Cliff Swallow, Central Park Meer

I started thinking about Cliff Swallows earlier this week, as reports of them came in from Long Island. There is little doubt that they pass over Manhattan every year, both in spring and fall, but it seems that they rarely join the three more common swallows (Barn, Tree, and Northern Rough-winged) in skimming the surface of Central Park water bodies. They are known to forage for insects at generally higher levels, which makes them harder to spot.

The morning fog today likely encouraged lower flying, and calm winds made the Meer a good place to find insects. When Deborah Allen, a wildlife photographer and birding tour leader, sent an NYNYBIRD text alert of Cliff Swallows over the Meer at 9:52 a.m., I wasted no time in running there.

Upon arriving, I immediately saw swallows skimming the eastern half of the Meer. Nearly all were Tree Swallows, at least ten, along with some Barn Swallows and at least one Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Then I noticed two swallows with buffy rumps (as viewed from above) flying close together — these were the Cliff Swallows! Had these swallows been flying higher, I would not have been able to see this diagnostic feature, nor would I have seen another such feature, their white foreheads. Given the low fog and extremely poor lighting, I would not have been able to see much at all besides overall shape and tail type. But, as it was, I got great close-range looks.