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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Lark Sparrow, Great Hill Central Park

Lark Sparrow at Amado, Arizona

Lark Sparrow at Amado, Arizona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 4:52 p.m. today a text alert arrived of a Lark Sparrow on the Great Hill north of the balancing rock. With the strong westerly wind flow of the previous few days, I had been wondering about the possibility of Lark Sparrow. An eBird report that arrived less than 50 minutes earlier indicated the bird was first seen briefly this morning by a couple of observers, with the last sighting at 11:20 a.m.

I was late getting the text, and then I had to change into running clothes. But I ran fast and arrived on the Great Hill at 5:19. There were no sparrows near the balancing rock, but I saw two birders intently observing something at the NE end of the sloping meadow nearby. It turned out that they did not have the Lark Sparrow, so I started searching the area, and soon split from them to check higher on the hill. There I found a flock of at least twenty Chipping Sparrows and twenty Dark-eyed Juncos.

Soon the other birders began walking toward me, so I met them and suggested we examine the flock. We walked toward it, and when I looked again the Lark Sparrow was 25 feet away right in my binocular view and I called it out. It took some time to get everyone of the six birders on it, as there were many sparrows moving about, but eventually all saw it. It is large for a sparrow, with a dramatic, unmistakable head pattern.

We observed the bird for roughly 15 minutes before the flock frightened and moved north. The other birders move on. I pursued the flock to the far NE end of the Great Hill, where I last saw the Lark Sparrow at 6:15 p.m. just as darkness was falling.

The last prior report of Lark Sparrow in Manhattan was just over two years ago on 13 September 2011 at the same initial location, the Great Hill’s southern slope.

I was my 230th lifetime Manhattan species, and my 185th of the year.