Results of Starr Saphir Memorial Bird Walk

Lenore Swenson, who expertly led the walk in the Ramble, writes in with this report:

The Starr Saphir Memorial Bird Walk in Central Park on May 2, 2014, surely had Starr smiling down on us. The weather was perfect – mostly sunny, warming up into the 60’s; cherry trees and flowers were in bloom, and the birds were plentiful. About 40 people showed up for the walk, and, although it was a large group, people managed to stay together and get good looks at most birds. With so many eyes and good spotters among us, we amassed a list of 63 species, including 14 warblers.

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Mallard
  3. Double-crested Cormorant
  4. Green Heron
  5. Black-crowned Night Heron
  6. Red-tailed Hawk
  7. Herring Gull
  8. Rock Pigeon
  9. Mourning Dove
  10. Chimney Swift
  11. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  12. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  13. Downy Woodpecker
  14. Northern Flicker
  15. Peregrine Falcon
  16. Great Crested Flycatcher
  17. Eastern Kingbird
  18. White-eyed Vireo
  19. Blue-headed Vireo
  20. Warbling Vireo
  21. Red-eyed Vireo
  22. Blue Jay
  23. American Crow
  24. Black-capped Chickadee
  25. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  26. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  27. Veery
  28. Hermit Thrush
  29. Wood Thrush
  30. American Robin
  31. Gray Catbird
  32. European Starling
  33. Cedar Waxwing
  34. Ovenbird
  35. Worm-eating Warbler
  36. Northern Waterthrush
  37. Blue-winged Warbler
  38. Black-and-white Warbler
  39. Common Yellowthroat
  40. American Redstart
  41. Northern Parula
  42. Yellow Warbler
  43. Black-throated Blue Warbler
  44. Palm Warbler
  45. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  46. Prairie Warbler
  47. Black-throated Green Warbler
  48. Eastern Towhee
  49. Chipping Sparrow
  50. Song Sparrow
  51. Swamp Sparrow
  52. White-throated Sparrow
  53. White-crowned Sparrow
  54. Scarlet Tanager
  55. Northern Cardinal
  56. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  57. Red-winged Blackbird
  58. Common Grackle
  59. Orchard Oriole
  60. Baltimore Oriole
  61. House Finch
  62. American Goldfinch
  63. House Sparrow

Starr Saphir Memorial Bird Walk, 2 May 2014

Lenore Swenson will once again lead a walk through the Central Park Ramble in memory of Starr Saphir. This walk is scheduled for Friday, May 2, 2014 at 7:30 a.m. at the usual meeting place, the SE corner of Central Park West and 81st Street by the benches. The walk is free and no pre-registration is required — just show up and be ready to see some great birds.

Lenore’s Memorial Walk for Starr — Results

Lenore at Summit Rock. Photo credit: Sandra Paci

Lenore Swenson at Summit Rock. Photo credit: Sandra Paci

Postponing the walk turned out to be a very good thing. Today, May 10, was by far the best birding day of the year. It rivaled the best May days of 2012. Winds turned to the southwest overnight for the first time in weeks, and the day began warm and sunny.

A large gathering of birders, at least eighty, honored Starr at Summit Rock. Lenore Swenson and others spoke about what Starr meant to them. Observers were treated to surrounding oak trees filled with migrant birds.

Lenore’s group tallied well over 50 species in the Ramble and adjacent areas. Some birds worth noting:

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Veery
  • Swainson’s Thrush
  • Wood Thrush
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • Northern Parula
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Baltimore Oriole

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

Snow Bunting, Randall’s Island

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

Snow Bunting (nonbreeding plumage)

Prior to 2012, very few bird reports came from Randall’s Island, which, like other islands nearby, such as Governor’s Island and Roosevelt Island, is part of New York County (Manhattan).

I started birding Randall’s Island in early spring 2012, and continued with more frequent runs there in July. It has two excellent saltmarsh habitats, which are are otherwise hard to find in Manhattan. I figured that instead of going to Swindler Cove Park in Inwood, which can take an hour to reach from the Upper East Side, I could run to Randall’s and be there in 20 minutes. I was rewarded in July with a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a species not reported in Central Park this year.

Once Nelson’s Sparrows appeared on the NE shore of Randall’s in October 2012, other birders took note and it quickly became a more frequently-visited birding hotspot.

Since then, other hard-to-find birds have shown up there: Vesper Sparrow, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Iceland Gull, and Common Goldeneye, to name just handful.

I  have been doing a big year for New York County, so I watch reports from Randall’s with great interest. Yesterday, Ben Cacace reported a species that I needed: Horned Lark, which I had previously chased on the island in November without success. The flock he reported was huge (75), so I figured there was a good chance that some of the birds might still be around today.

They were! I saw a flock of 18 Horned Lark on the NW ball fields at 11:20 am.

Just minutes earlier I had found another rare species for Manhattan, American Pipit. A flock of 25+ was noisily foraging near ball field 43. Andrew Farnsworth had reported a flyover of this size the prior day so I was not surprised to see them.

There was also, as Cacace had noted, a Killdeer — rare for this time of year — just off the NW ball fields.

I headed east again for another look at the NE shore. I found a slightly larger flock of Horned Lark just north of ball field 39. I was at close range and had good views, so I decided to look at each bird and get an exact count. I am glad I did, because one of those birds turned out to be a Snow Bunting!

I believe that this is the first Snow Bunting reported in New York City this year. It is the first reported for New York County in the last two years.

Horned Lark and Snow Bunting were expected to be on the move after snows blanketed much of New York State and made their ground-foraging more difficult. You can read about it on BirdCast.

I was thrilled to add these two species to my 2012 Manhattan list, which will close at 208.

A happy new year to all!

–David Barrett

Three Owl Day in Central Park

On Friday, 23 November 2012, and on days immediately following, it was possible to see three owl species in the Park, an extremely rare occurrence.

1) Barred Owl continues west of the Great Lawn.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl (Photo credit: Bob from Caledon)

If you want some great video footage and photos of the Barred Owl, see Bruce Yolton’s last post and his previous post on UrbanHawks.

2) Great Horned Owl appears SW of Azalea Pond, S of the Gill. It has moved around since then.

English: Great horned owl

Great Horned Owl

3) Northern Saw-whet Owl continues in the Shakespeare Garden area. On 25 November a possibly different Saw-whet was reported at Conservatory Garden after being loudly harassed by a variety of other birds.

Northern Saw-whet Owl Aegolius acadicus

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Remember if you go to see any of these owls, but in particular the Northern Saw-whet, which tends to roost much lower in trees than the other two, keep a respectful distance. The Saw-whet tends to stay still when approached, a defense against predators that look for motion. Do not be fooled into thinking the owl likes having a human being near it.

–David Barrett

White-winged Crossbills Arrive in Central Park

White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera) male...

White-winged Crossbill, male

Yet another irruptive finch species has appeared in Central Park! On Sunday, 4 November 2012, a flyover White-winged Crossbill was seen near the Meer in the North End. On Monday the 5th at least two and perhaps as many as seven White-winged Crossbills were seen well and at close range feeding in the conifers surrounding the balcony that overlooks Shakespeare Garden.

These birds appeared in the same place that the Red Crossbills did on 31 August 2012. This comes as no surprise. White-winged Crossbills are rarely seen feeding on trees other than hemlock and spruce. The tree map of Central Park shows only a small number of such trees, so I knew that there were only a few places to look. The last prior sighting was on 10 January 2010 in Shakespeare Garden; there was also a sighting on 25 January 2009 in Strawberry Fields. If you want to see crossbills, these are the two places to go!

The White-winged Crossbills were again seen in the the same Shakespeare Garden trees the following morning, on the 6th of November.

— David Barrett

Starr Saphir Gets Two Unusual Birds


English: Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) at S...

Forster’s Tern (nonbreeding plumage)

American Pipit 4-20101102

American Pipit (Photo credit: kenschneiderusa)


Starr called me today with some good news. On Wednesday, October 31, she walked from her residence to the Hudson near Dyckman and she had her first Manhattan Forster’s Tern of the year! Normally you do not get Forster’s Terns in upper Manhattan at this time of year, but Hurricane Sandy has driven many birds more commonly seen off the south shore of Long Island to the north and west.

Then Starr told me she had an even better bird the same day: an American Pipit (not a hurricane bird, but a regular fall migrant), seen around the Columbia University athletics complex (Baker Field). There are no eBird reports in New York County of the Pipit this year — it is an rare and excellent find.