Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is That Isolde?

This is Isolde of the NYC Cathedral Nest in 2006 taking an evening breather from her eyasses while her then mate Tristan did the end of the day feeding. (Look carefully mid belly adjacent to the masonry and you can see the split in her feathers revealing a bit of her brood patch.)

This is a photo of a Red-tailed Hawk taken by Robert Schmunk of
on 11/11/2009-- Manhattan Ave. at 103rd St., 4:10 p.m.

His subject line reads "11/11 Isolde?"

Okay, is this Isolde or not? Good question. Here's a primer on how I'd go about trying to decide if a mystery hawk was a hawk I knew. (In this case I was nearly positive it was Isolde as I've watched her for months on end but it is always good to do a checklist as one can be fooled.)

1. It very much helps to have a past photograph in which the identification of the known hawk is without question for comparison. Though keep in mind that Isolde will have gone through several molts from 2006 to 2009. In the lead photo above, that is definitely Isolde as I saw her come off the nest and fly across the street to perch on the hospital, and Tristan then flew into the the nest to feed. If it weren't Isolde, Tristan wouldn't have been going about business as usual, he'd have thrown a giant fit. And when he did the real Isolde would have shown up to help him throw it.

2. What are the marks one looks for when identifying Isolde? The basics: Make sure it's a Red-tailed Hawk, then, mature-dark eyes or rufous tail, female-large with that sharp hawkish look due to ratio of skull to length of beak.

3. Isolde has big, and dare I say it, beautiful almond shaped eyes. She hasn't the Pale Male "brow" that a number of NYC Red-tails have. Compare the two sets of eyes in the photos above.
They are well within a possible match.

4. The coloration of Isolde's head extends down further onto her shoulders than is usual giving her the look sometimes as if she had long "hair". True in both photos.

5. Isolde has a distinct dark belly band of long broad streaks with a convex curve to the overall band, interspersed with cream feathers. She is one of NYC's darker hawks and her pale feathers tend to cream as opposed to flash white. Yup, ditto in both. (She is dark though not nearly as dark as Charlotte.)

6. The hawk in Rob's photo looks more rounded and robust but as Rob said she had just finished a meal and whetted her beak before taking off. Also keep in mind the time of year. This photo was taken just lately in November, well after the breeding season and very likely after her molt for the year as she may not have nested this year. She's in fine form not on her way to being run ragged as she would have been on May 31st in the midst of eyass season in 2006.

So first hunch and the checklist both tell me it is Isolde. And I'm very very pleased to see her.

I asked Rob what the situation was at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in the category of scaffolding, workman near the nest and other possible negatives that might keep her from using the site behind St. Andrew's Arm in the upcoming season. Here's what Rob had to say--

Last time I noticed, there was a bit of low scaffolding around the baptistry and one of the southern chapels. Nothing reaching higher than 30 feet above ground level. All the nasty high stuff was removed last May.

Not sure what's up at the baptistry, although it might be water damage in the walls because the adjacent chapel had major problems with that. The chapel on the south side (St. Ambrose I think) probably had work needed on the windows, as I noticed when I was inside the cathedral over the winter that there were chapel windows that were never ever closed no matter how bad the weather was.


Thanks Rob, it certainly sounds more hawk friendly than it did this time last year.

Donegal Browne

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