31 Jan Update, 3:15 PM

Starr is now at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx. Her condition has not changed — she is still very ill and is unable to receive visitors or take phone calls at this time.

Starr’s daughter, Shawna, says that she will try to read to Starr any messages that Starr receives. There are two ways to send a message: I recommend the first option of emailing Starr at


The other way is to send a letter by mail to

Starr Saphir
Room 507, North Wing
Calvary Hospital
1740 Eastchester Road
Bronx, NY 10461

30 Jan Update, 1:30 PM

I just heard that Starr was NOT moved to Calvary Hospital last night. She is still at Memorial Sloan-Kettering as mentioned in my first post yesterday. Staff will re-consider if moving her is advisable and possibly attempt again this afternoon.

Starr does not want visitors or calls at this time.

Update on Starr

As of 4pm, 29 January 2013, I just heard from Shawna that Starr is being transferred this evening to Calvary Hospital in the Bronx for palliative care.

I will report when I hear more specifics about her stay there, including the possibility of her seeing visitors.

–David Barrett

Starr’s Condition

I just spoke with Starr’s daughter, Shawna, who wanted me to pass along to Starr’s many friends in the birding world some sad news. Starr is back at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan. She is extremely ill and doctors warn that she may have only weeks or days to live. She has battled breast cancer for over ten years.

As of today, Starr cannot speak on the phone. She may be able to receive visitors at some point, but you should check with the hospital or with Shawna (at Starr’s contact number) before planning a visit. Her room number is M1015B.

If I hear anything more, I will announce it here. Please keep Starr in your thoughts!

–David Barrett

Common Mergansers, Central Park Reservoir

Common Merganser

Common Merganser female (Photo credit: K Schneider)

After receiving a 9:44 AM text alert from an expert birder of a male Common Merganser on the Central Park Reservoir, I wasted little time in going out to look for it. I put on my running clothes and ran the Reservoir, binoculars in hand. I expected to find the bird close to shore in the NW cove, which is where many ducks have been spending time this winter, including rarities like an American Wigeon, seen in late December, and a pair of male Ring-necked Ducks, seen on January 5th. (These ducks are rare for Central Park, though not for the New York City area in general.)

Instead, I did not find any ducks close to shore, where ice had developed. Many appeared to be near the dike on the east side, but a few minutes of scanning did not turn up anything unusual. I was dressed for running, not standing, and so continued on and back home.

Clad in much warmer clothes, I returned to the Reservoir around noon and planned to examine things more closely from the area around the east side pump house. Immediately two large, red-headed ducks appeared in the distance and then were lost amid a contingent of Canada Geese.

I walked west along the southern track and after about 200 yards the red-headed ducks popped back into view, and this time I could see them clearly. Their white chins and necks (along with bills thicker than those of the Red-breasted Merganser), left no doubt that this was a pair of female Common Mergansers!

I followed them for a half hour, thinking they might meet up with the previously-reported male, but they did not and I never saw the male myself.

Common Mergansers are exceedingly rare on Central Park waters. The last eBird records of them were a single observation in 2006 and several sightings in February 2003.

Several weeks ago Common Merganser had been seen off of the NE shore of Randall’s Island. They did not turn up again on any of my visits. I did not expect to eventually see them on the Reservoir.

Common Mergansers prefer fresh water, and I suspect that the unusually cold weather of the last week has frozen the surface of many lakes to the north and put these ducks on the move.

Birders should also be on the watch for Canvasback, both on the Reservoir and also, more commonly, on the Hudson River.

–David Barrett

“The Central Park Effect” Comes to the Theater, Amazon, and Netflix

I just received a press release with the news about Jeffrey Kimball’s documentary focusing on Starr Saphir and Central Park birding. You will soon be able to see the film in a Manhattan theater, or order the DVD online.

Birders: The Central Park Effect is opening Friday, Jan 18th at the Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St. New York City

Showings are twice daily at 3 PM and 7 PM from Jan 18th through Jan 24th.  For more information and to buy tickets: Cinema Village

The DVD will be available on January 22nd, from Amazon, Netflix and other outlets. More information is available at www.centralparkbirdfilm.com.

Viewing of “The Central Park Effect” This Tuesday

At 6pm this Tuesday, January 8th, the Linnaean Society of New York will present a screening of Jeffrey Kimball’s documentary The Central Park Effect at the American Museum of Natural History’s Linder Theater. Admission is free. Enter the museum through the 77th Street entrance.

This film focuses on Starr Saphir and features many other well-known Central Park birders. The bird photography and sound editing are top-notch. If you did not see this film on HBO last summer, you should consider seeing it now.

— David Barrett

A Message from Starr

Happy new year everyone!

I just got back from Inwood Hill Park where I had eight species. Last year I ended up with 396 birds across the United States, the first time I have had less than 400 species in a year in about 35 years. Oh, well! I have high hopes for this year.

The contest of 2012 that I have been watching with great interest all year is a big year in Manhattan. Our webmaster, David Barrett, led the eBird New York County rankings for much of the year. Yesterday, as David reported here, he was able to add two rare birds, Horned Lark and Snow Bunting. David finished with a whopping 208 species. Congratulations!

I have done several big years and they take many hours. Strategy, stamina, the right winds at the right time, and just plain good luck. Modern communications are invaluable.

To all birders out there, the best of everything in 2013!