Dickcissel and Pine Siskin, Central Park

Dickcissel, Central Park North End

On migration-season Fridays, Robert DeCandido offers a birding walk in the Central Park North End. He starts early, 7 a.m. or so, well before the scheduled walk time of 9 a.m., to scout the area and also to get in some good birding at the best time.

Two weeks ago he found Orange-crowned Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat on his scouting walk, the first of which he tweeted while I was still in bed, so the chase took a bit longer than I would have liked.

On this last Friday, August 24, I was up earlier, so that when Robert’s 8:00 a.m. tweet of a Dickcissel opposite the Green Bench arrived, I did not have much left to do to before going on my way.

It’s remarkable how this small area, around the Green Bench, produced two rarities worthy of regional mention in a short time frame.

I ran and reached the location by 8:27, and within a minute I saw the Dickcissel poking its head above the grass. I even got a decent photo.

Dickcissel is not recorded every year in the park; the last known appearance of it there was noted by only one birder in October 2016. Before that, Robert DeCandido and Deborah Allen found one on the Central Park Great Hill on 27 May 2016, and I quickly chased it and saw it along with Deborah.

I am delighted to have had at least one Dickcissel in Manhattan every year from 2011 to 2018.

Today, August 25, Robert DeCandido continued to produce. I joined him for a walk around the Ramble on a pleasant but not-too-birdy morning. The Ramble was alive with the calls of Red-breasted Nuthatches. Altogether I had at least ten of them.

We saw and heard several of them in the trees of Bunting Meadow, immediately north of the Upper Lobe. Robert noticed another, drabber bird associating with the nuthatches, one with brown streaking on the breast and a sharp bill — an unexpected Pine Siskin, the first of the year for Manhattan! This also is the earliest-recorded fall date on eBird of a Manhattan Pine Siskin.

 

 

Advertisements

August Rarities in Central Park

After warning Manhattan birders from my @BirdCentralPark Twitter feed that Thursday-night radar was lighting up and that the morning could bring some good birds, I planned on looking for shorebirds in Inwood. I had already observed nearly every bird likely to occur in Central Park in the spring.

Those plans changed quickly, on Friday, 10 August 2018, when Robert DeCandido sent a 7:56 a.m. alert of Orange-crowned Warbler in the Central Park Wildflower Meadow, a species I still needed for the year. (As did nearly everyone else. Unlike 2017, when Orange-crowned Warbler was seen often during spring migration, 2018 brought perhaps only one such bird, seen on only one day.)

As I was getting ready to run to the North End, DeCandido found and reported another rarity: Yellow-breasted Chat southwest of the A. H. Green Bench, near the Wildflower Meadow.

The temperature was rising quickly (it would reach 86 F later) and it was a sunny day, so I knew that bird activity would soon decline. I ran to the Wildflower Meadow and looked around.

I did not see or hear any migrants, so I went to check the Green Bench area, which also had no birds of interest.

I knew that the species I was seeking almost surely were still in the area, whose dense foliage offered excellent habitat. I also knew that DeCandido and his birding group would be coming by soon, so I continued looking.

Half an hour later DeCandido and group arrived. Having Robert DeCandido around is a tremendous advantage, because DeCandido is a master of using sound to attract birds.

I have birded with him extensively, and I can relate dozens of times when no migrant activity was evident, yet after DeCandido played appropriate calls for a minute or two, warblers, vireos, and flycatchers would appear in nearby trees.

Such was the case again. We began seeing expected migrants like Canada Warbler, American Redstart, and Yellow Warbler. We even had an early Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Then DeCandido spotted the Yellow-breasted Chat again, in a fruiting tree on the northwest side of Wildflower Meadow, and everyone had great views of the perching bird.

Then we moved to the southwest corner of Wildflower Meadow, and the sounds DeCandido played drew in warblers to trees that had been empty before our arrival. We had Red-eyed Vireo, another Canada Warbler, an empidonax flycatcher, and a couple American Goldfinches.

After much waiting we noticed some rustling low in the brush, and DeCandido soon had everyone on a handsome Orange-crowned Warbler.

DeCandido’s observations of Yellow-breasted Chat and Orange-crowned Warbler set the earliest-ever records for fall migration for these species, the latter by over a month. A most remarkable morning in Central Park!

Boat-tailed Grackle, Central Park

Female Boat-tailed Grackle (credit: AllAboutBirds.org)

As I have written before, Boat-tailed Grackle is not a species you should expect to find in Central Park even though it breeds in the New York City area and in neighboring New Jersey. When it is reported in Central Park, it is almost always a mistake. Common Grackles vary in size and tail length, and if you look at hundreds of them you are likely to find some that look larger than the others. A male Boat-tailed Grackle is not easily distinguished from a large Common Grackle by appearance alone, though the rounder crown shape of the Boat-tailed and the very large tail, often held in the shape of a “V,” are key features. Song and calls diagnostic for distinguishing these two species.

If you want to confidently identify a Boat-tailed Grackle amidst a loud flock of Common Grackles, your best hope is to find a female or immature. It’s overall brown color suggests Rusty Blackbird, but its long, thick bill and much larger size (as large or larger than Common Grackles) easily clinch the ID.

Recently in Central Park eBird reports of female Boat-tailed Grackle have appeared, with the first being on November 17. This report failed to give a specific location and was entered after sunset, despite referencing a morning birding time. A more reliable report, complete with photo and Sheep Meadow location, was submitted on November 25. This one also was entered late, but not so late as to make chasing impossible. I received the eBird alert at 2:49 p.m. and shortly after 3:00 I was running to the southern end of the park to do some searching.

By then the large grackle flock reported and photographed in the early morning was gone. It was a mild day, and the Sheep Meadow and surrounding lawn areas were filled with people. I found a smaller Common Grackle flock in the trees of the Hallett Wildlife Sanctuary, but I could not pick out any Boat-tailed Grackles.

The following day, that of the Hammond’s Flycatcher discovery, another eBird report listed Boat-tailed Grackle. this time in the Ramble where I had already spent much of the day.

Two days ago, on Saturday, December 2, I had what I thought was a prime opportunity. A user of Manhattan Bird Alert reported a female Boat-tailed Grackle among a large Common Grackle flock on Cedar Hill. Minutes later, as I was on my way, this finder noted that the flock had been startled and flew south toward the Boathouse. Despite much searching in that area and in areas to the south, I never found the flock.

Another bird alerts user reported seeing the flock at Maintenance and then watching it quickly fly north. I headed north, scanning the lawns on the park’s west side. I did not find any grackles whatsoever.

Yesterday I was birding with Robert DeCandido and Deborah Allen’s group, which was on its way to the Pond to see warblers and waterfowl. I remarked to Robert, as we were passing Cedar Hill, to keep an eye out for grackle flocks.

As we approached the Sheep Meadow, I saw a massive blackbird flock — hundreds of Common Grackles along with many European Starlings. I quickly eyed a leucistic Common Grackle, and remarked that it probably was the same one photographed on November 25 in the flock with the female Boat-tailed — which might be here, too.

The flock flew west, re-settling on the northwest corner of Sheep Meadow. I ran to chase it, and began scanning. Soon another member of the group spotted the immature (likely female) Boat-tailed Grackle under a nearby tree. We got close looks and were able to take good photos.

For me and everyone else in the group it was a new lifetime bird for Central Park. We later had the bird again that day in the trees of Hallett.

Prior to November, the last verified report of Boat-tailed Grackle in Central Park was on April 20, 2011 — a male that seemed to have been lingering in the area south of the Meer for perhaps a couple weeks, and whose distinctive sounds were noted.

 

Hammond’s Flycatcher, Central Park Ramble

24067890_1061141174028318_2584908435899834601_n

Photo credit: Deborah Allen

Yesterday, November 26, a Western-type empidonax flycatcher later determined to be a Hammond’s Flycatcher was announced in the Central Park Ramble by Robert DeCandido through the Manhattan Bird Alert service (@BirdCentralPark) on Twitter at 10:15 a.m. It first was seen on the southern border of the Ramble by the Lake, which is known to birders as the Riviera. Thirty minutes later I re-found it north of there at Swampy Pin Oak, just south of Azalea Pond.

This is the first record ever of Hammond’s Flycatcher for Manhattan (in fact, for all of New York City) and only the third record ever for New York State.

Many dozens of birders from all over the northeast are coming to Central Park today to see the the bird, which continues in the Ramble — first seen at 7:30 a.m. at Swamp Pin Oak and later reported at 9:48 a.m. east of there, toward the Oven.

To get real-time updates on this and all other Manhattan rarities, follow @BirdCentralPark on Twitter.