June 17, 2009

6/17, Flying Across 120th St.

Checking in again on Riverside Church for falcon fledging activity, I initially found things pretty quiet. Two baby falcons were perched on the scaffolding around the NW corner of the tower, and soon after a third showed in the same area. Those three would remain generally in the same area for the next 45 minutes, although it was variable whether one, two or three were visible at any time.

Mama showed up soon after I did. She first alit on a gargoyle below where her kids were hanging out, but after fussing about there and then on a near-by plank for a couple minutes, she flew up to a corner scaffolding pipe that seems to be a favorite vantage for keeping an eye on the kids as they wander around.

And so things stayed for some time. Two of the baby falcons engaged in some wing flapping, often right on the edge of the walkway, but did not fledge. The third spent most of the time perched quietly in one spot, making me wonder if it had already fledged and no longer to engage in this silly flapping business. Recall that one of the young falcons had fledged yesterday and ended up on the scaffold level 30 feet lower. This quiet youngster would seem to have been that fledgling, although another falcon watcher had said that he thinks there are four baby falcons and that two have fledged.

As light was getting dimmer in the cloudy skies I finally decided to make my exit, but as I neared 120th St. I looked back to see two falcons flying out of the area where the four had been hanging about. One seemed to be a poor flier, stroking its wings quickly for all it was worth, while the other followed along. Ah, a youngster is in the air and mama was flying guard!

The fledgling seemed as if it was going to try to return to the scaffolding on the SW corner of the tower.

Falcon Fledgling and Mama

But it overshot its mark and had to keep flapping. With encouragement from mama, it headed south and made it across 120th St. to the roof of the Inter Church Center, almost 400 feet from where it started.

Meanwhile a third falcon had appeared in the air, but that it turned out was papa. Apparently he'd been lurking around the tower the entire time.

Both mama and papa did a bit of flying about over the next few minutes, perching here, perching there and disappearing around the back of the tower, making it difficult to figure out which was which.

Then there was another moment with three birds in the air, as it seemed baby wanted to return from the ICC roof to the church tower. But one of the parents appeared to herd it back, and presumably that was where it spent the night.

June 16, 2009

6/16, Riverside Falcon Fledge

One of the three Riverside Church baby falcons made its first flight on Tuesday about 6:15 in the evening, with raptor watcher James there to witness the event. Unfortunately, I didn't get there until about 7:00, by which time the new fledgling was staying put on the level of scaffolding about 30 feet below the level where the scrape is at.

Falcon Fledgling

Moments after I got there, one adult landed near the scrape with food. Soon after that the other alit on a pipe below the fledgling.

Falcon Parent

Some changing of positions took place on the lower level, with one adult in flight and the fledgling instead trotting about the scaffolding walkway. One parent got an earful from the fledgling (about the exciting first flight or just about food?).

Baby Falcon and Parent

That was followed by a few minutes of the adults flying about.

Falcon in Flight

Falcon in Flight

One circled about many times, was briefly joined by the other, and then one (presumably dad) disappeared whilst the other (mom?) hung around the vicinity to keep an eye on things.

Falcon in Flight

June 16

During the circling one adult made a pass by the scrape and alit for a half second by the two upstairs kids, who pretty much stayed put during the entire time I was there.

Falcon and Two Kids

As 8:00 approached, things were very quiet. The two kids by the scrape were still in their same spots, the fledgling had returned to the same corner location where I'd first seen it, and the mother was perched directly above where she could keep an eye on both locations.

June 15, 2009

6/15, Five Falcons in the Family

Walking over to Riverside Church after Monday's rain I first noticed a falcon perched on the edge of the scaffolding walkway 20 feet away from the scrape. It seemed likely that it was a nestling as the adults have been more likely to perch on the scaffolding railings. As I changed viewing positions, I lost track of the nestling, but then discovered an adult on a pipe at the NE corner of the walkway. And then four other falcons progressively appeared, making it three babies and two proud and protective parents.

Falcon Family

Of the four along the walkway, mom was second from left. She soon took off and returned to land on a pipe 10 feet above her mate's head. Then he took off, apparently to perform familial duties as he did not return in the next 20-25 minutes.

The scene seemed to be the falcon version of branching. The three youngsters wandered around the walkway, sometimes almost all the way back to the scrape and sometimes to the corner right below mom's perch.

Riverside Falcons

At least two of them did some vigorous wing flapping. A couple times I thought I might witness an inadvertent fledging as one of them flapped while right on the edge of walk.

The flapping indicated that the two and possibly all three had not fledged. A neighborhood falcon watcher who passed by said that in the past, the Riverside falcons have been very regular about fledging on or very close to June 21. So in all likelihood it's just a few more days.

June 12, 2009

6/12, Riverside Falcon Nestling

Checking on Riverside Church on Wednesday, I determined that there must be a peregrine falcon nestling hiding on the scrape ledge some 300 feet up. There was an apparent food delivery, and while both parents were in view away outside the scrape, there was a spate of vigorous motion on the ledge, including a couple possible wing flaps.

There was less activity at Riverside on Friday, with neither parent to be seen in the area during the hour that I was in the vicinity. The scrape itself looked very quiet, but belatedly, I discovered that there was a nestling perched on the back of the lion's head gargoyle that marks the scrape site.

Falcon Nestling

June 10, 2009

6/8, Riverside Falcon

The Riverside Church peregrine scrape is so high up that it's just about impossible to tell if there are baby falcons up there. You almost have to wait until fledging time. As James had reported a falcon fledge from the Broadway Bridge over the weekend, I decided to check on Riverside on Monday evening. I found an adult perched on a scaffolding railing alongside the scrape site, where it stayed for the next 20 minutes, preening and enjoying the sun. Eventually it took off...

Riverside Peregrine

And circle around several times.

June 8

Before perching on an eave perhaps 50 feet from the scrape. Another 10 minutes later it took off again and after a few more circles returned to its perch by the scrape.

"White wash" on the ledge below the scrape site indicates that the location had been occupied this spring. But the adult was the only falcon that I saw in the course of about 45-50 minutes. Perhaps there's a nestling or two up there, but if so then they were taking a nap the entire time that I was watching.

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.