Winter 2015 highlights

From mid-January to late February I had to focus on a couple of issues that prevented me from devoting as much time as I usually do to birding. One of these was closing on my purchase of an Upper East Side co-op and then preparing for the two-block move out of the apartment where I had lived for over twenty years to the new one.

The winter was fairly forgiving in the sense that sought-after species generally appeared much more than once and did so at the locations where they were noted. A single Common Redpoll, for example, lingered at the Evodia feeders from January 23 until at least March 9. I observed this bird on several occasions. A drake Long-tailed Duck (a species that took me over three years of birding to see) continued underneath Broadway Bridge at the northern tip of Manhattan. I did not venture there to see this bird. Again, I am not doing another big year in 2015, though I may very well end up observing a lot of birds.

It was not a great winter for new life birds, however. The only bird anyone observed in New York County this winter that I did not already have is the Glaucous Gull that lingered from late January to early March in New York Harbor. I thought that this winter might have provided a Rough-legged Hawk — there certainly were many reports of the species in Brooklyn and the Meadowlands area of New Jersey — but no.

Aside from the birds I mentioned in previous blog posts (the Couch’s Kingbird and the Black-headed Gull) or above, these are my favorite birds of the winter — ones that I did observe:

  • American Tree Sparrow (both at the Central Park feeders and on Randall’s Island). In many years this can be a very tough sparrow to find.
  • Canvasback, nine of them, swimming in the Bronx Kill off Randall’s Island on February 22. An American Wigeon also showed up there that day;
  • Long-eared Owl in Shakespeare Garden on March 5. This or possibly another Long-eared Owl also roosted on the pines of Cherry Hill for at least several following days;
  • Common Goldeneye off Randall’s Island on March 6. This species did not show up as often as in previous years;
  • Common Merganser off Randall’s Island on March 8. This species also appeared under Broadway Bridge and, very briefly, on the Reservoir;
  • American Woodcock on the north shore of Randall’s Island on March 8. In my book I describe woodcock as very hard to find (which they were, in 2012), but in recent years they have been showing up in large numbers in Central Park. Some stay in place, visible but at least somewhat hidden, for the entire day;
  • Horned Grebe, a single bird swimming just south of the RFK bridge in the Harlem River on March 8;
  • Green-winged Teal on the Reservoir, March 16;
  • Red-necked Grebe, which I found swimming just offshore on the Hudson River near 65th Street on March 16, one of only two eBird reports of this species in Manhattan this winter;
  • Northern Pintail, three hens swimming off the northeast shore of Randall’s Island on March 17.
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American Woodcock and Red-necked Grebe, Central Park

In general, American Woodcocks are hard to find. They blend in well with surrounding foliage, and they stay low to the ground and move very little for much of the day. When they are found resting, however, they are good to birds for which to issue alerts, as they usually stay in place unless approached very closely. The Bryant Park woodcock of last March was a good example. It stayed in place for days, causing some to wonder if it was ill, and giving many birders (including me) an easy view of a life county bird.

On Saturday, March 8, two American Woodcocks were found resting near some rotting logs in the area just to the east of Azalea Pond, an area where one had appeared later in the spring last year. These two lingered for another day, giving close views to dozens of birders.

A more exciting find occurred the next day on Sunday, March 9. Peter Post, a longtime Manhattan birder, found a Red-necked Grebe lazily floating on the small area of open water near the Reservoir’s fountain and quickly alerted everyone on NYSBirds.

There are no prior eBird records of this species in Central Park, and it may be the first occurrence of Red-necked Grebe there in forty years (according to Mr. Post). This bird is generally uncommon around the New York City area, but this year the freeze-over of the Great Lakes has driven many Red-necked Grebes further south in search of open water and made it temporarily abundant in some coastal spots. I had it off of Randall’s Island in late January, but it was distant and the view was unsatisfying. The grebe on the Reservoir was close and unmistakable.

Delayed migration

Greetings, everyone! It has been several months since I have blogged about birding. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I have been busy writing my book, A Big Manhattan Year, which is now complete and available for purchase. Second, with Starr’s passing in early February I made her site, StarrTrips (where I blogged last year), entirely a memorial to her and decided that it was no longer appropriate to continue writing about my own birding experiences there.

Near the end of my book I stated that I had no intention to do another big year anytime soon, and that is still the case. But, despite birding much less than I did last winter, I actually ended up well ahead of last year’s pace. As of this April 3, I had 92 species; last year on the same date I had 85. By tomorrow (April 6), this advantage will be gone.

For nearly a month now, New York has had cold weather and predominant northerly winds. The effect on birds is that many early migrants are appearing later than usual — much later than they did last year, when warm conditions brought unusually early arrivals. For example, in 2012 Eastern Phoebe was being observed frequently by March 14 and Pine Warblers arrived on March 10. This year it took until April 1 for the Phoebes to be seen in decent numbers, and Pine Warblers have yet to arrive as of April 5!

Last year, the first Palm Warblers appeared on March 29th, and we still have not seen any this year, nor have any warblers at all been reliably reported from Central Park.

Golden-crowned Kinglets have been appearing, in good numbers, since March 31, and Northern Flickers are starting to be heard and seen. The park’s water bodies have also been graced by some Great Egrets, which will remain common throughout the spring but are always a delight to see.

Two weeks ago I added another “white whale” bird to my lifetime Manhattan list when a very cooperative American Woodcock took up temporary residence in the plant beds of Bryant Park.

Warmer weather and southerly winds are on the way. Let’s see what they bring!