Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Quick Tompkins Square hawk update

As it's mid-January, it's time to check in on Tompkins Square red-tails, Christo and Amelia. Nesting season is coming up fast, so we should be seeing the hawks get more active in the park, where they have two nest sites (one in a ginkgo on the east side of the park, and one in a locust near the Temperance Fountain).

At sunrise, I found the pair on the cross of St Nicholas of Myra on Avenue A.

Sunrise with Amelia and Christo

You can see the difference in their size and coloring. Amelia (perched on top of the cross) is larger with a broad chest and a darker head. Christo's head is more of a golden brown and he has more of a white patch on his throat.

Amelia and Christo

As breakfast time neared, Christo eyed the passing menu selections.

Christo eyes lunch options

After Christo took off, Amelia observed a few tasty pigeons passing by, but something in the distance grabbed her attention.

Amelia lets this one go

She took off from the church cross and headed into the park.


As I was still on Avenue A, I couldn't photograph what happened next, but I could see through the trees. Amelia headed straight for the Temperance Fountain nest and kicked out a squirrel that was messing with the sticks. This territorial behavior indicates nesting time is nigh.

This is the locust nest this morning:

And this is the same nest back in November (photo taken from the other side of the branch):

The hawks have added a lot of sticks recently and it will be interesting to see which nest site they decide to use. Personally, I prefer the ginkgo (in use last year) as the tree is strong and flexible. The locust is brittle and, back in 2017, a large branch broke off while Dora and her chick were in the nest. This particular locust tree is also home to several formidable squirrels.

Late in the day, I caught up with Amelia again as she perched on the top of one of the Village View buildings along First Avenue.

Amelia on Village View

Later, just before sunset, Amelia and Christo occupied their respective ends of the Christodora roof. Amelia likes the north end while Christo prefers the south. They almost always face west.


After the loss of both hawk chicks last season, I look forward to a new chance for this pair to enjoy some success.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Raptors down south: Part 2

This last fall, I visited Florida where I saw an incredible number of birds. Each day started with the sound of either a Mockingbird or a Blue Jay calling at sunrise, and usually ended with Pelicans and Egrets flying to their island roosts at sunset. I took so many photos, I'm still going through them.

Back in December, I posted some Florida raptor photos. Today, I have a few more.

I was unable to catch sight of  Bald Eagle in NYC in all of 2019, so I was happy to see several in the wild during my trip down south. Below is an adult Bald Eagle at its nest in St Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

A Bald Eagle and its nest at St Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida

This adult was soaring around Cedar Key on the gulf coast, which is a marvelous place to see wildlife and sunsets.

Bald Eagle soaring over Cedar Key Florida

Further south in St Petersburg, this immature Bald Eagle flew over Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

An Immature Bald Eagle soars over Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St Petersburg Florida

The eagle flew over really fast, like it was on a mission. Within seconds, it was on the tail (literally!) of a Turkey Vulture.

Immature Bald eagle chases a turkey vulture

Immature Bald eagle chases a turkey vulture over Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

The eagle chased the vulture around for several minutes. I'm not sure what was going on as the vulture didn't have any food and seemed to be minding its own business, but the eagle was not happy having it around.

Immature Bald eagle chases a turkey vulture over Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St Petersburg Florida

Meanwhile, on the ground in the preserve, this mellow Turkey Vulture rested in the rehab facility that is part of the aviary. Who could ever be unhappy with this doe-eyed sweetie?

Friendly Turkey Vulture

I'll share more Florida vultures in a later post. 

Back up at Cedar Key, I was able to get a closer look at an immature Bald Eagle who was just starting to get white adult feathers on its head.

Immature Bald Eagle at Cedar Key Florida

The eagle's head pattern reminded me of the Osprey, an ubiquitous raptor along the coast and waterways. The one below was seen at Fort De Soto Park, where I counted 38 ospreys in an area less than two square miles.

Osprey with a fish

I think this Osprey is eating a trout.

Osprey with a fish

It's hard to see in this photo, but the Osprey on the right is carrying what looks like a Largemouth Bass. This pair was photographed at Cedar Key Museum State Park.

Two Ospreys with a monster fish at Cedar Key Florida

A pair of Ospreys with a monster fish at Cedar Key Florida

We see Ospreys here in the north during nesting season, so it was nice to see them on their winter grounds, enjoying the warm weather and fish, and not having many responsibilities.

That's exactly how I felt, too.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Mulchfest 2020 in Tompkins Square Park

2020 marks the 11th year we've participated in the most glorious event of the year: Mulchfest!

Mulchfest 2020 in Tompkins Square Park

We visited Tompkins Square Park on a foggy Saturday morning to take in our favorite activity of all time: wood chipping!

Gearing up for Mulchfest 2020 in Tompkins Square Park

As city dwellers, we don't often get to enjoy the sound and smell of freshly ground evergreen trees, so Mulchfest is eagerly anticipated all year.

For the next few weeks, the park will smell heavenly, especially when the mulch gets spread throughout the park.

Enjoying the mulch pile at Mulchfest 2020 in Tompkins Square

While we were there, park employees were on hand to distribute little canvas bags so we could take home our very own aromatic mulch.

A souvenir of Mulchfest 2020 in Tompkins Square

There's still time to drop off Christmas trees in Tompkins Square as the next chipping date is this coming Saturday, January 11, 10am-2pm. In the mean time, the mulch pile will be there for the taking.

Digging in to the mulch pile at Mulchfest 2020 in Tompkins Square

You can find additional Mulchfest locations and schedules on the NYC Parks Department website.

See previous NYC Mulchfest coverage here.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Happy new year, welcome to 2020!

Happy new year!

This scene from this morning in Tompkins Square shows peace on Earth really can be achieved when predators and prey take a minute to enjoy the sunrise together.

Two red-tailed hawks hanging out with a mourning dove
Christo, Amelia, and a mourning dove.

Let's strive for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Pre-holiday meal with Tompkins Square red-tails Christo and Amelia

Late Sunday afternoon, I found red-tailed hawk Amelia munching on the remains of a pigeon in Tompkins Square Park.

Amelia with dinner

All that was left was the drumstick.

Amelia munching on a drumstick

Foot in mouth!

Amelia demonstrates foot-in-mouth

A post-meal beak-cleaning:

Amelia cleans her beak

After such a big meal, Amelia showed off her huge bulging crop. She then spent the next hour resting and digesting.

Amelia shows off her bulging crop

Meanwhile, Christo took up a pose on his golden throne, the top of the flag pole in front of the park offices.

Christo on his throne

Something caught his eye...

Christo diving off his throne

I followed him to a tree near the Temperance Fountain, where he was taking in the last of the late afternoon sun.

Christo the red-tailed hawk

A squirrel approached, but Christo wasn't interested.

Christo and a squirrel

Instead, Christo chose to dive after something else.

Christo dives after a rat

Something right in front of me.

Christo dives after a rat

My camera lost focus after this. He landed on a rat that had been frolicking in the grass a couple of feet in front of me.

Christo going for a rat

There it goes...

Christo carries off a rat

Christo obligingly paused for a brief pre-dinner photo op.

Christo with a rat

Christo and his rat dinner

The procedure is to pop off the head and eat that first.

Christo eats the best part first

As Christo enjoyed his dinner, an immature Cooper's hawk snuck into the tree across the way and watched as Christo ate.

Immature Cooper's hawk

No time for chasing Cooper's hawks today! Christo quickly downed the rat and took one last look around before the sun disappeared behind the buildings.

Christo post-dinner pose

And then he went off to roost under a fire escape. In winter months, he usually does this, keeping close to the warm brick buildings.

Christo retires for the evening

After Christo was put to bed, I returned to check on Amelia. She did not stay in the park, but disappeared over the buildings west of Avenue A where I was unable to relocate her. I've only caught her going to roost once - she's much more secretive than Christo, who sticks close to the park at night.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Raptors down south: Part 1

I took a trip down south to Florida this last November where I saw so many birds, it was almost overwhelming. All birds, all the time!

I made my first visit last February and counted 83 species. This last trip added 42 to my Florida list, and those were just the ones I was able to positively identify.

On the previous trip, I wasn't able to get a very good look at a Red-Shouldered Hawk, so I was thrilled to see numerous individuals on the most recent visit. They were everywhere, but most easily spotted perched on power lines along the highways. The red shoulder patch really stands out on the one below.

Red-Shouldered Hawk along Hwy 98 in Florida

This one was seen at sunrise in St Mark's Wildlife Refuge, the same place where the Vermilion Flycatcher has been hanging out.

Red-Shouldered Hawk in St Mark's Wildlife Refuge in Florida

Up in Port St Joe, which was slammed by Hurricane Michael in October 2018, this little kestrel had staked out a territory along a grassy embankment.

Kestrel in Port St Joe Florida

The area was composed of a large open field dotted with tree snags, a perfect hunting ground for a kestrel. Below, he snacks on a dragonfly.

Kestrel eating a dragonfly

The dragonfly turned out to be a Green Darner, which have been found to migrate. The one below hung out with me for almost an hour and let me watch it hunt. It flew back and forth over a patch of grass, pausing for a few seconds on every turn. That's when I was able to snap a photo. That's also when a kestrel is able to nab one!

Green Darner

I didn't see many Red-Tailed Hawks on this trip, but I did see an adult pair hanging out together at Crescent Lake in St Petersburg. Below, one of them gets chased by a Fish Crow.

Red-Tailed hawk being chased by a Fish Crow at Crescent Lake in Florida

The raptors above were all found in the wild, but I also visited several parks and animal rehab centers where I was able to see some species up close. On a visit to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St Petersburg, I lucked out when falconer Ash Cary of Knightwings just happened to be visiting for the day. He brought along an array of stunning birds, some of which I'd never seen before.

First up, a Tyrant/Black Hawk-Eagle:

The piercing gaze of a Tyrant Hawk-Eagle

I couldn't take my eyes off this gorgeous guy.

Tyrant Hawk-Eagle up close

This bird comes from Central and South America, and is only one of a handful in the United States. At the time of this posting, it is the only one on public display, so this was a real treat to see.

Profile of a Tyrant Hawk-Eagle

Brunch time! When the snacks came out, the Tyrant spread its wings, revealing a black and white checkered pattern on its legs and under-wings. There is also a white patch in its crest.

Tyrant Hawk-Eagle eating lunch

Another raptor I've never seen before: A Bonelli's Eagle. These are found in Northwest Africa and India.

A Bonelli's eagle ruffles its feathers

This is a Wahlberg's Eagle from Eastern and Southern Africa. For some reason, I only came away with one photo of this raptor and this is it.

A Wahlberg's eagle takes interest in something out of frame

This beauty is an African Augur Buzzard.

A  beautiful African Augur Buzzard

Here we have a European Common Buzzard, similar in appearance to a Red-Tailed Hawk.

Close-up of a European Common Buzzard

The Crested Caracara can be found in Florida, but I did not see any in the wild on this trip.

Florida's Crested Caracara

And finally, a Lanner Falcon:

A Lanner falcon surveys its surroundings

I felt really privileged to see these raptors close up, and with no one else around. That just doesn't happen here in NYC - a gathering of birds like this would attract a huge crowd. Thanks to Ash Cary for generously sharing his birds.  Check out this video interview of him as he talks about his life as a falconer.  

I wasn't able to post photos of all his raptors here, so you can see more on my Flickr page.