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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Still searching Prospect Park

I’ve spent six hours over the past two days trying to track down Ralph and Alice’s recently fledged offspring. My experiences with other Red-tailed Hawk families involved territories at the outer fringed of the park. In those areas younger, smaller trees, spaces out along the edges of the fields, made it easy to find the fledgling eyass. This season I have to contend with towering, mature Tulip trees, sweetgums and oaks clustered in dense woodlands. I may have to revert to my old technique of quickly cycling round and round all the potential hiding places.

I almost always rely on sound to locate the hawks. For the first week or so the young still depend on hand outs from their parents. When they are hungry the make a loud, chirping call. Also, breeding songbirds, such as robins and cardinals, sound and alarm call when there is a hawk near their nest or young. Squirrels and chipmunks are also very vocal. They repeat their calls over and over, with a tone of urgency, until the hawk moves on. Robins are almost always the first to respond with a loud, “tut, tut, tut” or whinnying call. I zig-zagged back and forth along the forested ridge from the Quaker Cemetery south of the nest, through the Midwood and to Payne Hill, north of the nest. Whenever I heard a stressed robin’s call I bolted towards the source and scoured the area. It was usually either Ralph or Alice. Near the Quaker Cemetery I had a flash of optimism when I spotted two hawks together. They flew off before I got close and I was unsure if they were the fledglings. I found a downy hawk feather tangled in a vine beneath their perch. I tried to convince myself that it was the young birds but a search of the area only turned up Alice.

Hawk feather

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Over the course of the two days I became more familiar with Ralph. My fleeting glimpsed of him visiting the nest on gave me a general impression of this light plumed Red-tailed Hawk. As I searched the Midwood forest each of my chases toward a calling robin ended with me finding him perched nearby. He seemed to favor the top of the ridge at the west side of the Midwood. He was always facing west, in the direction of the nest and the woods surrounding the nest in the Ravine. I thought that perhaps his offspring were still in that area and that he was keeping an eye on them. If they were I never found them.

Ralph perched near the Midwood

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Ralph has very unique plumage. The feathering on his head is very light compared to most Red-tailed Hawks I’ve observed. The streaking on his belly that form the typical Red-tailed belly band is very sparse. What is even more interesting is the rusty, orange feathers on his upper breast. He is one of the few Red-tailed Hawks in the area that is instantly recognizable. There has been some speculation about the progeny of Pale Male of Central Park fame and the possibility that they’ve taken up residence in other city parks. Ralph sure looks similar but only DNA would tell for sure.

After two days of searching I began to consider giving up. I figured that I’d eventually encounter them at some point, but I miss the days of watching young hawks experiencing terra firma for the first time. I tried to convince myself that it would be for the best if I just left them alone. I’m a bit jealous of my counterparts in around the city following their fledgling hawks. At least I can enjoy them vicariously. Still, it would be nice to compare the relatively “wild” habitat of Prospect Park to the more urban hawk surroundings and their experiences. I guess I won’t give up my search.

One last, interesting observation from the park. Yesterday I observed a pair of Black-billed Cuckoos foraging together near Rick’s Place. This species hasn’t nested in Prospect Park for decades and for a pair to be here at such a late date is encouraging.

Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) with food in bill

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Boletes spp?

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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Prospect Park, 6/16/2006
Great Egret (Upper Pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Adult male, Midwood.)
Black-billed Cuckoo (2, Rick's Place. Breeding?)
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Midwood.)
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow
House Wren (3.)
Wood Thrush (Midwood, Ravine, Quaker Cemetery.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (5, Quaker Hill.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole (6, along Quaker Ridge.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow


Anil said...

Great photographs. The Hawk feather is so dreamy-like. The bird itself is a magnificient specimen.

Rob J. said...

Thank you for your kind words. I just looked and your blog and it's great. When you wrote, "searching for corners, finding them where none exist", I knew exactly what you meant. said...

Your photos are stunning. Thanks for sharing. I'm looking forward to seeing more.

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