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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Prospect Park red-tail nest

As I stepped onto the pathway that leads into the Ravine, Ralph flew out of the woods and directly over my head. His narrow, finely streaked belly-band and washed out facial feathers make him easy to identify. I was walking toward his nest tree, he was flying towards the south end of the Long Meadow.

I spent the next 90 minutes watching the hawk nest, but, other than my initial encounter, didn't observe either Ralph or Alice. The only late afternoon activity that I noticed in their nest woods was a male and female Hairy Woodpecker calling to each other as they chiseled away at adjacent trees.

I photographed the empty Red-tailed Hawk nest and compared it to the image I took on the 17th. The hawks appear to have added more branches, so they are probably still using it. I suppose I've just had bad timing with respect to viewing their activities at the nest.

From the Ravine, I walked north along the Long Meadow to Prospect Park's main entrance at Grand Army Plaza. There's a narrow lane divider and crosswalk between the loop roadway's entrance and exit at the top of the park. I set up my scope at that location as it affords views of both the "raptor perch" on the monument and the roof top of One Plaza Street. I was optimistic that I'd be able to witness a kestrel entering a nest hole somewhere on the apartment building. A more realistic expectation was that I'd be able to take some photographs of one perched on the plaza's monument. A third, and eventual outcome, had never crossed my mind - that neither would occur. In spite of that, I never consider observing nature a waste of time, so I made the best of my time outdoors.

On the east and west side of the road are several ornamental cherry trees. Most of the trees are "Kwanzan Cherry" that will not reach peak bloom flower for another month. There is also one similar, unidentified tree, with rich fuchsia buds that have already begun to blossom. It is likely an ornamental hybrid cherry, but I'm not sure.

Most people entering or exiting the park didn't seem to notice or care that I was focusing a telescope towards the monument. Occasionally, someone would look at me then glance up at the monument, but that was the extent of their interest. At around 4:45PM a young girl with wavy red hair walked passed slowly, then stopped to watch me. I smiled. She flashed a silvery, braces bejeweled smile then looked at me quizically as if to say, "What are you looking at?" Without prompting I said, "Nothing, actually, well, at least, not at the moment." I explained about the falcon, to which she asked, "Peregrine Falcon?" When I told her that it was an American Kestrel she was surprised as she had assumed that Red-tailed Hawks were the only local raptors. Her name was Sarah and she looked to be about 15 or 16 years old. Frequently, strangers who notice my binoculars will ask me about hawks or just birds in general. More often than not, their questions, from my perspective, show a disturbing lack of awareness to ones surroundings. The nature of Sarah's questions indicated that, for a New Yorker, she had an above average awareness and interest in her urban environment. She wasn't a birdwatcher, but explained that she loved all animals.

As we were talking I noticed a pair of crows chasing a raptor in the sky over One Plaza Street. It was a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. As the hawk flew closer to the park I handed Sarah my binoculars. She seemed genuinely excited by the new creature and asked how it differed from a red-tail. The Cooper's Hawk disappeared from view as it flew over the Brooklyn Public Library, towards the botanic gardens. A few minutes later I packed up my gear and began walking with Sarah towards the Long Meadow. We crossed the park roadway near the Meadowport Arch and walked down the incline to the Long Meadow.

We were about 100 yards south of the tunnel at the northwest corner of the meadow when I spotted one of our Red-tailed Hawks flying low over the field. I put my bins on the hawk and noticed that it was carrying some type of prey in its talons. It looked like a bird. It was Ralph again, but this time he was heading towards Nelly's Lawn. I gave my binoculars to Sarah. Ralph began to alternately climb then dive for short intervals in a small section of the air near the Vale of Cashmere. It reminded me of the way a child might jump up and down in the waves at the ocean. Perhaps Alice was perched in a tree nearby and that was his way of announcing to her that he had arrived with a dinner treat. He eventually disappeared behind the trees.

Sarah handed back my binoculars and thanked me for the impromptu lessons. She continued walking south along the meadow and I crossed the road heading towards 3rd Street. My favorite part of birding and nature observation is being able to share my knowledge with others. Hopefully, I can also transfer some of my energy and passion to that person. Judging by Sarah's enthusiasm, I suspect that, some day when I'm out birding, I'll cross paths with her again, but she'll have her own binoculars.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"


Pamela said...

reminds me of currant blossoms.
I saw a red tailed hawk sitting on a nest last weekend. Thought about your blog!

Thew said...

I've had similiar experiences, as I'm sure most birders' have, to your unseeing passersby. Part of it is people's NYC armor, of course, a live-and-let live ignore-the-strange-people attitude. Pity. I was watching a young red tail rip up a squirrel Sunday afternoon in PP, on the far side of the Lullwater trail, across from the Peninsula, where two paths join. The bird was feeding low in an iron-wood tree, very visible, bins not required, but many passed by without noticing. I was only too happy to explain what was going on those who noticed the bird. I did a couple of times. But the majority just moved right through. Only one person asked asked me what I was looking at, and when I told her, she said, oh, I'll never be able to see it... until she instandly did. She called her posse, hushed them, and all were wowed.

PS, a trio of people were building a teepee atop the hill above the Ravine nest Sunday afternoon around 4pm. Know what that's about?

Rob Jett said...

I saw the structure, as well, and have contacted the Landscape Management Office. In the past, I've found that people knock down sections of the fence to access the woods, build these structures to lay a tarp over and use it to

a) sleep in
b) party in

They also trash the woods. Too bad there's no Parks Enforcement Patrols to prevent these kind of activities, but that's for another blog.

Marie said...

Hmmm, blossom-mystery. The bud cluster looks very cherry-like, and I guess the bark was, too? I shall pass your pic around...

boidmaster said...

NYC Police removed 2 squatters from an adjoining hill. Forced them to clean up their shanty and take down 12 plastic bags of trash. So they are activist with people intruding behind fence areas. No need to contatct PEP. Simply flag down a squad car or police officer.


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