Central Park Delivers Uncommon Birds

The 2012 fall season in Central Park has been excellent for seeing some unusual species.

Here is a list of some of my favorites in chronological order:

Red Crossbill — small flock seen in hemlock trees of Shakespeare Garden on August 31st and September 1st. Determined by call to be Type 3.

American Bittern — first reported September 10th; seen by many and for nearly a week beginning September 12th at Turtle Pond.

Clay-colored Sparrow — first seen September 12th in the North End Loch and later at other nearby points such as the Compost Heap, the Great Hill, and the Grassy Knoll. Two were observed on the 14th, and at least one remained through September 21st.

Eastern Whip-poor-will — seen first September 15th roosting on a branch above the source of the Gill in the Ramble, it amazed birders by remaining in the Ramble for at least four days and often resting on the very same branch on which it was initially found.

Dickcissel — reported September 21st in the North End’s Wildflower Meadow; later seen around the Compost Heap.

Connecticut Warbler — reported September 23rd and seen by many in the Tupelo Meadow area of the Ramble. There have been a couple other reliable reports in Central Park, each seen by just one observer.

Golden-winged Warbler — reported September 19th in the early morning at Strawberry Fields; seen much later in the day by about a dozen birders. Another was seen and photographed on September 30th appearing briefly in the Maintenance Meadow.

Marsh Wren — reported by one very reliable observer first on September 21st in the Wildflower Meadow and the next day at the Pool. Another (or possibly the same one) was seen by many at Tupelo Meadow in the Ramble on September 24th. Yet another appeared at the Meer the following morning, and in Maintenance Meadow on the 29th.

Blue Grosbeak — reported in the late afternoon of September 25th in the Wildflower Meadow. Another, this one a juvenile, was was seen on the 29th further south in the Park, along the edge of the Lake south of Bow Bridge.

Grasshopper Sparrow — reported early on September 25th in the Compost Heap area and seen by many throughout the day. Another had spent a few days in May around Falconer’s Hill, south of the 72nd Street Park Drive.

Pine Siskin — seen in the Wildflower Meadow on October 2nd but not reported until after sundown; I was unable to re-find them the following day. But a flock was seen in Prospect Park, so the birds are around and it is likely that we will have more passing through Central Park. In fact more were reported flying over, with some briefly touching down, on October 4th. They are known to like thistle feeders, so Evodia Field in the Ramble is one place to watch as the season progresses. Right now they are more likely to be seen high up in conifers.

In fact, this fall and winter could offer the opportunity to see a variety of finches that rarely make their way to our area, including Red and White-winged Crossbills, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, and Evening Grosbeak. See Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast on eBird for more details. In particular, you may want to click on the links to updated eBird maps of recent sightings.

The eBird team also points out that “Boreal Owls are expected to move south this year.” Unlike Snowy Owls, which irrupted last year, Boreal Owls might find Central Park an acceptable stopping-off point. They last appeared here from December 2004 to January 2005.

Good birding,

David Barrett

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.”

Thoughts from Starr on the Week

This past week was fairly ordinary in Central Park, and by ordinary I mean wonderful! Several new arrivals (in small numbers) delighted those who experienced them. For me the highlight was an American Bittern found by Tom Perlman in the North Woods on Tuesday. It remained there all day. On Wednesday Karen spotted a female Wood Duck as she flew into a large tree (the duck, not Karen!). Some participants of my walk learned that Wood Ducks roost in trees and nest in tree cavities.

By creating this website, webmaster extraordinaire David Barrett has single-handedly brought me into the 21st century, something my own children have been unable to achieve. David does 90% of the work on this website and I am deeply grateful. Thank you, David!

Every day brings new surprises in Central Park. Hope to see you there!

Good birding,


17 April 2012: American Bittern, North Woods

American BIttern

American BIttern 

The American Bittern is an extremely rare visitor to Central Park. It was seen once in 2011, on May 18th; in some years it is not seen at all. As we were finishing our sparrow watch on the Great Hill, Malcolm Morris approached and told us that he had just seen an American Bittern in the North Woods, originally found by Tom Perlman. Malcolm gave us excellent directions and we headed over to see the bird without delay. Two other birders were already viewing it when we arrived, and we were treated to unobstructed, well-lit views of the bittern perched with its neck extended skywards in a bare tree about 35 feet off the ground.

Nothing else from today is going to compare with this rare sighting, but we are happy to have also added three new birds to our 2012 spring list: Fish Crow, Barn Swallow, and Black-throated Green Warbler.

Though we heard of isolated reports of some new common warbler species in the Park, overall this was a day of very modest migration (except for Yellow-rumped Warblers, which were seen everywhere and in their highest numbers of the year) and we expect far better days to come.