Western Tanager, City Hall Park

After several days of powerful westerly winds, occasionally with gusts to 40 mph, it was not unreasonable to expect that a western vagrant might show up in Manhattan. Others have been appearing in the area: Cave Swallow on the south coast of Queens; Ash-throated Flycatcher in Brooklyn on the 19th and 20th.

I first learned of a possible Western Tanager at 1:30 yesterday afternoon (23 November) after running to Randall’s Island. A friend texted me about an unconfirmed eBird report of it at City Hall Park. The finder was an accomplished, visiting California birder. His description of the bird was detailed and covered the relevant points for a valid ID of this species. I had no reason to doubt his report, so I turned around and headed back home, expecting that I would chase it.

His report did not, however, say where in City Hall Park he saw the bird. I was hoping that in the interim someone nearby would go to this park and re-find it. Though considered a “micro-park,” City Hall Park is nonetheless four blocks long and over a block wide.

I arrived at City Hall Park shortly after 3 p.m. The friend who texted me about the report had already found the Yellow-breasted Chat that had been continuing in the area. In the 75 minutes that we birded we came across some lingering warblers — a couple Black-throated Blue, a couple Common Yellowthroats, and an Ovenbird. But we did not observe the Western Tanager, nor did any other of a handful of late-day birders.

In the evening, the original finder posted a low-quality photo that lent some support to his claim.

I knew that many would be trying for the bird early the next morning, so I planned to wait for a report. It did not take long to get one. At 8:17 a.m. a Manhattan Bird Alert was issued on Twitter announcing that the Western Tanager had been re-found.

By 9:08 I was on the scene. Initially I checked the south side of the park, but was surprised to see no birders present. Would they leave so quickly after finding a mega-rarity? Probably not, but it was Thanksgiving. After fifteen minutes I ran to the north section and saw a half-dozen birders focused on something high in the trees. They were on the Western Tanager, which was just southeast of the Tweed Courthouse and northeast of City Hall. We got acceptable, somewhat back-lit views of the bird foraging and occasionally vocalizing in the treetops.

The last previous confirmed report of the species in  Manhattan was in early March 2008. That bird had lingered in Central Park for over two weeks.

One observer reported a Western Tanager at the Reservor in June 2001.

Before that, I see an eBird record of a three-day appearance at the Pinetum in December 1990.

A Western Tanager was also reported by an astute, reliable birder in May 2010 at the Upper Lobe, but even he got only a brief look and the bird could not be re-found.

It therefore seems fair to consider today’s find a “once-in-a-decade” bird for Manhattanites.




Autumn Surge

Since my last post, on September 5, I had what seems to be my best-ever September and October, completely turning my year around. On this table I have bolded the names of species reported by relatively few birders.

bird Date Species Location
183 6-Sep-16 Connecticut Warbler Central Park
184 9-Sep-16 Virginia Rail Central Park–The Ramble
185 11-Sep-16 Red-shouldered Hawk Central Park
186 12-Sep-16 Red-headed Woodpecker Central Park–The Ramble
187 19-Sep-16 Green-winged Teal Central Park–Harlem Meer
188 21-Sep-16 Northern Pintail Central Park–Turtle Pond
189 25-Sep-16 Vesper Sparrow Central Park–North End
190 27-Sep-16 Clay-colored Sparrow Central Park
191 28-Sep-16 Marsh Wren Central Park
192 1-Oct-16 Nelson’s Sparrow Randalls Island
193 3-Oct-16 Saltmarsh Sparrow Randalls Island–NE fields and shoreline
194 3-Oct-16 Eastern Screech-Owl Inwood Hill Park
195 6-Oct-16 American Wigeon Central Park–Harlem Meer
196 8-Oct-16 Eastern Meadowlark Central Park–Great Lawn
197 9-Oct-16 Wilson’s Snipe Randalls Island–NE fields and shoreline
198 12-Oct-16 Blue Grosbeak Central Park–Wildflower Meadow
199 19-Oct-16 Yellow-breasted Chat Central Park–North End
200 20-Oct-16 Northern Harrier Randalls Island
201 23-Oct-16 Cackling Goose Inwood Hill Park–Dyckman Fields

Let’s go through the list quickly. The Connecticut Warbler stayed at its Pilgrim Hill location all day and was seen by 50+ observers. Those few who missed that one had many other chances, as at least six others were reported and chaseable. Similarly, the Virginia Rail stayed in the Ramble all day, wandering sometimes from the outlet of the Gill on the Lake to the fenced-in Swampy Pin Oak area.

Very few birders had Red-shouldered Hawk this fall, even though it is generally a common flyover migrant. East and northeast winds that prevailed for over two weeks during the height of September hawk migration made this species and Broad-winged Hawk difficult to get.

Only a handful of birders got and reported this first Red-headed Woodpecker of the season, but several others of the species showed up in October and lingered.

Green-winged Teal — at least two — lingered for weeks on the Meer.

This female Northern Pintail stayed on Turtle Pond for only a day, but many saw it.

I had the only eBird report of this Vesper Sparrow, and surprisingly, the species did not end up being seen my many. Last year one lingered for days at Locust Grove.

A Clay-colored Sparrow was seen by a handful of birders on the grassy hill east of Lasker Rink and immediately alerted, but I was minutes late in responding and the bird was not seen there again. I ended up getting a different one near Wagner Cove.

A Marsh Wren lingered for at least a few days on the southern shore of the Lake.

Both Nelson’s  and Saltmarsh Sparrow again showed up on the northeast marsh of Randall’s Island, as they usually do.

An Eastern Screech-Owl was seen and reported at Inwood Hill Park. It proved to be a difficult chase, taking hours, as little information was provided as to location. I eventually found the roost and stayed to hear it calling after sundown.

The female American Wigeon on the Meer looked so similar to the many transitional-plumage Northern Shovelers with which it associated that a few birders were unable to find it on their first try even after my Twitter alert indicated that the bird was on the eastern section of the water. It stayed for more than a few days and was seen by many.

Deborah Allen reported the Eastern Meadowlark on the Great Lawn with her birding group. I ran out to see it immediately. It did not linger for more than an hour. Other meadowlarks appeared in the North End and on Randall’s Island, but these were seen by only a few.

I ran out to Randall’s Island’s northeast shore to chase a Caspian Tern seen earlier in the day by Andrew Farnsworth. I did not get the tern, but my hour there was well-rewarded by a Wilson’s Snipe that flew across the East River from Queens and landed nearby on a ball field. There were no snipes reported in Central Park this fall.

I chased an Muscota Marsh Blue Grosbeak that had already been reported to have flown, as birds do sometimes return to good locations. This one did not. Nevertheless, within ten days another Blue Grosbeak was reported at the Central Park Wildflower Meadow, and with a little patience I got that one.

My first Yellow-breasted Chat of the fall was heard only, in the thick brush south of the Children’s Glade. I was delighted to get it, as I had spent many hours on multiple occasions trying to observe the well-reported Chat at Maintenance Meadow in mid-September. I ended up getting another Chat visually on the 24th. This one apparently remained in the area and took up residence in the vicinity of the Sparrow Rocks, just east of the West Park Drive at 82nd Street, allowing many to see it.

The Northern Harrier was flying low downstream on the East River.

The Cackling Goose was initially reported at the ball fields north of Spuyten Duyvil, after which it flew. I re-found it on the Dyckman Fields at the opposite end of Inwood Hill Park.

This excellent fall helped to made up for a poor winter and a disappointing shorebird season. I am looking forward to what November and December will bring.