Canal District

(c) Greg Saulmon

(c) Greg Saulmon

UPDATE, Friday morning: Some time between dusk last night and dawn this morning, the wayward hawk found its way back up to the nest.


Original post:

A check on the Red-tailed Hawk nest this afternoon found some drama: one of the young hawks found its way to the lower level of the nest platform and couldn’t figure out how to get back “upstairs”.

I watched for about two-and-a-half hours, and when I left as it started to get dark the little one was still separated from its siblings. The adult hawks know it’s down there — the mother checked on it several times — but it also missed two feedings during the time I watched.

The stray little hawk seems reachable in terms of the adults delivering food, but the spot it’s in doesn’t allow for the jump-flapping exercise necessary to keep building the strength for fledging.

Of course, if the hawk is already strong enough, fledging may just be the next logical step — and the only step out of this predicament.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Here’s a confession: until last Sunday, I’d never seen a female Red-winged Blackbird.

But then, driving along the canal in the city’s South Holyoke neighborhood, I saw a male perched on a chain link fence. I pulled over, hoping to snap a photo. The bird flew away. And then it started to rain.

I waited.

Several more males landed on utility wires overhead. When they flew away, they flew down toward the canal, out of sight over the steep bank. When the rain died down, I scurried under a fence to see where they were going.

At the water’s edge was a band of reeds and cattails, and two female Red-winged Blackbirds were busy snatching insects and tending to their well-camoflaged nests.

Some of the photos below may make this spot look like a bucolic marsh, but looks are deceiving. Across the canal is a row of factories. Back up the bank and across the street is a tire store.

It’s a world inside a world, and it’s one I’m glad to have discovered.

Here’s a slideshow of photos from the outing:

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Last weekend marked MassAudubon’s 30th-annual ‘Bird-a-thon‘ fundraiser. The idea: log as many species as possible within a 24-hour period. The event runs from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Saturday.

I set a goal of logging 50 species within walking distance of Holyoke’s downtown neighborhoods. Friday evening and Saturday morning were promising — but despite the good weather, new sightings slowed down Saturday afternoon. My little team, which also included Holyoke resident and fellow blogger Sonia Barrera, ended up logging a total of 45 species. Not bad, considering most of the habitat we surveyed included urban parks and industrial tracts.

A few highlights included my first-ever Yellow Warblers in Holyoke; a Killdeer (also a Holyoke first for me) that landed near my feet by an electrical substation on Water Street; a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that paid a visit as dozens of shad fishermen tended to their hobby nearby; and an Eastern Kingbird, seen at a distance, that briefly confounded us until Sonia nailed the ID.

In addition to a multitude of Yellow Warblers, we spotted a Black-and-white Warbler, a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and an American Redstart. There were a number of Warbling Vireos out, too, as well as a male and female Baltimore Oriole out behind the paper mills near the river.

Missing from the list were the woodpeckers (mostly Downy and Red-bellied) that I often see, as well as the Belted Kingfisher that’s almost always a sure bet out near the river.

While we didn’t hit my 50-species goal, sticking so close to home reinforced the idea that you don’t have to go anywhere fancy to see really interesting birds. At one point, a Yellow Warbler perched on a utility line right by Water Street. Any kid living in the Flats could see that bird, and that’s awesome.

Below, a slideshow of photos I shot during our time in the field. I’ll post the full list in the days ahead.

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(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Three chicks have hatched at downtown Holyoke’s Red-tailed Hawk nest.

I got my first look at one of them last Saturday morning, in a view from above the nest. The little chick was huddled close against its parent (above), its siblings hidden from view.

Today, though, was the first day I’ve been able to see the little ones from the ground. One tottered around the nest, craning its neck to see over the edge, with one sibling barely in view and the other hiding out toward the rear of the nest:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

It’s hard to believe these new arrivals will be ready to fly in just over a month, and ready to strike out on their own just a few weeks after that. I stopped seeing the young hawks from last year’s brood around mid-July. This year, that day will again come sooner than I’d like.

Today’s observation had another interesting twist: while watching the chicks on the nest, I heard a commotion on a nearby rooftop and turned to see two raptors taking flight. One of the other parents, of course, but what was the second bird?

It turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon, and the two sparred briefly before the falcon fled:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

I’ve been seeing the falcons very irregularly this year, but it’s good to know they’re still visiting the city.




This gallery contains 11 photos.

While I do most of my birding in the heart of Holyoke, I find it helpful to take regular trips to more traditional birding hotspots around the Pioneer Valley. Checking in at places like Arcadia, where the bird populations tend to be a bit more robust and varied, helps me keep tabs on when migratory …

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(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Back in March, I predicted that we’d see chicks hatch at the Red-tailed Hawk nest downtown between April 11 and 18.

As we near the end of that window, I checked on the site this afternoon. The hawk on the nest was alternating between the usual hunkered-down position and the sort of half-squat shown above, often holding its wings partially open.

I didn’t observe any feeding behavior to indicate that newborn chicks were already in the nest, but the hawk on the nest frequently looked down between its feet. Was it rolling the eggs, or watching a tiny hawk chipping away at its shell? We should know soon.

One thing that occurred to me today was both this year and last year the hawks built their nest right up against brick walls that get direct afternoon sunlight. I started to wonder if that’s a deliberate choice, as the nest would receive a few hours of reflected warmth each day, giving the eggs a little boost before temperatures drop off at night.