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Poem for Rosie

photo: Roger_Paw

photo of Rosie: Roger_Paw

Those of you who follow this blog know about my interest in a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks, Bobby and Rosie, whose turf is New York City’s Washington Square Park. For reasons unknown to their fans, NYU, which sponsored their webcam, decided to shut it down last spring. Did Rosie miss her worldwide audience? She’s not talking — we’ll never know. What we do know is that this fine haggard has not been seen in the park since last September.

We’re not sure what’s become of her. Hawks mate for life, and her absence may mean that she perished in an accident. January is nest-building/renovating season for hawks, so no doubt Mother Nature will provide Bobby with a new female companion soon.

Rosie and Bobby were the parents of three delightful broods: Boo and Scout (2012), Kiku, Archie and Judson (2013) and Orla and Silver (2014).

Here is a poem for Rosie:

 

Bless Rosie, vanished now,
proud haggard of Washington Square,
matriarch of springtime, three nests full,
her young clumped under her wing —

bless the infinite strangeness of who she is,
a living wilderness, gliding across cities.

Bless Bobby, her mate, who’d mount the axis of her body,
wings outstretched, as if she were the whole earth bending toward the sun,
who waits on a lone branch for the length of days
to bring her home.

And if she does not return,
a solitary hawk will come to him,
to the small park, where they will bend the sky
into each other.

There will be young in a new nest
who will one day vanish, as Rosie did,
as if she had never come, or never left.

 

© Carole Giangrande

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Kiku’s Journey (II)

Dear reader, I hope you’ll bear with so few photos in this blog entry. Permissions are hard to come by. One photographer declined my request; another couldn’t be located. However I’ll provide links to their wonderful photos. (Once you click on, you may have to scroll down past text). I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

With the young Red Tailed Hawks airborne at last, the hawk-watchers of New York’s Washington Square Park (including those of us online) thought the excitement was over. Parents Bobby and Rosie got to work teaching their three fledglings hunting and flying skills — they boot the “kids” out by late August — but one of the young’uns was out for adventure a whole lot sooner than that.

In mid-July, a new juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk showed up in the park. The bird wore a band reading “NJ30” in yellow letters on a blue background. Some hawk-watchers made inquiries and discovered that the young hawk had been banded about thirteeen miles (20 km) away in New Jersey as part of a project to track bird strikes on airplanes. It was then taken sixty miles (100 km) south and released — only to head north, straight for Washington Square Park. It made sense to conclude that the young hawk was one of Bobby and Rosie’s brood, an adventurous juvenile who’d taken a day trip, had a misadventure, and remembered where home and safety was. Had she not been one of the juvies, she would have continued south as migrating season approaches. Had she been an intruder, Bobby and Rosie would have kicked her out of the park.

Kiku the Hawk visits a police car on her first day out of the nest. (Photo: Staceykaye)

Kiku the Hawk visits a police car on her first day out of the nest. (Photo: Staceykaye)

We surmised that the fledgling was Kiku, the brave and aggressive oldest sibling — the big eater who once snatched a (small) rodent from her mother and swallowed it whole; first to fledge live online with a hair-raising street-stroll downtown and a visit to a police car; first to cross the Hudson twice and live to tell the tale. Now, for her short time left as a young hawk on her parents’ turf, the banded kid had come home to resume her snatch-and-grab apprenticeship, yanking a dead pigeon from Bobby, knocking him off a branch and eating it herself — practice for life as a bird of prey, all of it “supervised” by dutiful parents.

Then a week ago, the unexpected happened. The alleged Kiku challenged mama Rosie with a threatening shriek, and Rosie went on the attack to defend her turf. (The event was documented by blogger roger_paw in a series of startling photos). The two went talon-to-talon, until Rosie finally bested the kid who lost her balance, took a tumble and ended up humbled and roosting outside the park. It was a wild and stunning defence of turf, one which occasioned a few anxious comments online. Was “the kid” really one of “ours” if she picked a fight with mom? Or was this to be expected? It’s late August anyway, time for the juvies to hit the road, right?

Right. The hawks always end up doing something wondrous, strange or gruesome that makes you shake your head in puzzlement. Kiku’s homing instinct is only one jaw-dropping example. This battle royal was another.

Only we’re tempted to imagine that they’re “like us,” when they’re not at all! Look at the Red-Tail’s instinct for parenting, this powerful empathic bond we share with them. Yet draw closer, and you feel what’s wild and unknowable about these creatures who hunt and kill and rip rats apart, then shove the guts into hungry young mouths. It’s easy to ask all the wrong questions, hoping not to taint the benign with the savage, hoping to understand wild creatures, the mystery that’s coded in their genes.

Hmmm.

It’s easy to forget that hawks (like all wild critters) function in a realm of awareness unknown to us. When lost, they find their way home; with superb eyesight, they hunt for food in order to feed their young. All descriptive language applied to them (primitive behaviour, killing machines, survival of the fittest, loving parenthood, tender solicitude) is ours, not theirs. They are utterly Other, one of nature’s generous gifts, one that inspires contemplation, humility and no small dose of wonder. Each spring and summer, we online chatters are privileged observers of their remarkable world, one that is woven of relationships — theirs to each other and ours to them, haunted by what poet bpNichol described as “between each other and some other other.”

The hawks teach us to live life in awe, to honour and respect what we will never understand, to experience gratitude for enduring mystery. Bravo to gutsy Kiku, Rosie, Bobby and the other hawks for being just what they are.

Thanks to all this season’s bloggers and chatters — and to NYU — for this opportunity to experience so many transcendent moments.

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Kiku’s Journey

Kiku the Hawk visits a police car on her first day out of the nest. (Photo: Staceykaye)

Kiku the Hawk visits a police car on her first day out of the nest. (Photo: Staceykaye)

Everything flows, nothing abides. Heraclitus said it all for a trio of baby New York hawks in their nest on the twelfth floor of NYU’s Bobst Library, just outside the president’s office. Wise words also for our band of hawk enthusiasts who’ve gathered around our computers for the past six weeks, playing hookey from work and other nuisances, observing parents Bobbie and Rosie and their second brood. All of us were aware that the pleasures of home and infancy were about to end for these fascinating creatures.

Sure enough, Kiku, the oldest, fledged Friday morning — lifted her wings, flew from the nest and landed on a ledge a few stories below. Adventures followed. Poor Kiku took off again, landing, confused, on a busy street in the Village, then on top of a police car, attracting a crowd of local paparazzi. She was protected by patient Bruce Yolton, the videographer on the ground, who kept the crowd away from her while streaming his live feed of the event to over two hundred followers. He kept explaining that she was like a kid who’d left the nursery, a bit lost and disoriented, but she’d figure out what to do. After many anxious moments (including her tenuous grip on scaffolding and a visit to a UPS truck), Kiku found her way to a higher ledge and safety.  A city hawk, she understands buildings, but has yet to learn about trees or to grasp the dangers of downtown traffic. One of our more knowledgeable members has reassured us that her parents are watching, that they’re giving her space to find her own way in her new abode, that after this series of adventures, she will never return to the nest again.

Life’s like that! While very young, Kiku (now fifty days old) was the object of much good-natured ribbing in the chat room for her voracious eating habits (she once snatched a live rat from her mom and swallowed it whole), and for picking on Judson, the baby of the group. Yet alone on her ledge after her first solo flight, she seemed distinct in her solitary beauty. She’d become a mystery feathered in awe, an intelligent and graceful creature who, by summer’s end, will pass out of our lives — along with her two soon-to-fledge siblings Archie and Judson.

The chat room doesn’t go on forever, either. Many of us have acknowledged that the kindly company we keep online has touched us as much as the beauty of the hawks. As the weeks have passed, there’s been a generous spirit, an affectionate cheering on of the little raptors (who could hardly be conscious of our presence), and it’s this that has often touched my heart — never more than today, as the first of our “babies” leave home with the love of hundreds of online friends.

Yes, our imaginative chatter is often sheer projection. We put words into the mouths of birds and enrich our own vocabulary with silly puns (“Starbeaks” is one of my favourites). Yet our chat also heralds a shift of consciousness, one aided by the Internet and its power to draw us — and the natural world — together. Our passion for hawks can’t be explained away. Some things in life are too mysterious to explain, and life is full of simple wonders. It happened that I stumbled upon the chat room in frustration, stuck visiting the New York Times website because they’d stopped sending me email headlines. That’s how I found last year’s hatchlings, Boo and Scout. I’d never watched birds before and I was smitten. Such is the ordinary gift of grace.

When I first saw Kiku outside the nest, I understood that she now belonged to the mystery of her own life and not to our wishes for her, however benign. When someone mentioned that she’d left home, falconer John Blakeman replied that her home was now the entire park. This is literally true, but as a metaphor, it grasps the truth that we humans and raptors are creatures of a larger and more mysterious reality than our solitary selves. We live by connection. We online viewers have woven a nest that mirrors the nest we’ve been observing. Like the hawks’ nest, ours will soon become dormant until next season. Yet in this simple metaphor, we are connected to each other and to the hawks, and it is in this bond that we abide.

These fledge days are transcendent, both a wild ride and a beautiful rite of passage for us all.

Good flying and godspeed, Kiku, Archie, and Judson.

*

View the fledge videos at http://new.livestream.com/urbanhawks/wspfledgeday2013/videos/20226930

*

I will be spreading my own wings next Tuesday for a “fledgling” trip to China. Back in two weeks!

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The Hawks’ Gift

Image

(photo: WingedThings)

Spring’s back, and so are those cute little bobble-headed hawk chicks — properly called eyasses — and their parents, Bobbie and Rosie Red-Tail, the pride of New York City’s Washington Square Park.

And so is sorrow.

Yesterday, I wondered if the third of three chicks would make it out of his/her shell as promptly as the first two. It did. Little Judson (named for Judson Memorial Church, where its parents mated on the cross) squiggled out into the nest, joining siblings Kiku (whose name honours a late member of the online chatroom) and Archie (for the famed Washington Square Arch). Terminal cuteness all around; virtual champagne and cigars and congrats to the parents from a raft of virtual aunts and uncles. On my wall is posted a birth announcement, provided by a chat member when Kiku hatched last Friday.

Two hours after little Judson poked his way into the world, two bombs exploded on Boylston Street in Boston, disrupting the marathon and claiming three lives, including that of an eight year-old child. In the chat room, the conversation had become agitated, and this was when I realized that something dreadful had happened.

Many of us worried about friends in Boston while we eyed the nestlings. Since the hawks’ turf is in downtown Manhattan, memories of 9/11 began to surface in the online chat. As our fear and dread scrolled by to the right of the screen, the webcam continued to show fluffballs Kiku, Archie and Judson — the oldest only three days old — tussling, squawking and grabbing for food. In innocence, they carried on, the image of solace in the midst of grief and pain — Bobby Hawk bringing fresh rodent meat; Rosie putting the “kids” down for a nap under her enormous cape of feathers. As we tried to unravel the tragedy in Boston, we would pause to look at them, to observe Rosie’s patience and to enjoy those three tiny packages of life.

It’s not surprising that hundreds of people love watching hawks and their nestlings online. These big raptors rescue us from narcissism because they have absolutely nothing to say about the human condition. In the face of our sufferings, they eat, sleep, romp, make love and catch rodents. They invite us to ooh and ahh, to laugh and cry, to receive the gifts that life has to offer. They bring us hope in sorrow. They are nature’s sign of goodness in the world.

Visit Bobby, Rosie and family at http://www.livestream.com/nyu_hawkcam

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Summer’s Finest Day

As I say a reluctant farewell to a long, warm summer (which “officially” ends Saturday), my mind wanders back to a July day when time ambled along as it does in childhood, when I turned off the iPod and cellphone, and, along with my spouse, sat on a park bench and did nothing. We were in New York City, on the south side of the famous arch in Washington Square Park — a day made for lemonade and ice cream, sunbathers, chess players, and guitar strummers sitting in the shade. Birdwatchers, too; my spouse had the latter skill and I had the camera. I’d come to see “in person” those two baby hawks, former fluff-balls Boo and Scout, now a pair of fledged juvenile red-tails who’d spent summer in the park learning to fly and hunt with their solicitious parents, Bobby and Rosie. The young take off by August, leaving the home turf to mom and dad and the next brood, so this was our only chance to see the two fledglings.

And I was thrilled when we spotted them. One of the “babies” perched on the arch; one or another flew overhead, demonstrating the elegance of their new-found soaring skills. The camera did the rest. I’ve seen far better pictures of the great birds, but none I’ll cherish more.  

 

 

 

 

 

To observe these hawks in their fullness of life was an experience of true wonder and it left me with a profound sense of connection to the world. Those two cute roughhousing chicks I’d viewed online every day last spring had grown into a pair of magnificent raptors off to soar in an endless sky. What vitality and wildness in those feather-layered wings, those enormous eyes and majestic profiles, gifts of nature at its most extravagant.  Generous, too. Think about it: apart from evolution, there’s no reason why these beautiful creatures have come to live among us in the city. They don’t have to be here. But they are. So much of the world is inexplicable in this way; so much of it is a gift.

You might say that for a moment, our clouded vision cleared, that sitting in the park on a quiet afternoon, we saw into the radiance of the world. Apart from that, we hung out and relaxed.

It was summer’s finest day.

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Bright Wings

The baby hawks have taken flight at last.

This blurry photo from the New York Times shows them after landing.

Now in spite of my absence from this blog, I’ve had more to do over the past  seven weeks than sit riveted to my computer screen, watching the antics of two growing chicks, waiting for the momentous day when they’d spread their wings and soar into the wind. But busy as I am, life has been made wondrous by this unexpected gift, this intimate view of a world unknown to me.

Hatched in a nest on the twelfth floor of NYU’s Bobst Library (on the south side of New York’s Washington Square Park), the two chicks were dubbed Boo and Scout by New York Times readers (homage to characters in the novel To Kill A Mockingbird). They’ve attracted a huge group of webcam watchers and park birders, along with a very lively online chatroom.  And no wonder. Viewed up close, their young lives were filled with adventures, some of them gut-churning to a squeamish urbanite (mama Rosie’s delivery of fresh rat meat, the “kids” slurping down the entrails, spaghetti-like). Yet all of them inspired gratitude for our privileged view of hawk parents raising their young. Lots of mishaps; we fretted over the tangle with the plastic bag that got twisted around Scout’s leg (until she somehow dislodged it). Courtesy of an online FAQ, we learned more than we might have wished about the anatomy and chemistry of “slicing” (as bird defecation is called), leading one observer to describe their less-than-pristine ledge as a “poop deck” and another to name their tale a “life of slice.”

Yet the fullness of life in these small, struggling creatures was a constant source of wonder. How quickly the hawk pair grew from fluff-ball chicks to spikey-headed young ones, complete with the solemn eyes, little hooked beaks and tiny talons of their species. Slowly — whether through instinct, DNA or some form of proto-consciousness — they appeared to sense that their floppy appendages were purposeful things, growing feathers that lifted them into the wind. Then came “jump-flapping” — a precise description of the young hawks’ exercise routine and flying practice. Scout (the larger of the two) flapped so hard and high that we often thought the wind would sweep her away. Days passed, an anxious fledge-watch started in the park and online, the nest looked like a public health disaster in the making and the young ones edged out of the webcam’s view, to a tidier corner of the ledge.

And then they flew.  It was still light, shortly after 8 p.m. Monday evening when Scout took off for her first flight of about two hundred metres, landing on an eighth-floor ledge of NYU’s Silver Centre at the northeast corner of the park. About twenty minutes later, Boo joined her. It’s uncommon for hawks to fledge in dwindling daylight, even less so for a pair of siblings. They did it their way — a pair of sassy New York raptors who preferred to fledge from one tall building to another, avoiding those weird green trees. In our human way, we’d like to think they wanted to stay close to each other, and the presence of their poppa Bobby on the new ledge seemed to confirm this.

So many of us were touched by this experience. In a short time, the birds changed — but so did we. They changed us. They brought us into a world made new, a world seen through fresh eyes, one that offered the grace of delight. So much about flying speaks to us of liberation — a rite of passage, a spiritual journey, a brave step into the unknown. It’s no surprise that one online hawk-watcher compared fledging to a bar-mitzvah, another to a graduation. I find it a lovely coincidence that the chicks hatched during Easter week, the great feast of life reborn; that seven weeks later, the baby hawks fledged at the time of Pentecost, the celebration of earth’s renewal through the Spirit who “…over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” (Thank you, Gerard Manley Hopkins).

For 2012, I’d add a soundtrack: the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia.

Blessings as you fly, Boo and Scout. Godspeed.

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A video of the fledging can be found at http://urbanhawks.blogs.com/urban_hawks/2012/05/washington-square-fledges.html  For more information and spectacular photos, visit http://rogerpaw.blogspot.ca/

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Hatchlings

It began just over a week ago, when the New York Times’ webcam caught the image of the two eggs as they began to hatch. A young family had set up house in downtown Manhattan — a pair of red-tailed hawks and their young in a nest outside a twelfth floor window overlooking Washington Square Park. The cuteness factor runs high here, the numbers on the live-view ticker racing upwards as over a thousand of us play hookey from work and allow ourselves (if you’ll pardon me) a bird’s-eye view. Two fluffy little pompom-heads, nested in a collection of branches, string, and paper bits, open beaks wide as mama (or papa, hard to tell) delivers gourmet fare — dainty morsels of fresh rat meat — to the little ones (for the faint of stomach and heart, the rat carcasses don’t last long).

Like all newborns, these two are mesmerizing — fascinating and beautiful to watch as they reach out to the world. Their entry into life is wondrous — it’s the sudden burst of light at the tip of a struck match, the world beginning all over again. In both their fragility and fullness of life, there’s something primal and mysterious about this pair of hatchlings that I find very moving. Watch the chicks use their stubby wings like sense organs, reaching out to touch their surroundings. Trying to stand, they boost themselves up with these proto-wings, toppling over, flopping their little appendages about each other in what looks like a cuddle as they stumble into connectedness.  Already you’ll see the outlines of the elegant creatures that they will become.

Watch these two tiny bundles of hunger, play and sleep, beautiful and alive to the core, and you can hear the echo of all the life in the world. You feel awakened, and, if I may say it, blessed.

Visit the chicks at http://www.nytimes.com/pages/nyregion/index.html

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