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Saturday, December 08, 2007

I biked up to the north end of Prospect Park with the intent to bird my way down to the Lily Pond. Maybe this time I'd find the chat from the previous day.

Someone had place piles of mixed bird seed on top of the concrete balustrades that surround the ornamental pond at the Vale of Cashmere. For a few minutes I watched hungry, hyperactive chickadees, White-throated Sparrows, nuthatches, titmice and cardinals grab seeds then fly into the underbrush to eat. From the vale I cut across Nelly's Lawn, to the wooded pathway behind Sullivan Hill. Throughout the short stretch of forest I heard the muted, crunchy sound of dried leaves being flipped and the bouncy call notes of dozens of White-throated Sparrows as they foraged for seeds.

The bridle path adjacent to Rick's Place was rutted with tire tracks from park maintenance vehicles. Light snow and freezing rain from the previous night had melted and collected in the muddy depressions. A large flock of American Goldfinches had gathered in and around the temporary watering holes to drink and bath under a brilliant afternoon sun. I laid down my bicycle and sat on the ground at the edge of the bridle path. Several yard to my right, a Pine Siskin joined a group of goldfinches. He was followed by one, then two, then three Common Redpolls. I took my camera out, but a woman walking her pony-sized Mastiff up the path spooked the birds. Some flew up into the trees, others sought the protection of a multiflora rose tangle. When the woman and her steed were well out of sight, the birds slowly began to return.

As soon as I saw the redpolls I called a few friends to let them know the location. I could only reach Peter, who informed me that he was in Delaware. He sent out a text message and a few minutes later I heard Alan and Janet talking near the opening at the end of the path. A runner appeared from under the Boulder Bridge to my left, sprinting directly towards the finches. Again, the birds disappeared. I stood up and waved Alan and Janet over, as they didn't see me tucked back into the side of the trail. Unfortunately, like Friday's experience with Scott, the birds didn't return, so we walked around to the other side of Rick's Place to check some sweetgum trees. There were two birders near the top of the trail with their bins pointed upward. I said that there were some redpolls around, to which one responded, "We're looking at one now."

Alan and Janet got on the birds and were really happy. I was glad that I was able to help others find these rare winter visitors. The two birders that found the redpolls asked me about the goshawk and I described how she seemed to be hunting around that area and that, if they were patient, they might find her.

I couldn't stay very long and was about to jump on my bike and head home. Janet mentioned that they had seen a very large accipiter on their fire escape, next to their bird feeders. By her description it sounded like it wasn't the goshawk, but likely a large Cooper's Hawk. I said that the gos was unmistakable, especially in flight. Red-tailed Hawks appear lumbering and direct when flying in wooded areas. The Northern Goshawk, despite its large size, look amazingly agile as they twist and turn through the forest. We were about 50 yards from the Boulder Bridge facing north, towards Payne Hill. I felt like my description of the goshawk had barely left my lips, when it zoomed out of the woods of Payne Hill, flew over the path in front of us and up onto a perch in the Midwood. We ran to a break in the trees, where we had a good view of the perched raptor in a Sycamore tree. I called the other two birders over and pointed out the hawk.

I never made it to the Lily Pond, in fact, I wasn't even close. One of the great things about birding is that you can never be certain what you'll find when you go out into the field.

Prospect Park, 12/8/2007
Northern Goshawk (Rick's Place; flying into Midwood.)
American Kestrel (Circling over Payne Hill.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Redpoll (3, puddles next to Rick's Place.)
Pine Siskin (1, puddles next to Rick's Place.)
American Goldfinch (20-30, Rick's Place.)

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

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