Saturday, February 28, 2009

Unusual Hawk at Ridgewood Reservoir

I've always been fascinated by nature and the environment, but it wasn't until I moved to Brooklyn that I became interested in birds. A Red-tailed Hawk that I observed in Prospect Park was the beast that started me down that challenging road called "birding".

Shortly after I became aware of urban Red-tailed Hawks, I started to notice other birds of prey in my local park. Identifying them seemed like an exercise in futility as they would disappear over the hills or into the woods moments after I got them in my bins. Naively, I remember thinking, "If I could only find one perched in a tree, it would be really easy to determine the species". Fourteen years (and many misidentified raptors) later, I've learned that, in most cases, a hawk in flight is actually much easier to identify than one that is perched in a tree. Yesterday I had an experience that was a clear reminder of that lesson.

I had spent several hours wrestling with a frustrating computer problem and decided I needed to clear my head. Cycling sometimes helps to give me a fresh perspective, so I hopped on my bike and pedaled to the Ridgewood Reservoir. When I got to Highland Park I rode around the bike path that surrounds the three basins. During my last lap, a hawk flew out of a small patch of woods adjacent to Highland Boulevard. It headed straight towards me, only a few feet above the pathway, then over the fence and into the forested 3rd basin. I had assumed by the general shape and brown streaks, that it was a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. I glanced over my left shoulder and saw that it perched fairly close and it wasn't a red-tail. Rather than a belt of vertical streaks across the belly, this bird was streaked from the chin to the belly. The raptor stayed on his perch when I walked back to get a better look.

The reservoir basins are approximated 40 feet below the level of the bike path. A forest growing up from the floor gives one an unusual perspective for viewing birds in the trees; almost like a canopy walkway. So, when I stuck my bins into the openings in the cyclone fence to look at the hawk, we were actually eye-to-eye. He had an usually long tail, but I was fairly certain he wasn't an accipiter. He faced me so I couldn't see the pattern on his back or wings. I started to run down in my head all the likely brown, streaky raptors; goshawk, sharp-shinned, cooper's, harrier, red-shouldered, broad-winged. I had all the time in the world to examine this hawk, but still couldn't be 100% certain of its identity. I even had enough time to shoot a short video through my binoculars. After what seemed like an eternity in birding terms, the hawk spun around and took off, down into the interior of the wet forest. For a brief second, I had the rare viewpoint of looking down on the bird's back and upper wings. He had pale panels near the ends of his wings.

The habitat, alone, should have given me a hint to the bird's ID, but had he not flown, I might still be scratching my head. What do you think it is?

8 comments:

Wisconsin Birder said...

I'm still learning my birds of prey but I would guess that this is a juvenile sharp-shinned?

Rob Jett said...

Nope, but good guess.

Ben said...

Northern Harrier?

Rob Jett said...

Nope. Harrier's have facial disks, kind of like an owl, plus, they usually aren't found in a forest.

Alex Wilson said...

Had a similar experience with a young Red-shouldered Hawk that hung around Calvert Vaux Park from at least 1/25 to 2/7/09 (and with a Red-tail the next week.) A picture is at the bottom of my CVP page:
http://www.digitalmediatree.com/arboretum/vauxlist/
Certainly the most likely candidate for location and date once you decide it’s not an accipiter.
Best,
Alex Wilson

Silversalty said...

Once again off topic, but good for a laugh. Unusual red-tailed tree nesters.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1155884/Pictured-Family-foxes-sets-penthouse-home--30ft-tree.html

Just a "layman's guess" based on searching the Cornell site - either a red-shouldered hawk or (what's listed as slightly smaller) a broad-winged hawk.

I had a first sighting for me of a red-breasted merganser at the east end of Coney Island Creek. I wasn't paying any attention to it at first. It was just below me but was "ducking" it's head in the manner of a feeding duck that are regulars to that part of the creek. I was looking for the belted kingfisher up near the highway structure. Then when I looked back at where the "duck" was there was just a ripple in the water. I checked the sky for a flying duck but I couldn't see any. Looking around for the reappearance of a diving duck also gave no result. I'd lost sight of a great blue heron there a few months back that I thought was flying from one side of the creek to the other, only to completely disappear somehow, so I was not that surprised to have a bird seemingly vanish. But then up popped a bird from the murky creek water with a reddish pointy beak and "punk" look to the feathers at the back of its head. Unfortunately it spotted me at the same time and quickly paddled away and then took off.

Matthew said...

Sibley refers to the translucent crescent on the wings of the juvie red-shouldered. Wheeler in Raptors of Eastern N. America calls it a tawny crescent-shape panel on outer 6 primaries.

Rob Jett said...

And the winner is ... RED-SHOULDERED HAWK!

The pale supercillium and faint malar stripe pointed the way, but the tawny windows on the wings really clinched the ID.

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