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.