Snow Buntings, Randall’s Island

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Snow Buntings are a rarity for Manhattan. I am delighted to have had them for a second time this year (the first was on February 14, at the same location). Yesterday, November 11, I saw and photographed two Snow Buntings on the rocky northeast shoreline of Randall’s Island, opposite ball fields 39 and 40. They have been reported continuing at the this spot again today.

In other birding news, the cold front that passed through on the morning of November 10 brought strong northwesterly winds all day, which led to decent raptor and waterfowl flight. It was the first productive day for observing diurnal flight in Manhattan for over a month. We have been stuck in a cycle of either southerly winds (driven by strong low pressure systems) or northeasterly winds.

The latter are generally unproductive for seeing raptor flight over Central Park, as birds, which want to move west away from the coast anyway, are deflected even further west, over the Hudson and into New Jersey. For example, on November 8 the Quaker Ridge (CT) hawk watch had a record-high one-day total of 277 Red-shouldered Hawks. Manhattan birders reported none that day.

At Inwood Hill Park on November 10 I tallied some new birds for the year: Northern Harrier, Bonaparte’s Gull, and Snow Goose, bringing my 2017 New York County total to 209.  I had only a single Red-shouldered Hawk there. I had Northern Harrier in Central Park again upon my return just before 2 p.m.

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A Great Week of Winter Birding

I am not doing another public big year, but I am birding. This week produced some of the best finds of the winter.

On February 14 I had two Snow Buntings on the northeast shore of Randall’s Island, and at least one of them posed for a close photo.

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Snow Bunting

That same day I also had a Red-throated Loon, my first of the season and the first one I have had in nearly two years, seen from the same location swimming in the East River.

The day before I had Common Loon on the Reservoir, a species I had only once in 2016. Generally, Common Loon is the easier of the two to observe in Manhattan, not only on the rivers but also in the sky. But last fall the loon flights were nearly all very high, out of the range of my binoculars (I do not use a scope). I recall seeing at least a handful of loon flyovers in previous years at more accessible heights. And the loons were not touching down in the rivers as far as I could tell, which seemed odd. In the winters of 2012 and 2013, seeing loons on the rivers was easy — they were visible in decent numbers (1-4) on nearly every trip to the Hudson or the East River.

The best bird of the week was the immature Glaucous Gull I had on the 16th at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, which is part of Manhattan. There have been a few reports of such a Glaucous Gull in the area recently, including briefly on the Central Park Reservoir. I was delighted to get a closeup photo of the bird.

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Glaucous Gull

On the 17th I chased a Manhattan Bird Alert (Twitter) report of Canvasbacks at West Harlem Piers Park, a flock that had been appearing occasionally at this location in recent weeks. That is also where I had a flock of Canvasbacks in February 2016. When I did not see them at the tweeted location, I climbed the bridge to Riverbank State Park and found the flock just north of 135th Street by a water treatment plant. This time my photo had to be from afar.

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Canvasbacks

Today, the 19th, I had Greater Scaup off Randall’s Island. I believe that the relatively mild winter — after what was briefly a very cold mid-December start — has caused fewer scaup to pass through the area, and probably also fewer of other species, such as Long-tailed Duck, which has been absent from Manhattan reports so far in 2017.