2 May 2012: Warblers, Vireos, Tanagers in Abundance

Scarlet Tanager (John Van de Graaff)

Yellow-throated Vireo. Rondeau Provincial Park...
—      Yellow-throated Vireo

It was an exceptionally good day for birders in Central Park. Strawberry Fields in the early morning hosted a plethora of sought-after migrants, but the Ramble later proved equally productive. Our group had 70 total species including 20 warblers on a walk that continued for six hours and ended not because we stopped seeing birds, but because of heavier rain and birder fatigue. We added 14 new birds to our season total.

Today was far superior to any previous day of the year for birding in two ways: 1) we had far more migrants everywhere you looked; 2) we had an influx of new migrants, most notably the tanagers, orioles, and some flycatchers. On our best recent days we would have a variety of the more unusual warblers, but we would have just one of each, with Yellow-rumped Warblers making up over 90% of warblers we had.

When I arrived in Strawberry Fields around 7:35 this morning, things were visibly different. Every tree had songbirds dancing from branch to branch. It was going to be a special day.

On her way up the trail to Strawberry, Starr had a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

Once she was on the scene, we quickly faced a new challenge: as soon as one person pointed out a good bird, like a Blue-eyed Vireo (of which there were many today) someone else would pipe in with another one, like a Blue-winged Warbler (another one we heard and saw often). The frenetic pace continued throughout the morning.

Grey skies and frequent showers made for difficult viewing conditions, but thanks to the great number of birds we eventually had good looks at nearly all of them. Starr pointed out that the overcast, cool conditions actually helped us continue to get warblers with very little afternoon decline, which we probably would not have been able to do on a sunny, hot day.

Though opinions may differ, I think the best bird at Strawberry, and possibly for the whole day, was the Yellow-throated Vireo. I saw it soon after arriving. Starr re-found it again afterward, and some saw it. Then the bird flew, and we found a lot of other birds, like Magnolia Warbler, which we had already heard this year but not seen:

Magnolia warbler in Ohio

Magnolia Warbler

We also saw Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler, and our first-of-season Chestnut-sided Warbler. Lenore eventually spotted the Yellow-throated again high in a tree and we kept our eyes on it. It eventually came down lower and offered excellent views for everyone.

According to eBird records for Manhattan, the Yellow-throated Vireo is on par with the White-eyed Vireo for rarity, seen on less than 7% of daily checklists even at its peak during the first week of May. For comparison, the Cape May Warbler appears over twice as frequently. The Yellow-throated Vireo is historically similar in rarity to the Prothonotary Warbler (which is showing up this year much more often than in the recent past).

We spent over two hours in Strawberry Fields, and were joined by dozens of other birders. We heard and saw Red-eyed Vireo, making it a four-vireo day for us. Starr even spotted her first-of-season Ruby-throated Hummingbird there.

After finishing Strawberry, we headed north. At Hernshead we saw a bird that we usually only hear, the Warbling Vireo:

Warbling vireo

Warbling Vireo

Also at Hernshead most got close views of our first-of-season Canada Warbler:

Canada Warbler (John Van de Graaff)

Further along, just over Bank Rock Bridge, we got great looks at one of Starr’s favorite warblers, the male Black-throated Blue Warbler:

Black-throated Blue Warbler (John Van de Graaff, Central Park)

We also encountered a cooperative male Common Yellowthroat.

Just a bit further ahead in Mugger’s Woods Starr had her first-of-season Least Flycatcher. This bird was more interested in scooting off to catch flies than in posing for us.

Just south of Tupelo Meadow along the path those who missed the first Canada Warbler were treated to another one.

We heard Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the area, as we did throughout much of the Ramble, but will have to wait for another walk to get a look at one.

In Maintenance Meadow I had my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird for the season and got most of the group on it.

After a brief rest stop, we headed toward Turtle Pond. On the path leading down to it Starr heard a Nashville Warbler. Before we could find it a text alert arrived telling of a Kentucky Warbler at Azalea Pond. We headed there immediately, but by the time we arrived the bird was no longer being seen. So it goes! On the way we did see a handsome Wood Thrush:

Wood Thrush (John Van de Graaff)

Southeast of Evodia Field we found a trove of good birds, including the group’s first-of-season Scarlet Tanagers, both male and female.

Scarlet Tanager, female (John Van de Graaff)

We also had Baltimore Oriole and a variety of warblers, including our first-of-season American Redstart and Blackpoll Warblers, heard clearly but not seen. Starr also spied her first-of-season Veery, but this skulking bird shied away before most most could get a good look. No worries, as Veery remains fairly common throughout May and it gives your neck a much-needed rest.

Past five hours into the walk we got a text alert of a Cape May Warbler near the Rustic Shelter. Starr and others heard it soon upon arriving (its very high seet-seet-seet-seet song stands out against lower-pitched chatter) but we did not see it. Starr also heard the Hooded Warbler, which other birders recently had seen. We did get to both hear and see a Blackburnian Warbler.

I saw a perching thrush fly. The flash of orange on its breast had me thinking Veery, but Starr re-found it farther away and it clearly was a Swainson’s Thrush, another first-of-season for us.

After nearly six hours of birding a quick estimate had us around 68 birds for the day. Starr wanted to get to 70 and hearing a Song Sparrow got us closer. The rain had started coming down more heavily, and by the time we passed Bethesda Terrace after looping around the Lake we realized that trying to bird Strawberry Fields on the way out was not going to be a good idea. So we called it a day! Starr and Lenore performed a careful recount under subway shelter and found that we indeed had reached the magic 70 number.

Starr’s unflagging enthusiasm both for finding great birds and for making sure everyone in the group got a chance to see or hear what was being observed made the hours fly by quickly.

Highlights: (* means a first-of-season bird for the group)

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird*
  • Scarlet Tanager*
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Yellow-throated Vireo*
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Least Flycatcher*
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Veery*
  • Swainson’s Thrush*
  • Wood Thrush
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler*
  • Canada Warbler*
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler*
  • Hooded Warbler*
  • American Redstart*
  • Blackpoll Warbler*
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Lincoln’s Sparrow*
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak*
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