I've made it a tradition to be on Governors Island each year on the last day of the season (October 31) before the island closes to the public until May. There's always something exciting to see that leaves me feeling happy and satisfied on the final visit. On the final day last year, an immature red-tailed hawk got up close and personal as it soared and hovered at eye-level out at the Hills.
This year, I was apprehensive to see the weather forecast was for rain all day. I debated whether or not to take my camera as I've suffered water damage to equipment before and really didn't want to risk getting caught in a deluge. In the end, I decided to pack my camera in layers of plastic and waterproof bags, and hoped for the best.
The first hour or so was drizzly with a few heavy downpours, but then the clouds shifted and the rain stopped. Taking advantage of the break, I headed for the Hills where I hoped to find some raptors.
Sure enough, a pair of kestrels were zipping around over Outlook Hill. This is the male:
In true kestrel fashion, he demonstrated some classic hovering as he looked for prey on the slopes of the Hills.
His lady-friend zoomed in, hot on the tail of a red-tailed hawk.
Both kestrels chased the hawk around, although the red-tail didn't seem that bothered.
This particular hawk has the red tail of an adult, but the bright yellowish eyes of an immature bird. It's possible this hawk only just molted into its adult plumage this last summer.
As there were two kestrels, there were two hawks! In the photo below, the bright-eyed hawk is on the left and its pale-faced companion follows behind.
Both hawks sported red tails and light-colored eyes. The way they flew so close to one another and seemed at ease in each other's presence made me wonder if they are a mated pair. The two flew around together over the Hills for at least a couple of hours, making it extremely difficult for me to break away when it came time to head back to the ferry.
I love when hawks fly around in the city and no one notices. Both hawks flew around the top of the Hills, just steps away from people taking in the view.
The hawks hunted for rodents in the vegetation on the slopes of the Hills. This feature of the island is only three years old, but it has quickly become a fantastic place to observe wildlife.
Taking a closer look at the hawks, below is the pale-faced one, who has a wide chest and barrel-shaped body. Perhaps a female?
The other hawk has a much darker head that offsets its stunningly bright eyes. Its body is smaller, which makes me wonder if it could be a male (if they are a pair).
This is the pale-faced hawk in flight.
As it was a windy day, the hawks were able to take advantage of the air lift and hover over the Hills just like the kestrels.
As the hawks floated over Outlook Hill, I stood atop the shorter Discovery Hill, where I was able to get close looks at them as they flew past me. Below is the pale-faced hawk.
This is bright-eyes:
The hawk dove into the tall grass below me and caught a rat, then flew it right past my face and over the hill to a tree where it ate its meal. They did this several times - catching a rat in the grass, flying it right past my face, then over the hill to the same tree.
Here is pale-face bringing another rat my way.
The hawk and rat actually came too close for my camera to hold focus. After this shot, I just stood there and enjoyed watching the birds fly past me at wing's length.
The last photo I took for the day was of this Carolina Wren, whose sweet song resounded over the island.
Governors Island is such a unique and special place where a person can go and enjoy nature without having to leave the city. I hope the City and Governors Island Trust recognize the value of the island as a natural destination.