Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Many hawks in Prospect Park this afternoon

Elm Tree near the pools

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The Purple Gallinule hasn't been seen for four days. There's been some speculation circulating that it was eaten by one of the hawks in the park. After witnessing one of the Red-tailed Hawks making a low pass towards it on the 16th I've started to think that it may be true. I had also heard some rumors that three birders found a pile of feathers near the skating rink over the weekend. It appeared to be the remains of a predator's kill. The two sides of my brain are fighting with each other. While accepting the necessary cycles of life, death and survival in the natural world I'm still saddened that a directionally challenged young bird may have died, essentially, because of a wrong turn.

I looked for some feathers near the skating rink but didn't find any. I crossed over the Terrace Bridge, scanned the water for signs of the gallinule then continued to the end of the Peninsula. At the point a tiny Winter Wren made a short "chit-chit" call while twitching up and down on his toothpick thin legs. He watched me closely as I walked passed his tangle of fallen branches. The water purslane and waterlilies where the gallinule had been feeding has thinned out. Either the changing weather or a variety of hungry ducks has trimmed it back.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It was very quiet in the woods on the point until a Blue Jay began sounding a frantic alarm. I looked around in the cherry tree where he was perched but could not find the object of his panic. He flew closer to the opening across from the skating rink where I spotted the cause for his alarm. Perched in a birch tree was a very large bird of prey. Her large size and white spots on her back made me think that it was a Red-tailed Hawk. Then she spread her long banded tail and began to preen. It was the largest juvenile Cooper's Hawk that I'd ever seen. I tried to turn it into the rarer Northern Goshawk but it lacked a broad supercillium and the bands on its tail were the wrong shape. It was the closest that one of these woodland predators has ever allowed me. I was close enough to take a detailed photograph. I looked down at the preview on my camera and when I looked back she had already silently flown off through the woods.

There are still lots of White-throated Sparrows in the forested sections of the park. Along the edges of the fields and meadows were fairly large flocks of Chipping Sparrows and juncos. I slowly crept up on a nervous flock at the Nethermead Meadow. The small birds have the habit of disappearing behind leaves when they are flushed into the shrubs or trees. The yellow face of a lone Savannah Sparrow help me find the one unusual bird in the flock.

What I thought was a piece of trash in the middle of the Nethermead Meadow began to move. He then made a piercing, "dee-dee-dee, dee-dee-dee" and I realized that it was a Killdeer. I've seen them flying over the park many times but I think this is the first time that I've observed one walking around on one of the fields.

Killdeer on the Nethermead Meadow

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I ran into Raphael on Center Drive. He was one of the birders that found the pile of feathers near the skating rink. He reassured me that they were too large to have been from a gallinule. Some of the feathers were also black. There's no black feathers on a gallinule. I'd like to believe that our rare southern visitor finally figured out that he needed to head south before it got too cold.

While I was speaking with Raphael a Red-tailed Hawk began flying south across the Nethermead. He was quickly followed by another. Eventually there were three Red-tailed Hawks hunting together over Lookout Hill and the Nethermead. I parted company with Raphael and walked west, towards the Long Meadow.

At the lower pool a Merlin was perched in the bare branches of a dead tree that's usually reserved for finches. As I approached the Picnic House Big Mama flew out of the woods of Payne Hill. While I was watching her gain altitude above the north end of the Long Meadow I noticed a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk already circling the area. Just as I witnessed on the Nethermead, other hawks began leaving the woods and ascending above the meadow. There were two adults and two juveniles slowly circling above the meadow in close proximity to each other. The adult at the top of the group dangled his feet down like he would do during courtship.

I haven't done a survey of the two hawk families in many months. Today there were clearly seven hawks in the air at once. Of the seven, three were juveniles which means that two are unaccounted for. As the trees loose their leaves it makes finding the perched hawks much easier. Over the next month I'll be looking more closely for young birds and will keep you posted.

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Prospect Park, 10/27/2004
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Pied-billed Grebe (2, Lullwater. 3, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Wood Duck (3, Prospect Lake.)
American Wigeon (3, Upper Pool. 4, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal (2, Three Sisters Island.)
Ruddy Duck (Upper Pool.)
Cooper's Hawk (Juvenile, Peninsula.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults, 3 juveniles.)
Merlin (Perched at edge of lower pool.)
American Coot (4.)
Killdeer (On Nethermead Meadow.)
Ring-billed Gull
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (Several.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Winter Wren (1, Peninsula.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Still fairly common.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Still fairly common.)
Hermit Thrush (Several, Peninsula.)
Magnolia Warbler (Nethermead Arches.)
Palm Warbler (Binnen Waters.)
Common Yellowthroat (Picnic House.)
Chipping Sparrow (Fairly large flock on Nethermead.)
Savannah Sparrow (Within mixed sparrow flock on Nethermead.)
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

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