Saturday, July 01, 2006

Two Hawks, Too Hot, 1 Jul 2006


6:20pm Sam, Albatross the wheelie bag, and I start making it up the hill.
6:26pm Walking toward the Cathedral on the east sidewalk, suddenly I hear a Catbird repeating a stident call. We can't seem to pinpoint it. Back and forth on the walk. A squirrel whines.
6:45pm We head south on the mid-path.
6:48pm I catch sight of wings flying down through branches.

6:51pm She's watching two squirrels with her head cocked when we come up the path.

6:55pm First find, second angle.

7:08pm I decide I really have to see the back of the fledge so take off planning to circle back.

7:11pm On my way, there is a horde of Robins reading the riot act in cahoots with a Catbird and there's the other fledge. I never do get round to the back of the other one.

7:37pm Watching the helicopter.

7:40pm Picnic Rock N fledge suffers from the heat.

This Fledge had chosen a day perch deeper in the "bowl" of the park, where the air is still and feels more humid. Lots more small birds bugging this one as well.

Both fledges are now on either side of a large rock formation "table" which is below the stairs one can take walking north, then west to exit the park closest to the Cathedral

Picnic Rock S fledgling. Is is tempting to think of this one as Eldest due to the more adult posture and her tendency to look straight into the camera but....

7:43pm Fledge on Picnic Rock S, takes off to tree further into the park.

And just what does Blondie think she's doing in MY bushes?

(Sam requests a little footnote here in case someone ACTUALLY thinks she's in the bushes bothering the hawks. She's not. I 'd asked her to go round to the path above, used by a myriad assortment of pedestrians at any given moment, in an attempt to get a look at the fledgling's back patterns so we could ID them. Unfortunately she couldn't see them so we don't have IDs for today. See, if she had been in the bushes, we'd know. Ah, the sacrifices of ethical hawkwatching.)


The Bumblebee must die.

Time to check out the buildings on the other side of the park for the parental units. There looks to be something across the way. Sam focuses the scope on an antenna and says, "It's a Falcon. Wait, it's little. Maybe a Kestrel?"

Another opinion,"It's a Robin?" I look.

It is a Kestrel!

Suddenly he takes a pugnacious stance.

7:53pm Samantha spots male Kestrel on antenna of building on SW corner of 110th and Central Park North.

7:54pm Seemingly awaiting her chance to exit unobserved, when we look back the Fledgling on Picnic Rock N has disappeared.

8:09pm We catch sight of wings taking off and Immature RT flies from tree on west side of park to tallest London Plane in lower quadrant of east side of Morningside Park. Catbirds on our side are still being insistant about something so we listen, we tromp through the bushes, we strain our eyes in dim trees. The other fledge is here somewhere but that somewhere remains a mystery.

9:10pm Good Night.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Hail? Who said anything about HAIL?, 29 Jun 2006

I knew we were in trouble when we came up the subway stairs. That is, Sam and I, and the wheelie bag that has become our beloved but personal Albatross. It wasn't just the gray billowing skies but there was that plop...plop...plop, of big drops of rain on concrete. A half block along they petered out but it had been one of those days already, so hope did not momentarily spring eternal.

Already a dozen little fires put out in life and a good bit of daylight yet to conquer. An irate volunteer at the Bird Park, a trip to MOMA for orientation for Sam, who suddenly needed her laundry done, and I'm already a day behind on you-name-it. What do you mean there's no money on your metrocard? Lost house keys, no shampoo, and who forgot to buy milk? I considered turning right back around and going home.

Not surprising, considering, we'd somehow forgotten to stick the umbrella back in the wheelie bag after ditching it for weight the last no-rain day. And after sweltering in 80 something heat, 90 something humidity and dressing skimpily in order to survive, there hadn't been a thought in the rush to get here, that we just might need to stick a sweatshirt into the Albatross in case of fresh breezes or rain. Maybe we really should go home.

But then, just what were the fledglings up to and how would they react to a storm if it didn't hold off. My cell phone rang, it was Stella Hamilton, a welcome fixture at the Fifth Avenue Hawkbench during the season, and after a week or so of not being at this site, she was just up the Morningside Drive hill wondering if we were coming.

So of course we were coming. Stella had forgotten her umbrella too. We were in this together. Up the hill we went.

Soon it was Stella and Sam and I and the homeless man who is convinced someone threw his paintings away in Brooklyn, standing in a little clump looking down into the Park in the direction of a chirup, chirup, scheeeep, cheep. And the drops slowly, every now and again, go plop.

Robert Schmunk, camera safely pressed to his chest, umbrella raised at just the right angle for moisture protection, arrives with anticipation. What have we found? For almost always a clump of watchers focusing in the same direction means a discovery. Not today. Because as we know, it is one of those days.

Nonetheless we're setting up the scope and catching up on the news when Robert does spot a fledgling not far from where we are standing. Excellent, but somehow neither Sam or I can immediately get the scope on her in the tree and then she's off to the next one, plop, plop, plop...plop, plop. Fine. We move a few feet down the hill and try to find her in the new tree. Plop, plop, plop,plopplopplop. We pull out the black plastic trash bag and drape it over the scope and camera. We keep shifting. She's in that tree, follow the trunk to the second left branch. Why can't we get her in the scope? Stella and Robert stand under a small tree getting smaller themselves. Less surface area being currently important.

Drat! She's off again. This time all the way down to the choice Locust Trees at the bottom of the hill.

Wait, there doesn't seem to be more than a scant sprinkle now.

See, it has blown over.

Grab the gear. Hustle down the hill before she moves again. Nearly there and BAM, a tremendous crack of thunder. Lightening spikes in the distance. PLOP,PLOP,PLOP,plop,plop,plop,plopplop, then nothing but the rush of water hitting surfaces.

We can see her right there, plain as day. Well, plain as looking through a hurricane but still. Come on, just one picture. Pull out more black plastic bags. One goes to Stella. She stands in the lee of a fat concrete park corner, smiling. Robert eyes the sky, pressing his camera even closer to his chest. Thunder continues to roll, get the bird in the scope. Too close, drag the gear backward. There she is and now a flapping of wings. They are both there! Carry the tripod even further back, up the three stairs, get them both in. Refocus the scope, good thing it's supposed to be waterproof, drop down the attachment, lock the catches, set the timer. We're standing in a zephyr.

Water is running off Sam's hair into the camera. That's not good. We've almost got it. Sam starts the sequence, I hold the plastic over the goods, sort of, but the wind is so high the bird and her perch keep blowing out of the field of view.

No head.

Up, down, and around.

And then, no bird at all.

I give it a try . Suddenly I realize Sam, who is wearing a suntop, and leaning over exposing her back to the elements while keeping the plastic out of frame, is saying, "Ouch, ouch, OUCH!" I look at her. She looks at me. She's got little red blotches appearing all over her very fair skin. I look at the black plastic. There are bits of ice in the puddled water. We're being hailed upon. I get in touch with my own skin. I'm being pelted. Stella scuttles over, hunched against the wind, black plastic flapping. She's going. Here's the bag. Thank you. See you soon. Sam tries the camera again. I hold the plastic. Tick, tick, tick, click. Tick, tick, tick, click. Everything is running with water. Tick, tick, tick, click.

Finally it begins to ease. Good grief, take a breath, switch places. And then the sun shines through. Everything is luscious. Clean and sparkling, fresh and bright. The droplets gleam on leaves, on sidewalks, on tree trunks, and spires. Tick, tick, tick, click. The rain runs past the curb with the gurgle of brooks. Tick, tick, tick, click. The world is a painting in watercolor. And suddenly it has become one of the beautiful days you remember, one of those days. Where all the other things fade away beside the glory of newly opened eyes.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Go One Down for More

It's that upside down head...And much more, next one down.

Another Divine Merry Chase, and that upside down head, 28 Jun 2006

Photograph by Donegal Browne

For the last few days the Fledge Followers would have been nowhere without the Morningside Park American Robin Contingent. The Robins hop, they scold, they scutter their wings, thank goodness. This day, a young Robin, still sporting some of his baby spots joins the fray. And we owe him and them a lot. They have stridently vocalized at the Fledglings long and hard, otherwise we'd still be out there peering into tree branches with very little to show for it.

Photograph by Robert Schmunk- link below

6:33pm In the favorite Locust Tree. Eldest kills some bark, bites pods off branches and hops on them until they are dead.

Eldest out of tree and onto roof of gable on The Cathedral School.

Youngest to opposite gable on The Cathedral School.

7:06pm Just what happens next?

And why is this fledglings head on upside down? Tune in tomorrow for John Blakeman's explanation. And a question from Robert Schmunk.

Note the head cruising over.

Both focus and up.

7:29pm The ever observant parent on Gabriel.

7:34pm On the roof of The Cathedral Church near the green scaffolding netting.

7:37pm A parent flies over. Eldest is back to the favorite Locust Tree on the east side of Morningside Drive.

8:20pm Though night is fast falling Young Robin is still on the job, learning from the other Robins just how to handle a Red-tail in a tree.

And the promised link for more of Robert Schmunk's photos...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Divine Fledglings 28 Jun 2006

More from John Blakeman, prairie expert, falconer, and frequent contributer of Red-tail information to New York City's urban hawkwatchers.

(The paper mentioned below is Sex determination of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis calurus) using DNA analysis and morphometrics, J Field Ornithology, Vol 77, Issue 1, pp. 74-79. And as most of you know Bruce Yolton is one of our local hawkwatchers. D.B.)


I believe I sent you an email in reference to a photo of the two Divine eyasses next to each other. I noted that the larger one on the left was decidedly a female, the other a male. No doubt in my mind.

Bruce Yolton has just posted a note that sexing red-tails is very hard, and he doesn't recommend it. He references a new article on the subject.

I've read the article, and in fact, it shows that in-hand measurement data of red-tails can accurately reveal the sex (as confirmed by PCR DNA analysis) at 97 and 98% accuracy rates. I don't know the basis of Bruce's caution.

In fact, for those of us who have trapped, handled, and trained literally hundreds of red-tails, sexing is seldom questionable. Males have a male "look," and females a female visage.

All of us falconers have trapped "in betweeners," birds that tend to look one way or the other, but aren't absolutely definitive. If you trap a 1500 gram red-tail, she's a female. A 1100 gram bird is always a male (unless the bird is emaciated from disease, but these birds are then re-fed and they gain back their lost weight). But a 1200 gram bird might be a tiny female, or a giant male. That's where those of us familiar with the species just look at the head to see if it looks like a female or male. Males tend to have narrower heads and smaller bills (minutely).

When there is a decided size difference as in the photo, there is no doubt about the birds' sexes. The size difference was big enough that anyone, even the inexperienced, could have noted it. Males tend to be narrower across the shoulders, as in the photo your description of the female being "chunkier" is perfect. They are just that.

For the experienced, sexing red-tails is not mysterious or erroneous. We are correct at least 97% of the time.

--John Blakeman

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Whole Family at the Cathedral, 27 Jun 2006

Youngest preening.
But just where is what body part?
Orangey chest where one might expect her back to be, as her head it pointing in this direction. Where are her wings and what about that leg? Well...? Hmmm.

Who needs a roller coaster? Attempting to perch in the wind.

Eldest's back. Note the identifying pattern of light and dark.


Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
8:04pm The reason we were having such trouble finding her.

Youngest Photograph by Eleanor Tauber

( The Blog is being contrary about posting photos, therefore I was only able to get Eleanor's to go up. Will post more when the blog is amenable.)


Temperature 74 F.
Wind SSE to 17MPH
Gusts to 25MPH
Humidity 94%

Tonight's Intrepid Fledge Followers, willing to put up with poor visibility, wind, and far too much foliage: Samantha Browne-Walters, Robert Schumunk, Jean Dane, Eleanor Tauber, Liz, and I.

6:08 Sam and I arrive on Morningside Dr.
6:27pm We discover Youngest in Locust Tree in Park, E of lower path, 35 ft. north of bottom door to Overlook mobbed by Robins. (Many thanks to them.) Liz and Eleanor arrive, Liz has seen Youngest also.
6:40pm Youngest to new branch...somewhere in same tree.
6:43pm Mom flies past Youngest's tree, east to west. Youngest begs in a serious and double pitched cry then suddenly stops.
6:45pm Sam on the lower path glimpses RT from Youngest tree heading for the Cathedral. We later surmise it is Youngest and attempt to find her feeding at the Cathedral. But fail.
7:12pm We catch sight of immature RT over park, circling, then to Locust south end of park.
7:13pm Robert reports Fledge being mobbed by Robins in Locust Tree, within S Park near border midway between Morningside and Manhattan Ave.
7:15pm Jean identifies a fledgling in Locust Tree, second S from bench area in overlook nearest mid-entrance...Youngest.
7:33pm M0m to Locust in Park opposite Cathedral School, then out.
7:43pm Eldest flies to Locust tree at the edge of the park, midway between Morningside and Manhattan Ave. Robins mob. (Same tree, fledge was spotted in earlier in the evening by Robert Schmunk.)
8:05pm Two RTs spotted flying high over Cathedral.
8:07pm Jean spots Dad sitting on decoration belonging to St. James the Greater on Cathedral.
8:09pm Dad off St. James, circles above park, looks to go into Eldest's tree, but not sighted there again.
8:16pm Dad circles over park and church.
8:18pm Eldest hops to new branch, same tree. Robins are really heating up vocally.
8:22pm Fledge moves again, new branch, same tree. Tree is blowing so much, her branch swaying and bobbing, it is as if she is on a roller coaster.
8:28pm Mom flies into tree inside Cathedral grounds just north of first light pole from Morningside and 110th.
8:32pm Dad? from Cathedral, circles over Morningside Dr., then curves over corner of 110th and Morningside. Disappears behind middle "Cheese Wedge" building on the SE corner.
9:10pm Gab is illuminated tonight as well. This time he/she looks silver. Floodlit?
9:15pm After getting some take-out Banana Pudding from Miss Maimie's Spoonbread Too, which we highly recommend by the way, we exit.

JUST THREE AGAIN, plus Peacocks 26 JUN 2006

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
Blue Peacock tail...belongs at 7:01pm but somehow didn't get placed there. When you get to 7:01, just be so kind to look back up here.

We're actually going to start at....
5:35pm Sam and I walk out our lobby door to 9th Ave. A few large plops of rain fall on us. We don't mention them. Lack of attention may depress them so much they will go away.

6:19pm The Cathedral. We've searched the usual spots and so far have come up with nothing. Suddenly a mature Red-tail is circling above 109th street. Then she tucks her wings and zooms toward the west. We decide to search the Cathedral Grounds themselves.

6:38pm Sometime between when we left Morningside Dr. and got round through the front gate, Dad landed on Gabriel.

6:39pm We set the scope up and show a few passers-by. Before too long Bruce Yolton comes round a corner, sees Dad, and tells us that Mom is perched on a water tower east of us. We pick up the gear again and go to check it out.

6:48pm I look back, Stealth Dad is still there.
6:49pm Mom is still perched on the watertower and a smaller bird is perched on a vertical pipe not far from her. The little bird is not happy about Mom.

6:50pm The smaller bird takes a dive at Mom and she's up before we can get the scope on them. She circles counter clockwise over the grounds and then heads south, then circles back east, and disappears behind a building on the other side of 110th.

7:01pm Now we're back on the west side of the grounds and Sam is thinking Peacocks not hawks. We pass what she now calls the Peacock Hut and she scrambles over to it. The grating is closed down over the entrance. They must be in for the night. She peers inside. Sure enough, not only in for the night, but finished knoshing their Peacock Chow, and getting ready for bed. A long blue tail hangs down from a sort of Peacock bunk bed. (Look back up to the top, NOW.)

Is the other blue Peacock up his tree? We've heard he prefers to roost on a branch in the big tree across from the red brick Federal style building not far from the Hut. Or perhaps he has decided to hang out in the hut for the night but has his tail tucked up tidily out of sight. Nobody is talking so we'll never know if he's missing.

Speaking of the missing, where is Whitey?

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
There's Whitey. Up on a private perch.

Then it's back to straining our necks and ears but further searching of the grounds for the Fledglings turns out to be fruitless. We circle around and head for 110th where Mom disappeared behind the brown building.

7:11pm After coming down 110th with no success, we see Robert Schmunk pointing out a hawk in a Locust tree near the corner of the park. Sam and I get the scope up. It's Eldest. And she has already learned the Red-tail trick of perching with a branch above her head that protects from overhead attack. The Robins are aware of her and are verbalizing their annoyance.

7:22pm Look at the back pattern, still a V and still somewhat squarish. Keep up with it, as it is a bit reshuffled with her position.

7:40pm It has become quite dar. Clouds scudding across the sky and I keep loosing sight of Eldest in the tree. Even though she isn't changing perches and I'm not changing where I am standing. All of a sudden I notice how well the juvenile feathers of a Red-tailed Hawk work when it comes to blending her into a tree. Notice how the belly spots can appear to be leaves, the pale underbelly sky, and the varigated brown face, bark. As to the bulging orangey crop, that's another discussion all together.

7:57pm We've gone off to search for Youngest. This will be the second day that we haven't seen her if we don't see her soon. Then a mature RT flies out from the Cathedral, over the park, and circles the Great Hill. Is Youngest over there?

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters

8:24pm Eldest, her crop stuffed full, and the light fading, begins to look very sleepy.

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
8:25pm Eyelids heavy, she nodds forward, and sways on her feet ever so slightly.

Photograph by Samantha Browne-Walters
8:26pm Then, swaying gently on her branch in the breeze, she falls asleep.

8:30pm The other hawkwatchers have gone home and Sam and I are packing up our stuff in the middle of the sidewalk. Suddenly a police car pulls up beside us, and it is an officer that has spoken to us before. We chat small and point out Eldest. He wants to know how much longer we will be coming up here. I say, for as many days as we can still find them. Then I tell him, before he asks about tonight, that we're just about to go home for the day . He nods and smiles, says see you soon, and then drives off down the sidewalk. Sam states the obvious. "Ah mom, he's driving on the sidewalk." "Yes, darling", I reply, "He is. New York City policeman have been known to do that."

8:40pm It is the oddest thing. After all, it's getting quite dark. It's cloudy and dim. Sam and I are standing on the SE corner of Morningside and 110th discussing how hungry we are, when I look up the hill toward the Cathedral. To my amazement green Gabriel is turning gold. I don't mean goldish. I mean shiny gold, sparkly gold. I mean radiant, light flinging gold. I can't figure out where light would be coming from to reflect off him. In fact it looks like he's radiating the light himself. Really quite startling actually, when one considers how his solidness wouldn't allow that , and how well patinaed green he is.

Wait a minute. It's pretty much sunset right now. Is it possible that Gab is positioned just so, in order to reflect the last rays of the sun on certain days? It couldn't be everyday could it? Seems unlikely due to the changing angles...but then what do I know.

Guess I better find out.