Best Birds of 2017

Despite initially having no intention of doing another year of competitive birding, I ended up doing one anyway, and I put up my best numbers ever: 214 Manhattan birds for 2017, extending my own ABA-countable big-year record from 2014 by another bird.

Usually I write about my “best” (rarest) birds of the year, but I have already written about some of them on my blog, and will touch on all of them in the highlights below. Just for the record, here is how I would rank them:

  1. Hammond’s Flycatcher
  2. Red Phalarope
  3. Tundra Swan
  4. Clapper Rail
  5. Least Bittern
  6. Cattle Egret
  7. Lesser Yellowlegs
  8. Boat-tailed Grackle

Coincidentally these also were the eight life Manhattan birds I added in 2017.

Here are some chronological highlights of the year:

  • January 10: Found my first good bird of the year, an Orange-crowned Warbler at Little Hell Gate marsh on Randall’s Island. This species would turn out to be unusually common during both spring and fall migration.
  • January 12: Mute Swans used to be seen many times throughout the year on Manhattan waters but lately they have become rare. A juvenile swimming at Little Hell Gate marsh was the only one I had in 2017.
  • February 14: Found and photographed Snow Buntings on Randall’s Island’s northeast shore. I would end up finding another pair of Snow Buntings at the same location in November.
  • February 16: Found and photographed an adult Glaucous Gull on the rocks off FDR Park on Roosevelt Island. It offered close views and lingered at the location for at least a couple weeks. It may also have gone on to appear at the Reservoir, where I had an adult Glaucous Gull—twice.
  • February 17: Canvasbacks on the Hudson at Riverbank State Park. These continuing birds were north of the usual West Harlem Piers location and I might have missed them on my first visit there on a cold, blustery day. I nearly gave up on my second try before deciding to check from Riverbank State Park, where they came clearly into view.
  • March 4: Long-eared Owl at Shakespeare Garden.
  • March 15-17: The unprecedented American Woodcock event. Some saw as many as 40 on the 16th. They were everywhere, in numbers never seen before in Central Park. At least one Wilson’s Snipe, too. My and Central Park’s first woodcock of the spring migration came on the cold evening of the 12th, a single bird flying up in Tupelo Meadow. I was delighted just to have one—in some years they can be very hard to find in Manhattan. I had no idea what was to come only days later.
  • April 3: Purple Sandpiper on the rocks south of FDR Park on Roosevelt Island. Yes, the species has become annual at this location and more people had it this year than ever before. But it is still a treat to see what was for a long time a true mega-rarity for the county.
  • April 11: My life Cattle Egret at Penn South. I raced to reach it, worried that the bird would not stay long in such a heavily-trafficked area, and was first on the scene. Then the bird stayed for nearly a month.
  • April 17: Immediately I suggested to Robert DeCandido and group that Purple Finches were likely today and Strawberry Fields would be a good place to find them, the birds appeared high in the trees.
  • April 21: Wild Turkey at Maintenance in the Central Park Ramble. At first I thought the prior evening’s eBird report from the Loch might be a hoax. Failing to find this large, conspicuous bird in the North Woods with Robert DeCandido the next morning increased my concerns. Then an afternoon Turtle Pond eBird report from a visiting birder came through at 6:33 p.m., and I was off on the chase and was first to re-find it and issue a Manhattan Bird Alert. It was my life Central Park Wild Turkey.
  • April 24: Greater Yellowlegs at Randall’s Island Little Hell Gate Marsh, a species that appeared more often than usual this year in Manhattan.
  • April 25: I went out in the rain to get the White-eyed Vireo reported near Sparrow Rock and made a second such trip to get the Blue-winged Warbler. The latter species was unusually scarce this year.
  • April 26: Saw and issued an alert on the Barred Owl over the Rustic Shelter in the Ramble in the morning. But my day was not done.
  • April 26: Red Phalarope on Randall’s Island’s northeast shore rocks in the afternoon. Briefly had a naked-eye view of a breeding-plumaged female as it perched just feet from me on the rocks at the east end of the saltmarsh.
  • April 27: Huge day—Worm-eating Warbler with Roger Pasquier; Yellow-throated Warbler near Tanner’s Spring and Yellow-throated Vireo at Shakespeare Garden Overlook, both with Robert DeCandido.
  • April 28: Had two Marsh Wrens near Bow Bridge very early, the only ones of the spring in Central Park. Then went to the North End and had Orchard Oriole with Robert DeCandido. I returned to the Ramble get the Pine Siskin at the feeders just before noon. Robert would go on to find a Clay-colored Sparrow below Nutter’s Battery by Meer. After an alert of the Clapper Rail at the Loch after 5 p.m., I ran there and saw it. Then, with some daylight still remaining, I walked toward the Meer with Tom Fiore and began searching for the Clay-colored. Karen Fung re-found it and issued an alert when Tom and I were nearby. We saw not only that but also our first White-crowned Sparrow of the year near it. An amazing day of birding!
  • April 29: Strong southerly winds brought some warblers much earlier than usual: Hooded, Cape May (singing near Tanner’s Spring), and Tennessee (singing at the Upper Lobe). A giant Snapping Turtle, the largest I have ever seen in Central Park, also appeared at the north end of the Upper Lobe.
  • April 30: Least Bittern over the Gill, the first appearance of this species in Central Park since 1989. After seeing it, I suggested to Ryan Zucker that we chase an alert of a Lincoln’s Sparrow at the Pool, as we could reach it quickly by subway and it was likely to stay in place. This decision proved fortuitous, as we not only got the Lincoln’s, but we also ended up being right on location when a Kentucky Warbler was found by the Loch. Getting Winter Wren and Least Flycatcher was good, too.
  • May 1: Andrew Farnsworth and I went to Governors Island mainly to try for Boat-tailed Grackle, which had been reported recently by a group visiting the island. We missed that, but Bobolinks were a great consolation prize.
  • May 2: I returned to Governors Island and found a male Boat-tailed Grackle.
  • May 3: Robert DeCandido’s calls quickly deliver a rare Black-billed Cuckoo. Later, in the afternoon, while watching for warblers at Summit Rock I hear of an American Bittern said to be at Tupelo Meadow. I go to look for it and do not see it. Then I meet a birder who claimed to have seen the American Bittern himself. I issue an alert at 3:08 p.m. and look for it again, this time along with many others. No one sees it. I wander back to Summit Rock. After 6:00 p.m. I encounter a birder who reported having seen the American Bittern along with a crowd of birders at Tupelo and even had a photo of the bird. How could this be when no new alert has been issued?  I issue the alert myself and run there. Success, finally!
  • May 7: A late-afternoon report of Semipalmated Sandpiper at FDR Park has me going there during light rain at 4:55 p.m. Then an alert of Eastern Whip-poor-will at the Pond arrives. I head to the Pond’s west side, by the waterfall, find the bird, and issue an alert with a photo of the tree where it was roosting.
  • May 9: I bird Central Park early with Robert DeCandido until I get an alert of Blue Grosbeak continuing at Battery Park. I find the grosbeak quickly, well north of the beehive location where it had earlier been noted. Then I start looking for the Summer Tanager, which Gabriel Willow had found at the north end of Battery Park. This takes over an hour, but eventually the tanager reappears and gives a close view to many.
  • May 11: Found my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the year south of the Rustic Shelter with Robert DeCandido.
  • May 14: Bank Swallow near the Reservoir North Pump House.
  • May 18: A male Mourning Warbler is found on the rocks beneath Belvedere and offers a close, clear view to many in the early evening.
  • May 19: I find a Bicknell’s Thrush near the Loch with Robert DeCandido and his group. The thrush sings in response to playback, giving the group its first-ever Bicknell’s.
  • May 21: I hear and then see a singing Willow Flycatcher at Turtle Pond.
  • May 23: An hour-long stakeout of Humming Tombstone gets me the reported Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
  • May 27: I bring show Robert DeCandido and group a singing Acadian Flycatcher at Warbler Rock—my last Central Park migrant of the spring.
  • June 2: My best look at Black Vultures, with Robert DeCandido, over the North Woods.
  • June 14: After a week of trying to get a Black Skimmer on the East River (as had been reported) or over the Meer, I went to Pier 45 in the West Village with Ryan Zucker. After seeing at least two Black Skimmers near the west shore of the Hudson, we saw three fly close by the pier. It’s a cool bird that very few birders ever have seen in Manhattan.
  • August 14: I wasted no time in getting to Sherman Creek to chase a report of Semipalmated Plover, a shorebird one does not get every year here.
  • August 25: The Lesser Yellowlegs found late the day before stayed another day, giving me another life bird in the maintenance puddles of Governors Island.
  • September 9: The first Bald Eagle and Broad-winged Hawks moving over Central Park—always a great way to begin the fall birding season.
  • September 10: It took me three attempts over two days to get the Connecticut Warbler at Sparrow Rock, but the hours of watching were worth it, as no other chaseable reports arrived this fall—a sharp decline from the relative abundance of the past few years.
  • September 16: After a Western Kingbird was photographed too late to chase yesterday on Governors Island, I went on the first boat and ran to the location on the south hills on a hot, sunny day. The kingbird never re-appeared.
  • September 29: The Philadelphia Vireo on Robert DeCandido’s walk near Green Bench in the North End gave everyone a great view of a bright bird.
  • September 30: Joe Girgente’s Dickcissel at Renwick Ruins on Roosevelt Island proved a pivotal bird for me. Both he and I got extended, close views, but no other Manhattan birders saw the species this year.
  • October 12: Quick chase to Randall’s Island’s northeast-shore saltmarsh yields both Nelson’s Sparrows and a Saltmarsh Sparrow (rarer) at close range.
  • October 14: Ryan Zucker texted me with a mid-morning report of Vesper Sparrow on the northeast fields of Randall’s Island. I ran over and saw it with him, the first of several Vesper Sparrows I would see in an unusually good fall for them.
  • October 22: First found the previous morning, the Fort Tryon Park Heather Garden Yellow-breasted Chat was not seen again the previous day. That is just as well, as I went to chase a more proximate report from Andrew Farnsworth in Sutton Place and did not re-find it. The next morning another alert from Fort Tryon arrived, and I went to chase it. When I arrived a handful of birders already were on the scene, some of whom had seen it just five minutes ago. I waited another forty minutes before it reappeared and soon gave me a brief look from the Heather Garden Terrace. This would be the last report of the year for the species in Manhattan.
  • October 22: But my day was not over. Shortly after returning home, I received an alert that Stefan Passlick had found an Eastern Meadowlark on a North Meadow ball field. It lingered the rest of the afternoon to the delight of many.
  • October 27: Red-shouldered Hawk would prove scarce this fall. I was happy to get an early one flying low over the Loch with Robert DeCandido and his group.
  • October 30: I have written at length about the evening’s Great Horned Owl over Evodia.
  • November 10: On a cold day with strong northwest winds Andrew Farnsworth and I had some low flyovers of Bonaparte’s Gull on the Dyckman Street fields, a very tough species to ever see in Manhattan. Upon returning to Central Park I was treated to another low flyover, that of Northern Harrier.
  • November 18: With widespread rain approaching, I decided to run to the Native Plant Garden on the southeast side of Randall’s Island, where I had American Tree Sparrows in late November the year before. To my delight one was there again.
  • November 23: I was extremely fortunate to be on the East River Greenway, on my way to Randall’s Island, when a low-flying Tundra Swan passed over the island and overhead on its way south. A private alert from a birder on Randall’s Islands northeast fields help assure this rare swan would not be missed.
  • November 23: Later that afternoon I chased and saw a Virginia Rail in the Central Park Ravine, another great Stefan Passlick find. This bird stayed at the location for many days.
  • November 26: I was one of the first to see the mega-rare Hammond’s Flycatcher that lingered for over two weeks in the Central Park Ramble.
  • December 3: Finally saw (along with Robert DeCandido and his group) the Boat-tailed Grackle (my first for Central Park) that had been associating with a large Common Grackle flock in the park possibly for as much as two weeks.
  • December 10: With the closest subway to the Dyckman Fields closed along with some stations on the 2, I had to go well out of my way to reach the three Horned Lark that were reported there. But even two hours after the initial sighting they remained, foraging around a puddle on the southernmost ball field. All of this came after already walking the length of Randall’s Island and back earlier in the morning with Ryan Zucker.
  • December 13: The late afternoon and evening produced a memorable goose migration event of enormous size. Many large, low-flying flocks of Snow Geese were seen and later heard, even hours after sunset, driven by unusual cold and favorable winds.
  • December 17: After several failed attempts this fall to hear an Eastern Screech-Owl at Inwood Hill Park, I was glad to receive reports of one being seen and heard on the 15th. I ended up hearing it whinny but never saw it.

A Great Week of Winter Birding

I am not doing another public big year, but I am birding. This week produced some of the best finds of the winter.

On February 14 I had two Snow Buntings on the northeast shore of Randall’s Island, and at least one of them posed for a close photo.


Snow Bunting

That same day I also had a Red-throated Loon, my first of the season and the first one I have had in nearly two years, seen from the same location swimming in the East River.

The day before I had Common Loon on the Reservoir, a species I had only once in 2016. Generally, Common Loon is the easier of the two to observe in Manhattan, not only on the rivers but also in the sky. But last fall the loon flights were nearly all very high, out of the range of my binoculars (I do not use a scope). I recall seeing at least a handful of loon flyovers in previous years at more accessible heights. And the loons were not touching down in the rivers as far as I could tell, which seemed odd. In the winters of 2012 and 2013, seeing loons on the rivers was easy — they were visible in decent numbers (1-4) on nearly every trip to the Hudson or the East River.

The best bird of the week was the immature Glaucous Gull I had on the 16th at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, which is part of Manhattan. There have been a few reports of such a Glaucous Gull in the area recently, including briefly on the Central Park Reservoir. I was delighted to get a closeup photo of the bird.


Glaucous Gull

On the 17th I chased a Manhattan Bird Alert (Twitter) report of Canvasbacks at West Harlem Piers Park, a flock that had been appearing occasionally at this location in recent weeks. That is also where I had a flock of Canvasbacks in February 2016. When I did not see them at the tweeted location, I climbed the bridge to Riverbank State Park and found the flock just north of 135th Street by a water treatment plant. This time my photo had to be from afar.



Today, the 19th, I had Greater Scaup off Randall’s Island. I believe that the relatively mild winter — after what was briefly a very cold mid-December start — has caused fewer scaup to pass through the area, and probably also fewer of other species, such as Long-tailed Duck, which has been absent from Manhattan reports so far in 2017.

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.

Lapland Longspur, Randall’s Island

Just as I was about to head to the gym at 1:58 p.m. I received a text alert of an NYSBirds posting: Tom Fiore had learned of a Lapland Longspur on the northeast shore of Randall’s Island from another birder and had seen it for himself. The gym would have to wait.

The last eBird record of Lapland Longspur in Manhattan on land is from 1956 — a retroactively-entered historical record from Central Park. Andrew Farnsworth observed a pair via overnight flight call recording in 2010. For Manhattan it is thus an extreme rarity. Nevertheless, it has been on my short list of species I expect to get for some time. One reason is that it keeps showing up nearby every year. There was a 2013 observation in Van Cortlandt Park just to the north in the Bronx. There are annual observations of it at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

Another reason is that Manhattan has suitable habitat for it. Lapland Longspurs like to winter on open grasslands and tilled fields, and they seem to travel near the water when they pass through the New York City area. So Randall’s Island and Governor’s Island are great for it, and the fields of Inwood Hill Park also offer possibilities — a stopover point for those moving along the Hudson.

I printed out the directions to the bird, dressed appropriately (galoshes because Randall’s Island fields tend to flood when snow melts), and ran for the subway, catching the express to 125th Street. From there I ran across the RFK Bridge and onto the island’s northeast fields. I saw no other birders. I also saw no bird. Then it popped up out of the grass right next to the shore, just south of the sign for ball field #31. It was ten yards away, and my presence did not seem to bother it. I observed it for a few minutes and issued a #birdcp Twitter alert at 2:48 p.m. Then I left the area — I did not want to risk spooking the bird and making it harder for others to observe. Andrew Farnsworth found it in the same place 90 minutes later.

Best Manhattan Birds of 2015

Three lists, actually. I chose my best birds based on how rare they are for Manhattan and how uncommonly observed they were in 2015, with extra points for personal life birds. The second list is for the many great birds that “everyone” saw. Last, my most regrettable misses of the year.

My stats for 2015: 203 bird species in Manhattan and over 500 miles of walking/running in pursuit of them.

My Best Birds of 2015

  1. Franklin’s Gull, 13 November, 70th Street Pier on the Hudson. A life Manhattan bird for me and just a few others, part of an epic migration the likes of which had not been seen on the East Coast since 1998.
  2. Purple Sandpiper, 18 May, Roosevelt Island. Another life Manhattan bird for me,  the species was first reported on Roosevelt Island two weeks prior, but the report was issued after sundown so I could not chase. Then another report appeared late on 17 May which Andrew Farnsworth was able to successfully chase from Peter Detmold Park, but which I could not reach in time. I staked out Detmold the next afternoon and got the bird, which was not seen again. Prior to 2015 there had been only one eBird report of Purple Sandpiper in Manhattan in the past 25 years
  3. Cliff Swallow, 10 April, Harlem Meer. Cliff Swallows pass over Manhattan in migration annually, but unlike the more common swallows, they are almost never seen low over Central Park waters. Deborah Allen found these birds, which gave excellent views and also added to my life list.
  4. Black Skimmer, 22 June, Harlem Meer. Watching this large, distinctive bird appear out of the twilight darkness and gracefully skim the southwest corner of the Meer was a huge thrill and it left me with my most memorable birding image of the year.
  5. Black-headed Gull, 19 january, Randall’s Island. Jacob Drucker saw a Black-headed Gull flying west over the Hudson on 15 January near sunset. I most likely saw the same bird four days later feeding over the Harlem River.
  6. Red-necked Grebe, 16 March, south of 70th Street Pier on the Hudson. Red-necked Grebes are not observed most years in Manhattan though they were unusually abundant in 2014. In 2015 they were a lot harder to find. This one was just offshore, a naked-eye bird.
  7. Bank Swallow, 30 April, Reservoir. Another life bird for me, and long overdue.
  8. Canvasback,  22 February, Randall’s Island NE Shore. In recent years this species has become rarer in Manhattan, and only a few birders had it in 2015.
  9. Northern Pintail, 17 March, Randall’s Island NE shore. A drake Northern Pintail made a rare, extended appearance on Central Park waters in Fall 2013. Otherwise, as was the case in 2015, it has been very hard to get. I had a trio of females swimming just offshore from Randall’s Island. In the fall I had some flying over the Hudson in flocks of Canada Geese.
  10. Greater Yellowlegs, 9 May, Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Close views of a wading bird.
  11. Grasshopper Sparrow, September, Grassy Knoll, Central Park. One of Adrian Burke’s many great finds this year, it offered fleeting glimpses to a small group of birders on the afternoon of the 26th. Andrew Farnsworth later had another on Roosevelt Island.


Best Manhattan Birds of 2015 Seen by Multitudes (Including Me)

  1. Couch’s Kingbird, January, Chelsea. Probably a once-in-a-lifetime bird for Manhattanites, it attracted a large viewership from all over the East Coast.
  2. Chuck-will’s-widow, April, Bryant Park. This species is extremely rare in the New York City area, so all the more amazing that it has been found and observed by many in each of the last three years. This one lingered for for a full week.
  3. Sora, October-November, the Loch in Central Park. This cooperative bird, which also seemed to have an injured wing. remained in place for well over two weeks.
  4. Common Redpoll, January-March, Evodia Field. It first appeared on 24 January and was reported up to 9 March — an unusually lengthy extended stay, but understandable given the very cold winter and the reliable food supply from the feeders.
  5. Dickcissel, September, Maintenance Area, Central Park. After a visiting birder reported it on eBird I ran to the area and re-found it. It lingered for one more day. Another Dickcissel showed up on the Great Hill on November 1 and stayed for two weeks.
  6. Eastern Whip-poor-will, September, the Loch in Central Park. It stayed just a day, the 26th, but was widely reported and seen by many.
  7. Long-eared Owl, March, Shakespeare Garden and Cherry Hill. I found this owl roosting in the same Shakespeare Garden yew tree that has previously held a Northern Saw-whet Owl. Apparently it moved to Cherry Hill the next day and was seen by many over the following several days.
  8. Eastern Meadowlark, November, Rockefeller Park. Single bird stayed on the lawn for three days — very unusual behavior for the species, which is an extremely hard one to get in Manhattan. I had mine in Central Park in the spring.
  9. Blue Grosbeak, May, the Ramble.
  10. Connecticut Warbler, September, Trinity Church graveyard. At times two birds giving excellent close views at this historic location.
  11. Great Horned Owl, November-December, the Ramble. Since 8 November this owl has taken up residence in the Ramble, to the delight of many.
  12. *”Western” Flycatcher, November, Central Park Ramble. If confirmed as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, which plenty of evidence indicates it was, this bird would go to #1 or #2 on this list. Similarly if Pacific and Cordilleran Flycatcher are merged back. Until then, it is the Schrodinger’s Cat of 2015 Manhattan birding.


My Most Regrettable Misses

  1. Red Phalarope, October. Only Andrew Farnsworth saw this bird. He found it swimming at Muscota Marsh, but within minutes it flew off and could not be re-found.  I had strongly considered joining him that morning and then decided against it because the overnight winds were weak. Sound reasoning, but in the words of Gob Bluth, “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
  2. Tundra Swan, 19 October, the Battery. Bad communication likely cost me a life bird. I went to Pier 11 after an juvenile Tundra Swan was reported at Brooklyn Bridge Park, which under good conditions can be seen from Manhattan. Andrew Farnsworth arrived before me and found visibility too poor to view the bird even if had been out in the open — which it wasn’t. I lingered in the downtown area to do some unrelated photography and headed uptown at 2 p.m. What I did not know then is that one of Brooklyn’s top birders saw the Tundra Swan clearly in Manhattan waters near the Brooklyn Bridge at 1:45. He issued an alert from his own Twitter account, but I had no way to receive it. I learned of the sighting only after I returned home. I went back to the Battery area and walked the eastern shore to 21st Street. I did not see the bird, nor did any other Manhattan birders.
  3. Glossy Ibis, April. There were a few Manhattan reports of this species in mid-April, all as flyovers, and hence, unchaseable. The most frustrating report, however, was one from Spuyten Duyvil Creek on the 13th of a Glossy Ibis photographed walking near the shore. Because the photographer was not a regular birder (and did not know what the bird was, only that it seemed out-of-the-ordinary), no alert was issued and the photo was not posted until after dark.
  4. Cave Swallow, 15 November. I was scanning the Reservoir for Cave Swallows at 9:35 a.m. when I received a Twitter alert of one off Hoboken flying over the Hudson possibly into Manhattan waters. Had I known the exact location from which to watch, I could have reached it in thirty minutes or so by running  across the park to the west side subway. Instead I ran back to my apartment to check the location on the web, which added at least twenty minutes to my travel time in addition to the short delays I encountered on the Lexington line. I then ran from 23rd and Park to the Hudson, but my arrival time of 10:40 was too late — the bird was no longer being seen by the finder, and it never reappeared either for him or for me. Could it have been a Manhattan bird? I’ll never know, but it was a crushing miss as Cave Swallow movements of this magnitude come once in twenty years. There had also been a Cave Swallow at Randall’s Island the day before, reported four hours after the fact but apparently unchaseable even had the report been immediate.
  5. Eastern Bluebird, November. Generally Central Park has over a handful of appearances of Eastern Bluebird each November. This year there were only a couple reliable reports, and despite six dedicated visits to the North End on days with good winds to do my own searching, I could not observe it. First time in three years I have not had the species.
  6. Yellow-throated Warbler, May. I was less than 200 yards away from the Point, where this bird was being seen on the morning of 5 May. After the alert was issued I arrived in well under a minute. Within ten minutes another 50+ birders were crowding the Point, but no one else saw it because apparently the alert was sent 15 minutes after the bird was initially seen and several minutes after sight of it was lost.
  7. Clay-colored Sparrow, 28 Sep. The bird was reported on the Great Hill at 5:50 p.m. I ran from home and was on the scene by 6:15 — sadly,  over ten minutes too late. What?
  8. Kentucky Warbler, 4 May. Reported singing in Riverside Park near 120th Street at 6:05 p.m.on a hot, humid evening, it disappeared by 6:40 and was neither seen nor heard again. After running across town at rush hour to chase it, I also wanted to disappear and neither be seen nor heard again.
  9. Semipalmated Plover. 28 July and 8 August. I chased both the July report on Governors Island and the August report at Spuyten Duyvil Creek with no luck. Usually these birds linger for the day (or several days), but not this year.
  10. Acadian Flycatcher, May-June. Easy to get in 2012, this species has been much harder since then and it was very hard in 2015 when only a couple distinct birds were reported in Central Park on eBird.
  11. Virginia Rail, October. Two chaseable birds: one on the 18th in Hudson Heights, which I did not bother to pursue on account of time, distance, and laziness; and one on the 30th near Rockefeller Center, which I chased the next day after learning of it late. Someone had it very early that morning; when I looked in the afternoon I could not find it, and no one else did, either.

Sora, Central Park Loch

A substantial drop in temperature, into the low 50s, and moderate northwest winds the day and night before signaled that today could be a very good day for birding. I was expecting a strong raptor flight, which never developed. But other good things did.

I set out early to first check the Central Park Reservoir for new waterfowl and then head to the North End for sparrows and possibly Eastern Bluebird. But a text alert just before 8 a.m. of Nelson’s Sparrows on Randall’s Island’s northeast-shore saltmarsh made me reconsider. I had looked there for these ammodramus sparrows several times over the past week. And even though they generally linger for many days once they arrive, I did not want to pass up the chance to observe them when they were known to be present. I can reach Randall’s Island in twenty minutes from home, so I would still have plenty of time to chase any sightings in Central Park.

The skilled young birder who reported them on Twitter was still watching them when I arrived at 8:55. Though the Nelson’s Sparrows soon became much less active, I still saw them pop up in the low grass and reeds at least several times. We also heard an American Woodcock calling in the marsh. Further along the northeast shore we found a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

I ran back across the RFK Bridge and took the subway home. The plan was to eat, rest a bit, and then return to Central Park to watch the skies for raptors and waterfowl. Just as I was finishing eating, another text alert came in: a Sora was found in the Loch!

As I have mentioned before, Sora is a mega rarity for Manhattan. It is reported here perhaps only once every two or three years. The last one was in Bryant Park in October 2013.

I ran to the Loch, to an area between the two wooden bridges at the west end, and saw several birders observing the Sora. The bird was slowly moving along the Loch’s shore fifteen feet below in plain view, making for a very easy chase.