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.