Least Bittern, Central Park Ramble


Least Bittern (30 April 2017, David Barrett)

It was already an amazing week for me and for Manhattan birding in general. I added two life birds: Red Phalarope, on the northeast shore of Randall’s Island on April 26, and Clapper Rail, at the Loch on April 28 (almost certainly the bird released by the Wild Bird Fund after rehab on April 24).

A warm air mass with southerly winds pushed migrant birds farther north, bring many species to the area over a week sooner than usual. I finished April with 20 more birds for the year than I had ever had before at this time.

The biggest surprise of all came this morning at 8:14 a.m., when I received a Manhattan Bird Alert text (from @BirdCentralPark on Twitter, see here to follow) of Least Bittern in a tree high above the Gill. I ran from the Reservoir and saw a handful of birders already eyeing it. Shape, size, and coloring all checked.  It was my third life Manhattan bird of the week.

The last recorded appearance of Least Bittern in Central Park was on May 29, 1989 on Starr Saphir’s Ramble walk. Lenore Swenson took note of this bird in her journal. It is much rarer than American Bittern, which is observed in Central Park at least once in most years.



Wild Turkey, Central Park


Wild Turkey at Maintenance area

An hour after sunset on Thursday, April 20 eBird relayed the report, with photos, of a Wild Turkey at the north end of Central Park, by a stream known as the Loch. I immediately tweeted the report to followers of Manhattan Bird Alert. The bird was said to be lingering at the Loch, flying back and forth over it, and allowing close approach from people. None of this is surprising for a Wild Turkey, but it is odd that no regular birders were there, at a recently very popular warbler spot, to observe and report it in real time.

It rained over Thursday night, during which time the turkey presumably would have roosted in a tall, nearby tree.

On Friday morning the search was on, with birders (including me) scouring the Loch and nearby North Woods\. The latter would make excellent turkey habitat and would have few people to disturb it. None of us found it that morning, nor was it reported elsewhere in the park. How could a large, conspicuous bird, one that moves around mostly by walking, suddenly disappear?

Then at 6:33 that evening a new lead emerged: an eBird report by a Brooklyn birder of Wild Turkey earlier that afternoon at Turtle Pond. Was I being pranked? The Ramble had many birders active in the afternoon who would have issued text alerts had they seen it, and Turtle Pond receives a huge amount of foot traffic.

I ran to Turtle Pond to investigate. Since it was getting late, I checked the trees, too, for a possible roosting bird. Still no turkey.

I figured that nearby Tupelo Meadow would be a pleasant spot for a Wild Turkey, so I checked there. Maintenance Meadow would be also make a quiet foraging spot, but again, no bird.

Then I saw it, a large, dark blob walking slowly aside the paved path immediately east of the Maintenance tool shed:


This Wild Turkey was the first documented appearance of the species in Central Park since January 2009, and the first for me in the park.

It remained in Central Park yesterday (Saturday), ending up in the Cherry Hill and Falconer’s Hill areas after appearing early in the east section of the Ramble.

Today (Sunday, April 23) it was spotted on a lawn at the extreme southwest corner of the park near Columbus Circle.




Cattle Egret, South of Penn Station


My photo of today’s Cattle Egret


Ever since last October, when strong winds and rain brought at least several Cattle Egrets to the area (Van Cortlandt Park and Brooklyn), I have been expecting a Manhattan occurrence at some point. I figured it would come as a flyover, most likely over the Hudson but possibly anywhere. An appearance on the fields or marshes of Inwood Hill Park or Randall’s Island would have been another likely possibility.

So it came as a huge surprise when today (11 April 2017) I saw an NYSBirds post at 10:33 a.m. announcing a Cattle Egret on a lawn between 8th and 9th Avenues and between 28th and 29th Streets in Manhattan.

I had been birding the Ramble, so I had a head start on getting there. I ran to the west-side subway and caught a train to Penn Station. Another short run from there and I was on the scene in twenty minutes.

The egret was on walking on a “lawn” with much bare ground. It came within twenty feet of me, and did not seem overly bothered when other birders arrived.

I learned that it had been at this location at least since yesterday. Someone informed NYC Audubon about it, and then NYC Audubon issued the alert.

It was a life Manhattan bird for me and for every one of the dozens who came to see it — the first confirmed record of the species in Manhattan as far as I know, and certainly the first such on eBird.