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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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.

Northern Pintail, Central Park

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

After I finished trading the market this morning, I had a brilliant idea: visit the Hudson by Inwood to watch raptor and waterfowl migration. Winds would be favorable (northwest and strong) for the first time since the cold air arrived yesterday. I emailed Andrew Farnsworth to let him know my plan.

It turns out Farnsworth was, as usual, already a step ahead. He had been birding the Dyckman ball fields area of Inwood Hill Park since 10 a.m. and his lengthy eBird list arrived in my inbox before I was even ready to leave.

He warned me that the birds were flying high and that I would want to bring a scope, but 10 x 42 binoculars were all I had, and besides I was already walking across the park on my way to the C train at 86th Street. He was on his way back home, but he planned to be back in the afternoon again.

I went first to Fort Tryon Park, thinking that the extra 200+ feet of elevation would help me get better views. I arrived at 12:40 p.m. Within ten minutes I saw an adult Bald Eagle fly low and directly overhead — I was off to a great start. But this was nearly all I saw, and after forty minutes I decided to try the Dyckman fields.

I immediately started seeing more birds, mostly geese and Red-tailed Hawks, that were swerving east over the hill and thus not passing over Fort Tryon.

Somewhat later, at 2:35 p.m., a text alert arrived: Sandra Paci (who took part in the birdathon in honor of Starr Saphir) had found a male Northern Pintail on the Lake in Central Park, just west of the Point.

Right away I texted Farnsworth that I had to leave Inwood to chase the pintail.

Northern Pintail observations in Central Park are extremely rare. The last verified one was from February and March of 2007, when a male pintail overwintered on the 59th Street Pond. They can be had in flight over the East River, but that takes a lot of watching and some luck.

The one on the Lake was, as the expression goes, a “sitting duck.” All I had to do was reach it before it flew away. (Not a trivial concern — the Blue-winged Teal I found on the Lake in spring flew off after little more than an hour.)

I went directly toward the the Dyckman 203rd Street station and quickly caught the express train going downtown. By 3:20 I was in Central Park on the south side of the lake, west of Bethesda Fountain and north of Cedar Hill.

I scanned the shoreline of the Point and quickly found the duck sleeping under a tree branch near some Mallards. It was well concealed from most viewing angles and not showing any movement. If this is how it was when Sandra found it, it was certainly was not an easy find.

By 3:30 I was on my way back to join Farnsworth for more migration-watching in Inwood. We got in a half-hour of viewing before he had to leave, with the highlight being another low-flying adult Bald Eagle.

The Northern Pintail became my 233rd lifetime Manhattan species and 191st of 2013.