Black-billed Cuckoo, Great Hill

Black-Billed Cuckoo / Coccyzus erythropthalmus

Black-billed Cuckoo

Lenore Swenson’s walk in the Central Park North End this morning had 57 total species including 9 warblers and 8 sparrows. Overnight migration was very strong after the passage of a cold front yesterday. It was also the coldest morning of the fall so far, with temperature around 41 at the start of the walk.

A Black-billed Cuckoo was briefly heard (but not seen) just off the path exiting the east side of the Great Hill at west Park Drive, latitude 106th Street. This was a new bird for both the season and the year (#152). This species is observed only once or twice per season in the Park.

An Orange-crowned Warbler was seen just south of the Meer. This is another excellent find.

Ruddy Duck, on the Meer, is a new bird for the season, as is Savannah Sparrow, on “Sparrow Slope” of the Great Hill. The group also saw White-crowned Sparrow on the Great Hill.

Other warblers seen were the usual ones: Black-throated Blue, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Black-and-white, and Magnolia.

Overnight migration appears to have brought more Hermit Thrush and Golden-crowned Kinglets, both of which were abundant. The former has just begun to be seen regularly this week.

Kentucky Warbler, North End

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler (Photo credit: Gulf Coast Greenie)

Today’s walk in the North End of Central Park produced 50 species, including 11 warblers. Starr and Lenore were unable to make it today, so Alex Hale, a dedicated young birder whose life list will soon total 600 species, led the walk.

Highlights: (* = new bird for the season)

  • Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  • Great Crested Flycatcher (at least 9, an unusually high total)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Swainson’s Thrush* (first fall report for Central Park)
  • Orange-crowned Warbler*
  • Kentucky Warbler* (male, west end of Loch)
  • Black-throated Green Warbler* (first fall report for Central Park)
  • Scarlet Tanager* (first fall report for Central Park)

The best bird of the day is without question the Kentucky Warbler, which Starr also had on the spring walks, and which has shown up in Central Park much more often than usual this year. Historically, it has been “very rare” for the Park, a bird not seen every migration season or even every year.

The Orange-crowned Warbler is also a great sighting. Last year this bird was easier to get after the migration seasons than during them, as some were noted in Central Park beginning in early November and continuing through December. Swindler Cove Park had one that stayed into early January.


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,


21 April 2012: Extraordinary North End Day!

prothonotary warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

On a memorable Saturday Starr Saphir had three of Central Park’s rarest avian visitors: Common Raven, Prothonotary Warbler, and Blue Grosbeak, along with two other notably uncommon birds: Orange-crowned Warbler and Worm-eating Warbler.

As her Saturday walk was beginning, Starr saw a Common Raven being harassed by some American Crows south of the Great Hill. The Raven turned on the Crows, and then headed south into the Park. Prior to December 2011, eBird shows no recorded observations of the Common Raven in Central Park for most years. Since then, it has been noted only a handful of times.

This auspicious start carried through the rest of the morning. After learning of reliable reports of Orange-crowned Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Prothonotary Warbler in the Wildflower Meadow area initially found by Tom Perlman, Chris Cooper, and Jacob Drucker, Starr brought her group directly from the Pool. About 20 minutes of searching ensued, as  many other birders responded to the earlier alerts. They saw plenty of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the surrounding trees, along with some Chipping Sparrows. They also heard Eastern Towhee and Carolina Wren. But the warblers they sought were nowhere to be found.

After hearing some trilling coming from the very large fenced-in tree atop the meadow, Starr soon re-sighted the Orange-crowned Warbler and most in her group got good views. The bird reappeared again about ten minutes later.

The group did not have long to rest, however, as a call soon came in from the Loch that the female Prothonotary Warbler had also been re-found. All moved quickly down the path and within minutes were treated to excellent close views of the strikingly elegant bird. Starr quickly described the location of the bird as it moved about without pointing at it (as pointing frequently spurs songbirds to fly away), and her running commentary helped group members and other birders alike stay focused on the Prothonotary, which surely was for many (if not most of those assembled) a life Central Park bird. Without question it was our best bird of the day.

The excitement, however, was far from over, as an 8:25AM text message alert said that Doug Kurz was seeing a Blue Grosbeak just 200 yards away by the 102nd Street transverse road. Your webmaster (and others) ran up the hill to get it, and after some fleeting views it appeared to fly to the so-called Grassy Knoll, where we were rewarded with good views of it on the ground. As Starr and her group were making their way up the Wildflower Meadow toward it, Starr finally got the elusive Worm-eating Warbler by the large fenced-in tree. Meanwhile, the Blue Grosbeak flew, but later, toward the end of the day’s walk, Starr re-found it to cap off a truly incredible day.

Starr also had the first reported Black-throated Blue Warbler of the season in Central Park. Other noteworthy sightings, which were also firsts of the year for her group included two Great Blue Herons flying over; an Eastern Wood-Pewee on the Great Hill; a Warbling Vireo near the Green Bench; a Yellow Warbler; and a Black-and-white Warbler.

Altogether the group added 11 new birds to the season list. The total came to 53 species for the day, of which there were 9 warblers.