Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ridgewood Reservoir, Green-Wood Cemetery & Prospect Park

I've been neglecting my blog for the last two weeks. It hasn't been so much that I haven't been getting out or even taking pictures. Between work, my Ridgewood Reservoir project and spending time with my wife, things have just been getting pushed to the bottom of the pile. I had even created a new post, uploaded several photos and my day lists, but just never managed to finish writing the words.

At the Ridgewood Reservoir I noticed that the Department of Parks had cleaned up the edge of Basin #1 (the bog) where people from the neighborhood had created an illegal paintball course. They had dragged all sorts of garbage into the basin to use as barricades and forts. I was surprised to see that park workers had taken the clean-up job to an unnatural level of tidiness. They had gone so far as to collect branches, logs and other elements of a normal forest understory and neatly stacked everything in little piles. I found it not so much weird, but from a habitat standpoint, completely unnecessary.

The cold snap had rapidly frozen the saturated soil within the bog and created tiny crystallized columns that lifted up sections of moss, grass and earth.

While I was walking the path around the south end of the basins I spotted a Woolly Bear caterpillar crossing the path. Their fuzzy covering is usually an arrangement of orange and black bands. The one I spotted appeared to be completely black. When I moved it off of the path so that it would get squashed, it curled up revealing extremely fine orange bands. Folk legend says that the amount of orange banding is an indication of the coming winter's severity. They say it is only a myth, so I think I'll just continue to rely on the television meteorologists.

My wife and I took a walk through the Green-Wood Cemetery recently. I had found a document on the Internet that described a history walk through the cemetery so we decided to check it out. We spent about an hour walking the areas near Battle Pass before heading back to the main entrance.

The Monk Parakeets that nest on the stone spires above the entrance are always noisy, but when we approached they seemed louder than normal. About two dozen of the bright green birds had flown from the red, stone towers and perched out in the open. I scanned the adjacent trees briefly and spotted Big Mama. She had a freshly killed pigeon clutched in her talons. I thought it was odd that, rather than fleeing, the loud birds chose to perch out in the open. Maybe they understood that the relatively slow Red-tailed Hawk relies on the element of surprise to catch prey. Watching her from a safe distance probably increased their chance of survival. Had there been a Peregrine Falcon perched nearby, they might have chosen to hide inside of their huge nests.

I spent a few hours over a couple of different days searching for the Red-tailed Hawks in Prospect Park. By March they should be working on the old nest or preparing a new one for the spring.

As I was walking through the Ravine, a hawk flew over my head and perched in a tree near the Nethermead Arches. I walked up the stairway to Center Drive to get a better view of the bird. It was a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk that seemed smallish. Perhaps it was a male bird. I looked for a band on its leg to see if it was one of the rehabilitated hawks that was released. It didn't have one, so it could have been one of Alice and Ralph's offspring. It had a very noticeable white patch on its forehead.

I watched him for about 15 minutes then he took off into the Ravine. He was heading towards the ground, so I hurried back down the stairs hoping to find him with a fresh kill. Instead, when I got to the path adjacent to the stream, an adult Red-tailed Hawk flew out of the woods and perched above me. I immediately thought, "Ralph!" It has been a while since the last time I saw the small, pale-headed hawk. He was quickly followed by his darker mate, Alice. She was chasing the young red-tail out of their section of woods. The juvenile hawk flew under the bridge, while his pursuer flew above. A jogger on the roadway stopped in his tracks on the bridge, startled by the huge bird. A moment later, Ralph flew across the road and perched near the top of a large sweetgum tree. They clearly did not want the young Red-tailed Hawk in their territory, but they stopped chasing him as he flew off towards the boathouse. The two adult Red-tailed Hawks then took off flying towards the woods of Quaker Ridge.

I caught up with them near the bridle path a short distance from the Quaker Cemetery. I had never seen them perched side by side for any length of time and the comparison of their features was dramatic. Alice's head is very dark and, in the late day sun, looked bronze. The feathers around her eyes are nearly black. Her thick belly band has a lot of dark contrasting streaks and, in profile, seems to extend the entire length of her body. Her flight feathers are a rich, chocolate brown and she has very few pale splotches on her back. Ralph was preening his feathers for most of the 20 minutes that I was observing the pair. Unlike his larger mate, his pale, finely streaked head plumes have a silvery quality. His belly band is so faint that, from the side, it is nearly non-existent. He has extensive white splotches on his back and hazel-colored flight feathers. Most Red-tailed Hawks in flight have a hooded appearance from a distance. Ralph's overall paleness, on the other hand, makes him look almost as if his head is white. In Green-Wood Cemetery, Big Mama and her mate, Junior are much more similar and I'm still looking for unique characteristics in each bird so that I can easily tell them apart. I've been told that hawk's patterns change slightly when they molt each year, so it may not be possible.

A couple of days after I saw Alice and Ralph chase the young hawk, I located him perched in a tree next to the Tennis House. At first, I wasn't certain who I was looking at, but then I noticed the large white patch on his forehead. He appeared to be stalking pigeons that were roosting on the Spanish-style terracotta roof of the Tennis House. Several times he landed on the curved, ceramic tiles, but seemed ungainly and confused when standing on the hard surface. He eventually gave up and flew off towards the maintenance garage near Prospect Park West.

Later in the morning I came across another juvenile Red-tailed Hawk next to the boathouse. He was perched in a Pagoda Tree next to the Camperdown Elm. Rangers Tom and Tony were standing below the hawk, waiting to lead a birding trip in the park. Tom told me that the young hawk had attempted to grab a duck from the water near the Boathouse Bridge. Apparently, she only succeeded in getting soaked and spent the next 45 minutes drying off in the tree. As I was watching, a careless squirrel was climbing up and down the branches dangerously close to the wet raptor. The rodent was missing most of his bushy tail. From the looks of it he probably has had one close brush with death and, if he continued his foolish ways, it wouldn't be his last. Fortunately for him, the Red-tailed Hawk showed only a brief interest in the squirrel and made no attempt to catch it.
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Ridgewood Reservoir, 2/2/2008
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Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
*American Tree Sparrow (new for species list)
Fox Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Other common species seen (or heard):
American Black Duck, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, European Starling, Song Sparrow
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Prospect Park, 2/7/2008
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Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Mallard
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
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Prospect Park, 2/9/2008
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Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Ring-necked Duck
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow
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Prospect Park, 2/10/2008
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Ring-necked Duck
Bufflehead
Cooper's Hawk
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

1 comment:

RK said...

on sunday 2/17 i was at greenwood and saw a red-tail hawk eating a squirrel 15 ft from me on the ground. i had my binocs so it was some sight from so close.

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