Sora, Central Park Loch

A substantial drop in temperature, into the low 50s, and moderate northwest winds the day and night before signaled that today could be a very good day for birding. I was expecting a strong raptor flight, which never developed. But other good things did.

I set out early to first check the Central Park Reservoir for new waterfowl and then head to the North End for sparrows and possibly Eastern Bluebird. But a text alert just before 8 a.m. of Nelson’s Sparrows on Randall’s Island’s northeast-shore saltmarsh made me reconsider. I had looked there for these ammodramus sparrows several times over the past week. And even though they generally linger for many days once they arrive, I did not want to pass up the chance to observe them when they were known to be present. I can reach Randall’s Island in twenty minutes from home, so I would still have plenty of time to chase any sightings in Central Park.

The skilled young birder who reported them on Twitter was still watching them when I arrived at 8:55. Though the Nelson’s Sparrows soon became much less active, I still saw them pop up in the low grass and reeds at least several times. We also heard an American Woodcock calling in the marsh. Further along the northeast shore we found a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

I ran back across the RFK Bridge and took the subway home. The plan was to eat, rest a bit, and then return to Central Park to watch the skies for raptors and waterfowl. Just as I was finishing eating, another text alert came in: a Sora was found in the Loch!

As I have mentioned before, Sora is a mega rarity for Manhattan. It is reported here perhaps only once every two or three years. The last one was in Bryant Park in October 2013.

I ran to the Loch, to an area between the two wooden bridges at the west end, and saw several birders observing the Sora. The bird was slowly moving along the Loch’s shore fifteen feet below in plain view, making for a very easy chase. It was my 200th species in Manhattan for 2015.

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Sora, Bryant Park

I had been waiting for someone to find a Sora on one of the Central Park water bodies. Prospect Park already had a lingering Sora since late September. Bad judgment caused me to miss the Sora that visited Turtle Pond in September 2011, and I was not about to let the next one go uncounted.

So it was with much excitement that I read a Twitter alert (hashtag #birdcp) from frequent birder Ed Gaillard at 4:46 p.m. on Friday, October 12, saying that there was a rail, possibly a Sora, in the planter area at the SE corned of the lawn at Bryant Park.

I wasted no time in getting there, and was on the scene in 25 minutes. I knew that I would have just little more than an hour to observe and identify whatever was there before it got dark. Bryant Park can be an excellent spot for various birds to make an extended stay, such as warblers and sparrows, but rails prefer marshes and this park was notably dry. I did not expect any rail would want to stay overnight.

When I arrived Mr. Gaillard said he had not seen the bird since his tweet. He showed me the few photos he had taken, which I told him were clearly of a Sora. After another 20 minutes of searching, I was getting a little nervous that the bird might have gotten spooked by the attention and sneaked into another planter area. But Ed said he had briefly seen it again while I was looking from the other side, so the bird still had to be there.

Within minutes the bird began walking west through the planter giving us brief but clear views. I noted the light yellow bill and white lines on the wings. It certainly was a Sora, most probably one in its first year.

Now that I knew for sure that the Sora was still present, I issued an NYNYBIRD text alert. A handful of birders responded to it. I lingered until just after 6 p.m. to help direct viewers to the bird. Some viewed it as late as 6:30.

I was surprised to see a report the following morning that the Sora was still present in the same place. I was even more surprised when the Sora was found there again, not just on Sunday, but also on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and even Thursday!

The Sora became my 231st lifetime species in Manhattan and my 186th of 2013.

In the following days, more rare birds appeared in Central Park. On Sunday, October 13, there were two reports of Vesper Sparrow in the park, one in the North End by the Compost Heap, and the other just west of the Pinetum. It turns out that the former flew off soon after the report. I chose to chase the latter, which lingered in a fenced-off lawn area for most of the afternoon and provided good views to many. It became species number 187 for me this year.

Then on Tuesday the 16th a Wilson’s Snipe was reported around midday on the rocks lining the shore of the Lake just east of the Oven. In general, this is a common bird, but it is scarce in Manhattan and observed perhaps only once per year in Central Park. I had my first one in April 2012 at the Upper Lobe. This one was my 188th species of the year.

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