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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Breeding, Botanics & Migrants

As we approach the Vernal Equinox, changes in the plants and animals around the city have become more apparent. Over a period of just one week I've noticed an abrupt transition in emerging botanics, arriving migrants and early nesters.

Last week I took a walk around Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park to check on the hawks. Big Mama and Junior, the resident Red-tailed Hawks in the cemetery, were adding branches to their annual nest in a linden tree. Miraculously, the huge construction survived all of this past winter's snowstorms intact. Nelly and Max, Prospect Park's newest resident red-tails, were working on their nest at Nelly's Lawn. As of Tuesday, neither pair has begun incubating eggs. There also didn't seem to be any activity at the Ravine hawk nest.

Bethany was in town for 5 days. I took off on Tuesday and we spent several hours hiking around Green-Wood Cemetery, Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Unexpectedly warm weather had melted nearly all of the snow from our most recent storms. It felt like Spring and there was lots of activity in the air. Scaffolding that had been installed around the spires at the main entrance to the cemetery last Spring has finally been removed. Like workers on a tight schedule, the resident Monk Parakeets (who had been evicted from their huge nests) were working feverishly, rebuilding their nests on the sandstone towers.

Ten minutes into our walk, I stopped to examine the flower catkins on a Turkish Hazel tree. It was on a ridge opposite the Pierpont family's hillside plot. After I took a few photos, we began walking towards the valley between the ridges. We had only taken a few steps and were startled by the sound of whistling wings as an American Woodcock flew from the leaves in front of us. Skittering just barely above the ground, the odd little bird came to rest a short distance up the hill, where we had great looks at this early migrant. Courtship displays have probably already commenced at their annual leks.

The highlight of our walk was finding one of the Great Horned Owls sitting in a nest. We were really disappointed last year when the owl pair abandoned their nest. Marge and I eventually found out that one of the landscape workers scared the owls into leaving the eggs by parking his truck in front of the nest tree and honking the horn. This year's nest is in a better, more camouflaged location. Hopefully, people will have a little more common sense and leave the owls alone. I was thinking about mounting my Wingscape birdcam near the nest as a security precaution.

Crocus, snowdrops, pussywillow and Witch Hazel were blooming throughout the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Tiny, indistinguishable insects hovered in tight clouds above the lawns and pathways. Crouching down to photograph crocuses, I noticed small, orange bees, possibly Honey Bees, enjoying the sudden abundance of nectar. Several Bee Flies were resting on the unfurling, fluffy flowers of a pussywillow shrub. There were a few Mourning Cloak butterflies flying around within the Botanic Garden. A harbinger of Spring in the northeast, I had seen my season's first this past Sunday in the cemetery.

Sometimes I get a little anxious at this point in the season. Spring can be like a runaway freight train. As the days get longer, the rate of change seems to increase exponentially. One day there may be 40 species of birds in Prospect Park, the next day there could be 100. Tuesday I observed 6 wildflowers and trees flowering, next weekend there could be 20. I suppose the anxiety comes from a fear of possibly missing some of this once-a-year explosion of life.

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Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope