Monday, February 06, 2006

Looking for hawk nests

It has been a very strange winter in the Northeast. There have been unpredictable swings between spring-like days and typical, blustery winter days. Overall, though, I feel like I’ve been cheated out of winter. I suppose observing waterfowl engaging in courtship head bobbing and seeing Snowdrops pushing up from the forest floor corroborates the sensation of spring.

I took a break from working at my computer to look for courting Red-tailed Hawks in Prospect Park. Riding around the northern perimeter of the Long Meadow, I scanned all the tall trees on my way to the Vale of Cashmere. Any hawks breeding within the park should be working on their nests and vocalizing. When I arrived in the park the wind was gusting up to 20-mph so it wasn’t likely that I’d observe any aerial displays.

The Vale of Cashmere is located within a natural amphitheater so it was protected from the wind. A Blue Jay and several chickadees were sounding their alarm calls so I scanned the area for predators. Halfway up the western stairway I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a cherry tree. She looked very large but she could have just had her feathers fluffed out. Her dark cheek patches and very wide belly band were prominent. Like Big Mama, Split-tail and their offspring, she was very approachable. Before I could take my camera out of my pocket she flew south, towards Nelly’s Lawn. As soon as she ascended above the treetops the wind whipping across the Long Meadow caught her wings and she rocketed east, towards Flatbush Avenue. I hopped on my bicycle and followed.

Red-tailed Hawk near Rose Garden

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I relocated her perched in a massive Willow Oak adjacent to the Aralia Grove. I couldn’t be sure if this was Big Mama or someone new. I leaned against my bike and watched her scanning the ground for prey. After a few minutes she dropped down to a branch in a spindly Black Cherry tree above my head. As she scanned for food she would occasionally look down at me and twist her head sideways. I guess she decided that I was too large to eat. Then she did something that looked very peculiar. She walked the length of the branch to the trunk, hopped through a split in the trunk, on to another branch and walked about more five feet. I’ve only seen recently fledged Red-tailed Hawks “strolling” in a tree in that manner. She eventually flew across the Aralia Grove to a large sycamore tree overhanging the footpath. I wondered if she was one of the hawks that I’d seen in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this winter. She remained in the vicinity of the Rose Garden, Aralia Grove and Vale of Cashmere. Over an hour had passed before I decided to move on.

While watching the hawk in the American Sycamore tree I noticed minute, pale brown “feathers” drifting to the ground. The tiny umbrellas blowing in the wind and collecting on the sidewalks were the sycamore’s brown fruit releasing their seeds. This winter phenomenon was a new observation for me.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in the Midwood

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The muddy, fertile soil in the Midwood forest is dotted with patches of emerging, white Snowdrops. Pretty soon they’ll be joined by the crocuses. Also, Pussywillow buds are appearing in the shrubs at the edge of the Upper pool.

Pussywillow buds

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I didn’t locate any new hawk nests or observe any hawks carrying nest material. A check on the nests at Payne Hill and the Ravine revealed something interesting. Both nests looked pretty substantial. I don’t know if that is due to new construction material or just good design. Previous nest sites usually fell apart after a year of vacancy. It could also just be my wishful thinking.

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Prospect Park, 2/6/2006
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Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck (1, Upper pool.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk (1, Rose Garden & Aralia Grove.)
American Coot
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Breeze Hill.)
Hairy Woodpecker (Midwood.)
American Crow (6.)
Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common.)
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch (1, Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2 or 3, Breeze Hill.)
Northern Mockingbird (Breeze Hill.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
House Finch (1, singing from top of Sweetgum in Lullwater.)
American Goldfinch (Several at feeder on Breeze Hill.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin (Common.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow

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