Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Late October hawk update

October is near an end, so hawk activity should start picking up.  I would expect to start seeing migrating hawks passing through the area, as well as Christo and Dora continuing with their bonding activities.  Their recent nest-building in Tompkins Square has been a total surprise.  This is not the usual time of year for building a new nest, so I'm utterly intrigued.

This is the nest as of October 20.  Dora is perched on a branch up and to the right, supervising Christo, who is inside the nest (almost impossible to see) doing housework.  When they're both in the nest, they easily disappear from sight.

Christo and Dora work on the nest

Credit is due to Dora, who took the initiative and started constructing the nest all on her own.  The ginkgo tree has always been a favorite of hers, so I have to wonder if she picked this tree because of her affinity for perching there.  She started by collecting leaves and assembling a base, then Christo went to work cutting branches and weaving them all together.  It's an impressive piece of work.

I've been trying to find a recent photo of the ginkgo that shows the bare branch pre-nest, but have been unsuccessful (that tree is not very photogenic).  I previously posted this photo, taken in May 2014, which shows Dora taking off from the branch now occupied by the nest, and several other hawk-watchers confirm there was nothing there when she started building.


This is Christo and Dora perched on a different branch in the same ginkgo, taken this past January.

Christo and Dora

I think it's important to note these small details as this is a unique urban situation.  As there is no scientific study being conducted to learn about these birds, I think it's crucial to document everything we can.  What I've learned time and time again from these hawks is they don't necessarily follow any rules or expectations. They're wild, adaptable, clever and determined.

One new development is both hawks seem to be roosting in the park.  I've seen Christo do this in the past, but I've now seen Dora hunkering down for the night a few times in the last couple of weeks. Here she is Monday evening having a rat dinner near the 7th Street park entrance before going to bed.

Dora with dinner

While Dora has been sleeping on the south side of the park, I've spotted Christo turning in for the night over the basketball courts on the 10th Street side.  He's been taking his dinners in the area behind the bathrooms.  Here he is with a small rat (the tail sticking out of his mouth).

Christo with dinner

Christo with dinner

My biggest concern for Christo and Dora now is poison.  Rodenticide is being used in Tompkins Square and there is nothing to stop the hawks from eating a poisoned rat, mouse or squirrel.  I've observed dead and dying rats and squirrels recently in the park.  Several sources tell me the poison is being sprayed directly into the rat holes.  But there is no way to contain the poison - rats carry it out with them, squirrels dig around and further spread it.  One of Pale Male's kids died this last summer in Central Park after ingesting rodenticide.

I try not to get negative on this blog, but the topic of poison in our public parks is one that really riles me up, so if anyone cares to discuss it further, send me an email.


See more photos on my Flickr page.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Golden-crowned kinglets: a study in cuteness

I was having a dull afternoon, dragging my knuckles around Battery Park, when I came upon a flock of golden-crowned kinglets who immediately brightened my day.  Of all the little birds I've seen migrating through the city, these rank at the top of my cute list.

 Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet

Golden-crowned kinglet with bee

Golden-crowned kinglet

See more pics of these little cuties here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Project Ginkgo

Following up on the news last week that Dora the red-tailed hawk was constructing something out of leaves in a ginkgo tree in Tompkins Square, it now looks to be a serious project.

I spent this last weekend watching both Christo and Dora actively working on what looks to be a nest.  The odd thing is this is not nest-building time, which normally happens in late January or shortly before eggs are laid.  This raises so many questions...

The nest is easily visible, but the hawks are hard to see when they're in it.  This was the best I could do to capture both of them working on it at the same time.  Christo is in the nest while Dora perches on an upper branch.

Christo & Dora work on their nest

Christo peeks out at me from behind his blind of leaves.  The situation will be easier to see once the leaves fall from the trees.

Christo stares me down from his hiding place

I watched Christo as he cut sticks from some nearby trees.

Christo cutting sticks

Christo cutting sticks

Christo cutting sticks
The horizontal stick below Christo's feet has just broken and is falling.  He's going down with it, with a second stick in his beak.

Both hawks took leaves to the nest.  This is Christo with a small branch from a pin oak.

Christo flying with pin oak leaves

(check out those beautiful new tail feathers)

Christo flying with pin oak leaves

...and a face full of ginkgo leaves...

Christo flying with gingko leaves

What does this all mean?  The fact the hawks are building something in a tree in the park makes me happy.  As much as I loved watching them nest on air-conditioners, I think a tree is a much better location.  It is out of the reach of humans and can provide more space for any babies to branch prior to fledge.

There were some questions raised about whether or not these hawks only knew how to build on buildings (if they were each born on air-conditioners, would they only know to build nests on air-conditioners?), so this proves our birds do know how to build a nest in a tree.  It also makes me wonder if they learned from their prior experiences - specifically losing the Christodora nest location - and are planning ahead.  Was it Christo's idea to build on buildings the last two years and now Dora is having her way?  Unfortunately, it's impossible to know. 

As far as I'm aware, Christo and Dora did not build a practice/alternate last year.  If they did, it wasn't anywhere where we could find it.  Assuming this is their first attempt at a tree nest, what made them suddenly decide to do this?  Is it instinct?  Are they bored?  With the kids gone, maybe they finally have time to create that spare room they always wanted?

It's a mystery.

The enigmatic Christo.

Stay tuned...

See more hawk photos on my Flickr page.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Intriguing hawk news

Despite watching Dora the hawk nearly every minute of the day on nest cams the last two years, she remains mysterious to me.  When not on the nest with her babies, I have never seen where she roosts.  Even her eating habits are secretive - I think the last time I saw her hunt and catch food for herself was in early 2014 in Tompkins Square.  Since then, I've only ever seen her mate Christo bring food to her.  A 4th floor fire escape may be the closest I've ever physically been to her.

Dora has perplexed me the last several weeks, spending so much time perched on Most Holy Redeemer church on E 3rd Street and the Village View apartment building at First Avenue and E 4th Street.  It seemed to me she never did anything else. 

Until now.

Over the last several days, fellow hawk-watchers have spotted Dora carrying nesting material (mostly leaves) to one of her favorite ginkgo trees in Tompkins Square.  The witnesses say she's been doing this in the morning.  Here is a shot of her creation from this last Saturday:

And here it is today, a bit bigger:

This is Dora in the same tree in May 2014, leaping off the same branch that now has a mass of leaves on it.


This is the wrong time of year for nest-building, which should likely happen in January or February.  However, it's not unheard of for hawks to work on alternate sites, so it's worth keeping an eye on this new activity.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Just when I was beginning to worry...

I've been seeing Dora the hawk fairly often around the neighborhood lately.  More so than Christo, which is unusual since I consider him the more social of the pair.  Since their arrival in the East Village almost two years ago, it's been the norm to walk around for about five minutes on any given day at any given time before Christo makes an appearance.

Dora can often be found high up on Village View along First Avenue in the mornings.

As I walked up Avenue A this evening, I spotted her perched atop the north side of the dome of Most Holy Redeemer church on E 3rd Street. 

And that's when the niggling panic set in.  Where's Christo?  I haven't found him in his usual haunts recently...did something happen to him?  My imagination ran wild with worry as I entered Tompkins Square.

And that's when he landed about twelve feet in front of me.

Here I am!

He had a mouse, which he ate quickly before cleaning his face on a leafy branch, then flying over to the basketball courts to watch a game.  Feeling relieved, I said good night and left him there.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Iceland: Part 4 - where icebergs are born

The highlight of my visit to Iceland was Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon on the south coast.  This is where all the natural elements of Iceland come together - volcanoes, sky, ice and water create a breathtaking panorama.


Glaciers calve icebergs into the lake, where they float for about five years.  The freshest ice is brilliant robin's egg blue, while older ice that has been floating around a while turns white.  The black streaks are rock and volcanic ash carried down from the mountains.




The icebergs are all different sizes and I found them all spectacular.



This chunk of ice is crystal clear.  After about 10,000 years as part of a glacier, the pressure squeezed out all air bubbles.

10,000 year old ice

Looking head-on at Vatnajökull glacier.


As the icebergs melt, they get small enough to float down the outlet river to the ocean.

Icebergs floating to the sea

And this is where they die, like frozen jellyfish on the beach.

Where icebergs go to die

See many more Iceland photos on my Flickr page.

Iceland: Part 3 - volcanic sculptures
Iceland: Part 2 - enchanted landscapes
Iceland: Part 1 - where rainbows begin and end

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Iceland: Part 3 - volcanic sculptures

The volcanic activity on Iceland has created some stunning landscapes straight out of a fairy tale.  The Laki lava field is a perfect example.

The last eruption in 1783 left a vast swath of globular lava formations.  Over 200 years later, moss has covered the rock, creating a soft otherworldly terrain.

Laki lava field

Laki lava field

The lava field stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction.

Laki lava field

It's a quiet place, the only sound being the wind.

Laki lava field

The mossy stones look like comfy pillows...

Laki lava field

200-year old moss close up:

200-year old moss

By contrast, a geometric formation is revealed not far away at Reynisfjara beach.

Reynisfjara Beach

Basalt columns jut out of a black pebble beach...

Reynisfjara Beach

...and fan out to form a cave.

Reynisfjara Beach

Nature's hectagon:

Basalt hexagon

The columns then take a dramatic turn, swirling inward like a stone kaleidoscope.

Reynisfjara Beach

I've never seen anything quite like this.

Reynisfjara Beach 

More to come...