Thursday, January 12, 2017

Winter hawks

Winter time is hawk time and, this season, there have been many juvenile red-tails migrating through the East Village.

After the snow storm this last weekend (Sunday), I found one of these visiting juveniles hanging out in a tree in the East Village.

Juvenile red-tail

This one has distinctive pale coloring and is one of the pair of hawks I saw sharing a meal during the snowfall the previous day.

Juvenile red-tail

It's quite a beauty.

Juvenile red-tail

Winter hawk

Juvenile red-tail

Note the wide white chest and minimal belly band.  The hawk's legs have very pale brown markings.

Juvenile red-tail

Juvenile red-tail

This hawk seemed to be hunting rats for a while, but it took off when a second hawk came around.

The hawk above is pictured below on the right.  The second hawk on the left is the same one who was sharing a meal the previous day.  Note the very dark-tipped tail and prominent brown belly band.  It's not very visible in this photo, but the second hawk also has heavily speckled legs.  The size of the hawks is not accurate in this photo as the pale one (right) is actually bigger than the darker one (left). 

Juvenile red-tails

The hawk with the dark-tipped tail is the same hawk I saw in the neighborhood on a rainy January 2.  In the photo below, its tail is not visible, but I was able to confirm the same tail in other photos I took the same day.

Juvenile red-tail in the rain

Back to this last Sunday, as the two juveniles flew around, a third juvenile red-tail appeared and the first two hawks didn't act very welcoming.  They both took several dives at it and chased it around the area.  The three of them flew around so fast and erratically, I couldn't capture them all in one shot, but below is a photo of the third hawk.

Third juvenile of the day

This one doesn't have any particularly distinctive markings, but it appears to have a slightly yellowish chest.

Third juvenile of the day

Three hawks cavorting in the territory captured the attention of the resident adults, Christo and Dora, who flew over from Tompkins Square screaming loudly.  Below, one of the juveniles is on the left and either Christo or Dora (too far for me to determine which) is on the right.

Juvenile and adult red-tails

Below, Dora is on the left and Christo is on the right.  After forcing the juveniles to disperse, they seemed satisfied and headed back to the park.

Dora and Christo

Three juvenile red-tails playing around in Christo and Dora's domain led me to wonder if the young hawks could be Christo and Dora's offspring from last summer.  I spent a great deal of time comparing photos of the wintering juveniles with those of the Tompkins Square kids from last July/August.  I concluded that none of these are Christo and Dora's kids.  I compared the chest feathers, which may have changed during the autumn, but their leg patterns are all pretty unique and distinctive and none of them match up.

As nesting season approaches, there may be more drama in the air, so be sure and look up!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Red-tails in the snow

Saturday brought us a lovely snowfall, so I ventured out to Tompkins Square Park to see Mulchfest, and was greeted by red-tailed Dora as I entered the park.

Dora in the snow

I was surprised to see her sitting so quietly near the chess tables.  She didn't mind the snow at all, as you can see in this video.

Later, I found Christo chilling on a low branch.

Christo wearing snow goggles

I found it really calming to watch him.

Just as I was being lulled into relaxation watching Christo and falling snowflakes, he suddenly sprang into action and pounced on a small rat. I wasn't prepared and missed the shot, but he caught it right in the open doorway of the boys' restroom.  Here he is with the rat two seconds later.

Christo catches a rat in the snow

And it took him less than two minutes to eat it. 

Afterwards, he went to clean his beak on a branch and ended up with a face full of snow.  Poor guy!

Christo wearing snow goggles

With no way to clean the snow off his face, Christo just sat there looking through his snow goggles.

On that same afternoon, I went for a walk around the neighborhood and just happened upon two juvenile red-tails sharing a meal.  I've never seen this before.  They were in a tree, on top of a squirrel nest.  It appeared that one ate first and then the second one took over.  As I was kind of far away and the snow was blowing, I couldn't see what they were eating.

Two juvenile red-tails share a meal in snow

These two could be siblings or migration companions.  They seemed pretty at ease with each other and I've since seen them flying around together.

Two juvenile red-tails in snow

Note the dark-tipped and raggedy tail on this one.  It also has heavily speckled legs.  The other hawk has a wide white chest and faint brown markings on its legs.

Juvenile red-tail in snow 

 All in all, it turned out to be an unexpectedly successful hawk-watching afternoon.

See more snowy hawk photos here.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Mulchfest 2017

The most aromatic weekend of the year:  Mulchfest!

Despite a snowy Saturday, the wood-chipper and workers were out in Tompkins Square to recycle Christmas trees.

Mulchfest 2017

Mulchfest 2017

The mulch is free to take.  During mulching sessions, the Parks Department provided bags.

Mulchfest 2017

They even had small bags for potpourri.  I took these home and my apartment now smells like a forest.

Mulchfest 2017

Something to note - the mulch pile this year is on the spot where Bendy Tree (RIP) once stood. 

Mulchfest 2017

For those who love the sound of wood-chippers as much as I do, here are a couple of videos.

Mulchfest 2016
Mulchfest 2015
Mulchfest 2014
Mulchfest 2013
Mulchfest 2011
Mulchfest 2010
Mulchfest 2009

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ringing in 2017 with Christo and Dora

Red-tailed hawks, Christo and Dora, are embarking on their fourth nesting season in the East Village.  It's hard to believe they've been here over three years already and I'm grateful to have been able to spend so much time with them and share the experience.

They've had three sets of three kids in three years, and three different nests.  Imagine having a new apartment and new family each year!  This last fall, they inexplicably built a fourth nest in Tompkins Square Park, so it will be interesting to see if they decide to use it, or go back to their previous nest in the ginkgo tree near Avenue B and 8th Street.  Personally, I hope they re-use that one as it seems to be safe and sturdy, but I don't have the mind of a hawk. The hawks should start serious nest-building in late January, and maybe then we'll know their plans.

Until then, Christo and Dora still have their hands talons full defending their territory against other raptors.  On the last day of 2016, I found Dora calling from the cross of St Nicholas of Myra on Avenue A and 10th Street.  An intruding juvenile red-tail was in the area, and the hawk pair wasted no time sounding the alarm and escorting it out of their territory.

Dora at St Nicholas of Myra

Dora at St Nicholas of Myra

That same afternoon, a Peregrine falcon circled over the park offices.  This was the second time that day I saw a falcon, and they've been spotted fairly regularly over the last few weeks.  I don't know if it's the same falcon each time, or different birds.  They usually fly very high, so it's not possible to make out any identifying features.

Peregrine falcon

Later that day, I found this juvenile red-tail relaxing in a tree in the neighborhood.  Could this be the one that's been giving Christo and Dora so much grief?  Probably.  There have been several young red-tails wintering on the Lower East Side this year, so any of them could stray into the Tompkins Territory. 

Juvenile red-tail

People often ask me if these juveniles are Christo and Dora's offspring.  I really don't know and it's impossible to tell without DNA testing.  They might be related, but there are a lot of juvenile hawks that migrate through the city each year.

On New Year's Day, Christo graced us with his presence in the sycamore at the St Mark's entrance to the park.  Dora was perched in the same tree, but she has a real talent for avoiding the camera.


Christo reminded us (as if we need reminding) he is King of the Park by taking his place atop his flagpole throne.




I never get tired of watching him take off. 


Christo prepared the traditional New Year's hawk feast: Rat tartare.  After he ate his fill, he retired to a tree on 10th Street to spend the night while Dora flew in after dark and finished off the leftovers.

Christo and his New Year's rat

The more time I spend with these hawks, the more I appreciate how special they are.  Red-tails are common birds across the country, but rare in the city (although their numbers are growing).  To see them so close and to be able to study their behavior and day to day lives is such a treat.  We've been able to experience them in ways that would be impossible in a rural environment. 


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Holiday hawklights

I don't have any new hawk news, but I did spend quite a bit of time with Christo and Dora over the holidays.  They are keeping busy fending off intruders (other red-tails) in their East Village territory, and have been spotted making adjustments to their latest nest near the ping pong table.  It's still about a month away from breeding time, so we won't know what their nest plans are until later in the winter.

On December 23, I found Dora enjoying the sunshine from atop the cross of St Nicholas of Myra church at Avenue A and 10th Street.



On the 24th, Christo made an appearance in Tompkins Square.



He flew around a lot and briefly settled on this cellphone transmitter at Avenue A and St Mark's Place.  This is normally a big pigeon hang-out.


A while later, he took in the view from St Nicholas.


As the sun went down, Christo returned to the park and seemed to be on the hunt for dinner.



However, he opted to have leftovers for Christmas Eve rather than go for something fresh.  This squirrel didn't seem to like Christo's choice of dining location.

Christo is confronted by a squirrel

The dinner was a long-dead pigeon that he scooped up from the grass near the chess tables.  It appeared to me to be not much more than a pile of feathers.

Christo eating feathers

The hawks don't waste food, so even this little scrap was cached.


On Christmas day, the hawks were not very cooperative posing for photos, but I did get this one of Dora being distracted by a squirrel.

Dora is confronted by a squirrel

On December 27, both hawks spent most of the afternoon on the scaffolding on top of the Christodora building.  I looked up just in time to see a young Cooper's hawk zipping past Dora.  It happened so fast, I didn't have time to focus the camera.

A Cooper's hawk approaches Dora

Christo soon joined her.

Christo & Dora

The two of them hung out up there until the sun set.  They are probably the only residents of the Christodora who will be sad when the scaffolding eventually comes down.

Christo & Dora

That evening, Dora went to roost in a tree in the SE corner of the park and Christo scouted out possible roosting spots along 7th Street.

Christo scouts out a roosting location

He finally settled on a fire escape near Avenue B.  After sunset, he was all but invisible in this sheltered location.

Christo goes to roost 

The following day, Dora roosted in the park while Christo chose a tree along 7th Street.