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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Prospect Park hawk update with Sean S.

The lush, green canopy above Payne Hill acted like the stage for a Javanese shadow-puppet show. Drawn tight across the bright, backlit sky the leaf screen displayed what our binoculars could no longer view through the branches; the dancing shadows of Split-tail and Big Mama as they circled, climbed and dove above their territorial forest. The narrative of their performance were short bursts of hoarse "keeeer" or high-pitched chirps.

Spying on the hawk chicks through a narrow, leafy vignette we were once again astounded at their weed-like growth. One chick was standing on the edge of the nest preening his feathers and modeling his near adult sized body. Starting at the base of each flight feather he pulled his beak up the length of the shaft, zipping up their velcro-like barbules. In only three days his wing feathers have lengthened, his nape and back have grown a layer of brown plumes and his head and breast have sprouted scattered, spiky, brown feathers. Their heads and necks are still mostly covered in light gray down giving the impression of a shrunken head on a tall, broad body.

Gail walked up the hill to join us and pointed out that Big Mama was perched on a branch a few yards to the west of the nest. The mother hawk was close enough to keep tabs on her offspring but far enough away that she could relax and take a break from the now crowded nest. Split-tail called a few times then flew into the nest holding a small bird in his beak. Big Mama joined him at the nest to see what he brought their small family for lunch. He dropped the prey into the nest then quickly departed. We could see his shadow on the leaves as he circled above the nest tree. On the nest Big Mama was pulling morsels of meat from the bird and eating them herself as the chicks were not interested in food. They seemed to have discovered their wings and took turns stretching them out and awkwardly flapping. By the end of this coming week they should be entering the "flap-hopping" phase of development. Not long after that they'll be making their maiden flight.

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

While we were watching the nest a very bold and foolish squirrel came to visit us. Gail and Ex were sitting on one of the large buttress-like roots of the elm tree. Their dog, Pippi, was lying down beside them. As Gail unwrapped her breakfast sandwich the squirrel tiptoed over to beg for a taste. He didn't seem the least bit concerned about the dog and certainly not the hawks a short flight away. The girls gave in to his cuteness and tossed him a few crumbs. I've noticed that, unlike their counterparts at the perimeter of the park, the squirrels in the woods tend to be very cautious and unfriendly. This squirrel was the exception and stayed seated in a jumble of branches on the ground a couple of yards away from us. When the girls left I walked down the hill to check the perspective of the nest from the sidewalk north of the elm tree viewing spot. As I was walking back I heard Sean shout, "Hey, get out of here." His camera lense was very close to the elm tree and I noticed our friend the squirrel flattened out on the side of the tree next to Sean. Apparently, when he was looking through the viewfinder the image suddenly went black. When he looked up from the camera he saw the squirrel stepping across from the tree and onto the end of his lense. I think that rodent has a target painted on his back and Split-tail seems to have very good aim.

At Rick's Place Sean located a Wood Thrush sitting on a nest. It was in a small sapling not far from last year's nest.

As Sean and I were leaving the park we spotted all four adult Red-tailed Hawks circling the Long Meadow; one pair at the north end, the other pair to the south at the edge of the Quaker Cemetery.
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Prospect Park, 5/29/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (2 pairs of adults soaring over Long Meadow. 2 chicks in nest.)
Chimney Swift
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Next to Litchfield Villa.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (Heard calling on Payne Hill.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Heard calling on Payne Hill.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (~4, Upper pool.)
Barn Swallow (2, Upper pool.)
Swainson's Thrush (2 near Boulder Bridge.)
Wood Thrush (Sitting on nest at Rick's Place.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird (Near 9th Street.)
Cedar Waxwing (Heard calling over Payne Hill.)
Yellow Warbler (Corner of 5th Street and Prospect Park West.)
Magnolia Warbler (Singing next to Litchfield Villa.)
American Redstart (Payne Hill.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Singing at Payne Hill.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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