Monday, December 23, 2019

Pre-holiday meal with Tompkins Square red-tails Christo and Amelia

Late Sunday afternoon, I found red-tailed hawk Amelia munching on the remains of a pigeon in Tompkins Square Park.

Amelia with dinner

All that was left was the drumstick.

Amelia munching on a drumstick

Foot in mouth!

Amelia demonstrates foot-in-mouth

A post-meal beak-cleaning:

Amelia cleans her beak

After such a big meal, Amelia showed off her huge bulging crop. She then spent the next hour resting and digesting.

Amelia shows off her bulging crop

Meanwhile, Christo took up a pose on his golden throne, the top of the flag pole in front of the park offices.

Christo on his throne

Something caught his eye...

Christo diving off his throne

I followed him to a tree near the Temperance Fountain, where he was taking in the last of the late afternoon sun.

Christo the red-tailed hawk

A squirrel approached, but Christo wasn't interested.

Christo and a squirrel

Instead, Christo chose to dive after something else.

Christo dives after a rat

Something right in front of me.

Christo dives after a rat

My camera lost focus after this. He landed on a rat that had been frolicking in the grass a couple of feet in front of me.

Christo going for a rat

There it goes...

Christo carries off a rat

Christo obligingly paused for a brief pre-dinner photo op.

Christo with a rat

Christo and his rat dinner

The procedure is to pop off the head and eat that first.

Christo eats the best part first

As Christo enjoyed his dinner, an immature Cooper's hawk snuck into the tree across the way and watched as Christo ate.

Immature Cooper's hawk

No time for chasing Cooper's hawks today! Christo quickly downed the rat and took one last look around before the sun disappeared behind the buildings.

Christo post-dinner pose

And then he went off to roost under a fire escape. In winter months, he usually does this, keeping close to the warm brick buildings.

Christo retires for the evening

After Christo was put to bed, I returned to check on Amelia. She did not stay in the park, but disappeared over the buildings west of Avenue A where I was unable to relocate her. I've only caught her going to roost once - she's much more secretive than Christo, who sticks close to the park at night.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Raptors down south: Part 1

I took a trip down south to Florida this last November where I saw so many birds, it was almost overwhelming. All birds, all the time!

I made my first visit last February and counted 83 species. This last trip added 42 to my Florida list, and those were just the ones I was able to positively identify.

On the previous trip, I wasn't able to get a very good look at a Red-Shouldered Hawk, so I was thrilled to see numerous individuals on the most recent visit. They were everywhere, but most easily spotted perched on power lines along the highways. The red shoulder patch really stands out on the one below.

Red-Shouldered Hawk along Hwy 98 in Florida

This one was seen at sunrise in St Mark's Wildlife Refuge, the same place where the Vermilion Flycatcher has been hanging out.

Red-Shouldered Hawk in St Mark's Wildlife Refuge in Florida

Up in Port St Joe, which was slammed by Hurricane Michael in October 2018, this little kestrel had staked out a territory along a grassy embankment.

Kestrel in Port St Joe Florida

The area was composed of a large open field dotted with tree snags, a perfect hunting ground for a kestrel. Below, he snacks on a dragonfly.

Kestrel eating a dragonfly

The dragonfly turned out to be a Green Darner, which have been found to migrate. The one below hung out with me for almost an hour and let me watch it hunt. It flew back and forth over a patch of grass, pausing for a few seconds on every turn. That's when I was able to snap a photo. That's also when a kestrel is able to nab one!

Green Darner

I didn't see many Red-Tailed Hawks on this trip, but I did see an adult pair hanging out together at Crescent Lake in St Petersburg. Below, one of them gets chased by a Fish Crow.

Red-Tailed hawk being chased by a Fish Crow at Crescent Lake in Florida

The raptors above were all found in the wild, but I also visited several parks and animal rehab centers where I was able to see some species up close. On a visit to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St Petersburg, I lucked out when falconer Ash Cary of Knightwings just happened to be visiting for the day. He brought along an array of stunning birds, some of which I'd never seen before.

First up, a Tyrant/Black Hawk-Eagle:

The piercing gaze of a Tyrant Hawk-Eagle

I couldn't take my eyes off this gorgeous guy.

Tyrant Hawk-Eagle up close

This bird comes from Central and South America, and is only one of a handful in the United States. At the time of this posting, it is the only one on public display, so this was a real treat to see.

Profile of a Tyrant Hawk-Eagle

Brunch time! When the snacks came out, the Tyrant spread its wings, revealing a black and white checkered pattern on its legs and under-wings. There is also a white patch in its crest.

Tyrant Hawk-Eagle eating lunch

Another raptor I've never seen before: A Bonelli's Eagle. These are found in Northwest Africa and India.

A Bonelli's eagle ruffles its feathers

This is a Wahlberg's Eagle from Eastern and Southern Africa. For some reason, I only came away with one photo of this raptor and this is it.

A Wahlberg's eagle takes interest in something out of frame

This beauty is an African Augur Buzzard.

A  beautiful African Augur Buzzard

Here we have a European Common Buzzard, similar in appearance to a Red-Tailed Hawk.

Close-up of a European Common Buzzard

The Crested Caracara can be found in Florida, but I did not see any in the wild on this trip.

Florida's Crested Caracara

And finally, a Lanner Falcon:

A Lanner falcon surveys its surroundings

I felt really privileged to see these raptors close up, and with no one else around. That just doesn't happen here in NYC - a gathering of birds like this would attract a huge crowd. Thanks to Ash Cary for generously sharing his birds.  Check out this video interview of him as he talks about his life as a falconer.  

I wasn't able to post photos of all his raptors here, so you can see more on my Flickr page.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Vermilion flycatcher revisited

In November, I visited St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in northwest Florida and was stunned to find this male Vermilion Flycatcher.

Male Vermilion Flycatcher posing

I first visited the wildlife refuge back in February and also saw a male Vermilion Flycatcher. Could this be the same individual nine months later? It's possible, but I can't say for sure.

Hello there Mr Vermilion Flycatcher

Ebird stats show a Vermilion Flycatcher occurring at this location regularly October through March, so either the same male over-winters there, or this is a popular spot for them to visit. This video shows one at the same spot in the refuge in November 2017.

Vermilion Flycatcher at St Marks Wildlife Refuge

I'd like to believe it's the same bird as he appears alone, and has been found in the same small area of the 80,000 acre refuge.

Friendly Vermilion Flycatcher

Stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher

Male Vermilion Flycatcher at St Marks Wildlife Refuge

A rare winter Vermilion Flycatcher

A beautiful male Vermilion Flycatcher at St Marks Wildlife Refuge

Whether or not he is the same bird seen last spring is up for debate, but either way, I'm really excited to have seen a Vermilion Flycatcher twice in the same area.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Red-tails Christo and Amelia share Saturday brunch on First Avenue

After being out of town for several days, I eagerly set out on Saturday to find our local red-tailed hawks, Christo and Amelia. I didn't have to look far as I found Amelia perched on a building on First Avenue and 2nd Street.

Red-tailed hawk Amelia catches a pigeon

I must have just missed her catching this pigeon.

Red-tailed hawk Amelia with a pigeon

After perching for several minutes, Amelia readjusted her catch and began plucking it. As she did this, other pigeons kept trying to land on the ledge beside her. They seemed not to notice her until they were inches away, then would quickly turn and dive over the side of the wall. Over the next 45 minutes, as Amelia enjoyed her brunch, the pigeons repeatedly tried to land next to her, only to make the same mistake over and over. They really wanted to perch on that ledge!

Red-tailed hawk Amelia prepares a pigeon for lunch

From my vantage point on the street corner, I could see Christo flying up and down Avenue A. I wasn't sure what he was up to until he flew over to First Avenue, landed on a building across the street from Amelia, and let out a piercing scream.

Christo screams at an intruder

Circling over Amelia was an immature red-tailed hawk, an intruder in the territory.

Red-tail intruder

Amelia seemed not to care about the other hawk, but continued eating and eventually flew off towards Second Avenue. Christo kept screaming and chased after the younger hawk before landing in the same spot where Amelia had been.

Red-tailed hawk Christo lands at Amelia's spot

He picked up the brunch leftovers, which looked to be just a drumstick.

Red-tailed hawk Christo scavenges Amelia's pigeon

Christo took the pigeon leg over the buildings across the street, so I decided to head over to Tompkins Square Park.

Red-tailed hawk Christo takes off with a drumstick

When I arrived at the park, I saw Amelia and Christo had beat me there and were already perched on top of the Christodora on Avenue B. I wondered if they could be watching the intruder who was probably still around.

Red-tailed hawks Amelia and Christo keeping watch from the Christodora

I never got to find out, as Amelia suddenly took off and flew towards the East River. A couple of seconds later, Christo followed her.

Red-tailed hawks Amelia and Christo atop the Christodora

Meanwhile, in the park, the two old hawk nests are clearly visible now that the leaves have disappeared from the trees. Below is the most recently used nest in a ginkgo tree on the east side of the park.

Red-tailed hawk nest in Tompkins Square ginkgo tree

And this is what's left of the 2017 nest in a locust near the Temperance Fountain. This nest was home to the single hawklet, Ten, who was also Dora's last offspring.

Red-tailed hawk nest in Tompkins Square locust tree

We'll have to wait until some time around January or February to see what nesting plans Christo and Amelia make this season.