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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Fog and fungi

The Long Meadow looking south

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

I woke up to a city shrouded in a dense, cool fog. I've never experienced such a surreal landscape in Brooklyn and decided to run up to the park with my camera. Before leaving I received a call from Sean who had the same idea. I also wanted to check on the hawk nests. I had images in my head of one of the large raptors appearing out of the fog like a ghostly apparition.

Near the Picnic House

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Standing at the edge of the Long Meadow near the Picnic House I could barely make out a group of picnic tables fifty yards away. I spoke to Sean on my cellphone and learned that he was only a short distance from me, next to the upper pool. Two Buffleheads floating on the water looked like bright, white buoys guiding waterfowl into safe harbor. A Great Blue Heron emerged from the fog to our left then quickly vanished in the mist surrounding Quaker Ridge. We wondered where he was headed or even if he knew.

Every plant collected the fine mist on their upper surfaces which condensed into crystal clear droplets on their lower surfaces. The dense curtain of water molecules draped over Brooklyn didn't just obscure our vision but also deadened the sounds of the city. Sounds of distant cars, overflying planes, even honking geese seemed to have been shut off. The border between ground and horizon was obscurred like the enchanted reverie of an Yves Tanguy painting. Would "Swamp Thing" be climbing out of the lower pool this morning?

Thorns and droplets

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We walked up to Payne Hill to check on Big Mama and Split-tail's nest. The nest has noticeably expanded since I last looked so it was obvious that they were somewhere in the area and have been very busy. We circled the north end of the park then headed back towards the Ravine. In the Ravine we watched an adult Red-tailed Hawk fly in from the direction of last year's pine tree nest. It's not easy to get a clear view of that nest but we finally saw the hawk's mate arranging twigs near the top of the conifer. The first hawk flew to another tree and began examining branches and tugging on a few. He finally found one he liked, snapped it off and flew back to the nest with it to his waiting mate.

At the edge of Wellhouse Drive, near the Peninsula Meadow, we spotted one of the juvenile Red-tailed Hawks. He was perched low next to a weedy section frequented by sparrows and chipmunks. The hungry hawk made two low passes over the area then flew up to a street light where he perched for a few minutes. We were so close that I could see a small scratch in the silver paint of the light's horizontal support arm made by one of his talons. He sat looking down at us then spotted something to his left on the end of the Peninsula. I watched in my binoculars as he rocketed across the open field then weaved a perfect course through the woods at the far end. He looked like he dove on top of some unsuspecting prey but we found out later that he had missed his mark. In the woods on the Peninsula we also spotted a young Cooper's Hawk perched at the edge of the upper Lullwater. While I was watching he did something very peculiar. He craned his head forward, opened his mouth wide then ejected a pellet. I had read that hawks sometimes do that but never expected that I would have the opportunity to witness it. It was a bit disgusting as he also expelled some nasty looking liquid but it was fascinating, nonetheless.

Cerrena unicolor

(Photo credit - Rob J)

While we were walking around today we noticed that the abundant rain and warm temperatures have spawned a profusion of mushrooms in the park. A pile of rotting logs near the boulder bridge held an interesting selection. Near the Vale of Cashmere an oak tree had a fresh growth of shelf mushrooms growing up its trunk. On the bridle path at the south edge of Lookout Hill we found clusters of black mushrooms pushing up through the leaf litter. I try to identify the fungi that I locate but I've learned that, unlike most birds, using only visual cues for mushrooms is often impossible.

Trichaptum biforme

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Unidentified black mushrooms

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

-click to learn more about Mushrooms-

One possible sad note is the report of a dead or dying Red-tailed Hawk near the skating rink. Our small group of birders in the park are trying to track it down but are still not convinced that it is accurate. I once had someone report finding the carcass of a dead hawk and when I located it it turned out to be a large, brown rooster. I'm hoping that this story ends similarly.

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Prospect Park, 1/13/2005
Great Blue Heron (Flying over the pools.)
Northern Shoveler (Several hundred on Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (1, Prospect Lake. 2, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck
Cooper's Hawk (1 adult Breeze Hill. 1 juvenile Peninsula.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 1 juvenile.)
American Coot (10, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Next to Quaker Cemetery.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (5.)
Northern Mockingbird (Long Meadow.)
Fox Sparrow (1, singing on Breeze Hill.)
Swamp Sparrow (1, Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (40-50, Peninsula Meadow.)
American Goldfinch (approx. 15, Peninsula.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker (2, Nethermead.), Downy Woodpecker (4 or 5.), Hairy Woodpecker (1.), Blue Jay (5 or 6.), American Crow (1.), Black-capped Chickadee (2.), Tufted Titmouse (Several.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (3 or 4.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird

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