Thursday, June 03, 2004

Prospect Park hawk update with Sean S.

When I walked up to Payne Hill on Wednesday to check on the hawk chicks I almost had to leave immediately. The small stretch of woods was teeming with mosquitos and other flying insects. As I looked through my scope, bugs were landing in the eye-cup, flying up my nostrils and biting my arms. Occasionally a cool wind would blow across the hill offering a brief respite from the constant irritation. I don't know how the young hawks tolerate it as it seems that there are insects constantly buzzing around their nest.

In four days the chicks body's have grown a full covering of adult plumage. Their breasts are now a pale rust color and their belly's have sprouted the brown spots that make up the Red-tail's unique belly-band. Their tails are still a little too short for flight but are a full six bands long. After watching for only ten minutes the flies began to drive me crazy and I packed up my scope and left.

Sean called me on my cellphone on Thursday and we arranged to meet at the hawk nest in the afternoon.

When I got to the park I stopped first at the Boulder Bridge to see if it was possible to get a view of the Ravine pine tree nest. The top of the pine tree is bent like an arm making a muscle. The nest is arranged where the biceps would be, giving the growing hawks a small "forearm" to climb. I could see an adult sitting on the nest and one chick slowly negotiating the short peak of the pine tree. He seemed to be close to fledging. The wind kept blowing branches into my field of view making it difficult to see so I quickly gave up and carried my scope over to Big Mama's nest.

Walter, an avid hawk-watcher that I became friendly with during the 2002 nesting, was already up on the hill. He was relaxing on a small, folding camp chair with his tripod and scope in front of him. He filled me in on his afternoon observations.

The two chicks were extremely active. With their flight and body feathers grown in, their head and necks are finally developing adult plumage. Sparse, brown plumes have begun to cover their crowns and necks. The sides of their heads are still primarily covered in dark gray down but patches of brown plumes could be seen sprouting around their ear openings. Big Mama flew from the nest to a close, adjacent tree. The two chicks took turns flapping their huge wings and hopping from one side of the nest to the other. At one point a hop resulted in the chick landing on its nest mate's back.

Sean joined Walter and I on the hill and set-up his camera in time to capture some of the chick's antics. At around 3pm Split-tail arrived at the nest carrying a dead bird. He dropped it off in the nest and departed so quickly that we couldn't tell what kind of bird it was. The chicks didn't seem too interested in the late-afternoon snack and continued preening and exercising their wings. About an hour later one of the chicks wandered over to the dead bird and comically twisted his head upside down to examine it. He made a few tentative attempts to eat it and only managed a beak full of feathers. He actually ate a few feathers then gave up.

Sean and I left at around 5pm after the chicks had settled down for a siesta. We stopped at Rick's Place and found one of the Wood Thrushes sitting on its nest. At the lower pool a male and female Gadwall seemed to have taken up residence. It's uncertain whether they will breed near the protected body of water but the male sure seemed interested in his partner. He remained by her side almost constantly. Periodically he would stretch out his neck, lift his tail or flick his wings in courtship display. She didn't seem too impressed but maybe she's just tired of all the attention. I don't think that there are any records of Gadwall breeding in a city park so I'll keep an eye on these two.
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Prospect Park, 6/3/2004
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Gadwall (Male and female, lower pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults. 2 chicks at Payne Hill nest, 1 chick at Ravine nest.)
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker (Possible nest near Falkill Falls.)
Eastern Kingbird (Long Meadow.)
Warbling Vireo (Heard next to lower pool.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Heard near Payne Hill.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Over pools.)
Swainson's Thrush (2 at Boulder Bridge, one carried insect into Rick's Place. 1 at Ambergill.)
Wood Thrush (1 on nest at Rick's Place.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several at lower pool.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Singing near lower pool.)

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

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