850 Words.  (Double click on photos to see them full size.)

Hawk on my balcony

I thought a Falcon landed on my balcony in the Bronx.

As I walked to my Bronx apartment, laden with bags of groceries, I looked up and saw him. He was huge, beautiful, majestic, and he was, once again, observing his domain from 18-stories up, on my balcony. The falcon returned, I thought.

I walked faster. All I could think of was getting to my apartment, getting my camera, and taking shots of him.  My last pictures of the falcon were dark and murky.

Quietly, ever so quietly, I shut my front door, put down my bags, got my camera,  crawled to the kitchen window, and began shooting. One problem: the window screen. It caused previous pictures to be too dark for a positive confirmation.

Carefully, gingerly, and again quietly, I moved it. He noticed a couple of times and gave me a harsh “Do Not Disturb” glare.  Finally, with the screen moved, he was about five-and-a-half feet from me, and I could get a few decent pictures. Afterward, I enjoyed his company, and he accepted mine. Ultimately, this time, he stayed for almost four hours.

classic features of a young hawk

Hawks have a brown ‘belly band’ across their chest with white above and below it. “That’s a classic red-tailed hawk,” said Paul Zeph, National Audubon Society.

My bird is no falcon. He is a red-tailed hawk. The species was confirmed by Paul Zeph, an educator with the National Audubon Society. You can’t tell their sex unless they are copulating or standing next to each other in pairs. “The females are larger,” he said.

My visitor appears to be a juvenile. What gave him away was the side picture.  “Hawks have this wide kind of band across the middle of their chest. We actually call that the ‘belly band,’ ” Zeph said.  “And,” he added, “in your photo you can see that there is that creamy white above and creamy white below. That’s a classic red-tailed hawk.”

For the first year the tails on their backs are brown. “After their first year they get their complete adult plumage. Then, the back of their tails turn a deep brick-red color,” he said.

About 78 pairs have been sighted in the city, Zeph estimates. The most famous hawk is Pale Male, who, of course, lives on a pricey Manhattan high-rise.  “They are fairly common around New York City now.  A number of years ago, the first pairs started returning to the city. Their young were being raised in the city,” he said, adding, “city life became imprinted on them.” Many generations live here now.

Young hawk looking to the right

Few things are as cool as the view from up here

Red-tailed hawks live about 21 years. They grow to be 26-inches tall and have a wing span that is between 38 to 43 inches.  These birds of prey grow to become sharp-eyed efficient hunters with large razor-sharp talons that can grasp and pierce their prey. They possess equally sharp hooked beaks that can rip prey apart. These raptors love to eat squirrels, “and you’ve got a few of those in the city,” Zeph said. Red-tails also love rats and mice. The Bronx has quite a few of those to snack on as well. Pigeons, oddly enough, aren’t among their first choice. “Not because they don’t like them, but because they aren’t fast enough to easily catch them,” Zeph said.  A flying bird is a harder catch for red-tails. The more agile falcon is better at catching birds in the air, he said.

This marks my third sighting of a red-tailed hawk, twice on my balcony, and once on the ground in front of a neighboring high-rise. That day, despite his large size, very few people took notice of him. In fact, he kind of reminded me of some teenager, hanging around a building waiting for his girlfriend.  It was only after a small group of people moved in, cell phones at the ready for a close-up, did the hawk fly away.

May this young red-tailed hawk always have good flying and a comfortable nest.

Still, I kept wondering why the hawk returned to my place. “It might be a very attractive roost site, especially for young birds,” Zeph said.  They are still learning how to hunt. They have not developed all their skills and need big areas to provide landing platforms, he explained.

Zeph also speculated that because of the bird’s markings, this red-tailed hawk must be a recent fledgling.  “Once they leave the nest they never return to it, he said.  “Instead they hang around their parents, and they look for places in the general area that is easy to land on as they develop their muscles.”

That means that this red-tailed hawk is probably a fledgling from an active nest.  Could anything be done to attract the hawk to my place more often, I wondered.  Zeph assured me that short of hanging live mice from the balcony, nothing would entice a bird of prey to visit.

But once a red-tailed hawk lands nearby three qualities are needed to make the bird stay for a while:

  • Patience – To get the best picture and to be around such wildlife in general.
  • Tolerance – They are huge commanding birds. They need their space, and, oh, yes, their droppings make a big mess.
  • A Quiet Spirit– They landed to rest and survey the area. Give them peace. Enjoy the hawk whenever the raptor is near.

    Red-tailed Hawk

    While moving the screen he gave me a harsh glare.

The End



(302 words)

While the New York State and national unemployment rate are doing a bit better, at 7.7 percent and 8.6 percent respectively, a closer look shows that New York City has not fared as well. The unemployment rate for the entire city remained the same at 9.0 percent for October, which is the same rate as it was last year.

“The nation has been adding jobs,” said James P. Brown, economist for the state Department of Labor. The national rate fell by 0.4 percent in November. “There has been a nice pick up in auto industry, but that is not big for New York City.”

A borough by borough breakdown, comparing unemployment rates from the same time last year, shows that Manhattan stayed at 7.5 percent; Queens remained at 8.0 percent. Kings County (Brooklyn) stayed at 9.7 percent.  Only Richmond County — that’s Staten Island — showed some improvement with a drop from 8.2 percent to 7.9 percent. That was all offset by the Bronx’s riveting 12.4 percent unemployment rate, an increase of 0.1 percent. Nowhere else in the state is the unemployment rate as high.

The Bronx, where I live, is a story apart from the whole. “The Bronx has always had a higher unemployment rate than the city,” said Brown, who covers New York City for the state. A higher portion of the population doesn’t have a high school diploma, essential for employment. Also, many have poor language skills or don’t speak English, another essential. Another factor is that many Bronx residents have jobs in manufacturing, construction and the restaurant business. These jobs are seasonal or have high turnover rates, he said.

Clearly, this has not New York City’s year. “We did well in 2010,” said Brown. “Now the national economy is showing some strength.”

But it is not a lot of strength.  Let’s hope for better next year.


 (588 words)

On one of my recent constitutionals, I saw some children from a nearby daycare at a playground.  How wonderful and carefree they were.  The daily worries that burden the adult world were not affecting their young lives at all. At that moment, the only thing that mattered was being on the playground.  Oh, to be a child at the playground once more.

The other day, while on another of my walks around my Bronx housing complex, I noticed that another playground had been erected. This one, however, was just for the grown-ups. Dumbfounded could barely described me.  I stopped, stood there slack-jawed, and just looked at it, as if I were a kid seeking permission.

To be sure, it isn’t called a playground. I mean, that is not the word that the marketers use to lure adults.  “Life Trail” is its name.  But, come on, let’s all be honest here. It’s the Grown-ups’ Playground.  And curious adults are using it in the same way that the kids use theirs.

See, when the school day ends, kids often drop their book bags, and run to the playground. They play. Then they pick up their stuff and go home.  That’s exactly what the grown ups do.  They come from shopping, or dropping off youngsters at school, or the post office.  They see the Grown-ups’ Playground. They stop, drop their belongings, and try out some of the equipment. Then they pick up their stuff and continue on with their day.

playground pal on stationary bike

A playground pal

This playground has rules, just like the kiddies’ playground:
No pushing;
No shoving;
Wait your turn;
Don’t hog the equipment;
No cursing;
No eating;
No drinking;
No smoking;
No spitting.

Unlike the children’s playground, this one comes with instructions that explain how to use the equipment and which muscles groups are being exercised. Funny, when the kids use their playground they don’t need that. Besides, if instructions were there, some couldn’t and many wouldn’t take the time to read it. That is exactly what happens at the Grown-Ups’ Playground.

A playground visitor

Stopping by the playground

Anyway, some of these instructions are intimidating. I mean, who wants to be the first one on the Proprioceptive Neuromusclular Facilitation Exerciser? Not me. It was the last thing that I tried, and one of the few things I really needed.  It strengthens the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulders, and builds the gluteus medius, also known as “The Buns.”  (We don’t want that to sag. Now do we girls?)

Now I have developed a small routine.  It includes the upper-body cycle that strengthens the back, torso, tightens up those sagging upper arms and gets rid of a rather painful kink in my shoulder.  It works.  I try that facilitation thing and the recumbent bicycle.

Of all the equipment there, my favorite is the recumbent bike. After I get into a good cycling rhythm, I close my eyes, and pretend that I am on the open road. Free from the fear of striking anything, I lift my head toward the sky, and extend my arms, palms up. The early morning sun bathes my face; the wind gently brushes against me. Sometimes, in the early morning, the mist cools my skin. My spirit becomes calm. In those brief minutes, my joblessness, anxieties about the working world, and thoughts about how I am going to survive, dissolve. In those moments, I become a kid again. I become just another kid playing on the Grown-ups’ Playground.


(264 words)

Shortly before 6 a.m., and just before I was about to take my brisk morning constitutional, I walked into my kitchen, and what should I see through my window? A falcon perched on to my balcony. He stayed for quite a while.


Falcon on my balcony

OK, OK, I am not going to win any awards for my photo of him or her, but that’s not the point. The point is, shortly before dawn this huge bird, with deep piercing eyes, this large black hooked beak, talons that wrapped around the rim of the balcony, and an enormous wing span landed on my 18th story balcony, high up in the Bronx.

That’s right, you read it here first and correctly. This falcon came to visit me, at my place in “Da Bronx, New York, Da Big Apple, USA, Da planet earth.”

I was awed by the falcon’s majestic beauty, and I thanked God for the opportunity to have this creature before me. Why he flew to my place, I will never know. But I was honored by his presence. I took a picture. Actually I took several.

In the past, when I lived in other apartments, I took pictures of creatures that visited my home. But those pictures were for housing court. Also, to tell you the truth, I was never thrilled when those creatures came visiting, and I never, ever wanted them to return. Let me be clear, even though he or she tore up my flower pots and messed in my hibachi, The Falcon is invited back.


This Won’t Hurt a Bit.

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