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Saturday, March 27, 2004

Prospect Park with Robin J., Barry F. and Rita F.

I just don't understand the relationship between urban tree squirrels and Red-tailed Hawks. I mean, I get the part where the hawks want to eat their roasted peanut fattened bodies but why do those little grey rodents seem to enjoy tormenting the hawks? Case in point; two years ago we had Squirrelly Knievel who regularly snooped around the hawk nest and once made a daredevil jump over the nest. Now we have one of his relatives torturing Big Mama while she incubates her eggs.

This morning my wife and I brought Barry and Rita up to see the nest. Over the past two years Barry has been writing me about his experiences with nesting Peregrine Falcons on NY Hospital. He had also been observing Bald Eagles in the short-lived reintroduction project in upper Manhattan. He was very interested in meeting Big Mama and Split-tail. It had just begun raining when they arrived at Prospect Park. By the time they got their bins on it had started coming down harder. I wasn't guaranteeing any stupendous experience today as one never knows how the wildlife around the park will behave at any given moment. But, as luck would have it, the morning turned out very well.

As we walked across the deserted meadow towards the Ravine a Merlin rocketed low across the grass in front of us. It made a strafing run at a flock of starlings feeding in the grass on Payne Hill. It missed grabbing a meal, wheeled around in the opposite direction and perched in her favorite tree at the edge of the lower pond.

We took a quick look at the red-tailed nest in the Ravine pine tree. It appeared to be empty but it's also very difficult to get a clear look into. We headed up towards Big Mama's nest.

When we arrived at the nest I spotted a Pine Warbler foraging in the leaf litter, not where I would expect to see him, but bugs is bugs. Now here is where it gets weird. We look up in the tuliptree and see a squirrel sneaking up below the obviously occupied nest. He starts to peer over the south side of the nest and, boom, Big Mama jerks her wings up. He retreats a short distance. He then decides to climb up the north side of the nest. He takes a careful peek over the nest and, boom, she jerks her wings again. He hides under the nest. This odd behavior went on for a few minutes until "Squirrelly Knievel II" finally climbed back down the tree.

Not long after the squirrel departed we spotted Big Mama's mate flying in near the north side of the nest. He perched in a black cherry tree and tried to break off a small branch for the nest. I'm not sure that the nest really needs it but he ultimately gave up. He flew to the nest where Big Mama stood up and the two of them flew to a perch a short distance away where they quickly copulated. She then flew back to the nest and returned to incubating her eggs.

I'm still puzzled by the hawk-squirrel relationship. Do the squirrels intentionally try to harass the hawks so that they'll move to a new location? Is it a form of squirrelian high-risk recreation? Or is it just that squirrels have a brain the size of an acorn?
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Prospect Park, 3/27/2004
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
Great Blue Heron (3, Flying over Nethermead Meadow.)
Wood Duck (Boathouse pond.)
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck (2, lower pond. 2, Boathouse Pond. 3, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (3, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-shouldered Hawk (Calling, edge of lake near Three Sisters Island.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Merlin (2. Female, Upper pond. Male, Roosevelt Monument.)
American Coot (~10)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Belted Kingfisher (Lower pond and Lullwater.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (3.)
Northern Flicker (Fairly common.)
Eastern Phoebe (~12.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Ravine.)
Brown Creeper (2, Peninsula and near Roosevelt Monument.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Abundant.)
Hermit Thrush (2, Payne Hill and Peninsula.)
Northern Mockingbird (Picnic House.)
Pine Warbler (5; Ravine, Payne Hill, Binnen Waters, Lullwater, Peninsula.)
Palm Warbler (Peninsula.)
Field Sparrow (2. Peninsula, Binnen Waters.)
Fox Sparrow (Rick's Place.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Abundant, Payne Hill.)
Common Grackle (Abundant, Peninsula.)
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (25, Peninsula Meadow.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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