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Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Alto acting weird (Photo credit - Sean Sime)

I walked up to the park full of optimism but could never have predicted how the morning's events would unfold.

I decided to start my search for the missing hawk fledglings at the south end of the Ravine and slowly work my way north to Sullivan Hill. Sounds are very important to me when I'm observing nature and I use my ears to listen for anything from leaves crunching to nestling begging calls. I thought that if I was diligent I might be able to locate the hawk fledglings by listening for their whistling chirps or the alarms of agitated songbirds.

As I entered the Ravine I heard the loud "peek" of a Hairy Woodpecker. I tracked it to a male woodpecker clinging to the side of a rotted tree trunk. As he hopped sideways towards a golfball-sized opening I heard the peeping sounds of the young inside the hole. It's the first time I've found a Hairy Woodpecker nest in Prospect Park. As I walked north along the path parallel to the stream I heard the "eee-ooh-lay" of a distant Wood Thrush as well as the shuffling of grackles flipping leaves on the ground to my left.

-click to hear a Wood Thrush-

I crossed the Boulder Bridge and walked to a dirt path overlooking the Midwood. The perspective from high above the forest floor made scanning the towering trees for large birds much easier. Unfortunately, I still couldn't find the hawks. As I continued north I was stopped by the high-pitched begging calls of some unseen birds. To my right was the old, pitted skeleton of a dead Sycamore Maple tree. Hanging onto the side of it was a female Northern Flicker. Her mate was perched at the top of the decapitated tree. Four nestling flickers jostled for position as they all attempted to stick their fuzzy heads out of their nest cavity. I watched the family of woodpeckers for a few moments and then walked to Rick's Place.

At Rick's Place I watched a male Wood Thrush demonstrating to his stubby-tailed offspring how to dig for worms. One of the fledglings immediately benefitted from the lesson with a juicy earthworm. As I was watching I heard a commotion of robin, grackle, vireo and starling calls north of the nest tree. From the urgency of the calls I knew the hawks were nearby. I took a shortcut through the woods and ran towards the sounds. I made a left near a short flight of stairs and continued towards the edge of Sullivan Hill. The sounds became more distant. I turned around and walked back down the stairs. At the north-south intersection of two paths below the stairs is a large muddy puddle. Standing on the ground next to the puddle were Bebe and Alto. They gave me a brief, disinterested glance and went back to cooling off in the water.

They were only a few yards from me and I felt like giggling but I held my laughter in. I watched the two young hawks gingerly dipping their undersides into the water and rocking back and forth. A few minutes later Split-tail flew in from behind me. He was so close to my head that I felt a whoosh of air from his wings. I wondered if he came in so close as an aggressive gesture to protect his young. It became clear that he just wanted to join in the fun. He chased his offspring from the puddle and waded into the water. Unlike the inexperienced birds he plopped right down, lifted his wings and wiggled from side to side. I imagined that he was rinsing his armpits. He then ducked his head under the water a few times. Bebe and Alto stood in the mud at the edge of the water patiently watching their father. When he was done he flew to the snow fencing at the edge of the path and kept a close eye on his young.

The size difference between Bebe and Alto may still be a function of age. The feathers on Bebe's throat and breast are still very rusty in color whereas Alto has lost the dark coloration and it is mostly white. Bebe also still has the round-faced look of a young bird and Alto has the intense, angular head of an adult bird. Perhaps they are a few days apart in age.

The woods on Sullivan Hill are more open than Payne Hill. A twelve foot wide, paved path runs north for about one hundred yards where it opens on to the Long Meadow. There are numerous large perches over the pathway and a fenced off depression that is a favorite hunting spot for the hawks. When Bebe finished playing in the water he flew up to a perch above the path. Alto seemed to be having trouble flying and merely ran down the paved runway while flapping occasionally. It looked like she had something wrong with her foot. I followed her while trying to focus my bins on her right foot. It turned out to be nothing more than a large clump of leaves that she had skewered with her talons and couldn't get off. She finally shook it free and flew to a perch near her sibling. When I left the park Bebe, Alto and Split-tail were settled in for a long preening session on their respective perches. I called Sean and arranged to meet him in the park later in the afternoon.

When I returned with Sean we found Alto perched in a huge oak tree just east of the puddle. While Sean set-up his camera I walked around looking from Bebe. I couldn't find him but Alto kept us entertained with her bizarre behavior. For some strange reason she wanted to lie down on the branch. Looking more like a nighthawk than a true hawk, she completely flattened herself on the branch. Perhaps her wings were tired because then she hung them straight down on either side of the branch. A squirrel climbing up the trunk next to her piqued her interest and she stood back up. The squirrel seemed to be tempting his fate as he climbed passed her and lay down on the branch directly above her. Alto was either tired or not hungry and went back to her odd, draped position.

As we were getting ready to leave I finally located Bebe. The whole time we were observing Alto he was behind us. Perched in the open at the top of a dead locust tree he tended to his young plumage. Like black lightening bolts against the blue sky the spiny, angular branches of his perch trapped bits of molted white feathers. In between the fluttering fluff were perched dozens of dainty amberwing dragonflies. Unfortunately, Sean wasn't able to get a good photo as the angle was too steep and the sun was directly behind Bebe.

I hope enough water remains in the puddle so that the young hawks have a place to cool off on hot days. It will also be a good spot to enjoy the antics of the teenage red-tails.

Amberwing Dragonfly (Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park, 6/23/2004
Wood Duck (Lower pool. 2 eclipse males, 1 female.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 fledglings.)
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.)
Downy Woodpecker (At nest on Battle Pass.)
Hairy Woodpecker (Male & female near nest in Ravine.)
Northern Flicker (Midwood. 2 adults, 4 nestlings.)
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Wood Thrush (Rick's Place. 2 adults, 2 fledglings.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several, the pools.)
Yellow Warbler (Male singing at Upper pool.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

1 comment:

Marguerite said...

What a beautiful picture!

So glad you found them.

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