Starr’s Comments on the Spring Season

My first season of having a website has ended. Thanks again, David, for all the work you’ve done. I’ll still be updating all of you on my birding adventures this summer. But first, it’s time to summarize the last two months in Central Park.

This past week was characterized by diminishing numbers of many migrants, of course. But we still had a Kentucky Warbler on Saturday, and I kept hearing about Mourning Warblers on my non-walk days. Empidonax flycatchers have been appearing. We had great looks at an Acadian yesterday and saw one last Wednesday as well. On Tuesday we had a Least at the North End.

While I teach identification of these flycatchers on my walks, some of you don’t know what primary extension is, and that’s important for IDing them. The  two major groups of the flight (wing) feathers are the primaries and the secondaries. The ones toward the outer wing edges shaped like fingers are the primaries. The feathers that start at the body (along the trailing edge of the wing) and go out to meet the primaries are the secondaries. How much these primaries hang down below the secondaries on a perched bird is referred to as the primary projection. Any good modern field guide will show you how the empids differ from each other in this aspect.

Now, for the summary: it was the best of times — it was the worst of times. The month of April was birdier than the last few years. Several species arrived one to two weeks early, and the early-migrant wood warblers were in good numbers day after day. I’m referring mostly to Pine, Palm, and Louisiana Waterthrushes.

By the way, we had 140 species this spring as opposed to 135 for the same time period in 2011. The only new species for the walks (this is my 28th year) was a Common Raven on Saturday, April 22nd at the North End. That day we also had a female Prothonotary, a male Orange-crowned Warbler, and a female Blue Grosbeak.

Things slowed down a lot the following week, but May 2nd and 5th were birders’ dreams. We had 71 and 70 species, respectively, and even more important, good numbers of individuals. The next two weeks were fine on species, but no so many individuals. A wonderful exception was Wednesday, May 23rd. Birds had been hunkered down to the south of us for awhile, but the winds changed direction and birds filtered into the Park’s west side all morning. We spent an hour and twenty minutes on Summit Rock where we had thirteen warbler species including two Blackburnians (a species we saw many days in May) and a Tennessee. We had 64 species including 19 warblers that day. Almost everything left that night.

This report skips around a lot, but so do my memories of spring 2012 in Central Park. Have a wonderful summer, and I hope to see you in the fall!

Good birding,


30 May 2012: Last Spring Walk

This morning was humid but cooler than yesterday with overcast skies, which made for much more pleasant birding. Starr had a good turnout for her last walk of the spring, in the Central Park Ramble. We had 40 bird species including four warblers (Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided, Wilson’s, and Common Yellowthroat).

Joining us today was Jeffrey Kimball, the producer/director of the upcoming HBO film The Central Park Effect, which prominently features Starr Saphir. Jeffrey is a knowledgeable birder himself and he pointed out a number of birds for the group.

As we stood on the rocks at Hernshead I noted a distant male Wood Duck (presumably the same one that has been hanging around this area lately) near the rock on the opposite shore of the Lake. Almost on cue, this duck began paddling directly toward our group. It came right up to us. It probably has come to expect handouts from large groups, but we were not about to break Park regulations by offering it snacks better suited to humans.

We were glad to hear and then get good looks at another Acadian Flycatcher, which appeared in the Ramble just south of the steps to the Castle. We also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the same area. Along with the many Easter Wood-Pewees that we heard and a couple of Eastern Kingbirds, we had a four-flycatcher morning.

The first tree you see upon exiting the Ramble on the steps up to the Castle, on the SW edge of the Castle plaza, once again produced some good birds today: a Chestnut-sided Warbler and singing Wilson’s Warbler.

Our walk ended in Strawberry Fields.

Even though the walks are over until late August (see the home page for Starr’s fall schedule), this blog will continue. Starr will be coming out with some comments on the season, and she also plans to write about her birding travels, the first of which will be a short trip upstate probably within the next week. I may continue to do some writing, too. So please keep visiting the site!


David Barrett

29 May 2012: Short North End Walk

Today’s walk in the Central Park North End was shortened to two hours on account of unusually hot and humid (dew point over 70) conditions, which most likely contributed to less bird activity. We had 35 bird species including three warblers (Northern Parula, Magnolia, and Common Yellowthroat).


At the south end of the Loch, Starr heard an Orchard Oriole. It may have provided a brief glimpse to some viewers, but it was very high in the trees.

In the Wildflower Meadow, Tom found an empid that turned out to be a Least Flycatcher.

28 May 2012: Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

English: Acadian flycatcher in rain

Acadian Flycatcher

We had 40 bird species, including 4 warblers (American Restart, Blackpoll, Magnolia, and Common Yellowthroat), in the Central Park Ramble this morning.

The best bird of the day was a male Purple Finch first pointed out by group member Margo on the south shore of Turtle Pond and positively identified by Starr. (The male Purple finch has a triangular bill and no dark streaks on its breast.) The bird was very cooperative and gave us good views. It is a great sighting for two reasons: the species has been rarer than usual in Central Park this year, with only a five observations noted on eBird; and it is also quite late to be seeing one. It becomes bird #140 on our season list!

Though we had already heard Acadian Flycatcher sing very briefly two weeks ago, today we both heard it and saw it well, with four observations across the Ramble — an unusually large count for this bird.

Toward the end of the walk we saw a Turkey Vulture flying over the Lake. It is late to be seeing one of these.

Turkey Vulture flying in Miami, Florida, USA.

Turkey Vulture

26 May 2012: Yellow-billed Cuckoo

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo was named Cuculus ame...

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Starr’s group had 44 bird species, of which 8 were warblers, in the Central Park North End this morning.

The two best birds of the day were great finds. At 8:28 AM Starr had the Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the Great Hill. This bird is hard to get even in the fall migration where it tends to occur more frequently than in the spring. At 10:15 AM Starr heard a Kentucky Warbler singing near the north end of the Loch. Several members of the group would later see the bird, which was in heavy vegetation.

Highlights: (* means new bird for the season)

Yellow-billed Cuckoo* (SW and SE corners of the Great Hill)

Kentucky Warbler (north end of Loch)


24 May 2012: Starr’s Comments

Yesterday was most satisfactory. Once again the Park was bird-filled. We spent an hour and a quarter at Summit Rock watching migrants fly across Central Park West, with most of them landing in one Honey Locust. Birds had been held back by the weather patterns for about a week but finally the light turned green and the journey could continue. To say that we had 64 species including 19 warbler species gives only a bit of the picture. I estimated about 200 individual warblers, for instance. A few of us saw the Mourning Warbler at the Upper Lobe. We all had Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Least Flycatcher, Gray-cheeked Thrush, etc. I have one more week of walks and I intend to make the most of them.

I want to clarify what I said last week about following birds north to their breeding grounds. I didn’t mean that you have to travel to Canada. Most of the local bird clubs have field trips in June to Sterling Forest, Doodletown Road (each about an hour from the city) and Basha Kill Marsh. Any patch of forest will have at least a few breeding birds. We learn more about birds by observing them in different phases of their yearly activities. Meanwhile, I have one more week of walks.

Good birding,


23 May 2012: Birds Are Back!

English: Mourning Warbler, Oporornis philadelp...

Mourning Warbler, female and male (lower)

Starr had what may be her best-ever day for May 23 or later. After nearly a week where wind or rain made for unfavorable migration conditions, the pent-up migration demand was apparent this morning in Central Park.  Did early rain that ended by 7 AM create fallout conditions? Starr’s group had 64 species including 19 warblers.

After a tip from Peter, one of the regular members of our group, Starr began the walk by Summit Rock. A single large tree there eventually produced 13 warbler species, including a female Blackburnian and a Tennessee. Though Red-eyed Vireos are a common bird during spring migration, we had not been seeing very many this year. Today we saw them in this tree, in the surrounding trees, and throughout the Ramble. Blackpoll Warbler was the most frequently-seen (and -heard) warbler today, with Magnolia Warbler close behind. The tree even had a late Black-throated Green Warbler. We saw at least two Canada Warblers in the tree and a Chestnut-sided Warbler, too, both birds that occurred more often today than they usually do.

As we were making our way back to the Ramble past the Swedish Cottage, a text alert arrived: Mourning Warbler found west of the Pool by Central Park West! I ran off to get the bird. Alice Deutsch, who originally found it, was still on the scene and got me to where I could hear it and, shortly thereafter, see it.  Then I ran back to meet Starr at Hernshead.

What had Starr been doing in the 25 minutes I was gone? Just getting her own Mourning Warbler at the Upper Lobe, a shy and quiet bird that she and a couple others in the group briefly saw! That’s not all — Starr also got a Bay-breasted Warbler there, too.

English: bay-breasted warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler (female)

At Hernshead we saw a male Wood Duck swimming nearby, and a Green Heron across the Lake on the west shore.

After returning to the Ramble, we gave the Upper Lobe another try. This time nearly everyone in our group got to hear a partial Mourning Warbler song, and some got to see it briefly popping up. It is a new bird for the season.

On our walk up to the Castle, Lenore found a very late Blue-headed Vireo.

In the tree just south of the Castle, to the west of the path up from the Ramble, we had Least Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird.

At the King Jagiello statue we got great views of a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak female, Cap Tourmente N...

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female)

Today’s walk lasted over six hours and continued producing birds to the very end, where Starr had a Gray-cheeked Thrush in Strawberry Fields.

Highlights: (* means new bird for the season)

  • Wood Duck (male, Hernshead)
  • Green Heron (west shore of Lake)
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee (seen twice, heard frequently)
  • Least Flycatcher (south of Castle)
  • Great Crested Flycatcher (Tupelo Meadow)
  • Eastern Kingbird (south of Castle)
  • Blue-headed Vireo (in Ramble south of Castle)
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush (Strawberry Fields)
  • Tennessee Warbler (Summit Rock)
  • Mourning Warbler* (Upper Lobe)
  • Bay-breasted Warbler (Upper Lobe)
  • Blackburnian Warbler (Summit Rock and male at Tupelo Meadow)
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler (several)
  • Wilson’s Warbler (Turtle Pond)
  • Scarlet Tanager (heard, Summit Rock)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female, King Jagiello statue)

19 May 2012: Summer Tanager, Great Blue Heron

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

Summer Tanager

A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), taken in ...

Great Blue Heron

Bird migration comes in waves, and though today was a slow day in the Central Park North End, we expect much better days to come. Starr had 42 species including 8 warblers today.

The best bird of the day was seen just as the walk was beginning, on the south slope of the Great Hill in the trees just north of the 103rd Street path and just west of the east path going up from the Pool, a male Summer Tanager.

Baltimore Orioles were abundant again today around the Great Hill, and with clear skies and sunshine we had many great views of vibrant, orange males.

We also got to see Mallard ducklings again, both at the Pool and at the Meer. The latter location also had a Great Blue Heron wading by the island.


  • Great Blue Heron (island on Meer)
  • Peregrine Falcon (flyover, Loch)
  • Summer Tanager (south of Great Hill)
  • Scarlet Tanager (heard, Loch)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (heard, North Woods)