When the Hudson River is frozen upstate and ice floes form, wintering Bald Eagles ride the ice up and down the lower Hudson. With the cold weather we've been having, conditions are near perfect to see eagles from the Dyckman Fishing Pier in the southwest corner of Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan. Today, we saw three adults and five juveniles drift by the pier. Locals say the best times to watch are early in the morning from 8 to 10 a.m.
It was above freezing and sunny out, so the part was full of people today. Although I missed photographing the events, I did see the hawks copulate twice. For me, it takes seeing the copulation to feel like a new couple has mated, so this was great.
I followed a hawk out to Sixth Avenue, and off in the distance at the old St. Vincent's Hospital site was a hawk on a crane. I couldn't figure out if it was a WSP hawk, or a hawk from another pair. When the Couch's Kingbird was around I kept seeing a pair of hawks. I wonder if we have a new pair trying to establish themselves in the northwest of the Village?
On early Sunday afternoon, I arrived at Tompkins Square Park to find the two adults circling just east of the park. They circled and circled, getting higher and higher until they joined at least two other Red-tailed Hawks and what looked like another species of raptor. The Red-tailed Hawks escorted out the intruder.
When it was over the two Tompkins Square Park hawks returned and they seemed to be escorting a pair of Red-tailed Hawks to move further north. My interpretation of the events was that the pair of hawks seen frequently in Stuyvesant Town may have been chasing an intruder, gotten support from the TSP Pair, but once the intruder was safely escorted out of both pairs territories, the Stuyvesant Town hawks had to be chased back to their territory.
Just before the snow started today, I was able to watch the new female. She was briefly on the nest and spent some time on a chimney on 3rd Street. The male was on the cross for about twenty minutes.
The video is rather long, but I wanted to let folks have a chance to study the new female's markings.
Winter brings a lot of juvenile Red-tailed Hawks into Central Park. This one looked great in the sunny weather on Sunday.
I went up to Ulster County, NY to see the Gyrfalcon that has around for a few weeks. The bird, which depending on the day has been easy to find or hard to find, was very cooperative today.
In addition to the Gyrfalcon, I was able to photograph a Short-eared Owl. Definitely worth driving for four hours!
I got up early on a Saturday to visit Washington Square Park hoping for a Valentine's Day love fest, only to have a very, cold morning watching Bobby. His potential mate did arrive in the early afternoon, but only for a brief interval.
My team at the office is doing major upgrade to one of core I.T. systems, and I had to run into the office briefly to offer my support. While I was gone, I get a few texts that the two hawks were sitting together on One Fifth Avenue. Just my luck!
When I got back to the park, there was no sign of either hawk and it began to snow so I gave up for the day.
The pictures on a Spanish tile roof are of the new female. She has light coloring under her eyes, something distinct from Bobby's features. As time goes one, I'm sure we'll find more and more field marks to tell them apart.
At Washington Square Park, the female hawk of the pair, Rosie hasn't been seen all winter. Two days ago, a new female arrived.
I tried to get a glimpse of her after work. She was nowhere to be found. But I did get to see Bobby fly around the park and go off to roost.
He asks an excellent question. Could Pale Male actually be Pale Male II, or even the Pale Male III? It certainly is a question worth asking, and one that might have an unpopular answer.
Manhattan hawk watchers have seen hawks replace mates in under 24 hours. There were fast replacements of partners at both the St. John the Divine and Washington Square Park nests in recent years. So, a quick switch of hawks is certainly possible.
Most New York City nests, which are usually characterized as long-term monogamous triumphs, have actually had a good number of mate changes due to the mortality of partners. So, Corey's question is a good one. Could a look alike have replaced the original Pale Male? Maybe during the off-season, when a missing hawk would have gone unnoticed?
Corey brings up Pale Male’s unusually long lifespan, the ratio of his mates to himself (8:1), to cast doubt, then questions if Pale Male, who hasn’t been banded, really has enough unique plumage markers to determine if he’s the same bird that appeared in Central Park in 1991?
Corey also implied something I’ve always been concerned about, which is “Can those who believe in the myth of Pale Male also be good observers of him?”
So, could Corey be right? Maybe.
First let’s look at Pale Male’s plumage. Unfortunately, Corey quotes from Marie Winn’s book to find a description of how Pale Male looked in the “old days”. Marie loves to spin a good story, sometimes at the sake of accuracy. So I think it would be best not to use her anthropomorphically entitled Red-tails in Love, as scientific source material. If you want to compare the plumage of Pale Male, year over year, one can use the footage of Pale Male from Frederic Lilien’s 2004 Nature episode and compare it to photographs and footage from today. I believe the DVD is on Netflix! (But even doing this leave a huge gap for the first decade of Pale Male's life.)
(In the early nineties, Pale Male arrived and was lighter than the hawks in the guidebooks, so he was dubbed Pale Male by Marie Winn. However, Pale Male’s light color is not that unusual for a mid-Atlantic hawk. His light coloring is fairly common. It is part of the myth of Pale Male that his coloring is rare.)
Both from this older era and today, the plumage is very consistent to my eyes. Light scalloped feathers (with a oak leaf like patterns) on his lower breast and light head color, which is almost golden in the right light, are consistent in both periods. But even day-to-day, Pale Male has lots of different looks depending on the temperature or the lighting. He doesn’t have any truly unique field marks.
Secondly, the passing of so many mates is hard to explain, but how all of these hawks got into trouble isn’t just rat poison. Pale Male could just have some great luck. But other issues come into play too. New York City seems to have greater death by rodenticides in females, especially before nesting. There have been lots of necropsies where females bleed out via their ovaries. Could males have it easier in NYC?
Thirdly, we have Pale Male’s long life span. Pale Male should be living a long life, in one of the richest zip codes in America. He lives in a very safe area, with a great food supply.
So, is Corey right? He builds a good case, but it isn’t solid. Maybe enough evidence to win a civil trail, but certainly not enough to win a criminal case.
But I do know one thing, if this discussion upsets you, then you’re not someone who should be sitting on the jury. Maybe you’re too attached to the myth of Pale Male to judge fairly.
Update: Since I first posted this, I've run into some of the long term Pale Male followers in Central Park. Those that have followed him since 1992 when he arrived and 1993 when the nest was built on 5th Avenue. Although they don't have pictures online, they do have slides and prints that show what Pale Male looked like in the early days. Having talked to these unbiased observers of Pale Male, I now believe that we are viewing the same individual, not two. It would be great if one of them could collect some photos and put them online to put this question to rest.
After hearing two very upset hawks and watching workers try to install a piece of plexiglass (which seems to be a very bad idea), we ran into a member of the Christodora Co-op Board who explained what was happening at the Christodora House.
The building is starting a two year facade renovation which will require surrounding the building with a protective screen so all the brickwork can be replaced. If you've seen the top of the Christodora, which has mesh on top of almost the entire top floor to prevent brickwork from falling, you know this is an urgent and necessary project.
So, the buildings actions to remove the nest and discourage the hawks from reestablishing a nest are entirely justified. It's better to force the hawks to relocate, then to have them injured during the construction.
But you have to wonder about two things:
1) How naïve the building's board and management company must be not to have had a press release ready to explain their actions? The Christodora House nest did get huge coverage in the NYC tabloids. It was big news. Didn't the board know about the problems at Pale Male's nest and the recent fines levied against a construction crew on Central Park West?
2) What the heck are they doing with that sheet of plexiglass? Imagine what would happen if one of the adult hawks flies into the plexiglass and is injured? Looks like the Christodora House needs some adult supervision.
On Friday, Tompkins Square Park bird watchers discovered the hawk nest had been removed from the seventh floor air conditioner of the Christodora House. In its place was a strip of pigeon spikes.
On Saturday and Sunday the hawks, which the locals have named Christo and Dora, worked overtime to start rebuilding the nest.
Irregardless of the ethics or legalities surrounding the removal of an established nest during the winter, we're now in a difficult situation.
If the co-op owner, management company or a construction crew had a legitimate reason to remove the nest, their recent actions haven't dissuaded the hawks from moving. So, will the building just torture the hawks by removing the nesting materials each week until spring? That certainly would be cruel.
And if the nest is now left as is, will the pigeon spike cause a problem for the eyasses safety this spring?
I suspect this situation will end up being escalated to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Let's hope that either the building is forced to let the hawks continue nesting on the Christodora House or if the hawks are to be evicted, that old nest site is properly prepared so the hawks begin to find an alternate nesting location as soon as possible.
On winter Sunday afternoons, NYC Audubon hosts a harbor cruise in association NYC Water Taxi. I took the cruise today and had a great time watching birds and harbor seals out in the NYC harbor.
There is a Peregrine nest box on the northern building of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center complex on Randalls Island. Both resident Peregrines were perched near the nest box at dusk on Saturday. While I was getting my camera gear out to photograph them, one took off and the other had moved to a new perch to eat prey.
Red-shouldered Hawk aren't at all unusual in New York City, but we only see them a few times a year in Central Park, so this was another nice winter surprise.
At the feeders on Saturday, were an American Tree Sparrow and a Chipping Sparrow. (The Tree sparrow has a bi-colored beak and one wing bar.) They very cooperatively both went to a single bird feeder together a few times.