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Thursday, March 31, 2005

More odd hawk stuff, plus Golden-crowned Kinglets

Daffodils blooming in the Lullwater

(Photo credit - Rob J)

With wind driven rains blowing through the area I thought it would be a good morning to catch up on my writing. I’ll fill you in on the latest seasonal changes in Prospect Park, as well as, continuing questions about Big Mama and Split-tail.

I’m not certain if the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk hanging around my pair is male or female, or even a relative. Size-wise it is much smaller than either of the adults, so it is likely a male. Its behavior has me really confused. This morning I watched him fly into the nest and walk around in the bowl as if he were examining the contents or structure. After a moment or two he flew through the woods towards Sullivan Hill. Through the trees I could see him wrestling with a huge branch, which he eventually dropped. Late in the afternoon I ran into Walter (another hawk-watcher) and we stood beneath the large elm waiting for something to happen at the nest. Within about ten minutes “Junior” returned to the nest with a small branch. He was followed by one of the adults. As the larger adult watched he strategically wove the branch into the nest. He flew a short distance towards Sullivan Hill where he retrieved another piece of wood for the growing structure. The two then flew off together towards the Midwood.

Recently I’ve been seeing “Junior” perched near the top of Elizabeth’s tuliptree on Nelly’s Lawn. This used to be Big Mama and Split-tail’s spot. Has Big Mama chosen a new, younger mate? Is the juvenile hawk a female and Spit-tail has replaced our park matriarch? I’m confused and concerned as they should be incubating eggs, not working on the nest. And why the sudden appearance of this young hawk? I’ll try to spend more time following them to find out the answers.

Black Jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click for more info on Jetbead-

Before leaving the park this morning for an appointment I took a quick walk to see what else has changed. The few hundred robins that overwintered in the park have been joined by legions more. American Robins seem to be just about everywhere and many of the males are jostling with each other for territory. Brown-headed Cowbirds have also increased in numbers (unfortunately) and are foraging among flocks of robins and starlings. Many of the male goldfinches are now sporting their bold, yellow and black breeding plumage.

As I walked the gravel path that parallels the Ravine stream I observed another nice spring sight. My first Mourning Cloak butterfly of the spring fluttered up from the ground and disappeared into the woods.

Perhaps the most profound change was the arrival of Golden-crowned Kinglets. When I describe kinglets I spend a lot of time searching for an appropriate adjective. Diminutive, minute, tiny; they all seem inadequate when it comes to painting a picture of these six gram, spirited balls of feathers. Their namesake golden streak of feathers are like a miner’s headlamp directing them to their next insect. I always hear their ultra, high-pitched “zee, zee, zee” before I see them. Today it seemed like thousands of them have descended into the park. I first noticed them hopping along the wooden snow fencing on Payne Hill. They were snapping up insects from the fence that were so small that I couldn’t see them. They were foraging in the shrubs that edge the stream from the Ravine to the Binnen Waters. They were on the Peninsula foraging on the ground. At the Vale of Cashmere I photographed one on the ground that was so close to me I could have touched it. I didn’t spot any Ruby-crowned Kinglets today but we’ll see a similar influx in coming days.

Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to hear a Golden-crowned Kinglet-

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/31/2005
Northern Shoveler (1, Upper Lullwater.)
Ring-necked Duck (6, the Pools.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper Pool.)
Ruddy Duck (~50.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 juvenile.)
American Coot (6.)
Ring-billed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2, Payne Hill. 1, Lullwater.)
Northern Flicker (Several.)
Eastern Phoebe (Approx. 20-30.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Lullwater.)
Brown Creeper (Ravine.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Abundant.)
Fox Sparrow (4, Rick's Place. 6, Lullwater.)
White-throated Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Abundant.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (Several on Peninsula Meadow.)
American Goldfinch (~20, Rick's Place.)

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 (4 or 5.), Hairy Woodpecker (1, Payne Hill. 1, Lullwater.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (4.), Tufted Titmouse (2.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (Common.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) in the Lullwater

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Does Big Mama & Split-tail have a nanny?

White crocus

(Photo credit - Rob J)

This morning I observed some very curious behavior between Big Mama, Split-tail and (presumably) one of last year’s offspring.

There has been one juvenile Red-tailed Hawk still present around Prospect Park. Based on observations from previous year’s I had assumed that the adults would eventually force it to establish its own territory by chasing it away from the park. For some reason, however, they are not acting aggressively towards this young bird. This morning, while walking through the woods on Sullivan Hill, I spotted it perched a short distance from the Payne Hill nest. Big Mama left her nest briefly and perch close to the other bird. She didn’t chase it but just watched from an adjacent tree. I was surprised when the young bird broke off a twig and held it in his mouth. Was he planning on adding it to the nest? He looked as if he was unsure what to do next then dropped the twig and flew off towards the Long Meadow. Big Mama returned to the nest.

Later on in the morning I spotted all three hawks soaring over Payne Hill. In past years I’ve seen Big Mama leave her nest for short periods so I wasn’t concerned that there was a problem with the eggs. What was unusual was that the two adults didn’t seem to have any issue with the juvenile hawk hunting with them. The three Red-tailed Hawks made slow, tight circles above the Long Meadow, Payne Hill and the woods adjacent to the Picnic House. Occasionally Split-tail (who has regained his signature notched tail) would drop his feet while in a holding pattern above his mate. All three seemed to be calling back and forth to each other but there was never any aggressive behavior towards the young hawk. I stood in the middle of the field watching them for about twenty minutes. At one point they young hawk broke off from the adults and plummeted into the woods. I guess he missed his target because he quickly returned to circling with the two adults.

I looked on the Internet for information about cooperative breeding in Red-tailed Hawks. Apparently, there are instances of a trio of Red-tailed Hawks raising a family. I can’t say for sure yet if this is the case for our hawks but I’ll keep you posted.

Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

If that was exciting enough, I heard, then saw my first Pine Warbler of the season. With strong winds blowing through the park Shane and I found the warbler feeding on the ground at the edge of the footpath on the Peninsula. Later in the morning we heard another one trilling from atop a Sycamore tree at the Music Grove. Wading birds also seem to be starting their migration through the area with a single Great Egret, four Black-crowned Night-Herons and four Great Blue Herons tallied this morning. There appear to be more Eastern Phoebe present since my walk around Prospect Park on Sunday.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Also of possible interest is our very vocal Red-shouldered Hawk. I guess he likes the park as he’s been present for nearly one month. He must be accustomed to people as he ignored us even when approached closely on the Peninsula “Thumb”.

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/29/2005
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (4.)
Great Egret (1, Prospect Lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (4, Duck Island & Three Sisters.)
Wood Duck (2, flying over Lullwater.)
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck (18.)
Bufflehead (1 male on pools, 1 female on lake.)
Hooded Merganser (1, near skating rink.)
Ruddy Duck (~50.)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Perched on Peninsula "Thumb", calling.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults, 1 juvenile.)
American Kestrel (Perched near rink.)
American Coot (Several still on lake.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Belted Kingfisher (Lullwater.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (~20, various locations.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pine Warbler (2. 1 feeding on ground on Peninsula. 1 singing at Music Grove.)
Fox Sparrow (4 or 5 singing.)
White-throated Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch (Lullwater.)

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 (Abundant.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Sunday in Prospect Park

White Alder catkins (Alnus rhombifolia)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The season of rebirth is getting closer. Budding trees, buzzing insects and newly arriving migrants make me impatient for the heart of spring. Unfortunately, the energy and excitement of May is still a distance away. In the words of author Robert Arbib, March is “often the month of hope denied”. Even with that knowledge I still felt good today when I saw my first Eastern Phoebes of the year. In addition, overwintering juncos have begun trilling for mates from high perches plus I stumbled upon a patch of daffodils already unfurling their radiant, yellow heads. A chortling Belted Kingfisher flew back and forth along the Lullwater. I spotted several small flocks of chattering goldfinches feeding on tender elm buds. Up until now the park’s squirrels have had the early spring delicacy to themselves.


(Photo credit - Rob J)

I felt sorry for a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on Duck Island. His crying “kee-ah, kee-ah, kee-ah, kee-ah, kee-ah” sounded sad and lonely. I imitated his whistle and he whistled back. We don’t see red-shoulders in Prospect Park very often and I doubt his calls will be answered by another hawk.

Both the Payne Hill and Ravine red-tailed nests were occupied by brooding adults. The Ravine nest occupant is still fairly easy to see as the surrounding foliage has yet to grow out. On Big Mama and Split-tails nest, however, I was only able to discern some tail feathers sticking up over the high stick construction.

I think this is a Bagworm cocoon that I found on a Sweetgum sapling

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Bagworms-

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/27/2005
Ring-necked Duck (9, Upper Pool. 5, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (1, Upper Pool.)
Ruddy Duck (~30, Prospect Lake.)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Perched and calling from Duck Island.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 at nests, 2 flying over Long Meadow.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (11 on lake.)
Belted Kingfisher (Lullwater.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Lookout Hill.)
Eastern Phoebe (3, pools. 3, Peninsula. 2, Lullwater. 1, Binnen Water.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Lullwater.)
Fox Sparrow (4, Rick's Place. 2, Peninsula.)
Swamp Sparrow (1, Lower Pool.)
White-throated Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (~100, Midwood & Lookout Hill.)
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch (~50, various locations.)

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, Hairy Woodpecker (Butterfly Meadow.), Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (6, Breeze Hill.), Tufted Titmouse (4, Breeze Hill.), American Robin (~300.), European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird

Friday, March 25, 2005

Madison Square Park

Today I cut through Madison Square Park on my way to see a client on Park Avenue South. Wherever I happen to be working I try to stroll through that neighborhood’s park. It’s a brief but nice diversion from the cars, buses and trucks. There’s always some interesting natural phenomenon to observe.

As I entered the southwest corner of the park I heard a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker calling. I’m not sure what woodpeckers are “supposed” to sound like but the first time I heard the cat-like mewing of the yellow-bellied it seemed out of place. Today I located the yellow-bellied perched in a Sycamore Maple, calling incessantly. The base of the tree was ringed with small excavations. The bark below the holes was darkened by dripping sap. A squirrel was hanging upsidedown and licking up the sweet liquid. I guess the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was calling because he was upset by the rodent hogging his food source. Nearby I heard a flock of White-throated Sparrows hiding within a stretch of shrubs. Several were making a sharp, squeaking “bink, bink, bink” call. Within a fenced off dog run someone was squeezing a chew toy. The toy’s high-pitched sound seemed oddly in sync with the two bird specie’s calls.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

-Click to hear a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Big Mama incubating eggs

I ran into Bob Baines on my way to check on the Payne Hill hawk nest. We haven’t seen each other in many months so we did some catching up before heading up the hill.

There’s a fenced off area on the Long Meadow side of the hill that has been under restoration for about six years. On Friday I observed two men behind the fencing involved in some questionable activities. My initial anger was tempered when they inadvertantly flushed three American Woodcocks. Bob and I checked the area again today but didn’t locate any woodcocks. A short distance north of that spot is the rise where I stand to watch Big Mama and Split-tail’s nest.

There didn’t appear to be either hawk on the nest. I walked around to various locations hoping to see the top of a Red-tailed Hawk head. We waited around for about fifteen minutes when I spotted Shane walking south along the edge of the meadow. He joined us below the hawk nest. Shortly after we heard the raspy “keeeer” of one of the red-tails nearby. I couldn’t tell if it was the male or the female. It circled above Payne Hill for a moment then dropped down into the nest tree. It didn’t settle down on the nest, but rather perched about four feet above it. I was a little disappointed when the unidentified hawk took off without even examining the nest. I was talking to Shane, and not really paying attention to the nest, when Bob exclaimed, “There’s a hawk on the nest”. Sure enough one of the hawks had been sitting on the nest the whole time. It had remained hidden until it stood up at the edge of the nest to stretch.

Last year I could always see Big Mama when she incubated the eggs as her head extended above the sides of the nest. When her smaller mate took his turn at the nest he was rarely visible. I can’t be certain if it was Split-tail on the nest today or if this year’s additional construction has created a deeper bowl, hiding his larger mate. In either case, there are now eggs in the nest and we should see signs of hatchlings in about thirty days.

On another note, we have only seen one Eastern Phoebe in the park so far this season. There are usually many more by now and I assume that they will appear with the next warm front and south wind.

Forsythia buds in the Lullwater

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Forsythia-

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/22/2005
Double-crested Cormorant (1.)
Wood Duck (2 drakes, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (Approx. 20.)
Ring-necked Duck (25, near Duck Is. 2, Upper Pool.)
Bufflehead (2, near Duck Island.)
Hooded Merganser (2, near Duck Island.)
Ruddy Duck (Common.)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Soaring over Payne Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
American Coot (Several, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-billed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Near Terrace Bridge.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Fox Sparrow (4, Lullwater & Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Fairly common.)
Common Grackle

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 (3 or 4.), Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (3.), Tufted Titmouse (2.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal (Several.), Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Monday, March 21, 2005

Fordham Red-Tails: Incubation may have started

Here's an update that I just received from Christopher Lyons:

"Today, 3/21/05, I finally saw one of the Fordham Red-Tails unequivocally sitting in the nest they started building in February [ ... ] at Fordham University in The Bronx. The pair have periodically landed in the nest to fuss with it over the past several weeks, but this was the first time I've seen a bird just sitting in it, with only the head poking up here and there, to look around. [ ... ] I get a pretty good look at the nest, though I can't see directly into it.

There was no sign of a hawk sitting in the nest on Friday, so I have to assume that this latest development occurred sometime over the past 48 hours or so.

I still can't tell the pair apart, except by comparing them side by side--they are very similar in plumage, and I haven't found any strongly identifying physical traits. This hasn't stopped some higher-ranking library employees, influenced by the media buzz surrounding Pale Male and Lola, from naming the new campus residents. The male has been named "Hawkeye Pierce", in honor of the TV actor Alan Alda (probably the most famous living Fordham graduate). The female was named "Rose Hill", after the campus itself. So Hawkeye and Rose for short. They arrived at these monikers without my input or that of the hawks themselves, but not bad naming, all in all. Hawkeye has certainly been doing a lot of piercing, mainly of pigeons and squirrels. And the MASH theme certainly gives us lots of potential ideas for naming the offspring.

Given a 28-32 day incubation cycle, and then an additional 40-odd days to fledging, I feel reasonably secure in the hope that any young that may hatch will not be attempting to leave their nest until after the spring semester has ended, graduation ceremonies have been held, and the campus has become a much quieter place. Could have been a bit sticky if they'd been jumping out of the nest during Commencement Week. As urban nesting sites go, the campus is fairly safe, but I sure wish there wasn't a narrow paved road directly underneath the nest tree. But I guess there's no point worrying about that until such time as we start seeing young."

If Big Mama and Split-tail are on the same schedule as previous years they should also be incubating eggs now. I plan on checking out their nest tomorrow.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Spring Arrives

The Vernal Equinox occurred at 7:34 AM EST, Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

It was a beautiful morning to be just about anywhere outdoors. With clear, blue sky and mid-fifty degree temperatures promised Shane and I headed to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It’s sort of an odd time of the year. Some of the overwintering species have begun to depart but, outside of a few, typical early arrivals, we still have a way to go before spring migration hits our local parks. Still, any day at the refuge is likely to be a good one.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) on Big John's Pond

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Ring-necked Ducks-

Waterfowl was the bird family of the day. There were seventeen species on or around the West Pond. We added two more species on the East Pond and there was a lone drake Ring-necked Duck on Big John’s Pond. We weren’t able to locate any raptors and the only shorebird was a single American Oystercatcher. The oystercatcher was on a sandbar in Pumpkin Patch Channel.

Other than a very vocal Carolina Wren the South Gardens were very quiet.

We stopped at the parking lot next to the Crossbay Bridge to scan the shoreline of Grassy Bay for birds. There were 2 or 3 more oystercatchers on the opposite shore but no other shorebirds. As we were leaving Shane noticed a small crow perched on a streetlamp above the road. We hadn’t seen any Fish Crow all morning so he stopped the car. He asked me to stick my head out of the window and cry, “ca-hah”. For some strange reason I didn’t question him. I mustered my best Fish Crow impersonation and the bird obligingly responded with a short, nasal “ca-hah”. I thanked him and we went on our way.

On another subject, I was curious about what the early flycatchers and other insectivores were eating. In Prospect Park I found small areas of insect activity near the bodies of water. I looked for spots where the flies were landing and took some photos. The following are shots of the insects that are now hovering in small clouds throughout the park. They were photographed on the steel support posts of stretches of cyclone fencing. The "midges are only about 1/8" in length. I'm not sure of their exact species:

Midges (Family Chironomidae)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/17/2005
Horned Grebe (Several.)
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snow Goose (Approx. 12.)
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck (2.)
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck (1, Big John's Pond.)
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
American Coot
American Oystercatcher (1.)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Monk Parakeet (Avenue I.)
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Crow
Fish Crow
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
House Sparrow

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Ravine nest

I cut across the park today on my way to an appointment. I stopped briefly on Payne Hill to check the hawk nest. Nobody was home.

On my way back through the park I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk feather caught on a branch in the Midwood. It was below a tuliptree where Big Mama and Split-tail frequently perch. The wispy plumes at the base of the shaft were wrapped around and tangled on a bud at the end of the branch. It looked so perfect that I just took a photograph and left it.

Trapped hawk feather

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The Ravine red-tailed pair seems to be ahead of Big Mama and Split-tail. I assume that they have begun incubating eggs as the female remained seated on the nest for the ten minutes that I watched.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/17/2005
Mallard (4, Lower Pool.)
Ring-necked Duck (3, Lower Pool.)
Bufflehead (Upper Pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1, sitting on Ravine nest.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.)
Downy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.)
Hairy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.)
Northern Flicker (Payne Hill.)
Tufted Titmouse (Payne Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Payne Hill.)
American Robin
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Dark-eyed Junco (10, Litchfield Villa.)
Common Grackle (12, near Carousel.)
American Goldfinch (~20, Payne Hill.)
House Sparrow

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

More about hawks and buds

The nest tree sans snow

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It’s mid-March and I find myself, once again, seated on a large, buttress-like root at the base of my favorite elm tree. In front of me is a perfect view of Big Mama and Split-tail’s nest at the center of their territorial woods. The melting of the last snowfall seems to be the only thing that has changed here since my last visit. I was hoping to see our park’s largest Red-tailed Hawk settled down on her nest, incubating this year’s eggs. Perhaps she’ll get down to business within the next week.

It seemed unusually quiet in the woods. During the first thirty minutes of my watch the only activity was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker mewing loudly and fending off a Red-bellied Woodpecker from his drinking tree. I heard the nasal call of a White-breasted Nuthatch behind me and to my right. Rather than turn around I just watched his shadow climb an ash tree to my left. At about 12:40pm I heard the high, short chirps of one of the Red-tailed Hawks coming from near Rick’s Place. The hawk flew up and over the trees on Payne Hill. He made a sharp turn above me and dropped down onto the nest. By his relatively small size (compared to the nest) it appeared to be Split-tail. He looked down into the bowl of the nest for a moment then took off. He circled above the woods two or three times then headed north above the Long Meadow. Maybe he was checking to see if his mate had deposited any eggs in the nest. Shortly after a Turkey Vulture passed directly overhead. Strong winds carried the huge, rocking bird swiftly out of the park in a southerly direction. Aren’t birds supposed to be moving north now?

Split-tail checking nest

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Split-tail flying over the woods

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I waited another twenty minutes but neither of the pair returned to the nest so I took a quick walk down to the lake.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) on Lookout Hill

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

As I approached the edge of the lake on the Peninsula Meadow I heard another hawk calling. This time it was a Red-shouldered Hawk. He was perched somewhere near the top of Lookout Hill and his loud, incessant “kee-ah, kee-ah, kee-ah, kee-ah, kee-ah” reverberated across the lake. On the lake the Ring-necked Duck flock has picked up a few more individuals. Today there were two distinct flocks; a group of 24 near Duck Island and another 17 near the spot where people feed the Mallards. It is the largest number that I have ever seen in Prospect Park.

On the way back from the lake I stopped to examine the large, burgundy buds that have recently appeared on the Horsechestnut trees. I was surprised to see that a sticky substance covering the buds had trapped numerous, tiny insects. Farther up Wellhouse Drive I noticed that a species of Hawthorn has begun sprouting delicate, red buds between its slender, protective thorns.

Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Hawthorns-

Our Ring-necked Pheasant has managed to dodge the hawks for two and a half months. I spotted him today cautiously drinking water at the edge of the lower pool. If he can hold on for another month spring’s new growth should help to keep him camouflaged...and off the menu.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/15/2005
Double-crested Cormorant (2, Prospect Lake.)
Wood Duck (2 drakes flying over Nethermead.)
Northern Shoveler (Approx. 40, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (41. 24 near Duck Island, 17 near feeding area.)
Bufflehead (Female, near Duck Is.)
Hooded Merganser (2, near skating rink.)
Common Merganser (1.)
Ruddy Duck (Approx. 75.)
Turkey Vulture (Flying south over Payne Hill.)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Calling on Lookout Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Merlin (Flying over Payne Hill.)
Ring-necked Pheasant (Next to Lower Pool.)
American Coot (Approx. 8.)
Ring-billed Gull (Several thousand, Prospect Lake.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Payne Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Payne Hill.)
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 (Payne Hill.), Black-capped Chickadee (2.), American Robin (Approx. 150, Nethermead Meadow.), European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A snowy morning at Floyd Bennett Field

Early morning at "Ecology Village"

(Photo credit - Rob J)

An early morning trip to Floyd Bennett Field wasn't very productive bird-wise but the fresh snow and mild weather made for some great scenery.

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We counted more Horned Larks this morning than on any other day this winter. There was a flock of 8 near the baseball field, 25 next to the visitors center and 20 near the cricket field. We wanted to be sure that we weren't counting the same flock twice. A quick drive back to the visitors center found the flock of 25 still feeding at the edge of the parking lot.

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I found the larks choice of grass interesting. There are acres of continuous grass fields at Floyd Bennett but they weren't feeding in those areas. I guess they prefer a different type of seed or the food is less plentiful in the main fields. In any case, both of the large flocks were feeding on small clumps of grass growing up through cracks in the concrete or asphalt. We watched as they used their bills like a shovel to remove the accumulated snow then fed on tiny, rice-like seeds. A Killdeer at the edge of the flock near the cricket field seemed out of place.

(Photo credit - Rob J)

As we walked the paths through the area known as the North 40 we checked bare patches in the snow for woodcock. I flushed the first one from a section of exposed leaf litter next to the trail. It was a windless spot warmed by full sunshine. We decided to check all similar snow free areas. The next woodcock we found took off vertically, like a helicopter, then twittered away deep into the phragmites. We never got close to the third one before he flew off into the tangled underbrush. Near the end of one trail we noticed fresh woodcock tracks in the snow and followed them. As they emerged from the underbrush, they made a sharp left turn and followed along the trail. The small, "Y" shaped imprints turned right onto a main trail and headed towards a bare patch beneath a shrub. Falling snow obscured the tracks for a few feet but they picked up again, crossed the trail and disappeared into the underbrush. I was hoping we'd find the bird at the end of the tracks. I imagined that he was watching us the whole time from within the maze of reeds, vines and grass, snickering to himself.

- - - - -

Floyd Bennett Field, 3/12/2005
Red-throated Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-breasted Merganser
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
American Woodcock (3.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
Horned Lark (53.)
Black-capped Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow (Heard singing in the North 40.)
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
House Finch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

What a life

I just received the following great photo and story from my friend Steve:

Split-tail and Big Mama

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

"Took this shot moments after copulation (not me, the birds) last Sunday. This was the first time I'd ever witnessed a pair of Red-tails in the act. I was with Arleen's husband, John.

There was a lot of calling and then the male (Split-Tail?) came in, did his duty and then went to another close tree where he tried to break off a tree limb for the nest. I think he was feeling pumped. He worked it for a minute and then went to another branch which was able to break from the tree. He then took it off to the nest and then just kind of hung out and rested.

I said to John "What a life! First a little breakfast, then a little work, then a quicky, a little more work and it's time for a nap.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

New Year?

More budding trees

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The more I learn about birds, nature and seasonal cycles the more arbitrary January 1st seems to be as the start of the year. In fact, January 1st is right in the middle of the winter season where I live. I don't think there is any astronomical reason for the choice of date and, in fact, the Vernal Equinox would seem a more logical choice. There really isn't any start or stop to the seasons as they are in a constant state of flux. However, lately I've begun to consider the nesting of our local Red-tailed Hawks as the commencement of the new year. The hawks begin courting during the coldest days of winter and set about shoring up their nest by late winter. At around the time witch-hazel is blooming and tiny buds are appearing on some trees, the hawks are settling down to incubate their eggs. By the time many birds just have hatchlings in their nests the young hawks have already fledged and are learning to hunt.

As I approached Payne Hill from the north I spotted one of the adult red-tails soaring above the nest woods. A moment later he was joined by his larger mate. I was surprised when a third, juvenile, Red-tailed Hawk appeared below them. I don't know if it was one of their offspring or a stranger but they were indifferent to his presence and allowed him to soar above the woods with them. I was hoping that they'd descend towards the meadow so I could photograph their undersides for comparison. No such luck. The young raptor ascended into a large puffy cloud as the two adults remained above Payne Hill. Suddenly, from out of the north, a Merlin rocketed towards one of the red-tails. He veered off at the last moment and went into a steep climb. At the top of the climb he rolled over, tucked his wings close to his body and plummeted towards the Red-tailed Hawk.

Now, an average Red-tailed Hawks is 19" long with a 49" wing span and they weight about 2.4 pounds. On the other hand, an average Merlin is only about 10" long with a 24" wing span and weight about 6.5 ounces. What these little guys lack in size they make up for in speed, agility and attitude. The Merlin continued to attack the Red-tailed Hawk for about two minutes. Each time it seemed certain that he would collide with the larger hawk the red-tail would flip his body over and point his bayonet-like talons at the falcon. Maybe the Merlin was just looking for someone to play with but he eventually flew off towards the Midwood.

During the aerial dogfight I lost track of Big Mama, as did Split-tail. He flew off in the direction of the nest and I followed on foot. When I caught up with him he was perched near the top of the tallest tree in the Midwood. He was also making a low, whinning sound. Perhaps he was looking for his mate. A few minutes later he took off, flying north through the trees on Battle Pass...and still whinning. It was easy to find him at the edge of Nelly's Lawn. There is a towering example of Tuliptree labeled on old maps as "Elizabeth's Tuliptree". Since 2002 I've noticed that this is a favorite perching tree for this pair. Perhaps they like it because it gives them an overview of both Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Also, I frequently observe them copulating in that spot at this time of year. This time, however, he was all alone. He barely opened his mouth to make his muted call. It sounded like a lonesome puppy waiting for his master to come home. When he flew off again, this time towards the Picnic House, I decided to check on the other hawk nest.

In the Ravine one of the other hawks was working on the pine tree nest. As he flew over me I noticed his distended crop. He must have just eaten. It prompted me to look around for the pheasant but I didn't see him. On Center Drive I relocated the hawk with the big crop as he stripped bark from a branch in a Sweetgum tree. When he flew off towards the nest the long, trailing extension made me think about the pheasant again.

I took a quick survey of Prospect Lake where the Ring-neck Duck flock has grown to 35 individuals. They're a very nervous species and quickly move to the center of the lake whenever I try to approach. I noticed that "Woody", our resident Wood Duck, has disappeared recently. It seems to be a late-winter pattern. He leaves the park for parts unknown for about a month, then returns in time to court the Mallards.

On my way back home I decided to walk up to Lookout Hill. There's a stand of pines on the hill that seems appropriate for roosting owls. Owls are quite rare in the park but it never stops me from looking. There were no signs of owls. I decided to cut through the woods below the trees instead of taking the icy roadway. I wasn't thinking about birds at that point nor paying attention to the ground when something startled me. There was the flash of a chipmunk-colored bird from the snow in front of me then the whistling of wings. I got my binoculars on it and watch as an American Woodcock flew off towards the Quaker Cemetery. If I had been more vigilant perhaps I could have gotten a photograph of a bird, instead I got this:

Woodcock tracks

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Then last night I received the following e-mail from a friend:

"Just read your note and I was surprised by a woodcock this afternoon. As I was pulling my car into my driveway [ ... ] I saw a small roundish bird sitting in the sun under a white pine next to the driveway. I called my husband on the cell and asked that he try to photograph the bird. He came out slowly and got only one picture before the bird flew toward the swamp, rounding its tail as it went. It was the bright rusty color of the back feathers that caught my eye or I would have missed it.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor )

(Photo credit - Sandra Marraffino)


- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/10/2005
Pied-billed Grebe (1, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (1, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (~20, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (35, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (1, Prospect Lake.)
Hooded Merganser (5, Prospect Lake.)
Common Merganser (1, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (~50, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults, 1 juvenile.)
Merlin (1, attacking Red-tailed Hawk over Payne Hill.)
American Coot (~10, Prospect Lake.)
American Woodcock (1, Lookout Hill.)
Ring-billed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1, near Nelly's Lawn.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, Lookout Hill.)
Swamp Sparrow (Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Common Grackle (Peninsula.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck (~5, Prospect Lake.), Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker (Several.), Hairy Woodpecker (1, near Litchfield Villa. 1, Lookout Hill.), Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin (Common.), European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Other NYC Red-tailed Hawk updates

Here's an update from Chris Lyons. He has been observing Red-tailed Hawks in upper Manhattan and the Bronx. "Pale Male" and "Lola" aren't the only one's taking advantage of the abundant sources of food in the city:

"Subject: Red-tails on Broadway!
From: Christopher Lyons
Date: 3/4/05 1:49 PM

No news from the Fordham nesting site yet--the nesting pair are still in the area, and were seen copulating a few days back, so hopefully incubation will start in a few weeks.

My report today is from Manhattan. I was on my way to work this morning, when while standing at the corner of 156th St. and Broadway, I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk zoom past with what seemed to be a pigeon in its talons. It was pursued by a few starlings, and landed nearby, in a tree planted on a median strip in the middle of Broadway, right across from the Audubon Terrace (John James Audubon himself is buried about a block from where the hawk was perched). I had a pair of binoculars with me, and was able to confirm that it did indeed have a pigeon.

I've been seeing what I assume (perhaps incorrectly) to be this same bird day after day around this neighborhood. I often spy a Red-Tailed Hawk hunting overhead as I head for the subway. There's a small "pigeon park" at 157th & Broadway, just a concrete triangle with some bushes and benches, where people put out food for pigeons. They probably don't realize that they have also been inadvertently feeding raptors.

It was a young bird, brown tail, bright yellow eyes, but I do find myself wondering if Red-Tails will nest in the neighborhood in the near future, or if they already are nesting there. There really aren't any potential nesting areas we can rule out anymore, are there? (g)"

The following is from Barry Freed. He has been observing a nesting pair of red-tails near the Bronx, as well as, a pair of Peregrine Falcons. Here is an excerpt from his recent report:

"Subject: Neighborhood Raptors
From: The Freeds
Date: 2/26/05 7:23 PM

This morning, the nest used by Red-tailed Hawks for the past several years in Inwood Hill Park looked just as derelict as it has on our previous visits. We had heard reports for some time that only one adult bird was around. A more hopeful sign, though, was the appearance, last week, of two RTH adults over our building (very nearly one mile north of the Hill). Since we usually assume that the hawks we often see in our neighborhood are from IHP, this led us to hope that the purportedly lone bird had found a mate.

While I studied the nest (from our lookout next to the Nature Center, on the north side of the inlet), Rita, with 10X optics, quickly spotted a hawk perched on the Hill (south side of the inlet). Once one knew where to look, the bird could be seen with the unaided eye, its light chest and belly gleaming in the sunlight. It was a couple hundred feet east of the nest and farther uphill. After enduring this static situation for a while, we spotted another RTH flying in along the Hill from the east. The undersides of this hawk, both wings and body, seemed unusually light. It flew directly at the perched hawk and, voila!, we now knew that the perched bird was a female and the recent arrival, a male. Copulation occurred almost exactly at noon. After perching together for a while, they took off one at a time and wound up on . . . the nest! They performed a brief inspection, then one bird left and one remained for a time. I had been trying to get my scope aimed at the nest while both birds were there but by the time I had the nest in view, both were gone.

Later, a hawk appeared back on the original perch. Later still, the one became two. This time, we were able to get good long looks at the pair with 72 power and share this view with others, including one of the Park Rangers. As seen from the back, standing side-by-side, with their heads in profile, these hawks seemed as alike as two peas in a pod. There was no discernible size difference. Both had relatively dark heads and backs but with large areas of white on the back, perhaps a bit more on one than the other. The most noticeable difference was that one had a much thicker and darker subterminal tail band than the other. When they split up again, one was back on the nest, rearranging twigs. At last!

Barry Freed
Bronx, NY"

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Winter Red-tailed Hawk update

Nest tree seen from base of elm tree

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Today was my first venture into the park without my cast. I still have to wear a protective splint when I leave the house but it's much less restrictive.

As I walked towards Payne Hill to check on the hawk nest I noticed some unmistakable signs of a season in transition. Despite below freezing temperatures and arctic winds, hundreds of gray, fuzzy buds have erupted on the slender branches of a Pussy Willow at the edge of the Upper Pool. Tiny red and orange buds now adorn the park's maples and elms. Hungry squirrels are feasting on the tender seasonal delicacies and minute, uneaten petals speckle the snow beneath their dining tables. Impatient magnolia trees have also responded to the lengthening days with a gift of soft, furry shoots.

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on willows-

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Starting at noon, I stood beneath the Payne Hill elm watching Big Mama's nest for about thirty minutes. The woodlands were quiet except for one female Hairy Woodpecker. She made a sharp, "peek" call as she flew from tree to tree tapping the trunks with her bill in search of hidden insects. My feet were beginning to get cold and, with no hawks in sight, I thought about calling it quits for the day. The woodpecker found a rotted branch on a black cherry tree to my right and watching her chip away the soft wood temporarily took my mind off of my chilled feet. North of the nest tree, near Sullivan Hill, I heard an eery squealing sound. I lifted my wool cap above my ears to hear better. My first impression was that it sounded like a rat or squirrel being killed. It stopped abruptly and I went back to watching the woodpecker. Not long after I heard one of the Red-tailed Hawks calling from somewhere on Sullivan Hill.

Split-tail was calling non-stop for his mate as he flew from tree to tree on Payne Hill. He was carrying a gift for Big Mama. I couldn't tell what he held in his huge talons but it seemed heavy. When he flew out into the open above the Long Meadow the weight of the prey appeared to make ascending difficult. As he approached the Picnic House, on the opposite side of the field, he had finally gained enough altitude that he could land near the top of a towering oak tree. During the entire flight he made a high, short whistle to summons his mate. Next to the Picnic House he placed what appeared to be a small rabbit on a branch in the oak. She immediately flew over to him and accepted the gift. He then took off to collect more branches for their nest. Big Mama never ate the rabbit while I was present. She seemed indifferent to the food and just stood basking in the bright, late-winter sunshine.

On Prospect Lake I noticed that many of the Northern Shovelers have already departed. The two hundred plus individuals that had spent the winter has been reduced to about fifty. Also, the vast majority of gulls on the lake are Ring-billed Gulls. Most of the approximately two thousand ring-bills are in full breeding plumage. Previously streaky crowns are now a brilliant, pure white. Their pale yellow eyes are outlined in deep, orange-red, as are the corners of their mouths. I never realized that a common gull could be so beautiful.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

(Photo credit - photographer)

-Click here for more info on Mute Swans as an invasive-

As I was returning home I encountered Split-tail one more time. Nearing the Picnic House I noticed a large shadow moving across the field on my left. The amorous hawk was flying low above the field towards Payne Hill. He passed a few feet over my head while making an odd sound that I'd never heard. He was so close that I remember focusing in on his opened mouth. The hoarse, muted call that came out reminded me of a Siamese cat that we owned when I was a child. The sound was made by the cat when he was being affectionate. As Split-tail headed into the woods near the nest tree I wondered if there was any similarity in the meaning.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/4/2005
Double-crested Cormorant (Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (Approx. 50.)
Ring-necked Duck (Prospect Lake 8 males, 2 females.)
Bufflehead (1 female, Prospect Lake.)
Hooded Merganser (1 male, 1 female. Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (approx. 60, Prospect Lake.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Juvenile, Ravine.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 juvenile.)
Ring-billed Gull (Approx. 2000, Prospect Lake.)
Great Black-backed Gull (3.)
Northern Mockingbird (Next to Picnic House.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Approx. 12.)
House Finch (Several near Litchfield Villa.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan (2.), American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (Several.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Friday, March 04, 2005

Great Gray Owl

It's a little off topic with my usual urban oriented writings but I needed an excuse to post a great photograph. My friend Sean recently made the 10 hour drive to photograph a Great Gray Owl. These northern owls occasionally travel south of their normal haunts in search of food. This winter has been an extraordinary year for seeing these beautiful birds close to the Canadian border.

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

-Click here for more info-

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Newbie wrote the following comment in my last post:

"Juvenile Red-Tails in Owl's Head Park in Brooklyn? Now you have me wondering if the "Cooper's Hawk" I saw on the fire escape was really a juvenile Red-Tail. My Audubon book only shows the back of the Red-Tail (displaying the red tail). However, the hawk I saw didn't seem to have a red tail. But he appeared bigger than a crow and had yellow eyes and heavy barring on the chest. However, this bird's body looked more tapered than photos I've seen of Red-Tail's."

Young Red-tailed Hawks actually have very different proportions than the adults. Their tails appear longer and their wings shorter, giving them a more accipiter-like, tapered look. Note also that their tail is not red yet but brown and barred.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Other Brooklyn Red-tailed Hawk sightings

Occasionally I receive e-mail from people regarding Red-tailed Hawk sightings or requests for information about our city hawks. I found the following note interesting and thought I'd share it. It gives you an idea of how common Red-tailed Hawks are becoming around New York City.


I thought I'd try you with my question/observations. Noting the posting on your blog from Feb. 18, I have seen individual red-tails in the vicinity of Bartell Pritchard Circle, both inside and outside the perimeter of the park, several times recently.

I work in downtown Brooklyn and last November, for a few days, I observed a red-tail in the small park in Cadman Plaza, adjacent to the Post Office: no big deal, right? Probably a migrating bird. Two weeks ago, in mid-February, I saw another red-tail perched in the same tree the other hawk seemed to prefer. And then this Saturday, on Sackett and Hoyt Streets, near to St. Agnes Church and the Gowanus Housing Projects, I saw another red-tail chasing the flocks of pigeons that are common in Carroll Gardens. Any thoughts about these sightings?


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Given the time of year, the hawk in downtown Brooklyn could have been just a migrant passing through the area. "Bull's Birds of New York State" describes their fall migration as running as late as mid-October to November.

I've been trying to do an unofficial tally of the Red-tailed Hawks in New York City and there are a lot of them! It's possible that there may be an established pair somewhere in the downtown vicinity.

The six Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery adults seem to move outside of the park fairly frequently. I've watched them in the Botanic Gardens, as well as, hunting above the Park Slope Brownstone roofs (probably for squirrels and pigeons). Last year a woman wrote me about a pair of juveniles that suddenly appeared in Owl's Head Park. I think they are still around that area. About a month ago my friend Shane and I watched a pair flying south above Coney Island Avenue. Maybe they were headed towards Floyd Bennett Field. Also, I remember reading about a pair that tried unsuccessfully for two years to nest on a platform in Thompson Square Park in Manhattan. There is a very informative book on Red-tailed Hawks by Charles R. Preston. He describes them as being "magnificent generalists" and "jacks-of-all-trades" due to their ability to adapt to almost any conditions and surroundings.