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The City Birder

My Red-tailed Hawks and other wildlife observations from around Brooklyn and NYC

Modified: 2006-06-05T21:30:42Z


The City Birder


Red-tailed Hawk updates

Over the weekend I scanned through my journal entries for 2002, 2003 and 2004. I was looking for the fledge dates of the previous Red-tailed Hawk broods in Prospect Park. Before walking over to the park yesterday I wanted to figure out an estimated fledge date. Previous dates were 6/11, 6/25 and 6/14. We are getting close.

My hawk watching spot has become so lush and overgrown with shrubs, saplings and low growing plants that I almost walked passed it. Fortunately, there is still an opening in the canopy framing the nest.

Alice and one of her offspring
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Alice was sitting at the south side of the nest with one of her offspring. I never observed the other chick for the two hours that I watched. That doesn’t mean something may have happened to him, it’s just difficult from my vantage point to see the east side of their huge nest. The flight feathers of the visible hawk are almost completely developed but his head plumes are still pretty thin. The effect is that he looks like a huge bird with a tiny, little head. He spent a lot of time preening his flight feathers and scratching incessantly at his emerging head plumage. I suppose it feels a lot like growing a beard. There’s a short period of time when the new whiskers cause terrible itching.

Learning to use his wings
(Photo credit - Rob J)

The young bird has begun testing out his new wings. He is at the hop-flap period of growth. Birds at this age don’t just stretch out their wings and flap, but also hop from one side of the nest to the other at the same time. The next stage will be climbing to a branch outside of the nest and flying back. I would guess that by this time next week they’ll be ready to take their maiden flight. Then the fun begins.

Also, I recently received an update from Rich and Chris at Fordham University. Their hawks are also moving along at a fast pace and should be leaving the nest soon:

Subject: Practicing Fledging
Date: 5/31/06 11:38 PM

Rob and Chris,

I do not believe that the hatchlings are quite ready to fledge but at least two of them are getting closer. Watching the nest today, I saw two of the chicks spend a great deal of time flapping their wings and one of them in particular was "jumping" all around the ledge with wings flapping. While both feet did get off of the ground, it was more of a jump than a flight. In addition, it appears that the third eyeass is developmentally behind the other two. I am attaching pictures of the wing flapping behavior.


Practicing for the big dance
(Photo credit - Rich Fleisher)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 6/4/2006
Red-tailed Hawk
Northern Flicker
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Tufted Titmouse
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
American Redstart
Baltimore Oriole

Other common species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow


Road trip to upstate NYBashakill (Haven Road) at dawn(Photo credit - Rob J)We took another insane road trip to upstate New York. Doug joined Sean, Shane and I on our second one day, thousand mile birding marathon. My infinitely patient wife never even asks why we I do these things. I guess she understands when I crawl through our front door, tired and dirty but excited about sharing the day’s events.Our plan was to arrive at Bashakill WMA by 4:00am and listen for Barred Owls. We would then head to the road that bisects the marsh and listen for rails in the water and Whip-poor-wills in the surrounding woods. From there we would drive north to Montezuma NWR to look for a flock of pelicans, Black Terns and, nearby, a family of Sandhill Cranes. We also made an unplanned stop at Cayuga Lake. There were several other breeding songbirds along our route that we hoped to locate. Finding the Barred Owl was pretty easy. We drove to an area where, last year, we had observed a pair of fledgling Barred Owls. Within a short time a silent, dark silhouette passed above us and vanished into the forest. Moments later came a loud, “hoo-hoo-to-hooo, hoo-hoo-to-hoo-aw”. We left him alone in his forest kingdom and drove to Haven Road. The idea of parking in the center of the marsh and listening for birds in the darkness never struck me as being a very difficult task. However, I never counted on thousands of breeding bullfrogs (possibly even millions). Their low, rumbling calls seemed to multiply across the marsh like ripples on a pond, growing in volume and intensity. Then, just as it rose to a crescendo, it would gradually diminish. Adding to the low frequency serenade was an American Bittern’s deep percussive, “oong-ka-choonk, oong-ka-choonk, oong-ka-choonk”. It was nearly impossible to distinguish any other sounds.Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)(Photo credit - Rob J) As the sky began to lighten, Sean spotted a Snapping Turtle laying her eggs at the side of the road. By sunrise I could see several dirt mounds where other turtles had recently buried their eggs.Snapping Turtle eggs plundered by a raccoon(Photo credit - Rob J)At Montezuma we had hoped to find a reported flock of White Pelicans, Black Terns and a family of cranes. There were plenty of terns but, despite circling the refuge several times, we couldn’t locate the pelicans.male Petite Emerald (Dorocordulia lepida)(Photo credit - Rob J)Throughout our day I noticed that Eastern Cottonwoods were creating flurries of fine, downy snow showers. The blowing seeds created deep drifts along the edges of roads and converted green lawns into fluffy, white carpets.Hop Clover & cottonwood snow(Photo credit - Rob J)-Click here for more info on Hop Clover-Carncross Road dead ends near one of the area’s many canals. The habitat on either side of the road is a combination of wild, grass meadows and cut corn fields. It is in this area that a pair of Sandhill Cranes nested and are currently raising two colts. By this point in the day we were all exhausted and the temperature was soaring. Sean parked the car at one end of the road and we split into two groups. Between the long distances and heat distortion we were quickly becoming disillusioned. To come so far in one day and not find the cranes would be a disappointing way to end our trip. We climbed into the car and drove slowly back to the main road. Just as the last field was passing from view Doug yelled, “STOP“. Sean backed the car up, we rolled down the windows and pointed our binoculars towards the south horizon. There they were, mother, father and the two kids out for a late meal. The four cranes were very far away so Shane set-up his scope. I have only seen Sandhill Cranes in Florida and never with their young. We snapped a few photos through the scope, high-fived each other then got into the car for the 400 mile drive south.Sandhill Cranes with colts(Photo credit - Rob J)(Photo credit - Doug Gochfeld)-Click here for info on saving cranes-- - - - - Bashakill WMA, Blue Chip Farms, Montezuma[...]


Long Island road tripBeach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus) at Pike's Beach(Photo credit - Rob J)Doug, Sean, Shane and I are attempting, what is known in birding as, a “Big Year”. That is, we’re trying to see as many bird species in New York State as humanly possible. For New York State the bellwether for a very good year is 300 species. So, while Doug and I are at the mercy of other folks with cars, we’re helping each other to reach that goal. It has involved planning our outings around the seasonal appearance of certain species, as well as, keeping a close eye on the birding discussion groups. We also keep in touch via cellphone when we find a rare or target species. As of today, Sean is in the lead with 286 species. Shane is a close second while Doug and I have a bit of catching up to do.Doug and I had already gone out to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to see the Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. Shane and Sean needed to make sure that they wouldn’t miss them so they went out before dawn yesterday. I drove with Shane and, when we arrived, Sean was already watching the ducks on the West Pond. Part of Shane and my strategy yesterday was to also drive out to eastern Long Island to find a few more species. We both needed to be back in Brooklyn by lunchtime so it would be a marathon run to several grassland and coastal habitats. Some of the species that we were hoping to locate were Northern Bobwhite, Upland Sandpiper, Piping Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Blue Grosbeak and Grasshopper Sparrow. Of the seven bird species only two can be seen reliably within the limits of New York City.Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus)(Photo credit - Rob J)I was glad that I’d have the opportunity to look for Grasshopper Sparrow and other grassland species but was really excited about visiting the coast. Shorebirds are migrating north to their arctic breeding grounds and most are wearing their Sunday best. I usually only look for shorebirds in the fall when their plumage is worn and faded. Right now Horseshoe Crabs are laying eggs along the shoreline, just as they have for millions of years. Shorebirds have evolved to take advantage of that bounty and fatten up for the long flight north.Mixed shorebirds(Photo credit - Rob J)The grassy habitats of Eastport and Zabriskie Airport were relatively quiet but we did find a Blue Grosbeak and a few Grasshopper Sparrows. In contrast the shoreline along the east end’s bay side were crawling with a mix of Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, Least Sandpipers, Dunlins and Semipalmated Sandpipers. At Pike’s Beach we also spotted a few diminutive Piping Plovers. The sand above the high tide line was carved with wide arcs that traced the entry and exit from the bay of breeding Horseshoe Crabs. A short distance from the shore a Ruddy Turnstone was perched on the back of a pair of mating Horseshoe Crabs. He didn’t seem to realize or care that they were slowly swimming into deeper water.Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)(Photo credit - Rob J)Ruddy Turnstone riding Horseshoe Crabs(Photo credit - Rob J)Red Knot (Calidris canutus)(Photo credit - Rob J)-Click here for info on Horseshoe Crabs & Red Knots--Click here to learn about declining crabs-Our main reason for driving to Pike’s Beach was to search for a reported Red-necked Phalarope. We expected that we’d spend a long time searching for it and left ourselves extra time. We parked the car and walked a short path to the beach and set-up our scopes. Within about 60 seconds a small flock of birds flew from our right and passed in front of us. The Red-necked Phalarope in the lead. They landed at the end of the stretch of beach and continued feeding at the water’s edge. Phalaropes are an interesting group of birds. The females have more colorful plumage than the males. The males incubate the eggs and tend to the chicks while the females fly off to breed with other males. Talk about your modern relationship.Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) at Pike's Beach(Photo credit - Rob J)It wa[...]


Another rarity at Jamaica Bay Wildlife RefugeYellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)(Photo credit - Rob J)It’s been sort of a whirlwind weekend. Between hosting visiting relatives and family events I managed to cram in some birding on both Sunday and Monday. Sunday morning began when Doug phoned to inform me of a trio of rare Fulvous Whistling-Duck at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I quickly packed up my gear and he picked me up in front of my place with his father in tow.The ducks were reported earlier in the morning on the West Pond between bench number 6 & 7. As we strolled down the path towards the location several folks with scopes hurried passed us. Up ahead we saw a group of birders gathered shoulder to shoulder near bench #7. By the jovial atmosphere surrounding the bench I figured that the ducks were still present. I’ve never seen a Fulvous Whistling Duck in New York, or anywhere else, for that matter. I assumed that the word “fulvous” had something to do with color but had never heard the word used in any other context. The dominant plumage color of the three birds is a soft, cinnamon-orange. According to Oxford’s American dictionary fulvous means “reddish yellow; tawny”. They also have a wide black strip on the back of their head that runs down their neck and ends at their nape. Their legs are much longer than any other waterfowl that I’ve seen and makes them stand as tall as many geese.Fulvous Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor)(Photo credit - Rob J)I suppose that the ducks had tallied up a lot of frequent flyer mileage as they spent most of their time sleeping along the edge of the pond. They did swim around close to the shoreline for a few minutes but, other than that, they mostly just rested.I feel a little guilty that I have to keep this report brief. My in-laws are staying with us until tomorrow afternoon and I need to be sociable and not sit and type for hours. There were so many observations at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge that I want to share but have to just rely on my photos. Blooming Poison Ivy, Sulfur Cinquefoil and Eastern Cottonwood were just a few botanicals new to me that I noted, as well as, some of the refuge’s breeding birds. Also, this morning (Monday) Shane and I drove out to eastern Long Island at 4:30am to visit several good shorebird and grassland habitats. I have several photos and observations that will just have to wait until tomorrow evening. Until then, enjoy. Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)(Photo credit - Rob J)Sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta)(Photo credit - Rob J)-Click here for more info on Sulfur cinquefoil-Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) male flowers(Photo credit - Rob J)-Click here for more info on Poison Ivy-Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus )(Photo credit - Rob J)Addendum:Angus Wilson just posted the following, curious e-mail:"Subject: Fulvous Whistling Ducks - Deja vu all over again?Date: 5/30/06 1:22 AMIt is curious to note that the second record of Fulvous Whistling Duck (then Fulvous Tree Duck) for New York State involved 3 birds together at Jamaica Bay!The dates...... 29 May to 4 June 1965!Forty-one years almost to the day. Food for thought, no? If you haven't seen these delightful birds yet, I'd hurry over the bay in the next five days :)BTW This is a NYSARC review species and we'd appreciates notes and photographs. You are welcome to use the on-line submission form., Angus WilsonNew York City"- - - - - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, 5/28/2006 - Double-crested Cormorant Great Blue Heron Great Egret Snowy Egret Little Blue Heron Green Heron Black-crowned Night-Heron Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Glossy Ibis Fulvous Whistling-Duck Gadwall Northern Shoveler Osprey American Coot Black-bellied Plover Semipalmated Plover American Oystercatcher Willet Spotted Sandpiper Ruddy Turnstone Red Knot Semipalmated Sandpiper Least Sandpiper White-rumped Sandpiper Dunlin Laughing Gull Great Black-backed Gull Common Tern [...]


Just a really cute photo

My friend Eleanor sent me this photo. She took it in Central Park and it was so cute I had to post it.

Raccoon family
(Photo credit - Eleanor Tauber)


Gray-cheeked thrushes in Prospect ParkOn Thursday morning Doug Gochfeld and I birded in the Midwood forest of Prospect Park. Over the last week or so we've seen a notable increase in migrating thrushes. Gray-cheeked-type thrushes have been fairly common. I figured that there was the possibility of a Bicknell's Thrush within the mix. Along with my bins and field guide I brought a small pair of portable speakers and a sound sample of the bicknell's song and call on my Palm Tungsten E.We set-up near the bridle path at the north end of the Midwood where we noticed two gray-cheeked type thrushes feeding at the edge of the path. I placed the speakers on the ground, put the recording on endless loop and backed up about 20 feet. One of the thrushes responded almost immediately by hopping down the path and right up to the speakers. Compared to the thrush that didn't respond this individual had more reddish-brown wings, tail and rump. It didn't sing or call at that time.Angry chipmunk(Photo credit - Sean Sime)I returned at the end of the day with Doug and Sean Sime. Sean brought along his camera gear. It didn't take us very long to locate a gray-cheeked with similar plumage. When I played the recording near the stairs at the end of the Midwood he hopped over towards the speakers until he was chased away by a chipmunk (yes, a chipmunk). We moved a short distance from this location and played the recording again. With no chipmunk nearby he hopped right towards the speakers. This time I heard him make a muted "veeerr" call. Sean, who was taking photos much closer to the bird also reported hearing it make, what sounded like, the rising, final segment of the bicknell's song.Bicknell's Thrush (Catharus bicknelli), click for larger image(Photo credit - Sean Sime)After posting my questions and Sean's photographs online I received the following, enlightening response:"I was most intrigued by your whole story. As far as I am concerned, the fact that it responded to a Bicknell's recording says nearly all (it would have been nice of it had also FAILED to respond to a Gray-cheek...).I was curious to see the pix, and especially pleased when I did. The rufous tones to the wing and tail are there; the wing actually looks blunter than a Gray-cheek's (helps if you have handled some in banding); and most critical is that lower mandible: it is 3/4 fairly bright yellow with only a small dusky tip. Gray-cheek's is no more than 1/2 light, the rest being pale, even pinkish, yellow (if yellow at all).In sum, to sort of back into the ID a bit, there is nothing WRONG for Bicknell's, and nothing RIGHT for Gray-cheek.Both species must move through in good numbers; it's not as if Bicknell's is some Siberian vagrant. Banding studies in Queens in the 1930s revealed that the Gray-cheek:Bicknell's ratio was ca. 3:1 in spring, and 1.3:1 in fall, in a total sample of 378 birds. I see no reason why this RATIO should have changed, notwithstanding some overall reductions in absolute numbers of all 3 'northern' Catharus thrushes.Nice bird!"Below are some links with more information on Bicknell's Thrushes:-A Species is Born--Species of special concern in Canada--Audubon Watch List-[...]


Ralph, Alice and the kidsAfter much consideration, I’ve settled on the names Ralph and Alice for the Red-tailed Hawk pair in Prospect Park. Today I visited their nest from noon until 1:30pm. Over that period I was fortunate to observe their very active offspring stretching surprisingly well developed wings. One of the adults remained at the nest the entire time I was present. Just prior to my departure the other adult arrived at the nest.It seems as though the larger, pale headed adult is Ralph, the male. Usually the female is larger so perhaps there is a role reversal with this pair, but I doubt it. While he was at the nest Ralph retrieved the remains of an meal from within the deep stick structure. He gently presented it to Alice, who had barely moved for the 90 minutes I monitored the nest. I haven’t spent nearly as much time watching this nest as I had with Big Mama and Split-tail. Big Mama would take frequent breaks from the nest, even if it was just to perch in an adjacent tree. Alice seems to be more concerned with her offspring’s protection.Prospect Park hawks 05/25(Photo credit - Rob J)The two young hawks spent a lot of time flapping their wings and waddling around the edge of the nest. At times they seemed to be eyeing the branches that extend above the nest.While I was watching the nest a pair of young squirrels foraged nearby. They’ve been there each time I’ve visited the nest. Today I was eating peanuts and they began sniffing around behind my chair. Unlike squirrels at the edges of the park the forest squirrels are more wary of people. Just for laughs, I placed a peanut on my foot to see if they would take it. One kept circling the area, acting as if he was disinterested. Each time he’d get a little closer. Finally, he crept up to my foot and gently took the peanut. I suspect that the next time I come up to the hawk watching spot he’ll be waiting for me.It appears that the Fordham University hawks in the Bronx are at the same stage of development at the Brooklyn offspring:Subject: Chicks are Getting Stronger and More ActiveDate: 5/24/06 10:31 PMRob and Chris, I spent about an hour watching the nest today. Each day the chicks are getting bigger and stronger and more active.  One of them in particular has really taken to flapping its wings. You can also see the change in their feathers as they are losing the "fluffy down" and growing darker feathers. RichFordham hawks 05/24(Photo credit - Rich Fleisher)- - - - - Prospect Park, 5/25/2006 - Red-tailed Hawk Northern Flicker Eastern Wood-Pewee Great Crested Flycatcher Warbling Vireo Red-eyed Vireo Veery Swainson's Thrush Wood Thrush Gray Catbird Cedar Waxwing Northern Parula Yellow Warbler Magnolia Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler Blackburnian Warbler Prairie Warbler Blackpoll Warbler American Redstart Ovenbird Northern Waterthrush Common Yellowthroat Canada Warbler Scarlet Tanager Rose-breasted Grosbeak Common Grackle Baltimore Oriole Other common species seen (or heard):Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow[...]


Swallow flock over Prospect LakeCommon Nightshade (Solanum americanum)(Photo credit - Rob J)After work today I pedalled into Prospect Park before the sun went down. Shane had called me earlier in the day to report a Cliff Swallow flying over the lake. What he hadn’t told me was that the air above the lake was seething with several hundred swallows. Bank Swallows seemed to be remaining mostly in the corner of the lake near West Island. Trees and Barns were weaving paths back and forth across the entire lake. In the space between Three Sister’s Island and the Peninsula were a pair of Cliff Swallows swooping and diving for insects. The low sunlight reflecting off of their white forehead patch looked like a headlight, making them easy to pick out among the other swallows. Timing their migration to coincide with the emergence of billions of flying insects, the birds were likely feeding on the park’s sudden eruption of midges. In the mottled light of the Ravine we could see clouds of these tiny flies hovering above the waterfall, stream and pools. - - - - - Prospect Park, 5/23/2006 - Double-crested Cormorant Wood Duck (Upper pool.)Red-tailed Hawk Spotted Sandpiper Ring-billed Gull Monk Parakeet (~12, near bandshell.)Chimney Swift Belted Kingfisher Olive-sided Flycatcher (1, Rick's Place. 1, Vale of Cashmere.)Great Crested Flycatcher Eastern Kingbird Warbling Vireo Red-eyed Vireo Tree Swallow (Prospect Lake, several dozen.)Northern Rough-winged Swallow (3, Upper pool.)Bank Swallow (~14, Prospect Lake.)Cliff Swallow (2, Prospect Lake.)Barn Swallow (Prospect Lake, several dozen.)House Wren Swainson's Thrush Gray Catbird Cedar Waxwing Northern Parula Yellow Warbler Black-throated Blue Warbler Bay-breasted Warbler Blackpoll Warbler American Redstart Ovenbird Northern Waterthrush Common Yellowthroat Wilson's Warbler Canada Warbler Common Grackle Brown-headed Cowbird Baltimore Oriole Other common species seen (or heard):Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House SparrowSpring Vetch (Vicia sativa)(Photo credit - Rob J)Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) on Lullwater(Photo credit - Rob J)-Click here for more info on Black-crowned Night-Heron-Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)(Photo credit - Rob J)House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) on Lookout Hill(Photo credit - Rob J)-Click here for more info on House Wrens-[...]