Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Dog Days of summer in Prospect Park

Mute Swans with cygnets

(Photo credit - Rob J)

My 13-year-old nephew, Brandon, is spending three weeks with us while enrolled in day camp. On June 19th of 2004 I took him into Prospect Park to look for that season's young Red-tailed Hawks. Having recently fledged, they were still in an awkward and noisy stage. They were easy to locate as they clambered around in the trees near their nest on Payne Hill. Last Sunday I was hoping to repeat that good fortune by finding this year's young hawks from the Ravine nest.

"Alto" from 2004 brood

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sweet Pepperbush (clethra alnifolia)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I had received a couple of reports from Tom Kerr, one of the new park rangers, who had been observing the Red-tailed Hawks along the lakeside of Lookout Hill. At this period of development the parents usually cut off the free handouts to force their offspring to learn to hunt. Some offspring are easier to wean than others and Tom described one juvenile chasing the adults while crying. I say "crying" because the vocalization is very different from the typical, Red-tailed Hawk's raspy "keeeer" call. It's a short, high-pitched whistled yelp that breaks at the end like a yodel. I would imagine that, after a while, the irritating sound might cause a parent to give in to the pleas.

Before checking Lookout Hill we walked through the Midwood. I scanned the trees and, periodically, imitated the young hawk's cry. In the past I have found that they will readily respond to it. Neither the adults nor the two juveniles were in the forest so we headed off to the south end of the park.

Pagoda tree flowers (Sephora japonica)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

The dog days of summer have snuck up on me like a lion stalking its prey. It was upon me before I had time to notice the transition. Pagoda trees throughout the city are heaping their buttery-colored popcorn flowers all over the streets and sidewalks. Cicada's are now "churring" in waves throughout the day. After sunset crickets and katydids being "ticking" to the yellow lightshow of fireflies. Uncountable and single-minded, honeybees and bumblebees are traveling from flower to flower while spring's flowers have already morphed into fruit. Hundreds of robins in the park are gorging themselves on a sudden abundance of black cherries. Squirrels are hanging upside down in hornbeams to collect their dangling clusters of seeds. The hornbeam fruits are like little green bundles protecting several small fruits. Chipmunks on the ground are collecting carelessly dropped bundles and carrying them off to their larders.

American Hover Fly (Eupeodes americanus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and bee

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Pyralis firefly (Photinus pyralis)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

We walked up to the top of Lookout Hill from Center Drive. Near the Butterfly Meadow I heard the unmistakable cry of a young Red-tailed Hawk. The sound was coming from the top of a tree midway down the slope towards the lake. When we couldn't locate the source I briefly thought that I was being tormented by another smart-alecky Blue Jay. We were standing in the woods on the slope when I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk taking flight near the south end of the hill. The young hawk continued to call from somewhere within the dense foliage of a Sycamore Maple. An adjacent Black-cherry tree was loaded with robins calling out a warning to all the other animals. I thought we might have a better view from the lower path of Lookout Hill. As we began walking towards the Maryland Monument stairway I spotted one of the adult hawks flying at treetop level. He flew passed the Sycamore Maple and the crying eyass took flight, chasing after his parent. This was the extent of our encounter with the young hawks last Sunday.

Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Northern Arrowwood (Viburnum recognitum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I searched for them again yesterday. The closest I got was hearing a crying hawk in the Midwood. I searched the trees in the forest but he had either moved on or stopped making noise. At around 2pm I spotted Alice flying above the Midwood and following the line of Center Drive towards Lookout Hill. Right behind her, in hot pursuit, was one of her offspring. I had been out searching for about 2 hours. It was about 90 degrees and the heat forced me to give up the chase.

I received another report from Tom yesterday. He and another park ranger observed one of the young hawks hunting near the "Imagination Playground". This particular playground has several water features to help kids stay cool in the summer. Perhaps the hawks had been hanging around this playground for the same reason. I remember a park worker relating to me an incredible story about one of the 2002 fledglings:

"Two women who work for the parks department spotted it and stopped to ask me a few questions. One related a story that seems unbelievable. Part of her responsibilities is to keep the children's playgrounds clean. Two weeks ago, in the midst of the heat wave, she started her morning at the 3rd Street playground. While hosing down the park benches inside the playground one of the Red-tailed Hawks decided to perch on the back of the bench that she was cleaning off. She described to me how astonished she was when the hawk, rather that flying off, opened its wings and luxuriated in the cool shower. The woman claimed that the hawk allowed her to hose it down for at least 5 minutes. When she finally put the hose away and moved on the hawk remained perched on the back of the park bench."

It seemed logical that the hawks would take advantage of an early morning shower before the children arrived. Unfortunately, when Brandon and I checked it out today lots of children were present but no hawks. We went out on bicycles today but they weren't helpful in tracking down the Ralph, Alice and family. The midday weather was brutally hot and humid. Most animals were quietly hunkered down somewhere in the shade. What's that saying about mad dogs and Englishmen? Well, this mad dog stayed out way too long. By the time we returned home, my clothes were drenched with sweat through and through.

It was probably a bad idea to try and track the hawks in the midday heat. Tomorrow I'll take a quick run over to the "Imagination Playground" early in the morning and see if I can find them cooling off.

Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 7/28/2006
-
Red-tailed Hawk (Young chasing adult near Midwood.)
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Barn Swallow
Carolina Wren (Lookout Hill.)
House Wren (3 or 4.)
Wood Thrush (Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler (Lullwater.)
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch (Butterfly Meadow.)
House Sparrow

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin (Several dozen.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Unidentified fungi on Peninsula

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

6 comments:

Marge said...

Rob..Excellent pictures, as always!
No sightings of Baby Huey since Ive come back from vacation. No bird alarms or hawk cries. Only a single sighting of an adult. BTW, at what age does "Baby" develop his red tail?

We had a Tern, (Common or Forsters, I still havent made the definite call yet *sigh*) following its young around Sylvan water and feeding it. Last visit, the tern was still hunting the lake and now going out of the cemetery to feed its juvenile. This is a first for Greenwood's list.

Pamela said...

What kind of camera?
I'm always overwhelmed by your pictures.

Enjoyed the hawk shower story. We get alot of little birds flying in our back yard sprinklers. I watched a hummingbird take a bath in a rose bush ... a leaf was filled with water from the sprinkler... and it was the perfect bird bath for a hummer.

Anonymous said...

No postings now for more than two weeks! Is everything okay?

Rob J. said...

I've been away, thanks for your concern. Just posted a bunch of new images.

Rob J. said...

Pamela,

I'm just using a small Canon point-and-shot (Powershot S50). I've sort of reached the limits of what I can do with it and am saving for an upgrade. For my telephoto shots I digiscope using my Kowa spotting scope and a $3 adapter that I made.

Rob J. said...

Pamela,

BTW - I love the imagery of the hummer in the leaf-bath.

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