Long-tailed Duck, Hudson River, Inwood

The Long-tailed Duck was perhaps my top nemesis bird. I should have had it during my 2012 big year on one of the morning watches during Hurricane Sandy, but I was not at the right vantage point. Since then I have made many trips around Manhattan looking for it at likely times and places, but until today, never finding it.

There are a couple days each year, usually in early March, when thousands of Long-tailed Ducks gather in New York Harbor and along the southern shore of Brooklyn and Queens. You would think this is the best time to see the species in Manhattan, but I have taken Staten Island Ferry rides and also watched from the Battery and the west side Greenway then and have not seen any. It seems that nearly all of these Long-tailed Ducks proceed northeast and do not pass over Manhattan or follow the Hudson. That is not to say it is impossible to see one — there were a couple observations of single Long-tailed Ducks this year in March from Battery Park or nearby. But you need to go very early, or else have luck on your side.

I also checked the Battery area this January when the Hudson River was mostly frozen over, thinking that the lack of open water to the north would drive birds into the harbor, which remained unfrozen. As far as I could tell, it did not.

I watched for these ducks, too, at Randall’s Island and on many visits to Inwood Hill Park.

I went to Inwood Hill Park, the Dyckman fields, today (October 30) mostly to sky-watch. It seemed like a good day for Golden Eagle, Snow Goose, and Northern Harrier. I also scanned the fields for sparrows and other land birds, but did not find anything unusual.

Andrew Farnsworth joined me just after 3:15 p.m., and we watched from the pier at the marina. Aside from a low pass by an adult Bald Eagle, I was not seeing much of interest. Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks were flying very high, and a Peregrine Falcon occasionally visited the area.

But at 3:45 things got interesting. Andrew noted a distant flock of ducks flying south very low over the river. Before they were close enough to identify they reversed direction briefly and then continued south. As they approached I could see dark wings with white on the face, neck, and flanks. They were a dozen Long-tailed Ducks!

They soon reversed direction again (they did this quite a bit) and headed back north, out of view. Perhaps they encountered and joined another flock, because a few minutes later we saw what turned out to be 46 Long-tailed Ducks flying back and forth over the river, this time going past us toward the the George Washington Bridge and then turning around and again proceeding north.


Pine Siskin, Central Park Wildflower Meadow

The early arrival of Red-breasted Nuthatches, some in August, across southern New York State augured well for winter finch irruptions, just as it did in 2012 when massiveĀ finch irruptions followed. It does not appear that this winter will bring the same volume and species variety that 2012 did, but some of the more common finches may show up in Manhattan.

There have been anecdotal reports, beginning last week, of Pine Siskins moving through Central Park in the very early mornings. The first eBird report came on Monday, 29 September, of this week, when five Pine Siskins were observed briefly at the south end of Strawberry Fields.

I recalled the initial frustration I had in adding Pine Siskin to my year list in 2012 — it took me a week from the first Central Park report for me to see one, despite birding nearly every day. I did not want to go through that again, nor did I want to be in the park at 7 a.m. watching for morning flight.

I remembered that in 2012 some Pine Siskins were seenĀ among the large flock of American Goldfinches in the Wildflower Meadow. This year the meadow is in unusually good condition, abounding with fruits and seeds on trees and shrubs. On my second pass through it, midday on 2 October, I saw a Pine Siskin perching atop a shoot of vegetation. It soon flew, but it gave its rising zhee call a number of times afterward.