Bobolink, Central Park Oven

The Bobolink in general is a common bird, but it is a very difficult one to observe in Manhattan. Venture a few miles west, to the New Jersey Meadowlands, or to the coastal marshes of Brooklyn and Queens, and you can find plenty of them during spring and fall migration. You also can observe their migratory flights very early in the morning over Manhattan. Sometimes you can hear their flight calls. Rarely they alight on trees in Central Park in passage, never lingering long before continuing on.

Around 10 a.m. today I encountered AMNH Ornithologist Joseph DiCostanzo and Lenore Swenson in Tupelo Meadow. They told me that they had learned of a male Bobolink in the Oven forty minutes prior, and that they had observed it themselves before it flew off and was not re-found. Joe had attempted to issue an alert on the bird but the email apparently did not go through.

I had come across Bob “Birding Bob” DeCandido and his group earlier and I was birding with them when I got the news. We eventually made our way to the Oven but did not observe the Bobolink. Along the way we had a mystery flycatcher, seen only briefly, and my first-of-season Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Maintenance Meadow.

As a small digression, I should mention that I had a great time birding with Bob. Many know that Bob uses recorded calls and songs to draw in birds, as do many top birding guides. Birds that are perching still sometimes move and reveal themselves; some birds that are out of sight will fly in to check out the commotion; and some that are in sight but high up will descend to levels where they are more easily viewed. The result is that members of Bob’s group see a lot of birds and often get excellent views of them. I certainly had better views than I usually do on my own.

Yesterday, Bob found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Tupelo Meadow. I had remained in the Maintenance Meadow, along with many others who were part of a different birding group. Bob ran back to Maintenance to let everyone — not just his group — know of the cuckoo. We enjoyed extended views of the bird flying and foraging high over Tupelo.

Today, after initially striking out at the Oven in search of the Bobolink we moved on to Swampy Pin Oak. Warbler Rock, and the Rustic Shelter, where we saw Indigo Bunting, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, and Blackburnian Warbler, among others..

Bob suggested we finish with one more pass over the Oven and then onto the Point. As we we turned onto the dirt path leading to the Point, I began to hear Bobolink song. So did Bob, and he already had the bird in sight, atop a bare tree over the Oven. The Bobolink continued singing loudly, moving around to various high perches both at the Oven and later toward the north to the Captain’s Bench area.

This was my first visual Bobolink in Central Park — I had heard one singing two years ago in the North Woods. What a way to end the morning! With the temperature rising and warblers becoming more scarce, I headed home.




Seaside Sparrow, Hudson Greenway

Thursday, May 5, was cloudy and cold — just like most days this last week. I had taken a walk in the afternoon to the North End as much for exercise as for birding. When I returning home shortly after 4 p.m. I figured I was done for the day.

But at 6:26 p.m. a Manhattan Bird Alert came through from Adrian Burke: he had found three Seaside Sparrows at a small park known as Clinton Cove at 55th and the Hudson Greenway.

My first thought was, “How can I chase these birds?” I live on the Upper East Side, so I would have go entirely across town and then roughly a mile south. I ran across the park to the AMNH subway stop at 81st Street and immediately caught a southbound train to 59th Street. From there I ran to  the location.

Seaside Sparrow is one of the very rarest Ammodramus-type sparrows for Manhattan. There are records on eBird, all in Central Park, from 1923, 1974, and 2011. I had one briefly in October 2014 on Randall’s Island’s northeast saltmarsh, a place you would expect the species, as it gets Nelson’s Sparrows annually.

Where I found Adrian Burke and the sparrows was not at all a place that a Seaside Sparrow should want to be. The three sparrows were moving quickly on foot on a narrow median strip of mostly bare ground and some plants and trees between a paved lane for runners and cyclists and a paved lane for pedestrians.

Walkers, runners, and dogs occasionally scared a sparrow to short flight, but they remained in the area. One ventured onto the eastern edge of a large lawn on the Hudson side.

I was first on the scene, and, along with a couple others who showed up, got great views from less than ten feet. The sparrows appeared not to mind our presence as they went about their foraging.

These sparrows went on to defy expectations by remaining at this location during both the following day and the day after that — today, May 7.

Another Seaside Sparrow was found at 65th and the Hudson Greenway on the morning of May 6. It, too, has remained in place since then. A fourth Seaside Sparrow appeared at the Clinton Cove location, also on May 6. An American Kestrel was observed catching and carrying away one of the Clinton Cove sparrows that same day.