June 6, 2009

Empty Nest

June 1

Reading between the lines, you've probably figured out by now that there was nothing happening at the red-tailed hawk nest at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. What happened is a mystery.

In early March, the signs all seemed to indicate that Isolde and Norman would return to their nest on the cathedral apse clerestory. At the end of the month, when she would have been expected to start brooding, there was no sign that Isolde was in the nest yet, but due to the nest's location in a high niche, that was no surprise. She'd only be seen when there was a nest exchange. One would have expected to see Norman around occasionally, perhaps perched on the hospital roof on sentry duty once his hunting duties were fulfilled. But no, no sign of him.

As April began to progress, the idea that Isolde and Norman had abandoned the nest began to take hold. Recalling the various sightings in March of a juvie red-tail atop the cathedral, along Morningside Drive or in Morningside Park, and the Cooper's hawk that roosted in the close one night in late March, it seemed that the two adults' hadn't been protecting the territory.

So where did they go? James had reported hawk activity toward the north end of Morningside Park, but I wasn't too sure that they would have nested up there, as it would place them closer to the Riverside peregrines and to the CCNY red-tails. I considered whether they might have tried Marcus Garvey Park and checked over there a couple times, once sighting a red-tail of unknown age perched a couple blocks south of the park.

Then on April 16, I walked over to Morningside Drive and found two red-tails perched on the high chimney on St. Luke's hospital. The smaller one, Norman, dove off and flew down to Morningside Ave but returned five minutes later. He took off again ten minutes later and didn't return. The larger, Isolde, stayed a bit longer, but perhaps a half hour after I'd first seen the two, she took off south.

April 16

With buildings in the way, I couldn't tell if she headed for the old nest site or flew past it and into the close or beyond.

Two days later, James took a photo of two hawks mating atop the cathedral, and the day after that I spotted a newly leafed out branch on the old nest. Another few days later, James shot some video of an adult hawk flying over the north end of Morningside Park. It began to seem as if Isolde and Norman hadn't abandoned the cathedral site, but that their nesting schedule was badly awry. Had they tried nesting elsewhere and failed, and were trying again at the old spot?

But after those sightings, quiet returned to the cathedral nest. I haven't spotted a hawk in the area since those few days in April. James has made the occasional sighting but rarely close enough to distinguish the bird's age, or identity.

Meanwhile, the cathedral has finished the renovations to the roof and took all the scaffolding down about the first of May. The nest is easily visible, as the above pic from June 1 shows, but there's never a sign that a stick has been moved.

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