Monday, March 29, 2004

Prospect Park

I was standing below the hawk's nest when my cellphone rang. It was one of my client's in need of technical assistance. I provide computer support to a small number of graphics companies and, on occasion, have been able to solve their problems while watching the hawks. It was Tony P. calling with an e-mail problem that didn't seem too complicated. While we were talking I spotting Split-tail flying across the Long Meadow holding something in his talons. He landing in the elm tree nearly right over me and began calling for his mate seated on the nest. My client interrupted me in mid-sentence and asked, "What is that noise in the background?" I replied, "It's a Red-tailed Hawk. He just brought a rat for his mate and is calling her." There was an awkward silence on the line then he said, "You're kidding me, right?" No. He completely forgot about his e-mail problem and began asking me all sorts of questions regarding the hawks. I interrupted him when Split-tail flew up to the nest with his lunch treat for Big Mama. She examined the rat but either wasn't hungry or didn't like the looks of the partially eaten rodent. Instead she took off towards the Midwood while Split-tail settled down on the eggs. On the phone Tony sounded giddy and genuinely excited by hearing the hawk's calls and my play-by-play. Could this be a radio show in the making?
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/29/2004
-
Ring-necked Duck (5, Upper pond.)
Bufflehead (3, Upper pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2, Payne Hill.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (4, Payne Hill. 3, Vale of Cashmere.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, Payne Hill.)
Winter Wren (1, Vale of Cashmere.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Abundant.)
Hermit Thrush (1, Payne Hill.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (1, Payne Hill.), Hairy Woodpecker (1, Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse (2, Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Prospect Park with Robin J., Barry F. and Rita F.

I just don't understand the relationship between urban tree squirrels and Red-tailed Hawks. I mean, I get the part where the hawks want to eat their roasted peanut fattened bodies but why do those little grey rodents seem to enjoy tormenting the hawks? Case in point; two years ago we had Squirrelly Knievel who regularly snooped around the hawk nest and once made a daredevil jump over the nest. Now we have one of his relatives torturing Big Mama while she incubates her eggs.

This morning my wife and I brought Barry and Rita up to see the nest. Over the past two years Barry has been writing me about his experiences with nesting Peregrine Falcons on NY Hospital. He had also been observing Bald Eagles in the short-lived reintroduction project in upper Manhattan. He was very interested in meeting Big Mama and Split-tail. It had just begun raining when they arrived at Prospect Park. By the time they got their bins on it had started coming down harder. I wasn't guaranteeing any stupendous experience today as one never knows how the wildlife around the park will behave at any given moment. But, as luck would have it, the morning turned out very well.

As we walked across the deserted meadow towards the Ravine a Merlin rocketed low across the grass in front of us. It made a strafing run at a flock of starlings feeding in the grass on Payne Hill. It missed grabbing a meal, wheeled around in the opposite direction and perched in her favorite tree at the edge of the lower pond.

We took a quick look at the red-tailed nest in the Ravine pine tree. It appeared to be empty but it's also very difficult to get a clear look into. We headed up towards Big Mama's nest.

When we arrived at the nest I spotted a Pine Warbler foraging in the leaf litter, not where I would expect to see him, but bugs is bugs. Now here is where it gets weird. We look up in the tuliptree and see a squirrel sneaking up below the obviously occupied nest. He starts to peer over the south side of the nest and, boom, Big Mama jerks her wings up. He retreats a short distance. He then decides to climb up the north side of the nest. He takes a careful peek over the nest and, boom, she jerks her wings again. He hides under the nest. This odd behavior went on for a few minutes until "Squirrelly Knievel II" finally climbed back down the tree.

Not long after the squirrel departed we spotted Big Mama's mate flying in near the north side of the nest. He perched in a black cherry tree and tried to break off a small branch for the nest. I'm not sure that the nest really needs it but he ultimately gave up. He flew to the nest where Big Mama stood up and the two of them flew to a perch a short distance away where they quickly copulated. She then flew back to the nest and returned to incubating her eggs.

I'm still puzzled by the hawk-squirrel relationship. Do the squirrels intentionally try to harass the hawks so that they'll move to a new location? Is it a form of squirrelian high-risk recreation? Or is it just that squirrels have a brain the size of an acorn?
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/27/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
Great Blue Heron (3, Flying over Nethermead Meadow.)
Wood Duck (Boathouse pond.)
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck (2, lower pond. 2, Boathouse Pond. 3, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (3, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-shouldered Hawk (Calling, edge of lake near Three Sisters Island.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Merlin (2. Female, Upper pond. Male, Roosevelt Monument.)
American Coot (~10)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Belted Kingfisher (Lower pond and Lullwater.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (3.)
Northern Flicker (Fairly common.)
Eastern Phoebe (~12.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Ravine.)
Brown Creeper (2, Peninsula and near Roosevelt Monument.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Abundant.)
Hermit Thrush (2, Payne Hill and Peninsula.)
Northern Mockingbird (Picnic House.)
Pine Warbler (5; Ravine, Payne Hill, Binnen Waters, Lullwater, Peninsula.)
Palm Warbler (Peninsula.)
Field Sparrow (2. Peninsula, Binnen Waters.)
Fox Sparrow (Rick's Place.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Abundant, Payne Hill.)
Common Grackle (Abundant, Peninsula.)
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (25, Peninsula Meadow.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Friday, March 26, 2004

Prospect Park with Eileen

When I first entered the park I spotted Split-tail as I was walking across the Long Meadow towards the Ravine. He circled the Sparrow Bowl a couple of times, gaining altitude. Then he gained some serious attitude and attacked another Red-tailed Hawk perched near the Tennis House. He practically knocked the other bird out of the tree. I didn't spend much time watching the Red-tailed Hawk nest today. I stayed just long enough to observe Split-tail and Big Mama exchanging places on their eggs. I decided, instead, to look for migrating Pine Warblers.

The weather and timing seemed right and I got lucky, spotting my first Pine Warbler of the spring. It was a textbook male in brilliant, breeding plumage - olive green back, bright yellow throat & breast and broad, bright white wingbars. His slow foraging in the trees along Breeze Hill and near the Terrace Bridge was an interesting contrast to the hyperactive feeding frenzy of a flock of tiny Golden-crowned Kinglets in his company.

At first I was very excited about seeing my first incoming warbler but then I began to feel a little anxious. I spend a lot of time alone in the woods observing the hawks. I think my anxiety is born of an unrealistic desire to protect "my" forest from the impending onslaught of human activities. During the winter months, especially during week days, Prospect Park seems virtually deserted. The millions of New Yorkers that surround the park are almost invisible. Like clockwork, though, the peaceful solitude of the winter woods will soon explode not only with birds and song, but also people. I'm not a curmudgeon (at least, not much) I just get disillusioned sometimes seeing all the damage that some folks inflict on the park year after year. Is it possible to teach people to tread more lightly?
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/26/2004 - 11:30am to 1:30pm
-
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Prospect Lake.)
Great Egret (Prospect Lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (5, Upper Pond. 4, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (3, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (2, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (Prospect Lake.)
Turkey Vulture (Soaring over Peninsula.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Immature, Breeze Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Killdeer (Long Meadow.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Payne Hill.)
Northern Flicker (~10.)
Eastern Phoebe (3, Payne Hill. 2, Lullwater. 2, Long Meadow. 1, Upper pond.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Lullwater.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Lookout Hill.)
Brown Creeper (Breeze Hill.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (~20, Terrace Bridge/Breeze Hill area.)
Hermit Thrush (Payne Hill.)
Pine Warbler (Terrace Bridge/Breeze Hill area.)
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Abundant.)
American Goldfinch (~20.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Downy Woodpecker (Lookout Hill.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (Payne Hill.), Tufted Titmouse (2, Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Prospect Park

Split-tail growled at me today. I was shocked, not just by a vocalization that I'd never heard before, but also by his apparent distress. I thought our three year relationship meant something. We had an understanding; I'd be respectful of him and he would let me quietly observe him and his mate's activities. I was standing in my usual spot next to the elm tree watching Big Mama on the nest and he was perched in a large maple at the edge of the Long Meadow. Suddenly he flew directly towards me. As he was flying I could hear him making a deep, throaty growling sound, almost like an angry cat. He flew up onto a rotted limb about five feet above my head and started biting into the peeled back bark of the dead branch. A minute or two later he flew off towards the Boulder Bridge but perched only about fifty feet away in a sycamore next to the footpath. I walked slowly over towards him and as I approached he began making that angry growl again. I backed off and walked down to the Ravine. Ten minutes prior to this incident I spotted a pair of juvenile Red-tailed Hawks flying north above the Long Meadow. As they passed Payne Hill Split-tail chased after them letting them know that they weren't welcome in Prospect Park. I guess I shouldn't take his behavior personally, maybe he was still a little agitated and was taking it out on me.

My concern for the Ravine Red-tailed Hawks was a little premature. This morning I could see one of the pair back sitting in their nest atop the pine tree.

Phoebe numbers are still increasing and there were four of them hawking for insects in the woods below the nest. I've also noticed that Song Sparrow numbers have increased dramatically over the last week throughout the park.

As I was leaving the park at 5th Street I heard what sounded like a Monk Parakeet squawking. I searched the trees in front of the Litchfield Villa and spotted a Merlin trying to attack a Northern Flicker. It was the flicker that was making the loud noises as he tried to avoid the diving assault of the tiny falcon. The Merlin quickly gave up and flew off towards the Long Meadow.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/24/2004 - 11am to 1pm
-
Ring-necked Duck (4, Upper pond.)
Bufflehead (3, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Upper pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 2 immature.)
Merlin (Litchfield Villa.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Payne Hill.)
Downy Woodpecker (2, Payne Hill.)
Hairy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.)
Northern Flicker (Litchfield Villa.)
Eastern Phoebe (4, Payne Hill.)
Black-capped Chickadee (2, Payne Hill.)
Tufted Titmouse (3, Payne Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Payne Hill.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Payne Hill.)
Fox Sparrow (5, Rick's Pl.)
Song Sparrow (Approx. 10.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch (Payne Hill.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Prospect Park with Sean S.

I arrived at the nest at 10:30 and it appeared to be empty. I knew from previous years that when the much smaller "Split-tail" was sitting on the nest that he was difficult to see so I tried looking from a few different angles. The west wind was roaring over Payne Hill and the nest tree was swaying from side to side. When I stood upwind of the tree I could see the brown feathers on the top of Split-tail's head fluttering in the wind. At about 11:20 Big Mama flew in from the south and made a tight, swooping turn above the nest, tucked her wings in and made a hard landing in the tree. Her mate must have been hungry because he didn't linger at the nest and quickly departed. Big Mama stepped into the nest but kept her head down for a couple of minutes as if she were examining its contents. She gently eased her body down into the nest then settled down for her turn on the eggs.

I noticed some more seasonal changes in the park today. Along Wellhouse Drive the Magnolia trees are now adorned with green, velvet covered buds. As more insects have emerged the number of arriving Eastern Phoebes has increased, as well. Three days ago I counted only one of these small flycatchers, today there were twelve. Lately Peter D. has been asking me where the heck all the kinglets are; he can finally stop asking as I counted about 20 Golden-crowned Kinglets today. Oddly, one flock was moving south through the trees near the Picnic House. I tried pointing them the other way but they wouldn't listen.

Also new for the season was an Osprey being chased by Split-tail above the Long Meadow. Its whistling cry drew my attention as the much larger bird was clearly intimidated by our local red-tail. Finally, Sean spotted our first Tree Swallow of the spring as it surfed the high winds blowing across the lake.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/21/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe (2, upper Lullwater.)
Turkey Vulture (3.)
Wood Duck (1.)
Northern Shoveler (Abundant.)
Ring-necked Duck (5, Upper pond. 5, Prospect Lake.)
Hooded Merganser (5, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck
Osprey (Chased by Red-tailed over Long Meadow.)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Peninsula, flying towards Lookout Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Merlin (Female, Long Meadow by Tennis House.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Payne Hill.)
Eastern Phoebe (12; 2, Payne Hill. 1, Lookout. 1, Breeze Hill. 4, Lullwater. 2, Pagoda Pond. 2, Midwood.)
Tree Swallow (Over Prospect Lake.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2, Lookout Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Lullwater.)
Brown Creeper (edge of Upper pond.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Approx. 20, Picnic House area & Lullwater.)
Fox Sparrow (~10.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch (Approx. 12, Lullwater & Rick's Place.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Midwood.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (1.), Tufted Titmouse (3.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (Common.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Bayridge, Brooklyn

Yesterday morning, while Shane and I were driving down 7th Avenue in Bayridge towards the Verrazano Bridge, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk chasing some pigeons. It seemed like a rather odd location for a large hawk. We were stopped at the intersection of 73rd Street where the surrounding neighborhood is comprised of mostly lowrise apartment buildings. The hawk perched adjacent to a tiny park named McKinley Park that has few large trees. It was an immature red-tailed with unusually dark, practically black, facial feathers. It looked very similar to the beat-up hawk that Sean S. and I saw being chased from Prospect Park by the adults on February 27th.

During the course of the day we spotted about five Red-tailed Hawks between Bayridge, Staten Island and Jones Beach. I began to wonder about all the locations where they could possibly be nesting around the five Boroughs. I am aware of the three pairs in my corner of Brooklyn and the annual nest on 5th Avenue across from Central Park but where else are they breeding?

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Wolfe’s Pond, Great Kills, Fort Tilden, Breezy Pt., Pt. Lookout, Hempstead Lake SP with Shane B.

I'm glad Shane called me to join him today for some coastal birding. It was a needed change of scenery from the view of the hawk nest and its surrounding woods. What started off as a trip to look for the Western Grebe that has been hanging out on Staten Island turned into a tour of many coastal areas from Point Lookout to Breezy Point. We also stopped at Hempstead Lake State Park to look for Redheads.

Finding the Western Grebe was almost too easy. At 8:00 the wind was calm and there wasn't a ripple on the ocean. Just scanning with our naked eyes was enough to locate it about 400 yards offshore. As it preened it frequently turned its head rapidly from side to side, as if it were practicing part of a courtship display. It also kept stretching its right leg out to the side; probably just some early morning calisthenics. The pond was mainly occupied by scaup but there were also a few Ring-necked Ducks, shovelers, a pair of Gadwall and a Great Egret along the shore. A quick stop at Great Kills wasn't very productive so we decided to head over to Brooklyn to check on the recently reported gull flocks at Fort Tilden and Breezy Point.

As we were passing the Verrazano Bridge we stopped along the highway to check out a raft of scaup on Gravesend Bay. There were about 3,000 or more ducks in a flock that was mostly Greater Scaup but also included a small number of lesser. The large flocks of gulls at Tilden and Breezy have dispersed leaving mostly the expected numbers and assortment. The only unusual sighting was of a Red-necked Grebe. So we were off to Long Beach to check for gulls at Pt. Lookout. There was a flock of about 300 Bonaparte's Gulls present but it wasn't until about a quarter of them took flight that Shane noticed one standout - a Little Gull. I only had fleeting looks at the slight seabird's dark underwings. I would have preferred a more in depth study of this bird as I've never seen one before. After lunch I suggested stopping at Hempstead Lake SP as I've been lucky to find Redheads there 3 out of 4 times. As luck would have it there were 9 Redheads and a single Canvasback trying to blend in with his similar cousins. Also seen at Hempstead Lake SP were Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, hooded and Common Merganser.

We were hoping to locate some of the recently reported rare gulls but since that was, essentially, a bust we thought we might as well try to pump up our waterfowl day list. We were fortunate to spot a couple of Snow Goose on our way home but were missing (at least) a Ruddy Duck. As we were driving up Prospect Park Southwest Shane stopped the car near Prospect Lake. We were tired and lazy but could see the lake clearly through the trees. We rolled down the windows and scanned the lake. We could see plently of shovelers but where was a ruddy when you needed one. Finally I said, "There's one in front of the Thumb". Then it dove and Shane said, "We can't leave until I see it." "OK, it's up, let's go".

- - - - -

Staten Island (Wolfe’s Pond, Great Kills), Brooklyn (Fort Tilden, Breezy Pt.), Nassau County (Pt. Lookout, Hempstead Lake SP), 3/20/2004
-
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe (Hempstead Lake SP.)
Horned Grebe (various.)
Red-necked Grebe (Breezy Pt.)
Western Grebe (Wolfe's Pond.)
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret (Wolfe's Pond.)
Snow Goose (Flying over Meadowbrook Pkwy. near Jones Beach.)
Canada Goose (various.)
Brant (various.)
Mute Swan (Hempstead Lake SP.)
Wood Duck (~8, Hempstead Lake SP.)
Gadwall (Wolfe's Pond, Hempstead Lake SP.)
American Wigeon (Hempstead Lake SP.)
American Black Duck (various.)
Mallard (various.)
Northern Shoveler (Wolfe's Pond.)
Green-winged Teal (Hempstead Lake SP.)
Canvasback (Hempstead Lake SP.)
Redhead (5 drake, 4 hen. Hempstead Lake SP.)
Ring-necked Duck (Wolfe's Pond, Hempstead Lake SP.)
Greater Scaup (Wolfe's Pond, Gravesend Bay.)
Lesser Scaup (Gravesend Bay.)
Common Eider (Wolfe's Pond.)
Long-tailed Duck (Wolfe's Pond, Fort Tilden, Pt. Lookout.)
Bufflehead (various.)
Common Goldeneye (Great Kills.)
Hooded Merganser (Hempstead Lake SP.)
Common Merganser (Hempstead Lake SP.)
Red-breasted Merganser (various.)
Ruddy Duck (Prospect Park.)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Oystercatcher (Breezy Pt., Pt. Lookout.)
Little Gull (Pt. Lookout.)
Bonaparte's Gull (Wolfe's Pond, Pt. Lookout.)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Monk Parakeet (Avenue I.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (Hempstead Lake SP.)
American Crow
Fish Crow (Hempstead Lake SP.)
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Sparrow

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Prospect Park

As I trudged across the snow blanketed Long Meadow I noticed that the recently arrived, scattered flocks of robins were now all concentrated in one area. Snow plows clearing the footpaths inadvertently dug a shallow trench in the dirt along the edge of the grass. A flock of robins lining up in single file along the thin strip of mud stood like statues with their ears tipped to the ground. On Center Drive a flock of ten Fox Sparrows scratched in a patch of leaves at the edge of the curb that had been uncovered by snow plows.

The dense, wet snow on the rise beneath Big Mama's nest was clean and trackless. I felt strangely reluctant to christen it with my boot prints. I've found that the view of the nest is best from beside a large elm tree. Today I noticed that hungry squirrels nibbling on fresh buds above me were sprinkling tiny, amber petals in the snow surrounding the elm. I had only been watching the nest for a minute or two when I spotted Big Mama flying through the woods a short distance to the north. She landed in a blackcherry tree and aggressively tugged and twisted on a small branch until it snapped free. She carry it up to the top of the tuliptree where she positioned it like a nest layer cake atop a thin, white covering of snow. She fiddled around in the nest for a few minutes until her mate arrived with a mouse. They noisily greeted each other, she took the mouse and few off to a perch near the Midwood to eat. What occurred next surprised me.

Split-tail stayed in the nest and fidgeted around in its base for about five minutes. He circled around and around like a dog getting comfortable on the living room carpet. He found a cozy position facing out towards the Long Meadow and remained on the nest. He was still there when I departed, about 20 minutes later. It appears that Big Mama has finally laid an egg or two. If so, we should be seeing signs of hatchlings around the week of April 19th.

I'm concerned about the hawks nesting in the Ravine. On Monday I observed the male of that pair, with a fresh kill, as he called for his mate over and over. Today I spotted him in the same spot near the nest with a rat in his talons. Again, he chirped for her over and over. He then flew to the nest in the pine tree but she wasn't there. The nest was covered with a layer of undisturbed snow. He flew off towards the cemetery with the rat, still calling her. I followed as best as I could but it doesn't appear that he located her. I hope she's alright.

Also of interest today was an Eastern Phoebe at the lower pond. It was hawking along the edge of the pond and gently snapping up miniscule prey from the surface of the water.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/18/2004
-
Northern Shoveler (Abundant.)
Ring-necked Duck (5.)
Bufflehead (2.)
Hooded Merganser (1.)
Ruddy Duck
Cooper's Hawk (Immature, Payne Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Quaker Ridge.)
Northern Flicker (Quaker Ridge.)
Eastern Phoebe (Lower pond.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Nethermead Meadow.)
Fox Sparrow (Approx. 12, Center Driver/Quaker Ridge.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch (4, Center Drive.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (1.), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Quaker Ridge.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (Rick's Place.), Tufted Titmouse (Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Monday, March 15, 2004



Prospect Park with Big Dave and Sean S.

Pussy willows emerging from shrubs around the edges of the upper pond were glowing with the pink blush of the late afternoon sunshine. One of the Red-tailed Hawks was calling from somewhere in the narrow strip of woods behind the pond. A small flock of Blue Jays were squawking in the same area, no doubt trying to drive the hawk away. The pond held a small collection of beautiful winter waterfowl. The bold black and white pattern of four male Ring-necked Ducks was accented by a subtle, purple sheen on their outstretched necks. A lone male Hooded Merganser unfurled his monochrome sail to impress two females. Sunlight shining through his hood illuminated his crown like a stained glass window. A pie-chart headed male Bufflehead succeeded in chasing off a single competitor and today courted a female by himself. I was commenting to Sean how nice it was to see a pond of waterfowl that didn't include a flock of Mallards. Before I had time to finish my sentence two Mallards flew in and landed in front of us.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/15/2004
-
Wood Duck (Drake and hen, Upper pond.)
Ring-necked Duck (5, Upper pond.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Upper pond.)
Turkey Vulture (1, flyover Nelly's Lawn.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker (Sparrow Bowl.)
Fox Sparrow (~6.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (~30, Battle Pass.)
Rusty Blackbird (Vale of Cashmere.)
American Goldfinch (~20, Vale of Cashmere.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Vale of Cashmere.), Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin (~30, Nelly's Lawn.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Prospect Park with Shale B. and Marty S.

Tiny, white, bell-shaped Snowdrops (Galanthus) have joined the tulips and crocuses emerging around the park. We noticed a small blanket of them between Nelly's Lawn and the "Aralia Grove".

I only stopped very briefly at the hawk's nests today. A hawk was sitting on the nest in the pine tree. The other nest was empty but Big Mama and Split-tail were soaring above Nelly's Lawn. My goal this morning was to try and locate the Red-shouldered Hawk and a phoebe for Marty and Shale. We struck out on the phoebe but I found the red-shouldered. It was soaring over the lake and came down into a tulip tree overlooking the skating rink. Much later in the day, after Marty and Shale had left, I came across it again perched low behind Three Sisters Island. I probably would have walked right passed without noticing it but it began calling. He must be lonely. Its tail is very tattered and I'm not sure if it is the result of molting or a dispute with the local red-tails.

On the Upper pond (formerly called "Swanboat Pond") a male Hooded Merganser periodically pulled his neck in, tipped his head back and pointed his bill skyward. It was impossible to tell if the two females paddling along behind him were impressed with his courtship display. I walked by the pond again on my way home and noticed one of the Ring-necked Duck doing something curious. While swimming along next to a female ring-necked he would occasionally stretch his neck out, showing off his namesake purple ring. I'm not sure if it was a courtship display but it was nice to see the ring that is almost always hidden. Early this morning, at the other end of the Ravine, a Hairy Woodpecker perched on a hollow branch drummed a rapid message for a potential mate.

We sat on a park bench at the Vale of Cashmere listening to a Rusty Blackbird. Its "check" call is almost indistinguishable from the Red-winged Blackbird to my ear but a secondary call sounds like a rusty hinge.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/14/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
Brant (13, Prospect Lake.)
Wood Duck (3 drake, 1 hen. Prospect Lake.) [Rob Jett]
Northern Shoveler (Abundant.)
Ring-necked Duck (4, Upper pond. 1, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (3, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Upper pond.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-shouldered Hawk (Near skating rink, later behind Three Sisters.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Merlin (Perched on Long Meadow near ponds.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Brown Creeper (South side of lake.) [Rob Jett]
Northern Mockingbird (Near carousel.)
Fox Sparrow (Approx. 6-8.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird (2, Ravine and Vale of Cashmere.)
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch (Approx. 15-20.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (3.), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (2, Ravine & Vale of Cashmere.), Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Nelly's Lawn.), Tufted Titmouse (2, Nelly's Lawn.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Prospect Park with Big Dave

The bright sunshine and clear, blue sky was a bit deceptive as the temperature was a chilly 19 degrees this morning. As Dave and I stood below the nest strong wind gusts caused the bare tree branches above us to crack and creak. We were a little concerned about getting clobbered by falling branches. The recently seen isolated pockets of butterflies and small, swirling clouds of flies appeared to be hunkered down somewhere and out of sight. On Payne Hill my first Eastern Phoebe of the season was also looking for them. The only flocks of land birds observed were in the lee of Payne Hill along the rise of the Midwood.

It's possible that the female Red-tailed Hawk of the Ravine nest has laid an egg. Like a giant pendulum her nest swayed dramatically from side to side in this morning's powerful gusts. Unfazed by the roller coaster ride she remained firmly in place on her nest at the top of the pine tree.

Big Mama and Split-tail were staying out of the wind and were perched in the relatively calm air of the forested Midwood. We watched Big Mama methodically stripping the bark from her perch in a tuliptree. We figured that the long, stringy fibers were probably going to be used as insulation for her nest. I guess they've been using that spot for a while as the top half of the four foot long branch was almost completely devoid of its outer covering. After a few minutes of tugging and tearing she carried a billfull of the threadlike bedding up to the nest.

Despite today's blustery weather, now that I've seen my first migrating phoebe it really feels like spring has arrived.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/13/2004
-
Ring-necked Duck (2, Upper pond.)
Bufflehead (1, Upper pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Eastern Phoebe (Payne Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Payne Hill.)
Northern Mockingbird (Litchfield Villa.)
Fox Sparrow (Rick's Place.)
White-throated Sparrow (Rick's Place.)
Rusty Blackbird (1, Between upper and lower ponds.)
American Goldfinch (Approx. 10, Rick's Place.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (Rick's Place.), Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Prospect Park

As I entered the park at 5th Street I noticed that dozens of tulips have begun to emerge from the flower beds surrounding the Litchfield Villa. At the edge of the lake, alders are sprouting drooping, yellowish catkins.

When I was walking across the Long Meadow towards the hawk nest I spotted Big Mama and Split-tail as they flew in my direction from their nest woods. They circled the Long Meadow and, as they ascended, gradually traveled south towards the Green-wood Cemetery. I thought about the hawk's-eye view of Prospect Park and a satellite photograph of the area that I found on the Internet. Walking through this urban park gives one the impression of a wide expanse of trees and meadows. In reality, for a hawk flying overhead it's a postage stamp of green with a narrow spine of forest. Since the hawks had just left the nest I decided to walk through the Ravine and along the edge of Quaker Ridge, the wooded north-south backbone of the park.

The woods were more active than I have seen in weeks. A large number of Dark-eyed Juncos were moving north through the area. I wish I could playback in words the energized sounds from the woods today. Juncos chipped and trilled while digging in the leaf litter, Fox Sparrows whistled from high perches, White-breasted Nuthatches muttered nasal interjections while hanging upside down and Northern Cardinals, like choral soloists, belted out slurred whistles from above all the other songsters. Further south along the forested strip a flock of robins competed for attention in a seemingly endless rondo of "Cheerily, cheeriup, cheerio". At Lookout Hill a loud repetitive "kee-yer, kee-yer, kee-yer" made me think that I was being fooled by a Blue Jay again. I searched the trees overlooking Prospect Lake and found an adult Red-shouldered Hawk calling loudly. The sound seemed out of place for Brooklyn and more appropriate for Florida.

When I returned to the Ravine I found a hawk sitting on the nest in the pine tree. Further north I could hear that Big Mama and her mate had returned. I followed their calls and, by the sound of their brief, hoarse chirps I assumed that they were involved in their favorite activity. When I arrived at their tree Big Mama was perched on a branch above her nest and Split-tail had just departed. She was snapping off the dry, brown tulip flowers near her face. I thought that she was preparing to break off a branch for the nest but was merely clearing an opening around her balcony.

In 2002 this pair's nest was relatively low to the ground and above a roadway. Last year it was a little higher, a bit more substantial but close to Flatbush Avenue. This year they seemed to have read the field guide description for nest placement; ""a large tree with a commanding view." I hope they have a long-term lease on this location.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/11/2004
-
Double-crested Cormorant (2.)
Brant (12.)
Northern Shoveler (Abundant.)
Bufflehead (2 drakes, Upper pond.)
Ruddy Duck (Approx. 70-80, Prospect Lake.)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Adult, Lookout Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Ravine.)
Fox Sparrow (~8.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Approx. 50-60.)
American Goldfinch (9, Rick's Place.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan (4.), Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.), Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Prospect Park with Sean S.

In February of 2002 I began my first Red-tailed Hawk journal. I was motivated by a pair of hawks building a nest next to the roadway near the 3rd Street playground. Among the many highlights that season was a daring tree squirrel that I named "Squirrely Knievel". He seemed to enjoy tormenting the hawks and his various exploits included leaping over the occupied hawk nest. Somehow, he managed to escape the dinner menu. Late this afternoon, when I returned to Brooklyn, I walked over to the nest where I met Sean taking some photos. He related a familiar story.

He began by saying, "I think Squirrely Knievel has a cousin." While he was waiting for something to photograph a squirrel climbed up the tree and nosed around on the nest. Big Mama and Split-tail were perched nearby at Rick's Place. They had just copulated and their post-coital bliss was disturbed by that sneaky squirrel. Big Mama took off and charged at the uninvited visitor to her nest. The squirrel scurried about 20 feet down the tuliptree but Big Mama followed and made a couple of close passes before giving up. I guarantee we haven't seen the last of this dispute.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/9/2004
-
Ring-necked Duck (3, Upper pond.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Upper pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Merlin (Next to ponds.) [Sean S.]

Sunday, March 07, 2004



Prospect Park with Tom P. and Sean S.

Despite the fact that snow showers are predicted for this evening spring is gently nudging winter aside. This morning I spotted two Morning Cloak butterflies circling each other as they fluttered passed my seat below the hawk nest. Later on Tom and I also noticed a tiny, Cabbage White near the bird feeder on Breeze Hill. The drooping branches of linden trees all around the park are sprouting tiny, red buds and crocus have begun pushing up through the leaf litter along the Lullwater. Many more of the over-wintering Fox Sparrows have found their spring voice; in a month they'll all be gone, replaced by other melodies. At Rick's Place there was a noisy flock of goldfinches feeding on the bristly, hanging balls of the London Planetrees. As kids we used to call these fruits "itchy balls". I'd never observed this behavior before and had assumed that these seeds were useless as a food source.

I was wrong about the second hawk nest located in the Ravine. When I showed Tom the nest I was surprised to find it occupied. I'm not sure if it was the male or female but one of the pair was sitting on the nest and calling for its mate.

The activities around "Big Mama's" nest have become routine. One of the Red-tailed Hawks can usually be found perched close by, either resting or hunting. Occasionally the pair will add more sticks to the nest and they copulate often. The latter activity lasts for only a few seconds with one or both of the hawks loudly vocalizing. This afternoon I noticed that one of the hawks sounds very hoarse. I wonder how frequently they mate each day. By the sound of their voice I guess it's pretty often.

By mid-afternoon, shortly after Tom had departed, Sean and I were getting a little bored at the nest and decided to walk to the lake to check out the waterfowl. As we were walking across the Nethermead Meadow we noticed something odd. A pigeon was flying south along the length of the meadow. It was moving slowly, flying only a few feet above the ground and landed in the woods at the base of Lookout Hill. Moments later it was followed by a Red-tailed Hawk. It was a beautiful, warm afternoon so the field was loaded with people playing Frisbee, walking their dogs or cheering on a soccer match at the southwest corner. The hawk wasn't the least bit deterred by all the activity and charged into the woods after the pigeon. It easily caught it and I think Sean and I were the only ones who noticed (or cared). It must have been a plump pigeon as the hawk appeared to have some trouble gaining altitude as it ascended to a perch at the edge of the Quaker Cemetery to eat its prey. As Sean was setting up his tripod I noticed that the pigeon, while clutched firmly in the hawk's right foot, was still thrashing about. After a few minutes it stopped moving and the hungry raptor began using its sharp bill to pluck the feather from around the pigeons neck and nape. Suddenly, lunch began flapping its wings again. In retrospect it sounds a bit ghoulish but we were riveted on that hawk for about 20 minutes as the trapped pigeon struggled to escape, even while being prepared for eating. The Red-tailed Hawk eventually flew deeper into the cemetery to eat in peace only to be mobbed by a small flock of Blue Jays.

Focusing on the hawk's activities sometimes blinds me from the "non-natural" activities in this crowded, urban park. Sometimes it's a challenge to ignore them. Twice today I stood near the Quaker Cemetery looking at the wildlife. The first time I was chased away by a young man practicing Bagpipes. Is there anything worse than the sound of bad Bagpipes? The second time Sean and I tried our best to tune out a toothless, possibly, mentally ill blues musician. I think he went by the name of "Murky Waters".
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/7/2004
-
Ring-necked Duck (14, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Upper pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3; 2 at Payne Hill nest. 1 on Ravine nest.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Hermit Thrush (Breeze Hill feeder.)
American Tree Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Chipping Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Fox Sparrow (~12, Rick's Place, Breeze Hill, Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle (Peninsula.)
American Goldfinch (~12, Rick's Place.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (2, Rick's Place.), Blue Jay (~12.), American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (3, Breeze Hill.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Prospect Park

I managed to dodge the raindrops and take a quick look at the Red-tailed Hawk nest today. Upon entering the park at 5th Street I spotted "Split-tail" (he looks like he's developing that weird split in his tail again) perched above the Litchfield Villa. The squirrels were all squealing in unison. His mate, "Big Mama" was perched near their nest and she chirped for him when he circled above their woods. All along the grassy rise of Payne Hill a large flock of robins and juncos fed, taking advantage of the rain softened ground.

Ominous-looking dark clouds were rolling in so I didn't linger at the nest for very long. I quickly looped through the Ravine to check on the second red-tailed nest. As I walked on the lower path a flock of robins, juncos and jays suddenly scrambled for cover. In his panicked state one of the juncos nearly crashed into me. I searched the trees for predators but couldn't locate any.

It appears that the second pair of red-tails have relocated as their nest now seems unused. I wonder if "Big Mama" chased them off. As I walked passed the Lower pond I spotted the object of the birds panic earlier in my walk; a female Merlin. Perched near the top of her favorite Gingko tree, she methodically plucked the dark grey feathers from a freshly killed junco.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/6/2004
-
Bufflehead (3, Upper Pond.)
Hooded Merganser (3, Upper Pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2. Litchfield Villa, Payne Hill.)
Merlin (Perched next to Lower Pond.)
Ring-billed Gull
White-breasted Nuthatch (Litchfield Villa.)
Fox Sparrow (3, Ravine.)
White-throated Sparrow (~50, Ravine.)
Dark-eyed Junco (~100, Payne Hill & Ravine.)
Common Grackle (Long Meadow.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Ravine.), Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Payne Hill.), Tufted Titmouse (Payne Hill.), American Robin (~75, Payne Hill.), European Starling, Song Sparrow (3, Ravine.), Northern Cardinal

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Prospect Park with Bob B.

Mother Nature teased my senses today with a plate of spring-like appetizers. The sweet, warm air smelled like spring and I tried to resist the feeling that the migration was right around the corner.

As I walked into the park I spotted a flock of 6 Turkey Vultures slowly soaring northward over the Long Meadow nudged along by tepid thermals. Red maple buds and yellow witchhazel flowers were unexpected bright spots on the park's mostly grey landscape. Small turtles have begun charging their solar batteries on logs and other haul-outs around the lake. Also on the lake, male Ruddy Ducks have started their transition from drab winter coloration to rusty, red plumes and sky blue bills. Early Common Grackles have arrived and staked nesting claims in conifers at Park Circle, the carousel and the peninsula. A rising chorus of red-winged "konk-la-reee" from the phragmites surrounding the lake seems to have begun virtually overnight.

I stood on Payne Hill for almost an hour watching an empty Red-tailed Hawk nest. I looked away from the nest and started listening to a changing landscape. Some of the resident birds such as chickadees, titmouse, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpecker and Blue Jay were extremely vocal in the surrounding woods. Fifty yards to my east, at Rick's Place, I could hear Fox Sparrows singing their clear, melodious spring whistles. Numerous trilling junco's reminded me of Pine Warblers to come and spring's happy, tickle briefly surged through the pit of my stomach. Nearby, the-jay-that-cried-hawk insisted on tormenting me. His Red-tailed Hawk "keeeer" call is extremely convincing and I'm not sure if he does it out of boredom or suicidal tendencies. A large, adult Cooper's Hawk flew in and perched a couple of feet away from the red-tailed nest. The woods suddenly fell quiet. She only stayed for a moment then flew off towards Battle Pass. A few minutes later "Big Mama" arrived at the nest with a pine bough, adding a splash of color to her stick construction. Through the bare trees I could see her mate, "the-hawk-previously-known-as-splittail", prying a branch from a sweetgum at Rick's Place. He joined her at the nest and deposited the branch. She seemed pleased, he mounted her and quickly made another, noisy deposit.

Also of note is a flock of Ring-necked Ducks increasing in numbers on Prospect Lake and the return of "Woody". Our resident Wood Duck disappeared in early January to parts unknown. Today he was back to taking bread-crumb handouts and flirting with the female Mallards.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 3/2/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe (1, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (2, Prospect Lake.)
Brant (22, Prospect Lake.)
Wood Duck (5, Prospect Lake.)
Gadwall (Male & female, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (Adundant.)
Ring-necked Duck (10, Prospect Lake.)
Hooded Merganser (6, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (~30, Prospect Lake.)
Turkey Vulture (6, soaring over Long Meadow traveling north.)
Cooper's Hawk (Adult, Payne Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 immature.)
American Coot
Killdeer (Calling as it circled Long Meadow.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Payne Hill.)
Brown Creeper (Payne Hill.)
Fox Sparrow (~5, Vale and Payne Hill.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle (~10.)
American Goldfinch (4, Payne Hill. 6, Vale of Cashmere.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.), Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow (2.), Black-capped Chickadee (3, Lullwater.), Tufted Titmouse (2, Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope