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Monday, February 19, 2007

Brooklyn Feeder Birds

Mohawk tree

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

On Saturday I spent 4 hours in Prospect Park. My primary objective was to locate the Ravine Red-tailed Hawk pair (aka “Ralph” and “Alice”) and to look for, and photograph, the Pine Warbler.

I entered the park at 5th Street and walked northeast, to the Vale of Cashmere. The vale is a small, a natural amphitheater the centerpiece of which is a decorative pool with ornamental plantings. The sky was a cold, wintery lapis lazuli. At my feet was a blanket of blindingly, white snow. The vale’s natural windbreak made the air feel toasty in comparison to the surrounding areas. Around the pool are several rectangular, concrete balusters supporting a long missing railing around the pools. Someone had placed mounds of mixed birdseed on the tops of the balusters. Before giving the birds a close look I set up my camera to create another 360 degree panorama. From a visual perspective, park designers Olmstead and Vaux created a nearly perfect illusion of an exotic, faraway place with the Vale of Cashmere. If one were magically transported to that spot, I doubt that they would suspect they were in the center of Brooklyn.

Vale of Cashmere (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Google Earth)

Vale of Cashmere panorama

(click and drag image - Quicktime required)

Blue Jay, chickadee, titmouse, both nuthatches, Fox and White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, House Finch and American Goldfinch were some of the expected cast of winter birds gorging on the scattered piles of cracked corn, millet and sunflower seeds. One peculiar sighting was of a European Goldfinch. I’m sure that he is someone’s escaped bird, not a long distance flyer. He didn’t join in with the other finches at the seed piles and flew off after a minute or two. The American Goldfinches were shunning him. Must be some kind of avian xenophobia (Euro-trash bird).

Blue Jay

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Jetbeads in the winter look like semiprecious stones set in an otherwise, ordinary spindly shrub. This plant caught my eye as it’s web-like shadow and glossy fruit looked so dramatic against the crusty snow.

Jetbead - Rhodotypos scandens (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I walked along the ridge that borders the west side of the Midwood. In the winter it’s usually easy to spot a Red-tailed Hawk among all the trees bare branches. Looking in the opposite direction I checked the large Ravine pine tree to see if Ralph and Alice have begun work on their nest. It was difficult to tell from that perspective. Along Center Drive a hyperactive flock of Cedar Waxwings kept moving from tree to tree, towards the stream beneath the Nethermead Arches. They seemed eager to descend to the water but were waiting for someone to make the first move. There were about 25 birds in the flock and they constantly called out to each other with a barely audible high, thin whistle. A small number eventually made it down to the water’s edge. Moments later the entire flock moved off into the Ravine.

The feeders on Breeze Hill were well stocked and the large, mixed flock noisily feasted. As I was setting up my tripod the entire flock suddenly scattered and a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk landed directly beneath the feeders. He didn’t seem interested in any of the birds. A tangle of branches, logs and vines was his focus and he hopped up on top of it. I guess there was some kind of rodent or rabbit hidden within the pile. I walked towards him, keeping a tree between him and me, until I was right up on him. He took off before I could snap a photo but landed in a locust tree nearby, where he stayed for several minutes.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

It didn’t take very long for the birds to return to the feeders. I waited patiently for about 15 minutes and the Pine Warbler appeared on one of the feeders. He’s small enough that he fit in between the wire mesh surround the feeder and the feeder tube. From that location he leisurely picked through the seeds without competition. Valerie and Michele, from the nature center, were participating in the “Big Backyard Bird Count” and stopped by the feeders. Valerie had a fresh suet cake and assured me that it was the Pine Warbler favorite food. I left my camera focused on the suet feeder and waited.

As I was waiting a squirrel kept trying to raid the feeders. Each time he would get close to making his leap from an adjacent sapling, I would whistle like a Red-tailed Hawk. He would scurry down the tree and run for cover. This went on for about an hour (he never caught on). One time, I scared him so badly, that he fell, caught himself on a lower branch with his front legs and teetered like a pendulum for a moment before regaining his balance and running off.

The Pine Warbler appeared to feed in a circuit from the two seed feeders to the suet feeder. From the suet feeder he would fly to a small branch in a pine tree where he’d wipe off his bill. He’d usually disappear for 15 minute stretches then return to repeat his routine.

Pine Warbler eating suet

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I walked through the Ravine on my way home, hoping to find my two Red-tailed Hawks. As I approached the split in the path west of the Nethermead Arches I heard a squirrel vocalizing. It was the typical “chuck, squeal” call that told me a hawk was close. A few yards into the Ravine and I saw the object of his concern. Ralph and Alice were perched, side by side, in an oak tree adjacent to their annual nest tree. I tried to set up my camera quickly and quietly but Alice took off, flying towards the Midwood. Ralph flew a short distance and sat with his back to me. He was very cooperative and let me take several photos before flying off west, towards the Picnic House. I scanned their nest tree from a few different angles and it’s apparent that they’ve added new material to the nest.

"Ralph" in the Ravine

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

The next time I go into the park I plan to just sit in the Ravine and see if I can glimpse them bringing material to the nest or, dare I say, copulating.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 2/17/2007
Red-tailed Hawk (1 juvenile, Breeze Hill; 2 adults, Ravine.)
Ring-billed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker (3 or 4.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2.)
American Crow (6.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (4-6.)
Carolina Wren (1, Breeze Hill.)
Cedar Waxwing (approx. 25, water beneath Nethermead Arches.)
Pine Warbler (Breeze Hill feeders.)
Fox Sparrow (5.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Common.)
House Finch
American Goldfinch (Fairly common.)
European Goldfinch (Vale of Cashmere, likely escaped caged bird.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
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

1 comment:

Pamela said...

The panorama shot was Fantastic.

The magpies and the crows that hang around our street chase the red tailed hawk that comes to inspect the sparrow and finch population.

I didn't get signed up for the back yard bird count.

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