Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Hawk nest abandoned?

Star Magnolia about to bloom

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I set out early, determined to spend the entire day tracking the Payne Hill Red-tailed Hawks. I needed to figure out what was happening at their nest and whether it has been abandoned.

I think I’ve figured out their territory by monitoring their activities over the last three years. They’ve nested near the Third Street playground, the North Zoo Woods and Payne Hill. They seem to hunt from the northern edge of the Ravine north to Grand Army Plaza and Mount Prospect to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens on the east side of Flatbush Avenue. Prior to my cycling accident I would just hop on my bike and quickly tag along on their daily routines. Following on foot is more difficult but not impossible.

Smooth Alder (Alnus serrulata)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

My loose strategy was to circle the north end of the Long Meadow checking the woods along the way. Next I’d search the woods behind Sullivan Hill, spend some time below the nest then finish the park at the northeast corner. I also planned on walking over to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Of course it could change the moment I located any of the hawks.

My first change of plans occurred as the rain began coming down hard. I ran from the Long Meadow to the shelter of the Sullivan Hill woods. I slowly made my way to the Payne Hill nest where I sat for over an hour. I didn’t see any hawks or hear any of their high, chirping greetings. I was beginning to think that something had happening to either Split-tail or Big Mama. Perhaps that is why the adult was allowing the juvenile to stick around.

I walked up to the Vale of Cashmere to begin a search of the trees in the northeast corner of the park. Near the Aralia Grove I located the juvenile hawk perched in a Black Cherry tree. After a few minutes he flew across Flatbush Avenue into a flock of starlings in the botanic gardens. He missed his target and returned to a perch about fifty yards from the first tree. The young bird started to gnaw on a branch until he snapped it off. With the stick in his mouth he took off and flew to a Willow Oak where an adult Red-tailed Hawk was perched. The older bird didn’t seem impressed by the stick gift so junior just dropped it. Both birds then flew off towards the botanic gardens.

I hurried over to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens where I found the two hawks circling above the Cherry Esplanade. When they dropped below the treetops I walked over to the Native Flora section. I found the young hawk perched in a Black Cherry tree above the tall fence that encloses that section. I met three other birders who stood and watched with me. At one point the hawk began sneezing. It was really funny to see him snapping his head down as he made a high, squeaking sound. I joked that he was probably allergic to feathers.

After the sneezing subsided he turned around and looked down on the ground inside the fence. He twisted and turned his head as if he was trying to get a better look. I hurried into the Native Flora section to see what he was about to pounce on. There was a cottontail at the edge of the kettle pond and he was about to become lunch. A gentleman walking passed with two small children spooked the rabbit just as the hawk was closing in on him. The bunny barely escaped and the hawk stood on a low, wooden rail scanning the shrubs.

Young Red-tailed Hawk after missing a rabbit

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Throughout the day I only observed one of the adult hawks and one juvenile. On my way back through the park I ran into a couple of friends at the North Zoo Woods. As we were talking the young Red-tailed Hawk flew into a locust tree above us. He seemed interested in a kite tangled in the branches. I thought he was going to claim the cloth tail. A few minutes later a second, smaller juvenile hawk flew into the area from the botanic gardens. Moments later they were joined by the adult. It would appear that Alto and Bebe (last year’s offspring) are still hanging around. So the question remains, is the adult Split-tail and Big Mama has moved to a new nest? I never saw two adults together. The single adult and juveniles were spending so much time going back and forth to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens that I’ll have to go back search for a nest.

Ericaceae spp

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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Prospect Park & Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, 4/3/2005
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Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fox Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
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, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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