Lapland Longspur, Randall’s Island

Just as I was about to head to the gym at 1:58 p.m. I received a text alert of an NYSBirds posting: Tom Fiore had learned of a Lapland Longspur on the northeast shore of Randall’s Island from another birder and had seen it for himself. The gym would have to wait.

The last eBird record of Lapland Longspur in Manhattan on land is from 1956 — a retroactively-entered historical record from Central Park. Andrew Farnsworth observed a pair via overnight flight call recording in 2010. For Manhattan it is thus an extreme rarity. Nevertheless, it has been on my short list of species I expect to get for some time. One reason is that it keeps showing up nearby every year. There was a 2013 observation in Van Cortlandt Park just to the north in the Bronx. There are annual observations of it at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

Another reason is that Manhattan has suitable habitat for it. Lapland Longspurs like to winter on open grasslands and tilled fields, and they seem to travel near the water when they pass through the New York City area. So Randall’s Island and Governor’s Island are great for it, and the fields of Inwood Hill Park also offer possibilities — a stopover point for those moving along the Hudson.

I printed out the directions to the bird, dressed appropriately (galoshes because Randall’s Island fields tend to flood when snow melts), and ran for the subway, catching the express to 125th Street. From there I ran across the RFK Bridge and onto the island’s northeast fields. I saw no other birders. I also saw no bird. Then it popped up out of the grass right next to the shore, just south of the sign for ball field #31. It was ten yards away, and my presence did not seem to bother it. I observed it for a few minutes and issued a #birdcp Twitter alert at 2:48 p.m. Then I left the area — I did not want to risk spooking the bird and making it harder for others to observe. Andrew Farnsworth found it in the same place 90 minutes later.

The Lapland Longspur was my 252nd life Manhattan bird, and my first such of 2016.

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A Big Week, But Not a Big Year

In the first eight days of 2016 I had 62 bird species in Manhattan, my strongest-ever start to a year. My list is notable for the many fall birds that remained during the unusually warm December: Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Towhee, Cedar Waxwing, and Northern Flicker.

It is also notable for the absence of many species, mostly waterfowl, that I usually have in January. I had no unusual ducks, geese, or gulls, just Brant and Red-breasted Merganser. No loons.

Even so, I definitely will not be doing another big year in 2016. I have done four of those, the first of which — in 2012 — was the subject of my book. My yearly totals have been, in chronological order: 212, 199, 213, and 204. In each case I had the highest eBird species count of any amateur birder in Manhattan; in three of those years I exceeded the next highest by over 20 birds.

Big-year birding requires a great deal of time and effort spread throughout the year. In 2016 I want to focus on some other challenges. I’ll still bird when I want to, perhaps even quite a bit at times. But I don’t want to put much effort into chasing or searching for species that I regularly have — and there are a lot of those.

Exactly how many? I did some list comparison to find out. I had 191 birds appear on both of my 2015 and 2014 year-lists. Of these, 179 also were on my 2013 list. A few, like Long-eared Owl and Chuck-will’s-widow, are rarities that could not be expected to show up most years. Still, this leaves roughly 175 birds that form the core of an annual Manhattan list. Only five Manhattan eBirders reported even this many species in 2015.

I will continue commenting here on both my own birding and Manhattan birding in general. To all my readers, best wishes for a great 2016!