Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A flight without fanfare


It was not only a flight without fanfare, but also depressingly anticlimactic. My peek into the first stages of life for a Red-tailed Hawk has been just that - a peek. In previous years I’ve been able to sit close to the hawk’s nest and observe their behavior, unobstructed, for hours. Alice and Ralph are very different from Big Mama and Split-tail. They are private and secretive. Their choice of nest location has kept family interactions mostly hidden. This season I found that I could watch their nest through a peephole in the canopy but I had been spoiled by four years of reality television-style observations.

The last time I visited the Ravine hawk nest I estimated that the young hawks would be ready to leave the nest in a week. Today I arrived at the hawk watching spot at around 11:30am and focused my scope on a nest that was occupied by a single eyass. Alice was no longer sitting vigil at the nest. The young hawk looked fully developed and ready to begin exploring his surroundings. His sibling was no doubt close by somewhere in the densely leafed treetops. As I watched the young bird he didn’t seem to be in any rush to leave the nest. He sat with his head close to the edge of the nest and stared into the woods where I sat or the sky each time a helicopter or jet passed overhead. Then, at 12:31:03, he stood up, turned around to face into the Ravine, stretched out his wings and vanished from my view. I muttered, “that’s it” and packed up my equipment.




(Photo credit - Rob J)

I used to think that Big Mama and her mate were the alpha pair of Prospect Park. This was based, primarily on her size, not any vast, empirical data. But now I understand why she kept moving her nest around. She and Split-tail did not protect the most desirable domain in the park. Alice and Ralph began their “career” in Prospect Park with a nest at the southwestern edge of the park. They eventually relocated to the center of the most forested section of the park.

Alice & Ralph's domain

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Searching for the fledged eyass was nearly impossible. Several robins called incessantly from the top of a towering oak in the Midwood. I was certain that there was a hawk in the tree but I couldn’t find a vantage point to see through the foliage. I walked around the Midwood scanning every tree and listening for squirrel’s alarm calls. The woods were quiet so I walked to Center Drive and followed the ridge parallel to the stream. The ridge is directly across from the nest tree but I still couldn’t find the hawk. Finally, as I approached the Boulder Bridge, I heard the shrill, chirping cry of the eyass. It’s a call that always reminds me of a fussy infant. The sound was coming from the Ravine, not far from the nest tree. As I approached the base of the pine tree that holds the nest I realized that the young hawk’s call was coming from back inside the nest. Apparently, junior had taken a short, tenuous flight then returned to the nest. When I was on Center Drive I spotted one of the adults circling the woods. Perhaps junior spotted his parent and was begging for a meal.

I never located his sibling but am fairly certain that he had made it over to the Midwood. This family of Red-tailed Hawks will put my tracking skills to the test. The canopy in their territory has many more hiding places for a young hawk than previous eyass that I’ve followed. With a little luck and a lot of perseverance I should be able to keep you posted on their development.

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Prospect Park, 6/13/2006
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Red-tailed Hawk
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow
Tufted Titmouse
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole

Other common species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Wood Sorrel-

2 comments:

Anil said...

Lovely. It's as if the Yellow Wood Sorrel is guarded by the leaves while out on its daily way, peeking at the world outside its home. I liked the composition of the photograph.

Rob J. said...

Two days later I walked passed the spot where I shot this photo and the flowers were gone, no doubt trampled by someone wearing blinders.

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