Review of Manhattan birding in 2013

Even though I devoted only about half the time to birding that I did in 2012, I still had a very active and productive year in 2013. The biggest personal highlight was adding 15 new species to my lifetime Manhattan list, ending with a total of 233. I also had 199 species for the year, not far back of the 212 I had in 2012, a total aided by both an epic finch irruption and a hurricane — neither of which occurred in 2013. And once again no other amateurs (i.e., birders not named Farnsworth) came within 20 birds of my county total for the year.

In 2014 I expect to bird a lot less often, and I am not at all going to pursue a year list. I want to get back to my work, which has been managing hedge funds and trading securities. This work requires a daily commitment to preparing and trading during the early morning hours. The other issue is that I have done Manhattan birding about as well as I think I can, and it’s time to move on to new challenges. I will still bird for enjoyment and exercise when I want to, and I definitely will take advantage of opportunities to expand my Manhattan life list.

Here are what I consider my top seven birds of the year:

7) Blue-winged Teal — Though not in general a hard bird to find in the New York area in recent years, it has been very rare for Central Park. The last prior observation before I found a pair on the Lake in April was from 2009.

6) Northern Pintail — This duck has been even rarer, with the last Central Park record in 2007. The one that appeared on the Lake in late October lingered on various park water bodies through early December.

5) Lark Sparrow — A rare vagrant anywhere in the New York City area, one showed up on the Great Hill in October and stayed for at least a couple days. One also was found in the same area in 2011.

4) Black-headed Gull — The first eBird record of this species in Central Park was on 30 January 2013. It was only the third such record for Manhattan.

3) Virginia Rail — A very cooperative one appeared on the banks of the Loch on 10 September and was seen again the following day. The Virginia Rail is rarer than the Sora, one of which remained at Bryant Park in mid-October for roughly a week.

2) Red-necked Phalarope — There was only one prior Manhattan eBird record of this species (during Hurricane Irene) before one was found swimming near the Hudson shore just south of Pier 40 on 18 August. Because of an afternoon commitment, I was unable to chase it earlier in the day when other birders were on it and had to race out for it alone with dusk approaching. A very satisfying twitch.

1) Chuck-will’s-widow — Easily the rarest bird on my list, there had been only one record of it on eBird in all of New York City during the past 17 years. It gave good views to many high up in a tree just north of Tupelo Meadow on 16 May.

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Migrants move on

Wednesday, May 22, was a good day for birding Central Park. There was decent warbler variety, with a Mourning Warbler appearing at times on the Point in the afternoon and evening. An Alder Flycatcher was seen and heard there in the morning, and it may have been the empidonax flycatcher that I saw there in the afternoon. Since it did not vocalize then, I could not make the species ID. Cedar Waxwings, some of which will linger throughout the summer, were also observed frequently in flocks throughout the park.

The good birding days began on May 9 and it appears that May 22 was the last of them. Yesterday very little bird song could be heard in the Ramble, aside from some Baltimore Orioles, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blackpoll Warblers. I noticed a Spotted Sandpiper working the northeast shore of Turtle Pond. Aside from these, it was very quiet. It had the steamy feeling of a June day.

It is possible that we get one more push of migrants. We did last year — May 25, 2012, was a great day, one of the few best of the spring. I certainly would not count on it, though.

I added Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Cedar Waxwing on the 22nd to bring my 2013 species total to 172. This is well ahead of the 163 that I had last year at the same point, but   the improvement largely is due to a very strong winter and to some good luck: Common Nighthawk and Chuck-will’s-widow appeared openly on the same day last week and were widely reported; Least Flycatcher and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron showed up at Randall’s Island.

As I have said before, I am not trying to do another big year. I expect that other responsibilities will take precedence over fall birding (which can begin as early as mid-July), but I probably will get out to Randall’s Island and Swindler Cove Park for the summer shorebird season.

A Torrent of Migrants

The last seven days offered excellent species variety in Manhattan. I added 21 new species for the year, including some rare warblers that I was not expecting to get. This leaves me with 170 species for the year, which suddenly puts me well ahead of last year’s pace (had 161 as of the same date then) after having been well behind it last week.

My warbler deficit largely got filled with a great influx of the rarer varieties: Blackburnian, Cape May, Prothonotary, Mourning, and Tennessee.

I also picked up my “peeps,” with Solitary Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper foraging side-by-side in the Compost Heap last Sunday. I had a single Least Sandpiper on Randall’s Island off the NE shore today. It was near a wading Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, another new species for the year that I had in the same spot last year in July.

I also had a few unexpected species. A Marsh Wren showed up last Saturday in the bamboo on the Riviera section of the Lake. Even more surprising were the two nightjars I had (along with dozens of other birders) yesterday. A Common Nighthawk was found high up in a tree SW of Mugger’s Woods in the Ramble. I wrote a chapter (“Nighthawk Watchman”) in my book about how I spent many August and September evenings watching in vain for a Common Nighthawk flyover until a pair finally arrived. I will not need to repeat that exercise this year. Later another nightjar was found perching prominently high above the north end of Tupelo Meadow. After some debate and close inspection, this bird was determined to be a Chuck-will’s-widow, a species with no prior eBird records for Manhattan. It was a life Manhattan bird for nearly everyone who saw it, including me.

Just minutes after viewing it, I wandered over to the fenced-in area just west of Humming Tombstone and had a Willow Flycatcher, which I identified by call. This, too, was a life Manhattan bird, one of the easiest of those I was missing. It had been reported often in the Park in the past few days. It brought my life Manhattan total to 223.