American Pipit, Randall’s Island

Before I get to today’s activity, I should say that I am having a very productive November in terms of adding year birds. On November 2 I joined Andrew Farnsworth for a memorable early-morning migration watch on the Hudson River by Inwood Hill Park’s Dyckman Fields. A cold front had passed, and northwest winds were gusting over 30 mph at times. We saw three Northern Pintails fly by. We saw a lone Bonaparte’s Gull winding its way south, low over the river, eventually landing on the water within thirty feet of the pier on which we stood. We also a female Black Scoter floating down the river. Three year-birds in one morning — not bad! We also witnessed the peak day for Turkey Vulture migration, with upwards of 100 of them moving past us overhead, along with many Bald Eagles.

Inwood Hill Park was also the scene just six days later of a Dickcissel, which appeared on various of the Dyckman Fields, just as one had in December 2011, and lingered for at least a few days (unlike the former one, which lingered over two weeks).

I added Green-winged Teal on the Central Park Reservoir on the 3rd and Horned Grebe on the Hudson off Battery Park on the 13th.

This brings us to today, when I ran over to Randall’s Island in the early afternoon to bird the entire island from south to north. No one had reported from there in nearly two weeks, and I figured it might have something interesting with the recent blast of cold weather possibly bringing some new waterfowl.

But after traversing the island and carefully checking the northeast shore, I had not seen anything of interest. I was mildly surprised to see two American Coots swimming just offshore, as I usually see this species only on the Central Park Reservoir. Otherwise, it was just the expected birds, with the large flocks of Brant and Canada Goose having returned.

As I left the northeast fields, I figured my birding was over. Then, as I was walking along the median strip just past the walkway to the Bronx, I saw a brown bird take off and circle overhead while vocalizing, and land nearby. The flight style was not that of a sparrow, nor was the sound, which, owing to traffic. I could barely hear. I focused my binoculars on it right away and had my first American Pipit of the year. It remained on the weeds-and bare-ground median strip as long as I did, occasionally flying up as cars went by.

It was a huge relief to finally see it this year. In years past I had had it in December and January on Randall’s Island, when large flocks appeared after snow cover to the north drove the birds south in search of open grass. Not this year, though. I was only two minutes away from an October 12 NYNYBIRD report of an American Pipit near the Central Park Compost Heap. Despite running to it immediately, I never saw the bird. I returned there on several occasions afterward, as it is a desirable spot for pipits. Nothing. I chased another report of pipits on Randall’s Island but chose to wait an hour before setting off, and I ended up being perhaps only ten minutes too late. I searched the length of the Randall’s Island on some other good migration days but had no luck.

The American Pipit became my 212th species of 2014 in Manhattan. Despite no hurricane and no unusual finches (yet!) I am pleased to have extended my big year record of 208 birds. And there is still more than a month of birding left — plenty of time for some finches to show up.

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