First Walk of the Fall Season

English: Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus c...

Great Crested Flycatcher

English: Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Grands-Jar...

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Starr’s fall season got off to a great start this morning in the Central Park Ramble. The weather was perfect: high 60’s temperature, some sunshine, no wind. And there were more birds than one might have expected.

We had 40 bird species (so 40 becomes our base number for the Ramble) including 7 warblers and 4 flycatchers, with these highlights:

  • Great Blue Heron (flyover)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Tupelo Meadow and Azalea)
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee (Gill)
  • Acadian Flycatcher (Azalea Pond)
  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Turtle Pond)
  • Great Crested Flycatcher (Maintenance Meadow)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch (heard, Turtle Pond)
  • Wood Thrush (Maintenance Meadow)
  • Veery (Azalea Pond)
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler (Gill)
  • Black-and-white Warbler (5+)
  • American Redstart (10+)
  • Common Yellowthroat (Bank Rock Bridge)
  • Northern Waterthrush (Triplets Bridge)
  • Ovenbird (Triplets Bridge)
  • Canada Warbler (4)

The Red-breasted Nuthatch was a new species for the group for the entire year. It has been extremely rare lately. There are no prior eBird reports of it in Manhattan this year, though the ebirdsnyc group on Yahoo has two: one in June and one at the same location yesterday.

The Great Crested Flycatcher is the first one reported in Central Park this fall.

The complete list of birds observed today, which can also be seen through the tab at the top of the page for the 2012 Fall Bird List, is:

1 Mallard
2 Great Blue Heron
3 Herring Gull
4 Rock Pigeon
5 Mourning Dove
6 Chimney Swift
7 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
8 Red-bellied Woodpecker
9 Downy Woodpecker
10 Northern Flicker
11 Eastern Wood-Pewee
12 Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
13 Acadian Flycatcher
14 Great Crested Flycatcher
15 Warbling Vireo
16 Red-eyed Vireo
17 Blue Jay
18 American Crow
19 Red-breasted Nuthatch
20 Barn Swallow
21 Carolina Wren
22 Veery
23 Wood Thrush
24 American Robin
25 Gray Catbird
26 Northern Mockingbird
27 European Starling
28 Cedar Waxwing
29 Ovenbird
30 Northern Waterthrush
31 Black-and-white Warbler
32 Common Yellowthroat
33 American Redstart
34 Chestnut-sided Warbler
35 Canada Warbler
36 Northern Cardinal
37 Common Grackle
38 Baltimore Oriole
39 House Finch
40 House Sparrow

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

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

14 May 2012: Little Blue Heron

Egretta caerulea English: A Little Blue Heron ...

Little Blue Heron

Conditions at the start of today’s walk in the Central Park Ramble were good for both birds and birders: temperatures in the high 60s and warming, with high humidity and little wind (warblers and flycatchers have a much easier time feeding when it is calm). We ended up having 55 bird species, of which 17 were warblers.

Without question the best bird of the day, and one of the great sightings of the spring season, came around 9:30 am at the east end of Turtle Pond. As many of us were looking for a warbler in the trees, Starr saw a Little Blue Heron flying high over the Pond, an extremely rare sighting in Central Park. How rare? Starr has been birding the Park regularly, four or more days per week during the migration seasons and many other days on her own, for over 30 years and this is only the second Little Blue Heron she has seen in the Park. The eBird database has only one recorded sighting of this bird in Central Park.

Starr had one more first-of-season bird as we were leaving Humming Tombstone and ascending the path to the Castle: Acadian Flycatcher, whose “peet-sah” call she heard.

The group saw two other remarkable sights this morning. Both occurred on the west shore of the Lake, just south of the Upper Lobe.

The first: as we were admiring a handsome bright-orange male Baltimore Oriole (we saw many of these today), it briefly (that’s that the only way they do it) mated with a female.

The second: we saw a Black-crowned Night Heron balanced on a rock in striking pose. A few minutes later, it had a large bluegill trapped in its bill. The heron flew with the fish to dry ground on the other side of the water. The fish was much larger than the heron’s neck and initially looked too big to swallow, but the heron opened wide and — slowly — down its throat the fish went!

Though we did not see as many warblers as on Saturday, we certainly got our share today. American Redstart was perhaps the most frequently seen, along with Common Yellowthroat,  Black-throated Blue, and Black-and-white.

Highlights (* means a new bird for the season)

  • Little Blue Heron* (flyover, Turtle Pond)
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee (west edge of Ramble)
  • Acadian Flycatcher* (heard only, north of Humming Tombstone)
  • Least Flycatcher (Hernshead)
  • Eastern Kingbird (Castle)
  • Tree Swallow (Turtle Pond)
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Turtle Pond)
  • Cedar Waxwing (several flocks seen)
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler (east of Castle)
  • Blackburnian Warbler (female, Azalea Pond)
  • Canada Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler (south end of the Point)
  • Baltimore Oriole (seen and heard frequently)