Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tompkins Square hawks brooding, canoodling and dueling

Now that Tompkins Square red-tails, Christo and Amelia, are brooding eggs, there's not much activity to see as they spend most of their time taking turns hunkering down in the nest. This is a photo of Amelia taken yesterday:

Amelia in the nest

The nest this year sits slightly higher than the one last year, so it will be interesting to see if there is a view of it at all once the leaves grow in on the tree.

I took the photos below two days before Amelia settled in to begin brooding. Amelia is on the left and Christo is on the right. Note their size difference (she's larger) and coloring (he has a lighter head with a mostly white throat).

Amelia and Christo

When you see them in this position, it's easy to tell who is who!

Christo and Amelia mating

Christo and Amelia mating

Afterwards, Christo soars past his namesake, the Christodora building.


While Amelia spends most of her time on the nest, Christo brings her food, like this fresh rat.

Christo with a rat

Amelia takes one last stick to the nest.

Amelia carries a stick to her nest

Amelia sits in the nest, which looks more compact and denser than last year's model.

Amelia in the nest

Christo gathers bark to line the nest.  This time, he takes it from an American Elm (he also favors Japanese Scholar trees). Note the bare branch beneath him - he's picked this one clean.

Christo with a piece of bark

Christo on the nest:

Christo in the nest

Just before sunset (before egg-laying time), Christo and Amelia perched on the dome of Most Holy Redeemer church on E 3rd Street. Christo is hunching down on the left, so he looks extremely small compared to Amelia.

Christo and Amelia hanging out together

Christo may have been hunching down because an immature red-tail flew right up to the pair and tried to brazenly land on the ledge right next to them.

Immature red-tail attempts a landing next to Christo and Amelia

Christo was not having it and dove after the intruder while Amelia remained on the ledge.

Hawk fight

The hawks tumbled in the air several feet before the younger one flew off.

Hawk fight

Victorious, Christo returned to the ledge for one more round of mating before nightfall.

Christo and Amelia mating atop Most Holy Redeemer

We can expect hatching around the end of April. The nest is too high to see newborn chicks, but we should be able to tell that something has happened when the parents start bringing food to the nest.

Happy spring!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Egg time for Tompkins Square hawks

I am 99.9% certain Tompkins Square red-tails, Christo and Amelia, have an egg as of today.

Although we cannot see into the nest, the hawks showed classic behavioral changes today that indicate there is at least one egg present. A fellow hawk-watcher provided this photo of Amelia hunkered down in the nest this afternoon.

She stayed low in the nest for at least three hours and is roosting in it tonight. Christo visited her twice while I was there and she did not show any interest in leaving the nest to eat dinner. Christo spent the remainder of the day perched in a nearby tree and is roosting in the park.

Last year, nesting season was delayed a month for this pair due to the loss of Dora and the drama that followed.  Back in 2017, Dora laid her first egg on March 14. In 2016, eggs were laid in mid-March. In 2015, the first egg arrived on March 26. In 2014, Dora appeared to lay an egg on March 29.

If Amelia laid the first egg today, we can look forward to a hatch date around the end of April. In the meantime, the hawks will continue mating until the last (usually three) egg is laid. This is the first full mating/nesting season for Christo and Amelia, and I look forward to seeing them raise a healthy hawk family in our park.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Winter birds in Florida

I spent some time in Florida this past February which was a welcome break from dreary NYC winter, and saw over 83 species of birds. Some were birds we are used to seeing here in spring and summer (Red-Winged Blackbirds, Myrtle and Palm Warblers, Eastern Bluebirds, Laughing Gulls) but many I had never seen before.

One of the top sightings was of a rare Krider's Red-Tailed Hawk. The other, and possibly the highlight of the trip, was this male Vermilion Flycatcher.

Vermilion flycatcher

The St Mark's National Wildlife Refuge, about 25 miles south of Tallahassee, is a fantastic place to go birding and to enjoy the beautiful natural environment. On the day we visited, a major thunderstorm complete with dark skies, thunder, lightning and pouring rain made me doubt I'd get to see any interesting birds, let alone photograph any of them. However, the storm did not stop this little blazing red ball of fury from catching insects and posing for the camera. I think he looks pretty fierce with his spiky wet hairdo!

Vermilion flycatcher

On this dark day, this intensely bright bird really stood out.

Vermilion flycatcher in the rain

In the Tampa Bay area, Nanday Parakeets flew around in very vocal flocks, attracting a lot of attention with their animated chatter.

Nanday parakeet

Monk Parakeets also traveled in loud social flocks.

Monk parakeet

The Wood Stork was one bird I really wanted to see and I found one at Crescent Lake in St Petersburg.

Wood Stork

This was my first sighting of a Limpkin foraging for snails along the water's edge.

Limpkin with a snail

White Ibises were fairly ubiquitous, being present at nearly every natural area we visited. At sunset, they could be seen flying in huge flocks to their roosting places.


Common Gallinules can be found all along the east coast, but they are a rare bird for me and I love their giant yellow feet and their gray/blue/purple coloring. 

Common Gallinule

Brown Pelicans are huge and gorgeous, and fascinating to watch as they dive into the water for fish.

Brown pelican

This is an immature pelican chilling out on a piling.

Brown pelican

Ft De Soto Park was another great place to visit wildlife. We were able to observe two Great Horned Owl chicks on their nest.  They look like they might be staying warm on a frosty winter day, but the weather was actually 78°F with 81% humidity and thick fog. My glasses steamed up while taking this photo.

Great horned owl chicks

One of the parents nearby:

Great horned owl parent

It was nesting season for Florida Ospreys, so they were present everywhere we went.


I was hoping to see an abundance of Red-Shouldered Hawks during my visit, but I only saw two. This one was hunting in the St Mark's NWR and really blended in with its natural habitat. The other sighting was of a hawk hunting along a highway.


We had an unexpected surprise at an urban food market one morning when an immature Bald Eagle flew low over the busy crowd.

Immature Bald Eagle

As much as I love NYC, it was good to get a change of scenery and to see so many new bird species. I was happy to put away my thermals, boots and gloves, and prance around in the warm winter sun like this Snowy Egret if only for a few days.

Snowy Egret prancing in the water

You can see more of my Florida bird photos over on Flickr.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Krider's red-tailed hawk

On a recent trip to Florida, I was fortunate enough to catch sight of an immature Krider's red-tailed hawk. This is a subspecies of the Eastern red-tail, although there seems to be some disagreement over whether it is a true subspecies or not.

Regardless, this hawk was striking as it had a very pale head and almost pure white body.

Krider's red-tailed hawk

For comparison, below is a photo of an immature red-tail photographed last year in Tompkins Square Park. Note the dark brown belly band, brown head and brown speckles on the legs. These are the hawks we usually see here in NYC.

Immature red-tail

The Krider's tail feathers had four dark brown bands at the outer ends and a pale cocoa base. I was unable to get a photo of the hawk's back as it flew away, but it had a butterfly-shaped white pattern across the wings.

Krider's red-tailed hawk

Krider's red-tailed hawk

Krider's red-tailed hawk

The hawk was seen along Highway 98 near the Lower Waccasassa Conservation Area. Thank you to my companion who spun the car around and doubled back so we could get a closer look. This was a thrill to see!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Christo and Amelia celebrate Fat Tuesday atop St Brigid's church

Today is Fat Tuesday and, although Tompkins Square red-tails Christo and Amelia did not have beads to toss to an adoring crowd, they did put on a brief celebratory show this afternoon.

Amelia perched in the sun atop the cross of St Brigid's church on Avenue B. She had a full crop, indicating she had recently enjoyed a big meal.

Amelia atop St Brigid's church

Christo, who also displayed a bulging crop, suddenly swooped up behind her.

Christo approaches Amelia

Christo approaches Amelia

He made an expert landing on her back.

Christo approaches Amelia

Christo and Amelia mating

Mating lasted all of six seconds or so.

Christo and Amelia mating

And then Christo was off in a flash.

Amelia and Christo

The pair soared above the church a couple of times before heading east. This provided an opportunity to compare their appearance while in flight. Below is Christo. Note his golden brown head and white throat.


This is Amelia, who has a darker head and a brown throat.


We are now counting down the days until eggs are laid, which should be in the next couple of weeks.