Saturday, January 16, 2010

Red-tail Update: Morningside Park Hawks-Isolde and Norman Plus Can Anyone Identify the Red-tail at the NYBG?

Photo by Nicola Cetorelli
Spurred on by Nara and Nicola, the hawkwatchers with the fire escape on Morningside Drive, the information about the hawks frequenting the Morningside Park/Cathedral territory, has begun rolling in!

(My apologies on the lag in posting. My computer lost its mind for a couple of days. Many thanks to computer whiz Mark Brown for his very skilled help in bringing it back to sanity.)

ISOLDE AND NORMAN! (An anterior view is coming up for those who'd like to check that angle for their personal field marks of Isolde.)
Photo by Nicoli Cetorelli

From Nara , January 13th--
When we got home tonight at 6:15, one of the hawks was back. In fact, the doorman and handyman were outside looking up at it. Actually the handyman says he's seen the hawk(s) regularly since the fall, usually at dusk, sometimes hunting. So much for our powers of observation!

Photo by Nicoli Cetorelli
Who knows how long they've been coming here. I'm certain we would have seen them if they were in front of the window (they're hard to miss...) but tonight's roosting spot is right up against the building, on the railing, rather than on the floor of the fire escape, so you can't really see him/her from inside (there must be radiant heat from the brick building).

Photo by Nicoli Cetorelli
After a while we looked out and the mate was on the far side of the fire escape. Both of them are there now.

And now, without further ado...the photos/films!:

As you will see, my husband is not quitting his day-job anytime soon to become a. a photographer or b. a cinematographer. But they are so close it's hard not to see them well. Incidentally, these were taken with a zoom so he wasn't quite in their faces as much as it seems. I imagine, however, that it isn't a great idea to take lots more photos as it could disturb them (that said, these were all taken Sunday and they obviously weren't too fazed as they've been back at least two nights since then.)


As several people were interested in scrutinizing an anterior shot, I lightened the above photograph slightly so though not as accurate as to time of day, the details are a little easier to see on a monitor. My apologies to the photographer.

In this photo you can see Isolde's trademark almond shaped "sad eyes" and part of her belly band.

Also local neighborhood hawkwatcher Winkie, who's reports many will remember from past seasons, has a wonderfully detailed update--

Hi Donna,

Greetings from Winkie. It has been a long time without much to report. Nara's sighting is welcome news, but not a total surprise to me as the last few weeks in particular activity has picked up. Let us all hope that this is good news for this year's cathedral pair's nesting.

I have seen Isolde several times lately in her early seasonal, territorial rounds. This season she is keeping much of the same routine that she had with Tristan. This area seems to be much the same: South to Central Park, West to Columbia, East seems to go vastly beyond the old Morningside park's edge and North to 125th Street. Because I have little time outside at this time of year, I have not seen Norman. But from what my husband tells me I think Norman is about. Although I have faith in sightings seen by my husband; alas, he cannot tell one hawk from another.

Shortly before Christmas, I started seeing Isolde around the edges of the park (Morningside, of course) and flying around the south end of Columbia's campus. Over the holiday, I saw from my apartment windows a territory war over the campus. It was early mid day on December 26, there was a hawk flying low over the buildings. Out of the direction of Riverside Church came a peregrine. There was no contact, but many fierce threats and lots of aerial acrobatics. The hawk took it's time to find the wind currents, totally not bothered by the peregrine. The hawk circling low and slow, more circling until the peregrine backed off. By the time the raptors were dots, the peregrine was still following the hawk, just to make sure the lesson was learned. At the time I guessed this was Isolde (not able to get a positive), but maybe it was Norman or a new juvie in the neighborhood. James [ ] does report one in the MS park and Rob [ D.B.]
sites one in the north end of Central Park.

Interestingly, I have not seen as much peregrine activity around Amsterdam and MS park as I did last year. Maybe this year our cathedral pair are more strongly established than last year.

Work on the cathedral and on the new apartment high rise is finished and so are the additions to the park.

The bad news is that the city is supposedly installing new lighting around the perimeter of the park and throughout the Morningside Heights neighborhood. Ever more work to make the area more inviting to people and less to hawks.

Over the holidays and last couple of weeks my husband has had many hawk sightings. The hawk appears to be doing the usual cathedral activities, but my husband has only ever reported one hawk - not two.

Last Saturday, we saw Isolde soon before roosting. This is my positive on her: it was not Norman. She was in the north end of the park on one of her favorite trees. As in the years past, she likes this territory during the cold months.

Now for the sighting from Nara, the cathedral hawks have used the fire escapes along Morningside Drive previously.

First, Isolde and Tristan and then Norman and Isolde have hunted and rested there. Usually, Tristan would stay south of 116th Street, only meeting Isolde in the north end at dusk. Then they would fly south together, finding other roosts.

Without Tristan, Isolde has liked to roost in the the same trees at the north end of the park. Most of the time Norman would fly though and on to another roost. Norman has in the past been more favorable to spending time in the north end of the park than Tristan was. He has frequently gone to roost on the fire escapes. Sometimes he moves on to wherever Norman goes. He has always lived up to his name of Stormin' Norman, but he does seem to prefer the northern range of his territory.

There is still the boundary divide of territory somewhere around 125th Street. Over the first of the new year, my husband and I took several walks in and around St. Nick's park. It is more like Morningside used to be. There are two hawks in this territory, possibly the same CCNY pair as before, definitely not Isolde and Norman.

I don't know of anyone who had followed this pair closely. Do you have any information about their nesting last season? We saw no activity on the CCNY campus building that had been previously used.

(Winkie I don't have any further information on the CCNY pair, but I'm hoping your question will spur whoever might have some to send it our way. D.B.)

Hopefully, this will be a good year for our NYC red tail hawks. I am, of course, rooting for our locals - the cathedral and the Riverside pairs. It would be wonderful for Lola and Pale Male to have success this year. In Manhattan, however, there is still opportunity for some of the young red tails to find success.


Chief hawkwatcher 0f Charlotte and Pale Male Jr., Brett Odom, reports he has a friend, also with a fire escape/balcony uptown in which hawks, likely Isolde and Norman, have been frequenting. He's asked his friend for further information and it should be coming our way soon.

Photo by Pat Gonzalez

Pat Gonzalez, who contributes lovely wildlife photos from the New York Botanic Gardens among other places, has a question---


Attached is a cropped image of the red-tail that flew over the twin-lakes at the NYBG earlier today, January 13, 2009.

Any ideas as to who our friend is?


Last season bonded Red-tailed Hawks, Rose and Hawkeye (since died, 7/30/09, likely of secondary rat poisoning) formally of Fordham, nested in the NYBG. There is interest regarding Rose and the likelihood of who her new mate might be plus where she and said new consort might nest.
Does anyone have any news?

Donegal Browne

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is This Hawk Isolde, Formally of the Cathedral Nest?

This is the hawk that was roosting on the fire escape overlooking Morningside Park.

Note the rusty color coming down the breast and the belly band.

Here is Isolde. Note how far her rusty neck color comes over her shoulder and onto her breast.

Another photo of the fire escape hawk. Note the length of the beak, the angle coming from the neck and the curve of the tip.

Note the same points on Isolde as above.

Isolde isn't at quite the same angle as the fire escape hawk above but make an attempt to compare Isolde's back pattern with the back of the bird in the picture above.


So far, at least, I don't see anything that says it is not her. I've always thought that Isolde's beak was particularly distinctive and the fire escape hawk appears to have a similar one.

More photos of the Fire Escape Hawk are on the way!

Donegal Browne


Mature Red-tailed Hawk perched above Morningside Park
A pair has been frequenting the area and this fire escape in particular. They're roosting on it, and even watching the people inside through the window.

One Red-tail roosts on the correspondant's fire escape while the mate roosts on the neighbor's fire escape.

You never know what excitement might be waiting for you when
opening your email box at this time of year. And I received an email from Nara of Morningside Park that has me very excited. There is a bonded pair hanging around. Are they Isolde and Norman? A new pair altogether?

Here is Nara's email--

Hello There,
We found your blogs as we looked for information about the two red-tailed hawks that decided to camp out on our fire escape on Sunday evening. First one alighted, then a second one, shortly before dusk, and literally a couple of feet from our window. We sometimes catch a glimpse of them swooping by the window (which looks out onto Morningside Park) but have never had the privilege of a visit. One subsequently went to sleep on the fire escape; the other did the same on the neighbor's escape.

Tonight, one of them is back! Again, and now a foot or so from the window, the bird was looking inside at us for a while until s/he finally dropped off to sleep. As of 11:50 pm, our visitor (who this time arrived about 7:00 or 7:30) is still sound asleep in a feathery bundle.
Here's a not very good photo taken with a blackberry on Sunday; we got some others as well as a film that we still have to download from the camera.

Is it common to have such a close, and extended, encounter? And if we send you better pictures, can you identify the hawk? While the bird is very close to the window, it's hard to get pictures of it as the flash bounces off the closed window (and we can't open the window for fear of scaring it). I'm including another picture as well, taken a few minutes ago, with the flash through the window, so you can see just how close it is.

We are thrilled. And I imagine it's not the season yet, but if they ever built a nest, our children might stop harassing us for a puppy....


And my response--


This is EXTREMELY exciting! Thank you so much for getting in touch.

As you probably know, urban Red-tails have nested successfully on fire escapes previously in the city and right now is exactly the time that RTHs are choosing nest sites. Last week both Pale Male and Lola were checking in at 927 Fifth Avenue and Charlotte and Pale Male Junior were seen on their previous nest site of several years.

It is possible that your hawks are considering your fire escape as a possible nest site or at least a spot nearby. If they continue their presence and begin bringing twigs to your fire escape it is definitely in the running. Usually the male will scope out a couple of possibilities and twigs will brought to those spots. The female makes the choice as to which spot will be used and then they get serious about building the nest that will be used.

By the way, which direction does your fire escape face? What floor are you on? It does look high with an excellent view for sighting prey and possible intruders. Something hawks like very much.

With the established nest sites in the city, often the choice of another spot is an option but is little more than ceremonial unless there have been serious problems with the spot they've used before. As Red-tails bond with each other most urban Red-tails also seem to bond to their nest site of choice and move less frequently then their rural kin. Possibly due to a shortage of usable spots for there is criteria involved. Your fire escape faces a green space and that often tops the hawk list of criteria.

As to one hawk on your fire escape and the mate on another, Red-tailed pairs often roost with a bit of space between them. That way if one is attacked the other can get up some speed and height for a counter attack. Night attacks are rare in Manhattan as the only night creature that is likely to take on a roosting Red-tail is a Great Horned Owl. And previously Manhattan has been very short on resident Great Horneds.

If the hawks do nest nearby though you will have some pretty spectacular day battles of Red-tails versus Peregrine Falcons or Kestrels or Crows.

Previously Isolde and Tristan the hawks whose territory you live in nested on the Cathedral for many years until Tristan's disappearance hard on breeding season in 2008. We believe Tristan died as a downed Red-tail with an injured wing was reported in the park and Isolde was protecting it. The hawkwatchers searched and searched but no trace of Tristan could be found.

The biological imperative took over and Isolde chose a new mate post haste. She chose a very young male, who was named Stormin' Norman for his unstealthy method of hunting.

They nested successfully on the Cathedral in 2008 though poor Isolde was driven mad trying to protect the nest from the construction works doing work right above her head.

In 2009 they didn't nest on the Cathedral and no one was able to find out if they nested at all. They've not been seen at all frequently in the area and we've been pretty much in the dark about their activities. Had they changed territories? Had they been unable to find a place to nest?

As to the hawk watching through the window--that tells us that they are human habituated city hawks. Pale Male and Lola often look through windows at people. Do be careful of making abrupt movements while in their view or staring too overtly or for too long--that is if they are paying attention to you at all. Too much action as you know, might scare them off but also as hormones increase, the male in particular might jump at the window. This could be because he feels threatened by the movement or he might be seeing his reflection and make a knee jerk response and possibly injure himself. If the hawks set up housekeeping, there are times when you'll want to have a blind or curtain on the window that will nix the reflection or activity issues.

Can we identify the hawks? If they are Isolde and Norman, with photos of front, back and faces, we absolutely can I.D. them as we know them very well. If they are not Isolde and Norman they could be in from another area and other hawkwatchers may know them.

Then again they could be a pair, even possibly hatched from other urban nests, who, finding the territory optimum and empty may be beginning their nesting lives and we can all have the ecstatic experience of learning all about a new pair together.

That said, and this is not any where near enough to make a positive ID but I saw that in the photograph of the hawk with her head tucked sleeping, that that hawk has a deeper coloration coming over her shoulder which is a characteristic of Isolde plus the belly band is not inconsistent with hers.

By the way, can you tell who is larger? Is the smaller of the two darker than the larger? Does the smaller male have a heavy dark belly band?

As to the children, tell them puppies are very nice and all but watching a hawk nest up close with eggs, hatching babies, feedings, hop flapping juveniles, and the nail biting tension of fledging would be spectacular---besides you wouldn't have to walk them, they wouldn't eat your homework, nor chew your sneakers to shreds when you forget to stash them in the closet.

Best regards,


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Red-tail and Eagle Update Plus the Red-tail Through the Screen Door

Lola, mate to Pale Male of the 927 Fifth Avenue Nest, NYC, flies high.

Good News about the Highbridge Park male Red-tailed Hawk from NYC wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath--

Just passing along that last week we received the Highbridge male who was recovered by Urban Park Rangers while downed in the park. He was found weak, stressed and unable to fly and delivered to Animal Medical Center who called us. He may have chased something into the cattails and couldn't get out easy enough and was weakened and without food during the extreme cold weather we had.

We took him home, x rayed-- which were negative, rehydrated, fed him as much as he wanted and basically let him rest for a few days until he showed life again and wanted back.

We met with the rangers who released him back in the park where he immediately was greeted by his mate so no damage done.

I spoke with Rob Mastrianni and he said he’s seen them together since so all appears well. He is a dark headed boy and now has a band on his left leg so anyone spotting them can easily tell them apart in the future.


Excellent news. Thank you, Bobby and Cathy!

Next up, a grand assortment of Bald Eagle links and updates from Eagle tracker Jackie Dover of the Tulsa Hawk Forum--

Some bald eagle nest updates:

The Norfolk VA Botanical Garden eagle pair are frequenting the nest. Three offspring successfully fledged last year, including Azalea, who was fitted with a transmitter.
Recent photos/Forum:
Norfolk Live Cam is currently undergoing pre-broadcast tests and may commence streaming very soon:
Azalea's movements can be followed at:

Also preparing for the 2010 season are the eagles of Sidney, B.C.
Forum and new closeup photos:
Live Cam:
And the Ft. St. Vrain bald eagles (Xcel Energy Power Plant, Platteville, CO) are back. This is the pair that lost three babies to a late spring snowstorm in 2009. One parent was thought for a time to have perished. A male and female have been visiting the nest, refurbishing, and mating. Folks following the action seem in agreement that this is the same pair.
Live Cam:
Daily still photos:

Finally, the eagles who have nested at Sooner Lake (OK) and who are on the Sutton Avian Research Center Nest Cam, are back, as well. Live Cam is viewable at:
Latter link is the Sutton Center's website.

Jackie Dover
Tulsa Hawks Forum



From the NewsTimes
RIDGEFIELD -- Keen-eyed and fierce on the attack, red-tailed hawks are becoming a familiar part of the state's environment.
For Michele Toia, too familiar.

On Tuesday, Toia heard a crash, looked out onto the screened porch on the side of her house, and discovered a red-tailed hawk had flown through the door screen, turning the porch into an impromptu aviary...

Donegal Browne

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Urban Red-tail Update: Pale Male Jr. and Charlotte

Photo by Brett Odom
Charlotte (left) and Pale Male Jr. (right) behind the partition.

Brett Odom, the hawkwatcher with the ringside seat, has done it again. Hurrah! Though Charlotte had been spotted within the last few months, Junior had been missing, we'd hoped he was only on a winter sabbatical, but now both are back, with positive I.D.'s and scoping out the old digs.

It's such a treat to see their beautiful and familiar faces once again. The adrenalin and hope starts for yet another year. The gyre continues its spiral.

Photograph by Brett Odom

Brett's note--
I made it into the office today with my camera and both Charlotte and Junior visited this nest this morning (01/10/2010). I have attached some photos of them. It is definitely Junior.

They did not bring any new twigs to the nest but they did spend a lot of time rearranging the ones already on the nest.

Photograph by Brett Odom

Now Junior is on the left and Charlotte is on the right. They are both looking down obscuring their faces, and as the light is striking the bird more heavily on the left, making color comparison iffy.

How does one make sure who is whom in this shot? Look at their size and particularly their feet. In this pair there is a sizable difference. Charlotte is a particularly big girl and Junior takes after his presumed dad, Palemale. Who, as we know, is swift, smart, and diminutive.

Here we go again, folks!

Donegal Browne

P.S. The update on Pale Male and Lola happened to come up BELOW the piece about how it was COMING SOON and you well may not have seen it. So I'm deleting the COMING SOON piece and if you scroll down to the next post you'll finally get to read about PM and L and find out how the Monarchs of Central Park are doing.