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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Winter Red-tailed Hawk update

Nest tree seen from base of elm tree

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Today was my first venture into the park without my cast. I still have to wear a protective splint when I leave the house but it's much less restrictive.

As I walked towards Payne Hill to check on the hawk nest I noticed some unmistakable signs of a season in transition. Despite below freezing temperatures and arctic winds, hundreds of gray, fuzzy buds have erupted on the slender branches of a Pussy Willow at the edge of the Upper Pool. Tiny red and orange buds now adorn the park's maples and elms. Hungry squirrels are feasting on the tender seasonal delicacies and minute, uneaten petals speckle the snow beneath their dining tables. Impatient magnolia trees have also responded to the lengthening days with a gift of soft, furry shoots.

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on willows-

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Starting at noon, I stood beneath the Payne Hill elm watching Big Mama's nest for about thirty minutes. The woodlands were quiet except for one female Hairy Woodpecker. She made a sharp, "peek" call as she flew from tree to tree tapping the trunks with her bill in search of hidden insects. My feet were beginning to get cold and, with no hawks in sight, I thought about calling it quits for the day. The woodpecker found a rotted branch on a black cherry tree to my right and watching her chip away the soft wood temporarily took my mind off of my chilled feet. North of the nest tree, near Sullivan Hill, I heard an eery squealing sound. I lifted my wool cap above my ears to hear better. My first impression was that it sounded like a rat or squirrel being killed. It stopped abruptly and I went back to watching the woodpecker. Not long after I heard one of the Red-tailed Hawks calling from somewhere on Sullivan Hill.

Split-tail was calling non-stop for his mate as he flew from tree to tree on Payne Hill. He was carrying a gift for Big Mama. I couldn't tell what he held in his huge talons but it seemed heavy. When he flew out into the open above the Long Meadow the weight of the prey appeared to make ascending difficult. As he approached the Picnic House, on the opposite side of the field, he had finally gained enough altitude that he could land near the top of a towering oak tree. During the entire flight he made a high, short whistle to summons his mate. Next to the Picnic House he placed what appeared to be a small rabbit on a branch in the oak. She immediately flew over to him and accepted the gift. He then took off to collect more branches for their nest. Big Mama never ate the rabbit while I was present. She seemed indifferent to the food and just stood basking in the bright, late-winter sunshine.

On Prospect Lake I noticed that many of the Northern Shovelers have already departed. The two hundred plus individuals that had spent the winter has been reduced to about fifty. Also, the vast majority of gulls on the lake are Ring-billed Gulls. Most of the approximately two thousand ring-bills are in full breeding plumage. Previously streaky crowns are now a brilliant, pure white. Their pale yellow eyes are outlined in deep, orange-red, as are the corners of their mouths. I never realized that a common gull could be so beautiful.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

(Photo credit - photographer)

-Click here for more info on Mute Swans as an invasive-

As I was returning home I encountered Split-tail one more time. Nearing the Picnic House I noticed a large shadow moving across the field on my left. The amorous hawk was flying low above the field towards Payne Hill. He passed a few feet over my head while making an odd sound that I'd never heard. He was so close that I remember focusing in on his opened mouth. The hoarse, muted call that came out reminded me of a Siamese cat that we owned when I was a child. The sound was made by the cat when he was being affectionate. As Split-tail headed into the woods near the nest tree I wondered if there was any similarity in the meaning.

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Prospect Park, 3/4/2005
Double-crested Cormorant (Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (Approx. 50.)
Ring-necked Duck (Prospect Lake 8 males, 2 females.)
Bufflehead (1 female, Prospect Lake.)
Hooded Merganser (1 male, 1 female. Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (approx. 60, Prospect Lake.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Juvenile, Ravine.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 juvenile.)
Ring-billed Gull (Approx. 2000, Prospect Lake.)
Great Black-backed Gull (3.)
Northern Mockingbird (Next to Picnic House.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Approx. 12.)
House Finch (Several near Litchfield Villa.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan (2.), American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (Several.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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