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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Red-tailed Hawk Journals

Excerpt from "The Red-tailed Hawk Journals: A City Birder in Brooklyn":

Thursday, 4 April, 2002

It's been about a week since I last reported on the Red-tailed Hawks primarily because the pair has settled into a rather mundane routine.

With one hawk continuously minding the egg or eggs I've found it sometimes a bit tedious to watch. The regularly repeated observations have been along these lines:

hawk sitting on nest; hawk turns around and repositions itself; squirrel snoops around nest; mate arrives with food; (or alternately) mate arrives with stick; hawks change places on nest.

I first met my friend Valerie Heldt on a Brooklyn Bird Club field trip. She is a very independent person and one of a handful of regular birders in Prospect Park. We cross paths frequently whether in the field or at one of New York City’s various conservation organizations’ meetings.

On more than one occasion I have heard non-birders make unflattering, stereotyping comments regarding “birdwatcher’s” attire. Valerie, however, is a fashion designer and, if there is even an iota of truth to those rumors, then her impeccable dress and flowing red hair make her a standout in a field of floppy hats and birding vests.

Regarding that snooping squirrel I’ve been seeing; in an e-mail I received from Valerie on 3/30 she wrote "...while I was there, a squirrel crept up to the bottom edge of the nest! He didn't climb up into the nest, and he didn't take anything...Either there are several foolhardy squirrels, or the stripped clean one was another one altogether and the one I saw was Squirrely Knievel, alive and well!"

This past Monday I also observed our furry friend slowly climbing up the tree and nervously approaching the edge of the nest. As an adolescent I remember how one might make a friend "flinch" by first making a fist and then jerking your shoulder back as if you were going to hit them. Similarly, the Red-tailed Hawk sitting on the nest merely jerked one wing up causing the squirrel to scamper away and pin itself to the underside of a branch. The relaxed hawk looked as if she had no intension of getting up and tucked her wing back down. Squirrely Knievel slinked away.

Today the patient and, no doubt, hungry female hawk occasionally peered over the side of the nest. Her drive to remain on the nest won out over her desire to eat as she jerked her head back and forth following the movement of a few squirrels on the ground below.

After an hour and a half of watching the nest I decided to check the rest of the park for warblers but just before I left the male arrived and changed places with his mate.

For the last week I've noticed a large, noisy flock of goldfinches in an elm tree near the nest. The squirrels and finches are feasting on abundant, newly emerged flowers in the large tree.

While it may seem as though Prospect Park has many, separate waterways and ponds, they are all actually connected. They begin as a waterfall that splashes into the upper Swanboat Pond, adjacent to the Long Meadow. That tumbles into a smaller, lower pond that drains into a stream that runs through the woods of the Ravine. The water continues winding its way through a small, shallow pond called the “Binnen Waters” and into an untamed, swampy area that local birders have named the “Pagoda Swamp”. The swamp spills onto a small, rocky waterfall that leads to a pond-like opening in front of the Nature Center. The Boathouse Bridge crosses over the far side of the water and delineates the beginning of a narrow, slow moving section named “The Lullwater”. Like a canal between the rise of Breeze Hill to the east and the plateau of the Nethermead Meadow to the west, this straight section ends beneath the Terrace Bridge. The water then begins to widen as it snakes around the Peninsula, passed the skating rink and, finally, funnels out into Prospect Lake.

The area of the Lullwater nearest the Terrace Bridge was one of the most active spots I visited today with Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler and three or four Pine Warblers. There were also creepers, chickadees and a Hermit Thrush in that same area. Golden-crowned Kinglet numbers appear to be on the rise as I observed three hyperactive flocks in the Ravine, the Lullwater and along Center Drive.

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