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Sunday, March 07, 2004

Prospect Park with Tom P. and Sean S.

Despite the fact that snow showers are predicted for this evening spring is gently nudging winter aside. This morning I spotted two Morning Cloak butterflies circling each other as they fluttered passed my seat below the hawk nest. Later on Tom and I also noticed a tiny, Cabbage White near the bird feeder on Breeze Hill. The drooping branches of linden trees all around the park are sprouting tiny, red buds and crocus have begun pushing up through the leaf litter along the Lullwater. Many more of the over-wintering Fox Sparrows have found their spring voice; in a month they'll all be gone, replaced by other melodies. At Rick's Place there was a noisy flock of goldfinches feeding on the bristly, hanging balls of the London Planetrees. As kids we used to call these fruits "itchy balls". I'd never observed this behavior before and had assumed that these seeds were useless as a food source.

I was wrong about the second hawk nest located in the Ravine. When I showed Tom the nest I was surprised to find it occupied. I'm not sure if it was the male or female but one of the pair was sitting on the nest and calling for its mate.

The activities around "Big Mama's" nest have become routine. One of the Red-tailed Hawks can usually be found perched close by, either resting or hunting. Occasionally the pair will add more sticks to the nest and they copulate often. The latter activity lasts for only a few seconds with one or both of the hawks loudly vocalizing. This afternoon I noticed that one of the hawks sounds very hoarse. I wonder how frequently they mate each day. By the sound of their voice I guess it's pretty often.

By mid-afternoon, shortly after Tom had departed, Sean and I were getting a little bored at the nest and decided to walk to the lake to check out the waterfowl. As we were walking across the Nethermead Meadow we noticed something odd. A pigeon was flying south along the length of the meadow. It was moving slowly, flying only a few feet above the ground and landed in the woods at the base of Lookout Hill. Moments later it was followed by a Red-tailed Hawk. It was a beautiful, warm afternoon so the field was loaded with people playing Frisbee, walking their dogs or cheering on a soccer match at the southwest corner. The hawk wasn't the least bit deterred by all the activity and charged into the woods after the pigeon. It easily caught it and I think Sean and I were the only ones who noticed (or cared). It must have been a plump pigeon as the hawk appeared to have some trouble gaining altitude as it ascended to a perch at the edge of the Quaker Cemetery to eat its prey. As Sean was setting up his tripod I noticed that the pigeon, while clutched firmly in the hawk's right foot, was still thrashing about. After a few minutes it stopped moving and the hungry raptor began using its sharp bill to pluck the feather from around the pigeons neck and nape. Suddenly, lunch began flapping its wings again. In retrospect it sounds a bit ghoulish but we were riveted on that hawk for about 20 minutes as the trapped pigeon struggled to escape, even while being prepared for eating. The Red-tailed Hawk eventually flew deeper into the cemetery to eat in peace only to be mobbed by a small flock of Blue Jays.

Focusing on the hawk's activities sometimes blinds me from the "non-natural" activities in this crowded, urban park. Sometimes it's a challenge to ignore them. Twice today I stood near the Quaker Cemetery looking at the wildlife. The first time I was chased away by a young man practicing Bagpipes. Is there anything worse than the sound of bad Bagpipes? The second time Sean and I tried our best to tune out a toothless, possibly, mentally ill blues musician. I think he went by the name of "Murky Waters".
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Prospect Park, 3/7/2004
Ring-necked Duck (14, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Upper pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3; 2 at Payne Hill nest. 1 on Ravine nest.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Hermit Thrush (Breeze Hill feeder.)
American Tree Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Chipping Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Fox Sparrow (~12, Rick's Place, Breeze Hill, Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle (Peninsula.)
American Goldfinch (~12, Rick's Place.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (2, Rick's Place.), Blue Jay (~12.), American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (3, Breeze Hill.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope