Over the years, I've noticed a pattern. Over recent years, every November or December usually features at least one western vagrant that hasn't been seen in Manhattan for several years, and sometimes never. Among these past rarities are Varied Thrush, Rufous Hummingbird, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, and Couch's Kingbird. But when I heard about a lone report of a Western Tanager at City Hall Park the day before Thanksgiving, I felt on edge, but kept watching the alerts carefully in case someone else confirmed it. This bird has not been seen in Manhattan since a bird appeared in Central Park in April 2008. Several birders went down to City Hall that afternoon, but nobody saw it. The next morning, a few birders lucked out and refound the tanager. I headed down there that afternoon and came across a group of birders looking at it. The WESTERN TANAGER (#164) was very high up, but it still offered identifiable views. Perhaps the strangest thing about this park was its diversity. For some reason, various species, including some that should be well south of the city, choose to linger for days or weeks in pocket parks like this one. I saw an Ovenbird, 2 Black-Throated Blue Warblers, and a Yellow-Breasted Chat, all of which gave great views and should be over 1000 miles south. Others also saw 2 Common Yellowthroats which I missed despite my best efforts. This park proved to be an amazing little patch of green, and produced almost 20 species. Here is what I saw:
2 Downy Woodpeckers
3 Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers
3 Hermit Thrushes
2 BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS (male and female)
Sunday, November 6, 2016
On October 30th, I heard of a Yellow-Breasted Chat reported at Sparrow Rock, along with a few late migrants. I went to the park and headed towards Sparrow Rock, only to find no chat and many people. I then went to the west side of the Great Lawn in search of an Orange-Crowned Warbler and an empid. I found neither, but then ran into another birder. who told me that he saw a Blackpoll Warbler there. I kept looking, only finding a Field Sparrow. Just as I was about to leave the area, I spotted a warbler in the open in one of the trees. The Blackpoll Warbler! This is when my luck started to turn. Continuing my search or stuff in the area as well as Locust Grove, I heard that the Orange-Crowned Warbler was seen briefly at the west side of the Great Lawn. There were a bunch of birders there who arrived too late, but I spotted a rustle in some white flowers that I thought may not be a sparrow. I pished a bit and it revealed itself to be the Orange-Crowned Warbler. It stayed there for a minute before going back into the bushes. I then heard that the chat was being seen again, so I rushed over to Sparrow Rock, where I had a brief, naked eye look of what was certainly the YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT (#163), but it immediately took off and was not seen again that day. Fortunately, it remained in the area for several more days, during which I got amazing looks at it, along with a late House Wren I found there. Back to the rest of the day, I went back to the Locust Grove area trying to find late birds, when I flushed a drab, brown bird with some sparrows. An Indigo Bunting! I found this late bird on October 26th, and it's been seen by a few people since then. Overall a very good day for late October, with me seeing 5 warbler species, including the elusive Yellow-Breasted Chat!
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
On Tuesday, October 18th, I heard of a report of Red-Headed Woodpecker at Laupot Bridge. After entering Central Park and going through the Pinetum and Shakespeare Garden. I arrived at the woodpecker spot. It was being seen up in a tall locust tree when I got there, and it took me a minute to spot it, but I got great views of the adult RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (#162). The bird stayed in the tree for more than a half hour, and I also had a late Magnolia Warbler in the same location to keep me company while the woodpecker was hiding. It eventually flew off, but others saw it later that afternoon. Ever since then, there have been occasional reports of Red-Headed Woodpecker in the Ramble, and recently a younger bird has taken up residence at Sheep Meadow. At this stage in year listing, the only regular birds that I have a chance of getting are some of the later migrating raptors and Pine Siskins (if they ever show up). Rarities are what I'm hoping for, and I hope to find one of them no matter what it is. Last fall, other than the "large yellow-bellied" flycatcher in December, I had no rarities, but I did have some late migrants, including Pine Warbler and Black-and-White Warbler in November.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
On October 6th, an American Wigeon was reported somewhere in Central Park. While the report seemed reliable, nobody knew where it could be. Only at the end of the day did someone spot it (a female) at the Harlem Meer, and by that time many birders have gone home. On the 7th, it was refound and I went up there to search for it in the afternoon. When I got there, I noticed that there were dozens of Gadwalls and Northern Shovelers I had to sort through to find the wigeon. I headed to the south end after failing to spot it in the flock, where I did find a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler, but then I had an idea. I should head to the steps on the northeast corner of the Meet because it appeared to be the best vantage point that wasn't facing the sun and there appeared to be a few birders there. When I got there, they told me it was close to the reedy shore within the duck flock and left. It was hard to sort through the sleeping shovelers and similar-looking female Gadwalls, but I was able to pick out the American Wigeon among the flock (#160) after several minutes. This was a repeat of last year, with another bird, a male, present around the same time. Also a repeat, 2 Green-Winged Teal had been reported there instead of just 1, but I decided to skip it as it was getting late (at least one of the teal was on the west side of the Meer). From here on out, other than Pine Siskin and some raptors, I have to rely on fall rarities to increase my year list.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
On Tuesday, September 27, I went to try to search for a Marsh Wren spotted near in the Lower Lobe in Central Park (the southwestern corner of the Lake). When I got there, among the House Sparrows, I spotted a small, green warbler foraging in the shrubs right next to the path. What would a warbler be doing there? It was easy to identify it as a Tennessee Warbler! Not new for the year or even the fall, but still a very unique opportunity to observe it up close. After a few minutes of watching it, I searched for the Marsh Wren, but came up empty and gave up. It was seen about 45 minutes after I left. The next day, I tried for it again. First, I and other birders refound the Tennessee Warbler, and discovered that there was a second one with it. We then started to search for the wren, but it was extremely difficult. Not only was there plenty of places for it to hide, but there were also Common Yellowthroats, Song, and Swamp Sparrows, as well as the Tennessee Warblers to confuse it with. After over an hour, we spotted the wren distantly flying across the Lake. I searched on the other side but could not refind it. After about 10 more minutes, we refound the MARSH WREN (#159) and were greatly rewarded for our efforts. The wren came within 2 feet of us at times! It gave great views and was agitated by a pair of raccoons nearby, but somehow successfully scared them off. After about 15 minutes the wren flew deeper into the cattails. With the light fading and many good looks at the wren, I decided to call it a night.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
On Sunday morning, I was in Central Park by 7 am, and there was clearly some activity. I saw birds flying left and right as I made my way to Strawberry Field, but only identified a few, including a Winter Wren. The most impressive thing on the way there was the flight of flickers, which contained several dozen Northern Flickers all headed south. I then arrived at Strawberry Fields, where I saw the birds I wasn't looking for, which included Brown Creeper and a pair of Dark-Eyed Juncos, which seemed like omens of a migration day filled with later, less impressive migrants. However, as time went by, it changed for the better and warblers started to appear. In the end, I had about a dozen warbler species in Strawberry Fields alone. I then went through the Ramble for a bit, and then did a raptor watch at Belvedere Castle for a few hours with Ryan. Unfortunately, we failed to spot anything notable. We went back into the Ramble, and it wasn't long before we received word of a Vesper Sparrow near Nutter's Battery at the north end of the park. We decided to head up there, and we arrived in just over a half hour. We looked for the sparrow, along with a few other birders, and we also found several species of warblers there. As we were scanning at the bottom of the hill, we heard someone yell "Clay-Colored Sparrow!". Wait, what? Why would something rare like that show up as we were looking for a Vesper Sparrow? We got to the top of the hill within seconds, and after less than a minute, the bird appeared with a flock of Palm Warblers. It was like a Chipping Sparrow, but had many more shades of brown, beige, and gray than a Chipping Sparrow, as well as black lines all over the face, making this a CLAY-COLORED SPARROW(#158). Over the next 15 minutes, the bird gave great views in the flock, before flying off and disappearing for good. This species is very rare, only appearing once or twice a year in the park, if at all. Being in the right place at the right time was very good for me, giving me a life bird! I did not bird much after the sparrow, and ended the day with a whopping 73 species!
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
On Wednesday, I heard that a female Northern Pintail was found on Turtle Pond. That afternoon, I headed over there to try and find it. I walked around the pond and couldn't find it. Then, I read that it was hanging close to shore on the east end of the pond. I got there and found the NORTHERN PINTAIL (#157)! It was got really close, giving amazing views. This bird is a near-annual visitor to the park, and I did not expect to see one this year. 2 more birds to go until I break my record!