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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

It was a good morning in Prospect Park

A portrait of Bebe

In recent weeks I've begun noticing flocks of fledgling House Sparrows and starlings gathering in the mowed grass on the Long Meadow. As the noisy young birds chase insects and each other I thought about the activities of an adjacent species. Orange school buses now line Prospect Park West. Flocks of school children toss balls, frisbees and chase each other next to the young birds. I guess play is an important part of learning to survive for many species.

I waited for Sean in front of the flicker nest at the edge of the Midwood. Down to my right I heard the alarm calls of robins and Blue Jays. I assumed that they were caused by the three fledgling hawks from the Ravine nest. The high-pitched cries of young Red-tailed Hawks echoing through the woods confirmed it. There was a churning sensation in my stomach pulling me towards the sound. I wanted badly to leave and run after the hawks but I promised Sean that I'd be near the nest so he wouldn't have any trouble finding it.

Within the dark interior of the flicker nest cavity I could make out the profile of a young bird peering out at me. The sounds to my right began to quiet down just as the adult male flicker arrived at the nest hole in front of me. The woodpecker nestlings are getting large and one bird blocks most of the opening at feeding time. The fine grey feathers on its head and neck make it look as if its been carved out of driftwood. A second young bird could barely get its head out of the hole for food. I wondered how they learn to fly. The hawks can stretch their wings and practice on branches around their nest. The woodpeckers, however, are forced to take a leap of faith from the confines of their cramped, four week homestead. The nestling hogging all the food is very developed and frequently perched at the edge of the hole. He'll probably fledge in a day or two.

Papa flicker feeding the brood

Just before Sean arrived I began hearing the familiar sounds of hawk activity in the woods far to my left. I thought Bebe and Alto must be annoying the neighbors. That anxious feeling began trying to pull me away from the flicker nest again. I recommended that Sean bring his camera gear over to Sullivan Hill for the hawks and we'd come back to the nest later. We found both Bebe and Alto perched in their favorite oak tree adjacent to the mud puddle. Bebe was tearing into a robin-sized bird and would drop his wings whenever Alto would try to get close. This mantling posture is meant to protect his food. At one point Bebe let his guard down and Alto got a hold of the bird. Bebe had a firm hold on his meal with one foot and, for a few minutes, a tug-o-war game ensued. Bebe lost the meal to his larger sister and flew to an adjacent branch to rest.

Alto stealing Bebe's lunch

A group of five and six year-old children were in the area with a class called the "Park Explorers". They were collecting worms and insects with their teacher but they seemed a bit more interested in what Sean and I were watching. I had a laser pointer with me that I used to direct the kids towards Bebe and Alto. Alto noticed the red dot on the limb below her and followed it back and forth with her head. As we were watching Split-tail flew in and landed directly above us. The kids loved it. The group got even more excited when Split-tail took off flying through the woods and one little girl shouted, "Look he's flying!"

Wood Thrush working on a second brood

I brought Sean to the Wood Thrush nest in the Midwood. A female is now sitting on eggs. I assume that this will be her second brood. A short distance south of where Sean was shooting photos of the thrush were loud calls from the second group of young hawks. It sounded like at least one hawk was directly above the bridle path in a large tuliptree but we couldn't find it. When it would stop calling I whistled an imitation and it would call back. We circled the area for a few minutes following the sound. When he would stop I'd whistle and he'd call back. We eventually gave up looking. I felt guilty that I was teasing the poor hawk plus we already had plenty of great observations and photos for the day to share with everyone.

-click to hear a young hawk-

- - - - -
Prospect Park, 6/29/2004
Great Egret (Flying above upper pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 fledglings.)
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker (4, Midwood.)
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker (Heard in Midwood.)
Northern Flicker (2 adults, 3 nestlings.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (Calling in Midwood.)
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo (Singing at Payne Hill.)
Wood Thrush (Female sitting on nest in Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Flock flycatching dragonflies over upper pool.)
Common Grackle

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard (Upper pool.), Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Heard at Payne Hill.), Tufted Titmouse (Heard in Midwood.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

(All Photos credit - Sean Sime)

Friday, June 25, 2004

After this morning's fun

Robin and I were supposed to go to one of my client's company picnic in the park after work. When we got there we found out that it was cancelled so we decided to pay a visit to Bebe and Alto.

They weren't in the vicinity of the puddle but we heard some commotion near the stairway at Battle Pass. It's a short walk away and Robin spotted Bebe almost immediately perched in a tree to the right of the stairs. He was whining. A moment later Alto flew down to the ground from her perch above Bebe. We followed down a steep dirt path towards the Midwood. Halfway down the hill I told Robin to stop and look to her right. Alto was sitting on the ground a few feet to Robin's right with a partially eaten pigeon in her talons. She stared at us with her hackles up and mouth open so we backed off and watched her eat from a safe distance. Bebe, who had flown to a branch above Alto, begged for a bit of bird but I got the impression that she wasn't in a sharing mood.

Good Things Come in Threes

There is a saying that "All Good Things Come in Threes". Now I don't know how accurate that rule is but it certainly was this morning's theme in Prospect Park.

Big Dave hasn't spent much time photographing the hawks this season due to serious back problems. He's been feeling well enough lately that he decided to meet me this morning. It also helped that he's been trying to find an active flicker nest for a few years and I enticed him with a "definite" photo opportunity.

I met Big Dave near the Binnen Waters as he was setting up his camera gear. A few minutes into our conversation I heard a flock of alarmed birds near the horse path a short distance west of us. We walked over and located one of the adult Red-tailed Hawks perched near the back of the recently renovated pond. Dave snapped off a few shots then we started walking back in the direction of the flicker nest. As we were walking I heard the whiny calls of a young Red-tailed Hawk near Center Drive. I was excited as I figured that it was the fledgling from the Ravine pine tree nest. I had only been able to get brief, obstructed views of that nest and wasn't really sure how many young hawks were hatched.

Center Drive runs passed the south edge of the Midwood forest. It is a short flight from the Red-tailed Hawk nest in the Ravine. It is in that area where I located last year's fledgling from that nest. When Dave and I walked out onto Center Drive we immediately spotted the source of the cries. Perched in a huge White Oak overhanging the road were not one or two fledgling hawks but three! My first thought was, how the heck did they all fit in the nest at the top of a pine tree. Then I wondered, how did I manage to overlook them. Two of the young raptors looked pretty large and the third was noticeably smaller and still sported the rusty throat and breast of a younger bird. The most vocal of the hawks was hanging her wings down as Sean and I observed Alto doing on Wednesday. One of the parents flew overhead and deeper into the forest. Two of the fledglings followed.

I showed Dave the flicker nest up above the Midwood but there didn't seem to be any activity in the cavity when we arrived. He set his tripod and we waited. While we were standing around I spotted four or five Tufted Titmouse foraging above us. I put my bins on then and saw one adult titmouse being pursued by three fledglings. One young bird stopped on a branch and sat fluttering its wings - titmouse body language for "feed me". I continued to scan the tree tops above the Midwood for any other bird activity and spotted something that made me do a double-take. Foraging at the top of a large Black Locust tree was a Blue-winged Warbler. This beautiful songbird has obviously lost his map to the breeding grounds.

Eventually, the adult male flicker arrived at the nest hole and three heads immediately popped out. As the father fed his brood I noticed that all of the young now have the characteristic black bib and red "V" on the back of their head. Their head and necks still have a bit of down feathers but it shouldn't be long until they fledge. We stayed for three feedings and a dispute with a neighboring Downy Woodpecker then walked over to Sullivan Hill to find Alto and Bebe.

Hungry flicker brood

(Photo credit - Dave Klang)

Our morning had been going so well that I shouldn't have been surprised that we immediately found Alto. He was standing in the middle of the sidewalk near the puddle. Dave was able to get very close to the young hawk and, as he did, Split-tail flew in and perched above us. Alto was playing with some leaves on the ground and completely ignored us. Bebe must have been close by because there was a group of agitated robins calling to our right. We couldn't stay much longer so after Alto ran down the path and flew up to a low perch we left the hawk family in peace. With nine Red-tailed Hawks in the park I don't think that they will be doing the same for the rodents.

Alto near the mud puddle

(Photo credit - Dave Klang)
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 6/25/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 5 fledglings.)
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker (3, Midwood.)
Downy Woodpecker (2 Midwood.)
Northern Flicker (Midwood. 2 adults, 3 nestlings.)
Eastern Kingbird (Several.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Black-capped Chickadee (2, Midwood.)
Tufted Titmouse (Midwood. 2 adults, 3 fledglings.)
House Wren (Nethermead Arches.)
Wood Thrush (Male singing at Rick's Place, another singing in Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several.)
Blue-winged Warbler (Foraging at the top of a locust tree in Midwood.)
Common Grackle

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Alto acting weird (Photo credit - Sean Sime)

I walked up to the park full of optimism but could never have predicted how the morning's events would unfold.

I decided to start my search for the missing hawk fledglings at the south end of the Ravine and slowly work my way north to Sullivan Hill. Sounds are very important to me when I'm observing nature and I use my ears to listen for anything from leaves crunching to nestling begging calls. I thought that if I was diligent I might be able to locate the hawk fledglings by listening for their whistling chirps or the alarms of agitated songbirds.

As I entered the Ravine I heard the loud "peek" of a Hairy Woodpecker. I tracked it to a male woodpecker clinging to the side of a rotted tree trunk. As he hopped sideways towards a golfball-sized opening I heard the peeping sounds of the young inside the hole. It's the first time I've found a Hairy Woodpecker nest in Prospect Park. As I walked north along the path parallel to the stream I heard the "eee-ooh-lay" of a distant Wood Thrush as well as the shuffling of grackles flipping leaves on the ground to my left.

-click to hear a Wood Thrush-

I crossed the Boulder Bridge and walked to a dirt path overlooking the Midwood. The perspective from high above the forest floor made scanning the towering trees for large birds much easier. Unfortunately, I still couldn't find the hawks. As I continued north I was stopped by the high-pitched begging calls of some unseen birds. To my right was the old, pitted skeleton of a dead Sycamore Maple tree. Hanging onto the side of it was a female Northern Flicker. Her mate was perched at the top of the decapitated tree. Four nestling flickers jostled for position as they all attempted to stick their fuzzy heads out of their nest cavity. I watched the family of woodpeckers for a few moments and then walked to Rick's Place.

At Rick's Place I watched a male Wood Thrush demonstrating to his stubby-tailed offspring how to dig for worms. One of the fledglings immediately benefitted from the lesson with a juicy earthworm. As I was watching I heard a commotion of robin, grackle, vireo and starling calls north of the nest tree. From the urgency of the calls I knew the hawks were nearby. I took a shortcut through the woods and ran towards the sounds. I made a left near a short flight of stairs and continued towards the edge of Sullivan Hill. The sounds became more distant. I turned around and walked back down the stairs. At the north-south intersection of two paths below the stairs is a large muddy puddle. Standing on the ground next to the puddle were Bebe and Alto. They gave me a brief, disinterested glance and went back to cooling off in the water.

They were only a few yards from me and I felt like giggling but I held my laughter in. I watched the two young hawks gingerly dipping their undersides into the water and rocking back and forth. A few minutes later Split-tail flew in from behind me. He was so close to my head that I felt a whoosh of air from his wings. I wondered if he came in so close as an aggressive gesture to protect his young. It became clear that he just wanted to join in the fun. He chased his offspring from the puddle and waded into the water. Unlike the inexperienced birds he plopped right down, lifted his wings and wiggled from side to side. I imagined that he was rinsing his armpits. He then ducked his head under the water a few times. Bebe and Alto stood in the mud at the edge of the water patiently watching their father. When he was done he flew to the snow fencing at the edge of the path and kept a close eye on his young.

The size difference between Bebe and Alto may still be a function of age. The feathers on Bebe's throat and breast are still very rusty in color whereas Alto has lost the dark coloration and it is mostly white. Bebe also still has the round-faced look of a young bird and Alto has the intense, angular head of an adult bird. Perhaps they are a few days apart in age.

The woods on Sullivan Hill are more open than Payne Hill. A twelve foot wide, paved path runs north for about one hundred yards where it opens on to the Long Meadow. There are numerous large perches over the pathway and a fenced off depression that is a favorite hunting spot for the hawks. When Bebe finished playing in the water he flew up to a perch above the path. Alto seemed to be having trouble flying and merely ran down the paved runway while flapping occasionally. It looked like she had something wrong with her foot. I followed her while trying to focus my bins on her right foot. It turned out to be nothing more than a large clump of leaves that she had skewered with her talons and couldn't get off. She finally shook it free and flew to a perch near her sibling. When I left the park Bebe, Alto and Split-tail were settled in for a long preening session on their respective perches. I called Sean and arranged to meet him in the park later in the afternoon.

When I returned with Sean we found Alto perched in a huge oak tree just east of the puddle. While Sean set-up his camera I walked around looking from Bebe. I couldn't find him but Alto kept us entertained with her bizarre behavior. For some strange reason she wanted to lie down on the branch. Looking more like a nighthawk than a true hawk, she completely flattened herself on the branch. Perhaps her wings were tired because then she hung them straight down on either side of the branch. A squirrel climbing up the trunk next to her piqued her interest and she stood back up. The squirrel seemed to be tempting his fate as he climbed passed her and lay down on the branch directly above her. Alto was either tired or not hungry and went back to her odd, draped position.

As we were getting ready to leave I finally located Bebe. The whole time we were observing Alto he was behind us. Perched in the open at the top of a dead locust tree he tended to his young plumage. Like black lightening bolts against the blue sky the spiny, angular branches of his perch trapped bits of molted white feathers. In between the fluttering fluff were perched dozens of dainty amberwing dragonflies. Unfortunately, Sean wasn't able to get a good photo as the angle was too steep and the sun was directly behind Bebe.

I hope enough water remains in the puddle so that the young hawks have a place to cool off on hot days. It will also be a good spot to enjoy the antics of the teenage red-tails.

Amberwing Dragonfly (Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park, 6/23/2004
Wood Duck (Lower pool. 2 eclipse males, 1 female.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 fledglings.)
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.)
Downy Woodpecker (At nest on Battle Pass.)
Hairy Woodpecker (Male & female near nest in Ravine.)
Northern Flicker (Midwood. 2 adults, 4 nestlings.)
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Wood Thrush (Rick's Place. 2 adults, 2 fledglings.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several, the pools.)
Yellow Warbler (Male singing at Upper pool.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Monday, June 21, 2004

Where are the fledglings?

I can't find Bebe and Alto. I was determined to locate them this morning but was unsuccessful. I walked the western edge of the woods on Payne and Sullivan Hills scanning the trees while listening for hawk calls and songbird alarm calls. I took the path that travels through the center of the woods from the Cucumber Magnolia at the edge of the Long Meadow, south to the Boulder Bridge. When I couldn't find them on the ridge I decided to check below in the Midwood forest.

I couldn't find them in the Midwood either but did observe some interesting activities. A male Red-bellied Woodpecker called while watching a nest cavity. The female was a short distance away digging a hole in a rotted branch. A Northern Flicker called his mate then briefly copulated with her in a large White Oak tree. A Wood Thrush was singing from a perch in a tuliptree sapling next to his nest. I was watching a chipmunk rooting around in the leaf litter when it flushed up a moth. The tiny, dried leaf-colored moth fluttered away and the chipmunk scampered after it like a movie running at high speed. It caught the moth then munched on it from atop a hollow log a few feet away from me.

When I first arrived at Payne Hill Split-tail was perched in a large oak tree overlooking the Long Meadow. He was being harassed by a robin and a grackle. He made a low, grumbling noise then flew off over the meadow. He circled the area for a few minutes while calling for his mate. I ran into Ann of the landscape management office a little later near Rick's Place. As we were talking Split-tail flew into a tuliptree nearby and began calling again. Neither his mate nor offspring responded. Thirty minutes later I heard him calling from high above Payne Hill. He descended rapidly into the locust tree next to the nest and called some more. There was no response.

I'm trying not to worry. What's curious is that usually, right after the young hawks fledge, they stay pretty close to the nest area. The canopy at Payne Hill is pretty dense offering a fairly large, continuous highway of treetops for the large fledglings to travel over. There are only a few wide jumping off spots for them near the Midwood and Battle Pass. I'll have to check those areas tomorrow.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 6/21/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult.)
Chimney Swift
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker (Male & female copulating in Midwood.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Wood Thrush (1 adult pair at Rick's Pl. 1 male in Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird (Long Meadow.)
Cedar Waxwing
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole (Singing at Rick's Pl.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Male & female in Midwood.), Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (2 adults, 2 fledglings in Midwood.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Trying to find the fledgling hawks

I circled Payne Hill and Sullivan Hill three or four times but couldn't find Bebe or Alto. It's possible that they were just perched quietly and I overlooked them. If they were close by the squirrels and songbirds didn't reveal their location. Maybe they've wandered farther away from the nest tree than I anticipated. Tomorrow I'll check east of their nest woods in the Midwood forest. While I was searching I heard muted, high-pitched peeps at Rick's Place. I tracked the sounds to a pair of Wood Thrush fledglings. The two stubby tailed thrushes were cautiously climbing about in a sweetgum sapling two feet off the ground. Later one of the adults flew passed me with a bill full of food. I also spotted a small flock of House Finches in the Bald Cypress at the Ambergill. The flock was mostly adults but also contained three or four fledglings.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Lover's Portrait

Hunting for hawks with Brandon

My wife's sister's kids are in New York for a few days visiting from Charlotte, North Carolina. We rarely get to see them and were excited about having a full day to play aunt and uncle. My wife took the 4-year old and 14-year old girls into the city for some serious shopping and I took my 11-year old nephew birding.

Fair haired, quiet and introspective, Brandon seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of tracking down some hawks. He's never birded before today so I began by giving him some tips on using binoculars. As we walked to the park I told him stories about my history with Big Mama and Split-tail, their nest location and the recently fledged "Bebe" and "Alto".

We crossed the Long Meadow and as we approached Payne Hill, he asked me how I managed to find the hawks all the time. One of the ways, I explained, was to listen for their calls. I told him that he has probably heard the call of a Red-tailed Hawk many times on television shows and movies. I whistled a loud impersonation of their down-slurred "keeeer". As if on cue, Big Mama shot out of the woods on Payne Hill and began circling low above us. I told Brandon that I guessed my whistle was better than I thought. As she gradually ascended above us Split-tail appeared in the sky over the gentle slope of Payne Hill. He circled above his mate, swooped towards her a few times and dangled his feet in a display of affection. A few minutes later she returned to the woodlands and Split-tail soared off to the north.

I wasn't certain how far the two fledgling might have wandered from their nest in the tuliptree so I decided to look there first. The nest was empty but ten yards to the north Bebe sat perched in a Locust tree. The cute, round-faced young hawk looked straight down at us and twisted her head from side to side. Moments later Big Mama flew over and perched on the lowest branch on the tuliptree. Brandon's face lit up as he located her in his binoculars. We found one fledgling, so where was Alto? We circled the woods checking all the trees and the ground within a fenced off section of the forest. The only thing on the ground were a few foolish chipmunks tempting the watchful Big Mama. Near Battle Pass we located a Red-eyed Vireo that has been singing in that section for weeks. I felt like we were playing "Where's Waldo" as we scanned the dense foliage for the easily camouflaged bird. We gave up and walked to Rick's Place to checked on the Wood Thrush nest. The nest was empty so the chicks have likely fledged.

Near the path down to the Ravine two robins continuously whinnied and called while facing a Beech tree at the edge of Payne Hill. The thick leaf cover made it impossible to locate the object of the two thrushes alarm but I presume that it was the missing "Alto". Nearby, a Red-bellied Woodpecker panted in the unusually hot weather. His barbed tongue looked like a tiny fishing spear.

We checked the area surrounding the pine tree nest for other hawk fledglings but came up empty handed. To make up for the disappointment we filled up ripe blackberries weighing down their thorny vines near the entrance of the Ravine. Above the Ravine, on the Nethermead Arches, a House Wren sang his bubbly, happy song near his nest in a lamppost. At the Nethermead Meadow a small flock of Barn Swallows swooped for insects over the fresh cut grass. A pair of the swallows are still tending their nest above the doorway of the nature center. We spotted a Turkey Vulture soaring north over the center.

Brandon spent his first seven years as a Brooklynite then moved south to more rural surroundings. It would be ironic if an interest in birds and wildlife were sparked by a visit to the city.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 6/19/2004
Great Egret (Lullwater, perched on cofferdam eating a fish.)
Turkey Vulture (Flying north over boathouse.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 fledgling.)
Chimney Swift
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Barn Swallow (Several flying over Nethermead. Two at boathouse nest.)
House Wren (Singing next to nest on Nethermead Arches.)
Wood Thrush (Nothing at nest, one singing in Ravine.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several at lower pool.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (1 heard singing at Payne Hill.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Downy Woodpecker (Next to boathouse.), Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Mom watching the kids

(Photo credits - Sean Sime)

Monofilament kills wildlife

It was less than a week ago that I mentioned in my report the continuing problem with birds dying because of discarded nylon monofilament fishing line. Yesterday I received an e-mail from Elliotte Harold about a crow tangled in fishing line at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Elliotte called various sources for assistance but his attempt at finding help was in vain. Nobody ever responded and, for anyone interested, the crow's decomposing carcass can now be found dangling at the top of a tree behind the Native Flora Garden. Today I will be checking on the oriole nest near the Terrace Bridge to make sure that none of the nestlings are tangled in the monofilament used as nest material.

I have two questions for the birding community. Is the NYC Center for Animal Care and Control an appropriate organization to contact in situations such as the above? Does anyone from the Brooklyn Bird Club, Queens Bird Club, New York City Audubon, Prospect Park Audubon Center, Wild Metro or The Linnaean Society have any interest in a campaign aimed at reducing or eliminating wildlife injuries and deaths due to discarded monofilament in city parks? Sometimes even the small things can make a big difference.

Monday, June 14, 2004

"Alto" takes a big leap

Sometimes I have dreams about birds. They're usually not about birdwatching, but rather situations where a bird or birds play a central role. I guess it's no surprise that I've been dreaming about hawks lately. Last night I dreamt that when I went to check on the hawks one of the nestlings had fledged and was perched on a stretch of red, wooden snow fencing below the nest. As I approached him he hop-flapped over to me and allowed me to pet him on the head. When I woke up I checked to make sure that I still had all my fingers.

I rushed home from the city this afternoon so I could check on "Bebe" and "Alto". I ran into my neighbor, Ivana, and her two young sons on their way up to the park. They've been to see the hawks twice in the last week and, by the look in Ivana's eyes, I think she's been infected by the Red-tailed Hawk bug. Lucas may be a little too young to get excited about nature but his older brother, Sebastian, has a keen eye and seems to enjoy being in the woods.

We quickly spotted the sweet, baby-faced "Bebe" perched on a limb a few feet west of the nest. But where was "Alto"? I searched the branches surrounding the nest. Nothing. I walked to the base of the Tuliptree and looked straight up, scanning the surrounding trees. Finally, I found the missing young hawk perched about 20-30 feet west of the nest in an adjacent Tuliptree. She leaned over and twisted her head around as she watched me watching her. Looking almost straight up isn't easy so, after a while, I walked back to where I had set up my scope. Suddenly, I heard one of the young raptors making a whining noise. Sebastian shouted, "There goes a big one." I turned and caught a quick glimpse of one of the adults leaving the nest and flying north through the woods. "Alto" began turning around on her perch and faced the nest. Then, with the agility of a child riding without training wheels for the first time, she flew 50 feet to a bare branch on the north side of the nest. I was so excited that I began clapping and cheering. "Bebe" didn't share in my exuberance and merely glanced over his shoulder at his daring sibling then went back to staring off into space

Van Cortlandt Park Red-tailed Hawks fledge

Here is a report that I just received from Chris L. in the Bronx:

Rob, a final follow-up---

Though the exact date of fledging will probably never be known, all three redtail chicks at the Van Cortlandt site had left their nest no later than Friday, June 11th, when the nest was found empty by Bill Valentine. Walking a short distance north, he saw one of the chicks in a tree, being harassed by bluejays.

During my June 13th breeding bird walk for the Linnaean Society, my group heard some of the young birds calling in the general vicinity of the nest, but we couldn't get a visual. On my next visit, I'll probably check underneath the nest tree for discarded prey remnants and such, something I have completely avoided doing while the nest was occupied, sticking to the official park trails around the tree.

The previous weekend, the eldest chick had still been on the nest tree, though he had climbed out of the nest onto a convenient limb--and returned quickly to the nest when his mother Jodie showed up with food.

Travis, the adult male, came rocketing out of a tree last week, and grabbed a chipmunk right off the ground about 40 feet front of us, then flew to a nearby perch, where we got a good look at the unfortunate mammal dangling from his talons. In the latter half of the nesting period, chipmunks seem to have become an increasingly important food source for the hawks, being very abundant in the immediate area. Perch-hunting seems to be Travis' favored method of nabbing them.

Both parents are obviously experienced birds, who have acquired considerable hunting prowess, which has allowed them to bring three young to the fledging point, in spite of their supply of available rock pigeons apparently drying up back in April. They simply switched to less substantial but more numerous mammalian prey items, showing the versatility that makes the Redtailed Hawk such a successful urban breeder.

This past Saturday, however, while we saw adult redtails several times, we didn't see them anywhere near the nest. The site is now inactive, but since Travis and Jodie were successful there this year, they will probably return next spring--assuming a local pair of Great Horned Owls doesn't purloin this well-built nest for their own uses this coming December. This has happened at least twice in Van Cortlandt Park in the past few years, and there's not much the hawks can do about it. We're grateful that at least this time we got to see a redtail nest actually being used by redtails, before the non-paying nocturnal tenants barged in. (g)

I hope to spy the chicks a few more times this year, but given how dense the foliage has become in this part of the park, sightings will probably be rare.

Good Birding!

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The chicks are getting ready to fly soon

Look Out Below!

(Photo credits - Sean Sime)

Prospect Park with Shale and Marty

It has been three weeks since I've ventured anywhere in the park beyond Payne Hill, the Ravine and The Pools. I didn't think I would miss anything significant at the hawk nest this morning so I met Shale and Marty on the Terrace Bridge at the south end of the park. In lieu of any apparent organized breeding survey I thought I'd look for nesting birds and any lingering migrants.

On my way to the bridge I walked through the Ravine where I heard a Wood Thrush's haunting song reverberating in the woods. I presume that this is a different adult than the one nesting at Rick's Place. At the far end of the Ravine, on the Nethermead Arches, a House Wren was singing atop a streetlight. I looked up in time to see his mate flying out of an opening at the back of the lamp housing. The design of these city streetlights seem to offer a safe and convenient nestbox for House Wrens as I've seen them in use fairly frequently. I wonder if the bright light affects their eyes.

A Warbling Vireo and Yellow Warbler were singing in the woods on the Peninsula. The vireo is a regularly nesting species but I've never confirmed any warblers breeding in the park. According to Geoffrey Carleton's "The Birds of Central and Prospect Parks" the last confirmed breeding Yellow Warbler in Prospect Park was in 1948. On Lookout Hill we heard a pewee calling in the woods and a Common Yellowthroat singing at the Butterfly Meadow. Over the last few years I've been noticing pewees lingering in Prospect Park through the summer but haven't yet confirmed any breeding activity.

We ran into Michelle near the Maryland Monument leading a trip for the Audubon Center and she told us about a Baltimore Oriole nest near the Terrace Bridge. The singing male at the top of the tree made finding the hanging basket nest relatively easy. We could hear the nestlings peeping above us. Two things concern me about this nest. First is it's location directly above the roadway. I've had to carry oriole fledglings out of harms way on a few occasions (and they bite hard) but they're usually just near a road, never above it. The second is an ongoing issue in Prospect Park. The nest construction contains many pieces of discarded nylon monofilament. Fledgling orioles frequently get twisted up in the unbreakable material and die a horrible death dangling from their nest. There are even places in the park where crow skeletons can be found suspended in trees by fishing line. During the winter of 2002, Steve and I rescued a gull with a lure through his foot and nostril. I think that it could help eliminate the problem if the Prospect Park Audubon Center and the Brooklyn Bird Club initiated a campaign to educate fisherman about the dangers of discarded lines and lures.

Barn Swallows used to nest under the Lullwater Bridge. This year, however, a pair has built their mud nest above one of the boathouse doorways, a convenient location for people coming to the nature center to learn about birds.

On my way home I stopped at Payne Hill. A Red-eyed Vireo is still singing in the area just north of the nest. A pair is probably nesting nearby. I stopped for a quick look at the hawks. Now that they are full-sized I've found that I can watch them from the sidewalk below the nest. It was about 12:10pm and both young hawks were eating. I suppose that the two birds have become more protective of their meals as, instead of sharing, they were eating back to back. Big Mama was monitoring them from the far side of the nest. When they finished she flew off. "Bebe", the smaller nestling, hop-flapped up onto a limb on the west side of the nest. He watched "Alto" with great interest as she flew back and forth across the nest. With each short flight she shook out tiny bits of molted down. Some caught in the twigs at the edge of the nest and some were carried off with the dust and pollen. After about ten minutes "Alto" decided to explore a large limb on the northeast side of the nest. She seemed much more tentative than "Bebe" and only ventured a few inches from the nest before flying back.

I guess I'll be abandoning my usual viewing spot next to the elm tree at the top of the rise. The large limbs and wide opening in the trees on the northwest side of the nest seems to be the best spot to wait out their fledge. With a little luck they'll cooperate and fly my way.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 6/12/2004
Great Egret (Flying over lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (2, Lullwater.)
Wood Duck (2, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 nestling.)
Chimney Swift
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Lookout Hill.)
Eastern Kingbird (Several.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Tree Swallow (4 or 5, Prospect Lake.)
Barn Swallow (2 at boathouse nest.)
House Wren (Nethermead Arches.)
Wood Thrush (Ravine.)
Gray Catbird (Common.)
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several.)
Yellow Warbler (Peninsula.)
Common Yellowthroat (Butterfly Meadow.)
Common Grackle (Abundant.)
Baltimore Oriole (Terrace Bridge.)
American Goldfinch (Lookout Hill.)

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

Friday, June 11, 2004

Prospect Park with Sean S.

There's a talkative mockingbird on a television antenna across the street from me right now. He seems to have a great appreciation for Red-tailed Hawks as their "keeeer" call and various chirps are a large part of his vocabulary. His chatter has forced me to sit down at the keyboard and write today's report.

I received a message from Mary yesterday regarding the nestlings. She followed up with an e-mail:

"I was at the nest around 4:00 I think, and one of the babies was gamboling about in the branches. It kept spreading and flapping, and then occasionally hoping/flying about three feet to another branch. Eventually one of the parents flew into the nest (it had seemed empty, but then I saw the other babe there). The parent did not attempt to rescue the adventurer, and I think was feeding the nestling. By the time I left, the explorer was up near the top of the adjacent Locust (I think) tree. She seemed to want to get back to the nest, but that bulky body and those flapping wings made it impossible to edge through the foliage in any direct manner."

The nestlings have finally graduated to the climbing stage. It shouldn't be long before they take their maiden voyage.

When I met Sean on Payne Hill both nestlings were back in the nest. We could hear some robins northwest of the nest calling in distress. One of the adults was probably in the area. About 20 minutes after I arrived Split-tail dropped off some prey in the nest. He's an extremely attentive parent. Sometimes he'll make 3 or 4 food drops at the nest a day. He never lingers very long, except to make structural upgrades. His offspring seem to have an abundance of food as I've witnessed him dropping off prey even while the young are still feasting on a previous delivery. In the past I've seen him bringing mostly rats to the nest but this season he appears to be taking advantage of a glut of chipmunks in the park.

While one nestling rested the other scarfed down breakfast. It was difficult to see what he was eating but occasionally he would raise up his head and show us the sushi. At one point he downed an entire leg. He finished within five minutes and his full cropped bulged like a turkey waddle. I was hoping to get a chance to watch the young hawks climbing and flap-hopping today but, after this one finished eating, he just lay down next to his nest mate and went to sleep.

In my last report I asked for name suggestions for the two hawks and received some very good advise from Marie Winn. Putting my comedic name choices aside, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to stick with descriptive names. Considering the size difference between these two young hawks I thought that perhaps "Bebe" and "Alto" might be good names.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 6/11/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 nestlings.)
Northern Flicker (Payne Hill.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (Payne Hill.)
Eastern Kingbird (Lower pool.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Wood Thrush (Sitting on nest at Rick's Place, one chick visible.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several at lower pool.)
Yellow Warbler (Singing between upper and lower pool.)
Common Grackle

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Downy Woodpecker (Rick's Place.), Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Prospect Park with Mary, Sean and Gail

It felt like the temperature was close to 90 degrees when I walked up to the park this morning. Looking south along the Long Meadow the air had the viscous, hazy appearance of an August afternoon. I thought about the hawk nestlings in their towering tree exposed to the unyielding sun and wondered how they were managing. An early morning call from Steve about a mystery bird near the Fallkill Falls temporarily lured me away from my responsibilities. I sent out a few e-mails regarding a possible rare bird before leaving the house.

I met Sean next to the wildflower meadow where Steve had heard the bird singing. We stood in the shade of a mature elm tree and set up our equipment. Sean put together his camera gear while I plugged a pair of portable speakers into my CD player and cued-up the Swainson's Warbler track. Gail and her loyal four-legged companion, Pippi, joined us in the search. Today must have been a city-wide field trip day as legions of noisy school children marched passed...right next to the wildflower meadow. The noise and stifling heat was a bad combination of ingredients for locating a furtive bird. Mary, who was on her way to work, joined us for a short time. We walked the paths behind the pools and into the Ravine, the whole time playing the bird recording. House sparrows and catbirds seemed to be the only birds attracted to the song. We gave up and walked up to Payne Hill to check on the hawk nestlings.

The two young hawks have finally lost all their downy feathers. Their heads and necks are now covered in fresh, brown feathers, completing their metamorphosis into adolescent hawk-dome. One of the hawks was standing tall at the edge of the nest while its sibling appeared to be eating something in the bottom of the nest. When it stood up it was obvious that he (or more likely, she) was much larger than the one at the edge of the nest. Is it possible that one is male and one female? The size difference seemed much more striking than between "Itchy" and "Scratchy" from the 2002 brood. While Sean, Gail and I stayed relatively cool in the shade of the forest, the hawks must have been roasting. Both birds panted constantly while they periodically stretched their wings or hopped across the nest. After only about 20 minutes the young birds settled down in the nest.

Initially, I thought that they might fledge by Friday. However, we didn't witness any climbing around on the limbs outside the nest yet, so it may be a little longer than I estimated. This pair is probably the youngest of all the known Red-tailed Hawks in New York City.

On the way out of the park, Sean and I checked on the Wood Thrush nest. It seemed like we had just missed a feeding but, as the adult left the nest, we could see at least two tiny chicks. Last year they had four in their brood.

While we were watching the hawks today we began discussing names. In 2002 we had "Itchy" and "Scratchy" and in 2003, due to an illness that plagued the brood, we never came up with names. So far this year's kids have remained nameless. We began tossing out possible names; Lucy & Ricky, Bart & Lisa, Frankie & Johnny, Linus & Lucy, Ike & Tina, Holmes & Watson, Heckle & Jeckle, Jeeves & Wooster, Thelma & Louise, Beavis & Butthead and Jack & Seven. We don't know the sex of the young hawks so maybe genderless names would be more appropriate. If you would like to help us find names for our hawks please drop me a line. Sorry, there's no cash prize but I'll let everyone know the winning names.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 6/9/2004
Wood Duck (Lower pool.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Lower pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 nestlings.)
Chimney Swift
Great Crested Flycatcher (2, lower pool.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Singing on Payne Hill.)
Tree Swallow
Wood Thrush (1 adult and at least 2 chicks in Rick's Place nest.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several, lower pool.)
Common Yellowthroat (2 singing at edge of Sparrow Bowl.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Singing in trees above Ravine,)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (Quaker Ridge.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Sterling Forest nesting birds

I just realized that tracking down birds in city parks during Spring migration is easy. The proportion of habitat size to number of birds plus the fragmented nature of New York City parks make the challenge of observing a relatively large diversity of species, well, a walk in the park. That revelation came during a trip today to Sterling Forest State Park. On a trip with the Linnaean Society lead by John Yrizarry I also came to understand the importance of a bird's song, for both the bird and the birder.

Sterling Forest's 17,000+ acres of deep forest habitat forms a nearly pristine stretch of critical breeding grounds virtually a stone's throw from New York City. Our groups difficulty in visually locating many of the breeding birds in the park's lush canopy and dense underbrush cemented in my mind a bird's need for a song that could carry through the woodlands in order to find each other. It didn't help our goal that it was dark, dreary and overcast all day but, inclement weather aside, good ear-birding skills are a necessity for finding breeding birds in Sterling Forest. Fortunately, John's knowledge of the park's breeding populations, his ear-birding ability (along with the help of several of the people on the trip) made for a successful trip with many highlights. We ended our day with a list of 67 species. Unfortunately, some of those birds were only identified by their songs.

Most of our activities were in the northern section of the park. We spent time exploring the habitats around Indian Hill, Little Dam Lake and near the NYU apartment complex. On our way home, a group of us also explored a trail near a power-line cut in the central section of the park.

The main species that our group was interested in locating was the Golden-winged Warbler. Golden-winged, which breed in Sterling Forest, are threatened by urban sprawl, reforestation and the succession of its preferred habitat. We were able to locate a breeding pair and watched at eye level as they both carried food to an unseen nest in a tangle of underbrush. Cerulean Warbler was another target species that, at first, was only heard singing. We finally managed to locate both a male and female after tracking the buzzy song of the male. Some of the most dominant woodland sounds heard through the course of the day were the down-spiraling flutes and "Veerr" call of the Veery.

(Photo credit - Powermill Nature Reserve)

The highlight of the day could have easily been a tragedy. As our group was walking the trail back to the cars I noticed something moving in the grass. Something small was struggling within inches of Sylvia's right foot. Suddenly a tiny yellow bird shot out and hid in the bushes to our left. It was a Blue-winged Warbler and I called John back from the head of the group. As most of us were looking at the female Blue-winged Warbler John called our attention to the ground on the right side of the trail. There, no more than twelve inches from the ground and hidden within a tiny, thorny shrub was the warbler's nest. The opening to the nest was camouflaged with two oak leaves that acted like papery eaves for the delicate cup nest. As I leaned over the top of the nest I saw five chalky, white eggs, each one no larger than the size of a dime. In our fascination with this wonderful discovery we failed to notice the panicked female chipping nonstop in the shrub behind us. John allowed us all quick looks but then recommended we quietly leave and allow the warbler to return to her nest.

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

On our way home we made one last stop to look for bluebirds. We never found the bluebirds but located another egg-laying creature. At the edge of the gravel parking area a female Snapping Turtle found a small mound to lay her eggs. When she finished the task she was confronted with safely crossing the road to return to her home in the pond. While she was resting next to Valerie's car's front tire it was suggested that we carry her across the busy roadway. Elizabeth thought she could lift her by the tail and avoid her lethal jaws. I taunted her to try. She lifted the 25 pound turtle, carried her a couple of feet, then placed her back on the ground. She was afraid to carry her the 150 or so yards across the road so I volunteered. Holding her firmly by her thick, muscular tail my hand seemed safe but she hissed and snapped at my leg. Two people watched for traffic and I watched my leg as I lugged the turtle across the road. I placed her at the edge of the pond and gave her a little tap on the rear with my foot. She stood up high on her legs and bolted into the water. Mission accomplished.

Looking at the warbler eggs touched something in me today. After lunch I had trouble staying focused on the bird songs as I kept thinking about it. I've been observing warblers for over ten years and this was the first time that I've seen their nest and eggs. The concept of size and distance boggles my mind and had me reading through various reference guides when I returned home: 4.75 inches and 8.5 grams; from Central America, across the Gulf of Mexico up the east coast to a 17,000 acre forest to lay 5 dime-sized eggs; just over a month to raise a family then turn around and go back. It seems like if even the tiniest pieces are removed from this finely tuned process a catastrophe can occur. John Muir once said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
- - - - -
Sterling Forest - 6/5/2004
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Broad-winged Hawk
Wild Turkey
Rock Dove
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush
American Robin
European Starling
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Friday, June 04, 2004

Prospect Park hawks with Elliotte H., Grace M. and kids

I had arranged to meet at the nest with one of the teacher's from the Audubon Center and some kids along with their parents. I arrived at a little passed 2pm and only pulled out the first section of my tripod's legs. The central tube extends high enough that I could still use the scope (with a little hunching over, anyway) until the kids arrived.

One of the chicks was lying down, resting, with a leg hanging over the side of the nest. His sibling was, as expected, preening on the far side of the nest. At around 2:45pm Big Mama flew into the nest and the three hawks all stood with their heads tipped down into the center. It looked like a prayer circle. The adult hawk then began tearing into a rat that had apparently been dropped off earlier. As developed as the nestlings have become in the last week Big Mama still gently fed them pieces of the rodent. I was ambivilant about whether I thought the pre-school kids on their way to meet the hawks would enjoy watching the feeding. It ultimately didn't matter as they finished their meal by the time the group arrived at Payne Hill.

After the feeding Big Mama departed. A few minutes later Split-tail arrived with a two foot section of tree bark and arranged it in the bottom of the nest. When he left one of the chicks decided that it was a new toy. He bit at it and tossed it around for a couple of minutes before losing it over the side of the nest.

Grace eventually arrived with a few adults and three young children. I had to lower the scope a lot. I'm usually a little concerned about young children's ability to use a telescope but these kids were great. As an added bonus the nestlings were actively flapping their wings and preening. After looking through the scope, one little girl was so excited she began flapping her arms and jumping up and down. She also took a stick and began digging for worms. I asked her if she had begun growing feathers yet.

This should be a big week coming up for Big Mama and Split-tail's offspring. I recommend getting over to Payne Hill if you have a chance.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 6/4/2004
Great Egret (Flying east over Long Meadow.)
Gadwall (Male, lower pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 chicks.)
Chimney Swift
Great Crested Flycatcher (Payne Hill.)
Eastern Kingbird (Lower pool.)
Warbling Vireo (Lower pool.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Singing male, Payne Hill.)
Tree Swallow
Gray-cheeked Thrush (Payne Hill.)
Wood Thrush (Singing near Rick's Place.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Fairly common, fly catching at edge of pools.)
Northern Parula (Payne Hill.)
American Redstart (Near upper pool.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Lower pool.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Downy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse (Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Prospect Park hawk update with Sean S.

When I walked up to Payne Hill on Wednesday to check on the hawk chicks I almost had to leave immediately. The small stretch of woods was teeming with mosquitos and other flying insects. As I looked through my scope, bugs were landing in the eye-cup, flying up my nostrils and biting my arms. Occasionally a cool wind would blow across the hill offering a brief respite from the constant irritation. I don't know how the young hawks tolerate it as it seems that there are insects constantly buzzing around their nest.

In four days the chicks body's have grown a full covering of adult plumage. Their breasts are now a pale rust color and their belly's have sprouted the brown spots that make up the Red-tail's unique belly-band. Their tails are still a little too short for flight but are a full six bands long. After watching for only ten minutes the flies began to drive me crazy and I packed up my scope and left.

Sean called me on my cellphone on Thursday and we arranged to meet at the hawk nest in the afternoon.

When I got to the park I stopped first at the Boulder Bridge to see if it was possible to get a view of the Ravine pine tree nest. The top of the pine tree is bent like an arm making a muscle. The nest is arranged where the biceps would be, giving the growing hawks a small "forearm" to climb. I could see an adult sitting on the nest and one chick slowly negotiating the short peak of the pine tree. He seemed to be close to fledging. The wind kept blowing branches into my field of view making it difficult to see so I quickly gave up and carried my scope over to Big Mama's nest.

Walter, an avid hawk-watcher that I became friendly with during the 2002 nesting, was already up on the hill. He was relaxing on a small, folding camp chair with his tripod and scope in front of him. He filled me in on his afternoon observations.

The two chicks were extremely active. With their flight and body feathers grown in, their head and necks are finally developing adult plumage. Sparse, brown plumes have begun to cover their crowns and necks. The sides of their heads are still primarily covered in dark gray down but patches of brown plumes could be seen sprouting around their ear openings. Big Mama flew from the nest to a close, adjacent tree. The two chicks took turns flapping their huge wings and hopping from one side of the nest to the other. At one point a hop resulted in the chick landing on its nest mate's back.

Sean joined Walter and I on the hill and set-up his camera in time to capture some of the chick's antics. At around 3pm Split-tail arrived at the nest carrying a dead bird. He dropped it off in the nest and departed so quickly that we couldn't tell what kind of bird it was. The chicks didn't seem too interested in the late-afternoon snack and continued preening and exercising their wings. About an hour later one of the chicks wandered over to the dead bird and comically twisted his head upside down to examine it. He made a few tentative attempts to eat it and only managed a beak full of feathers. He actually ate a few feathers then gave up.

Sean and I left at around 5pm after the chicks had settled down for a siesta. We stopped at Rick's Place and found one of the Wood Thrushes sitting on its nest. At the lower pool a male and female Gadwall seemed to have taken up residence. It's uncertain whether they will breed near the protected body of water but the male sure seemed interested in his partner. He remained by her side almost constantly. Periodically he would stretch out his neck, lift his tail or flick his wings in courtship display. She didn't seem too impressed but maybe she's just tired of all the attention. I don't think that there are any records of Gadwall breeding in a city park so I'll keep an eye on these two.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 6/3/2004
Gadwall (Male and female, lower pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults. 2 chicks at Payne Hill nest, 1 chick at Ravine nest.)
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker (Possible nest near Falkill Falls.)
Eastern Kingbird (Long Meadow.)
Warbling Vireo (Heard next to lower pool.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Heard near Payne Hill.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Over pools.)
Swainson's Thrush (2 at Boulder Bridge, one carried insect into Rick's Place. 1 at Ambergill.)
Wood Thrush (1 on nest at Rick's Place.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several at lower pool.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Singing near lower pool.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Fledge Time Updates

Fledge time is approaching for the various city Red-tailed Hawk chicks. Here are some recent updates from around the five boroughs. The first is from Lincoln K. who monitors the famous Pale Male and his mate, Lola, who nest on a building on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park:

Subject: Premature Fledging today
From: Lincoln K.
Date: 5/30/04 1:22 AM

At 5:06 PM today (Saturday May 29, 04) while practicing to fly, one of the chicks was blown off the nest, into the air above the nest building. It then came to a safe landing on the front edge of the roof. After several minutes of frolicking up and down the roof it attempted to fly again. It went over Fifth Ave and across to [Woody Allen's] building where it brushed against the wall of a building just north of Woody's and sailed downward out of sight.

I gained access to Woody's terrace and another lower terrace but was unable to see any sign of the bird. Both parents were in the area when I was looking. Lola went to the nest later and slept normally with the two remaining chicks. Hopefully by tomorrow the early fledger will surface.

(Photo credit - Lincoln Karim)

This report is from Janet S. who has been monitoring a pair in Green-wood Cemetery, near Prospect Park:

Subject: G-W redtails
From: Janet S.
Date: 5/30/04 4:42 PM

Hi Rob--

A quick drive over to the Green-Wood [Cemetery] redtails shows that the young have been growing, growing, growing in the two wks since I last saw them.

At first I only could see one nestling, but later I saw another big wing rise up and a body, but never saw the second one's head. The nest is huge--it seems to have a back extension.

The nestling's head is feathered out--but it still has that big-eyed baby face. Marie said they were pretty well feathered out last week except for the fluffy white head. So maybe they are almost a week ahead of yours, but it is striking how quickly they grow up.

The one I could see clearly was doing the usual wing flapping, standing at the edge of the nest. So I guess soon they'll be going, going, gone.

Chris L. has been monitoring a pair nesting in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx:

Subject: Bronx redtails
From: Christopher L.
Date: 6/1/04 1:54 PM

Things have gone very well for Travis and Jodie, our Bronx redtails--they hatched out three chicks, all of which seem pretty close to fledging, though one is noticeable less developed than the others, and has to scramble for his/her share of the food. As of this past Saturday, they were all testing their wings, and showing a lot of adult plumage, though they've still got a ways to go. I would expect at least one of them to leave the nest within the next week (if this hasn't happened already), but it might be a while longer than that before the nest is empty.

Travis, the male, is only rarely seen around the nest, though we had him sitting on a branch just a short distance from us, preening nonchalantly, just last week. He's mainly busy hunting--John [Y.], who lives in a building overlooking the woods, tells me he saw redtails hunting pigeons over the stables before he ever knew there was a nest--since then, he's watched both adults descend through the forest canopy to where he now knows the nest to be, from the vantage point of his apartment terrace.

However, he mentioned later that the pigeons seemed to have thinned out, and I noted that in recent weeks, most of the prey the adults were bringing has been mammalian--squirrels, chipmunks, etc. The adults have often been seen flying low over the forest floor, or else waiting on a perch for something to pass within range.

The adults seem accepting of us now, less shy of revealing the nest site, and Jodie frequently lands on the nest when we are present.

Lenny [A.] has been taking pictures of the nest, both with a long lens/SLR combo, and through my TeleVue Ranger, using his Nikon Coolpix camera. Digiscoping is a new concept for him, and we're not using any kind of adapter, but he's taken some decent shots, which document the progress of the young. Yolanda has had even better results drawing the birds.

I doubt very much anybody will be lucky enough to witness the fledgings, given the relatively low number of people visiting the nest. Happily, there's no need for nest monitoring, since the nest is in a reasonably safe location, with little chance of the chicks running into any traffic-related mishaps. About as natural a setting for a redtailed hawk nest as one could hope to find in the five boroughs.

I'll update you when we first confirm fledging has taken place, and thanks for the info. :-)

Barry and his wife, Rita, have been keeping tabs on a pair of Red-tailed Hawks in Inwood Hill Park. Below is an excerpt from his recent post on NYSBIRDS-listserv.

Date: Fri, 04 Jun 2004
From: Barry F.

Last Sunday (May 30), Rita and I went to Inwood Hill Park (at the northern tip of Manhattan Island) in the late afternoon. A caveat: those who don't already know exactly where the nest is will have a very difficult time finding it. With all the lush foliage surrounding it, one has to know exactly where to stand (on the north side of the soccer field), and exactly where to look (to the south side of the field), in order to see into the nest. Our first look was disappointing. The nest seemed empty. Had the chicks fledged? But eventually, we saw some movement and finally, one nestling stood up, giving us a good view of a Red-tail well into its juvenile plumage. The second youngster was concealed in the right side of the nest, partially hidden behind a thick branch. After another while, we saw a wing move and knew that two nestlings were still "home." Later, both stood side by side and delighted us with hopping and flapping. Sometime between 4 and 6 PM, what we took to be mama hawk appeared high overhead, circled the area for a while and then came in for what seemed a rough landing on a tree perhaps 30 yards from the nest tree. Near 6 and just before we left, papa hawk flew around the area (our first look at him this season). Let me emphasize that we DO NOT KNOW whether or not these adults are the same individuals that have nested in this location previously. In past years, the adult male's flight feathers always seemed to me to have a "ratty" unkempt appearance. This guy's feathers were not as messy looking as I remember, but he had a definite gap near the tip of each wing, giving him a somewhat odd appearance in flight. He started at least one stoop while we were watching but just as suddenly canceled the attack.

We were able to entice quite a few people to look through our modest scope and were rewarded with many oohs and ahhs and newly-aroused awareness of city wildlife. Among the satisfied "customers" was a sleek thirtyish man who drove up on his expensive-looking bicycle. When told that we were looking at Red-tailed Hawks, he said: "They must be Pale Male's kids." When I asked why he thought that, he patiently explained to me that he had seen the documentary on PBS and "knew" that Pale Male was the first Red-tailed Hawk in NYC, so that these birds must be his offspring. It took me quite a while to disabuse this obviously intelligent and interested person of his misinformation.