Friday, November 13, 2020

Ending the 2020 season on Governors Island

November 1 marked the end of the 2020 season on Governors Island. This year was different because of the pandemic, so the island did not open to the public until July, and visitor access was more controlled.

This season saw the first nesting pair of red-tailed hawks on the island and I was disappointed to miss the entire nesting season when the island was closed in the spring. However, I was able to see the two fledglings later in the summer before they dispersed to parts unknown. The parents remain on the island, overseeing their territory, and I was able to catch up with them before the island closed for the winter.

Late in the afternoon, I was walking across the parade ground when I saw a creature lurking in the grass.

Male red-tail in the grass

It turned out to be the resident male red-tail and, as I stood there, he was joined by the female. They appeared to be looking for something - there were several Northern Flickers and Eastern Meadowlarks in the grass, but the hawks didn't seem to be interested in them. I never did figure out what they were doing.

Female and male RTHs in the grass

Apparently not finding what they were looking for, the hawks flew up to a soccer goal net and perched where they had a better view of the field.

The male is on the left and the female is on the right. You can see the differences in their size (she's larger) and their coloring (the male has a darker head and lighter eyes).

Male and female red-tails

Here is a view from another angle with the female on the left. Both hawks looked different in August when they were going through their summer molts. The female now looks pretty much the same as she did last year, but I've noticed some slight differences in the male's appearance. He has more brown coloring on his chest and his eyes are darker (they will continue to get darker with age). You can see some close-ups of them in this post from a year ago.

Female and male red-tails

Female and male red-tails

The male takes off.

Female and male red-tails

This was my last close encounter with the first lady of Governors Island.

Resident female RTH

Meanwhile, fall is the time of year raptors are on the move, so those who haven't claimed territories of their own are migrating. Although there is now an established pair of red-tails on the island, other hawks have been observed there as well.

When I first spotted this red-tail, I was struck by its size and beauty. The hawk appeared quite large - bigger than the resident female - so I speculate this is a female as well. Her eyes and markings were just beautiful, and she appeared to pay me no mind as she spent a lot of time hunting around Fort Jay. I really enjoyed observing her, but a female American Kestrel had zero tolerance for her presence and relentlessly mobbed the hawk.

Red-tailed hawk being mobbed by a Kestrel

What an annoyed hawk looks like:

Red-tail on Governors Island

The pestering from the kestrel became too much, so the hawk took off.

Red-tail on Governors Island

She allowed me a nice view of her as she flew past.

Red-tail on Governors Island

A little later, as the sun began to set, the visiting hawk reappeared at the fort, looking gorgeous in the fading light.

Red-tail on Governors Island

I didn't see this hawk again after this day, so I hope she's found a place to call home.

Red-tail on Governors Island

And that's a nice way to end the season on Governors Island.

Sunset on Governors Island

The island is due to reopen to the public on May 1, 2021. You can keep up with island news and updates on the Governors Island website.

See my previous posts on Governors Island hawks and wildlife here.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Halloween with Christo and the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black

As October came to a close this last weekend, I was happy to meet up with red-tailed hawk, Christo, in Tompkins Square Park. I love this time of year when the fall foliage complements the warm highlights in his plumage.

Christo and fall foliage

Christo has been a resident of the neighborhood for six years now, having arrived back in the fall of 2013. I'm estimating his age to be 8-9 years, making him a distinguished middle-aged hawk.

Christo and fall foliage

Christo is no longer the flamboyant young raptor who continuously zipped around the park like a firecracker, but is now much more frugal with his energy. He has spent the last several years honing his hunting skills, employing as little energy as possible. He knows where to find his favorite food - rats - and he knows how to expertly catch them. With so much food available in his territory, Christo has the luxury of being picky.

One of his hunting methods is to perch on top of the street lamps in the park at dusk and wait for the rats to come out.

Christo hunting by lamp light

I watched him for about ten minutes as a parade of rats ran across the path between us.

Halloween rat

Halloween rat

Christo let rat after rat run right past him, patiently waiting for just the right one to take his fancy. The longer he perched on the light, the more comfortable the rats became and let down their guard. When one practically walked right up to him, Christo dove down and nabbed it in half a second. It's a big one!

Christo catches a rat

Satisfied knowing Christo had his dinner, I turned my attention to the other side of the park where the marvelous Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, led by the extraordinary Kembra Pfahler, put on a special Halloween show.

The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black

The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black

The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black

Christo's mate, Amelia, circled over the band as they performed this song (NSFW video), which was a fitting climax to a fantastic show.

The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black

Since we've been enduring the pandemic the last several months, this show really felt like a triumph of our creative community and a celebration of strength, survival and resiliency. The hawks continue to do their thing, as are the people who share their habitat.

Bonus: Rats are as big a part of the city as people and hawks, so it was nice to see them being honored as well.

Untitled

Monday, October 26, 2020

Raptorama 2020 at Marine Park

Raptorama 2020 (AKA Raptorfest) took place this year at Marine Park, Brooklyn, Sunday, October 18. Things were a bit different this year due to COVID-19, so precautions were taken such as limiting the number of attendees, requiring masks and putting time limits on the sessions with the birds. Nevertheless, it was a good time all around, and we really enjoyed being up close to several birds generously brought in by Bobby and Cathy Horvath of WINORR (Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation).

The highlight for me this year was seeing this gorgeous Golden Eagle, a bird I don't get to see every day, or really ever.

Golden eagle

He is magnificent!

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

Golden eagle

We've met this Bald Eagle named Montana before and he is exceptional every time.

Bald eagle

I was captivated by this Gyrfalcon, who is apparently retired from falconry, so was very at-ease in the presence of people.

Gyrfalcon

Gyrfalcon

Gyrfalcon

You can see the differences in the facial markings as compared to this Peregrine Falcon, below. This guy is always a favorite to see up close. In the wilds of the city, we usually see them soaring above the skyscrapers or perched on high ledges.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Meet the Merlin, a much smaller falcon, but still fierce!

Merlin

Merlin

The smallest and fiercest of all the falcons, in my opinion, is the American Kestrel. In the city, I usually observe them chasing much larger hawks and making a loud ruckus. This male, however, stayed so quiet, I kept forgetting he was there. What a sweetie.

Kestrel

This beauty is Gypsy, a Rough-Legged Hawk.

Gypsy the rough-legged hawk

Gypsy the rough-legged hawk

And this is the lovely Diana, a Red-Tailed Hawk.

Diana the red-tailed hawk

This Eurasian Eagle Owl was raised as a chick by the Horvaths and is one of the family.

Eurasian eagle owl

The owl is so comfortable with them, at first glance, he resembles a snuggly cat.

Eurasian eagle owl

There were a few more raptors featured at Raptorama, and you can see more photos of the event on my Flickr page.

Thank you to the Horvaths for sharing their birds, as well as NYC Audubon, the American Littoral Society, Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service for organizing this event under unprecedented circumstances.

I asked the Horvaths how Dora (our former First Lady red-tailed hawk of Tompkins Square Park) is doing and I was told she is happy and healthy in the care of WINORR. She has a mate and is eating well. WINORR is a volunteer non-profit organization that relies on donations, so please consider supporting them by visiting their GoFundMe page.

See highlights from previous NYC Raptorfests here and here.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Fall foliage in the East Village

These trees on East 5th Street between First and Second Avenues remind me of Nature's paint brushes, decorating the neighborhood with happy vibrant color.

Fall foliage in the East Village

Let's hope for a beautiful fall season.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

2020 summer bird highlights

I somehow let the entire summer slip by without posting any bird (non-hawk) photos! Despite the last several months being stressfull and chaotic due to the pandemic, I did manage to do a lot of birding. It's the one activity that's been safe and relatively easy for me to do during this time of limited travel. Although I haven't been able to venture outside the city, I've been successful finding birds close to home. Below are some highlights from the last several weeks.

Northern Parula:

Northern Parula

Prairie Warbler:

Prairie warbler

Prairie warbler

Black-Throated Green Warbler:

Black-throated green warbler

Magnolia Warbler fanning its tail:

Magnolia warbler

Black-Throated Blue Warbler:

Black-throated blue warbler

Blackpoll Warbler:

Blackpoll warbler

American Redstart:

American redstart

Nashville Warbler:

Nashville warbler

Chestnut-Sided Warbler:

Chestnut-sided warbler

Chestnut-sided warbler

Red-Eyed Vireo:

Red-eyed vireo

Warbling Vireo:

Warbling vireo

Summer Tanager:

Summer tanager

Eating a bee:

Summer tanager eating a bee

Scarlet Tanager:

Scarlet tanager

Ovenbird:

Ovenbird

Veery:

Veery

Brown Thrasher:

Brown Thrasher

Baltimore Oriole:

Baltimore Oriole

Gray Catbird:

Catbird

Great Crested Flycatcher:

Great crested flycatcher

White-Throated Sparrow:

White-throated sparrow

House Wren:

House wren

Dark-Eyed Junco:

Junco

Warbler migration seems to be winding down in this area, but there are still a lot of birds on the move, making their way south for the winter. It's a slow time of year for the local hawks, but Christo and Amelia are around and seem to be doing okay. I'll post updates on them once the activity kicks up again, which I hope will be soon.