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Monday, April 11, 2005

Sadness and Hope

Japanese or Saucer Magnolia

(Photo credit - Rob J)

After having the honor of observing Big Mama and Split-tail raise three broods in three years I can say with certainly that their nest on Payne Hill has been abandoned. I don’t think that I will ever know the real cause and can only speculate on what has happened.

March 29th was the last day that I saw Split-tail and Big Mama together. It was also the day that I first observed the juvenile spending a lot of time within their territory. There is a huge difference in size between the adult and young hawk. I haven’t witnessed any sexual activity between them but the small juvenile has been seen bringing sticks to the nest on many occasions. On Saturday and Sunday I walked the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and checked every deciduous tree that was large enough to hold a Red-tailed Hawk nest. I watched the large adult, who I believe is Big Mama, hunting above the gardens. She was usually accompanied by the small juvenile, who is likely a male. I circled the Long Meadow twice, looking for anything that remotely resembled a hawk nest. Their first nest was near the 3rd Street playground. I checked the stretch of woods in that area but found nothing. Their second nest was in a European Beech behind the zoo. I covered that area, as well as, the adjacent Battle Pass and Aralia Grove. I’ve circled Payne Hill, the site of their third nest, and the Midwood many times yet I never saw a new nest or two adults.

Female Red-tailed Hawks do a majority of the incubating but the male will occasionally give her a break. She calls her mate with a loud chirping whistle when she gets hungry. He either brings her food or takes over incubating the eggs so she can hunt. I read through previous year’s journals and found that from mid-April to mid-May the two hawks communicated frequently and loudly. These last few weeks have been depressingly quiet within their territory. The only observations of a hawk at the nest was of the juvenile, who seemed a little unsure of what he should be doing.

Perhaps Split-tail has met an unfortunate end. I remember when one of Central Park’s Red-tailed Hawks was found poisoned. It is also possible that Big Mama has decided to pick a new, younger mate. Unfortunately, he may have come along a little too late in the season to continue breeding. “Elizabeth’s Tuliptree” is a towering tree at the north end of Nelly’s Lawn. It was Big Mama and Split-tail’s favorite perch. I would often see them perched there together as the sun was going down. Yesterday, at about 6pm, the juvenile hawk was perched near the top. I sat on the grass and waited to see what would happen next. Within about ten minutes he was joined by Big Mama.

Big Mama and Junior

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Springtime brings buds, bugs, birds and breeding. It also brings hope. Could this pair still breed? Could another nest be hidden away somewhere? Maybe not, but there’s always next year. Even with the prospect of Big Mama not raising any young this year I’m sure that unfolding events in the lives of these fascinating creatures will continue to enlighten me.

Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus Stolonifera)

Seen in the Lullwater below the Terrace Bridge
(Photo credit - Rob J)

This past weekend Mourning Cloak butterflies have been joined by Cabbage Whites and some unidentified anglewing butterflies. Star Magnolia buds have exploded into white exclamations and Saucer Magnolia buds have begun to unfold into fragrant, pink dishes. A few more migrants have begun entering the south end of the park with much song bird activity in the Peninsula Woods. Some of the early breeders are on nests, such as the Common Grackles, Canada Geese and the Mute Swans (with their mountainous nest pile).

Mute Swan on nest

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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Prospect Park, 4/10/2005
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Prospect Lake.)
Great Egret (Prospect Lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (4, Duck Is. 1, Lower Pool.)
Northern Shoveler (1, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (2, Upper Pool.)
Common Merganser (Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (~30, Prospect Lake.)
Cooper's Hawk (Juvenile, Lullwater.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult, 1 juvenile.)
American Coot (5, Prospect Lake.)
Laughing Gull (3, Prospect Lake.)
Great Black-backed Gull (4, Prospect Lake.)
Belted Kingfisher (Upper Pool.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Payne Hill.)
Northern Flicker (Fairly common.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (~10. Peninsula & Vale.)
Hermit Thrush (1, near Litchfield Villa.)
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing (6, Peninsula.)
Northern Parula (Binnen Waters.)
Pine Warbler (4, Peninsula.)
Palm Warbler (4, Peninsula. 3, near Third St.)
Swamp Sparrow (Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch (Several in Elm near Maintenance Garage.)

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 (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (4-6.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Camperdown Elm

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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Unknown shrub

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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