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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hawks and willows


(Photo credit - Rob J)

At lunchtime yesterday I took a run into Prospect Park. I was looking for a way to get a clear view of the Ravine Red-tailed Hawk nest. When I arrived a hawk was sitting on the nest, although all I could see was an obstructed view of her head. From the opposite ridge I located a spot at the base of an oak tree that looked really good. It affords a view through the trees and it doesn’t appear that it will be blocked when the trees leaf out. Next time I’ll bring my scope and digiscope some photos of the nest.

Ravine pine tree nest

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I don’t know this pair of red-tails very well and have given them only passing notice over the years. They nested at the top of a conifer within the Quaker Cemetery (in Prospect Park) in 2002. When 2003 rolled around they decided to move a short distance north, to the top of a conifer in the Ravine. They’ve continued to use that nest every year. I sat for about 15 minutes and didn’t see any interactions between her and her mate. I had limited time so I left and walked over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I’ll spend more time starting this weekend.

Forsythia (Forsythia spp.)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The garden’s collection of pussywillows and willows are at a beautiful stage of growth. Their fuzzy buds are opening to reveal tiny, multi-colored florets. I was especially captivated by the Black willow. Crocuses are blooming in large patches along the west side of the garden and Forsythias are moments away from a brilliant, yellow explosion.

Japanese Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Black Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla var. melanostachys)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I decided to exit the garden from the north gate. That way I could walk into the park near Grand Army Plaza and check the forest leaf litter for American Woodcock as I headed home. They’ve begun migrating and some have already started courting. Woodcocks are strange looking birds with eyes placed farther to the back of their head than the front. During courtship the males make a nasal “peenting” call that always makes me smile. Their brown, black and rust cryptic plumage make them virtually disappear in dried leaves. Years ago I almost stepped on one but noticed it when my boot was about six inches from the motionless bird.

There is a fenced off area on Payne Hill that had extensive leaf litter. In past years I’ve found as many as four woodcocks in that spot. Unfortunately, people have cut holes in the fence and use the area for illicit activities. The underbrush and leaf litter is now almost non-existant and the soil badly compacted. I was grumbling to myself about the problem as I walked parallel to the fence. I hoped that I might find a woodcock in the drift of leaves that have piled up at the base of the fence. I wasn’t even looking through the fence when, from the corner of my eye, I noticed a small orange ball. A woodcock was standing behind the fence in a bare patch of soil, probably wondering where all the leaves went. I called Sean on my cellphone and sat down on the grass so that I wouldn’t scare the bird. After we watched him for a few minutes I crawled up to the fence and shot some photos through my bins. They aren’t very good photos but you get the idea of the unique look of this bird.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) on Payne Hill

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Another interesting observation today was of dozens of male American Robins passing through the park. I'm sure many of them will also establish breeding territory in Prospect Park. As sweet as robins seem I've seen many brutal territorial fights between the males once the females arrive.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/21/2006
Ring-necked Duck (11, Upper pool.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1, sitting on Ravine nest.)
American Coot (2, Lower pool.)
Killdeer (Long Meadow.)
American Woodcock (Payne Hill behind fence.)
Eastern Phoebe (3, the pools.)
American Crow (3.)
Black-capped Chickadee (Common.)
Tufted Titmouse (1.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (3, Midwood.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (3.)
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch (3, Rick's Place.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin (Common.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird


jnfr said...

I'm very impressed with your woodcock sighting! I've never even been close to seeing one.

Here in CO we've had cold and snow all week; the forsythia aren't even close to budding. I don't like it.

Rob J. said...

I was surprised how long the woodcock remained in place. Usually I only have fleeting glimpses of them. Have you ever observed (mainy just listen) to their courtship ritual? It's a trip. Aldo Leopold has a great piece on it in "A Sand County Almanac".

Stay warm ;-)

Arlene said...

I so enjoy your blog. The birds are always amazing and it was especially nice to see the pictures of the forsythia and pussy willow. While I was born and raised in Brooklyn, I have lived in California for the past 30 years, and I miss the area around Prospect Park. Thank you for your beautiful photographs.

Walker said...

Okay so I'm slow... but maybe you could circle the hawk's nest in Photoshop because I don't see it. I'd love to know what to look for.

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