Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday the 13th

Prospect Park West hawk perch (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I had a little time at the end of the day to investigate the curious behavior of the young red-tails that Alex has witnessed. I brought my scope along so I might get a clear view into the top of the tree. Red-tailed Hawks that still have brown, banded tails are considered to be juveniles. They develop their red tail after about 2 years. It’s a mystery as to why two juvenile hawks would be actively courting and nest building. I’ve searched the Internet for any references to the subject but could not find any information. Any theory would just be a guess, so I’ll leave that to greater minds.

When I arrived in the park there was still a couple of hours of sunlight left in the day. Unfortunately, a nearly unbroken veil of dark-gray storm clouds was doing its best to smother the late day sun. Cold north-west gusts were roaring across the Long Meadow. I hadn’t expected it to be so cold and didn’t have any gloves. From Roosevelt Hill, on the Long Meadow, there is a perfect view of the tree where the young hawks were carrying nest material. I stood in the lee of a large elm tree as the wind was making it nearly impossible to look through my scope. The top of the tree is, essentially, flat, except for a slight depression in the center. I couldn’t see anything in that depression so I decided to walk across the meadow for a closer look.

Juvenile red-tails nest tree

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

As I was walking the slight incline towards the nest tree I flushed one of the young hawks. He had been perched in a tree adjacent to where Alex had directed me. He had to flap hard against the strong head winds. I noticed that he was missing one or two of his secondary feathers from his left wing. Until they grow back in, he will be easy to identify. Split-wing? He tried circling directly above the nest tree but ended up quickly drifting east, to the botanic gardens. Over the last year I’ve received several e-mails from people who have observed a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Most reported that the hawk seemed rather tame. Maybe this young pair has claimed the north end of Prospect Park and the adjacent “Native Flora Section” of the BBG as their territory.

Hawk vs. rat at botanic gardens

(Photo credit - Sally Wicklund)

I was standing on the slight ridge beneath the nest tree, freezing. There's only a narrow strip of sparsely vegetated woods between me and the full force of the icy wind. It really didn’t seem like mid-April, I thought to myself, in complete denial. In “The Waste Land” T. S. Eliot wrote:

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.“

Behind me, and down a ridge, the birds were protected from the wind in the Vale of Cashmere. Shivering, I listened to nearly a dozen different bird songs. They didn’t care that it was cold or April, to them it was spring and in spring you sing. I had to get out of the wind and listening to the birds singing seemed like a better idea than staring at an empty nest.

There were so many birds bottled up in the vale that their combined songs drown out the sound of the wind whipping over the treetops. Fox Sparrows that had spent the winter quiet and ignored were now singing loudly from high, exposed perches. White-throated Sparrows were whistling their clear song from seemingly everywhere. The Vale of Cashmere encloses a relatively small area yet, in addition to the two sparrow species I listened to Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Cedar Waxwing, Pine Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and American Goldfinch.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Atlas Cedar

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

At the center of the vale’s decorative pools and fountains is an Atlas Cedar. It’s ringed with small holes from a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. As I walked to the south end of the pools, I spotted one of the perpetrators clinging to the side of the tree. He was the only bird that wasn’t singing. Probably because he was too busy drinking.

Red Maple flowers (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

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Prospect Park, 4/13/2007
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Red-tailed Hawk (Juvenile, Vale of Cashmere.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Vale of Cashmere.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Vale of Cashmere.)
Northern Flicker (Vale of Cashmere.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Vale of Cashmere.)
Carolina Wren (Vale of Cashmere.)
Cedar Waxwing (12-15, top of western Vale of Cashmere stairs.)
Pine Warbler (Vale of Cashmere.)
Fox Sparrow (Several, Vale of Cashmere.)
Song Sparrow (Vale of Cashmere.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common, Vale of Cashmere.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Vale of Cashmere.)
Common Grackle (Flyover, Vale of Cashmere.)
American Goldfinch (Vale of Cashmere.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard (Vale of Cashmere.), Mourning Dove (Vale of Cashmere.), Downy Woodpecker (Vale of Cashmere.), Blue Jay (Vale of Cashmere.), Tufted Titmouse (Vale of Cashmere.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

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