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Friday, January 21, 2005

Looking for Big Mama and Split-tail

The weather service said this morning the wind-chill in the city was -4 degrees and they advised people to stay indoors. Wimps. I needed to get my daily out-of-doors fix so I bundled up and headed up to Prospect Park. I haven't seen Big Mama and Split-tail together for almost three weeks and the unconfirmed report of a dead hawk was still bothering me.

On Payne Hill the swaying trees creaked and popped like the wooden hull and taut rigging of a sailing ship at sea. The hawk nest near the top of the tuliptree seems to be weathering the elements without a problem. I looped around Sullivan Hill, Battle Pass and Payne Hill but didn't locate the pair of Red-tailed Hawks. As I approached the stairway down to the Ravine I heard the chattering of goldfinches. A flock of about twenty-five birds were poking their bills into the dried, dangling fruit of a Sweetgum Tree probing for any remaining seeds.

The pools were completely frozen and the waterfowl has relocated. At the Nethermead Arches a large flock of robins (for Prospect Park in the winter, anyway) filled the trees above the stream. The running water attracted the birds and they nervously cued up for drinking and bathing rights. A short distance down the road another large flock was feeding on the translucent, green seed pods in a pagoda tree. Across the road, on Quaker Ridge, a flock of White-throated Sparrows foraged for seeds and insects in the leaf litter. Four large Fox Sparrows stood out in the flock.

Throughout the morning I scanned the woods and trees at the edges of the roads for the park's four adult Red-tailed Hawks. I couldn't find them and considered that they might be hunting in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens or Green-wood Cemetery.

The dramatic temperature drop this week has quickly frozen the lake. There are two small opening, one at the edge of the lake near Vanderbilt Road, and another in the center of Prospect Lake. The abundant Northern Shoveler flock has been reduced to just a handful of individuals. I wonder were they go, as they inevitably return when the lake begins to thaw. I searched the trees around the lake for hawks as they tend to pick-off unsuspecting ducks walking on the ice. Nothing.

As I walked through the Lullwater I flushed up a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk that was sitting on the ground at the edge of the phragmites.

On my return loop passed Quaker Ridge I spotted one of the adult Red-tailed Hawks. He was perched in virtually the same spot above the bridle path that I located him last Sunday. I watched him for a few minutes then he took off through the trees and into the Quaker Cemetery.

I was beginning to get cold but decided to check the Payne Hill nest one more time. The area was quiet but as I exited the woods onto the Long Meadow I saw Big Mama flying in from the south. She circled the treetops near her nest and let out a raspy "keeeer" call. She dropped out of sight near Battle Pass and I continued walking across the frozen meadow. As I approached the Picnic House path a large shadow slid along the ground to my left. It was Big Mama overhead and she was flying towards the Sparrow Bowl. She perched in a large oak tree with her back to the sun. A moment later Split-tail flew out of the woods on Payne Hill and joined her in the tree. They sat silently facing each other against a turquoise sky with arctic wind rustling their feathers.

Big Mama & Split-tail

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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Prospect Park, 1/21/2005
Northern Shoveler
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Juvenile, upper Lullwater.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults.)
American Coot (Several.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1, Quaker Ridge. 1, Lookout Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, Payne Hill. 2, Quaker Ridge. 1, Lookout.)
Northern Mockingbird (Lamppost J249.)
Fox Sparrow (4, Quaker Ridge.)
Swamp Sparrow (1, upper Lullwater.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Several.)
American Goldfinch (20-25, Payne Hill. 10 Quaker Ridge.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove (12, below Breeze Hill feeder.), Red-bellied Woodpecker (1, Lookout Hill. 1, Midwood.), Downy Woodpecker (3 or 4.), Hairy Woodpecker (1, Midwood.), Blue Jay (6, Lookout Hill.), American Crow (4, Long Meadow.), Black-capped Chickadee (Several, Breeze Hill & Quaker Ridge.), Tufted Titmouse (Several.), American Robin (~200.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal (Several.), Song Sparrow (Fairly common.)

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