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Friday, May 21, 2004

Prospect Park hawk update with Sean S.

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

We arrived at Big Mama's nest just in time for the late morning show. As Sean and I walked up the rise towards the viewing spot next to the elm tree I heard the close, whining "rreeea" of an agitated Red-eyed Vireo. I quickly scanned the trees as I assumed that he was alarmed by the presence of one of the Red-tailed Hawks. I couldn't find either hawk. As we were setting up our tripods, though, Sean chuckled and said, "We just walked underneath Split-tail." He was perched so motionless in a tree next to the sidewalk that he practically disappeared into the dark, brown bark. Sean quickly tried to focus his camera for a raptor portrait but the hawk flew down towards something on the ground between Payne Hill and Rick's Place. Moments later he flew up to a low branch in an oak tree with a chipmunk in his talons. Sean walked down the hill to get a closer photo. Split-tail seemed nervous by Sean's close approach. He alternately held down the small rodent in his talons, taking tentative bites at its belly and dangling its limp body from his bill while looking for a higher perch.

While Sean was photographing Split-tail I set my focus on the nest. Big Mama seemed to be feeding one of the chicks on the far side of the nest. The second chick was clopping around on the near side. When it began turning its rear end toward the edge of the nest I knew what to expect next. Whoosh! If someone passing the tuliptree didn't know that there was a hawk nest high above, the ever-growing Jackson Pollack creation on the sidewalk might cause them to look up. Both chicks were very active and showed significant changes in their plumage since Tuesday. They now have one to two inches of dark feathers sprouting in a double row along the trailing edge of their wings. Last Friday I noticed four or five tiny shafts emerging on their tails, today they seemed to have a full compliment of twelve puny, brown feathers.

Split-tail flew from his low perch and carried the fresh kill up to the nest. His mate had finished feeding their young so he just dropped the chipmunk in the nest and flew off. A flock of squawking starlings pointed the way to his perch behind us at the edge of the Long Meadow. The chicks settled down for a nap so Big Mama took a break, flying off towards Sullivan Hill.

Sean and I decided to take a walk to try and locate Big Mama, plus, I wanted to show him the Red-bellied Woodpecker nest that I found on Tuesday. As we were getting ready to leave we heard an unusual bird call in the tree above us. I believe that Sean quickly pegged it as some type of flycatcher. When a bright yellow empidonax flycatcher perched out in the open we said in unison, "Yellow-bellied Flycatcher." The bird was so brilliantly yellow that, without binoculars, it appeared more like a warbler than a flycatcher. We never got very far from the nest area. The woodpecker nest appeared to be empty but there was a lot of bird activity in the dense shrub and sapling growth along the rise above the Midwood. We ran into a couple of birders in that spot and stood around talking and watching a mixed flock that contained Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbird, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, American Redstart and Canada Warbler. Nearby we could hear the songs of House Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler and Baltimore Oriole.

We met Gil S. and walked with him towards Sullivan Hill in search of Big Mama. She managed to elude us but, before leaving the park, we stopped to check on the young hawks again. One of the chicks was awake and looking over the side of the nest. Through the scope we could see lots of flies buzzing around the nest. I suppose that the insects are attracted to the nest for the same reason that the two vultures were on May 12th; ripe meat. The nest tree is also still adorned with greenish-yellow and orange "tulips" which lure bees to the treetop. A bumblebee was flying around in front of the chick, attracting his curiosity. We laughed as the young hawk jerked and twisted his head trying to follow the path of the slow flying insect. When it passed over his head he snapped his bill at it but missed. I thought about "Itchy" and "Scratchy" from Big Mama's 2002 family and how they would chase butterflies and grasshoppers on the ground. I guess it's important practice for when they can no longer rely on their parents for meals.
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Prospect Park, 5/21/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 chicks. Payne Hill.)
Spotted Sandpiper (Upper pool.)
Chimney Swift (Several flying above park.)
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Rick's Place.)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Payne Hill.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Several.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Upper pool.) [Sean S.]
House Wren (Rick's Place.)
Veery (Rick's Place.)
Swainson's Thrush (Payne Hill, Midwood, Rick's Place, Ravine.)
Wood Thrush (Singing in Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Heard call on Payne Hill.)
Magnolia Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Payne Hill and Ravine.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Blackpoll Warbler (Several heard.)
American Redstart (Payne Hill.)
Canada Warbler (Payne Hill/Rick's Place.)
Scarlet Tanager (Ravine near Boulder Bridge.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Rick's Place.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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