4th Annual Fall Migration Walk

On Sunday, 16 October 2016, at 7:30 a.m. at 103rd Street and Central Park West, Lenore Swenson will lead a birding walk through Central Park’s North End in memory of Starr Saphir. This walk is open to all birders and there is no need to register.

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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
  • WORM-EATING WARBLER
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • American Redstart
  • Northern Parula
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • BAY-BREASTED WARBLER
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • SUMMER TANAGER
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Baltimore Oriole

Status of the birding walks

Many viewers of this site appear to be searching for information about the birding walks. Though Lenore Swenson is still planning a special memorial walk in honor of Starr, which I expect will take place in late April or early May, no regular birding  walks for 2013 have been scheduled as yet. Should we get a schedule, I will announce it here and on the birding message boards.

Cold weather and strong northerly winds have delayed migration this year, but we may see better conditions by Sunday. Meanwhile, Pine Warblers have begun appearing in Prospect Park, so we ought to be getting them soon.

Good birding,

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.

Iceland Gull, Reservoir

Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides hvidvinget måge Måge

Iceland Gull (immature)

Around 1:30 pm on Monday, December 17th, I headed out, binoculars in hand, for a birding run along the Hudson River. My main goal was unusual ducks, in particular the Canvasback — a species that often begins appearing on the Hudson in late December, but I also held out hope for some of the more unusual gulls that had been showing up lately, namely Black-headed and Iceland.

I entered the Hudson Greenway near 93rd Street and stopped to scan the river. I saw a dark figure on the water to the north that appeared to be a lone duck. so I headed toward it. It turned out to be a Red-breasted Merganser, a good find on the Hudson, but by no means a rarity at this time of year.

I turned back south and got all the way to the 70th Street Pier without seeing anything interesting. As I was exploring the area to the south of the pier, a known refuge for ducks, my cell phone beeped. An NYNYBIRD alert: Jacob Drucker had just found a 1st-winter Iceland Gull on the Central Park Reservoir dike at the NW end.

I texted him directly to say that I was on the way and would be there in 15 minutes. I wanted to encourage him to stay on the bird just a little while longer. Then I started running — fast!

As I arrived Jacob assured me that the gull was still there and challenged me to find it, a task made more difficult by the many hundreds of gulls stationed along the dike that runs from the pump house on the west side to that on the east. In fact he had just clicked off an exact count of the gulls, over 300 each of Herring and Ring-billed. He had a scope.

I had 10 x 42 binoculars, and though I found the Iceland Gull, perhaps seventy or more yards out, I was not happy with the view — too far out, and too many gulls in the way. After some gull rearrangement and a look through the scope I saw it well. The almost all-dark bill indicates 1st-winter status.

The Iceland Gull was still seen on the Reservoir on the 22nd.

It is of course a very rare species for Manhattan and Central Park, with no prior eBird records in the latter. That said, Starr has had it before in the Park. In fact, when I told her about my sighting, she mentioned that she had also recently had an Iceland Gull in Manhattan (in November, I believe) as she was leaving a hospital near the East River.

So Iceland Gulls are around. I believe they are not noted often because they pass through at a time of year when birders are few, and they blend in with the flock. Other gulls also are about the same size and have plenty of white feathers.

— David Barrett

The Christmas Bird Count of 1912 in Central Park

Yes, that is right — 1912. But first some comments on the most recent one.

The 2012 Christmas Bird Count (113th in the series) took place this morning in Central Park. It should have at least a couple birds not observed in recent years, namely Common Redpoll and White-winged Crossbill. I noted the former in the previous post; the latter appeared again on Friday the 14th in the same place that the Redpolls were seen, the sweetgum tree just south of Humming Tombstone. Another possibility is Evening Grosbeak, which had not been observed in Central Park since its initial appearance in early November until yesterday, Saturday the 15th, when two were seen in the hemlocks of Shakespeare Garden.

So I began wondering: what did birders of 100 years ago see in Central Park in December? I was surprised to learn that they did not see very much!

The Audubon Society maintains a site that allows you to search the historical records of Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) from all over the United States. The results from December 25, 1912 in Central Park are as follows:

  1. Northern Bobwhite 12
  2. Great Blue Heron 1
  3. Red-tailed Hawk 1
  4. Merlin 1
  5. American Kestrel 1
  6. Herring Gull 22
  7. Downy Woodpecker 3
  8. Crow, sp. 3
  9. Black-capped Chickadee 2
  10. White-breasted Nuthatch 3
  11. European Starling 339
  12. American Tree Sparrow 12
  13. Field Sparrow 1
  14. Song Sparrow 24
  15. White-throated Sparrow 17
  16. Dark-eyed Junco 39
  17. Northern Cardinal 1
  18. Eastern Meadowlark 1

Why so few birds? In the early years of the Central Park CBC there were very few birders. In fact the first CBC in 1900 was done entirely by a 13-year-old boy, Charles Rogers. No attempt was made to bird the entire park. Records say that only one person took part in the 1912 count. I have no idea how hard he or she tried to get a complete count.

Another difference was the weather: Central Park winters were a lot colder then, and there were fewer trees to provide food. There also were no feeders.

My source for the above explanation is the fine history of the Central Park CBC written by Sarah Elliott, who ran the count for twenty years.

Even though variety of species was low, the single birder of 1912 did see several birds that are very rarely or never seen today.

The Northern Bobwhite population has continued declining for decades with the disappearance of suitable habitat (forest and grasslands). The species is no longer regularly seen in Central Park, or anywhere else in New York City, though it still appears infrequently in parts of Long Island.

American Tree Sparrows still appear annually in Central Park in the fall, but they are very scarce. This year eBird had only three reports for the entire year.

The Eastern Meadowlark is rarer still, with only one record in Central Park in the last two years. Brooklyn parks get this bird in fall migration more frequently, though even there it is still considered a rare find.

— David Barrett