Swainson’s Warbler, Strawberry Fields

Last night’s winds looked unfavorable for birding this morning. For the first few hours after sundown they were light and southwesterly, encouraging Central Park migrants to fly out. Later they switched to northwesterly, discouraging flight into the park. So I did not intend to do any early birding, and temperatures in the low 50s only strengthened the case for waiting.

After seeing #birdcp Twitter reports before 7 a.m., I knew that some good birds probably had remained in the park — Nashville and Worm-eating Warbler, for example. But I had already observed these in recent days and had no interest in chasing them.

As I was having breakfast a 7:22 a.m.a Twitter alert arrived, issued by Alice Deutsch, one of the park’s most expert and well-traveled birders: “Swainson’s Warbler, Imagine mosaic.” My first thought was that she meant Swainson’s Thrush, a common bird but one that would be early and first-of-season for Central Park, so worth reporting. But a few minutes later she tweeted, “Confirming, and it’s singing.” It had to be a Swainson’s Warbler, just as she had written — she would not bother confirming a common thrush, nor would anyone care that one was singing.

This meant I had to get to Strawberry Fields — fast! No time to finish eating. I put on running clothes, packed my bag, and I was out the door.

At 7:46 I arrived at the mosaic to see 25+ birders looking into the shrubs to the south. Almost immediately the Swainson’s Warbler sang and then popped up to perch on some foliage several feet off the ground. Then it flew another 5o feet south, landing in a tree, where it continued singing but was not being seen. Soon it was found on the ground, inside and underneath the dense shrubs. This is where it stayed during the time I viewed it (as late as 9:35 a.m.) and, I am told, the remainder of the day.

Within 90 minutes over 150 people had stopped by to see this rarity. It has been recorded only four times in Central Park with multiple observers (each time in May, in 1973, 1979, 1990, and 2000). A very reliable single observer had it at the Upper Lobe, briefly, in May 2012.


Yellow-throated Warbler, Maintenance Meadow

Yellow-throated Warbler is one of the six hardest-to-find warblers about which I wrote in the appendix to my book. Prior to today I had had it only twice, in late April 2012 and 2014. I, along with many others, should have had it in 2015 also, but the finders sent the alert much too late.

Today’s original finder, Kathleen Toomey — one of Brooklyn’s top birders — did not make this mistake. She reported it quickly using my #birdcp Twitter alert system, something for which she had signed up just a few days before.

I had just finished a gym workout and was at home when her 3:16 p.m. alert chimed in. I quickly changed clothes and started running. Within ten minutes I arrived at the source of the Gill and saw Kathleen and others. She said that the bird seemed to have flown north and that she was no longer seeing it.

I started searching Tupelo Meadow, an excellent place for a warbler to find food, with many tall trees starting to leaf out and some blooming. Then I circled back around Azalea Pond. No bird.

After nearly an hour of re-checking these areas, I was ready to head home. But first I wanted to try the Maintenance Meadow, which has some large trees filled with white blossoms — always attractive for warblers.

I saw a small bird with a lot of white on it swoop down from high up in the trees and land near me just a foot or two off the ground. I turned, focused, and got a brief but clear view of the bird’s grey back and crown, dark cheek, and bright yellow breast. I had re-found the Yellow-throated Warbler.

It then flew east and landed in a tree with white blooms. I knew that over twenty birders were looking for it, so I took the opportunity to send out my own Twitter alert to draw them over. When I looked up again I was no longer seeing it. This was at 4:36 p.m.

When the group arrived I passed on the information and lingered for another fifteen minutes before heading home.

It was not reported again until 6:09, at the same location, where it stayed for perhaps five minutes before flying further east and out of sight.