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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Looking for the Red-tailed Hawks

Looking north across Prospect Lake at Lookout Hill

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It has been a long time since I used my bicycle to try and track the Red-tailed Hawks in Prospect Park. I feel like I can finally put behind me the exasperating three years since my cycling accident. My last orthopedic surgery appears to have restored my damaged wrist. It felt really good gliding along the park’s roads and paths listening for evidence of the hawks and searching their favorite places.

The nest that Split-tail and Big Mama built in the Tulip tree on Payne Hill still looks solid and usable. After checking out the nest I headed towards the Midwood. A young couple was walking up the bridle path that rises out of the forest towards Rick’s Place. While I was looking in their direction an adult Red-tailed Hawk soared out of a tree just a few feet behind them and disappeared into the Midwood. I told the couple what had just happened and they seemed disappointed that they hadn’t turned around at the right moment.

I circled around the woods a few times trying to locate the hawk. A tiny Winter Wren perched atop a pile of rotting logs chipped incessantly while bobbing up and down, stubby tail pointing skyward. I assumed that he was agitated by the presence of the hawk but I could not find him as he vanished into the dried, brown canopy. I felt like my hawk tracking skills were a little rusty and just continued south through the park.

Among the park’s annual winter visitors I noticed that the goldfinch numbers are on the rise. They seemed to have timed their arrival with the opening of the sweetgum fruits. Most of the sweetgum balls have yet to open and release their abundant stash of seeds. However, I noticed that the fruits at the very top of the trees have started to turn brown and open. A pair of sweetgums adjacent to the Butterfly Meadow were loaded with chattering American Goldfinches. White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos assembled on the ground beneath the trees and took advantage of the hurried diners spilled leftovers. Another flock of goldfinches, desperate for a drink, kept landing in a shallow puddle at the edge of the Nethermead Meadow. It was at the intersection of two footpaths and close to the road. Despite constant interruptions by humans the flock would land, quickly drink, fly up to a large oak tree then repeat the process every minute or so.

I pedaled around the perimeter of Prospect Lake checking for winter waterfowl and the Red-tailed Hawks that like to, well, eat them. Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Duck numbers are increasing, as are coots. Near the skating rink, across from Duck Island, I spotted a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perched at the top of a birch tree. People like to feed the ducks nearby and I suppose that he is aware of the easy targets. I continued my tour around the lake and rode up to Breeze Hill. In the trees facing the Peninsula four Blue Jays were making a racket. I assumed a raptor was close and searched the trees but found nothing.

I wheeled my bicycle passed the Fallkill Falls and the Upper Pool towards the Long Meadow. Near the wildflower meadow a Red Bat fluttered by my head so close that I involuntarily ducked. The mild weather has enabled small pockets of insects to extend their season. The bat was taking advantage of the late run and swooped back and forth above the Upper Pool snatching up bugs.

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

As I pedaled north along the Long Meadow I spotted a familiar winter silhouette. Perched at the top of a large Ginkgo Tree was a female Merlin. Every winter the park is host to one or two Merlins. Apparently that Gingko Tree is a prime spot to launch an attack against unsuspecting songbirds as I’ve seen it being used since 1997. I leaned back on the top tube of my bike and watched her against the darkening sky. Every few minutes she would take off, fly around the Upper Pool, behind a hill with a stand of mature Elm Trees then back to her perch in the ginkgo. People strolling by probably noticed the wide grin on my face and glanced up at the tree. Some people were genuinely curious about the falcon and stopped to ask me questions. I let them use my bins to get a better look and they were all impressed by the compact, powerful looking bird. One man told me that now he intended to bring binoculars to the park all the time.

Merlin in Ginkgo Tree

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Merlins-

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Prospect Park, 11/20/2005
Pied-billed Grebe (2, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (Upper pool.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Juvenile at Vale of Cashmere.)
Gadwall (Male, Upper pool.)
Northern Shoveler (approx. 25, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (1, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck (32, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult at Midwood, 1 juvenile on Duck Is.)
Merlin (Edge of Lower pool.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1, Sweetgum on Center Dr.)
Hairy Woodpecker (1 Lookout Hill; 1 Quaker Ridge.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (3, Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, Breeze Hill feeder.)
Brown Creeper (South side of lake.)
Winter Wren (1, Midwood.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Common.)
American Goldfinch (Flock of approx. 30 at Butterfly Meadow.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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