Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Last Weekend of 2007

What a difference a year makes. In 2006, Sean, Shane and I rushed around New York State collecting bird sightings. For 2007, our priorities were such that we spent very little time birding together. My involvement with the Ridgewood Reservoir project kept me more focused on that conservation issue and less so on personal bird listing. I went from seeing 315 species in the state in 2006 to 249 in 2007, but I have no complaints.

Birding has made me more aware of our seasonal cycles in the Northeast. It has also made me wonder about the logic of our calendar. We begin the year in the middle of winter and end the year in the middle of winter. I suppose it makes sense somewhere in the world.

In January of 2007, I spent some of my time watching a female Merlin that overwintered in Prospect Park. As winter rolled around again, I ended the year crossing paths with a Northern Goshawk who had moved into Prospect Park in November.

On Saturday, December 29th, I rode the "J" train over to Ridgewood to meet someone. The sky was dark and threatening, so I didn't stay for very long. Leaves have fallen from all the trees in the basins, giving a very different perspective when looking across the tops of the forests. I put my camera on the tripod, pulled the legs all the way out and extended the center post to its limit. With the self-timer set to 10 seconds, I hoisted the tripod as high as I could and faced it into basin 3. The resulting images are nearly unrecognizable from the lush, green habitats of spring and summer. Rows of bare, slender Gray Birch trees stood up like quills on a porcupine.

While waiting on the platform of the elevated train station, I noticed a large flock of pigeons swirling around above an apartment building west of the reservoirs. The swirling, undulating mass of birds was hypnotic. Suddenly, the organized movement of the flock was interrupted and they split off into chaotic groups. A Peregrine Falcon was plunging headlong through the center. She missed her target and circled back up above the pigeons as they regrouped. On a second pass she hit one bird and it started tumbling, but righted itself after a few seconds. I expected to see the falcon swoop in for the kill, but instead, a second, larger Peregrine Falcon appeared and the two began fighting. The chase ended up over the Ridgewood Reservoir where they twice locked talons. There was a big difference in the size of the two birds, so I assume they were male and female. The pigeons had resumed their synchronized maneuvers, but the falcons were so engrossed in their aggression towards each other, they forgot about the hunt. As a train approached the station, I watched the two peregrines disappear behind the trees at the reservoir heading north. The reservoir is nearly equidistant from 7 bridges. I wonder if the two falcons were from nests on any of those bridges.

In the afternoon, and the following day, I walked around Prospect Park for several hours. It probably sounds silly, but I was looking around for any last minute additions to the park's 2007 bird list. I guess the urge to build a long list has carried over from my 2006 experiences.

Nearly all the expected winter species were around the park's various habitats, although the woodlands seemed unusually quiet. On Sunday, my wife and I were at the Vale of Cashmere looking around for birds. It's a natural wind break and there's almost always a lot of activity in that area. An unleashed dog ran up the hillside and through the woods. Dozens of birds that I hadn't seen on the ground flushed. Perhaps the Northern Goshawk was still around and the birds were being extra cautious.

Robin and I were walking back home from the Peninsula when I noticed a large lump in the trees near the Maryland Monument. A young Red-tailed Hawk. My wife noticed a second one farther up the hill. We decided to walk up to the path that parallels Wellhouse Drive, to get a closer look. It took a few moments to located the perched red-tail. The second juvenile hawk was circling Lookout Hill a short distance away from the perched bird. Then, as if it materialized out of thin air, the goshawk flashed in front of us. She effortlessly weaved around the trees as the second red-tail attempted to harass it. The goshawk looped around the base of the tree where the first red-tailed hawk was still perched. She was less than six feet off the ground as she continued up the ridge and out of sight near the Butterfly Meadow.

I've seen Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper's Hawks zipping though the woods plenty of times. They are relatively small birds and they appear, physically, made for the job. The Northern Goshawk is a very large, bulky raptor that I wouldn't expect to be very agile. However, after witnessing the ease with which she navigated a path through the tangles of the forest ... my wife and I were blown away by the experience.

Prospect Park, 12/29-12/30/2007
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Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Cooper's Hawk
Northern Goshawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Crow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch

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, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

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