Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hope fading

I went on foot to look for the hawks today. There are a couple of wooded locations that are impractical to search while dragging a bicycle. There’s still a flicker of hope within me that I’ll locate nesting Red-tailed Hawks in the park. In Central Park, “Pale Male” and “Lola” have already begun their breeding cycle, as have the Trump Parc pair. If our hawks are still around they’re being very discreet. I’ve queried Google maps looking for any potential new locations in Brooklyn but green space is very limited. There is one cemetery that I want to check out. It's not as large as the Green-wood Cemetery but it's fairly close to Prospect Park and has some nice trees.

Central Brooklyn

(Photo credit - Google)

Today was downright blustery and I loved it. It’s the type of weather that clears that park of people and aids in the habitat’s illusory wildness. White-throated Sparrows were scratching in the leaves on the sheltered hillsides. All the windward hills had been vacated. The waterways still had ice-free sections but it appeared that the overwintering shovelers have begun to depart. I watched one flock flying circles around the lake, stretching their wings, I suppose. I also noticed that the winter buds on the park’s American Elm were beginning to split and unfurl their tiny flowers.

American Elm (Ulmus americana)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

There was one, final section of the park where I was optimistic that I’d find the hawks. It’s an area that’s undergoing “restoration”. Technically, I shouldn’t have been there, but I’m sure that the park’s botanists would understand. I didn’t find the hawks but did stumble on a homeless person living in a tent. I give the guy credit, it’s a very nice, quiet location that’s nearly impossible to see from the roadways.

I walked over to the Quaker Cemetery, where I found my first hawk’s nest in 1995. I’ve found that it is sometimes easier to spot a nest by scanning from a distance than by looking at each tree close-up. A large, dark silhouette is either a squirrel drey or a hawk nest. At the cemetery they were all squirrel dreys. I was feeling dejected and took a walk to see if the Long-eared Owl was still present.

The owl wasn’t at his usual, highly camouflaged roost. Instead, he was perched out in the open in full sunshine. Like a summertime sun worshiper he soaked in the solar energy. The only movement he made was an imperceptible, thin slit in his left eye so that he could keep an eye on me. I didn’t want to brother him so I left after a minute or two.

Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The tangle of vines, rotting logs, low shrubs and leaf litter behind the Wellhouse is very attactive to birds. Local birders know this and check it on their routes through the park. Today someone else figured it out. As I was passing behind the Wellhouse on the Lookout Hill trail I noticed something peculiar. There was a small mixed flock of White-troated Sparrows, Downy Woodpecker, cardinal and nuthatch perched and chipping within a tangle of bittersweet vine. Something seemed wrong with the picture and I thought, why aren’t they foraging on the ground? I slowly approached the edge of the rise and looked down at a large Cooper's Hawk standing on a log. I couldn’t tell if he caught one of their friends. Nearby a Carolina Wren churred and chattered as he foraged along the ground. I guess he felt immune to the fast moving raptor. I sat down on a log and watched for a while. At one point the Cooper’s Hawk flew up to a branch in a dead tree covered in English Ivy. I took some photos then left. Much later I passed the Wellhouse on the other side and noticed that the hawk was still perched in the ivy covered tree. It’s possible that he was settling down for the evening and the birds below were just a nice addition to a cozy roost.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 2/27/2006
-
Northern Shoveler
Bufflehead (1, Upper pool.)
Hooded Merganser (1 male, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck
Cooper's Hawk (1, adult, Lookout Hill.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Long-eared Owl (1.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.)
Hairy Woodpecker (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1.)
Carolina Wren (1, Lookout Hill.)
White-throated Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch (3, Center Dr.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Downy Woodpecker (3 or 4.), Blue Jay (3.), American Crow (2.), Black-capped Chickadee (Several.), Tufted Titmouse (2.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Still searching

Catalpa pods (Catalpa speciosa)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I set aside a couple of hours so that I could try once again to find signs of nesting Red-tailed Hawks in Prospect Park. I couldn’t have picked a worse day, weather-wise. The wind was gusting so hard that my bicycle felt like a schooner in fullsail blasting across the Long Meadow in a gale force tailwind. I wasn’t certain I’d find any birds but it was fun letting the wind do the pedalling, at least for half the ride around the meadow.

My plan was to scan all the large trees that had easy access to the park’s open spaces. In the past, I’ve found that the hawks preferred those type of locations. To my knowledge, they’ve never nested in the center of the Midwood. As I approached the Vale of Cashmere I spotted an adult Red-tailed Hawk circling above. I followed her in my binoculars as she drifted south and directly over Nelly’s Lawn. She turned to the west and descended into the woods of Payne Hill. I was excited at the prospect that she was heading over to the Tulip tree nest. Pedalling into the wind was harder than I expected and, when I arrived at the old nest, I couldn’t find her. At Rick’s Place there’s an opening in the canopy so I rolled down the footpath and scanned the sky from that vantage point. I spotted her making wide circles between the zoo and Payne Hill.

She looked like she was surfing the air. From the leeward side of the ridge she would rapidly descend heading west then pull up as she neared the lip of the rise. Gliding passed the hill’s apogee, she’d catch the powerful updraft spilling over the edge and ascend like a rocket. As I watched her avian roller-coaster ride she gradually drifted south along the ridge until she was out of sight. I hopped on my bicycle and headed towards Lookout Hill, the southern end of the ridge.

Near the Maryland Monument I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk crossing the lake then dropping into the trees above lamppost J249. I tried to keep my eyes on the approximate location as I pedalled along the path above the Wellhouse. I envisioned her landing in her new nest overlooking the Peninsula Meadow. She was easy to find as she was perched in a Black Locust tree above the path. After a few minutes she flew off the hill, glided over the lake and flapped off towards the Parade Grounds.

This time there was no nest, there were no courtship displays and I heard no chirping calls to her mate. It made me sad and I began to blame myself. Maybe they left because my presence near their nests irritated them. Then I remembered the time that “Splittail” landed on the ground next to me to collect some nest material. He gave me a casual glance then continued with his task. Another time I sat on a park bench in a light snow. Big Mama was nearby and flew down to the bench across the path from me. She watched me watching her for several minutes then hopped to the ground to check out a rodent hole. Perhaps it isn’t my fault. It could just be that all the successful breeding in years past have saturated Brooklyn with their offspring and they needed to find new territory.

Passing the north end of the Long Meadow on my way home I stopped to look at a pair of trees. They are Northern Catalpa trees and most of their long, dark seed pods were still attached to the branches. The ground below was littered with one to two foot long pods that had split down the center. As the wind blew the pods hanging in the trees made a soft, subtle clacking sound. I believe these two catalpas are the only ones in Prospect Park.

-Click here for more info on Catalpa trees-

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 2/24/2006
-
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck (1, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck
Cooper's Hawk (1, Lullwater.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull (~450-500, Prospect Lake.)
Herring Gull (~100, Prospect Lake.)
Great Black-backed Gull (1, Prospect Lake.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (3.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1, Vale of Cashmere.)
Hairy Woodpecker (1, Lookout Hill.)
Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common.)
Tufted Titmouse (5, Vale of Cashmere.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Lookout Hill.)
Brown Creeper (1, North zoo woods.)
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch (3, Rick's Place.)

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

Clever swallows

I just watched a great episode of "Nova" on PBS. One segment featured urban Barn Swallows with an incredible learned behavior. I searched online and located the story in "Birder's World Magazine" and pasted it below:

Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

"Hi-tech Barn Swallows

A couple of Minnesota Barn Swallows have raised the bar on the scale of "Swallow IQ." For the past four years, a pair of Barn Swallows has nested inside the lumberyard entryway at the Home Depot store in Maplewood, Minnesota. At least one pair has learned that if they fly a tight circle in front of the motion detector above the double doors at the entry to the Home Depot, the doors open. Each bird then flies one more loop as the doors open and swoops inside where the pair has built a nest atop a small pipe near the ceiling. When a bird is ready to leave, it flies a tight circle in front of the motion detector inside the doorway and the doors again open for Home Depot's small avian customers.

Keith Stomberg, a supervisor at the store, first noticed the birds nesting inside in the summer of 2001. He was fascinated by their apparent learned behavior and left them alone to raise their families. It was a good place for the swallows to raise their young because there were no predators or bad weather. The pair typically raised two broods each year. When the birds returned to nest in 2003, he contacted the staff of the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Wildlife biologist Joan Galli observed the nesting swallows and was amazed to see how the birds had adapted to the unique setting in order to raise their families. "We typically think of the crow family and the parrot family as among the most intelligent of birds," according to Galli, "but apparently the swallows have a few tricks of their own that help us appreciate how birds are constantly adapting to survive in novel human-created environments."
-- Carrol Henderson"

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Late February hawk reports

Today's posting is a look back at past year's hawk observations. I plan to spend a few hours tomorrow looking for the Red-tailed Hawks in Prospect Park. Out of curiousity, I went back to my journal to see what I might expect to find regarding late February activities. If the hawks are nesting again, and I have luck on my side, I may be able to report some exciting observations. In the meantime, enjoy the following excerpts:

"Big Mama & Splittail"

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

DATE: Saturday, 23 February 2002

[...] Both the male and the female returned to the nest repeatedly with various sized twigs and sticks. After carefully assessing the ever growing structure they'd meticulously weave the new piece into the nest. Sometimes the hawks would fly a short distance to one of the trees bordering the road in search of building material. Sometimes they'd fly off and I wouldn't see either bird for 10 minutes or more. I tried to find some identifying marks on the birds but could only tell them apart when they were side by side. The female (presumably) was noticeably larger than the male and the males tail looked a little tattered. I watched the female hawk looking for branches only a few yards from me. She'd use her talons to step on a small branch and if it didn't easily break, she'd try another one. One time she tipped her head to check out the wood above her. Stretching her neck out, she used her bill to snap off a branch and then flew back across the road to the nest. Hundreds of pedestrians, runners, rollerbladers and cyclists must have passed under the "construction zone" but only four people actually noticed the hawks. Those folks we excited and extremely curious about hawks in the park and I gladly shared my few experiences with them. I think one possibility for their choice of location is its proximity to the playground. With small children comes stray bits of food and with those bits of food come lots of squirrels and other rodents. For years I've noticed that a Bald Cypress between the Litchfield Villa and the playground has been a favorite perch for Red-tailed Hawk. [...]

**********

DATE: Wednesday, 23 February 2005

[...] As were were scanning the Upper Pool we heard the harsh cackle of the Ring-necked Pheasant near the Lower Pool. We slowly approached the source of the alarm call when I grabbed Linda's arm and stopped her from walking any farther. A few yards ahead of us a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was perched on the top of the four foot fence that encloses the pool. There were a few people walking right passed him but he seemed too focused on the pheasant to be bothered. The pheasant was hiding motionless within the dried stalks of Cattails that ring the pond. The hawk flew up to a perch in a Gingko Tree above the tempting bird then, a few minutes later, to an oak tree immediately to our right. I guess he was trying to get to a better vantage point for his attack. Suddenly the pheasant cackled, flew from the Cattails and bolted across the pond into the underbrush of the peninsula between the two pools. The hawk followed close behind and perched in a Black Cherry tree above the frightened ring-necked. The relentless hunter tried several times to drop down onto the pheasant but was unable to get the right angle. His quarry stood still beneath the bare branches of a grouping of small shrubs. After a few awkward attempts the young hawk gave up and returned to a perch in the Gingko Tree. Standing with his back to the pheasant he scanned the Long Meadow for easier prey. I wonder if a Red-tailed Hawk could actually take down a pheasant as they are pretty much the same size and weight. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

I brought Linda up to Payne Hill to check on Big Mama and Split-tail's nest. We walked up a small incline and to the base of the Elm Tree where I watched the nesting pair last year. After only a few minutes of waiting the pair began circling their nest woods. At one point Big Mama landed on the nest. She seemed to be examining the nest, perhaps to give it her final approval. They remained in the woods at Payne Hill for a short while then flew in ever widening circles above their territory. At one point a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in from the north and followed closely behind Big Mama. He made a few half-hearted attempts to intimidate the much larger raptor but she just ignored him. The sharpy veered off to the east and descended rapidly towards the Midwood forest.

Also, I just received the following note from my friend Peter:

"I saw 1 or 2 [Red-tailed Hawks] bringing nesting material to the top of the Ravine pine. No change of address labels needed." [...]

**********

DATE: Wednesday, 24 February 1999

[...] Also noteworthy is the sighting of an adult Red-tailed Hawk carrying what appeared to be nesting material. I have been observing the RTH's in Prospect Park since 1995 and my previous early sighting of nestbuilding was March 16, 1996. [...]

**********

DATE: Sunday, 24 February 2002

[...] As I watched the Red-tailed Hawks working on their nest this morning I tried to find some distinguishing characteristics to identify the individuals. I thought that I had a good mark for the female. She appears to have a large white patch on her rump caused by some feathers that are askew. At approximately 11:45am I observed the male bird fly over to the perched female and briefly mount her. A lightbulb when off over my head much later when I realized why those feathers are a little out of place. I guess that won't be a good field mark forever. The Bald Cypress that I described in yesterday's report appears to be the source for all the branches in the nest with the long green catkins. Both birds were travelling back and forth to it in search of building material. "The Birder's Handbook" lists the incubation period for red-taileds as 30-35 days. If she lays her eggs within a week, and they are successful, we could be seeing hatchlings anywhere from March 31st to April 5th. Let's keep our fingers crossed. [...]

**********

"Splittail"

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

DATE: Tuesday, 24 February 2004

[...] It seems like "my" hawks are once again playing hide-and-seek with me, trying to keep the location of this year's nest a secret. The north zoo nest is unused but last year's first attempt in an elm tree looks like it's been recently expanded. I've observed them actively courting and on Sunday the male tempted his larger mate with a rat as he lead her on a chase around the Long Meadow.

Today I located the large female perched low, in the wind break of "Elizabeth's Tulip tree" at the north end of Nelly's Lawn. I sat in the blowing, wet snow on a park bench beneath a pair of Beech trees and watched her. I spotted her mate in the distance as he preened under the umbrella of a pine tree at the edge of the lawn. After a few minutes she dropped down to a branch a little closer to me. Five minutes later she moved a bit closer. I wondered if she understood that the circular, bare patches in the leaf litter below her were caused by squirrels digging for their buried caches. After about 10 minutes of scanning the ground she flew to the park bench on the opposite side of the path from me. She perched on the top wooden rung and we silently stared at each other in the light snow fall. The words from an old Simon and Garfunkle song popped into my head; "Old friends, winter companions...sharing a park bench quietly." Her mate called and flew from the pine tree to a branch above my head. She eventually turned around on her perch and began looking down at the bottom of a black cherry tree adjacent to the bench. It looked like it had a large rat hole at its base. She hopped to the ground, bent over and looked inside the hole. She then flew up into the tree and checked inside a squirrel hole. Nobody was home so she flew up into the tuliptree where she was joined by her mate. They briefly copulated then flew off towards Sullivan Hill.

The inclement weather probably made their usual method of hunting very difficult. I was able to follow them on foot as they hunted from low perches around Nelly's Lawn, Sullivan Hill, Battle Pass and Payne Hill. I wasn't able to confirm the location of this year's nest yet. [...]

**********

DATE: Friday, 27 February 2004

[...] Sean and I went looking for the Red-tailed Hawks today for photo-ops and to try and confirm this year's nest location.

We started off at the Vale of Cashmere and I lead Sean on a tour of some of the hawk's favorite north end hunting spots. On Wednesday Sean noticed one of the hawks at the nest near Rick's Place so we headed over towards Payne Hill to check it out. This is the nest that I noticed them building back on January 17th.

The nest was empty when we arrived but Sean spotted one of the hawks perched nearby. It appeared to be scanning the ground below for prey. Sean found a good spot to set-up his camera and I walked to a location where I could watch both the hunter and his nest. When the hawk obligingly dropped down to a lower perch we moved a little closer hoping to see a kill. I've been seeing and hearing a few chipmunks around the park lately awakening from their winter nap. Perhaps these little rodents were the object of this hawks intense, searching eyes. He didn't seem to mind our proximity or another person who walked almost directly beneath his low perch. After about 30 minutes his mate returned to the nest and called for him. She also made a low, muted peeping sound that reminded me of begging hatchlings. She slowly walked around the top of the growing stick construction as if she were a building inspector. She then flew to a tree nearby where she began pulling on a large, dead branch to add to her nest. The piece of wood was so large that she had some trouble getting it to the nest. She briefly landed in a small, adjacent tree. It looked like she was trying to figure out the easiest path to take and eventually dragged it up to the nest and carefully weaved into her new nursery. She then joined her mate below. They flew to a branch above the sidewalk, quickly copulated then sat side by side for a few minutes staring off at the Long Meadow. I've tried to illustrate in words the extreme difference in size and shape between these two birds and I think that Sean was able to snap off some shots of them together before they took off. Hopefully, he got some nice comparison photos.

The pine tree nest, which is only about 100 yards from "Big Mama's" nest was empty today. It should be interesting to watch the interaction between these two closely nesting pairs, it's a wonder that they tolerate each other at all. The only other Red-tailed Hawk we observed today was an immature over Breeze Hill. It looked like it had taken quite a beating as it had many missing or broken feathers on its left wing. As we were watching it the adult pair, which had been soaring over the Nethermead, began approaching. All of a sudden the adult male tucked in his wings and accelerated at tremendous speed directly towards the young bird. He appeared to slam into the bird near the Oriental Pavilion then casually returned to his mate, still circling nearby. The immature bird flew slowly along the Lullwater below the treetops and perched near the Terrace Bridge to lick its wounds. He has unusually dark, practically black, facial feathers and his left wing looks pretty beat-up. While he appears to be able to fly just fine, he seems to be having trouble "getting the message". [...]

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Waves on the Hudson River

Weeping Willows changing color

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sean and I took a drive up to Croton Point Park late this morning. Northwest wind blasting across the Hudson River had almost all wildlife hunkered down or seeking shelter up the Croton River. Waves were large enough to surf. Waterfowl were virtually nonexistent and we spotted only a single Bald Eagle. I stumbled on a racoon sleeping in a hole in a willow tree. He gave me a lethargic glance then went back to napping. A bird feeder near the pine grove was the only area of bird activity. We did have one unexpected observation while we were circling behind the “mountain”.

The leeward side of the hill was devoid of bird life and, when returning to the car, a huge accipiter flew up from the marsh to the east. Despite 40mph gusts this bird easily flew into the wind and circled around towards the pine grove. The sunshine made it difficult to see feather pattern details but it had broad, buteo-like wings and a heavy, thick body. This hawk’s outline gave the impression that the body and tail were the same width. Unlike a Sharp-shinned Hawk or Cooper’s Hawk which tapers to the base of the tail then widens towards the end of the tail. Also, I don’t think that even the largest Cooper’s Hawk could have sailed so easily into such powerful wind gusts. Our overall impression was that this was undoubtedly a juvenile Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). She is an extraordinary bird to observe, especially so close to the city.

Click here for photos of Northern Goshawk & here for an accipiter comparison

- - - - -

Croton Point Park, 2/17/2006
-
Canada Goose
Mallard
Bufflehead
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture (4.)
Bald Eagle (2nd year.)
Northern Goshawk (Imm. Flying west over hill then south onto point.)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (1, at feeder near pine grove.)
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle (1, at feeder near pine grove.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Seasonal changes

Nethermead Meadow

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yesterday I took my bicycle up to Prospect Park for a late afternoon ride. The park’s outer roadway was clear of snow but the inner roads and paths were patchy, at best. I ended up doing more slogging than pedalling. The snow should be gone by the weekend. Spotting signs of a changing season was made easier by a bright, low sun.

Sprouting Daffodils

(Photo credit - Rob J)

European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Daffodils are beginning to poke up through the crusty snow. A European Beech tree above a patch of daffodils was showing tiny, scaly buds. Some of the resident gray squirrels were nibbling on the tender, new buds sprouting on Red Maples. A young River Birch at the edge of the Long Meadow had a single catkin at the tip of a twig. A sapling on the south side of Prospect Lake caught my attention. It was covered by small, brown seed pods. The snow below the tree was sprinkled with its minute, brown seeds. I took some photos and discovered that it is a Katsura Tree. It surprised me to learn that the parks department was planting non-native species.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) buds

(Photo credit - Rob J)

River Birch (Betula nigra)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Katsura (cercidiphyllum japonicum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Prospect Lake was still mostly frozen and the icy surface was dominated by resting Ring-billed Gulls. While I was scanning the gulls I noticed a Peregrine Falcon circling over the lake. I guess she wasn’t very hungry and, after a minute or two, split off and headed south. When she was in profile I noticed her bulging, full crop.

Prospect Lake looking towards the Wellhouse

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At the edge of the lake behind Duck Island is a very odd, misshapen tree. I’ve been looking at it for 14 years and finally remembered to take a photograph. The main trunk and some of the secondary trunks have deep, concentric ridges. It looks almost as if the tree had been bound with cable while it was growing. It’s probably just a common species with an unusual mutation.

Deformed tree

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 2/16/2006
-
Pied-billed Grebe
Northern Shoveler
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Merlin (Flying up Lullwater.)
Peregrine Falcon (Circling above Prospect Lake.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Fish Crow (3, flying north over Long Meadow.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

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

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snowing in Brooklyn

It's still snowing as of this posting. I love the winter and can't wait to get outside. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and I wanted to go to the Botanic Gardens but they're closed on Mondays. I guess I won't be taking that photo of the Camellia covered with snow.

Fifth Street

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Looking towards the park from my window.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Staten Island birding

It was a two warbler day on Staten Island. Mary, Janet and I headed over to Staten Island this morning, primarily to scan the coast for waterfowl. Our first stop, though, was to look for the reported Yellow-breasted Chat at Clove Lakes Park.

People had reported that the chat was very cooperative but I didn’t expect to find it within 5 minutes! The habitat near the stone bridge is primarily a tangle of multiflora rose, bittersweet and mugwort. This botanic triumvirate may be a park manager’s nightmare but the chat seems to love it. From the opposite side of the stream we watched the vivid yellow and olive bird eating berries in the open. A very nice way to begin our day.

Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

The number and variety of species in the coastal waters at Great Kills and Crooke’s Point were unremarkable. Common Goldeneye were the most numerous species. We were all surprised to see several dozen Tree Swallows flying up and down the beach. Returning to Capistrano, already?!

We had one other interesting sighting at Great Kills. After scanning the coast we were returning to the car at parking area “A”. In the distance we spotted a hawk flying northwest from the area of the nature center. From the look of its broad wings and wide tail we thought that it was a buteo. When it was over the area of the baseball fields it began hovering. The lighting was terrible and we didn’t have time to get our scopes on it. Its tail seemed too long for it to be a Red-tailed Hawk. When it was soaring it didn’t seem to have the deep dihedral of a harrier, its wings were held almost flat. My first thought was that it was a Rough-legged Hawk, however, the lighting was terrible and we could only see it as a silhouette. My friend Mike e-mailed to confirm that he had, in fact, seen a Rough-legged Hawk in that area at 11am.

A Rough-legged Hawk photographed last year

(Photo credit - Rob J)

..oh, yeah, the second warbler of the day was a Yellow-rumped Warbler at Great Kills.

- - - - -

Clove Lakes Park & Great Kills, 2/11/2006
-
Horned Grebe (Several.)
Great Cormorant
Brant
Long-tailed Duck (3, off Crooke’s Pt.)
Bufflehead (Several.)
Common Goldeneye (Common.)
Hooded Merganser (2, Clove Lake.)
Red-breasted Merganser (Fairly common.)
Rough-legged Hawk (Great Kills.)
Sanderling (4.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Tree Swallow (~50-75, Great Kills.)
Carolina Wren (Clove Lakes Park.)
Gray Catbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Crookes Pt.)
Yellow-breasted Chat (Clove Lakes Park.)
American Tree Sparrow (Crookes Pt.)
White-throated Sparrow

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

Friday, February 10, 2006

Snow Goose update

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens ) in Prospect Park

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I walked across the park this morning on my way to an appointment. Near the Peristyle, on the south side of Prospect Lake, was a flock of Canada Geese nibbling on the grass. The lone Snow Goose was in the center of the flock. To my knowledge, Snow Goose have never over-wintered in Prospect Park. I had assumed that this bird was injured and couldn’t fly, especially since he seemed to prefer walking across the roadways. Today I saw him fly a short distance with the other geese. The secondary feathers on his right wing looked like they had been pretty damaged by something. His six week respite in Brooklyn has allowed him to begin molting in some new feathers. Come spring, he’ll probably join up with a flock heading north. Unfortunately, the fate of the injured Snow Goose in Green-Wood Cemetery is less promising. Without capture and treatment he’ll probably never fly.

It’s been almost a month since I found the Long-eared Owl. He is still around and nearly invisible high up in his roost. Had the Blue Jays not showed me where he was hiding he probably could have gone unnoticed all winter. It makes me wonder how many have been overlooked during the annual Christmas Bird Count.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 2/10/2006
-
Pied-billed Grebe (2, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (1, Prospect Lake.)
Snow Goose (1, with Canada Geese.)
Northern Shoveler (~250.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck (~75-100.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (3.)
Long-eared Owl (1.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common.)
Tufted Titmouse (Fairly common.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3, Breeze Hill.)
Fox Sparrow (1, Ravine.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan (4.), American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow (6.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Another hawk in the neighborhood

Camellia bloom (Camellia japonica)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for info on camellias-

(A big thank you to Vicki for correcting my misidentification of the above flower)

This afternoon I located another Red-tailed Hawk in the neighborhood. I was walking from Empire Boulevard through the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to the north entrance on Eastern Parkway. As I passed the Native Flora section the white underside of a perched hawk caught my eye. A Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in a mature beech tree. At first, I assumed that it was the same bird that I had watched in Prospect Park this past Monday. Once I had him in my bins it was clear that he was a different individual.

The smallish hawk has an extremely pale face with a pronounced supercillium. Half of his tail still has the brown banding of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. When he flew a short distance I saw that the feathering at the base of his tail was showing the namesake red coloration. Most Red-tailed Hawks develop their brick-red tail in their second year. I presume that this individual is nearing his second birthday. Also, unlike most of the local hawks that I’ve observed, this bird was not tolerant of close approach.

-Click here for info on bird topography-

Snowdrop close-up

(Photo credit - Rob J)

When I was walking home, I was startled by a low flying Red-tailed Hawk near the Upper pool. She was only about fifteen feet above the ground. The largest red-tailed that I’ve seen in a while, I’m pretty sure that she was Big Mama.

Acorn and sycamore seeds in a crack

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park & BBG, 2/9/2006
-
Bufflehead (2, Upper pool.)
Cooper's Hawk (imm. BBG.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1, BBG. 1, Long Meadow.)
American Coot
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Picnic area.)
Hairy Woodpecker (1, Vale. 1, Litchfield Villa.)
Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common.)
Tufted Titmouse (Fairly common.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Winter Wren (Midwood.)
Hermit Thrush (Aralia Grove.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Fairly common.)
American Goldfinch (Several.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Dumb Snow Goose

I just received the following funny e-mail from my friend, Peter:

"This morning in Prospect [Park], we saw the still present (and alive!) Snow Goose crossing South Lake Drive...during rush hour! Cars whizzing by and he doesn't know how to jaywalk properly. Not a New Yawker, for sure."

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.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 2/6/2006
-
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

Friday, February 03, 2006

Long Island's East End

Culloden Point in the fog

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sean, Shane and I drove out to Montauk early Monday hoping to locate a reported Black Guillemot. A holarctic species, guillemots very rarely stray as far south as the waters surrounding eastern Long Island. The weather was against us as we spent most of the morning peering through a soupy fog. We did manage to enjoy 20 seconds of sunshine and by the afternoon the soup became a diluted consommé.

Sea vegetables salad

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The bird was seen for several days in Block Island Sound off the beach of Culloden Point. The point is just a short distance north of the town of Montauk. When we arrived at the point visibility was poor. The dark silhouettes of seaducks seemed to be floating in the ether. We stood at the top of the bluff and waited for the fog to lift. We waited and waited and waited. After close to an hour we decided to drive to Montauk Point and several other locations, periodically looping back to Culloden Point.

-Click here to read about Culloden Point and the Amistad-

By the time we arrived at Montauk Point much of the fog had lifted. There were several thousand eider, scoter and Red-breasted Merganser in large rafts drifting in the currents around the point. As the wind driven swells carried the ducks north around the point they would fly back to the south side, to the start of the liquid conveyor belt. I noticed that the mergansers have begun their annual courtship rituals. The male’s head and neck genuflections were both fascinating and comical. They’d start by stretching their necks all the way out and pointing their bill skyward. Then, with their neck still stretched, they’d tip their breast down into the water so that just a tiny length of neck and the entire head remained exposed. The final move involved straightening their body so that their neck and head was parallel to the surface of the water. Some were repeating the sequence over and over for the seemingly disinterested females. Occasionally, some of the males would aggressively chase their competitors while holding their heads low to the water.

Very large skate egg capsule

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Three skate egg capsules

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-What is a Mermaid's Purse?-

-Click here to learn how to identify egg capsules-


We returned to Culloden Point a few more times trying to locate the guillemot. We were ultimately unsuccessful and decided to slowly make our way west towards Brooklyn. At Shinnecock Inlet we found that the number and variety of gulls were pretty low. Sean suggested that we drive down Dune Road to kill some time then return to the inlet when the gulls were coming in to feed.

The wetlands and dunes along Dune Road are a great habitat for Short-eared Owl, bittern and other seldom seen species. We drove very slowly along the road with the windows opened, listening and scanning for wildlife. A small, pale sparrow flew from the grass and perched in a low shrub next to the car. It was an "Ipswich" Sparrow, a northern race of Savannah Sparrow that appears on New York’s coasts in the winter. A short distance down the road Sean and I caught a glimpse of something that seemed out of place within the flat expanse of cord grass. Shane slowly backed-up the car. Motionless in a channel adjacent to the road stood an American Bittern. Normally, this bird’s pattern of vertical brown and buff stripes render him virtually invisible among reeds and grasses when viewed straight on. We got lucky and spotted him from the side. I haven’t seen one since October 15, 2000 when I was kayaking on Jamaica Bay with my friend Ron. I was thrilled to be able to watch this normally inconspicuous animal.

American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Back at the inlet, as Sean predicted, hundreds of gulls had arrived with the tide to feed in the swift moving water. I leaned my binoculars on the edge of the car’s opened trunk and held them in one position. I then tried to identify the birds as they moved in and out of my field of view. A few minutes passed and it seemed like the same three species were feeding at the edge of the stone jetty. I decided to scan the beach and, within a few seconds, spotted a large, white gull standing on the sand next to the jetty. It was a young Glaucous Gull, another rare winter visitor from the north.

Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus )

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One other exciting, northern visitor observed today was a Snowy Owl. In keeping with birding ethics I won’t reveal exactly where we located him. We almost overlooked this beautiful animal but spotted his, bright white head sticking up from behind a dune. He moved his head rapidly from side to side in search of prey. Although we were far away he seemed to occasionally glare at us with his fierce, golden eyes.

The weather wasn’t great and we didn’t locate a Black Guillemot but it was still a fantastic day out in the wilds of Long Island.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus )

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

- - - - -

Montauk Pt., Cullendon Pt., Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, Dune Rd., Shinnecock, 1/30/2006
-
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe (2 or 3, Cullendon Pt.)
Northern Gannet
Great Cormorant
American Bittern (Dune Rd.)
Great Blue Heron
Snow Goose
Brant
Greater Scaup
Common Eider
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Merlin
Sanderling
Purple Sandpiper (Lake Montauk Inlet.)
Dunlin
Wilson's Snipe (Theodore Roosevelt.)
Ring-billed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Napeague.)
Glaucous Gull (Shinnecock.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake (Montauk Pt.)
Razorbill
Snowy Owl
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Savannah "Ipswich" Sparrow (Dune Rd.)
White-throated Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

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

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