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Monthly Archives: February 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

It seems nearly official: the Red-tailed Hawks that made their home on a Race Street fire escape last year appear to be moving into a new nest at a nearby industrial building.

Don Cooper and Stephanie Pierce both photographed the hawks on the new nest in the past week, and on Sunday I finally had my chance. After spotting both hawks in Lyman Terrace early this afternoon, the hawk above flew in to the new nest with a large stick shortly after I arrived at the site. It sat on the nest for about 25 minutes before setting out again.

The new site is a little more secluded than the last, but it’ll offer this year’s brood much more safety when they’re ready to fledge. That’s a good thing, for them and for me; I’m not sure I could take a second year of watching young hawks learn to fly at a busy intersection.

Below, a few more images I captured today, including a visit to City Hall by both adults:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

One of the adult hawks from the Race Street nest in July, 2012. (c) Greg Saulmon

One of the adult hawks from the Race Street nest in July, 2012. (c) Greg Saulmon

Last year's nest, on a Race Street fire escape. (c) Greg Saulmon 2012

Last year’s nest, on a Race Street fire escape. (c) Greg Saulmon 2012

As we head into nesting season for Red-tailed Hawks, there’s been an interesting development with the pair that made their home on a Race Street fire escape last year.

A few months ago I noticed a new nest on a nearby industrial building, and I’ve been waiting to see if the hawks would relocate there this year. Sure enough, at the end of last week fellow birder Stephanie Pierce spotted an adult Red-tail on that new nest.

The next morning, though, I spotted two adults on last year’s nest. Then, this morning: one adult on the new nest.

A few months ago, a new nest appeared a short distance away from the fire escape. (c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A few months ago, a new nest appeared a short distance away from the fire escape. (c) Greg Saulmon 2013

So, it appears the hawks may be visiting both sites, deciding on which will be most suitable.

People in the neighborhood have told me that the nest on the fire escape has been there for about four or five years. But, the pattern may have been disrupted when the female of the pair died last spring. The male took on a new mate just weeks before last year’s brood fledged, and this will be their first nesting season together.

Is it possible that they’ve decided to stay in the neighborhood, but in a slightly more secluded location? When I saw them on the old nest, were they actually gathering nesting material to move to the new location?

We’ll see in the weeks to come — last year the female of the pair began incubating her eggs somewhere between March 7 and 15.

The visits by the Holyoke Red-tails to these nesting sites also coincide with activity over at the Cornell campus, where the hawks that star in a live web cam began visiting their nest last week. Here’s a clip from the Cornell cam from Feb. 13:

Starr Saphir in Central Park, May, 2012. (c) Greg Saulmon

Starr Saphir in Central Park, May, 2012. (c) Greg Saulmon

On a gray Manhattan morning in late May 2012, at the tail end of the spring migration that sees up to 100 bird species pass through the city en route to their summer homes in the north, Starr Saphir wove through Central Park like a divining rod — if divining rods were meant to detect warblers instead of water.

Traffic hummed along Central Park West. A helicopter flew overhead as two dogs fought on a nearby lawn. Still, Saphir heard birds, and when a Warbling Vireo reeled off its frenetic violin solo of a song she snapped to attention.

“I only hear the birds,” she told me later. “A truck could hit me — I wouldn’t hear it.”

Saphir, who died Tuesday after an 11-year battle with breast cancer, led birding walks in Central Park for 28 years. The morning I joined her was her last group walk of the spring. As a few stragglers joined the group, Saphir, unsure that we’d see much of anything so late in the season, assessed the turnout: “Well, this proves that we are a species in which hope springs eternal.”

Known as the “matriarch” of the park’s birding scene — she logged 259 species there over the years — Saphir naturally figured as a character in the documentary “Birders: The Central Park Effect,” which aired last summer on HBO.

The show took its title from an ornithological principle: if you put a park in an urban area — even one as densely populated as Manhattan — it will serve as a magnet for numerous species of birds. As filmmaker Jeffrey Kimball explained on the show’s website, “What I really hope people take away is that a vacant lot, or a backyard, or a strip of road — anything can be thought of as habitat and should be preserved and treated as habitat and not abused, because it very well may be supporting a little pocket of nature.”

HBO will air the program again at 6 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, in honor of Saphir’s passing. (The program is also available via Amazon and iTunes.)

Anyone who joined one of Saphir’s walks quickly learned that she was a character as colorful as the birds she sought. She had a habit of walking with one arm tucked like a wing behind her back, and of scolding birders for pointing at their quarry.

On that May morning her outfit seemed chosen to coordinate with the Cerulean Warbler featured on her website’s masthead. She wore a blue bandana over curly gray hair; glasses over heavy blue eye shadow; a blue windbreaker tied around her waist; blue running shoes. Her t-shirt was tan, with a picture of a bird.

She looks like this in most pictures you’ll find.

For a decade after she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, she continued to lead her birding walks four days a week: Monday through Wednesday, and Saturday. She charged $8 per person.

The walks covered a great deal of ground; Saphir moved quickly, with only brief pauses for observation. After a vigorous search for an Acadian Flycatcher Saphir heard calling in the trees, she was off to the next location within moments of spotting the tiny olive bird.

A short distance away, she heard another call. “Warbling Vireo,” she shouted over a lawnmower as she tried to alert the group. Then, frustration in her voice rising: “Warbling Vireo. Warbling… God!”

A raccoon slumbered in a nearby tree. Saphir moved on.

In the Ramble the group stopped at a pair of benches. Saphir sat and I asked her how birding in the park had changed over the decades.

She began scientifically. “There are far fewer neotropical migrants,” she said, chalking the decline up to several factors: deforestation and the suburbanization of America following World War II; pesticides; feral cats. In the 1970s, she says, an abundance of migrants would mean seeing 300 American Redstarts or Magnolia Warblers during the spring migration.

Now, to see 30 of either species in a season is considered a bounty.

She squinted at the trees and said, “I’m sorry there aren’t more birds.”

Then, after a quiet moment interrupted only by a woodpecker somewhere out in the Ramble, she offered another observation about how her experience birding in the park had changed: “I sit more than I used to.”

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Below, a gallery of images from the walk.

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The population of Cooper’s Hawks in the city has remained robust throughout the winter, and I’ve seen at least one nearly each time I’ve gone out for the past few months.

On Sunday morning I spotted three in the center of the city within just about an hour, beginning with this one in Heritage State Park:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A few blocks away, I found one hanging around a block of abandoned buildings near the library:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

The hawk above was a pretty interesting sighting. Two of my previous interactions with this particular location include a) photographing a fire that left a number of people homeless and b) photographing outreach workers from a needle exchange program visiting known shooting galleries in the city.

I’ve mostly trained myself to not be surprised at the locations in the city where interesting birds turn up, and finding this hawk just adds to the evidence behind my belief that you can really practice the hobby of birding anywhere.

Thinking I’d seen all there was to see, I nearly missed this juvenile near the corner of Chestnut and Appleton streets:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A bold squirrel ended up running the hawk out of the tree:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013