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Friday, February 27, 2004

Prospect Park with Sean S.

Sean and I went looking for the Red-tailed Hawks today for photo-ops and to try and confirm this year's nest location. We were successful on both counts.

We started off at the Vale of Cashmere and I lead Sean on a tour of some of the hawk's favorite north end hunting spots. On Wednesday Sean noticed one of the hawks at the nest near Rick's Place so we headed over towards Payne Hill to check it out. This is the nest that I noticed them building back on January 17th.

The nest was empty when we arrived but Sean spotted one of the hawks perched nearby. It appeared to be scanning the ground below for prey. Sean found a good spot to set-up his camera and I walked to a location where I could watch both the hunter and his nest. When the hawk obligingly dropped down to a lower perch we moved a little closer hoping to see a kill. I've been seeing and hearing a few chipmunks around the park lately awakening from their winter nap. Perhaps these little rodents were the object of this hawks intense, searching eyes. He didn't seem to mind our proximity or another person who walked almost directly beneath his low perch. After about 30 minutes his mate returned to the nest and called for him. She also made a low, muted peeping sound that reminded me of begging hatchlings. She slowly walked around the top of the growing stick construction as if she were a building inspector. She then flew to a tree nearby where she began pulling on a large, dead branch to add to her nest. The piece of wood was so large that she had some trouble getting it to the nest. She briefly landed in a small, adjacent tree. It looked like she was trying to figure out the easiest path to take and eventually dragged it up to the nest and carefully weaved into her new nursery. She then joined her mate below. They flew to a branch above the sidewalk, quickly copulated then sat side by side for a few minutes staring off at the Long Meadow. I've tried to illustrate in words the extreme difference in size and shape between these two birds and I think that Sean was able to snap off some shots of them together before they took off. Hopefully, he got some nice comparison photos.

The pine tree nest, which is only about 100 yards from "Big Mama's" nest was empty today. It should be interesting to watch the interaction between these two closely nesting pairs, it's a wonder that they tolerate each other at all. The only other Red-tailed Hawk we observed today was an immature over Breeze Hill. It looked like it had taken quite a beating as it had many missing or broken feathers on its left wing. As we were watching it the adult pair, which had been soaring over the Nethermead, began approaching. All of a sudden the adult male tucked in his wings and accelerated at tremendous speed directly towards the young bird. He appeared to slam into the bird near the Oriental Pavilion then casually returned to his mate, still circling nearby. The immature bird flew slowly along the Lullwater below the treetops and perched near the Terrace Bridge to lick its wounds. He has unusually dark, practically black, facial feathers and his left wing looks pretty beat-up. While he appears to be able to fly just fine, he seems to be having trouble "getting the message".

Two other bird sightings of possible interest today were four Ring-necked Ducks dozing on the lake near the "Thumb" and a naked women wrapped in an American flag being photographed near the upper pond.
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Prospect Park, 2/27/2004
Brant (28, Prospect Lake.)
Mute Swan (2.)
Northern Shoveler (Abundant, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (4, Prospect Lake.)
Hooded Merganser (2, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 immature.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
American Robin
Chipping Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (1, Lullwater.)
American Goldfinch (18, Lamppost #249.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan (2.), American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove (~12.), Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.), Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow (2.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Prospect Park

It seems like "my" hawks are once again playing hide-and-seek with me, trying to keep the location of this year's nest a secret. The north zoo nest is unused but last year's first attempt in an elm tree looks like it's been recently expanded. I've observed them actively courting and on Sunday the male tempted his larger mate with a rat as he lead her on a chase around the Long Meadow.

Today I located the large female perched low, in the wind break of "Elizabeth's tuliptree" at the north end of Nelly's Lawn. I sat in the blowing, wet snow on a park bench beneath a pair of Beech trees and watched her. I spotted her mate in the distance as he preened under the umbrella of a pine tree at the edge of the lawn. After a few minutes she dropped down to a branch a little closer to me. Five minutes later she moved a bit closer. I wondered if she understood that the circular, bare patches in the leaf litter below her were caused by squirrels digging for their buried caches. After about 10 minutes of scanning the ground she flew to the park bench on the opposite side of the path from me. She perched on the top wooden rung and we silently stared at each other in the light snow fall. The words from an old Simon and Garfunkle song popped into my head; "Old friends, winter companions...sharing a park bench quietly." Her mate called and flew from the pine tree to a branch above my head. She eventually turned around on her perch and began looking down at the bottom of a black cherry tree adjacent to the bench. It looked like it had a large rat hole at its base. She hopped to the ground, bent over and looked inside the hole. She then flew up into the tree and checked inside a squirrel hole. Nobody was home so she flew up into the tulip tree where she was joined by her mate. They briefly copulated then flew off towards Sullivan Hill.

The inclement weather probably made their usual method of hunting very difficult. I was able to follow them on foot as they hunted from low perches around Nelly's Lawn, Sullivan Hill, Battle Pass and Payne Hill. I wasn't able to confirm the location of this year's nest yet.

On Prospect Lake, much of the ice has receded on the main body of water. The freed lake has invited the most diverse gathering of waterfowl that I have seen in the park in many months. The highlight was a pair of Ring-necked Ducks and three Common Merganser. Land bird numbers, however, have dropped dramatically in the last couple of weeks. On recent walks through the wooded sections of park I've only been able to locate a few, very small mixed flocks of birds.
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Prospect Park, 2/24/2004
Pied-billed Grebe (2, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (2, Prospect Lake.)
Wood Duck (1, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (Abundant, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (2, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (1 hen, Prospect Lake.)
Hooded Merganser (5, Prospect Lake.)
Common Merganser (3 drakes, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (~30, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 juvenile.)
American Coot (Prospect Lake.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1, Rose Garden.)
Downy Woodpecker (2, Rose Garden.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (1, Rose Garden.)
White-throated Sparrow

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (3.), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (2, Rose Garden.), Blue Jay, American Crow (3, Prospect Lake.), Tufted Titmouse (2, Rose Garden.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal

Friday, February 20, 2004

Prospect Park

I took a quick lunchtime walk through the park to check on the hawk nests. I was disappointed that the north zoo nest was empty and I couldn't find any red-tails in the area. I felt a little better when I found the Ravine pair busy working on their nest. They have returned to last year's nest at the top of a large pine tree. When I walked out onto the Nethermead Meadow I spotted the other pair soaring above Lookout Hill. Perhaps they weren't working on their nest because they were too busy chasing a juvenile red-tailed. At one point a Cooper's Hawk joined in the mini "kettle". After the mated red-tails successfully chased off the young hawk I watched them playfully tussling low over Lookout Hill. Near the Maryland Monument they talon grappled for a moment and came so close to the ground that I thought they were going to crash.

Also of note today were two drake Ring-necked Ducks on Prospect Lake.
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Prospect Park, 2/20/2004
Double-crested Cormorant (Flying over Prospect Lake.)
American Wigeon (1.)
Northern Shoveler (Abundant.)
Ring-necked Duck (2 drakes on lake.)
Hooded Merganser (2.)
Ruddy Duck
Cooper's Hawk (Immature.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults, 1 immature.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Hairy Woodpecker (Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Brown Creeper (Vale of Cashmere.)
Northern Mockingbird (Wellhouse.)
Fox Sparrow (2.)
White-throated Sparrow
Rusty Blackbird (5, Lullwater behind rink.)
American Goldfinch (Vale.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Prospect Park

I guess we're experiencing the late-winter doldrums. Except for three, small oases of bird activity the park was pretty parched. This winter's unusual deep freeze has even limited the expected winter waterfowl on the lake. A flock of over 300 Canada Geese stopped at the lake only briefly as the size of the opening in the water is still constrained by the ice.

There doesn't appear to be any new construction on either of the Red-tailed Hawk nests. I located the north zoo woods pair perched side by side in a conifer overlooking Nelly's Lawn. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker seemed agitated by their presence and "mewed" continuously while hopping around the trunk below them.

As I stood at the edge of the lake scanning waterfowl the large gathering of gulls suddenly lifted off the ice and began circling like a giant feathered tornado. I searched the sky and spotted an immature Red-tailed Hawk soaring high above the flock. Just to the north, an adult pair slowly rode the thermals above Lookout Hill. The larger of the two then broke formation and started flapping hard towards the young bird over the lake. It took a few minutes but eventually the adult hawk ascended to a short distance above the immature bird. It folded its wings back and dove headlong into the other bird. For five minutes it continued its attack, climbing and diving, climbing and diving. With each dive it pushed the young hawk further south and away from the park. Was this an unsuspecting interloper or one of last year's offspring finally being driven off so that its parents can begin the breeding cycle? There have been a couple of young red-tails hanging around since last year, I wonder why they were allowed to stay for so long.

Also of interest today was a Common Merganser on Prospect Lake and 5 Rusty Blackbirds in the Lullwater behind the rink.
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Prospect Park, 2/17/2004
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
American Wigeon (5, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (Abundant.)
Common Merganser (Male, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (17, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults, 1 immature.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull (approx. 2000, Prospect Lake.)
Great Black-backed Gull (27, Prospect Lake.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2, Vale of Cashmere.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Vale of Cashmere.)
Brown Creeper (Vale of Cashmere.)
American Tree Sparrow (1, upper Lullwater.)
Fox Sparrow (6, Vale of Cashmere; 4, upper Lullwater.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
Dark-eyed Junco (20, Breeze Hill feeder.)
Red-winged Blackbird (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Rusty Blackbird (5, upper Lullwater.)
American Goldfinch (Vale of Cashmere.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose (300), Mute Swan (3), American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull (200+), Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (5), Downy Woodpecker (3), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (2), Tufted Titmouse (5), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (2), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Shawangunk NWR & Croton Pt. Park with Shane B. & Ron E.

After reading Chris Lyons' and others reports on Shawangunk NWR (formerly known as Galeville Airport) Shane, Ron and I decided to take a drive up on Sunday. Although the weather reports called for milder temperatures than we've been experiencing it was still pretty frigid most of the day. On the way up we also stopped at Croton Point Park and George's Island to look for Tundra Swan and to get a Bald Eagle fix.

At Croton Point we were unable to locate any Tundra Swans but the eagles were sure out in force. There were many more in the area than when I lead a trip on January 10th. At George's Island we counted at least 17, most of which were adults. Also, just as I observed on 1/10 Bald Eagles have a taste for waterfowl. We watched a juvenile hover momentarily above the water waiting for a diving Common Merganser to return to the surface. It made an impressive effort trying to chase down the merganser but, ultimately, the duck was much more agile and out maneuvered it.

We arrived at Shawangunk NWR between 2:30 and 3:00pm. There was little or no bird activity on the trail to the runways but when we got out to the grasslands we spotted a light morph Rough-legged Hawk standing on the ground at the north end. As we watched it hunting along that end of the refuge it was occasionally joined by a second rough-legged. The field guides always show how small their feet are but the point was driven home when one perched on the telephone line. It looked odd seeing such a large raptor easily doing what appeared to be a tightrope act.

When we didn't see any Short-eared Owls we walked back to the car to warm up for a little while. By about 3:30pm a lot of cars began arriving. I found out later that a local newpaper published a story about the owls and over 20 locals came out to take a look. There was also a small group of birders with a leader from The John Burroughs Natural History Society. The leader was very knowledgeable and told us that the owls came out before dusk.

We joined the rest of the people and, while waiting for some activity, we spotted an Iceland Gull flying low above us. There is a dump nearby that attracts lots of gulls to the area so it's a good idea to check them out if you go to Shawangunk NWR. Anyway, by about 4:10pm, while the sun was still bright, Ron spotted the first owl flying in from the southwest corner of the field. A moment later another one, then a few minutes passed and I spotted four more in close formation. We ultimately counted 8 Short-eared Owls and all of them flew in from the same direction. The gentleman from John Burroughs said that they roost at the Blue Chip Farms down the road.

For the next 30 minutes we were mesmerized by all the owls coursing back and forth above the grass. Sometimes they'd perch on the small, bare shrubs that dot the field or the small trees at the south end near where they'd entered. The rough-leggeds seemed to peacefully coexist with the owls but when a harrier arrived near dusk they reacted very differently. Two of the owls immediately went after the harrier at the south end of the grassland and tried to drive it off. Just as a side note, I'd never observed Short-eared Owls in such intense sunlight and was surprised at how bright white the undersides of the males appeared.

As evening approached one of the female owls perched in a tree at the end of the trail giving us all great looks. The setting sun gave her tawny plumage a soft warm glow and her black, triangular eye patches set off a pair of brilliant, yellow eyes that looked like two searchlights in the fading light. It was an incredible experience that I highly recommend.

For more information:
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Shawangunk NWR & Croton Pt./George's Is. - 2/8/2004
Great Cormorant (Croton)
Turkey Vulture (Shawangunk)
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall (1, Croton)
American Black Duck
Bufflehead (Croton)
Common Merganser (Croton/George's)
Bald Eagle (25-30, Croton; 1, Shawangunk)
Northern Harrier (1, Shawangunk)
Red-tailed Hawk (both)
Rough-legged Hawk (2 light morph, Shawangunk)
American Coot (Croton)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull (Shawangunk)
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Short-eared Owl (8, Shawangunk)
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker (Shawangunk)
Blue Jay
American Crow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (George's Is.)
Eastern Bluebird (near Walden)
Hermit Thrush (Shawangunk)
European Starling
Northern Mockingbird
American Tree Sparrow (many, Croton)
Song Sparrow (Croton)
Dark-eyed Junco (Croton)
Northern Cardinal
blackbird sp. (flock, Shawangunk)
House Sparrow

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Prospect Park

Some people may think it's crazy but I love tree squirrel vocalizations. They make a wide range of squeaks, squeals and chirps that mean nothing to humans but that I assume other animals can understand. There is one sound, however, that I recognize. It's a low volume, two-part "chuck squeal" that means, "I see you sitting there Mr. Hawk and you're not going to have a chance to eat me." When I was walking over Battle Pass today I heard that sound and began looking for the hawk. I couldn't find the hawk right away but when I located the squealing squirrel I just looked in the direction that he was facing. Two Red-tailed Hawks were perched directly above my head. Sitting shoulder to shoulder, they seemed to be involved in a staring contest with the squirrel. They eventually gave up and flew off after a rabbit near the entrance to the Midwood.

The flying hawks flushed up a nice mixed flock of birds near Rick's Place. They were mostly the expected winter species but it was nice to see the activity during an otherwise quiet, uneventful day. The rain and snow melt has created a few new ponds on the Nethermead and Long Meadow, attracting small flocks of ducks. On the Nethermead, two drake Gadwall circled then dropped in for a few minutes. One of the Gadwall's wing feathers were askew when he landed showing off a bronzy, orange patch in front of the speculum. I've never noticed it before today.

Also of note today was a single American Pipit calling while it circled above Breeze Hill and a female Red-breasted Merganser on Prospect Lake.
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Prospect Park, 2/7/2004
Gadwall (2 drakes on Nethermead Meadow.)
Northern Shoveler
Red-breasted Merganser (female, Three Sisters Is. Seen by Steve N.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults, 1 imm.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2, Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
American Pipit (Circling above Breeze Hill.)
Chipping Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch (15-20, Rick's Pl.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose (200), Mute Swan (3), American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (2), Blue Jay, American Crow (2), Black-capped Chickadee (3), Tufted Titmouse (5), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Prospect Park

Steve phoned me today to let me know that there was a Canvasback on Prospect Lake. A rare sighting in Prospect Park, it seems like the one-day-a-year visitor is always spotted by Steve! I tried to get him to admit that he keeps one in a bathtub at home and brings it out once a year but he wouldn't say a word.

Five Common Merganser were still present on the lake but by around 2pm they took off, flying in the direction of Green-wood Cemetery.

There was very little passerine activity along Quaker Ridge when I checked, most likely due to a female Merlin perched near the Nethermead Arches. Also of possible interest today was a single Cedar Waxwing feeding in a Viburnum (?) next to the upper pond. It was eating the shrub's dark orange berries and, when it had its back to me, I noticed something odd. The tip of the central tail feathers were orange instead of yellow. Some field guides say that the color variation is diet related so I guess it must be due to those orange berries it is eating.

I had an interesting observation yesterday. A group of us spotted a Red-tailed Hawk eating a rodent in a tree above the bridle path. The raptor had just begun to dine and was spending a considerable amount of time trying to eat the tail end first. I thought it was kind of funny that it decided to start at the back end of the rat instead of, say, the head, especially since it looked rather difficult. Then it occurred to me that here was an animal that truly "didn't give a rat's ass."
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Prospect Park, 2/1/2004
American Wigeon (5.)
Northern Shoveler (Abundant.)
Canvasback (1, Prospect Lake. Rob J., Steve N., Arleen O.)
Common Merganser (Prospect Lake, 4 Drake, 1 hen.)
Ruddy Duck (15.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 or 4.)
Merlin (Center Dr.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull (Abundant.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Fish Crow (5, flying south over lake.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2, Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Cedar Waxwing (In Viburnums next to upper pond.)
Fox Sparrow (3.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird (5, next to Three Sisters Is.)
American Goldfinch (3.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow (3.), Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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