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Monday, March 26, 2007

Red-tailed Hawks and spring changes

I waited until about 2:00pm before walking up to Prospect Park. The position of the sun at that time casts a bright spotlight on the Ravine Red-tailed Hawk nest. Hopefully, I’d be able to confirm any incubation activity.

Alice checking out her nest

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I set my tripod up near the intersection of two footpaths. There were lots of people strolling in the park due to the unexpectedly clear skies and mild temperature. New Yorkers are rarely shy and a few individuals stopped to ask me what I was looking at. Lucky for them, it doesn’t take much prodding to get me to share my excitement with strangers. I really enjoy seeing the expressions on their faces as they peer through my scope at an animal that most park patrons have only seen in photos.

Alice arrived at the nest about 15 minutes after I set-up my scope. She flew in low from the direction of the Midwood. A few minutes later Ralph appeared. Alice then left the nest and they began to ascend over the woodlands of Quaker Ridge. They circled each other a few time then Ralph, with his feet hanging down, plummeted towards the Ravine. He pulled up at the last minute and perched near their nest tree. His mate didn’t return immediately. It was close to 10 minutes before she returned and, instead of landing directly on the nest, she did something curious. She flew a spiral pattern around the nest tree from approximately its midpoint, ascending to the top of the tree then into the nest. It was almost as if she was inspecting the tree before returning to the nest.

After she landed on the nest she stood at the east edge, looking down. Perhaps I’m just personifying, but it appeared as if she was looking back and forth, with great interest, at something within the nest. She stood looking down for, what seemed like 5 minutes, before easing herself down, presumably on eggs. I tried to stay focused on the inactivity at the top of the pine tree. After a little over an hour I decided to walk down to the lake.

River Birch catkins

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

There is still a nice mix of waterfowl species on the lake, including the male Red-breasted Merganser that was first reported on the 17th. I was standing at the edge of the lake taking photographs of the newly emerged flowers on a River Birch tree. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a duck but ignored it. It wasn’t until I looked up (and he was swimming away from me) that I realized the merganser had been paddling around only a few yards away.


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) and fly

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Some other flowering plants I noticed today were crocuses, daffodils and Cornelian Cherry. When I think back to my postings over the last few years I’ve probably repeated this early progression every year; snow-drops, witch-hazel, river birch, crocus, daffodil, cornelian cherry. As the park’s landscape management office continues to replace invasive, non-natives with native wildflowers, shrubs and trees, I’m sure that my notes and observations will reflect the change. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a place that didn't experience seasons.

Pied-billed Grebe (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I decided to walk around the lake, counter clockwise, towards the skating rink. The sun was low in the sky and casting a warm, golden hue on the east side of the water. At the small cove on the south side of Three Sister’s Island were two Pied-billed Grebes. One bird remained hugging the edge of a patch of phragmites that bordered the shoreline. The other bird was swimming slowly between her and where the cove opened out into the lake. It was as if he was patrolling that tiny patch of water. At one point, when he was at the opening of the cove, he faced the other bird, opened his stubby, little wings, tilted them forward and emitted a moaning, “cowp, cowp, cowp”. He was courting her! I couldn’t believe that he allowed me to observed from so close. Pied-billed Grebes are usually very shy but I guess the pull of the breeding season was stronger than his fear of me.

Twelve years ago my friend Jerry and I discovered a Pied-billed Grebe with one chick in the lake near the skating rink. That was the last time any have nested in Prospect Park. Considering the large number of paddle-boats in the lake during warm weather, I’m amazed that any would have chosen to stay in Prospect Park.

On my way out of the park I stopped in the Ravine. It was 6:20pm and Alice was on the nest. I walked around the area again looking for a better viewing perspective, but didn’t find any. At about 6:30pm Alice began to call for her mate with a high-pitched, chirping whistle. I guess she was either hungry or needed to stretch. She called several times but, by the time I left, Ralph hadn’t returned to relieve her and take over the incubation duty.

Daffodiles in the Midwood

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/25/2007
Pied-billed Grebe (7 or 8, Prospect Lake and Lullwater.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Ring-necked Duck (6.)
Bufflehead (2.)
Red-breasted Merganser (Male, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk (2, one on nest.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Breeze Hill.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (4-6.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Carolina Wren (Singing near lamppost J249.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Fairly common.)
Hermit Thrush (1.)
American Robin (Abundant.)
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, American Crow (2.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Hawthorn - bud and thorn

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)


Larry said...

Excellent photography-I saw a reference to one of your reports on CT. B-mail not long ago.

Lynne said...

Hi Rob! I saw your comment on Larry's blog and followed it back here. Your blog is beautiful and you photography amazing. Thanks for the tip about the hose coupler from the hardware. I'd like to try digiscoping but would like to keep spending to a minimum. Love the pied-billed grebe pix.

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