Semipalmated Plover, Sherman Creek

Birds are back! And so is this blog, after three months without a post.

I had some Black Skimmers over the Hudson in Chelsea on the evening of June 14 after trying many times over the preceding week to see them on the East River from Gracie Park, as one observer did on June 7, and from the Central Park Meer. These skimmers reliably fly from the southern Queens waterfront to the New Jersey Meadowlands most June evenings, within 90 minutes or so of sunset to do their feeding. They prefer to fish on smaller ponds because the surfaces are calmer (which is essential for skimming) and because fish are more likely to come to the surface there.

No Black Skimmers have been reported in Central Park since June 2015, when I had one over the Meer.

Another bird that I missed last year (and also in 2015) is the Semipalmated Plover. It is common in the boroughs that have beaches and oceanfront saltmarshes, but it has always been rare in Manhattan. I had my first one in August 2012, also at Sherman Creek.

This year one was found near low tide just before 9 a.m. on August 14. A Manhattan Bird Alert was issued on Twitter and by 10:22 I had arrived at Sherman Creek (in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan) and spied the bird in the distance on the mud flats.

Warblers — particularly Yellow Warblers — have started appearing in decent numbers over the past week along with the waterthrushes. Fall migration, which began for some birds in July, is now picking up. We are also at the time of year when the rarer shorebirds are most likely to touch down—possibly even in Manhattan.

Striking out on shorebirds

Many birders have noted greatly decreased shorebird numbers and species variety this year at Jamaica Bay in Queens, one of the nation’s premier fall shorebirding locations.

The best spot in Manhattan for fall shorebirding has long been Sherman Creek in Swindler Cove Park, which the Parks Department now appears to be calling Sherman Creek Park. Sherman Creek offers a 10+ acre saltmarsh on the Harlem River, and is located on the east end of Inwood.

In the two previous years early August has brought flocks of up to 200 Semipalmated Sandpipers to Sherman Creek along with single-digit numbers of Least Sandpipers. Many of these birds would also appear on the Inwood Hill Park saltmarsh at Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

I chased the first report of a Semipalmated Plover on August 1. I got it, but found nothing else of interest. (Solitary Sandpipers and Spotted Sandpipers were around, but these birds are seen regularly during spring migration in Central Park and I had already counted them there.)

I made two more trips to Inwood in the following week and was not able to add any new species. There were single-bird reports of Least Sandpiper at Inwood Hill and Semipalmated Sandpiper at Sherman Creek; I chased the former without success and was not able to chase the latter. It can take me an hour to reach Sherman Creek when there is a wait for the A train, so I cannot justify going there too often.

The northeast shore of Randall’s Island also has a saltmarsh, but a very small one relative to those in Inwood, and one that has not been productive for fall shorebirds. I visited there a couple times in prior weeks, with Killdeer being the only interesting shorebird present (as it is for much of the year there, even into winter).

I had very successful winter and spring seasons, and I finished July with 186 birds for the year. This is ten birds better than my best previous total for that date (2013), and seventeen better than my big year of 2012. Part of it was getting some birds in the spring that I would expect to get in the fall, such as Eastern Bluebird, Clay-colored Sparrow, and American Tree Sparrow.

I am happy to get whatever I can this year, but I will not go to extraordinary lengths to do it. By monitoring New York Harbor in the early morning I probably could have had Black Skimmer. By staking out Governor’s Island or taking a trip to Liberty Island, I might have had Forster’s Tern.

Had social plans not interfered, I also certainly *would* have had the American Avocet that appeared late on July 15 near the Dyckman Street pier on the Hudson River. That certainly is my most regrettable miss of the year so far, as it would have been a life bird.