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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hawk Update & Pale Birds

I took another late day walk to survey the Prospect Park hawk nests on Friday. It was March 28th of last year that I first noted Alice incubating eggs at the Ravine nest.

American Robins have arrived in good numbers around Prospect Park and other city parks. Before checking on Alice & Ralph I stopped to scan a flock of about 200 robins on the Long Meadow. I was about halfway through the birds when a white headed individual caught my eye. You may remember last year I posted a photo of a leucistic American Robin that had apparently nested near the Upper Pool. I wondered what the chances were that the bird had returned to breed again in Prospect Park. At home I compared some of the video frames that I shot on Friday to last year's photographs and it is the same bird. Perhaps he never strayed from the park this winter, but he is difficult to overlook and I hadn't seen him in a long time.

One my way towards the Ravine I stopped to photograph some more flowering trees and shrubs. The Cornelian Cherry (which is actually not a cherry, but a dogwood) has begun opening its yellow blossoms. They usually bloom about a week ahead of the forsythias. In the last week the elm buds have opened and unfurled their flowers. The flowers on a young Red Maple at the edge of Payne Hill seemed extraordinarily vibrant. They looked like tiny, exploding fireworks.

I took my spot for the last 7 years above Rocky Pass and settled in to watch Alice & Ralph's nest for about 45 minutes. Neither hawk showed. Much of my time was spent watching a pair of phoebes hawking for insects. I could also see the Lower Pool from my lookout and there were six Ring-necked Ducks and a Wood Duck present.

I had the same experience at Nelly's lawn when I checked in on Nelly and Max's nest. The large, pale-headed female hawk was perched in the towering Tuliptree at the north end of the meadow and the nest was vacant. My route back home went over the Boulder Bridge and back through the Ravine. I wanted to check on Alice & Ralph one last time. As I walked over the bridge a small, juvenile Red-tailed Hawk flew into the woods behind me. He perched just above the edge of the bridge and I had time to shoot a short video. It was the very pale headed individual that I've noticed in both Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. Possibly one of Alice & Ralph's offspring from last year, I can't be certain. I'm not sure how much longer the adults will tolerate a youngster hanging around their nest woods. As soon as Alice is on eggs they'll no doubt begin to chase him away.

At about 4pm on Saturday I went back into Prospect Park to check the hawk nests. Alice & Ralph still haven't begun incubating eggs in the Ravine, but I had a different experience at Nelly's Lawn. Nelly was standing in the nest, preening. She worked on her body feathers for about 10 minutes, then began fiddling about with something in the nest, between her feet. Fluffing out her feathers, she gently sat down in the nest, rocking slightly from side to side as she got comfortable. She was still on the nest when I left 45 minutes later. The Ravine nest was still unused. This time instead of watching phoebes, I watched a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers chasing each other around the woods. The female eventually came to rest on a branch a few yard away from where I was watching the hawk nest. Her mate landed on her back and they copulated. Then they did something unexpected. I've spent a lot of time looking at wildlife in the last 12 years and, as strange as it may sound, have happened on many birds mating during the Spring. The act usually only lasts about 3 seconds, after which the male departs. The Hairy Woodpeckers were different, though. After several seconds of the usual fluttering about, they stopped and lingered in that position for a few moments. Avian postcoital bliss? Who knew?

Anyway, two hawk pairs down, one more to go.

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