May 28, 2008

5/28, Wing Feathers

Cathedral Red-Tail Babies
Cathedral Nestlings

The lack of posts the last several days is mostly because I got a new pair of inline skates and have been getting some exercise rather than lurk on corners near hawk nests.

Nevertheless, I did check on the red-tail nest at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine over the Memorial Day weekend. Friday around sunset there was no sign of either nestling; Monday around 7:30 one was moving about for a few minutes but settled down; and ditto Tuesday at 6:00, but I believe it was the other one as the wing feathers looked a little more developed. Tuesday I might have hung around a bit, but the rain squall arrived two minutes after I did and I beat a hasty retreat.

(I didn't check on the Highbridge nest again as planned, because both Bruce and James visited over the weekend. Both agreed that something had happened to the babies there, as the nest was empty.)

Today there was no initial sign of a nestling being up and about just after 6:00. I wondered down into Morningside Park to check on the goslings and found them snoozing on the edge of the path. They woke up a few minutes later and started feeding.

Morningside Gosling

Heading back uphill, I spotted an adult hawk on the 114th St. corner of the hospital roof.

Red-Tal atop St. Luke's

The relatively lean build makes me believe that it was the male, Norman.

Although it looked like he might have been eating, the hawk only stayed in that spot for a couple minutes. It took off to the south, and I lost it in the treetops. But it didn't fly over to the nest, because checking up there...

Cathedral Red-Tail Babies

As others have reported, there are indeed two baby hawks in the nest. Both were up and monitoring the neighborhood. Their attention darted about. Sometimes they'd both be looking at the same thing.

Cathedral Red-Tail Babies

And two seconds later they'd be looking different directions.

Cathedral Red-Tail Babies

And as you can see from the nestling on the right, their wing feathers are growing in nicely.

But what of the adult who'd been over on the hospital? It merely shifted position over to Isolde's chimney, where it could soak up sun while keeping an eye on the kids.

Red-Tail atop St. Luke's

The belly band on the adult looks a little light to be Norman, but staring at the pictures, neither would I assert that it was Isolde. Drat. It would help to get some decent pictures of them perching near each other, but the only time I ever see them do that, they're not very close.

Back at the nest, the nestlings were settling down. One popped back up and flapped a bit as it seemed to be stumbling toward the south side, but it quickly dived back into the hidden alcove. The other picked a spot where it could sit down, but still keep watch on the outside world.

Cathedral Red-Tail Baby

After 6:45, I made my exit. The one baby was still just visible, and the adult was still on the chimney.

Red-Tail atop St. Luke's

May 24, 2008

5/23, Nest Worries Move North, to Highbridge

As happy as I was on Thursday to see a baby hawk in the nest at St. John's, I was still very worried about another Manhattan red-tail nest. Worse yet, it was one that was apparently successful, but on last look seemed deserted.

Last Sunday, I went up to the Highbridge Park nest in the late afternoon after the rain ended. Over close to an hour and a half, there was no activity in the nest. Not even a twig twitch as (perhaps) something within wiggled.

Friday, I checked back, spending a bit more than a hour looking about the scene. WIthout the rain-slicked undergrowth I was able to climb to a position where part of nest interior was visible. This was all that could be seen...

What Happened?

If there was a living hawk nestling within, not even the sound of four helicopters thundering overhead in sequence at 5:15 was enough to perk up a fuzzy head.

On Saturday two weeks ago, the nest looked like this...

Highbridge Red-Tails

The Highbridge red-tail babies hatched about four weeks ago, and so the youngsters should be visible in the nest if they were there. Even if they were napping, they would be big enough that the top of a fuzzy heap should be visible.

So in two visits to Highbridge this week, I have spent a bit more than two and half hours in a spot where the nest was either close to eye level or even a bit below, and there has been no sign of the two nestlings. Nor of their parents.

What happened?

Last Sunday I wondered if the three or four rainfalls during the previous week might have caused a problem, perhaps hypothermia. After my Friday visit, Bruce mentioned that he had worried that the tree nest in a lonely spot might be vulnerable to raccoons. And then there's the possibly that another rat-poison incident has taken the lives of two more Manhattan red-tail babies.

I'll check back on Highbridge again this Memorial Day weekend to see if the red-tail parents might still be around. But as for the babies, I fear the worst.

P.S. After my Friday visit, both Bruce and James also made hour-long visits and saw no sign of the Highbridge nestlings. James did report seeing the parents copulating in a tree in the vicinity.

May 22, 2008

5/21-5/22, A Nestling! (The Gloom Lifts)

Red-Tail Nestling
First Cathedral Nestling Sighting

Despite the depressed feeling that came from deciding last weekend that the red-tailed nest at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine had failed, I kept making visits over to the nest corner this past week. And finally, there was a reason for good cheer!

A brief visit late Sunday revealed only an adult perched on the roof at St. Luke's hospital, switching places once and then flying off during the five minutes that I was there. Monday, there wasn't even that much to see.

Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. found mama Isolde perched on "Tristan's urn", at the southeast corner of the hospital roof.

Red-Tail atop St. Luke's

But she took off five minutes later while I was checking on the goose nest in Morningside Park. With apparently nothing to be seen in the nest and the weather being chill and feeling iffy, I left too.

Thursday was also a bit chilly but nevertheless a gorgeous day. Walking down 113th St. at 6:20, I could see Isolde perched on her favorite chimney near the southeast corner of the hospital roof.

Red-Tail atop St. Luke's

And looking up at the nest... Hmmmm. Even with backlighting and no special optics, there seems to be something pale sticking up in the nest. Point the camera and click... the picture at the top of this post was the first that I got of a red-tail nestling sitting high in the cathedral nest. As I moved to get a better angle of view, the nestling took notice of me.

Red-Tail Nestling

I took a few more pix and then watched the nestling through binoculars. It continued looking around for the next five minutes, then at 6:27 stood and turned around so that it could retreat into the hidden back corner of the nest. In doing so it exposed almost all the right side of its body, and there was a sign of dark feathers beginning to come in along the edge of its wing.

That was all I was to see of a nestling this evening, but a bit more nestling news did come up a bit later.

About 6:50, Isolde disappeared from the chimney. A phone report from James indicated that from his new eyrie on St. Nick Ave., he had seen both Isolde and Norman perched on the tall hospital chimney 10-15 minutes later. One of them (Norman?) soon took off. The other stayed up there until past 7:30 before diving off. It (Isolde?) soon re-appeared on another section of the hospital roof overlooking Morningside Drive, where she stayed for five minutes before taking off again.

Red-Tail atop St. Luke's

Meanwhile, neighborhood dogwalker Dottie had passed by and reported that a day or two ago, while taking Captain on his morning stroll, she thought she saw two baby hawk heads pop up in the nest.

Checking back on last year's hawkwatching reports, it's apparent that there's been a major change in the behavior of Isolde in watching over her kid(s). Last year during the week of May 20, she would be seen sitting in the nest with the nestlings, and her episodes of watching the nest from a perch across the street or across the park were much shorter, i.e., 15 minutes or less.

Is the change because of the stress of dealing with the workmen stomping around up on the cathedral roof? Or because of having a new mate, whose behavior is much different from the old? Or remember that last year she was looking frazzled from dealing with three nestlings, and perhaps she's taking a more "hands off" approach this time around? And it could just be "all of the above".

May 17, 2008

5/14 & 5/17, Too Damn Quiet

It's been two weeks since apparent feeding activity was observed at the red-tail nest at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and things no longer look good.

Empty Nest?
An empty nest?

Because of the location of the nest, it wasn't expected that any nestling would be visible until this past week. My presumed sighting of a squirt of defecation from the nest on Tuesday seemed to indicate that there was a baby hawk up there. But...

Earlier on Tuesday there had been a confrontation between hawks and a construction worker on the cathedral roof. Word of that incident even made into the Daily News in a hawk news round-up.

The nest day James witnessed another attempt by mama Isolde to scare the construction workers off. He also noted that she would not spend more than a moment or two in the nest at a time whilst the workers were up on the roof.

I visited the nest area later on Wednesday, after the workers were gone and the hawks should have been willing to visit the nest. But from 5:50 to 6:20 there was no sign of an adult or a baby at the nest. As it was turning into a chilly evening, I started to head out, but then found that one of the adults had just landed on the tall chimney at St. Luke's. It perched there for five minutes, then swooped off. But not toward the nest. After some circles over Morningside Drive, it returned to the top of the hospital. And there I found that both adults were perched on the chimney.

Red-Tails atop St. Luke's

By 6:40 I was getting chilled and decided to leave. A few minutes later from over on Amsterdam, I could only see one hawk still on the chimney. And a moment later, none.

I was not able to visit the nest area on Thursday or Friday (Friday the weather was terrible anyway), but one of Donna's correspondents wrote in that he visited the site (apparently Thursday) and was disturbed by what he saw over the next two hours. Isolde was perched on the hospital roof and watching the construction workers walking back and forth above the nest. Not once did she fly over to the nest. And as the writer noted, a nestling that long away from a parent's body heat spells trouble.

I arrived at Morningside Park today at about 4:00. A few minutes later I belated realized that there was a hawk perched atop the Towers on the Park at 301 West 110th.

Red-Tail on West 110th

A few minutes after that, the other adult flew over, going east to west.

Red-Tail over West 110th

From the belly band, my guess was that the second hawk was Norman. He was drifting northward, but I lost him in the trees and did not see if he flew to the nest. In any event, by the time I walked the three blocks up there, the nest was quiet.

Isolde (presumably) stayed atop 301 until about 4:30 and then quietly disappeared while I was checking on the goose nest in Morningside Park. I checked on the hawk nest every 5 to 10 minutes over the next hour as I walked up and down Morningside Drive for a sighting of the adults, but there was never a sign that either of them at or near the nest. Then about 5:30, Isolde (presumably) re-appeared perched on her favorite antenna at 301.

Soon after I parked myself on a bench in the park to keep an eye on Isolde, James came by and reported (IIRC) that he had just seen the other adult flying toward the new apartment building at Morningside Drive and 110th. It might have perched there or gone into the close. We discussed the week's sightings and the likelihood that the construction workers had so completely freaked the hawks out that they had abandoned the nest and any baby that might have been up there. Neither of us felt at all positive.

We headed back uphill to the nest area at 6:00. Isolde flew off 301 as we did so, but not to the nest. When we both exited just after 6:15, it was still too damn quiet at the nest.

May 13, 2008

5/13, A Clue?

Isolde atop St. Luke's
Isolde on Her Chimney at St. Luke's

I arrived at the cathedral red-tail nest area today just past 5:30 and found all quiet, with no hawks perched anywhere in view. Twenty minutes later after admiring some bees working the aromatic flowering bushes along Morningside Drive...

Morningside Bee

... and checking whether there had been a hatch at the Morningside Park goose nest (no), I returned uphill to find Isolde was perched on her favorite chimney in the southeast corner of the roof at St. Luke's hospital.

Isolde atop St. Luke's

All remained quiet for the next hour, with Isolde staying glued to her spot.

There was no sign of a fuzzy baby hawk head peeking over the edge of the nest, or through the sticks of the nest. However, just past 6:00 there was a bit of evidence suggesting that there was someone up there. I was watching the north side of the nest through binoculars and noticed a jet of white squirt out from the south side. Did a baby just relieve itself? With Isolde on the chimney above my head and no sign of her mate Norman being in the area, maybe so.

Isolde was of course looking around the entire time she on the chimney. Just past 6:45 she glared over toward the scaffolding above St. Ansgar chapel and I wondered if Norman might have flown in.

Isolde atop St. Luke's

But no, no sign of him. Five minutes later Isolde flew off, but did not return to the nest. A dogwalker who came by a minute later said she had seen Isolde over the south end of Morningside Park. Perhaps she gave up on Norman making a food delivery and went to get it herself.

May 12, 2008

5/11, Perching Near-By at CCNY and the Cathedral

I originally planned to start Sunday's hawkwatching with a visit to Riverside Park, but late Saturday evening I heard the terrible news. So when I finally did venture out on Sunday it was only for a quick walk-by at the CCNY and Cathedral red-tail nests.

Arriving on St. Nicholas Terrace just before 5:30 I immediately had a glimpse through the trees of a hawk over St. Nicholas Park. Within a few moments it flew up toward the Shepard Hall tower, but rather than fly to the nest, it landed on the stonework 30 feet away. If I hadn't seen it land, I might never have noticed it there.

CCNY Red-Tail

Some analysis of the situation indicated that the hawk's perching place was just far enough around the tower that the nest was not actually within its field of view. If there were nestlings up there, presumably the adult was relying on sound for any alerts about possible trouble.

But are there any baby hawks up there? There was no sign of hawk activity in the nest itself. The part of the nest that hangs over the stone figure holding a hammer is rather thin, and there was no movement visible through the sticks, or even anything feathery fluttering in the wind. Honestly, I still don't know if there's an eyass up there.

The adult stayed on its perch around the corner for at least the next 20 minutes. It might have been Mother's Day, but the flag overhead made the situation seem a bit more like a patriotic day.

CCNY Red-Tail

By 6:00 I headed south to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Arrived around 6:20 and all was very quiet. No activity in the hawk nest, and no one perching on any of the usual spots in view. But 10 minutes later after I gave up and was walking west on 113th St., a hawk flew over the top of St. Luke's, low enough that I wondered if it had been perching above the hospital clock, and across the street to the nest.

Visiting the Nest

Hard to say, but the gleam in the hawk's eye make me think it was Norman, checking on the kid(s) in the nest.

Are there kid(s) up there, and if so when will we see them? The cathedral nest bowl is deep and shadowy, so it takes some time. But checking last year's reports, it seems that the first sighting of a fuzzy baby hawk head did not occur until 11 days after the first feeding was noted. This year the first person to report signs of feeding did so on May 3, so... any day now.

Norman hung about on the edge of the nest for a couple minutes, but then he took off and flew back toward the hospital. Again I wondered about secret hawk perching spots that might be up there.

Once again trying to make my exit, but there was another sighting of a hawk in the air over the hospital. And 50 feet down the street, I looked up and found that a hawk was perched on the tall chimney. In fact, there were two.

Hawks atop St. Luke's

I think that's Norman at left, looking down his nose at me, and Isolde at right.

Good to see that Norman is chilling out a bit and keeping Isolde company.

May 10, 2008

5/10, Highbridge Saturday

It started off as another cool and gloomy Saturday, so that must mean it's time again to visit Highbridge Park. Continuing the trend of Saturday visits, I hied up to the red-tail nest on the slopes of Fort George Hill in the late afternoon. I found all quiet, with Martha sitting on the near side of the nest while the kids apparently snoozed.

Highbridge Red-Tails

Looking this way and that, of course.

Highbridge Red-Tails

A few minutes later after I'd found a better spot to watch the inside of the nest, there were signs that the two nestlings were awake and wiggling around a little bit. The tops of fuzzy heads would occasionally appear on each of Martha's flanks.

Highbridge Red-Tails

And then after 20 minutes, one of the kids tried to stand up. It's still figuring out how to use its wings for balance, rather than actual flapping them.

Highbridge Red-Tails

Marths shifted around the side of the nest about 90° counter-clockwise and I now had a better view of both nestlings.

Highbridge Red-Tails

The kids were active for the next 10-12 minutes.

Highbridge Red-Tails

Meanwhile, Martha occasionally leaned into the nest. Although it initially looked like she might be preening loose fuzz off the kids, it was more likely general housecleaning.

Highbridge Red-Tails

Highbridge Red-Tails

The kids occasionally showed signs of curiosity about what was outside the nest. I've no idea how good there eyesight is at this point, but a few times, it looked like one of them was checking me out, at a distance of 60-70 feet.

Highbridge Red-Tails

And sometimes it would check what was down below.

Highbridge Red-Tails

Although there was something gray and pigeonish on the far side of the nest, there was no move toward a feeding while I viewed the nest. Instead, a bit more than a half hour after I'd arrived, the kids had settled back down in a heap in the middle of the nest for another snooze. Fifteen minutes later, I headed out and began making my way over to Fort Tryon.

Coda: Checked in at the red-tail at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine right about sunset. No activity at the nest, but one of the adults was perched across Morningside Park over on an antenna at 301 West 110th. It stayed there for 15 minutes, disappeared while I wasn't looking, and then apparently re-appeared on the corner of the roof of St. Luke's hospital (assuming that it was the same one). Five minutes later when I looked down to check the time on my cell phone, it quietly took off. Whether it headed over to the nest and hunkered down, or went to roost in the park, I've no idea.

May 8, 2008

5/7, The Jackhammer

No sign of hawk activity at the cathedral nest despite checking three times during an hour's span in the early evening. In between checks two and three, there was very noisy hammering issuing from Morningside Park near the 144th St. entrance.

The Jackhammer

The culprit was a downy woodpecker giving a half dead tree a very serious workover.

May 7, 2008

5/6, Norman v. the Kestrel, Plus Egrets

I missed hawkwatching on Monday, but James reported more feeding activity at the cathedral red-tail nest. So indeed, there's at least one nestling up there. But it's likely to be a week or two before we can see if there's more than one.

On Tuesday, I arrived at the nest area at the cathedral at 5:30, followed a few moments later by the hawk papa Norman. He flew in from the north and alit on the north side of the nest.

Norman Visits the Family Nest

Possibly he delivered food, but I didn't get a good look at him while he was still in the air. He hung about for a minute or two, checking the nest and looking around. When I crossed the street for a better view, it first looked like he left and the nest was empty, but a moment later he dove out of the south side of the nest and headed off toward Central Park.

There being no signs of a feeding about to commence, I wandered into Morningside Park and found two great egrets at the pond. Apparently they weren't friends, because when Egret Two flew over to where Egret One was stalking in the shallows, Egret One took off...

Morningside Egret

...and landed on one of the trees on the island...

Morningside Egret

...where it stayed for the nest 5-10 minutes.

Morningside Egret

Meanwhile, I realized something large was flying around over toward Douglas and 112th St. Looks like Norman. But using bins and then the zoom on the camera, I realized he was being harassed by a smaller bird, likely a kestrel since there's supposed to be a kestrel nest in that area.

Red-Tail and Kestrel

Indeed, pix revealed it was kestrel. Further, a close look at pix revealed that Norman was carrying fresh-caught prey. Hmmm, maybe he snagged something near the kestrel nest.

The two circled around, getting higher and higher.

Red-Tail and Kestrel

And higher and higher. The kestrel dropped off, but Norman kept going, and further away. I finally lost track of him when he was just a dark speck a few hundred feet up somewhere beyond Douglass Circle.

Well, not much going on with the egrets at the park, and light on the pond is about gone, so back up to check the red-tail nest. Ooops, should have headed up here sooner. There's a feeding going on. Perhaps Norman brought food when he was here at 5:30, as I didn't see him heading back this way after the kestrel chase.

But all one can see at this point is Isolde's feathery rear end sticking up over St. Andrew's head.

Feeding at the Red-Tail Nest

Isolde wrapped up the feeding at 6:05, and then hovered on the edge of the nest for a minute or two.

Feeding at the Red-Tail Nest

Before plopping down in there, out of sight.

May 6, 2008

5/4, Cathedral Hatch, Plus Riverside Viewing

Cathedral Red-Tail
Isolde aprés feeding

As noted in Saturday's report, feeding behavior had been observed that day at the red-tailed hawk nest at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. So the plan of the day for Sunday is to get up there and see if it happens some more.

But first, a quick peek at the scene at...

Riverside Park:
Arrived at the nest area about 4:20 and found the hawk mama sitting up, and looking down into the nest. Moving to the spot with a good view, one can see that the kiddies are wiggling around in there. Quick glimpses of fuzzy heads. Then a baby wing pops up.

Riverside Red-Tails

Then 3/4 of a baby hawk head.

Riverside Red-Tails

Sit back down.

Riverside Red-Tails

Cuddle against mama?

Riverside Red-Tails

Chat a bit. (Apparently not a feeding going on, as there's been no sign of mama tearing off tidbits to eat.)

Riverside Red-Tails

And 10 minutes later the kids seemed to settle down for a nap. Mama, however, remained erect.

Riverside Red-Tails

Keeping an eye on the babies.

Riverside Red-Tails

And on the two dozen hawkwatchers who have gathered.

Riverside Red-Tails

At 4:45 I bailed out and headed for the cathedral. Drat, there's a street fair on Broadway and the M104 is running slow.

It's 5:30 when I finally arrive, but there's hawk activity! In fact, Isolde is definitely behaving like she's feeding a baby hawk or hawks in the usual corner in the back of the nest. About all I could see of her was her wing-tips and feathery rear end sticking out. But she did glance around now and again.

Cathedral Red-Tail

Apparently I caught the tail end of the feeding, because as 5:40 approached she turned so that she was facing the south side of the nest. Another nestling on the left? I wondered.

Cathedral Red-Tail

But no. After a minute of Isolde looking around, she picked up the carcass of whatever had provided the late afternoon meal. Then she dove out the south side of the nest and flew out over Morningside Park. A minute later I found her just coming into land atop 301 West 110th St.

Red-Tail on 110th St.

That antenna atop the Towers on the Park may have been Isolde's favorite perch the last two summers whenever she took a break from the nest during the first few weeks after a hatch, so there was no surprise in seeing her perch there. Well, perhaps some. If the egg(s) hatched just at the end of the week, like Friday or so, then you'd think Isolde would be sticking close to the nest for a few days, unless her mate showed up to keep an eye on things while she was out. But on Sunday she spent close to 10 minutes over there. It was almost 5:50 before she flew back to the nest.

She sat on the edge for a minute or two, looked around.

Cathedral Red-Tail

And then, plop, she disappeared into the bowl of the nest without even the tip-top of her head visible.

I wondered into Morningside Park for a while. Returning to the nest 20 minutes later, all was still quiet. Isolde still hunkered down with the kid(s), and her mate Norman off wherever he hangs out.