Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Astoria Park Nest of Athena and Atlas

Professional photographer and avid Hawkwatcher Francois Portmann and I had decided to go look at some hawks. He told me on the phone that Friday afternoon did not look like rain. Terrific except I decided we should go see the Astoria Park nest, which Francois warned me would not have good light in the afternoon. I have limited time in the city and decided to chance it. Boy, was Francois right. Just remember these aren't for a photo contest, they're for documentation. Right?
Jules Corkery, a chief watcher of these hawks, had told us that one could see into the nest from the pedestrian walkway. It takes a handy jog so you can look back at the nest. It is a terrific angle, but do bring your binoculars and your longer lenses.
I also post this long view because this nest is a tough one for fledglings. The nest with a parent on it is about mid frame on the pipe that runs along the bottom of the bridge.

The nest is on a corner with busy lanes of traffic to the front and side of the nest. Under the nest is also pavement. There are trees and one can hope that they are now close enough for a leap. There is absolutely no place for the eyasses to branch off this nest. They can't grip that big fat slippery drain pipe. The eyasses on this nest, tend to go off young and unable to gain altitude to get themselves off the ground. And unless they make it all the way across the traffic and playground there is next to nothing that will give them a leg up into the trees where their parents will be perched holding food to tempt them up.

2:26:07pm The light was bad but the timing excellent. A parent which I took to be Athena, by her behavior, though I'm certainly willing to be corrected as I've not seen these birds since last season, was feeding the eyasses.

Athena looks down and the biggest eyass does the same. Likely the smallest of the three has just taken a tidbit. I suspect that if she drops it, it becomes fair game for the larger sibling to make a grab for it. Mom is watching very carefully.

2:26:19pm Another bite for the teeny one.
She watches carefully once again.

2:27:49 Now what?
Feeding continues but I can't make out the species of dinner. Eventually things slow down and Athena sits the rim while the kids do a little wobbling around in the bowl.
2:53:06pm We head for ground level and a better view of Athena but a much worse view into the bowl of the nest. She's staring at something in the sky or high in a tree.
Then she stares down at the eyasses and stares back up at whatever it is that has caught her attention.
2:57:49 Up again.
And down again. After watching the rural hawks on County M in Wisconsin, I realized that Red-tailed Hawk moms don't like to leave the nest until everyone has settled down for a nap. All that movement could attract predators so that seems quite sensible on the parent's part and as it seems to be somewhat universal (Riverside Mom does it too.) And as hawks in different places seem to do exactly what Athena is doing as well, I've begun to think it may well be wired in.
And back to looking out in the same spot. Looking at the photographs I realized that likely she has watched Atlas arrive and perch with a good view of the nest. Therefore once the babies settle in she will take her break while Atlas takes over guard duty from a hidden location.

She stares into the bowl with focus. They still must be playing.

We look up beneath the nest, and there isn't much to see. Then like all careful Red-tails, Athena takes off while out of our sight line. She goes off the far edge of the nest, and flies under the bridge away from us.

3:03PM Nice greenery festoons the nest. Is it insect control as some surmise. Is it an attempt to make the nest look as if it were living vegetable matter? Or is it just the continuing urge to clip twigs and bring them to the nest? No I don't think they think about it in particular, I think they just do it. But in order for there to be something inside many Red-tails urging them to do it, there is or at least was an advantage in it somewhere along the line.
3:11:49pm Walking further beside the bridge we see her perched in the sun on a pipe rousing her feathers.
3:22pm No Athena has not shrunk nor is that a tree with leaves 2 feet in width. The tree is in the foreground and Athena is not.
3:40pm An adult lands on the nest. Is that Athena? I'm wondering if it isn't Atlas as this bird seems just a trifle smaller. No way to know for sure. And with the nest going into ever deeper shadow Francois and I head for the subway and home.
Donegal Browne
Today I did the Riverside Park Pair's Nest in Manhattan--they'll be coming up next!


John said...

Thanks for the pictures. I'm in a building in the neighborhood, and knew they were nesting nearby (they fly past the balcony quite often, and one fed on one a floor below ours last night). Nice to know roughly where the nest is so i can try to go take some pics some morning.

Donegal Browne said...

Hey John,

Glad to be of service. Thanks for getting in touch. Do you know Jules Corkery? Keep an eye peeled for her if you haven't spoken yet. She's a bright eyed petite woman who will be trying to organize an Eyass Watch for fledge time as this nest is in such a dangerous spot. In truth, most urban nests aren't terrific for fledglings but this one is particularly tough.

Roughly where are you located? How far from the nest and in which direction?

Did you notice if the bird having dinner had a leg band. probably a tough angle looking down and all but if she did it was Athena. If not he was Atlas. Handy for a quick ID in a pair when one has a band and the other doesn't. :-)

Thanks for the sighting! Keep in touch.

John said...

I'd guess i'm located about a half-mile from where the nest appears to be, in a building right on the water. I'm going to walk to the subway today along the underside of the bridge, and will know for sure this afternoon.

I've not knowingly met Jules, but I work from home most days, and might be able to help out by bringing my laptop to the nest area and working there. I've included a URL that has a contact email in my sign in this time, so you or she could get in touch with you'd like.

I've posted some of the photos I took of the flybys and feeding the other day to my Flickr account:

It doesn't look like there's any bands on the one that was feeding, so I guess it's Atlas. It's easy to judge the size when they're flying, but when they land anywhere nearby, they both look BIG, so it's harder to tell.

Donegal Browne said...


Excellent! Your help would be much appreciated, without a doubt. How wonderful! The more the merrier--and the safer for the hawks. Do email me by clicking on "CONTACT ME" in the links section on the right column of the mainpage so I have your email address. I'll also pass your info on to Jules who is going to be delighted. Now, you ask, why can't I get your contact info off Flickr? There's a glitch somewhere.

I tried the link and it tells me that the page can't be found. Could you check it for me, please?

We'd all like to see your photographs as we don't have many folks that photograph these hawks on a regular basis. Or at least, who have connected up so we can see them too.

No band, that's Atlas, alright. They do look HUGE when they're close, don't they? Part of it is their charisma but actually I think Athena and Atlas are on the large end of the spectrum in comparison with some of the other bonded pairs in town. Particularly Atlas, who is no petite male.

Can't wait to meet you over at the nest one of these days.