Late summer report

Winter birding season really was poor

I complained in my Winter Birding Review that, although I ended the winter with a fine species total (86), I — and nearly everyone else — missed many essential winter birds. Species totals were padded by late-lingering fall birds that would be easy to get in the spring.

Once spring migration was over the effects of this bad winter were more clear. I went into June with only 175 species as compared to the 180 I had then in 2015 and the 182 in 2014 despite having an above-average spring.

Spring migration season was very good

All of the expected birds appeared, and did so in decent numbers, arriving at anticipated times. Arrivals were spread out well, too — unlike in 2014, when migration was delayed by a couple weeks of bad weather before a massive surge concentrated over several days.

Many of the expected but more difficult species were relatively plentiful and easy to observe, with numerous alerts making the job of finding them still more efficient. A female Cape May Warbler, for example, showed up early at the Oven and lingered there for nearly two weeks. Later, Cape Mays gave great, close views in the trees surrounding Turtle Pond, as did Bay-breasted. Yellow-throated Vireo was observed multiple times on many days. A White-eyed Vireo lingered for over a week at the Maintenance Meadow. Both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos also made frequent appearances, many of them text-alerted. Mourning Warbler had at least several very chaseable alerts — I ended up seeing it on two occasions.

It was also a fine spring for observing the rarest warblers, which last year did not make much of a showing. Most notably, Kentucky Warbler made a brief but well-followed appearance in the Tupelo Meadow/Maintenance area on the same day (19 May) morning that a Cerulean Warbler lingered near the source of the Gill. Over a month earlier Yellow-throated Warbler showed up in the Maintenance Meadow and re-appeared the following morning. A Prothonotary Warbler was reliably reported on 27 May but was not re-found.

It also was an excellent season for unexpected rarities. I had a close view of Purple Sandpiper on 25 April on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. Now that this species has been observed there in two consecutive years, perhaps it should be considered a regular visitor? 8 May was a notable day: an American Bittern was found at the Oven and seen by many, as was a Chuck-will’s-widow at Muggers Woods — making 2016 the fourth consecutive year in which the latter has been seen by multitudes in Manhattan. On that same day Andrew Farnsworth had Glossy Ibis over the East River and Golden-winged Warbler near Sutton Place. Let’s also remember the best bird of them all, the Swainson’s Warbler of which I wrote, and not far behind it in terms of rarity, the Seaside Sparrows. It was also a treat to get a clear, close (as opposed to high flyover) view of a male Bobolink in Central Park.

That said, empidonax flycatchers were very rare this year. I had Acadian in the Ramble, and it also was heard on a couple other days. But there were only single reports of Yellow-bellied , Willow, and Alder in Central Park, and I did not have them.

I also missed Blue Grosbeak.  I chased a report of it with Tom Fiore and another birder on the afternoon of 12 May. After Tom and I set out on a different trail, the bird almost immediately reappeared for the third birder who had stayed behind. None of us ended up seeing it again despite hours of search.

Summer has been mildly disappointing

Summer is not over yet, but it has been filled with misses.

I ventured out to the Meer and Turtle Pond at least six times around sunset in June and July in search of another Black Skimmer, but did not see any.

I also made eight trips to the Inwood area in July and August in search of shorebirds and others. All I got out of it were the two most common species I expected to add, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper.

A juvenile Little Blue Heron on was seen and photographed at Spuyten Duyvil Creek on July 30. Had it been reported immediately, I almost certainly would have been able to reach it in time to observe it, but the finder apparently was not initially sure of the ID. I raced to the scene within an hour of the alert, but by then the tide had risen, the mud had disappeared, and the bird had moved on.

I was, however, delighted to hear a Willow Flycatcher calling on 18 August in the Ramble and  a Red-breasted Nuthatch, also calling,  near Delacorte Theater the following morning.