Saturday, March 01, 2008

Winter flowers, March and Hawks

At about noon on Friday I walked up to the park to check on the hawk nest. Hawks will sometimes start work on one nest then change their minds and settle on another location. Alice and Ralph have been using the same pine tree location for 5 years. Scott and I did witness them working on it last week, but I wanted to be certain that they hadn't moved to another spot.

The Winter Aconite flowers on the south-facing hillside in the Ravine have opened creating a beaming, yellow patch along the mostly brown incline. Another yellow flower, witch-hazel, is also blooming. Unlike the aconite, witch-hazel is widespread throughout the park. Within the next couple of weeks we should begin to see another blossoming yellow flower - cornelian cherry. I wonder if it's just a coincidence that the first flowers are yellow in color.

I walked over the Boulder Bridge towards the Midwood. My thought was that from the top of the ridge I would be able to see the Red-tailed Hawk pair coming from all directions. There was no way for me to tell if they had added more material to the nest since my last visit. I sat down on a Black Cherry log to wait. While waiting for the hawks I noticed that the one end of the log had a line of about 10 vivid scarlet fungi; Cinnabar Red Polypore. In the bright sunshine, their brilliance almost makes them look artificial.

I had an appointment in the city, so I couldn't watch the nest for very long. There was no sign of the hawks for an hour.

I went back into the park on Saturday morning determined to take some photographs of Ralph working on the pine tree nest. The weather was changing minute to minute. It started out sunny and warm, then the clouds rolled in and the winds kicked up. Ten minutes later the sun would be back out. For the three hours that I watched the nest, the clouds wavered from little, puffy patches to a thick blanket of gray.

I found a spot to set-up my scope next to a boulder and in the lee of a large oak. There were large flocks of robins already migrating through the park. One flock of about 200 landed in a sweetgum tree. They fed on the few remaining berries from a bittersweet vine that had wrapped around the tree's trunk. I heard the brash "conk-a-reee" song of Red-winged Blackbirds in the cattails surrounding the upper and lower pools. I recognized the sharp "chack" calls from small flocks of grackles passing over my section of woods.

Two hours and I still hadn't seen or heard the Red-tailed Hawks. Maybe it was still a little early in the season. The alder shrubs in the forests have sprouted long, pale green catkins. At least they are right on schedule.

I couldn't sit much longer, so I walked around to various other areas in the woods surrounding the nest. After 5 years, I'm pretty sure I've tried out all vantage points, but it wouldn't hurt to look one more time. Alice and Ralph had picked a perfect spot, that is if they didn't want anyone watching them. I can view the nest fine now, but once the trees leaf out, it's like they've pulled the drapes closed.

After a 3 hour wait and no Red-tailed Hawks, I packed up my gear and went home.

On Sunday, Marge and I went to look for owls. It's getting a little late in the season for Northern Saw-whet Owls as most have begun heading back north. I thought that there was a slight chance we could still find one. There were several location that we planned to check and we were hoping to find Great Horned Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl and Short-eared Owl. Out of respect to the owls and the ABA's Code of Birding Ethics I will not post any directions or locations of roosting or nesting owls. Suffice to say, it was a long morning but we did manage to see a magnificent Great Horned Owl.

Before the sun set we drove over to the Green-Wood Cemetery. Big Mama and Junior's 2007 nest has fallen from the tree and they have not restarted another. We wanted to take a slow drive around the cemetery looking for a new nest. There is an impressive nest a short distance away, but Marge said they built it last year, then decided not to use it. Perhaps they will this year.

While we were in the cemetery we drove over to the pond where the wayward Snow Geese have been staying. Three juvenile birds have joined the resident flock of Canada Geese and Mallards. One of the Snow Goose had a severely injured foot. Marge tried to get it help, but was told she had to catch it, which would have been impossible. The poor animal lost the foot, but has survived. Marge brings him cracked corn and watches him eat as he is considerably thinner than the other geese. I sat on the ground next to this wild bird and watched the interaction of his flock-mates. I was intrigued by what I observed.

Two years ago a Snow Goose with an injured wing appeared in the cemetery near one of the ponds. Her prognosis did seem very good, but Marge kept an eye on her and brought the occasional cracked corn treat. Most of the Canada Goose were relentlessly mean towards the injured bird. They bullied and chased her away from Marge's offering. Her wing has healed, somewhat, and she has learned to stand up to the threats of the larger geese. Then one day another injured Snow Goose arrived at the same pond in the cemetery. I would think that the, now healthy, adult Snow Goose would look after the younger bird. Guess again. If I hadn't been sitting protecting "Stumpy" while she ate, the older goose would have chased her away. At times, even when I was sitting only 2 feet away, that ungrateful Snow Goose would try and intimidate the poor thing. Some Mother Goose she turned out to be!

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

1 comment:

Marie said...

Wonderful owl picture!

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