Tuesday, June 29, 2004

It was a good morning in Prospect Park

A portrait of Bebe


In recent weeks I've begun noticing flocks of fledgling House Sparrows and starlings gathering in the mowed grass on the Long Meadow. As the noisy young birds chase insects and each other I thought about the activities of an adjacent species. Orange school buses now line Prospect Park West. Flocks of school children toss balls, frisbees and chase each other next to the young birds. I guess play is an important part of learning to survive for many species.

I waited for Sean in front of the flicker nest at the edge of the Midwood. Down to my right I heard the alarm calls of robins and Blue Jays. I assumed that they were caused by the three fledgling hawks from the Ravine nest. The high-pitched cries of young Red-tailed Hawks echoing through the woods confirmed it. There was a churning sensation in my stomach pulling me towards the sound. I wanted badly to leave and run after the hawks but I promised Sean that I'd be near the nest so he wouldn't have any trouble finding it.

Within the dark interior of the flicker nest cavity I could make out the profile of a young bird peering out at me. The sounds to my right began to quiet down just as the adult male flicker arrived at the nest hole in front of me. The woodpecker nestlings are getting large and one bird blocks most of the opening at feeding time. The fine grey feathers on its head and neck make it look as if its been carved out of driftwood. A second young bird could barely get its head out of the hole for food. I wondered how they learn to fly. The hawks can stretch their wings and practice on branches around their nest. The woodpeckers, however, are forced to take a leap of faith from the confines of their cramped, four week homestead. The nestling hogging all the food is very developed and frequently perched at the edge of the hole. He'll probably fledge in a day or two.

Papa flicker feeding the brood


Just before Sean arrived I began hearing the familiar sounds of hawk activity in the woods far to my left. I thought Bebe and Alto must be annoying the neighbors. That anxious feeling began trying to pull me away from the flicker nest again. I recommended that Sean bring his camera gear over to Sullivan Hill for the hawks and we'd come back to the nest later. We found both Bebe and Alto perched in their favorite oak tree adjacent to the mud puddle. Bebe was tearing into a robin-sized bird and would drop his wings whenever Alto would try to get close. This mantling posture is meant to protect his food. At one point Bebe let his guard down and Alto got a hold of the bird. Bebe had a firm hold on his meal with one foot and, for a few minutes, a tug-o-war game ensued. Bebe lost the meal to his larger sister and flew to an adjacent branch to rest.

Alto stealing Bebe's lunch


A group of five and six year-old children were in the area with a class called the "Park Explorers". They were collecting worms and insects with their teacher but they seemed a bit more interested in what Sean and I were watching. I had a laser pointer with me that I used to direct the kids towards Bebe and Alto. Alto noticed the red dot on the limb below her and followed it back and forth with her head. As we were watching Split-tail flew in and landed directly above us. The kids loved it. The group got even more excited when Split-tail took off flying through the woods and one little girl shouted, "Look he's flying!"

Wood Thrush working on a second brood


I brought Sean to the Wood Thrush nest in the Midwood. A female is now sitting on eggs. I assume that this will be her second brood. A short distance south of where Sean was shooting photos of the thrush were loud calls from the second group of young hawks. It sounded like at least one hawk was directly above the bridle path in a large tuliptree but we couldn't find it. When it would stop calling I whistled an imitation and it would call back. We circled the area for a few minutes following the sound. When he would stop I'd whistle and he'd call back. We eventually gave up looking. I felt guilty that I was teasing the poor hawk plus we already had plenty of great observations and photos for the day to share with everyone.

-click to hear a young hawk-

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Prospect Park, 6/29/2004
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Great Egret (Flying above upper pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 fledglings.)
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker (4, Midwood.)
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker (Heard in Midwood.)
Northern Flicker (2 adults, 3 nestlings.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (Calling in Midwood.)
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo (Singing at Payne Hill.)
Wood Thrush (Female sitting on nest in Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Flock flycatching dragonflies over upper pool.)
Common Grackle

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard (Upper pool.), Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Heard at Payne Hill.), Tufted Titmouse (Heard in Midwood.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

(All Photos credit - Sean Sime)

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