Saturday, June 03, 2006

WAITING FOR THE STORM, with The Divines 01 June 06

Divine Dad the Contented, in his signature stance,
sits on the green roof of the Plant Pavilion.
Alert, yet at his ease, surveying his domain no
matter the weather.

Though I hadn't planned to visit the Divine Hawks
in the afternoon because of the forecast for thunderstorms,
at the last moment I decided that as the weather was
still holding, I'd head up anyway.

The weatherman has been known to be wrong after all.

(Translation: I can't stay away. )

A very feisty eyass appears. She hops, she chews
twigs, she won't let anyone else up next to her, then
she goes after her sibling behind the pillar.

There is pleasure in bugging one's sibling.

Suddenly the light begins to fade and all eyes
watch the clouds.

Baby talons gripped.

Youngest Divine watches as Mom
flies over and the wind freshens.

Divine Mom flies to Gabriel as the green light
rushes closer.

We pack our gear and make a run for it. Arriving at the subway
stairs just as a bolt of lightening illuminates Cathedral Hill.

Gargoyle, A Reprieve.

And just where did I get that idea about the relationship between gargoyle and gargle? Was someone pulling my leg?

Some years ago while I was working at the Barbicon Theatre in London, I decided to make a visit to Westminster Abbey on my dark day. And being that Westminster certainly has gargoyles, the word's derivation from gargle/gargul came up in conversation. I did find it a delightful tidbit which struck my sense of whimsy to no end and was well worth passing on.
Which I have done...for YEARS.

Did the Canon of Westminster really lead me astray? No, as it turns out.

The Rector and I have been vindicated.

Bruce Yolton, astute hawkwatcher and fine photographer, , sent in the Rector's and my reprieve.

Here is what Bruce had to say.

Your weren't wrong about gargoyle. It just has two roots.
a grotesque carved human or animal face or figure projecting from the
gutter of a building, typically acting as a spout to carry water
clear of a wall.
gargoyled adjective
ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French gargouille ‘throat,’ also
‘gargoyle’ (because of the water passing through the throat and mouth
of the figure); related to Greek gargarizein ‘to gargle’ (imitating
the sounds made in the throat).

I feel ever so much better. D.B.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

DIVINE HAWK DEFENSE 31 MAY 2006, "Is that the Third Eyass?", and I'm wrong a couple of times at least, about a couple of things.

Divine Dad on his finial. Note the clenched
foot and hidden talons.

Field Notes and Photos to follow but...

FIRST, ATTENTION DIVINE HAWKWATCHERS WHO LIKE TO USE THE SWOROVSKI SCOPE. There is a chance of severe thunder storms this afternoon, the time when I usually have it set up at the Cathedral, therefore I'll be bringing the scope up to St. John's early in the morning instead. So come on by for a change in light and possibly behavior.

SECOND, Marie Winn, original Central Park Hawkwatcher and the author of Red-tails In Love, the wonderful book that got many of us interested in Red-tails in the first place, , just forwarded an email from Karen Anne Kolling, who says...

Does Donna know she has no email link on her blog?

She is wrong about gargoyles:

"Gargoyle", the dictionary definition: a spout usually in the form of a grotesquely carved face or figure, projecting from a roof gutter. From the Old French "gargouille" and the Late Latin "gurgulio", both meaning throat. (from Chambers Concise dictionary)


Yes I'm woefully aware that my blog did not come with an encrypted email link. It is completely maddening. I have tried to add one. I haven't been able to make it work as yet. In the meantime, I have left the comments option operative on the blog, which is a way to get in touch with me. The blog emails me if a comment is left there.

As to "Gargole", didn't I say, I didn't make it up, but someone else might have.

Seriously though, thank you for the Chambers definition. I pulled out my Compact Oxford and my magnifying glass and yes they do eventually get to Old French, Of. gorgouille-gargola, app. especial sense of gargouille throat (e.f. Gargil, Gargle v) from the water passing through the mouths of the figures. The form gurgolyle is perhaps due to the influence of med. L. gurgulio.

Divine Hawks- Field Notes 31 May 2006

When I arrive there is big excitement. I've just missed a battle amongst both Divine Parents and a Kestrel, Grackle, and Blue Jay, observed by James O'Brien. He 'd also seen Divine Dad eating part of a Pigeon in Morningside Park, the other part which Dad delivered to the nest observed by Stella and Clare. By the time I get there, Dad is perched on one of the fleur finials and Mom is on the nest feeding the eyasses and having a few bites for herself.

Today's Divine Hawkwatchers included James, Clare, Stella, Sylvia, Liz, Sophie, Curtis, Jean, Bruce, Norman, and John.

Look carefully at the above photo, Younger has crept up for more and is now behind St. Andrew's head.
As you'll see later in the photos, her crop is full. She's already been fed.

A light goes on in my head. I realize the mistake I made in attempting to count feeding positions when I did. By the time I began observing this nest, two eyasses were already mobile and were readily changing positions during feeding. I've just watched Divine Mom feed in at least six positions. The eyasses are shifting like crazy behind the scenes, not just figeting, and undoubtedly were, though to a lesser extent, when I counted in the first place. Lesson learned? Counting feeding positions to get a possible handle on the number of eyasses can only be done right after hatching.

Younger gets closer to Mom and the food as she
feeds someone else.

Younger gets MORE. I didn't notice it at the time
but look at how big her crop is already in the next

5:30 Mom is off the nest and flies N.
5:31 Eyass head appears and comes to edge of nest.
Younger steps up with what looks like a large
snowball stuck to her chest. Her crop is stunningly
full. Just a few moments ago she was
creeping up to Mom and the dinner like she
hadn't gotten any.

Younger turns and disappears into nest.
And here comes Eldest, her crop is so full that her new, therefore more sparse gold breast feathers, allow the stretched skin to show.

Stella points out, " It's Divine Bigness."

5:40 I discover Divine Mom on the southeast corner of the chimney of the Margaret J. Plant Pavilion across the street, on the corner of Morningside and 113th.

5:49 The Hunt for Number Three
A number of days ago, a group of watchers reported a third eyass in the nest. And as I've been watching the nest for a number of weeks and have never seen all three eyasses at the same time, I'm still figuring I must have seen all three at one point or another but just didn't know it. I have a plan. At this age of maturation, everyone mobile, the singles and duos I've observed would reasonably have contained all the eyasses in the nest, right? Just at different times. They've just looked so similar I didn't realize I was seeing all three.

Very young eyasses look like shmoos, as Marie Winn pointed out last season. They are white balls of fluff with black eyes, hard to tell apart. Who can tell individuals apart who are dressed in white fluff? But now that differentiating markings are starting to appear in their soon to be fledgling feathers, I should be able to tell the differences and even if my timing continues to be rotten in seeing them all three lined up together, I should be able to identify them enough to know I've positively seen all of them. (When I scrutinized the photo I have, that I thought contained all three eyasses, the "third eyass" in the back turned out to be a decorative bit with strange light. Sigh.)

Therefore I enlisted some of the other afternoon hawkwatchers to keep an eye peeled on the full nest to make sure we saw everyone who was "see-able" today and knew the difference between them.

5:49 Sylvia who has gone over to observe the east end of the nest, calls to me. There is an eyass standing in the front between St. Andrew's head and his arm. I run over to see.

Wait just a minute. This bird has a part down the middle of her head. That's different from what I've seen previous in the day. My eyes glued, I will the eyass to move so I can see her spots more clearly.

Front Eyass turns and disappears and a moment later Sylvia calls again. An eyass has appeared on the west side of the nest. I run over.
Look at her head, she has the same part down the middle of her head feathers where the brown ones haven't as yet grown in. This is Front Eyass. This must be The Third. Alright!

Unfortunately when she bends over a few seconds later and the light changes, her "part" disappears. I look carefully at her spotting in a previous photo of the day. This isn't The Third after all. It's Eldest. Drat.

5:58 Mom is still on chimney across the street.
6:17 Blue Jay flies into immediate area of the
nest and lands in short Tree of Heaven.
6:45 Mom flies to Gabriel and lands. Dad is still
on his fleur finial.

6:59 Divine Mom arrives and perches on the 9th step down from the apex of the "barrel" of the Cathedral.
7:07 Eldest seems to have found a leftover snack in the nest and is eating it.
7:21 Divine Dad finally puts both feet on his perch.
7:30 Various bird calls heard, including Blue Jays from south of nest.
Are the neighborhood birds gearing up for another multi-species hawk attack?
Investigation provides the answer. One of the Cathedral's blue peacocks is sitting on the Cathedral's back fence and the native birds don't like it one bit.
7:32 Mom is still on her step and Dad his finial. They have been flanking the nest very closely, for an extended period of time. Exit.

As opposed to the behavior of the parents during the last few days, today's behavior, at least after the battle, is closed ranks double defense.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hawk Action at the Cathedral 30 MAY 06

Bigger and more colorful everyday.

Dad on pinnacle being menaced by gargoyle.

And why are they called gargoyles? They are actually rain
spouts and when the water runs through them it can sound
like they are gargling.
(No, I didn't make that up. Someone else may have, but I didn't. )


Today was all about parental tag team, hunting, feeding, and guarding. The Divine Hawkwatchers included Clare, Stella, Sylvia, Sally, Jean, three St. Luke's employees, the gentleman who guards the parking lot, a surgeon, a little boy who just had stitches in his forehead, and Captain the Dog's mother. He wore a lovely yellow neckerchief.

4:20 Walking from the subway, just as I get to
the top of Morningside
Hill, I look back and see a Red-tail go in and
land on the building, SE corner from the top of
Central Park. He's on the third perpendicular
from the left. The sun comes out from under
a cloud and the bird's breast has that Pale
Male light reflection thing going.
It's Divine Dad.

4:37 Largest eyass is visible

4:55 Dad on Gabriel's Trumpet. He's actually got his
left leg tucked up this time, instead of his more usual
right. It's so windy he's partially sideways but keeps that
comfy stance. Very cool, secure bird.
4:57 Dad up, flies east to north.
5:34 Mom appears and goes to green finial.
5:41 Mom does two slow soaring circles near,
and just above nest.

Eyass watches Mom and begs. Note beak.

5:42 Mom comes into nest.
5:49 Mom off toward park and then returns.
5:54 Mom off toward E., Morningside Park.
5:56 Eldest eyass begins eating something in nest.
Second eyass joins her.
6:17 Dad perches on closest green finial to nest.
6:23 Mature Red-tail flies E to W beyond nest.

6:27 All eyasses down, just two partial heads revealed over edge of nest.
6:30 Mom goes from south to north towards roof of St. Luke' s hospital and out of our sight. Jean D. tracks her to the mini double pinnacled green roof on that building.
6:35 Dad to nest and off, drops off rodent. Eyasses move out of view.
6:45 Mom sits on right wing of Gabriel.
6:47 Off Gabriel's wing to nest than back to trumpet. Another drop off? The eyasses are eating something.
6:49 Dad flies into tree adjacent and NE of nest.
6:55 Mom is up, flies east toward Morningside Park.
7:11 Eldest hops and flaps with gusto.
7:13 Mom chases a Blue Jay out of the area and then stands nearby on cathedral, nearly on same level, west of the nest.

Mom, where we left her on our exit, standing
on the feature just to the west of the nest.
She's chosen to stand inside it
rather than perching on the edge.
A fashion statement? A talon disquise?
(No, I'm not serious.)


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Feeding position 4 and Blakeman on four eyass nests, prey availability, and Moms who hunt.









On May 22nd when I saw Divine Mom take her positions to feed the eyasses. It looked to me as if she took at least three solid positions and so I was suspicious there was a third eyass we hadn't seen yet. Now I'll confess there was also a possible fourth position. It just seems like that would be pushing it.

Secondly, ten years ago when I regularly frequented The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine there were hundreds of pigeons who made their living on it's front steps. That is certainly no longer the case. In fact for such a perfect pigeon area, the population looks downright sparse.

And third I wondered why Divine Mom seems to be doing so much more hunting while the nest is full than Charlotte did or Lola is reported to have done.

John Blakeman, who has been sharing his hawk expertise with the Hawk Watchers of New York City for some years now, has taken on the questions and shares his opinions.

Here is what John Blakeman has to say.


A fourth eyass would, indeed, be remarkable. Frankly, to those of us who've studied red-tails for a long time, three eyasses is noteworthy. Three-eyass nests are known, but uncommon except in certain areas in the West, especially in California, where there are large numbers of vulnerable ground squirrels in the first half of the summer. East of the Rockies, three-eyass nests are uncommon. I've never learned of a four-eyass nest anywhere in the East or Midwest. There just doesn't seem to be enough prey to produce or support four eyasses.

But your observation regarding a decline in pigeons in the area of the church is interesting. I'm certain that red-tails would easily pluck pigeons squabs off exposed nests. And pigeon nests are generally very exposed, especially in areas where there has been no raptor predation. Could the present success of the St. John the Divine nest be a result of new exploitation of a naive pigeon population? As with all red-tail nests, It sure would be interesting to get an accurate listing of prey being brought in. The frequencies and ratios of pigeons/squabs/rats/rat pups/and squirrels at each nest would really flesh out the prey availability and capture questions. If you are studying grazers, the kinds and amounts of grass species being consumed each day tells everything about the population of the grazers. Prey capture data for the red-tails would fill in the giant holes of understanding we have for them in NYC.

I can't explain the more frequent hunting by the Divine female, compared to the CP birds. This may reflect, however, the presence of three (or four?) eyasses. One or two eyasses can be adequately fed by the efforts of just the male, with the female hanging around and acting protectively motherly. But a tiercel, the smaller of the two sexes, just may not be able to capture sufficient prey for three growing eyasses. Mom may have to take up the slack. There is a giant tipping point between two and three eyasses. Two can be easily fed. Three? It's tough and everything has to go just right, including increased hunting by the mother.

That may (or may not) be the explanation.

I can't see that the prey up at St. John the Divine could be significantly smaller. Smaller prey would be the natural wild sustenance food of rural red-tails, the gerbil-sized common meadow vole. But Manhattan red-tails don't have many (or any) of these to consume. The cathedral hawks have to be chasing the same species being taken down in Central Park -- primarily pigeons and rats, with perhaps an errant squirrel tossed in.

All of these are relatively large prey animals. Rural red-tails must rely on the little voles, so they have to make a lot more captures to yield the same daily protein content. The NYC adults are telling their rural relatives that eating in NYC is really good, with really big portions. But catching a pigeon just isn't as easy as plucking off a near-sighted little vole. The NYC red-tails have become remarkably adept and efficient hunters. Their rural kindred would be amazed.

--John Blakeman

Monday, May 29, 2006

"To sleep, perchance to dream...",
safely in the hand of a saint
and under the watchful eye of
her parents.

Blakeman on four eyass nests, pigeons, and
prey availability coming up next.





Divine Mom arrives on the nest with the goodies.

Note the difference in maturity of the two
eyasses by their feather.

Divine Dad on Gabriel's Horn watching over
the nest.


Temperature 76F.
Wind light and variable
Mostly sunny
Humidity 57%

4:56 When we arrive, there isn't a hawk to be seen. Before we can take the equipment out of the bag, Divine Mom flies into the nest with prey in both talons and beak.

5:05 Mom prepares a young pigeon and a small rodent. Tail to us, one eyass visible at edge of nest, Mom leans in and and makes tearing motions, feeding.

5:15 Visible eyass gets some.

5:27 Visible eyass goes to edge of nest, defecates. Mom continues feeding in several directions.

5:54 Mom snaps at big fly with beak.

6:37 Divine Male discovered on Gabriel, facing south.

6:56 11 screaming crows fly from the NW into Morningside Park.

7:15 Divine Mom off nest and to N. Divine Dad continues to perch on Gabriel.

7:18 The wind is up and the temp has fallen. My daughter Samantha is cold. We decide to go home. In the meantime, the peacocks are mentioned so we'll have to walk past the Cathedral Grounds to see if they are around on our way. We are lured onto the Grounds by peacock thoughts.

7:35 Around the back of the Cathedral from the south, we catch sight of Gabriel again, and Divine Dad is still there. We unpack the scope. We watch DD.

7:47 Divine Dad takes off. Lost in trees. We start to walk back to the gate. And what do we see...A PEACOCK. A blue one. Mr. Peacock begins to draw a small crowd. Suddenly the albinistic Ms. Peahen appears and we follow her around a corner. She disappears. And thus begins another saga for another day.

Back to the Divine Red-tail Family.

Divine Mom places prey behind Elder who has
already eaten.

Divine Mom tears small bites.

Elder changes position.

As Elder has pushed in, she gets a bite, in between many bites
for Youngest who is far behind pillar. Don't be confused by the
hump in the pillar. Look for the little beak coming from behind it.
(Yes, I know it is fuzzy. It is
documentation...not art.)

Angels are known for their androgeny, right?
And this one shows both "sides" distinctly.
Here with Divine Dad checking it out, the feminine.
In the final photo today, see the masculine side.

Note fluffy hatchling feathers giving way to
fledgling feathers and that Pale Male gold genetic

Divine Dad on Gabriel, the masculine side.

Amazing, yes? That's ART!