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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Prospect Park update

I had about 90 minutes at the end of the day to run up to the park. I love taking late day photos, especially at this time of year. The sun is still relatively close to the horizon, creating long shadows and gentle, warm tones. I planned to walk up to Grand Army Plaza, check for the kestrel, then walk back across the Long Meadow to the Ravine hawk nest. I figured that, even if I missed both raptors, there's always something interesting to see during the early Spring.

Elm trees have begun flowering and there's a beautiful specimen at the edge of the park drive near Garfield Place. Festooned with black and pink blossoms, some of its lower limbs droop low to the ground. I stopped to take some photographs. As I was examining the branches a tree pruning truck slowed, then came to a stop on the opposite side of the road. "What are the odds", I thought (and possible even said aloud). Fortunately, there was no work order for that elm tree and the truck eventually began to move and continued down the road.

The kestrel didn't visit the "Soldiers and Sailors Monument" during the brief time that I was watching. I did catch a glimpse of him northeast of the plaza, flying over a building near Vanderbilt Avenue. On my way to the Ravine, I scanned through flocks of robins and starlings that have gathered to feed in the grass along the meadow. I had just passed a stand of pines on the east side of the field when dozens of robins suddenly took flight. Some landed in the few trees that dot the edges of the meadow, others just kept going. One of the birds must have sounded an alarm because, moments later, a large Cooper's Hawk cruised passed. She was less than six feet off the ground and wove a path between a pair of River Birch saplings, around some budding magnolias, then across the road and into the trees that surround the Vale of Cashmere. The speedy hawk passed a few people sitting on park benches, but they either didn't notice or weren't impressed. Sometimes it takes an extraordinary effort to get a New Yorker's attention.

I thought that fleeting experience was going to be the highlight of my walk because the subsequent time that I spent at Alice and Ralph's nest was uneventful. Neither hawk made an appearance.

As I was exiting the park at 5th Street, I heard the high, thin whistles of Cedar Waxwings. They are gregarious birds that are usually easy spot as they rarely travel alone. There were about 50 birds in this flock, the largest I've seen in Prospect Park for a long time. They were perched in a maple tree on the south side of the park entrance above 4 unidentified fruiting trees. Birds always ignore the abundant, bright red fruits of these trees throughout the winter. It isn't until the early Spring that birds finally begin to eat them. Perhaps it takes 3 months of fermenting on the tree for them to soften and become digestible. The waxwings gradually got up their nerve and began decending to the fruit trees. Soon flocks of robins joined the feeding frenzy and the trees that had been decorated soley with bright, red fruit ornaments were accented with splashes of yellow, olive, orange, rust and gray. In that brief moment in time, those small, leafless Spring trees became more colorful than any Autumn trees I've ever experienced.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"


Pamela said...

the waxwings eventually devour in early spring the dried cherries from a flowering variety that line a short street here in town.

I wondered if they ate everything else first -- saved these for last because maybe it isn't their favorite food.

Marie said...

That's a gorgeous photo of the waxwing. A large flock of the lovely birds stopped by my garden in Alexandria, VA, in 1995...they besieged a holly in berry, stayed for some minutes, and then left. They made quite an impression to someone recently arrived from the southern hemsiphere.

Leah Labrecque said...

I just wanted to tell you I really enjoy reading your entries. I check at least once a week for new ones. Also, your photos are gorgeous! I'm a new birder/blogger myself, so I hope you don't mind if I link to your blog from mine. Please let me know if you'd like me to take down the link and keep up the good work!


Rob Jett said...

Leah - Thank you for your kind words and welcome to my obsession. Linking is always appreciated.

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