Migrants move on

Wednesday, May 22, was a good day for birding Central Park. There was decent warbler variety, with a Mourning Warbler appearing at times on the Point in the afternoon and evening. An Alder Flycatcher was seen and heard there in the morning, and it may have been the empidonax flycatcher that I saw there in the afternoon. Since it did not vocalize then, I could not make the species ID. Cedar Waxwings, some of which will linger throughout the summer, were also observed frequently in flocks throughout the park.

The good birding days began on May 9 and it appears that May 22 was the last of them. Yesterday very little bird song could be heard in the Ramble, aside from some Baltimore Orioles, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blackpoll Warblers. I noticed a Spotted Sandpiper working the northeast shore of Turtle Pond. Aside from these, it was very quiet. It had the steamy feeling of a June day.

It is possible that we get one more push of migrants. We did last year — May 25, 2012, was a great day, one of the few best of the spring. I certainly would not count on it, though.

I added Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Cedar Waxwing on the 22nd to bring my 2013 species total to 172. This is well ahead of the 163 that I had last year at the same point, but   the improvement largely is due to a very strong winter and to some good luck: Common Nighthawk and Chuck-will’s-widow appeared openly on the same day last week and were widely reported; Least Flycatcher and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron showed up at Randall’s Island.

As I have said before, I am not trying to do another big year. I expect that other responsibilities will take precedence over fall birding (which can begin as early as mid-July), but I probably will get out to Randall’s Island and Swindler Cove Park for the summer shorebird season.

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A Torrent of Migrants

The last seven days offered excellent species variety in Manhattan. I added 21 new species for the year, including some rare warblers that I was not expecting to get. This leaves me with 170 species for the year, which suddenly puts me well ahead of last year’s pace (had 161 as of the same date then) after having been well behind it last week.

My warbler deficit largely got filled with a great influx of the rarer varieties: Blackburnian, Cape May, Prothonotary, Mourning, and Tennessee.

I also picked up my “peeps,” with Solitary Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper foraging side-by-side in the Compost Heap last Sunday. I had a single Least Sandpiper on Randall’s Island off the NE shore today. It was near a wading Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, another new species for the year that I had in the same spot last year in July.

I also had a few unexpected species. A Marsh Wren showed up last Saturday in the bamboo on the Riviera section of the Lake. Even more surprising were the two nightjars I had (along with dozens of other birders) yesterday. A Common Nighthawk was found high up in a tree SW of Mugger’s Woods in the Ramble. I wrote a chapter (“Nighthawk Watchman”) in my book about how I spent many August and September evenings watching in vain for a Common Nighthawk flyover until a pair finally arrived. I will not need to repeat that exercise this year. Later another nightjar was found perching prominently high above the north end of Tupelo Meadow. After some debate and close inspection, this bird was determined to be a Chuck-will’s-widow, a species with no prior eBird records for Manhattan. It was a life Manhattan bird for nearly everyone who saw it, including me.

Just minutes after viewing it, I wandered over to the fenced-in area just west of Humming Tombstone and had a Willow Flycatcher, which I identified by call. This, too, was a life Manhattan bird, one of the easiest of those I was missing. It had been reported often in the Park in the past few days. It brought my life Manhattan total to 223.

Winds change — birds return!

It was looking as if we were not going to have a real spring migration in the New York area. The first three days of the week were awful! On Wednesday, May 7, I spent two early-morning hours in the Ramble and had just a single warbler.

Then on Wednesday evening the winds switched to southerly, and Thursday turned out to be very good, though marred by intermittent rain in the morning that soon became heavy and chased birders out of the park. By afternoon the sun was out, and the songs of warblers could be heard all over the Ramble again. I had 14 total warbler species, and added six new birds for the year: Yellow-throated VireoVeery, Blue-winged WarblerMagnolia Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager.

Today, Friday the 10th, was even better. Species variety and individual numbers were by far the highest for the year and on par with the best spring days of 2012. A single oak at Summit Rock produced over a dozen migrants over twenty minutes of watching. I added Swainson’s Thrush, Bay-breasted Warbler, Canada Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, and Summer Tanager.

My total for the year now is 149 species, not far behind the 158 I had at this time last year. You can tell I am not going for another big year because I did not run to the Blockhouse area in the North End to get the ultra-rare American Bittern that was reported there. Nor did I chase the nearby Black-billed Cuckoo.

A morning at Inwood Hill Park

I have never gone to Inwood Hill for spring migration before. As I mention in my book, it is one of the best places in Manhattan for fall raptor migration. The east bay can be good for shorebirds in the summer. It has held mating Great Horned Owls. Three weeks ago there were Pileated Woodpecker reports.

It is not, however, a place I generally would recommend for warblers and other spring migrants. It does not have Central Park’s geographical advantage, nor plentiful small ponds and marshes, and its canopy is very high, making for difficult views.

But Central Park right now lacks some species that are appearing at Inwood Hill Park: Orchard Oriole, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, and Wood Thrush. (All of these have appeared in previous days in Central Park, but in singles or very low numbers.) Generally, the last three of these species have been common in Central Park at this time of year, birds you could expect to find nearly every day, and even Orchard Oriole appeared frequently last year — it is just by nature somewhat hard to find.

I did not want to miss these birds, so off I went to Inwood Hill. I arrived just before 9 a.m. I could hear at least one Orchard Oriole singing in the trees at the north end of the soccer fields, and soon I saw one. Several Warbling Vireos also could be heard and even seen.

Shortly after taking a trail into the woods I began hearing Wood Thrush songs, which alone made the trip worthwhile.

It took some searching, but near the highest point of the Ridge I began hearing the scratchy vreeeep call of the Great Crested Flycatcher, and soon I had the bird in sight.

I never did observe the Eastern Kingbird, but this species peaks in the third week of May and lingers in Central Park through much of the summer, so there is still plenty of time.

Worst May 2 Ever

The last five birding days have gone from sub-par to awful. None of these days had large numbers of individual birds, though Sunday at least had a decent species count wherein you could observe singles of a variety of warblers, like Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Blue.

This morning was eerily bad. I had only two warblers, Northern Parula and Prairie Warbler (which I have had every day now for a week) and well under 30 total species. Last year on the same date I had 20 warblers and 70 species.

The strange thing is that temperatures have been only a bit cool, in the low 50s at dawn, and winds have been light, though usually with an easterly or northerly component.

Some say that all it takes is light easterly winds to deflect migrants to the west of New York City (and the East Coast in general), so that migration may be happening and it may be passing us by. I don’t know. eBird maps do not show many warbler observations to the west and north, but these areas tend to be less well-reported.

I will look forward to reading the next weekly BirdCast projections, which should be coming out on Friday the 3rd. According to Weather.com, the winds should have an easterly component for the next ten (!!) days, with only a small southerly component beginning on Sunday. This cannot be good.