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Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Empty Can

The three fledglings from the Ravine hawk nest were hanging around the edge of the woods near Center Drive. They also seemed very hungry this morning. One was perched above the bridle path at the the southwest corner of the Midwood. I could hear his cries all the way to the center of the woods. Another one was whining a little farther down the road near the Nethermead Arches. I located the third one calling from the edge of woods next to the footpath that travels up the ridge towards the Falkill Falls. Mom and pop must be running ragged keeping these three hungry, teenage hawks happy. They'll have to start fending for themselves soon.

I found Alto perched on the support post for a stretch of snow fencing near the north entrance to the Midwood. She was patiently scanning the underbrush for something to eat. I leaned up against a tree and watched her from a safe distance. A chickadee, robin and downy woodpecker were not at all happy by her presence and whistled, "tutted" and "pikked" futile threats. A careless squirrel climbed down a tree to my right and began foraging on the ground. I was standing midway between the predator and prey. Alto quickly spotted him and flew the short distance to the ground passing directly in front of me. I probably could have grabbed her wing. The rodent confidently scurried back to the tree. The hawk ascended to a perch a few yards passed the tree, turned around, took aim and flew back towards the squirrel. She swiped at the rodent with her talons but missed her target and perched back on the fence. A few minutes later the squirrel must have figured the coast was clear and went back to sniffing around on the ground.

I've watched the park hawks stalk squirrels for years and have never actually witnessed a successful kill. I've seen hawks eating squirrels dozens of times. I've also watched with amusement as the small, grey rodents tormented their enemy but this morning I thought I'd finally get lucky. Alto had a clear shot at the squirrel and the rodent had wandered about ten feet from the closest tree. I looked away for a second and Alto was already on the ground where the squirrel had been foraging. I crept closer and all she had was a talon full of leaves. She walked around on the ground for a few minutes then hopped up on a log. I sat down on the ground a few yards away and watched as she looked around for the disappearing squirrel. She seemed a little agitated and pounced on something shiny. It sounded like she was squeezing an aluminum can. She briefly let go of it then footed it hard and started dragging it up the hill. After a few feet she let it go and flew off towards the road where she perched above the path that enters the Midwood. I retrieved the can to see what wounds she had inflicted on it. I was surprised to see that she had actually punctured a hole in it with one of her talons.

I walked a short distance back into the Midwood and quickly located Big Mama. She was at the tail end (literally) of a rat meal. I watched her wipe her bill back and forth across the rough bark of the oak tree she was perched in then meticulously clean her talons. I continued walking to the Wood Thrush nest. I found three fairly well developed nestlings sticking their heads up from their nest in a maple sapling. The adult female approached with food but flew a short distance passed the sapling when she noticed me. I backed off and allowed her to return to feed her young.

As I was leaving the park I heard a squirrel shrieking near the top of a massive oak next to the Picnic House. It took me a few minutes of walking around the base of the tree but I finally located the object of the squirrel's outbursts. Split-tail was perched on a branch that gave him a straight shot at a flock of pigeons that regularly roost on the roof of the building. They didn't seem to be paying much heed to the squirrel's warning. Oh well.
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Prospect Park, 7/10/2004
Great Egret (Upper pool.)
Wood Duck (7, Lower pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 4 fledglings.)
Monk Parakeet (2, Litchfield Villa.)
Northern Flicker
Red-eyed Vireo (Battle Pass.)
Black-capped Chickadee (2, near north end of Midwood.)
House Wren (Nethermead Arches.)
Wood Thrush (2 adults, 3 hatchlings. Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several at Upper pool.)
Common Grackle (Fairly common.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

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