March 29, 2010

3/28, Fort Washington Park Yearling Red-Tail

Fort Washington Park Red-Tail

Taking a walk Sunday afternoon from one end of Fort Washington Park to the other, I found one red-tailed hawk in the area. But it wasn't an adult. Instead it was a year-old, yet to go through his first molt. The poor guy was taking grief from the local crows.

Fort Washington Park Red-Tail

Five minutes later he was gone, chased out of the trees and into the neighborhood around PS 187.

March 24, 2010

3/24, Cathedral Switch-Off

Red-Tail over Morningside

Just after 6:00 Wednesday evening, a red-tailed hawk soared out over Morningside Park and did some circles and figure eights. It seemed the kind of flying that one would do if one was good at flying and the weather was absolutely gorgeous, which it was.

Then the hawk flew back to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and entered the red-tail nest using the "south entrance". The other hawk popped up on the north side of the nest, dove out and then flew down into Harlem around 114th or 115th St.


It looked like Isolde who was leaving the nest. So this seemed to be a case of Norman coming by to do egg-sitting duty, but not bringing food, leaving Isolde to go hunt up her own dinner. If so, it must have taken some time, because she didn't return in the next 40 minutes.

March 21, 2010

3/21, New Highbridge Red-Tail Nest

Highbridge Park Red-Tail Mama

Late Sunday afternoon, I made my first trip since last summer up to northern Highbridge Park to check on Martha and George's nest, near George Washington High School. I found last year's nest was completely gone. The general area looked like it took a hit in the big storm last August, and although the tree where their 2007 and 2009 nests were located was still there, it had lost some limbs when a near-by tree fell.

After casting about to the south and seeing nothing, I was cheered up as I headed north to see a red-tail circling overhead. A little bit further, I easily found Martha and George's new nest. The new spot is a few blocks north of the old site and is right across Harlem River Drive from PS 5 and about a block south of the three-way intersection of HRD with Dyckman St. and Tenth Ave. The nest is almost directly over the park path, and until the trees leaf out, very easy to spot.

But although the new nest is easy to find, it is hard to view. It is 60-70 feet up and the only vantage point that seems like it might offer a half decent sightline involves scrambling halfway up Fort George Hill, slipping on ground cover, dodging garbage, and hoping you don't step on a broken bottle. The view you do get (seen above) is obstructed and will be blocked when the trees leaf out. However, the nest is relatively shallow, and even from the path below you can sometimes see Martha's head sticking up as she scans the neighborhood.

Highbridge Park Red-Tail Dad

When I found the nest, George was just in the process of leaving. He stuck around the area for at least the next 45 minutes, first preening and then perhaps hunting. Possibly he was also doing guard duty because of the neighborhood crows. The second picture is of George on a relatively low branch close to Harlem River Dr. This is by far the closest view I have ever had of him. In the past he's always been perched in a tree 100 feet away, or on a building even further away, or soaring over Amsterdam Ave. and Washington Heights.

March 17, 2010

3/17, Switch-Off!

Hawk Dining

As experienced hawkwatchers know, if it's March and you catch a pair of hawks switching places at the nesting site, it can only mean one thing. Eggses!

But first...

On St. Patrick's Day, it seemed quiet near the cathedral nest area before sunset. But at 6:40 as I began to leave, a hawk popped out of the nest area flying north. Much like Tuesday last week, it landed briefly atop the Scrymser Pavilion at St. Luke's Hospital, then flew on to the roof of 44 Morningside Drive. Atop #44, it started chowing down. The prey appeared to be a rat, but apparently not a huge one, as dinner was over in less than ten minutes. Then the hawk spent a few moments looking around.

After Dinner

Initially I thought it was Norman up there, but hmmm, some of the pictures suggested a brood patch in the middle of the breast. A better view of the hawk's shoulders would have helped.

In any event, about 6:50, the hawk headed back toward the cathedral. It stopped briefly atop the Plant Pavilion at the hospital, but as I caught up, it moved on. From a distance, it seemed as if it had gone into the nest site.

A minute later I realized that a hawk — the same hawk? — was preening atop the cross on St. Savior Chapel, below the nest. This hawk then flew over to the roof of the Minturn Pavilion at the hospital and perched for a couple minutes, catching a bit of the sunset light coming down 113th St.

Finally just before sunset, the hawk in view flew over to the nest, joining the other cathedral red-tail. They "conversed" briefly.

Nest Switch-Off

A half minute later the hawk who had been in the nest took off, completing a switch-off, and headed north.

In retrospect, it seems Isolde had taken a 20-minute break from the nest to have dinner, leaving Norman to cover the eggs. At 7:00 she returned, and he left to roost for the night.

This isn't the sort of activity you'd see when there are no eggs in the nest, so it looks like some time in the past week, Isolde has laid her clutch and started brooding.

Incubation for red-tails takes about 30 days, plus or minus. (Isolde spend about 31 days brooding in 2007.) This suggests the hatch "window" will open the weekend of April 10, and close a week or so later. This would be a week or more earlier than in past years for Isolde, but word is that at least two other red-tail nests in the city have also had their mothers start incubating early this year.

March 10, 2010

3/10, Trespassers Shall Be Chased Off

Cathedral Hawk

All seemed quiet at the red-tail nest at the Cathedral of St. John about a half hour before sunset Wednesday, but 15 minutes later it got weird.

About 5:40 I realized a hawk had landed on the tall chimney at the hospital, and moments after that discovered that another was hopping about on the statue of the archangel Gabriel atop the cathedral, from wing, to horn, to crook of an elbow, then down to a finial (see above pic). As I watched the latter, it was joined by another hawk, and the two fluttered about the finials and crenellations in the nest area for a couple minutes.

Then the two hawks were joined by a third.

All three took to the air and disappeared over the hospital to the north. They were back in another minute, circling over lower Morningside Drive and Park. It was apparent from the relative sizes that that there were two males and one female up there. One male (Norman) was chasing the other, while the female (Isolde) circled nearby as backup.

After several set-tos, the interloper took off to the north. Subsequent review of (poor) photography revealed that the trespasser was also an adult.

From first sighting of the hawk atop Gabriel to the final chase-off was 10-11 minutes.

March 9, 2010

3/9, Sunset Dinner

Norman Dines

Hawkwatching at the cathedral Tuesday after 5:00 looked to be quiet, although James reported that there had been some activity in the nest alcove a half hour before I arrived. But around 5:50, Norman suddenly appeared, apparently checked on the nest, flew across the street to a rooftop ledge at St. Luke's, and then moved onto a finial on the roof of 44 Morningside Drive. He was carrying a good-sized rat, and he spent the next 15 minutes gobbling down all of it down.

Norman Dines

After scanning the ledge below to make sure he hadn't dropped anything edible and then a few beak wipes, Norman took off back toward the cathedral at 6:10. He may have a roosting spot somewhere around the Close.

Ed note: Another hawkwatcher who was in the area reported that while James and I watched Norman consume the rat, Isolde snuck into the nest and fussed around a bit.

March 8, 2010

3/8, Prepping the Cathedral Nest

Isolde Prepping Her Nest

Third-hand reports from the Morningside Drive locals related that hawk romance in the treetops and nesting activity at the Cathedral of St. John of the Divine had begun in late February. After several times seeing a hawk quietly perched at St. Luke's hospital in the past 10 days, I finally caught Isolde in her nest late Monday afternoon.

I arrived about 5:25 and immediately saw some motion and a flash of light color up in the nest. All seemed quiet for the next 15-20 minutes, but there was definitely something sticking up on the north side of the nest structure that hadn't been there on Saturday. It looked like it could be tail feathers, but the lack of motion suggested maybe it was just a nice piece of bark. But then whatever it was was gone. Instead there was a hawk head poking up just high enough that we could see each other. Isolde!

Isolde Prepping Her Nest

Isolde then started fussing about more actively, arranging things in the nest bowl. She was busy past sunset and up to almost 6:00. She might have still been up there when I left about 6:10, but by that point it was too dark to see anything in the shadows.

March 7, 2010

3/7, Way Up High

Normandy Red-Tail

Plenty of red-tail sightings in the past week or two, but they've all been birds perched 10 or 20 stories up. Above: one of the Boat Basin hawks atop the Normandy about 10 minutes before sunset Sunday.