Friday, March 13, 2009


The 80th Street Riverside Formel preens her redtail. Which isn't easy with her broken beak.
Photograph by Francois Portmann,

Professional photographer and hawkwatcher Francois Portmann took some time to visit the Riverside Park bonded pair who last season built a tree nest in Riverside Park, near West 79th Street and the West Side Highway.

These beautiful young hawks, possibly in their first breeding season, created many new wonder struck Hawkwatchers in the park. They gathered to watch first the activities around the nest, and then to enjooy the sight of the parents feeding their three white fluffy eyasses. Unfortunately the eyasses in 2008 were lost to suspected ingestion of poisoned rat.

Then later in the year, the formel's beak somehow was broken, making it more difficult for her to eat. Last season, I often called her Intrepid (not knowing that she also was called by other names) for her courage in sitting the wildly swinging Riverside tree nest.

She has yet again proved her intrepid nature in perservering through her beak issues by continuing to hunt, preen her feathers, and eat no matter the difficulties involved.

The cycle continues and once again Intrepid and her mate Builder are back flying the skies over Riverside Park strengthing their pair bond and preparing for another nesting season.

Photographs of The Riverside Red-tails by Francois Portmann
Francois comments--It looks like the Riverside Park pair is having a good time!

Female, with broken beak, is looking to her left.

And indeed they do look like they are having a wonderful time with each other! This formel is one of the few in NYC who's head is appreciably lighter than her mates. Many of the males of the NYC nests have been lighter than their mates. Observe the difference between Pale Male Jr., coming up further down in the blog, and his mate Charlotte who is a rather dark hawk for the city. The theory being the males have been decendents of Pale Male. While in this case some believe that the formel is. D.B

Jackie Dover Of the Tulsa Hawk Forum sent in this series of captures from the Tulsa Hawk Cam KJRH TV Tulsa
(See her anthropomorphic conversation for Kay and Jay below.)

I have asked what the moment before was in this sequence of behavior as I've not seen it in the NYC Hawks and I'd very much like to get a grip on what may be happening...not that it may not have happened in NYC, it is just that I haven't seen it.

Check out the sequence--

From Tulsa's Jackie Dover--A series of captures with an anthropomorphic slant, from today, 3-13 for the above photographs.
"Jay's Earful"
1. Kay: "Listen up!"
2. Kay gathers herself...
3. ...and the Earful commences.
4. " ...and furthermore..."
5. (unintelligible)
6. "Yes, Sugarplum," he says." ("Hormones!" he grumbles.)
Note: This beak-reading may have been totally misinterpreted, and therefore, unfair to both Jay and Kay. But whatever the exchange was, it did not conclude with, "Meet you in the Magnolia!" or "Race ya' to the Sycamore!"All captures taken from the KJRH Hawk CamJackie Dover
As we had been talking about Great Horned Owls I asked Pat Gonzalez to send me some of her photos of the one in the NYC Botanical Garden. And what a big bad beauty this bird is.
Pat's commentary--

Hey everybody:

Within the NY Botanical Garden are 50 wonderful un-cut acres of native forest. That's where I met my new pal, the great horned owl. I first laid eyes on him three days after the snow storm. With the exception of the main roads and walkways, the garden does not shovel snow, which was good for me as it made for some excellent photos. About one hour before the garden closed, I was walking past the forest edge trail when I heard the distinctive call of an owl. I turned and saw him. He was very well camouflaged against the trees. I looked around me, making sure there were no employees that might scold me for what I was about to do next. All clear. Then I carefully stepped over the fence.

Personally I wouldn't want to tangle with this bird. Talk about attitude!

From the photographer Pat Gonzalez--
The images were OK, but I made it a point to return after the snow melted to try and get some better shots. I took these pics yesterday. I got in MUCH closer. The forest floor was littered with leaves, branches, pine cones, acorns, rocks, etc. This on top of me having to step over a couple of tree limbs while trying not to get scratched. I only noticed recently that some of the shrubs there have thorns on the end of their branches. But it was worth it. He (or she) was beautiful.

Once I got in to a position that was clear enough for a good pic, but not close enough to spook my new pal away. These two are my favorites.

To be continued..

I also thought this might be of interest you. It’s video that I shot at you know where. : )
(Particularly good for those who seldom have a chance to see these birds move and react close up. D.B.)

First up, my pal red tail giving me the eye.
Here’s red tail grooming himself.
Red tail getting beaned by a blue jay : (
Lastly, a female wild turkey strutting her stuff.

Screen captures from Jackie Dover courtesy of KJRH TV Tulsa Ok
Today's nest--Look at all the London Plane fruit!

Kay's brooding feathers.

Jay's brooding feathers. Males have no bare "brooding patch" on their anterior while females do during the nesting season.

Jay very carefully fluffs down on the eggs. Did anyone notice if he hunkered down further? Or are they waiting for a possible egg number 3?
Kay, head and shoulders warming in the sun. Unless she is just in the midst of settling, it looks as if she isn't sitting full down yet either.
Photograph by Brett Odom
Charlotte in front, Junior in back on scaffolding on roof of 888 7th Avenue
From the most fortunate of hawkwatchers, Brett Odom, main nest observer of the Southern Central Park Red-tails Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte. His office is directly across the street from the nest on exactly the right floor for optimum nest views. But this day he looks to have gotten higher in his building to obtain these photographs of the activity. Brett's take for the day--

Here are some photos I took today while at work. Everyone was running into my office telling me how beautiful the hawks were soaring between our building and the building with their nest. So there was a lot of activity with them today.
Photograph by Brett Odom
Same photo, just cropped smaller.
Photograph by Brett Odom
Charlotte takes off leaving Junior on scaffolding on roof of 888 7th Avenue.
Photograph by Brett Odom
Again, same photo, just cropped smaller.

Photograph by Brett Odom
Junior alone on same scaffolding after Charlotte left.
(Junior is a sweet, thoughtful, smart, and stealthy hawk, with expressive body language, very much like Pale Male himself. Note how much paler his belly band is than Charlotte's. The two have been faithfully bonded for years. D.B.)

Photograph by Brett Odom
Charlotte soaring 49 floors up. Time Warner towers are in the background.
Wow! And isn't she just as beautiful as everyone in the offices said?

Photograph by Brett Odom
Charlotte soaring way above top of buildings. This was taken from the 49th floor with a 400mm lens.
(See how dark Charlotte's belly band is compared to Junior's band. Not much problem telling these two apart at all. D.B.)
I was able to get a few shots of Charlotte at the nest after having brought something white, either paper or a plastic grocery bag, I couldn't tell. But because it was late in the day the glare from the sun made the photos completely impossible to decipher.
Oh, when I got to work, Charlotte was at the edge of the nest ledge and then went behind the glass and stayed there on the nest for well over two hours and didn't move. Obviously there are no eggs since both she and Junior spent the entire afternoon off the nest, but it appears the hormones are kicking in and she's becoming broody.
She engaged in this same behavior last year with no success, but hopefully this year will be different.
Brett Odom

Screen captures from Jackie Dover courtesy of KJRH TV Tulsa OK

Jay makes his first visit since the second egg was laid and like all hawk parents with eggs, he stands for some time looking at them. (I dearly wish I knew what they were thinking when they did that. They also do it with the eyasses, just like any proud parent.) And then he sits the nest so Kay can have a break.
Sleepy Kay nods
Her nictitating eyelid closes.

And she is asleep. At least for a short amount of time. Birds sleep for only moments before waking again, to monitor the area for possible danger, then another very short doze....
From the Blackwater Eagle cam web log:
(Gleanings from eagle eyed Robin of Illinois, who suggests you look at the above tiny-stuffed-to-the-gills crops and the little Eagle wings in the next photograph.)

March 13 2009
Growing Eaglets and Great Horned Owls
Posted by Lisa in Eagle Cam, Eaglets, Hatching

Blackwater YouTube Channel:
In case you missed it, we’ve posted four videos on our Blackwater YouTube Channel (look for the videos with 2009 in the title). These first videos of the 2009 season offer some interesting shots of our parents interacting and playing tug of war with a piece of food that the mother brought in (and didn’t want to give up!). Also one of the videos clearly shows a hole developing in the first egg — this was right before the snowstorm hit.

I have some more videos from the Refuge (our ranger tapes them for me) and I’ll be posting more clips soon, so stay tuned.

Every year we are amazed at how fast our little eaglets grow, and this year is no exception. We’ve been seeing some interesting shots on the Eagle Cam, and here are a few I wanted to point out:We saw a photo yesterday that showed the eaglets’ bulging crops. A crop is a pouch on the bird’s chest where extra food is stored for later consumption. Bulging crops mean the chicks are well fed. We’ve seen the eaglets holding out their tiny wings as they begin to slowly exercise them. We’ve also seen more entertaining shots of the eaglets peeking out from under the parent’s chest.Also, on at least two occasions, we’ve seen one of the parents calling out or clearly shielding the eaglets. It’s possible that a young immature bald eagle was tempted by the fish in the nest or was simply flying too close to the nest, and this alarmed the parents. It’s good to see the parents are on the ball when it comes to scaring away intruders.
We’ve also seen the mother put grass on the eaglets, either to hide them or to keep them warm while she was off of them.

And finally, we’ve seen more big meals coming to the nest. One of our cam watchers recently provided me with a great link that shows the most common fish in Maryland waters. You can use this site to ID the fish that the eagles (or ospreys eventually) bring to the nest. Based on this chart, it looks like the meal in the photo was a common carp. Another popular fish with the eagles is American gizzard shad.

Many cam watchers have commented on how mobile the chicks are becoming. In fact a couple times they wandered a little too close to the edge and made some of us nervous, but the parents were good about herding them back toward the nest bowl. Nancy G — one of our cam watchers — put together a Quicktime movie (800KB) that shows the eaglets moving and then being brought back under the parent. Much thanks to Nancy for this neat clip!

A final note about our parents: Some cam watchers have asked if this is the same father from last year, since his food-delivery performance has greatly improved. It’s highly likely it’s the same father — but now he’s more experienced. It’s not uncommon for raptor parents to improve with practice. Some young parents lose their offspring to predators because they lack experience in protecting them. I’ve also heard of young raptor parents building poorly constructed nests in unstable trees, but eventually learning to build better nests in better locations. So raptor parents can learn and they can improve over time — a lot like human parents.

IWS Eaglet Videos and Photos

A couple cam watchers asked me to post the IWS Eaglet Videos and Photos link again, so I wanted to do that. Be sure to take a moment to watch the videos — you’ll see how feisty little bald eaglets can be. They love to peck.

( Blackwater has posted four new Eagle Nest videos on their Blackwater YouTube Channel. Look for the videos with 2009 in the title. -- Robin of Illinois)

From Robin of Illinois--
A Great Horned Owl, caught by the Blackwater Osprey Cam, while hunting from the top of the Osprey nest box. The Ospreys are not yet nesting.
Though the fact that he or she is there concerns me never the less. Great Horned Owls are large strong birds and have been known to raid the nests of other raptors. Though sometimes a GHO pair may use an old Crow or Red-tail nest from a previous season as they do not build their own. They may also go after an active nest, taking the young, running off or killing the adults if successful, and using the nest site for their own breeding season.

Long time blog contributor Robin of Illinois offers up what Lisa the webmaster of the Friends of Blackwater has to say about Great Horned Owls and Ospreys--

Great Horned Owl

I wanted to talk a bit more about our Great horned owl, which has been visiting the Osprey Cam nest somewhat regularly now. In years past, we’ve had the occasional visit from a Great horned owl on the Osprey Cam, but the appearances have been rather rare. This owl (we can only assume it’s the same) has been a regular visitor. The reason it’s meaningful is because while Great horned owls are helpful to humans because of the quantity of rodents they eat, the owls are also known to be predators of osprey chicks — and even sometimes osprey adults.

At Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Maryland they have over 30 osprey platforms, and they have often had an issue with Great horned owls preying on osprey chicks. In fact, on an osprey banding trip last year, a dead, banded adult female osprey was discovered in the water beneath a nest — apparently the victim of a Great horned owl. Considering how large a female osprey is, this was quite a large predator to take on.

As I mentioned on the Osprey Cam page a few days ago, Great horned owls have also been known — on somewhat rare occasions — to take over osprey nests, as can be seen in this post on the Stokes Birding Blog.

We’ve never had a problem with Great horned owls attacking an osprey on the Blackwater Osprey Cam nest. At this point we can only hope that the sight of our returning osprey couple will be enough to keep the owl away. Once the ospreys return north and reclaim their nest, they’ll likely present enough of a challenge that the owl will decide to give up perching at the nest.

As each day passes, we get more excited about the thought of our first osprey showing up on the Osprey Cam. We hear quite a few ospreys have already been seen around the Chesapeake Bay. Won’t be long now!

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Sally of the Tulsa Forum asked if I knew of any instances of a Brown-tailed female who was a member of a bonded pair?

We both knew of instances in which Brown-tailed male RT Hawks were in bonded pairs. In fact Pale Male was just such a precocious bird but neither of us know of instances of a brown-tailed female in a breeding relationship.
Has anyone observed this?
Donegal Browne


Screen Capture by Bob McCarger courtesy of KJRH TV Hawk Cam

We think the second egg was laid yesterday evening, Wednesday. We saw tantalizing glimpses of what appeared to be second egg during the night, but we were obviously able to confirm it this morning. By the way, those round, brown, thingies are sycamore pods, from what it is apparently their favorite kind of tree, the site of some romantic trysts.

Screen Capture by Bob McGarger Courtesy of KJRH TV Hawk Cam

Egg One in foreground, with Egg Two in the background, I think, and the brown sycamore fruit, mentioned by Bob, in the far back.

Jackie Dover of the Tulsa Forum, had mentioned that it was cold in Tulsa and Kay was putting her head under her wing. Hence the search for temperature, wind direction, wind chill, and wind gust information.

Weather information courtesy of the National Weather Service

Temperatures as of Midnight 3/13/09


Temperature and wind direction

Wind Gusts
By the way, does anyone know where Jay is perched so he has a sightline on Kay and the eggs, just in case?

Donegal Browne
P.S. Keep scrolling down for the first post on the second egg.


Courtesy of KJRH TV Tulsa

Courtesy of KJRH TV Tulsa

From Jackie of the Tulsa Forum!

After looking at some of my captures from the time span involved, I think the second egg was laid between 7:21 and 7:25 p.m., March 11.

The captures are not of the best, but to my eye there is a second egg there.
I'm attaching the two captures in question, one with the egg shape circled.

The captures were taken from KJRH Hawk Cam live video. I don't know whether we will get another look during the night. It's cold in Tulsa tonight, and Kay has had her head tucked under a wing most of the night thus far. For around ten minutes this evening, Kay was very restless in the nest--standing to nudge the egg, shifting her position on top of it several times. A few minutes into this restlessness, she began to take more of a crouching stance, not standing up, but not settled way down into the nest as earlier.

We will have our definitive photos in the very early light of day. I'm certain a number of folks will will be watching intently, fingers on their capture keys. And someone (or more than one) will get back to you with the solid evidence.

Photos attached
#1 7:35 p.m.
#2 8:29 p.m.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Covering Eaglets with Grass? More Sharp-shin photos, a Red-tail Drinks, and a Sleeping Saw-whet

From R. of Illinois concerning the Blackwater Eaglets--

The adult covered the chicks with grasses. To keep them warmer? To camouflage them from predators above?

In chilly weather, if the sitting bird must leave the nest, some raptors, including Red-tails and Eagles, will cover their eggs with light materials such as grass. It has always been thought that it was done to conserve the heat of the eggs as the birds don't tend to do it in warm weather.

I would say that covering the eggs and covering the eaglets, has the same impetus, keeping them warm. These eaglets are so young that they can't regulate their body temperature yet, and not having much in the way of feathers means they can't retain what heat they do have. These are the big reasons that the parents continue to sit on them. When the nest is threatened whether there are eggs in it or young, the formel will cover them by sitting on them.

Even when people rented helicopters in order to see into Pale Male's nest to check for eggs, it was all in vain. Why? Because even for an urban hawk a helicopter hovering near the nest registers as a danger, so once the craft got into a position to be able to see into the nest, Lola had already plumped herself down on the contents.

On the other hand if things become so threatening that the larger bird, the female, must either take on the threat or spell the tiring tiercel, the tiercel bombs over to the nest but ordinarily doesn't sit on the young or eggs, he stands in the bowl and looks as scary as possible.

Why? Good question.

I've never even seen the behavior mentioned in the literature so it's doubtful anyone has attempted any hypothesis testing to find out.

Perhaps by the time the tiercel takes over the nest, it is clear to anyone in the area just where the nest is, having seen the female come off and the male go on that there is no reason to be unobtrusive and hunker down.

The male is shorter so standing puts him into a better defensive position? Seems doubtful.

Or perhaps he is just so het up, and testosteroned out he just can't sit down no matter what. Pale Male has been known to, when in a particularly intense nest protection skirmish, where several switches between Lola and he have taken place to spell each other, to stand in the bowl and literally rake his talons across the nest materials. The motion is very much in the style of an infuriated rooster. Though steaming, Pale Male as yet seems never to have done any damage to eggs.

Another New York Botanical Garden adventure with Pat Gonzalez--
While at the garden, I headed on down to the river bank (Bronx River) hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive hooded merganser. The last time I got a clear shot was three days after the snow storm, but because there was so much snow on the way down to the bank, I didn't want to risk injury, so I settled for a long shot.

I'm not even there one minute when my buddy red-tail shows up. He gracefully glided over the water then touched down. (Note that the Red-tail is having a drink. For many years, the literature agreed it was likely that Red-tails didn't drink water but rather got their necessary liquid from their prey. Hawkwatchers in Central Park have watched Red-tails drink and bath for many years as there are many eyes number one and two they had the opportunity to see it because the resident birds are habituated to humans. D.B.) I creeped in very slooooooow. He stayed long enough for me to get the shot before taking off. As I walked away, quite happy with myself…

I barely noticed the two mergansers quietly going up river. I took several shots before they swam off.

More photos from Pat Gonzalez of Yesterday's Mystery Hawk the New York Botanical Garden, which I thought was a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Pat then delved into the field guides and she agreed--Sharpie


I, too, think the accipiter in question is a Sharpie. It's hard to see the bug-eyed eyes, but the distance from the smallish beak to the chest is rather small. The head doesn't have a neck. It just sits on the bird's shoulders.

--John Blakeman


Photograph by Pat Gonzalez
And here is a great photograph in which we can check out the field marks of a Sharpie tail.

From Peterson's Field Guide, Birds of Eastern and Central North America--"...folded tail is slightly notched or straight and narrowly tipped with white".
And in the above photograph there it is, the slightly notched tail narrowly tipped with white of a Sharp-shinned Hawk. TA DA!

Did you notice the amazingly long center toes of this bird?

Photograph by Pat Gonzalez
After her wonderful display of the important physical details we needed to identify her species, off she goes refreshed from her bath.
Northern Saw-whet Owl at the New York Botanical Garden

The sleepy little fur ball in the attached photo is a Northern saw-whet owl. I found him (or her) about 1/4 mile from where I left his neighbor, the much larger great horned owl. At one point he opened his eyes for a whole two seconds, then went back to snoozing. Here's a link to my you tube page.

As you can see he only does one thing on camera. zzzzzzzzzzz....


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Valkyrie and Company, the Mystery Hawk at the NY Botanical Garden, and Mama of Queens

Photograph by Francois Portmann,
Beautiful Valkyrie seemingly showing off her tail. Francois pointed out to me that if you look closely the ends of Valkyrie's tail feathers above the white band, they have a rufous tinge.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Look at Valkyrie's strong focus and the command she has of her strong fluid body.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
An adult on 2nd Street with some left-over pigeon, eyeing the next one.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
An urban Crow doing what Crows love to do best, hassle Hawks. Take note a grand photograph to compare the size and shape difference between a Red-tailed Hawk and an American Crow in flight.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
Valkyrie heads for a pigeon who does a tummy up take off in order to make her get away.

Photograph by Francois Portmann

Val gains altitude.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
She does a balletic in air turn, talons at the ready.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
And it's time for a Rat Supper. At first I couldn't decide exactly what Valkyrie was eating.

Photograph by Francois Portmann
But as Val takes off with the trash, if you look carefully, you can see she is carrying the prey by a hairless tail.

Photograph by Pat Gonzales
A beautiful photograph of this species taking a bath. Most often they are photographed looking intense perched on the branch of a tree getting ready to zip over and grab something.

Remember yesterday's photograph of the squirrel attacking the hawk in the New York Botanical Garden by tour guide and novice Hawkwatcher Pat Gonzales? Here are two more photographs from Pat, also taken in the Botanical Garden. Here is her accompanying note--

When I first took these photos, I thought this was a young hawk. Today I spoke with a gentleman who told me that in addition to the three Red tails, the Botanical Garden is home to a kestrel as well as a Merlin. He told me I should look at the eyes. Upon closer examination, I noticed the beak was different as well as the eye.

I'd love to know what this little guy or gal is. : )
Photograph by Pat Gonzales
Pat, thanks so much for sending these in. You're right in that this is not a young Red-tailed Hawk, which would be a buteo, a large thick set raptor with broad wings and a wide rounded tail.
See Valkyrie above for a nice example of an immature Red-tailed Hawk. She has a perpendicularly streaked breast and is rounder and more heavily built. Check out her thick feet and talons.
Nor as it turns out, is it a Kestrel or a Merlin, both of which are Falcons. Falcons are sleek streamlined birds of prey, with pointed wings, and longish thin tails.
A Kestrel is about the size of a Jay and it is the only small hawk with a rufous tail and back.
A Merlin could be the size of your mystery hawk but the bars on the breast would run up and down on a Merlin instead of from side to side as is the case with this bird. And both a Merlin and a Kestrel would have a mustached black and white pattern on their faces.
What you photographed wasn't mentioned by your helpful birding friend. You photographed an accipiter, but after that your bird is still a bit of a mystery for us to figure out. It is one of two species which are very similar and have given many of us fits in attempts to identify them.
It is either a Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Cooper's Hawk. A Sharpie would be 10 to 14 inches in length and a Cooper's would be 14 to 20 inches.
And there lies the rub because a large Sharp-shinned and a small Cooper's Hawk would be the same size. And size is a large point of differentiation in making an identification of these species.
There are other field marks for identification but they are subtle unless a hawkwatcher has seen a number of each species, which sharpens the eye for the differences. Most of us haven't seen enough of either in the flesh for that to happen.
20 inches would make the bird the length of a small Red-tail and would be a large Cooper's. 10 inches in length, Jay length, but chunkier would mean this bird was a small Sharp-shinned.
Could you make a guess at length?
Both adults of both species have a slate colored back and rusty-barred breast. The folded tail of a Sharpie is straight across or slightly notched. That of a Cooper's is more rounded when folded and more broadly tipped with white. A difficult point without one of each to compare.
This point though may help with this particular bird. The top of a Cooper's Hawk's head is darker than the nape of the neck and is proportionally larger than the head of a Sharpie.
Look up at the photo of the bird bathing. The top of the head is not in the least darker than the nape even taking into account the shadow. I think this bird is a Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus.
Both species are bird eaters and use stealth and amazing feats of flying between tree branches to catch their prey. They are a bane of those people who can't accept that if they bring many birds into their yards with feeders to watch them that they will also draw accipters to eat those birds.
Once again we are reminded; there is no free lunch.
Donegal Browne