Friday, September 18, 2020

Rat Academy goes virtual

NYC Council Speaker, Corey Johnson, and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are hosting a free virtual Rat Academy on Wednesday, September 23 from 5-7 PM

Rat Academy flyer

You can register for the event here.

I've attended Rat Academy in the past and highly recommend it to everyone - the focus is on safe and effective methods for rat prevention in your building and neighborhood, and is open to all.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Migrating birds and the 9/11 Tribute in Light

Fall bird migration is well underway and it happens to coincide with the 9/11 Tribute in Light here in Manhattan. The birds are flying south at night, and they can be confused and disoriented by the bright lights. Volunteers from NYC Audubon were on hand Friday night to monitor the birds and to advise the tribute organizers to periodically shut off the lights when too many birds gathered in the beams. I decided to go downtown to check it out and to see how many birds I could spot.

Around 9pm, the lights were clearly visible and the birds were, too - they could be seen with the naked eye and resembled bright bubbles swirling up and down within the bright columns.

Birds trapped in the 9/11 memorial lights

Birds trapped in the 9/11 memorial lights

Birds could be seen throughout the cylinders of light and many people down below had no idea what they were looking at. I heard several people say they thought the specks were trash or paper, and many were surprised to discover they were observing live birds flying at night.

Birds trapped in the 9/11 memorial lights

I took a few videos to show the movement of the birds, which looked like fireflies in a lava lamp.

I attempted to take photos to try and identify the individual bird species. I was able to confirm a common nighthawk and several types of warblers, but the bright lights, dark sky and fast movement of the birds made photography a challenge. There is an eBird hotspot page for this location that lists 80 species seen to date flying through the lights.

The Sierra Club has published a good article with more information about the Tribute in Light and what is being done to monitor bird migration during this annual emotional event.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Last glimpse of the Governors Island red-tailed hawk fledglings

It's a somewhat quiet time of year for hawk-watching as most fledglings have dispersed from their nesting areas and the adults take a well-deserved break from raising their young. The hawks that nest here in the city do not migrate, so they remain in their territories, but there's not usually too much action this time of year. 

As I said in an earlier post, I missed the entire nesting season for the red-tailed hawks of Governors Island, but was able to see the two fledglings after the island reopened to the public in late July. I was only able to spot one fledgling on that initial visit, but when I returned to the island on August 5, I lucked out and saw both fledglings together.

When I arrived, one youngster appeared on the weather vane at Liggett Hall.

Governors Island red-tail fledgling

It was then joined by its dad, pictured below on the left.

Governors Island parent and fledgling red-tails

When the male took off, I could see he was still in the process of molting - he only had seven tail feathers (normally twelve), was missing several flight feathers, and his head looked a bit scruffy.

Governors Island red-tail

As he flew, he was joined by a Fish Crow (also molting). They also nest on the island and can be very territorial.

Fish crow and red-tailed hawk

This crow clearly didn't like the hawk and aggressively chased him around.

Fish crow and red-tailed hawk

As I was focused on the adult male hawk, one of the fledglings interrupted my shot, stealing focus! 

You can just barely make out the rusty orange tail feathers of the male in the background, and you can see the difference in the number of outer primary feathers on the adult vs the juvenile. Dad is missing several "fingers" on both wings, while the fledgling has a complete set.

Juvie red-tail photo-bombs parent

This is the juvenile:

Governors Island red-tail fledgling

To my surprise, the second fledgling appeared and both of them tussled at the weather vane.

Governors Island red-tail fledglings

They continued their play on the roof of Liggett Hall.

Governors Island red-tail fledglings

Governors Island red-tail fledglings

Governors Island red-tail fledglings

Governors Island red-tail fledglings

I love watching hawks at this age when they're playful and interact with each other.

Governors Island red-tail fledglings

Governors Island red-tail fledglings

As the siblings played around on the roof, Dad continued to fly around with the crow until the crow decided to head somewhere else. It was replaced by a Barn Swallow who was really more interested in catching insects than paying any attention to the hawk.

Red-tailed hawk and barn swallow

I did see the Mom hawk that day, but didn't get any good photos of her. She was nearby in some trees being harassed by another crow. Dealing with annoying neighbors is just something the hawks have to do.

At the end of my visit, one of the fledglings was back up on the weather vane and all seemed calm.

Governors Island red-tail fledgling

I have not seen either fledgling on any of my subsequent visits to the island, so I hope they are traveling companions on their first migration to parts unknown.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Hawk season winding down in Tompkins Square

It's that time of year when sightings of our local red-tail hawk fledglings start to taper off as the birds begin to disperse. The young hawks have stuck around the park much longer this season than I expected, so seeing them throughout the summer has been a welcome gift. 

I saw one of the fledglings on a building a couple of blocks from the park yesterday, so they are still around the area, but are spending more and more time outside the park. Now that they can catch their own food, they are no longer dependent on parents, Christo and Amelia, to feed them. Below are some highlights of August sightings.

August 5 in Tompkins Square:

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling
 
Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

On top of St Brigid's church on Avenue B:

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

Catching a rat in the park on August 6:

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling with a rat

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling with a rat

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling with a rat

After Tropical Storm Isaias hit the city on August 4, the hawks spent several days afterwards on the east side of the park, where there was a lot of tree damage and debris. The squirrel activity in this area seemed to hold the fledglings' attention.

One of the fledglings hangs out with a squirrel in the park on August 7:

Fledgling hawk and squirrel

I took some video of the fledgling and squirrels interacting in the brambles:


In this one, the young hawk plays around, unnoticed by people sitting on a nearby bench:

Back in the park on August 11:

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

I think this is the only time I've caught any of the fledglings on a fire escape. I don't know if I've just not spotted them on fire escapes this year (because of the pandemic, I've not spent as much time looking around the neighborhood for the hawks), or if these guys just prefer to perch in trees and on rooftops.

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

On August 13, this fledgling caught a small rat in the SE corner of the park, then took it up to the fence to eat. 

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling with prey

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

Tompkins Square red-tail fledgling

 
The hawks in all the photos above feature two of the three Tompkins fledglings. There was one with a distinctive reddish tail, and I have not seen that individual in about a month. It may be still be around.
 
 
Blogger note: Google has just changed its blog authoring tool, making creating a post much more difficult. Formatting the HTML has become an obnoxious chore, so if this post or page is not displaying properly on mobile/tablet/desktop, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Tompkins Square hawks survey tree damage after Tropical Storm Isaias

Tropical Storm Isaias blew through the city today, causing chaos across the five boroughs. When the rain subsided, I ventured outside to check out the damage done to Tompkins Square Park.

When I arrived, I found one of the red-tailed hawk fledglings with prey (pigeon) perched on a tree in the SE corner.

Fledgling red-tail in Tompkins Square

The hawk seemed to be checking out the huge American Elm that was severely battered by the storm. In the video below, one of the hawk's siblings swoops in from the left and the two tussle briefly before taking off in different directions.



The two fledglings were so energized, they reminded me of excited little kids, flying back and forth and taking playful shots at each other. I can only imagine what they were thinking, having just survived a serious storm, and then seeing their environment ripped to shreds.

One of the fledglings posed on top of the broken elm:

Fledgling red-tail posing on storm-damaged tree in Tompkins Square

Fledgling red-tail posing on storm-damaged tree in Tompkins Square

I didn't have my bird camera with me, so I took more video. The hawk seemed to be enjoying (or at least curious about) its new vantage point.



I went to check on the hawks early this morning, before the storm, and found two fledglings chasing Christo around the park. Amelia was perched on the cross of Most Holy Redeemer church on E 3rd Street, and I was unable to find the third fledgling. When I returned to the park after the storm, I didn't find the other hawks, but I don't think there's any reason to be concerned. It's worth noting, though, that the hawk nest is now gone, and it was definitely there this morning. Fortunately, the hawks are done using it for the season.

Governors Island red-tailed hawks

Our Tompkins Square Park red-tailed hawk family is doing well and can still be seen in and around the park. In anticipation of the tropical storm forecast for today, I went to check on them this morning and found two fledglings chasing Christo around, screaming at him to get breakfast. As it's been miserably hot and humid, and because of the pandemic, I've not spent much time in Tompkins Square recently, but the hawks appear to be doing fine.

This last spring saw many hawk nests throughout the city, and one I was really looking forward to observing was on Governors Island. When the island closed for the season in October 2019, I observed what appeared to be a mated pair of red-tailed hawks. This was especially intriguing as I don't believe a hawk nest had been recorded on the island before. Throughout the winter, I was able to participate in a bird survey project on the island which allowed me to keep tabs on the hawks and I was really looking forward to documenting their nesting season.

December 26, 2019

This is the hawk pair, with the female on the left and the male on the right. Note the difference in size - she is significantly larger. Their coloring is also different with the male having a much darker head and markings on his belly. It's hard to see in this photo, but his eyes are bright amber-yellow with a dark ring around them that gives him a very striking look. The female has a paler head with prominent light supercilia (eyebrows) and a broader chest.

Red-tail pair

The two were perched together screaming repeatedly. What was disturbing them?

Red-tail pair

This guy!

Great Horned Owl

A great-horned owl was minding its own business, perched quietly in a tree, but the hawks, a mockingbird, and several crows did not let it go unnoticed. The mockingbird gave the owl away first, then the crows proceeded to harass it relentlessly. The hawks seemed content to scream at it from a distance and let the crows do all the physical bullying.

Great Horned Owl and Crow

By perching together and acting defensively against the owl, the hawks further convinced me they were planning to nest on the island. Prior to this season, I'd seen red-tails on the island, but they never acted so territorial. These two were definitely different.

This is the female perched on one of the buildings.

Governors Island red-tail

I later saw her gathering sticks and grass at Hammock Grove. Definitely a sign of nesting!

Governors Island red-tail

Governors Island red-tail

January 9, 2020

With the coming of the new year, the hawk pair remained together and appeared to still be vigilantly defending their territory. In the photo below, the male is on the left and the female is on the right.

Governors Island red-tail

This is the female perched near the Hills. This was a freezing day and I recall this side of the hill was sunny and out of the wind, making it pleasantly warm. My notes from that day say it was 24°F.

Governors Island red-tail

This is the male flying by - note his bright eyes.

Governors Island red-tail

January 17, 2020

On another cold winter day (22°F), I found the female hawk sunning herself on a pile of sand, which was probably warm.

Red-tailed hawk

She kept her feet buried in the sand for almost an hour. This area was also sheltered from the wind.

Red-tailed hawk

After enjoying the sand for a while, she relocated to a sunny spot on the lee side of Outlook Hill and remained there the rest of the afternoon.

Red-tailed hawk

February 10, 2020

On a subsequent visit, I found the hawks hanging out together (male on the left, female on the right) but they remained mysterious about their nesting activities.

Red-tailed hawk pair

Red-tailed hawk pair

March 9, 2020

Finally, in March, there was confirmation of a nest. This is the male taking food (pigeon) up there.

Governors Island red-tail

Later that day, the female was lying down in the nest and appeared to be brooding.

Governors Island red-tail

Unfortunately, the pandemic caused the island to close to non-essential workers, so my last visit was March 16, just as the nesting season began. My last photo was of the female hunkered low in the nest.

Governors Island

Fast-forward to July 20, which was my first opportunity to visit the island after it reopened to the public on July 15. I was heartbroken to have missed the entire nesting season, but was curious to see if I could find the hawks and if any fledglings might still be around.

I found the male hanging out in the shade trying to beat the heat (93°F).

Governors Island red-tail

He's molting, so appears a lot lighter - especially his head - but his distinctive eyes are the same.

Governors Island red-tail

I watched as he scavenged some scraps from the ground before being scared off by a vehicle.

Governors Island red-tail

Looking up, I spotted a juvenile, who must be one of the fledglings. I'd been told there were two, but so far, I have only been able to see one at a time. This one was intently watching the adult male.

Governors Island red-tail fledgling

It later perched on the weather vane, a favorite perch for the adults.

Governors Island red-tail fledgling

Flying overhead and looking great:

Governors Island red-tail fledgling

Although I'm disappointed not to have been able to observe these hawks as they hatched and raised their young, I am thrilled they successfully nested on the island and hope this pair continues to hold this territory. This definitely gives us something to look forward to next year.