Least Bittern, Central Park Ramble


Least Bittern (30 April 2017, David Barrett)

It was already an amazing week for me and for Manhattan birding in general. I added two life birds: Red Phalarope, on the northeast shore of Randall’s Island on April 26, and Clapper Rail, at the Loch on April 28 (almost certainly the bird released by the Wild Bird Fund after rehab on April 24).

A warm air mass with southerly winds pushed migrant birds farther north, bring many species to the area over a week sooner than usual. I finished April with 20 more birds for the year than I had ever had before at this time.

The biggest surprise of all came this morning at 8:14 a.m., when I received a Manhattan Bird Alert text (from @BirdCentralPark on Twitter, see here to follow) of Least Bittern in a tree high above the Gill. I ran from the Reservoir and saw a handful of birders already eyeing it. Shape, size, and coloring all checked.  It was my third life Manhattan bird of the week.

The last recorded appearance of Least Bittern in Central Park was on May 29, 1989 on Starr Saphir’s Ramble walk. Lenore Swenson took note of this bird in her journal. It is much rarer than American Bittern, which is observed in Central Park at least once in most years.



Cerulean Warbler, Central Park

A male Cerulean Warbler was first reported over the Gill yesterday (April 22), but very few people saw it and it was not known to be re-found after its initial sighting.

The bird was seen again early this morning and alerts immediately went out, allowing over sixty birders to see it during its extended stay in the trees northwest of Bow Bridge at the southern edge of the Ramble.

Though I went out to view it mid-morning, I got much better views when it appeared over the Oven at 6:25 p.m. with the setting sun illuminating it. Spectacular!

I wrote about the Cerulean Warbler extensively in my book. Not only is it one of the six rarest regularly-occurring warblers in the area, it was also Starr Saphir’s favorite bird, and one that inspired her color choice in outerwear. So seeing it brings back memories of her.

I had just finished viewing another Wilson’s Snipe found at Turtle Pond, along with a Spotted Sandpiper, the first-of-season for me. I also had my first-of-season Prairie Warbler earlier in the day. So it was a good birding day, even though migration has so far been hugely disappointing, even worse than last year, which was the worst year veteran birders could remember.

Delayed migration

Greetings, everyone! It has been several months since I have blogged about birding. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I have been busy writing my book, A Big Manhattan Year, which is now complete and available for purchase. Second, with Starr’s passing in early February I made her site, StarrTrips (where I blogged last year), entirely a memorial to her and decided that it was no longer appropriate to continue writing about my own birding experiences there.

Near the end of my book I stated that I had no intention to do another big year anytime soon, and that is still the case. But, despite birding much less than I did last winter, I actually ended up well ahead of last year’s pace. As of this April 3, I had 92 species; last year on the same date I had 85. By tomorrow (April 6), this advantage will be gone.

For nearly a month now, New York has had cold weather and predominant northerly winds. The effect on birds is that many early migrants are appearing later than usual — much later than they did last year, when warm conditions brought unusually early arrivals. For example, in 2012 Eastern Phoebe was being observed frequently by March 14 and Pine Warblers arrived on March 10. This year it took until April 1 for the Phoebes to be seen in decent numbers, and Pine Warblers have yet to arrive as of April 5!

Last year, the first Palm Warblers appeared on March 29th, and we still have not seen any this year, nor have any warblers at all been reliably reported from Central Park.

Golden-crowned Kinglets have been appearing, in good numbers, since March 31, and Northern Flickers are starting to be heard and seen. The park’s water bodies have also been graced by some Great Egrets, which will remain common throughout the spring but are always a delight to see.

Two weeks ago I added another bird to my Manhattan list when a very cooperative American Woodcock took up temporary residence in the plant beds of Bryant Park.

Warmer weather and southerly winds are on the way. Let’s see what they bring!