Willow Flycatcher, Turtle Pond

This morning, 21 May 2017, I saw an empidonax flycatcher from the Turtle Pond Dock flycatching low on Turtle Pond Island. It was, by appearance, either a Willow or an Alder Flycatcher. The two species look almost exactly alike and can be differentiated in the field only by vocalization. This bird was quiet, and before I could play a recording that might elicit a vocal response it flew east. With the fence surround the adjacent lawn not yet open, I was unable to chase it and I went on with the morning’s birding walk.

Just after noon I returned to Turtle Pond. From the east-side landing (opposite the King Jagiello statue) I saw a flycatcher working over the marshy south shore. It flew across the pond toward me, and as it did, it began singing the characteristic “ritz-bew” song of the Willow Flycatcher. I heard another Willow Flycatcher respond faintly in song from the south shore as the first one continued singing near me.

This was the first time in six years of intense spring birding that I had ever heard a Willow Flycatcher sing in Central Park. I have heard them calling before, at least once every year since 2013.

I still have yet to hear an Alder Flycatcher sing in Central Park. Perhaps because its breeding range extends much farther north (compared to that of Willow Flycatcher) it is less likely to sing when passing through here. There is only one eBird report of Alder in Central Park that indicates song was heard. Other reports, which involve barely more than a handful of discrete occurrence dates over all time, mention call only.

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A Torrent of Migrants

The last seven days offered excellent species variety in Manhattan. I added 21 new species for the year, including some rare warblers that I was not expecting to get. This leaves me with 170 species for the year, which suddenly puts me well ahead of last year’s pace (had 161 as of the same date then) after having been well behind it last week.

My warbler deficit largely got filled with a great influx of the rarer varieties: Blackburnian, Cape May, Prothonotary, Mourning, and Tennessee.

I also picked up my “peeps,” with Solitary Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper foraging side-by-side in the Compost Heap last Sunday. I had a single Least Sandpiper on Randall’s Island off the NE shore today. It was near a wading Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, another new species for the year that I had in the same spot last year in July.

I also had a few unexpected species. A Marsh Wren showed up last Saturday in the bamboo on the Riviera section of the Lake. Even more surprising were the two nightjars I had (along with dozens of other birders) yesterday. A Common Nighthawk was found high up in a tree SW of Mugger’s Woods in the Ramble. I wrote a chapter (“Nighthawk Watchman”) in my book about how I spent many August and September evenings watching in vain for a Common Nighthawk flyover until a pair finally arrived. I will not need to repeat that exercise this year. Later another nightjar was found perching prominently high above the north end of Tupelo Meadow. After some debate and close inspection, this bird was determined to be a Chuck-will’s-widow, a species with no prior eBird records for Manhattan. It was a life Manhattan bird for nearly everyone who saw it, including me.

Just minutes after viewing it, I wandered over to the fenced-in area just west of Humming Tombstone and had a Willow Flycatcher, which I identified by call. This, too, was a life Manhattan bird, one of the easiest of those I was missing. It had been reported often in the Park in the past few days. It brought my life Manhattan total to 223.