Bicknell’s Thrush, Strawberry Fields

I had a somewhat late night, and so I did not make it to the Ramble this morning until 9:55. My primary focus these days is bodybuilding, so I need to get plenty of sleep — otherwise, there is no progress. I wanted to chase the earlier report of a Mourning Warbler at Sparrow Rock. By the time I reached this location there were no birders near it, a bad sign. I gave it a cursory look and then went on my way. I did see some birders at Tanner’s Spring looking for the Kentucky Warbler that had appeared there, a bird that I had gotten two weeks ago and so would not need to chase.

I went to Strawberry Fields, where good warbler reports had come in earlier and where I figured a singing Mourning Warbler was still a possibility. As I ascended the dirt trail on the north end I heard a song that I had reviewed just a few days prior, that of Bicknell’s Thrush. I heard the song again, and then just fifteen feet away, perched at eye level on a bare limb, the bird doing the singing came into view. It looked exactly the way a Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s type thrush should look — the two species cannot reliably be distinguished in the field, though there are some features said to suggest one over the other.

There had been only three eBird reports of Bicknell’s Thrush in Central Park prior to today, the last from 2008. Why so few? It looks just like another unexciting bird, the Gray-cheeked Thrush; it even sounds somewhat like this other bird, with the Bicknell’s song ending on an up-slur and the Gray-cheeked song ending on a down-slur; few birders know the distinction and listen for it; and these thrushes appear only during a relatively narrow window in mid- to late May and then move on. Of course, they return again in the fall, but then they do not sing.

The Bicknell’s Thrush is my 240th lifetime Manhattan species, and my 176th of 2014.

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A long, intense birding weekend

New York City was having a very dismal migration season until late last week when the winds changed and new species arrived by the dozen. The four day period May 1 to 4 was the most productive I have ever had other than at the very start of the year. I added 32 birds to my year list, a phenomenal number that shot me well ahead of any previous year for the date. On May 2 alone I added 14 species, a one-day (non-January) personal record.

Highlights:

Thursday, May 1 — Veery, Wood Thrush, Orchard Oriole, Blue-winged Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler;

Friday, May 2 — Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, White-crowned Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting;

Saturday, May 3 — Black-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Summer Tanager;

Sunday, May 4 — White-eyed VireoCape May Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler.

May 2 was the day that ace birder Lenore Swenson gave another Starr Saphir Memorial Bird Walk in the Ramble, the results of which you can see here. Her walk definitely helped add to my total. Just as last year, the walk occurred on the best migration day of the season up to that point.

Today, May 4, had some unusual opportunities. A Prothonotary Warbler (male) had been found late in the afternoon the day before by Gabriel Willow at Madison Square Park. Since I am not doing another full-effort big year, I did not chase it then, though a few people did. When it was confirmed to still be at the park this morning, and after I got two other very good warblers, I decided it was worth a quick trip. I arrived at 3:30 p.m. and within five minutes I found it high in the trees just west of the ShakeShack.

I wasted no time in returning home to eat and rest. I had been running and walking around Central Park for four days, as much as eight hours per day, and my legs were sore. I just wanted to lie in bed.

At 5:35 p.m. an NYNYBIRD alert chimed in with the report of a Kentucky Warbler in the Evodia Field area. I already had my running clothes on, so I bolted out of bed, grabbed my binoculars, and set off running. There already were six birders on the scene when I arrived, and it took only a couple minutes for the Kentucky to pop out again and then quickly disappear. It ended up flying a bit, with people following it to the other side of the field (the one immediately east of Evodia, where the feeders are) and back. Then it appeared again, moving on the ground, and we got excellent views.

I wanted to take full advantage of some great days for Central Park birding, because the previous year has shown that these days may be few. I admit that I also like the challenge of finding a wide variety of species, even if I am not going to chase every rarity all over town as I did in 2012.

I finish the long weekend with 156 birds for the year in Manhattan.