just in time to see the juvenile fly from the north into a near-by treetop. Was she going after the three small birds that had been perched there?

Juvenile Red-Tailed in Central Park North Woods

Again, she doesn't stay long. Another minute later she's off, flying down and along the park road, disappearing around the bend and possibly into the trees on the southeast side of the Great Lawn.

I give it another five minutes of hanging around the North Woods and taking a peek over by the Blockhouse. No more hawk action, and I need to leave anyway. Exit.

February 11, 2007

2/11, Kerfluffle in the North Woods

I saw three, quite likely four hawks at the north end of Central Park today, but remain confused about part of what I saw.

Entered Central Park about 3:10 at West 97th St. First hawk sighting came at about 3:40 just after I reached the Fort Clinton overlook at the SE corner of the Harlem Meer. Something large with a flat wingspan was flying out of the park and down East 107th St., disappearing behind a building. A couple minutes later I realized that a hawk had perched two blocks south, on a metal framework atop the Cardinal Cooke Health Center. It stayed there a minute, then shifted to the top of a building another block south. Stayed there a couple minutes, then into the air to circle about above the Cooke center a few times.

Red-Tailed Hawk Soaring near Cardinal Cooke Health Center

And then the hawk landed directly on the tower at the Cooke.

I'd already halfway figured that the hawk was Isolde from the Cathedral pair. A close look at pix afterwards did indeed that the hawk was a red-tail, and the dark shoulders were more indicative of Isolde rather than Tristan.

That was at 3:49 and by 4:00 Isolde wasn't showing any signs of leaving.

Red-Tailed Hawk Perched on Cardinal Cooke Health Center

I opted to head in the direction of the Ravine and the Great Hill to see if I might find Tristan out and about. Descending from Green Hill into the Ravine I thought I saw something with the correct shape of wings soar north, but a run back to the Bench didn't reveal any hawks in the air. And hmmm, is Isolde gone from the Cooke tower?

Back into the Ravine. There's another photographer staking out the seed log. Not much seed around but the sparrows and cardinals are active and checking out the scene.

Northern Cardinal in Central Park Ravine

Up the Ravine and then hang a right at the wood bridge to begin the climb up to the North Woods. Almost there and I hear squirrel whining. Where's the hawk? A minute later a hawk flies across the loop road from the Great Hill area and into a treetop 30 feet away. Looks like a juvenile.

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk in Central Park North Woods

The juvie perched for only a minute or two before turning around and flying back over to the Great Hill. I follow along. A helpful skater skating down the road points, "He went that way." Then on to a park path across the road and I can see where the juvie should be.

Time for the confusing part...

A pedestrian coming toward me says, "There's two of them. One low and one higher up."

I angle southwest so that I can get up-sun from the one hawk I'm seeing, who is not staying put. Then indeed there are two hawks in the high branches, and I'm too busy trying to see who's flying where that I get only one pic.

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk in Central Park North Woods

The flying about doesn't seem hostile for a minute, but then one hawk swoops in the direction that the other is perched. The latter takes off and heads down toward the Ravine. A moment later the other follows.

Following right along, I reach the Gapstone Bridge and see nothing.

So, what was that? Was one of the resident adults chasing off the juvie? Seems like the most likely explanation.

Well, if someone was being chased off, you sort of have to hang around and guard things to make sure he doesn't come back. So I head back uphill to see if one of the hawks returned.

Yes, there's a hawk perched on the south slope of the hill, maybe 75 downhill from where I'd seen the juvie ten minutes ago. And whoever it is is not sitting still. Swoop. Went after a squirrel on the ground and missed.

Now I get a better look. What the hey? It's the juvie.

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk in Central Park North Woods

She makes another swoop, although not at the ground but toward a bird feeder. Hmm, what was she going after? Then she settles onto a branch and stays for awhile.

Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk in Central Park North Woods

Ah, doing the old "I'm just innocently sitting here. I'd never, ever think of attacking a squirrel" routine. But a squirrel is whining uphill. And I see that on the backside of the tree where the feeder is mounted, another squirrel is sitting deathly still.

After 6-7 minutes, sunlight has left the branch where the hawk is perched, and she takes off, swooping down into the Ravine.

It's almost 5:00 and rather than chase after again, I opt to head north. If the juvie was there, maybe there's still an adult around in the usual area near the Blockhouse. Besides the light is beginning to go anyway.

One last circuit around the path by the Blockhouse, pass by two police vehicles watching the area. The light is almost shot and I'm almost back onto the loop road and ready to leave the park. But you know, there's something sort of hawk-shaped in that tree overlooking the path. Small and sort of skinny, but still, hawk-shaped.

Oh. A Cooper's.

Cooper's Hawk in Central Park North Woods

Looks like the Cooper's is ready to settle in for the night. Her crop is stuffed and the light is getting dim. But she changes trees a couple times. Finally it looks like she's settled on a good solid branch that won't wave so much in the breeze.

5:30. Exit.

February 5, 2007

2/3-2/4, Belated Sightings Save the Days

My expectation of a weird weekend schedule actually resulted in my spending more time in Central Park than I normally would have. But with the frigid temperatures, hawks sightings were few and short. The best pictures of the weekend came from non-hawks in the Loch.

Northern Cardinal in Central Park Ravine

Saturday, Feb. 3

Entered Central Park at Douglass Circle at about 3:30 after checking the Cathedral (nothing there). Up to the Great Hill, over to the North Woods, down to the Loch, over to Nutter's Battery, and around the Meer shoreline to the Conservatory Garden. Nada. Then up Fifth Ave. and back into the park at 102nd St., across the park along the shore of the Reservoir, and down to West 86th St. to see if the "clockwork hawk" was about. Nope. Down the west side of the Great Lawn to check for Palemale and Lola. Okay, Lola is perched up at the Beresford, so at 4:52 I have a red-tailed hawk sighting for the day. Bumped into Lincoln likewise looking for Palemale, then split up as we walked by the west side Pinetum; it's getting dark and cold and it's time to go home.

Up the park paths on the west side past West 86th St. again and onward. Whoa. It's 5:20 and the light is dim, but I can tell that's a hawk circling about over the 96th St. Transverse. She heads west toward CPW, and then hooks left to head down the avenue. I lose her against the background of a building, but slowly head down the sidewalk, looking up into the overhanging branches. She's perched a few trees north of 93rd St. Hmmm, is she going to roost in a tree overhanging Central Park West?

Apparently not. She gets up and flies west toward the loop road, perches a minute, then changes trees, perches, comes back to the tree over CPW, perches, then back into the park and finally settles down. I make my exit at 5:40 with the hawk roosting in a tree on the northeast side of the Wild West playground.

A subsequent e-mail exchange with Bruce reveals that the hawk in the west 90s was probably the clockwork hawk from 86th St. He had been down there to watch her settle in her "normal" roost at 4:30, but she only perched a bit before heading north, to where I encountered her 45 minutes later.

No pictures from Saturday, as all I got were some distant shots of Lola and then a few dark and blurry shots of the northern visitor. The latter were only just good enough to reveal a red-tinted adult tail.

Sunday, Feb. 4

Out earlier than usual, passing by the Cathedral at 12:45 and then entering Central Park at Douglass Circle at 1:00. No sightings of hawk atop the Great Hill or in the North Woods. But plenty of seed eaters in the Ravine, at the same log where I frequently find them taking advantage on the largesse of a seed scatterer.

There's a clear hierarchy in play here. The sparrows and nuthatch are small, and despite some squabbling they seem to play it as live and let live. There's some happy chirping as they feed.

Song Sparrow in Central Park Ravine

White-Breasted Nuthatch in Central Park Ravine

The small guys scatter when the cardinals show up. The male seems shy about approaching the seed when there's a photographer ten feet away. The female doesn't seem too concerned.

Northern Cardinal in Central Park Ravine

Northern Cardinal in Central Park Ravine

But the cardinals scatter when a larger seedeater drops in.

Blue Jay in Central Park Ravine

But even the blue jay vacates when something bigger comes by.

Gray Squirrel in Central Park Ravine

After 20 minutes of that scene, I'm off to the east. Jim has indicated in e-mail that he often sees the Cathedral hawks, Tristan and Isolde, soaring about together over the east side of the Meer and the Conservatory Garden during lunch time. I hang about on the Fort Clinton overlook for 15 minutes, but there's not much aerial activity. A couple pigeons and a jay, and of course some gulls to the north over the un-frozen part of the Meer, but no hawks.

So off to the south, checking out the noisy crows northwest of the Reservoir, then the various ducks and geese along its western bank. At the Great Lawn at 2:30, there of course is Lola perched at the Beresford. At 2:35 again bumped into Lincoln at the south end of the Lawn. After a few minutes he notes a hawk soaring north from the Beresford; Lola is in the air. She disappears into the treetops in the west Pinetum. I make a circuit of the Lawn, getting a glimpse of Lola over the Lawn but disappearing back into that same area.

Hawkwatching at the Lawn breaks up around 2:50. Lincoln heads southeast and I north. I get another glimpse of a hawk flying by the ballfields south of the police precinct house, but 10 minutes of checking the treetops in the west Pinetum reveals nothing. To the north again.

Heading over the Great Hill to make my exit at 3:40, I made one last check of the North Woods near the Blockhouse. Some squirrels scatter and I figure it's because of my approach, but then a hawk flies across the path 25 feet ahead and perches. Squirrel whining begins to emanate from several nearby trees. I edge up to get some pictures.

Red-Tailed Hawk Tristan in Central Park North Woods

The down-sun angle made me at first think the hawk's tail was dark, but the pic reveals that it was indeed red. Which adult is it?

Red-Tailed Hawk Tristan in Central Park North Woods

He's all fluffed up because of the cold, but nevertheless the relative sparsity of the dark belly band feathers reveals it's the Cathedral male, Tristan.

Trsitan is apparently not content to hang about. He's looking about quite a bit, often to his left. After five minutes, he makes a long swoop, cruising just a foot or two along a dirt path. But rather than making a strike at prey, he suddenly banks left and disappears downhill, either into the Ravine area or perhaps over toward Lasker Rink and the Meer.