2/23-2/25, Weekend of Worry

Red-Tail atop St. Luke's
Lonely Isolde atop St. Luke's on Sunday

The last few days have been stressful for those of us who follow the red-tailed hawks who nest at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, but (knock wood) we may have reason to hope. One of our feathered friends has been missing but may have returned.

Saturday, Feb. 23
I was out of town much of last week and never got over to the cathedral or Morningside Park. On Saturday, I found a message from Bruce in my mailbox detailing an e-mail exchange on Thursday and Friday about an injured red-tail, unable to fly up into the trees, seen at the south end of Morningside Park on Thursday about sunset. But the dogwalker who saw the hawk could not re-locate it a bit later when he returned sans dog. Then we got six inches of snow that night and a park ranger who visited the park on Friday saw nothing.

I reached Morningside Park around 4:30 on Saturday and was quickly met by James O. who had already been there an hour or so. He had seen Isolde flying about the park, and also the juvie red-tail with a missing tail feather. But no sign of Tristan.

Gulp... oh, no.

After wandering around for an hour and seeing no sign of any hawks, I headed up Morningside Drive in the direction of the favored roosting spot. But on reaching 115th saw the Cooper's hawk fly into a tree a bit north of the dog run.

Cooper's Hawk in Morningside Park

And then a minute later the juvie red-tail popped off a branch not far away and flew into a tree top almost over my head. But before I could even get a decent look at and a picture of him, I realized there was another hawk across the street atop 44 Morningside.

Red-Tail on Morningside

That was Isolde and she was not happy with the juvie. First she chased him out of the tree above me, then out of a tree at the corner of 116th St., and finally all the way past the cluster of treetops up at 118th St. Just when I reached 118th St. myself, Isolde came flying back, but much higher than the tree tops. She blew past the trees where she and Tristan like to roost and kept going south. At about 5:50 I was back by the cathedral and just about to call it a night, when Isolde popped out of some nook of the scaffolding and dove into the park. A few minutes later I found her preparing to roost near the south end of the park, in a noisy spot.

Sunday, Feb. 24
This time reached the park about 4:00 and soon bumped into Bruce. But we quickly split up so we could cover more territory and didn't see each other again. I believe he saw Isolde briefly, but I didn't find her myself until 45 minutes later when I realized she was perched on the roof of St. Luke's hospital.

Red-Tail atop St. Luke's

She was up there until around 5:15, then disappeared while I was looking around the bottom of the park again. Twenty minutes later I decided to check the roosting tree in the middle of the park and just as I reached the overlook, she flew into the tree.

But damn, two days now and no sign of Tristan. This is really beginning to look bad, very bad.

Checked the cathedral twice today. First in the early afternoon, I found that there was a hawk perched on one of the cathedral finials, directly above even more scaffolding being erected. (More about that below.)

Red-Tail on Cathedral Finial

I suspect that this was Isolde, but am not sure. The belly band is heavy enough to be that of the juvie whos' been around, and only one distant shot suggests that the hawk had an adult red-tail.

The hawk disappeared from the finial within 10 minutes, but another 15 minutes later, there was a hawk perched atop the cathedral on Gabriel's horn and looking to the south. Barely had I got into position where I could decide that this was likely Isolde than she leapt off the horn...

Isolde Takes Flight

... and flew south. Ah-hah, another hawk circling around down about 109th St. And even though I'm three blocks away, the camera captures that the second hawk is missing a tail feather.

Red-Tail over Columbus Ave.

So Isolde is once again chasing the juvie off. Within a minute they are both out of sight, one apparently to the east and Central Park and the other to the southwest.

Second Monday visit close to 5:00 began with a sighting of a hawk on the hospital chimney, one of Isolde's favorite spots. And indeed it does seem to be her up there.

Red-Tail atop St. Luke's

Ten minutes later I realized she wasn't up there, but then another 5-10 minutes later, she was back.

Lost track of her again around 5:30, but then at close to 5:40 realized there was hawk perched on a cathedral finial. Moving into better position to take a picture... oh, hey. Two hawks!

There was one hawk on the finial above the statue of Saint Matthew (one statue counter-clockwise of the nest)...

Red-Tail on Finial

and another about 30 feet to the right near the top of the scaffolding.

Two Hawks atop Cathedral

Sunset is officially at 5:42 but despite bad light and grainy photos, I later decided that there are two adult red-tails up there. It very much seems that the one on the scaffolding is Isolde, but the one on the finial is perched looking south, so I couldn't get a look at his front side.

So is it Tristan up there? If so where has he been for the past four days? Was he the injured hawk, and if not, then who was it? Well, despite the sucko weather forecast for the next two days, I'll have to check back.

After sitting quietly for about 10 minutes, the hawks briefly shuffled positions, with the mystery hawk moving over to scaffolding a couple statues to the left, and Isolde moving up to the scaffolding near the nest and then the nearby rooftop.

Red-Tail and Finial

Then it was roosting time. Mystery hawk dove straight down into the park and perhaps went to roost at the south end. A couple minutes later Isolde took off to the north and was last seen over Morningside Drive near 115th St.

The Scaffolding
My previous two posts I didn't mention the scaffolding. I'd been hoping to learn more before saying anything.

In any event, there is now scaffolding surrounding the entire clerestory, i.e., all of the stained-glass windows at the east end of the cathedral. The first section went up just over two weeks ago, immediately to the right of the hawk nest, and for a time that seemed like it was it. Apparently it was just a matter of waiting for good weather, as more scaffolding went up a week later along the south side of the clerestory. Today the scaffolding was almost completed, with just the top 10-15 feet of one section to be added. The hawk nest is, of course, sandwiched between two sections with scaffolding with perhaps 3-5 clearance on each side.

I tried e-mailing the cathedral's general info address two weeks ago to find out about the work that was to be done and how long the scaffolding would be up. They never answered. A cathedral tour guide that I contacted, however, suggested that before organ pipes can be re-installed later this year, the cathedral must plug leaks in the roof.

The scaffolding itself is no threat to the hawks, and indeed if it were sitting there unused, it would turn into a birdie-playground. Of more concern, obviously, will be what the workmen are doing, how noisy they are, and how close they get to the nest. There's potential for injury on all sides.

Posted 2/25/2008 10:13:00 PM by Robert

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On 2/26/2008 11:58 PM , Donegal Browne said...


Super work on your part for The Divines on all fronts. Thank you!

Hawk Watcher Stella Hamiliton kept watch from a distant window, that has a far view of The Cathedral (when she could) while at work today. She saw one hawk, perched on Gabriel, which she took to be Isolde but that isn't 100%.

On 2/27/2008 2:38 AM , Robert said...

There was a hawk on Gabriel when I came by at 1:35 but it quickly took off and headed for the Great Hill. I think that was Isolde but the lighting was so terrible that I wouldn't swear to it.

Someone else perched there a few minutes later but vacated quickly because the rain started.