Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Sunrise and sunset with red-tails, Christo and Amelia, and a Cooper's hawk

Good morning!

As dawn broke on a recent cold morning, I found myself in Tompkins Square Park where red-tailed Christo was still groggily perched in his night roosting spot. He was all fluffed up and seemed surprised to see me.

Christo the red-tailed hawk waking up at dawn in Tompkins Square

What are YOU doing here so early?

Christo the hawk waking up at dawn in Tompkins Square

As the sun streamed down E 9th Street, Christo soaked it in from a tree on the east side of the park.

Christo the hawk greets the sunrise

Meanwhile, Amelia caught the early rays from the highest branch in the park. I don't know where she roosts at night, but no matter how early I get to the park in the morning, she's already there.

Red-tailed hawk Amelia at sunrise

A short while later, Christo and Amelia perched together on the cross of St Nicholas of Myra on Avenue A and watched the pigeons make their morning commute into the park.

Red-tails Christo and Amelia at sunrise

Red-tails Christo and Amelia at sunrise on Avenue A

Someone else in the neighborhood has been out and about early in the mornings. This beautiful adult Cooper's hawk has been spotted several times in recent weeks between Tompkins Square and the Bowery.

Cooper's hawk on a fire escape

As I was walking along E 6th Street last Friday morning, the Cooper's swooped down in front of me and tried unsuccessfully to catch a breakfast pigeon.

Cooper's hawk on E 6th Street

The hawk regrouped on a fire escape long enough for me to take some video:

As East Village hawks can be found at sunrise, they can also be found at sunset. This is usually the easiest time to spot them as they either make one last hunting trip for dinner in the park, or they finish off the day watching the sun go down from one of their favorite perches. Three of their most popular lookout spots are church crosses: St Nicholas of Myra on Avenue A & E 10th Street, St Brigid's on Avenue B & E 8th Street, and Most Holy Redeemer on E 3rd Street and Avenue A. You have a good chance of spotting one or both hawks on the crosses as evening falls.

Red-tails Christo and Amelia at sunset

I've been trying to capture the hawks posing in the fall foliage before all the colorful leaves disappear. Christo cooperated for the camera on an otherwise dreary afternoon.

Red-tailed hawk Christo in the fall foliage

It's the time of year when we start seeing more hawks in the city and there have been several red-tails visiting the Lower East Side. This adult took a break from chasing pigeons by perching on an air-conditioner last weekend near Grand Street.

Red-tail perched on an air-conditioner on the Lower East Side

And this immature red-tail returned my gaze as I watched it soar over East River Park. It always thrills me to look up and see a hawk staring right back at me from a mile away. They see everything.

Immature red-tail soaring over the Lower East Side

Thursday, November 7, 2019

2019 Season Finale on Governors Island

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.

Kestrel and Red-tail

Both kestrels chased the hawk around, although the red-tail didn't seem that bothered.

Kestrel and Red-tail

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.

Red-tail being shadowed by a Kestrel

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.

Red-tails on Governors Island

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.

Red-tails on Governors Island

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.

Red-tails on Governors Island

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?

Light Red-tail on Governors Island

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).

Bright-eyed Red-tail on Governors Island

This is the pale-faced hawk in flight.

Light red-tail on Governors Island

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.

Light red-tail on Governors Island

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.

Light red-tail on Governors Island

This is bright-eyes:

Bright-eyed Red-tail on Governors Island

Bright-eyes hovering:

Bright-eyed Red-tail on Governors Island

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.

Bright-eyed Red-tail with a rat on Governors Island

Here is pale-face bringing another rat my way.

Light Red-tail with a rat on Governors Island

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.

Light Red-tail with a rat on Governors Island

The last photo I took for the day was of this Carolina Wren, whose sweet song resounded over the island.

Carolina wren

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.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Autumn red-tail colors

It's my favorite time of year when the trees put on their dazzling display of vivid color, saturating the streets with stunning kaleidoscopic hues.

The blazing yellow honey locust trees on this stretch of E 6th Street just east of First Avenue make me happy every time I walk by.

Blazing yellow

Up in Central Park, this solitary orange tree looks like a flame among a grove of trees that is still firmly bent on staying green.

Central Park

I also like this time of year because the autumn colors complement the new plumage of our red-tailed hawks. Christo and Amelia have finished their summer molts, and they are now sporting beautiful brand-new feathers, as seen below on Christo. For comparison, see a scraggly molting Christo here and here.

Christo in the fall foliage

The late afternoon sun shining through the fall leaves brings out the warm tones in his brown feathers. The hawks easily blend in with the foliage, something they won't be able to do much longer as winter approaches.

Christo in the fall foliage

When I met up with Christo in Tompkins Square last weekend, he was hunting in one of the gardens. Eventually, he caught a rat and flew it right over my head and into a tree.


As Christo quickly ate his meal, another red-tail appeared out of nowhere and flew right past his face. Was this a challenge? Christo quickly took off after it and, as I ran to an area where I could see the sky, I caught sight of Amelia, who was racing across the park to help drive out the intruder.


The three hawks chased each other around so fast, I couldn't keep up. The interloper ended up flying off towards East River Park, while Christo and Amelia regrouped on the church cross at Avenue A and 10th Street.

Christo and Amelia

I like how Christo studies Amelia as she comes in for a landing.

Christo and Amelia

Christo and Amelia

The pair perched on the cross for a while, but Amelia kept taking off to patrol the area.

Christo and Amelia

When Amelia didn't return from one of her tours, Christo took off and returned to the park.


Taking advantage of the last bit of sunlight, he caught one last rat before sunset.

Christo with a rat

As the season progresses, we'll likely see more hawks in the neighborhood who are either migrating or looking for a place to spend the winter. In addition to red-tails, I've been seeing Cooper's hawks, who often come around this time of year.

On the last day of the season on Governors Island (October 31), I spent some quality time with a pair of young adult red-tails who demonstrated some excellent hawk hunting skills. I'll have more on these two in an upcoming post.

Red-tails on Governors Island