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.


Canvasback, Swindler Cove Park

The Canvasback had long been one of my “white whale” birds. It used to show up on the Hudson fairly often, and it was one of the birds I expected to get during my big year of 2012. I did not, however, despite two next-day chases of Canvasback observations in January 2012. My unsuccessful search for a Canvasback on the Hudson in Chelsea on December 31, 2012 brought my big year to a close.

So it was with great excitement that I saw two messages on my return from the gym at 1 p.m. on January 12, 2014 (the day after I found the Snowy Owl). The first message was a report of three Canvasbacks still being seen at noon at Swindler Cove Park. The second was an eBird report of a Canvasback observed sometime during the morning on the Bronx Kill on the northeast shore of Randall’s Island.

Naturally, I planned to chase these birds right away — but which? The Swindler Cove sighting was the more recent, by perhaps as much as three hours, but getting there would take nearly an hour. The Randall’s Island bird was much closer — I could reach it in a half hour by running across the RFK Bridge — and there was an additional attraction: a Common Raven had been seen lingering on Randall’s Island both that day and the day before. If I got the Canvasback, I planned to search for the raven. If I missed the duck, then I would have to put off looking for the raven and go to Swindler Cove. Ravens are becoming regular in Manhattan, but I could not afford to miss the Canvasback.

After a fast subway ride and a run across the bridge, I was on the northeast shore of Randall’s Island, searching the canal for the Canvasback. I really wanted it to turn up, so I double-checked the Kill and then looked further out in the bay. I had already done an intense morning workout and did not feel like doing more; it was also starting to get cold. But twenty minutes of searching could not produce the Canvasback, so I ran back across the bridge and then across Harlem to catch the A-train.

Just after 3 p.m. I arrived at Swindler Cove Park. It took some scanning, but I found the three drake Canvasbacks exactly where they had been reported previously, on the opposite shore near some wooden moorings. I had waited a long time and searched many miles to add this bird to my life Manhattan list.

I went further inside the park, away from the Sherman Creek mud flats to look for other birds (Swindler Cove can offer surprises) and twenty minutes later the Canvasbacks were no longer in view.

At least one Canvasback reappeared over several following days at Swindler Cove, and on January 15 two drakes showed up on the Central Park Reservoir but were not publicly reported until after dark.