Autumn Birds Arrive

September 9 brought at least two Bald Eagles and some Broad-winged Hawks over Central Park. Though the park had Broad-winged Hawk sightings at least several times after this date, there was no day where even a hundred (much less the thousands that are regularly seen from Westchester hawk watches) were reported.

September 10 delivered a Lark Sparrow at Triplets Bridge that was seen just before 10 a.m. and by 10:20 a.m. was not seen again. Toward midday a Connecticut Warbler, possibly the same one seen in the evening two days before, was reported at Sparrow Rock. Some saw it pop out of the brush during the afternoon. I watched for at least an hour and then went home. Observers were crowding around the brushy area, hoping to get a close look at the bird. This crowding discouraged the the Connecticut from doing the very thing they were waiting to see. When I returned after 5 p.m. fewer observers were there, but some still continued to watch close by the brush rather than at a binocular distance. I got lucky in that the bird finally decided to fly out of the brush and land nearby, so I had close views of it for fifteen seconds. Then it flew into the woods adjacent to Tanner’s Spring.

Nearly three weeks went by without my having a new year-bird. Then on September 29 I had the year’s first report of Nelson’s Sparrow at the northeast-shore saltmarsh of Randall’s Island.

On the next day, a Saturday, as I was birding the Pinetum with Robert DeCandido and others, an alert arrived of Dickcissel at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island on the east side of the Renwick Hospital ruins. The bird was in a fenced-in area with a small sparrow flock, so I knew the odds of a successful chase were high. I was also in touch with the finder, Joe Girgente, an excellent birder who spends much time on the island. I was on the scene quickly and enjoyed extended, close looks at the Dickcissel.

On October 12 I ran to Randall’s Island in the late morning, after another birder had reported two Saltmarsh Sparrows on the northeast-shore marsh. I walked into the marsh near low tide and had close views of both Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows walking on an area of exposed mud.

Two days later I would be called out to Randall’s Island again, as Vesper Sparrow was reported on the northeast ball fields. Ryan Zucker, a prodigiously accomplished birder just beginning ninth grade, was already on the scene. We quickly re-found the Vesper Sparrow among a small flock of Savannah Sparrows near the rocky shore.

The morning of October 17 had much migratory flight, and just after sunrise I heard the the call of American Pipits flying over the northeast shore of Randall’s Island. In recent years I have made many trips to Randall’s Island in November and December specifically looking to find this species feeding on one of the many lawns. I was delighted to put it on my year list early.

That brings us to yesterday, October 21. A Yellow-breasted Chat was reported at the Heather Garden of Fort Tryon Park mid-morning. Normally I would be running out the door and across the park to do the chase, but I had already birded much of the length of Central Park earlier that morning and had experienced firsthand the delays and service changes of the NYC subway’s A line that runs to Fort Tryon, which encouraged me to walk home from the North End rather than ride. With the subway’s website still indicating delays, I did not want to duplicate a bad experience. I also had in mind the Yellow-breasted Chats are notoriously shy birds and can remain hidden for hours on end. So I passed on the chase. As it turned out, no one observed the bird in the afternoon despite some watching for nearly four hours.

Today the chat was reported by the same observer in the same location again at 10:47 a.m. This was valuable information: the chat was likely to remain in the general area, having already spent at least a day there. A quick chase would have decent odds.

I still had to deal with the A train not making northbound local stops nearby, so I took the 1 train at 86th and Broadway, which required a bit more running both on the way to it and on the way to Fort Tryon from it. But by 12:15 p.m. I was in Fort Tryon on a sunny and unseasonably-warm day.

After some climbing and walking along paths, I reached the north end of Heather Garden to find several birders looking for the chat. One said that it had been in view three minutes ago, low on some vines bearing the blue berries it sought to eat. Encouraging news, so I began waiting and after 45 minutes the bird still had not re-appeared.

Then someone saw it fairly high up in a nearby tree, and I caught a glimpse of it. I issued a Manhattan Bird Alert to let everyone know that the Yellow-breasted Chat continued. Ten minutes later I saw it again, this time much more clearly, perching on a limb, viewed from the raised terrace immediately north of Heather Garden. It was soon time for me to leave, but others continued to see the chat occasionally throughout the afternoon.

I arrived home and had only a little time to eat and rest before another alert chimed in: Eastern Meadowlark at the Central Park North End ball fields. This is a very hard species to get in Manhattan, generally reported only once per year in the park (usually late October or early November) and perhaps once or twice at Randall’s Island. So I laced up my shoes again and ran! Within ten minutes I was on location with the bird, alone on a fenced-in field, clearly in view.

204 species for the year in Manhattan as of October 22. That’s my best count ever for this date (by two birds), but given the strength of my winter and spring seasons (the latter including some birds more often found in the fall) I do not expect to be break my record (213) this year.

 

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A Spate of Year Birds

I have not posted in a few months because I was not observing any exceptional birds. The summer shorebird season was disappointing, with nothing new for me but the common and expected Semipalmated Sandpiper. There is still time for shorebirds, as two of the best from last year arrived in the late-September to early-November period.

Raptor movements have been sparse due to prevailing winds with easterly components. Still, I have managed to see the usual Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk, the latter two only in very small numbers.

Then, in just the last eight days, I added five new birds to my year list.

  1. Many saw the two Connecticut Warblers that lingered at in the Trinity Church courtyard on September 21 and 22;
  2. An immature Red-Headed Woodpecker appeared in the Evodia area of Central Park on morning of the 24th;
  3. An Eastern Whip-poor-will was found roosting on a tree limb at the south end of the Loch early on the morning of the 26th. I raced out to see it, and it remained there the entire day;
  4. Later, on the afternoon of the 26th I had to run out to the North End again to chase a Grasshopper Sparrow on the Grassy Knoll. It appeared furtively a few times, sometimes in flight;
  5. Today, the 29th, a birder visiting from the West Coast reported on eBird seeing a Dickcissel in the Maintenance area of the Ramble sometime between 10:30 and noon. The description checked and the other birds on his list made sense, so I ran to Maintenance shortly after seeing the 12:23 eBird Rare Bird Alert.

The eBird report suggested to me that the bird had been on the small lawn directly east of the all-metal maintenance shed. It was said to associating, as Dickcissels often do, with a flock of House Sparrows. There was a such a House Sparrow flock there, occasionally drinking from the water that collected at the base of a public fountain. I stealthily watched the fountain area for fifteen minutes. No Dickcissel.

I also checked the perimeter of the area, which included the Maintenance Meadow proper. After forty minutes I still did not have the bird.

Then I decided to look into  the northeast corner of Maintenance, where I could see some House Sparrows feeding atop tall grasses and weeds and occasionally perching on the wire fence that encloses the entrance to the shed. Soon the Dickcissel appeared on the tall grass. Of the several Dickcissels I have seen in Manhattan, this one had the brightest yellow breast. It also had a very yellow supercilium.

Paul Sweet’s American Museum of Natural History midday walk was at Maintenance, so I told Paul about the bird and he brought the group over. After some minutes of searching he found the Dickcissel perching on the tree.

The Dickcissel lingered in the general area for the entire day and was seen by many.

Connecticut Warbler, Central Park Ramble

The Connecticut Warbler has proved over the last couple years to be very chaseable. Unlike most warblers, it prefers walking (not hopping, and this is an important element in identification) to flying during the day, and so it tends not to go far from where it is sighted. When it appears in a not-densely-vegetated area, as it did two years ago near Tupelo Meadow in the Ramble, it can offer extended views to many observers. The flip side is that its tendency to stay low in heavy brush can also make it very hard to see in the first place and challenging to re-find.

Yesterday, September 29, a Connecticut Warbler was observed walking on the loose dirt and leaves of the hill that rises just north of the Riviera (the path along the Lake) at the south end of the Central Park Ramble. It was reported quickly, both online and by BirdCP text alert at 5:59 p.m. I was at home when I received the alert, and in a few minutes I was running toward the Ramble, binoculars in hand.

I did not want to waste any time, as sunset was 6:40 and the Ramble could be dark well before then on a cloudy day. I arrived at 6:13 and saw three birders in the area. They said they had just seen the Connecticut, and almost immediately it appeared again near a large log. I watched it for a few minutes as some of them took photographs. The bird had a gray hood and unbroken eye-ring, and it was walking, so there was no question about identity.

The Connecticut Warbler was my 196th species of the year. I still need Golden-winged Warbler to complete another “perfect” warbler year (of all regularly-occurring warblers in Manhattan), as I had once before in 2012. It appears extremely unlikely that I will see one, as none have ever been recorded on eBird in Manhattan in October, and cross-breeding is making the pure species rarer each year.

**3 October Update: 

More chaseable Connecticut Warbler reports in Manhattan followed: first at Madison Square Park in the afternoon on 30 September, and then the next day in Strawberry Fields, Central Park at 5:35 p.m.