Friday, January 06, 2006

The Raptor's Picnic

"If you got out to the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise..."

I was riding my bicycle down Center Drive when I heard an unusually noisy flock of Blue Jays off in the distance. Their sounds seemed to be concentrated in one spot and I noticed a few more jays flying over the meadow to join the squawking flock. I shifted gears and sped up, following the sound of the agitated birds. As I got close to the flock I dismounted and quietly walked with my bicycle at my side. Five or six jays in a large oak tree hopped from branch to branch, calling. Nearby a Hairy Woodpecker made a sharp “peek” and an unseen White-breasted Nuthatch cried out an odd, staccato, “nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah”. I assumed that the ruckus was motivated by a predator in the vicinity, but I couldn’t find him. Sometimes a feral cat will cause Blue Jays to exhibit this type of mobbing behavior but their focus was in the trees today, not on the ground.

I stayed in the area for about ten minutes and the birds eventually tired and flew off towards the Lullwater. There wasn’t any whitewash on the ground and I couldn’t find an owl or hawk in any of the trees. I circled the area one last time when a light patch in a conifer caught my eye. He was well hidden and, at first, all I could see was some brown spotting on a pale belly. I thought, “there you are”. A young couple walking passed gave me an odd look so maybe I actually said it out loud. It took me a couple of minutes to find the best vantage point but eventually I could see the whole face and fluttering “ears” of a Long-eared Owl. I backed off so I wouldn’t disturb him and dialed Sean on my cellphone. He arrived shortly, a little winded, and lugging his 40 pounds of camera equipment. We only stayed a short time then headed off towards the Breeze Hill feeders.

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

As we approached the Terrace Bridge Sean stopped abruptly and told me not to move. An adult Cooper’s Hawk was perched in a tree at the edge of the bridge. Pigeons roost under the bridge and are constantly flying in and out from the safety of the iron structure. I assume the hawk was just waiting for one unwary pigeon to pass his way. He suddenly wheeled around and disappeared into the trees that line the Lullwater.

Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

At the shelter on the Peninsula point we watched a pair of Red-tailed Hawks circling in the air above Duck island. One bird was clutching something in his talons. We could hear them calling to each other. Walking to the lake overview on the “Thumb” we spotted a pile of feathers. I assumed that there had been a predator kill in that spot. There were a lot of feathers and it lead to the lifeless body of a Canada Goose. The bird had had most of its breast feathers plucked out and large pieces of the breast eaten. I felt like a crime scene investigator as I took out my camera and snapped a few photos of the evidence. I don’t think the goose was attacked by a dog as it wouldn’t have done such a neat job. A Canada Goose could probably kill a feral cat, so that leaves the usual suspects. Hawks. It seemed a little odd that just the breast had been eaten and the rest left behind but, then again, what hawk could fly off with an entire Canada Goose? It looked like a fresh kill so maybe he had planned on coming back for a midnight snack.

Goose remains

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Near the Wellhouse Sean spotted a Merlin flying east over the lake. I had seen one earlier perched in a tree at the edge of the Nethermead Meadow. She was watching a flock of foraging Mourning Doves. We continued walking along Wellhouse Drive towards West Lake Drive. I had planned on ending my day there and pedalling home. A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perched at the base of Lookout Hill gave me an excuse to stay out a bit longer. He seemed very small, possibly a male, and unfazed by our presence. His laid-back attitude made me think that he was one of our urban hawks. With his back to the road, he scanned the tangled underbrush near lamppost J249. Like the local birders, he seemed to know that there is usually a lot of wildlife in this area.

Young Red-tailed Hawk

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 1/6/2006
-
Pied-billed Grebe (1, Prospect Lake.)
Great Blue Heron (Upper pool.)
Snow Goose (1, Prospect Lake.)
Mute Swan (4, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (~200, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (2 males, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck (Fairly common, Prospect Lake.)
Cooper's Hawk (Terrace Bridge.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 juvenile.)
Merlin (Center Dr.)
American Coot
Great Black-backed Gull (5, Prospect Lake.)
Mourning Dove (12, Nethermead Meadow.)
Long-eared Owl
Hairy Woodpecker (2, Lookout Hill & Ravine.)
Northern Flicker (Vale of Cashmere.)
Blue Jay (~10-15.)
Black-capped Chickadee (1.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
White-throated Sparrow (~10.)
Dark-eyed Junco (~20, Fallkill Falls.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal

5 comments:

Dope on the Slope said...

Nice owl spotting and truly awesome photos.

What lens did Sean use?

Rob J. said...

Thanks. I'm not sure of the lens, I'll ask him and put the info here.

Marge said...

HI Rob..great spot on the owl.. Ive encountered the same type of raucus from jays and such but couldnt locate the raptor.

The snow goose on the lake you spotted in your count. Is that goose injured, like the one in Greenwood Cemetery? Ive been keeping tabs on that goose.
Could you email me, I would like to ask you a question.
Starz723@aol.com

Rob J. said...

I spoke with Sean and he said that the lens he used was a Nikon 500mm, F4.5.

Dope on the Slope said...

Thanks for the lens info.

I got a crappy picture of a hawk yesterday at the BBG. I think it's a Cooper's, but I'm not certain.

http://meanderthal.typepad.com/dope/2006/01/coopers_hawk.html

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