Best Manhattan Birds of 2015

Three lists, actually. I chose my best birds based on how rare they are for Manhattan and how uncommonly observed they were in 2015, with extra points for personal life birds. The second list is for the many great birds that “everyone” saw. Last, my most regrettable misses of the year.

My stats for 2015: 203 bird species in Manhattan and over 500 miles of walking/running in pursuit of them.

My Best Birds of 2015

  1. Franklin’s Gull, 13 November, 70th Street Pier on the Hudson. A life Manhattan bird for me and just a few others, part of an epic migration the likes of which had not been seen on the East Coast since 1998.
  2. Purple Sandpiper, 18 May, Roosevelt Island. Another life Manhattan bird for me,  the species was first reported on Roosevelt Island two weeks prior, but the report was issued after sundown so I could not chase. Then another report appeared late on 17 May which Andrew Farnsworth was able to successfully chase from Peter Detmold Park, but which I could not reach in time. I staked out Detmold the next afternoon and got the bird, which was not seen again. Prior to 2015 there had been only one eBird report of Purple Sandpiper in Manhattan in the past 25 years
  3. Cliff Swallow, 10 April, Harlem Meer. Cliff Swallows pass over Manhattan in migration annually, but unlike the more common swallows, they are almost never seen low over Central Park waters. Deborah Allen found these birds, which gave excellent views and also added to my life list.
  4. Black Skimmer, 22 June, Harlem Meer. Watching this large, distinctive bird appear out of the twilight darkness and gracefully skim the southwest corner of the Meer was a huge thrill and it left me with my most memorable birding image of the year.
  5. Black-headed Gull, 19 january, Randall’s Island. Jacob Drucker saw a Black-headed Gull flying west over the Hudson on 15 January near sunset. I most likely saw the same bird four days later feeding over the Harlem River.
  6. Red-necked Grebe, 16 March, south of 70th Street Pier on the Hudson. Red-necked Grebes are not observed most years in Manhattan though they were unusually abundant in 2014. In 2015 they were a lot harder to find. This one was just offshore, a naked-eye bird.
  7. Bank Swallow, 30 April, Reservoir. Another life bird for me, and long overdue.
  8. Canvasback,  22 February, Randall’s Island NE Shore. In recent years this species has become rarer in Manhattan, and only a few birders had it in 2015.
  9. Northern Pintail, 17 March, Randall’s Island NE shore. A drake Northern Pintail made a rare, extended appearance on Central Park waters in Fall 2013. Otherwise, as was the case in 2015, it has been very hard to get. I had a trio of females swimming just offshore from Randall’s Island. In the fall I had some flying over the Hudson in flocks of Canada Geese.
  10. Greater Yellowlegs, 9 May, Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Close views of a wading bird.
  11. Grasshopper Sparrow, September, Grassy Knoll, Central Park. One of Adrian Burke’s many great finds this year, it offered fleeting glimpses to a small group of birders on the afternoon of the 26th. Andrew Farnsworth later had another on Roosevelt Island.


Best Manhattan Birds of 2015 Seen by Multitudes (Including Me)

  1. Couch’s Kingbird, January, Chelsea. Probably a once-in-a-lifetime bird for Manhattanites, it attracted a large viewership from all over the East Coast.
  2. Chuck-will’s-widow, April, Bryant Park. This species is extremely rare in the New York City area, so all the more amazing that it has been found and observed by many in each of the last three years. This one lingered for for a full week.
  3. Sora, October-November, the Loch in Central Park. This cooperative bird, which also seemed to have an injured wing. remained in place for well over two weeks.
  4. Common Redpoll, January-March, Evodia Field. It first appeared on 24 January and was reported up to 9 March — an unusually lengthy extended stay, but understandable given the very cold winter and the reliable food supply from the feeders.
  5. Dickcissel, September, Maintenance Area, Central Park. After a visiting birder reported it on eBird I ran to the area and re-found it. It lingered for one more day. Another Dickcissel showed up on the Great Hill on November 1 and stayed for two weeks.
  6. Eastern Whip-poor-will, September, the Loch in Central Park. It stayed just a day, the 26th, but was widely reported and seen by many.
  7. Long-eared Owl, March, Shakespeare Garden and Cherry Hill. I found this owl roosting in the same Shakespeare Garden yew tree that has previously held a Northern Saw-whet Owl. Apparently it moved to Cherry Hill the next day and was seen by many over the following several days.
  8. Eastern Meadowlark, November, Rockefeller Park. Single bird stayed on the lawn for three days — very unusual behavior for the species, which is an extremely hard one to get in Manhattan. I had mine in Central Park in the spring.
  9. Blue Grosbeak, May, the Ramble.
  10. Connecticut Warbler, September, Trinity Church graveyard. At times two birds giving excellent close views at this historic location.
  11. Great Horned Owl, November-December, the Ramble. Since 8 November this owl has taken up residence in the Ramble, to the delight of many.
  12. *”Western” Flycatcher, November, Central Park Ramble. If confirmed as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, which plenty of evidence indicates it was, this bird would go to #1 or #2 on this list. Similarly if Pacific and Cordilleran Flycatcher are merged back. Until then, it is the Schrodinger’s Cat of 2015 Manhattan birding.


My Most Regrettable Misses

  1. Red Phalarope, October. Only Andrew Farnsworth saw this bird. He found it swimming at Muscota Marsh, but within minutes it flew off and could not be re-found.  I had strongly considered joining him that morning and then decided against it because the overnight winds were weak. Sound reasoning, but in the words of Gob Bluth, “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
  2. Tundra Swan, 19 October, the Battery. Bad communication likely cost me a life bird. I went to Pier 11 after an juvenile Tundra Swan was reported at Brooklyn Bridge Park, which under good conditions can be seen from Manhattan. Andrew Farnsworth arrived before me and found visibility too poor to view the bird even if had been out in the open — which it wasn’t. I lingered in the downtown area to do some unrelated photography and headed uptown at 2 p.m. What I did not know then is that one of Brooklyn’s top birders saw the Tundra Swan clearly in Manhattan waters near the Brooklyn Bridge at 1:45. He issued an alert from his own Twitter account, but I had no way to receive it. I learned of the sighting only after I returned home. I went back to the Battery area and walked the eastern shore to 21st Street. I did not see the bird, nor did any other Manhattan birders.
  3. Glossy Ibis, April. There were a few Manhattan reports of this species in mid-April, all as flyovers, and hence, unchaseable. The most frustrating report, however, was one from Spuyten Duyvil Creek on the 13th of a Glossy Ibis photographed walking near the shore. Because the photographer was not a regular birder (and did not know what the bird was, only that it seemed out-of-the-ordinary), no alert was issued and the photo was not posted until after dark.
  4. Cave Swallow, 15 November. I was scanning the Reservoir for Cave Swallows at 9:35 a.m. when I received a Twitter alert of one off Hoboken flying over the Hudson possibly into Manhattan waters. Had I known the exact location from which to watch, I could have reached it in thirty minutes or so by running  across the park to the west side subway. Instead I ran back to my apartment to check the location on the web, which added at least twenty minutes to my travel time in addition to the short delays I encountered on the Lexington line. I then ran from 23rd and Park to the Hudson, but my arrival time of 10:40 was too late — the bird was no longer being seen by the finder, and it never reappeared either for him or for me. Could it have been a Manhattan bird? I’ll never know, but it was a crushing miss as Cave Swallow movements of this magnitude come once in twenty years. There had also been a Cave Swallow at Randall’s Island the day before, reported four hours after the fact but apparently unchaseable even had the report been immediate.
  5. Eastern Bluebird, November. Generally Central Park has over a handful of appearances of Eastern Bluebird each November. This year there were only a couple reliable reports, and despite six dedicated visits to the North End on days with good winds to do my own searching, I could not observe it. First time in three years I have not had the species.
  6. Yellow-throated Warbler, May. I was less than 200 yards away from the Point, where this bird was being seen on the morning of 5 May. After the alert was issued I arrived in well under a minute. Within ten minutes another 50+ birders were crowding the Point, but no one else saw it because apparently the alert was sent 15 minutes after the bird was initially seen and several minutes after sight of it was lost.
  7. Clay-colored Sparrow, 28 Sep. The bird was reported on the Great Hill at 5:50 p.m. I ran from home and was on the scene by 6:15 — sadly,  over ten minutes too late. What?
  8. Kentucky Warbler, 4 May. Reported singing in Riverside Park near 120th Street at 6:05 p.m.on a hot, humid evening, it disappeared by 6:40 and was neither seen nor heard again. After running across town at rush hour to chase it, I also wanted to disappear and neither be seen nor heard again.
  9. Semipalmated Plover. 28 July and 8 August. I chased both the July report on Governors Island and the August report at Spuyten Duyvil Creek with no luck. Usually these birds linger for the day (or several days), but not this year.
  10. Acadian Flycatcher, May-June. Easy to get in 2012, this species has been much harder since then and it was very hard in 2015 when only a couple distinct birds were reported in Central Park on eBird.
  11. Virginia Rail, October. Two chaseable birds: one on the 18th in Hudson Heights, which I did not bother to pursue on account of time, distance, and laziness; and one on the 30th near Rockefeller Center, which I chased the next day after learning of it late. Someone had it very early that morning; when I looked in the afternoon I could not find it, and no one else did, either.