Bicknell’s Thrush, Central Park Ramble

Bicknell’s Thrush (from allaboutbirds.org)

This morning Roger Pasquier heard the song of a Bicknell’s Thrush at Evodia (the Ramble bird feeder area). He later told Anthony Collerton about it and pointed out the bird, a warm-toned thrush associating closely with a grayer Gray-cheeked Thrush. Collerton issued a Manhattan Bird Alert (follow @BirdCentralPark on Twitter) to let everyone know. He himself had not heard the bird sing.

I arrived at Evodia some minutes later, after Collerton had left, and quickly found a pair of thrushes on the east side of Evodia that matched the stated description. I announced my find to other birders nearby just as the bird was flying to the west side of Evodia.

As I have written before, visual identification is not sufficient to claim a Bicknell’s Thrush, as Gray-cheeked can look much the same. One needs to hear the Bicknell’s song, which ends with a thin, rising pitch.

Both thrushes were staying silent and had wandered out of view. When we started playing the Bicknell’s song on a mobile phone, one of the thrushes came back into view and perched overhead, calling “whee-er”. Soon it flew down and sang. We had our Bicknell’s!

Shortly thereafter I called it in again for Anders Peltomaa and Al “Big Year” Levantin and elicited singing in response. Same later for Joseph DiCostanzo and his American Museum of Natural History walk.

I also heard the Bicknell’s Thrush sing on its own, unprompted, just east of the Gill Source at 10:18 a.m.

A half-hour later Robert DeCandido came by Evodia and helped members of his birding walk see and hear a singing Bicknell’s Thrush.

American Bird Conservancy President Mike Parr and his group were nearby at the time and might have heard the Bicknell’s song. To be sure, I used my phone to call it back again and everyone got close views of the calling and singing  bird.

Bicknell’s Thrush remains a rarity not just in Central Park but throughout its tight migration range along the East Coast. Since identification requires hearing its song, it is possible to get it only during spring migration. Even then, the time window seems to be narrow — I have never had Bicknell’s on more than one day in any May, and there are usually at most only a few days in any May when I hear much thrush song in Central Park. The possible date range for it here seems to be May 12 to May 25, judging by historical Central Park records and my own experience.

 

 

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Bicknell’s Thrush, Strawberry Fields

I had a somewhat late night, and so I did not make it to the Ramble this morning until 9:55. My primary focus these days is bodybuilding, so I need to get plenty of sleep — otherwise, there is no progress. I wanted to chase the earlier report of a Mourning Warbler at Sparrow Rock. By the time I reached this location there were no birders near it, a bad sign. I gave it a cursory look and then went on my way. I did see some birders at Tanner’s Spring looking for the Kentucky Warbler that had appeared there, a bird that I had gotten two weeks ago and so would not need to chase.

I went to Strawberry Fields, where good warbler reports had come in earlier and where I figured a singing Mourning Warbler was still a possibility. As I ascended the dirt trail on the north end I heard a song that I had reviewed just a few days prior, that of Bicknell’s Thrush. I heard the song again, and then just fifteen feet away, perched at eye level on a bare limb, the bird doing the singing came into view. It looked exactly the way a Gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s type thrush should look — the two species cannot reliably be distinguished in the field, though there are some features said to suggest one over the other.

There had been only three eBird reports of Bicknell’s Thrush in Central Park prior to today, the last from 2008. Why so few? It looks just like another unexciting bird, the Gray-cheeked Thrush; it even sounds somewhat like this other bird, with the Bicknell’s song ending on an up-slur and the Gray-cheeked song ending on a down-slur; few birders know the distinction and listen for it; and these thrushes appear only during a relatively narrow window in mid- to late May and then move on. Of course, they return again in the fall, but then they do not sing.

The Bicknell’s Thrush is my 240th lifetime Manhattan species, and my 176th of 2014.