Thursday, May 27, 2004

Prospect Park hawk update

Heidi S. is a friend of mine and a teacher at the Prospect Park Audubon Center. As part of the center's Middle School program I arranged to meet her and her class of 6th graders at the Red-tailed Hawk nest.

I arrived at Payne Hill at 4pm, set up my scope and lowered it to what, I guessed, would be kid's height. It's difficult to predict the hourly activities at the nest but I was hoping that the kids would arrive in time to see the fast growing chicks eating, preening or playing. It was late in the day with overcast skies but I still had great views of one of the chicks standing up and preening. I called Heidi to try and quicken the group's pace.

This is the third year that I've closely monitored the hawks in the park yet I'm still amazed at how quickly they develop. They are showing many changes since last Friday. Today they have a full set of short, adult feathers on their wings and their tail is composed of one thick, dark brown band that terminates in a narrow buffy band. Their heads are still light gray down but the feathers around their eyes are darkening and adult plumes have begun sprouting on their napes. I also noticed that they have started to loose their downy "leggings" exposing a strip of yellow skin on the backs of their legs. The upper parts of their legs are showing new, pale-rust colored feathers. For fifteen minutes I watched one of the chicks methodically preening his new wing feathers. Small patches of wispy, white down still peaked out from between his flat, shiny adult plumes. Big Mama was sitting in the nest working on her own feathers. I could only make out the top of the second chick's head in the far side of the nest. I was anxious for the kids to arrive as I didn't want them to miss this great experience. I finally heard the class nearby just as Big Mama decided to take a break and leave the nest.

I was a little disappointed that the chicks had begun to settle down just as the class was arriving. The one that had been preening sat back down to rest and the other was too far to the side to view. Eventually, one of the young hawks sat up and looked over the side of the nest. Trying to keep the scope pointed to the nest while seven or eight 6th graders jostled for a look was a challenge, but I didn't mind as they all seemed genuinely excited. I gave the kids some basic information about the hawks but most of them mainly wanted to find the nest in their binoculars or hog the scope. At one point a wide-eyed little boy looked up from the scope and excited announced, "It was looking at me!" They all had pencils and pads and, before leaving, sat down on a fallen tree to enter their observations into their journals. As they walked down the hill back towards the nature center they all shouted a big, "Thank you Rob." One boy with a digital camera, who had been very pensive for the hour, looked back at me and quietly said, "Thank you fellow amateur naturalist."
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Prospect Park, 5/26/2004 - 4pm to 5pm
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Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult, 2 chicks on nest.)
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Eastern Kingbird (Long Meadow, seen with Elliotte H.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Singing near Rick's Place.)
Blue Jay
Veery (Payne Hill.)
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing (Heard calling above Payne Hill.)
American Redstart (Heard singing on Payne Hill.)
Ovenbird (Heard singing on Payne Hill.)
Common Yellowthroat (Picnic House, seen with Elliotte H.)
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
House Sparrow

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