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Monday, January 14, 2008

Prospect Park, late Sunday

I went for a bike ride in Prospect Park late Sunday afternoon.

After one lap around the park, I rode into the open area above the Vale of Cashmere. The area's official name is "The Rose Garden", but I've been told that there haven't been roses there since the 1940's. It should be renamed "The American Yew" garden, for all the yew shrubs that border the grass field with non-working decorative fountains. I took that route because it allows me to ride down the paths into the Vale of Cashmere, then continue cycling passed Nelly's Lawn, through Battle Pass and into the Midwood. I get bored if I just stay on the road that loops around the park.

Someone had put out mixed bird seed next to the ponds in the Vale. A squirrel was chowing down, while the birds waited their turn. There was a flock of about 30 Mourning Doves perched in a tree above the ponds. As I passed beneath them another 20 or so flushed from the brick sidewalk and muddy hillside. I stopped briefly to speak with a woman who appeared to be clipping branches from a thorny shrub. People sometimes take a lot of liberties in Prospect Park, so I stopped to say hello and see what she was doing. It turned out that she was a botanist and was just clipping a couple of tiny, dead branches for samples. Neither one of us were certain of the plant species. I've looked at that plant hundreds of times as I'm fascinated its beauty and intimidating nature.

As I was pedaling towards Battle Pass I heard the chirping call of a Red-tailed Hawk. It wasn't the typical, wheezy "keeeerr", but the short, high-pitched notes that I usually associate with fledglings begging for food. My bins always come with me when I go into the park, even if I'm just going for a bike ride. I'm glad I had them with me yesterday. After a brief search I located a large, adult red-tail perched in the North Zoo Woods (I recently found an old Prospect Park map and discovered that the area in question was originally named the "East Woods"). I leaned my bike up against a tree and watched her calling. Within a few minutes, her mate flew in from the woods west of me. He had a fresh kill in his talons and placed it on the branch next to the calling female. She accepted the gift and he flew to a perch just above her. He sat and watched for several minutes as she tore into, what looked like, a baby squirrel. It may only be January, but Red-tailed Hawks are already preparing for the breeding season. Marge called on Saturday to tell me that she spotted one of the released juvenile Red-tailed Hawks in Green-Wood Cemetery. She also said she witnessed Big Mama and Junior talon-grappling in the sky above the cemetery. Ah, love is in the air.

About 30 minutes later I was riding along Center Drive when I spotted four people staring up into the woods of Quaker Ridge. I figured that they were looking at a red-tail. Valerie was one of the people. I rode over in time to see two or three Red-tailed Hawks fly off towards Lookout Hill. She told me that three juvenile red-tails were playing together in the woods. I asked if any were banded, but she didn't have her bins and couldn't tell. The hawks were soaring over Lookout, so I pedaled up the road and turned onto the path to the top. I found one hawk perched in a tree near the Butterfly Meadow, and another was flying just above. I didn't see a third, but ran into another birder, named Rob, who also said that three juveniles had been playing around in the woods of Lookout Hill. They were last seen flying out of the park towards the Green-Wood Cemetery.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I saw this hawk hanging out in a tree outside my building today. Can you identify it for me?

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