Pine Warbler, North End

Pine Warbler, male

Pine Warbler, male (Photo credit: Vicki’s Nature)

Lenore Swenson’s walk in the Central Park North End had 46 species of which 9 were warblers. It was an overcast morning in the low 60s after the passage of a cold front the prior evening with light NW winds overnight, during which moderate overnight migration had been observed.

Pine Warbler (both male and female) was a new species for the season. Though generally the first warbler to arrive in Central Park during spring migration, it is one of the last ones to pass through in the fall. As its name implies, this seed-eater prefers pine trees and is not usually found elsewhere.

Northern Shoveler on the Meer was also new for the season. These wide-billed dabbling ducks will be in the Park until late spring.

Other notable birds seen today were: Yellow-rumped Warbler near the beginning of its fall passage; Belted Kingfisher, an infrequently-seen species that visits the Pool and Loch; and Red-tailed Hawk — the group got to watch the hawk eat a pigeon near the Compost Heap west of the Conservatory Garden.

A rare Grasshopper Sparrow (immature) was reported early in the morning at the SE side of the Compost Heap area near the Conservatory Garden fence. Lenore brought the group to this spot later but could not relocate the bird. It was seen later in the day at various points along the southern boundary of the compost area, ranging as far west as near the East Drive.

Winter Wren, Ramble

Eastern Winter Wren Troglodytes hiemalis, Cent...

Winter Wren

Lenore Swenson’s walk in the Central Park Ramble had 46 species including 8 warblers. Temperatures were in the mid-60s with cloudy skies and the threat of rain that did not arrive during the walk.

We added two new birds for the season, Winter Wren and Wood Duck.

A Winter Wren briefly appeared south of Azalea before hiding in a log. We also had Carolina Wren (as we usually do), including a good visual north of and across the path from the Humming Tombstone area. Since we had Marsh Wren in Tupelo on Monday, all four of the wrens that occur in Central Park (House Wren being the other) have been noted in last few days.

The drake Wood Duck was found in reeds just off the southern shore of Turtle Pond, well-hidden.

The male Hooded Warbler that we saw on Monday seems to like the area just SW of the ringed Tupelo tree that has a large log, as we saw it in the same spot today.

We saw an American Kestrel hunting the Turtle Pond area. Lenore briefly spotted a Belted Kingfisher there by the island.

Brown-headed Cowbird, North End

Brown-headed Cowbird in Arlington

Brown-headed Cowbird, male

Lenore Swenson’s walk in the Central Park North End had 46 species including 10 warblers.

The new bird for the season today was the Brown-headed Cowbird. It can appear at any time of year in Central Park, but it is most common during late April when its gurgling song can be heard reliably in the Ramble. It is often seen in February, too. During fall and early winter it is a fairly unusual bird, appearing on less than 5% of lists submitted by eBird users in Manhattan. It is rarely seen in abundance, but you may get a handful of cowbirds associating with a flock of Common Grackles.

Today’s walk also had Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Dark-eyed Juncos, both of which made their first seasonal appearance yesterday.

Baltimore Oriole appeared, which we have not been having lately.

Some Red-tailed Hawk flyovers provided entertainment.

We also had Blue-headed Vireo, and in the waterfowl department, Gadwall.

Among the warblers were Ovenbird, Palm, Prairie, and Wilson’s.

Marsh Wren, Tupelo Meadow

Marsh wren

Marsh Wren

Starr Saphir and Lenore Swenson’s walk in the Central Park Ramble had 55 species including 12 warblers. A low pressure system had passed the day before, bringing light NW overnight along with some new migrants. It was a very birdy morning with high individual species counts, as noted on the list below, along with some rarities.

Four standout sightings deserve special mention.

1) We had Lincoln’s Sparrow (first-of-season) twice, first at Hernshead and then again in Tupelo Meadow. Both birds gave us great, close looks.

2) Starr found a Yellow-throated Vireo at Hernshead, a first-of-season bird for the group.

3) Lenore got the group on a handsome male Hooded Warbler in Tupelo Meadow that also lingered and provided great views.

4) The bird of the day has to be the Marsh Wren that some of us, including Lenore, eventually saw in the fenced-in area of Tupelo Meadow to the east of the fenced-in Tupelo tree. We heard about it from another birder around 9:15. It took at least a half-hour of searching before anyone in our group saw it, as the thick, weedy vegetation gave it cover. The species tends to call frequently and distinctively, but it was staying silent. Eventually it wandered to the NW edge of the fence line where we saw it briefly but clearly.

Marsh Wrens are reported only once or twice per year in Central Park. One had just been noted at the Pool on Saturday. It is not in general a rare bird, but its preferred habitat of cattail marshes is something Central Park has only in small supply, so it does not nest in the Park. We get the species only when it passes through in migration, and it tends not to linger.

The Marsh Wren is a new species for both the season and the year (our 150th) for our group.

Other good birds:

  • Chimney Swift
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird (5, feeding on jewel-weed at Oven and Lower Lobe)
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Hernshead, our first-of-season)
  • Hairy Woodpecker (trees west of Maintenance Meadow; first-of-season)
  • Northern Flicker (abundant, 20+ seen)
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee (5)
  • Eastern Phoebe (2)
  • Blue-headed Vireo (3)
  • Red-eyed Vireo (abundant, 12+ seen)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (3)
  • Carolina Wren
  • Swainson’s Thrush (abundant, 20+ seen)
  • Wood Thrush (3)
  • Brown Thrasher (4 seen, heard often)
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Waterthrush (Azalea)
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler (4)
  • Blackpoll Warbler (4)
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler (3)
  • Black-throated Green Warbler (4)
  • Eastern Towhee (Strawberry Fields, first-of-season)
  • Dark-eyed Junco (first-of-season)
  • Scarlet Tanager (2)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (5, good views at Upper Lobe)

Three species were noted in unusual abundance today, and my estimates above are very conservative and could possibly be doubled: Northern Flickers were seen everywhere, on the ground and flying out of trees; Red-eyed Vireos were seen at close range throughout the Ramble; Swainson’s Thrushes were also all over the Ramble, mostly in trees gobbling down berries.

A Great Year for Warbler-Watching

2012 continues to be an excellent year for observing warblers in Manhattan. An ardent birder (with flexible hours to leave work and chase rarities!) would have had multiple chances to get 35 of the 36 warblers that regularly pass through Manhattan in either spring or fall migration, and one chance — this last Wednesday the 19th in Strawberry Fields — to get the remaining one, the Golden-winged Warbler. [Note that after this entry was published, another Golden-winged appeared briefly on September 29th in the Maintenance Meadow.] The complete list:

1 Ovenbird
2 Worm-eating Warbler
3 Louisiana Waterthrush
4 Northern Waterthrush
5 Golden-winged Warbler
6 Blue-winged Warbler
7 Black-and-white Warbler
8 Prothonotary Warbler
9 Tennessee Warbler
10 Orange-crowned Warbler
11 Nashville Warbler
12 Connecticut Warbler
13 Mourning Warbler
14 Kentucky Warbler
15 Common Yellowthroat
16 Hooded Warbler
17 American Redstart
18 Cape May Warbler
19 Cerulean Warbler
20 Northern Parula
21 Magnolia Warbler
22 Bay-breasted Warbler
23 Blackburnian Warbler
24 Yellow Warbler
25 Chestnut-sided Warbler
26 Blackpoll Warbler
27 Black-throated Blue Warbler
28 Palm Warbler
29 Pine Warbler
30 Yellow-rumped Warbler
31 Yellow-throated Warbler
32 Prairie Warbler
33 Black-throated Green Warbler
34 Canada Warbler
35 Wilson’s Warbler
36 Yellow-breasted Chat

Starr’s walks have produced 34 warbler species, an stellar total with plenty of chances left to see the other two (Golden-winged Warbler and Connecticut Warbler, both fall migrants that have appeared within the last week in Central Park).

Of course, some warblers are more common than others. The eBird site allows you to graph the “frequency” of bird species in a given area. The “frequency” of a species is defined as the percentage of lists submitted in a given week on which the species appears.

For a common warbler, consider the Yellow-rumped Warbler. It’s peak frequency occurs historically the first week of May, when 69% of birder-submitted lists have at least one Yellow-rumped on them.  Think you’ve seen a lot of American Redstarts lately? This is no surprise, as the Redstart has its peak frequency of 68% during the second week of September.

A warbler of mid-range rarity is the Chestnut-sided Warbler, which peaks at about 30% in the spring and 23% in the fall. Another would be the Black-throated Green Warbler, a bit easier still at 43% in the spring and 24% in the fall. The Nashville Warbler peaks at 31% during the first week of May and 9% during the fall.

Now for the hard warblers. Most of these are rare enough to merit a text alert to NYNYBIRD or a posting on ebirdsNYC. The Cape May Warbler peaks at 17.6% during the second week of May. The Bay-breasted Warbler peaks at 13.4% in the third week of May. Neither gets above 3.4% during the fall season. The Blue-winged Warbler only peaks at 12.9% in the spring, in the last week of April, yet most would consider it a much easier find than the other two. I certainly would not put out an alert on it in season.

Other hard warblers would be the Blackburnian Warbler and the Prairie Warbler — both peak at around 23% in the first week of May and do not get above 6% in the fall.

The Hooded Warbler is very hard to get. It peaks at 7% during late April and early May, and less than 3% in the fall. The Mourning Warbler peaks at 6.7% in the spring and is little-seen in the fall (at least until this year). The Worm-eating Warbler is only a tad easier (using pre-2012 records), peaking at 10% in the first week of May. This year a very cooperative Worm-eating Warbler hung out in the Upper Lobe from early July through early September, making the species appear much more common than it usually is.

The six toughest warblers are rarer still. Some are not recorded every year in Central Park. Here they are, along with their peak frequencies:

1 Prothonotary Warbler 4.5
2 Cerulean Warbler 4.5
3 Yellow-throated Warbler 3.5
4 Golden-winged Warbler 2.9
5 Connecticut Warbler 2.4
6 Kentucky Warbler 2.2

Starr’s walks have had four of these six!

What makes 2012 so unusual is that many of these rarest warblers were reported frequently and seen often. Prothonotary Warbler was reported at least five times in Central Park (the first one occurred on Starr’s walk and our group was treated to great views in the Loch), and there was a Prothonotary that lingered at Bryant Park for over a week. Cerulean Warbler was reported four times in Central Park (one was found by Starr by the Meer) and once in Riverside Park. Yellow-throated Warbler had a widely-seen appearance in Riverside Park and at least two others in Central Park (Starr helped re-find the first one in Central Park and many in her group got to see it). A Kentucky Warbler lingered around the Shakespeare Garden area for over a week beginning in late April; another appeared in May in the North End. In late August, yet another lingered by the Loch. This is amazing, considering how many years that the Kentucky Warbler does not appear in Central Park at all. And yes, our group got to see the Kentucky Warbler at both ends of the Park.

Just a week ago a Connecticut Warbler was sighted on the lawn in Bryant Park, offering great, unobstructed views to those many who responded to the bird alert quickly. Prior to that there were two other Central Park reports in which the bird was seen only briefly by a single reporter. Then this morning, Sunday, September 23rd, another was found in Tupelo Meadow. Over 30 birders assembled and waited 90 minutes for the bird to reappear, after which they saw it walking through the tall vegetation just north of the meadow.

So what’s going on? Why so many more observations of rare warblers? We should not be too quick to extrapolate from one year of experience and a handful of sightings. It is possible that some species are responding to climate changes with different migration paths. I am not qualified to speak to this issue.

I do know that more birders are embracing technology and reporting what they see. They post their lists to eBird, which not only does a super job of organizing what they’ve seen but also allows other birders to immediately learn of rarities as soon as they are reported. They post to local news groups such as eBirdsNYC and state-level boards such as the one run now by the American Birding Association for New York, formerly called Those with smartphones can post right from the field. So, though there may not be more rare birds, there probably are more reliable rare bird reports than ever before.

Not only do more birds get reported publicly but also reports are timelier, allowing more birders to get to the bird before it flies away. The fastest and simplest system for Manhattan birders is NYNYBIRD, which works with any cell phone that can send and receive text messages. Within seconds of a sighting you can alert all subscribers as to what you saw and where you saw it. This morning’s Connecticut Warbler was reported on NYNYBIRD, and within ten minutes dozens of birders had arrived in Tupelo Meadow to see it. A fuller explanation of NYNYBIRD can be had here.

2012 is giving Central Park birders many rare and memorable sights. Starr and Lenore look forward to helping you enjoy more of them in the coming month.

Good birding,

David Barrett

Prairie Warbler, North End

This morning’s walk in the Central Park North End, begun by Starr and finished by Alex Hale, had 50 species.

The highlights were a male Prairie Warbler at the Grassy Knoll and a female Blackburnian Warbler at the west side of the Loch. The group also observed a Cooper’s Hawk. Northern Parulas were the most commonly-seen warbler.

Pied-billed Grebe, Turtle Pond

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), Lake ...

Pied-billed Grebe

Lenore Swenson led today’s walk in the Central Park Ramble, tallying 41 species including 12 warblers.

Highlights include a female Blackburnian Warbler; an Ovenbird; the continuing Eastern Whip-poor-will in its usual resting spot above the source of the Gill; and plenty of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Brown Thrashers could be heard and seen often today.

A special highlight was seeing a Pied-billed Grebe on Turtle Pond, a new bird for both the season and the year for the group (#149). This species is seen consistently, though in small numbers (generally one to four), on the Reservoir during late fall and winter. I don’t recall ever having seen one on Turtle Pond.

A text alert at 7:15 AM from Peter Scully announced a female Golden-winged Warbler at the North End of Strawberry Fields. I was on the scene by 7:35 but did not see it — nor did anyone else. Lenore brought the group by a bit later but the Golden-winged Warbler did not reappear.

It was not until 4:05 PM that another birder reported seeing it. I ran over, searched the area, waited, and searched some more. Finally at 6pm it made a very brief appearance above the path going along the eastern edge of Strawberry. Most of the ten or so birders present (and I) got to see it. Of course we cannot count it as a bird for the group, but it is very rare for Central Park — seen generally only once or twice per year — so worth mentioning. And there is the chance it will be around in the morning.


Rain and strong winds would have made for unpleasant birding conditions, so today’s walk was cancelled.

Days immediately following rain tend to be very good as there can be some pent-up demand for feeding. Even better, Wednesday morning winds will be strong and out of the NNW after the passage of a cold front. We could see another good raptor flight.

See you in the Park Wednesday morning!

Rufous Hummingbird in the Ramble

A hovering Rufous Hummingbird on Saltspring Island

Rufous Hummingbird

Starr Saphir and Lenore Swenson led today’s walk in the Central Park Ramble, which was the most productive of the fall season so far, with 57 species and 13 warblers. Conditions were excellent again: temperature in the low 60s and sunny skies.

At Bank Rock Bridge by the Upper Lobe, Starr found a young female Rufous Hummingbird that most of the group got to see. This is a new bird for entire year for the group (#148). It is extremely rare for Central Park, a bird not seen every year. Last year a Rufous Hummingbird famously showed up near the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History on December 14th and then continued to live there through mid-March of 2012.

The Eastern Whip-poor-will that was found on Saturday morning was, to everyone’s amazement, roosting on the very same spot above the Gill. All got to see this rare bird.

The group finally got to see the American Bittern that has been lurking in the Turtle Pond reeds and trees since the evening of September 9th. It was not re-found again until the 12th, but it has been seen every day since then — though not at all times of day.

Lenore found an immature female Hooded Warbler, a first-of-season bird for the group, near the Rustic Shelter.

The group also had some other more common first-of-season birds today: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Phoebe, and Blue-headed Vireo.

Starr had to leave the walk after about 90 minutes, but she did not stop looking for birds, and she ended up finding two great ones: Philadelphia Vireo and Gray-Cheeked Thrush, the latter being a new bird for the season. Since the walk was still in progress, these birds count!

Not fair, you say? Consistent methodology is part of what makes Starr’s 30+ years of records so valuable. I would also respond that no one works harder than Starr at helping everyone in the group see the good birds.

Still, sometimes she sees a bird that no one else sees — for whatever reason. When this happens, Starr has a ready response that she has been using for years if not decades. In this instance it goes: “I owe you all a Gray-cheeked Thrush.” But don’t come back the next day and insist that Starr cause a Gray-cheeked Thrush to appear for you. She has an airtight escape clause: “All my bird debts expire on midnight of the day they were incurred.”

Eastern Whip-poor-will in the Ramble


Eastern Whip-poor-will (Photo credit: jerryoldenettel)

Starr Saphir led the walk in the Central Park North End for the first 90 minutes after which Lenore Swenson took over. The two combined for an excellent total of 47 species, of which 10 were warblers. Temperature was in the mid 60s and winds changed from SW to NW overnight.

Highlights included Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Least Flycatcher, Olive-sided FlycatcherBaltimore Oriole and Scarlet Tanager.

Two birds were new for the season: White-breasted Nuthatch and then a very rarely-seen bird that is also a new species for the year not only for our group but for all of Central Park: the Eastern Whip-poor-will!

I was at home when the NYNYBIRD text alert came in at 9:48am that Andrew Rubenfeld had found a roosting Eastern Whip-poor-will on a branch just above and north of the source of the Gill. I quickly laced up my running shoes and went out the door.

I arrived in less than 10 minutes, but already over a dozen birders and photographers were admiring it. The nocturnal bird was staying still, almost certainly asleep and unaware of the excitement its presence was causing.

I continued my run up to the North End by the Meer where I found Lenore’s group and I told them about the Whip-poor-will. Lenore offered to take any interested participants along with her to see the bird. After a quick trip through Conservatory Gardens and Wildflower Meadow, Lenore and others got on the west side subway at 103rd Street and sped off to the Ramble.

How rare is the Eastern Whip-poor-will? The last prior eBird record is from April 2008. They are very hard to observe because they are so well-camouflaged during the day (in addition to not moving). Their distinctive call, for which they are named, is loud and easily heard but it begins at dusk when birders are generally not around to hear it.