A Month of Raptors

I didn’t begin the month thinking I would end up paying rigorous attention to the raptors I’d see, but the New Year’s Day appearance of a Peregrine Falcon zooming down 39th Street became, in retrospect, auspicious.

Below are the month’s raptor sightings, meaning individual birds may have been counted more than once, for instance the Cooper’s spotted around my neighborhood. All these birds were seen in Brooklyn, except of January 16’s sightings in the New York Botanical Garden. The richest days were weekends when I had a couple or more hours in the parks, but there were enough weekday sightings to keep things interesting, too. The flash of a raptor, a Cooper’s zooming overhead, a Red-tail circling in the sky, seem almost commonplace now, provided one’s eyes are on the alert.

Jan. 1: Peregrine over 39th St.
Jan. 3: Red-tailed over Gowanus
Jan. 4: Merlin perched above Long Meadow; Red-tailed over Long Meadow; Cooper’s over Greenwood Park bar, heading towards Green-wood; Cooper’s over Clinton St.
Jan. 10: Two Red-tailed over Terrace Bridge; Merlin perched over Nethermead
Jan. 11: Red-tailed flying to perch on St. Agnes
Jan. 15: Cooper’s over Court St.
Jan. 16: Cooper’s in Yew, 2 Red-tailed overhead, NYBG
Jan. 17: Peregrine over BK Heights, Pier 1, and BB; Cooper’s Hawk over Congress & BQE; Red-tailed over Quaker Ridge; Merlin, harried by Jays around Terrace Bridge, feeders; Peregrine perched on FDNY tower Wash Ave; Red-tailed perched atop St. Agnes
Jan. 19: Cooper’s Hawk perched on top of LICH building on Atlantic.
Jan. 22: 3 Red-tailed over Long Meadow: two circling each other another passing; Cooper’s perched by Terrace Bridge (same tree as Merlin, RTH in past)
Jan. 25: Bald Eagle low over Green-Wood, perching, breaking its bough! Red-tailed over perched Bald Eagle; Peregrine twice, zooming past Green-Wood gate; Red-tailed chasing Cooper’s over Degraw/Clinton
Jan. 29: Red-tailed hawk out back, (alerted by squirrel alarm); Red-tailed sailing low over Long Meadow
Jan. 30: Red-tailed hawk wheeling above 8th Ave & Union, heading towards Prospect.

Thirty one sightings, five species. The most unusual was the Bald Eagle. Also unusual: not a single Kestrel this month. I also didn’t make it to the city’s edges, where the occasional Red-shouldered Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk may sometimes be seen. Nonetheless, this is an average of one raptor sighting a day in New York City. I think that’s pretty remarkable. Note that I didn’t count two incidents: one bird was perched so far away I wasn’t sure enough to ID it (it was probably a Red-tailed). Another case of a distant Cooper’s in the air, could very possibly have been the one I’d seen perched half an hour before because it looked like it had had come from that general area.

The lesson here is keep your eyes on the sky. Also the sidewalk, too, of course. And remember, the more you look, the more you’ll see.





Vertical Canyonlands

Celtis occidentalisThe distinctive basin and range topography of Northern Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) bark. Layers of the bark’s growth can be seen, looking like layers of sediment, to continue the geological analogy. Hackberries were once classified in the Ulmaceae, or elm, family but are now considered to be a member of the Cannabaceae, or hemp family. Yes, that’s the one with the black sheep Cannabis genus, along with the blessed deliverer of bitterness, the hops Humulus.


Sciurus carolinensisSquirrels (Sciurus carolinensis).Sciurus carolinensis

Raptor Wednesday

Buteo jamaicensisButeo jamaicensisButeo jamaicensisSt. Agnes towers over the northern end the Gowanus. There must be a grand view from up there. This is a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) ~ but you knew that.


striationsThe buck stopped here in what is now Brooklyn; indeed, the buck of glacial ice made Brooklyn and the rest of Long Island, depositing the rubble of rock and soil it had scraped forward until it stopped and retreated and left the jumble behind. Two pulses of glacial activity formed Long Island, leaving ridges that extend out through the North and South Forks; these are called terminal moraines. In Brooklyn the later moraine sort of smeared out the earlier one, so we’ve only one: it has a name — Harbor Hill, capped by Green-Wood and part of Prospect — known to few but geologists, and is best marked by neighborhoods with ridge, heights, hill, and slope as part of their name. Runoff of smaller particles from the moraines made the flatlands to the south, the outwash plain. Rising seawaters then sculpted the Island’s outline.

All this to say that you have to go to Central Park and the Bronx to find glacial striations, the grooves ground into exposed rock by the gritty underside of the glaciers. Here’s a patch of schist in the New York Botanical Garden’s forest. The groves run NW-SE, the direction of the ice. 10,000 or so years of erosion have softened them a bit.

White-headed Sea Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalusYesterday in Green-Wood I was enjoying the sun in a section of the cemetery I’d never been in before when a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew overhead. Whoa! The bird was a mature adult; it takes about four years for those white feathers to come in completely on the head and tail. The look is as distinctive as a flag. The bird was flying low and I wondered if it would land nearby. It did.Haliaeetus leucocephalusIt was perched above the Crescent Water in this pine. From here it flew somewhere thattaway. When I eventually got up over the hill, there it was again. These birds are big (31″ length, 80″ wingspan), so they really stick out when up in a bare tree. I was just about to get a focus on the bird for some more pictures when it stretched out its wings. There was a crack, the branch the bird was sitting on broke and plummeted down with a crash as the bird flew away. They can weigh up to a dozen pounds, which is an awful lot for a bird.Haliaeetus leucocephalusI ran into two birders at Green-Wood’s Gothic pile entrance at 5th Ave. who saw the bird leaving the cemetery grounds in a northwesterly direction. This was the first time I’ve seen an adult specimen of the species, whose binomial translates as this post’s title (“bald” is pretty dumb see comment below), actually standing in Brooklyn.

I just read the other day that there about 150 pairs in NJ and close to 200 in NY. There is a breeding pair on Staten Island. Thoreau, who used the old “white-headed” name for these birds, said about an 1854 encounter with one: “We who live this plodding life here below never know how many eagles fly over us. They are concealed in the empyrean.” But by the 1970s, there was almost nothing to conceal: NY was down to a single pair, and they were unsuccessful at breeding. Bringing them back from the brink (often from upper Midwestern stock, btw) been a great success story, one we must build on.


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  • 7 south-bound B63s as I've walked 20 blocks of 5th hoping for a single north-bound one. 19 minutes ago
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