Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Red-tailed Hawk Journals

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

Saturday, 6 April, 2002

On a field trip to Prospect Park last year around this date the temperature made it into the mid-50's. Today we had early morning wind chills in the mid-20's. We also had a sprinkling of snow at around noon. I kept thinking that the flakes were small petals falling from the trees as I refused to accept that it was actually snowing on a spring field trip. Thankfully, the birds didn't really seem to mind.

We found a nice mix of dwindling winter visitants and early migrants in the park today.

I enjoy this seasonal "twilight zone" for a number of reasons. The primary one being that the winter species that have been quiet for months have begun singing and changing plumage. At the Vale of Cashmere a Fox Sparrow sitting out in the open serenaded us with its melodious warble. In the Midwood a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos included some trilling individuals. Many of the Ruddy Ducks on the lake have completely changed over to their chestnut plumage and azure bills.

Most participants on today's trip probably came in search of early spring migrants and there were a few of those. Near Grand Army Plaza, at the north entrance to the park, some of the folks who had arrived early spotted three Pine Warblers. We located a couple more later on in the Lullwater. Also in the Lullwater were Palm and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Near the water fountain just passed the Terrace Bridge we spotted a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher within a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets, the latter of which were seen (or heard) in fairly good numbers throughout the day. A second gnatcatcher was observed in the Ravine. Other early arrivals included Tree Swallows over the lake and an unidentified empidonax flycatcher near the back of the skating rink.

Some folks came today to check in on the exploits of “Squirrelly Knievel” and the nesting Red-tailed Hawks. I explained that it's hit or miss and, unless one spends a bit of time watching the nest, it can get a little boring. For the ten minutes we were there it was uneventful.

I assumed that it was the male on the nest for one reason. As I noted in past reports the male is considerably smaller than the female. When the female in on the nest her head, tail and the top of her body are clearly seen from ground level. When the male is on the nest he is much more difficult to see, in fact, sometimes you have to look very closely to see just his tail showing.

While watching one of the hawks soaring over the Long Meadow at the end of the trip it suddenly went into a low dive towards something near Garfield Place. Moments later it returned towards us with two crows hot on its heels. The big baby cried out as it virtually skimmed the heads of a group of people playing soccer on the meadow. Nobody looked up. As the hawk made a sharp right turn and headed into the trees near the nest I began to wonder what type of spectacle it takes to grab most New Yorker's attention.

Also of note today were two Turkey Vultures soaring over the Peninsula and Prospect Lake.

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