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Saturday, June 19, 2004

Lover's Portrait

Hunting for hawks with Brandon

My wife's sister's kids are in New York for a few days visiting from Charlotte, North Carolina. We rarely get to see them and were excited about having a full day to play aunt and uncle. My wife took the 4-year old and 14-year old girls into the city for some serious shopping and I took my 11-year old nephew birding.

Fair haired, quiet and introspective, Brandon seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of tracking down some hawks. He's never birded before today so I began by giving him some tips on using binoculars. As we walked to the park I told him stories about my history with Big Mama and Split-tail, their nest location and the recently fledged "Bebe" and "Alto".

We crossed the Long Meadow and as we approached Payne Hill, he asked me how I managed to find the hawks all the time. One of the ways, I explained, was to listen for their calls. I told him that he has probably heard the call of a Red-tailed Hawk many times on television shows and movies. I whistled a loud impersonation of their down-slurred "keeeer". As if on cue, Big Mama shot out of the woods on Payne Hill and began circling low above us. I told Brandon that I guessed my whistle was better than I thought. As she gradually ascended above us Split-tail appeared in the sky over the gentle slope of Payne Hill. He circled above his mate, swooped towards her a few times and dangled his feet in a display of affection. A few minutes later she returned to the woodlands and Split-tail soared off to the north.

I wasn't certain how far the two fledgling might have wandered from their nest in the tuliptree so I decided to look there first. The nest was empty but ten yards to the north Bebe sat perched in a Locust tree. The cute, round-faced young hawk looked straight down at us and twisted her head from side to side. Moments later Big Mama flew over and perched on the lowest branch on the tuliptree. Brandon's face lit up as he located her in his binoculars. We found one fledgling, so where was Alto? We circled the woods checking all the trees and the ground within a fenced off section of the forest. The only thing on the ground were a few foolish chipmunks tempting the watchful Big Mama. Near Battle Pass we located a Red-eyed Vireo that has been singing in that section for weeks. I felt like we were playing "Where's Waldo" as we scanned the dense foliage for the easily camouflaged bird. We gave up and walked to Rick's Place to checked on the Wood Thrush nest. The nest was empty so the chicks have likely fledged.

Near the path down to the Ravine two robins continuously whinnied and called while facing a Beech tree at the edge of Payne Hill. The thick leaf cover made it impossible to locate the object of the two thrushes alarm but I presume that it was the missing "Alto". Nearby, a Red-bellied Woodpecker panted in the unusually hot weather. His barbed tongue looked like a tiny fishing spear.

We checked the area surrounding the pine tree nest for other hawk fledglings but came up empty handed. To make up for the disappointment we filled up ripe blackberries weighing down their thorny vines near the entrance of the Ravine. Above the Ravine, on the Nethermead Arches, a House Wren sang his bubbly, happy song near his nest in a lamppost. At the Nethermead Meadow a small flock of Barn Swallows swooped for insects over the fresh cut grass. A pair of the swallows are still tending their nest above the doorway of the nature center. We spotted a Turkey Vulture soaring north over the center.

Brandon spent his first seven years as a Brooklynite then moved south to more rural surroundings. It would be ironic if an interest in birds and wildlife were sparked by a visit to the city.
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Prospect Park, 6/19/2004
Great Egret (Lullwater, perched on cofferdam eating a fish.)
Turkey Vulture (Flying north over boathouse.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 fledgling.)
Chimney Swift
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Barn Swallow (Several flying over Nethermead. Two at boathouse nest.)
House Wren (Singing next to nest on Nethermead Arches.)
Wood Thrush (Nothing at nest, one singing in Ravine.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several at lower pool.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (1 heard singing at Payne Hill.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Downy Woodpecker (Next to boathouse.), Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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