It's finally beginning to feel like autumn. There was a chill in the air the other day when I took a short walk around Prospect Park. I saw the entire Ravine Red-tailed Hawk family together for the first time since June. They were taking advantage of an updraft off of the forested, north/south spine of the park. There were two adults and two juvenile red-tails in the group. I recognized Ralph's very pale head, plus the fact that they were all "playing nice" and calling back and forth lead me to assume that it was the "Kramdens of the Ravine". At least two coots have arrived in the park and were swimming around Prospect Lake near the skating rink, a sure sign that the season has changed.
I've heard stories about a white squirrel in Prospect Park that had been caught by one of the red-tails, only to be rescued by a park patron. Rumor has it that the person scared off the hawk then brought the squirrel home, nursed it back to health, then released it back in the park. I have never seen a white grey squirrel in the park and sort of doubted the story was true...then I saw the squirrel. Unlike all the fearless squirrels that live near the Picnic House and readily take handouts, this white one was very wary. I got close enough to see that his eyes were red and any bare skin was pink. I believe that would make him an albino, as opposed to just leucistic. Either way, he's a good looking animal that makes an easy target for raptors. I'd be surprised if he lasted through the winter.
Last Saturday, my friend Steve lead a trip for the Brooklyn Bird Club up to Hook Mountain, along the Hudson River. I haven't been to the hawkwatch at that location for a couple of years, so I joined them for the day. It was sunny and cool with a slight haze on the horizon. We're about a week past the Broad-winged Hawk migration, but were optimistic that we'd see some Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks and maybe a couple of falcons. I brought along a Wingscape Birdcam to test out. My plan was to attach it to a post that is topped with a plastic owl. At hawkwatches, plastic Great Horned Owls are routinely used to attract passing raptors (they don't like each other) for closer looks. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, frequently jostling by the wind, coupled with an overenthusiastic crowd that unintentionally scared off any raptors that were heading towards the owl left me with a bunch of birdless images. I think I'll stick to a simpler approach to using the birdcam.
We actually had a very good day on top of the mountain. We saw a surprisingly large number of Sharp-shinned Hawks, Coopers Hawks, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, Merlin and a single Bald Eagle. In the non-raptor category were lots of Turkey Vultures a few Black Vultures and a raven that flew very close to the hawkwatch. The red-tails were probably local breeds, not migrants. It could also be true of some of the Osprey and Peregrine Falcons seen throughout the day. The Red-tailed Hawks were frequently seen soaring on the north side of Hook Mountain, in the valley between Rockland Lake and the ridge.
Looking down on a soaring hawk or straight into the edge of their wings is a rare perspective and momentarily draws me into their view of the world.
by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"