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RARE (wowsa rare), and we were there to make the discovery in Central Park!

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Hammond's Flycatcher in Central Park by Deborah Allen

29 November 2017 exclusive "Hammond's" Flycatcher Issue By now many of you know of our discovery of the (likely/presumed) Hammond's Flycatcher, a very rare bird (= a western species) on the Sunday bird walk in Central Park. We detail what happened, and how we found the bird (via Linda LaBella) in our Field Notes/Sightings below for 26 November. It is only the third occurrence of this species in New York State (ever), and we are ever so proud and happy to have found the bird with the people on our bird walk. It truly was a week to give Thanks. We should still refer to this flycatcher as a "presumed" Hammond's (= "Hammond's"), because even though we are 95% sure it is this species, we have sent Deborah's photos to people in the western USA to evaluate and comment upon. See links to Deborah's many fine photos below and pay particular attention to the shape of the tail feathers that clinch this bird as a hatch-year one.

Who was Hammond? He was Dr. William A. Hammond, a 19th century physician who received his MD degree from the City University of New York (CUNY) in the late 1840s, and served in the military in the western USA. Later, he came back to work at Bellevue here in NYC. For more info about him: SCHEDULE NOTES! This Saturday (2 December/$10), we will be at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, meeting at 9:30am. Take #6 train (Lexington Avenue local) to the last stop, and meet at the train station (token booth), OR drive (free parking) and meet Deborah at the parking lot at Middletown Road and Stadium Ave( or nearby Ohm Avenue) - plug location into your GPS..and yes parking is free and ample. Email/Call us for more info/details. Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show birds from various parts of NYC: the Hammond's Flycatcher in Central Park; a Least (a different kind of Empidonax) Flycatcher at NYBG in the Bronx, and then for comparison a Western Flycatcher (another Empidonax) at Inwood Hill Park in December Northern Parula Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. This week's historical notes have a strong emphasis on previous sightings of Hammond's Flycatcher in New York state. But first we provide a late record for Wilson's Warbler in Central Park in 1903, with some additional comments on Hairy Woodpeckers and Pine Grosbeaks in the park by Charles Rogers. a significant historical figure in the park. Our second and third articles detail the two previous occurrences of Hammond's Flycatcher in NY: (a) the 19 November 2006 bird in Westchester County; and (b) the 27-28 October 2001 bird on Long Island.

Northern Parula Warbler on 26 November, Central Park

Deborah Allen sends photos from NYC:

Empidonax Flycatcher ["Hammond's"] on 26 November 2017:

Western Flycatcher, Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan), 9 December 2016:

Least Flycatcher, NYBG, Bronx, 25 November 2017:

Female Northern Parula, Central Park, 26 November 2017:

Male Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Central Park, 26 Nov. 2017:


Good! Here are the bird walks for early December - each $10***

All walks in Central Park except where noted: 1. Saturday, 2 December - 9:30am - Pelham Bay Park - Bronx (email/call for more details)

2. Sunday, 3 December - 9:30am (only) - Central Park - Boathouse (74st/East Drive) 3. Saturday, 9 December - 9:45am - NYBG in the Bronx. $10 (email/call for more details)** 4. Sunday, 10 December - 9:30am (only) - Central Park - Boathouse (74st/East Drive)

The fine print: In December, our walks every Sunday meet at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approximately 74th street and the East Drive on the lake; it is NOT one of the buildings on the nearby Model Boat Pond). Bathrooms are nearby and ok; they open at about 7:30am. On Saturdays we sometimes meet at the Boathouse (74th street and the East Drive) at 7:30am/9am - but check schedule on web site and here because we often go further afield such as NYBG in the Bronx. The Friday walks (only 15 December at 9am) meet at Conservatory Garden - enter at 105th street and 5th Avenue and walk down the stairs - we meet straight ahead at the end of long (75 meter) grassy area, and adjacent to the men's bathroom (women's bathroom on opposite side about 50 yards away). Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= We have a new web site...if in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not, check the web site the morning of the walk: info will be posted on the main landing page as well as the "Schedule" page by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 7:30pm the night before. If still confused, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk! We end all our weekend Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon - you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total - coffee is now $2.75). Our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights) with some anecdotal notes and observations. Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Thursday, 23 November (Thanksgiving Day; start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 10am; $10) - lots of people...we give thanks to you and to everyone that has walked with us in the last year. We could not do what we do if people did not walk with us. Thank You! As for birds today, we were flabbergasted to find a Wilson's Warbler (that stayed for more than a week thru 11/29 at least). There were also a few kinglets around, both Ruby-crowned (6) and Golden-crowned (1). It also seems that American Goldfinches are now regular winter residents, albeit in small number so far. Last year at this time, lots of them could be found at the bird feeders in the Ramble. So far this year, the feeders have remained stocked - and most birds are still feeding on "natural" foods in the woods. Deborah's bird list for the day: ================================= Saturday, 25 November - (start at NYBG in the Bronx at 9:45am; $10) - we were not expecting much...but with strong northwest winds overnite, some migration had occurred. Most significantly were the 10-20 Rusty Blackbirds we found in the Swale along with lots of Red-winged Blackbirds. Karen Evans also called our attention to a small flycatcher: it proved to be a Least Flycatcher (an eastern resident)...the first of two important flycatchers for the weekend (see Sunday's notes below). In between the Wood Ducks, Fox Sparrows, a Hairy Woodpecker - lots of good birds...we ended the walk with not one but TWO Orange-crowned Warblers in the Pines near the Gingerbread Cafe. We went there looking for Pine Warblers and used the tape to bring in the birds...thank goodness Deborah was there to correct my bad ID (I called them Pine Warblers) - but they were much rarer than that! Orange-crowned they were with grayish heads and streaky sides of the body...and very yellow vents. Deborah's bird list for the day: ================================= Sunday, 26 November (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am) - so what happened today and why all the commotion? The bird walk started uneventfully, and if was not for a series of fortuitous occurrences, we never would have known to look for, or even found, an odd little western flycatcher. The most important chance event that morning was meeting Linda LaBella in the area of the "Oven." (We had taken a different route than usual - our first fortuitous happening.) Linda mentioned in passing that she had just seen a small flycatcher not too far away, but was not sure what it was, and like many people, really did not want to get too bogged down into sorting out fine, often confusing details to make a guess as to its identity. We thanked Linda (and she deserves a great thanks!), and knowing that Deborah loves (loves) small, nondescript flycatchers, we hurried the group of about 20 people to the area where Linda had last seen it ("the Riviera" along the lake just east of Bow Bridge). Unfortunately, all we could find were a couple of Tufted Titmice. Oh we were about to trudge on, I decided to use the tape to see if I could call in the I played the interaction call of the Least Flycatcher. Almost immediately a grayish-green flycatcher appeared over us and gave us good looks. Deborah started photographing and quickly concluded that it was some sort of western species (and not any of the eastern ones), because of the tear-drop shaped eye-ring - no eastern species has that. Right about then, David Barrett appeared on scene - and the discussion on the bird began to drift on the direction of either (a) Western Flycatcher or (b) Cordilleran Flycatcher because of plumage AND because one of these had appeared in the Ramble in December 2015. We watched our flycatcher a bit more, and we were able to find it again when it relocated about 50 meters away some 10-15 minutes later. We again used a recorded call to bring it in. By this time we had put out the word via Twitter (Manhattan Bird Alert), and others were arriving - and photos were being sent from the site to those back in their homes throughout the city. The consensus was we had found a Hammond's Flycatcher...even rarer in our area than either of the other two flycatchers mentioned above. Deborah and I could not be sure yet - we did not have access to any reference books, and trying to judge the ID of a small, non-descript bird on the back of a camera is a recipe for disaster! The real bird would perch for a bit but also flick its wings quite a lot, and dart about...and become partially hidden too - so getting a good look at subtle characters was not easy. We were also leading a bird walk (and found the Wilson's Warbler again) - so we were trying to juggle lots of "stuff"...Finally at about 1:30pm we drove home and opened our books. Deborah processed her photos and I ran back and forth asking if the bird showed certain characters of a Hammond's. In one previous paper, the authors had made a big deal of looking for the dusky tip to the beak of a Hammond's. Our bird clearly did not have a dusky tip. We also were trying to evaluate how much yellow the bird had from the middle of the breast (the upper belly) to the upper different lighting conditions (and the yellow leaves reflecting light), the amount of yellow on the front of the bird varied. We wanted to see a range of Deborah's fine, diagnostic photos of a not moving bird on a computer screen where we could correct for the light. Meanwhile people on the internet (via Twitter) were demanding (in several messages directly to Deborah) that she come up with an ID immediately, show more photos - and heck, it didn't even matter because the bird was obviously a Hammond's Flycatcher. (And by implication, Bob and Deborah must be idiots [especially Bob]. To be fair, several others sent notes of congratulations.) Finally, finally by about 4pm, we were convinced we had a Hammond's Flycatcher. Again a big thanks to Linda LaBella for alerting us to the presence of an odd flycatcher, and David Barrett and the Twitter alert he set up for Manhattan - we were able to get the word out so that many people were able to see the bird on Sun/Mon/Tues/Wednesday. As for us, we will always take our time to get the facts right - we try not to shoot from the hip...and remain skeptical to any rare bird identification until we are convinced that the facts support the conclusion we make. Indeed right now we have our photos posted on western USA bird lists and are soliciting comments from people who know Hammond's Flycatchers thoroughly - and the other closely related western flycatcher species as well. Deborah's bird list for the day:

and Deborah's photos of the "Hammond's":



Wilson's Warbler. I saw one in Central Park, on October 31, 1903. My dates for this and the next species were each a month later than those given in the ' Handbook.' Hairy Woodpecker. A male and a female spent this past winter in the Ramble, Central Park, and they or others have been seen in the north end woods. This is the first time in the four years I have been in New York that I have known this species to winter here. Pine Grosbeak. I was shown two, in gray plumage, in Central Park, November 12, 1903, and had excellent views before they flew. About three minutes later I found three (different?) individuals in the same place, also gray. At Nordhoff, Bergen County, N. J., on January 9, I saw three Grosbeaks, two of them splendid adult males Charles H. Rogers, New York City. ======================================= Hammond's Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii) Marshlands Conservancy, Rye, Westchester County, 19 November 2006 (Thomas W. Burke; Gail Benson) This Hammond's Flycatcher was found and identified by Tom Burke in an overgrown former garden and was photographed by Gail Benson. Although extremely elusive at times, the flycatcher was seen and heard in the same area by a number of birders during the following few days. Identification of fall Empidonax can be very difficult, and in this case it was essential to rule out two major contenders, Least (E. minimus) and Dusky (E. oberholseri) Flycatchers. In addition to a suite of plumage and structural characters, the distinctive call notes were captured on video, although a copy of the video was not submitted to the archive. A color photograph by Gail Benson has been published (Kingbird 2007 #57(1):49 and North American Birds 2007 #61(1):43). This is the second record of Hammond's Flycatcher for NYS and first for Westchester County. The prior record (26-27 Nov 2001, Jones Beach, Nassau Co., NYSARC 2001-44-AIC) was also in the late fall. ---------------- A Hammond's Flycatcher was discovered at Marshlands Conservancy in Rye on 19 November 2006 by Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Kirsten Lewis and John Askildsen. Confirmation of the ID came on the 21st (November) when it was heard singing and was video taped by Andy Guthrie. It lasted at least till the 25th. It was not seen on the 26th, possibly seen on the 27th, and possibly heard on the 28th. A report along with numerous photographs and the video will be submitted to NYSARC. During the flycatcher's stay, late Blue-headed Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and American Redstart were reported from the same area. The redstart was found dead on the 22nd of November. Bochnik, M. 2007. Region 9 Hudson-Delaware Summary. Kingbird 57(1): 82 (January 2007) ============================================ Hammond's Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii) on Long Island, 27-28 Oct 2001 New York State's First Record John Fritzi and Douglas J. Futuyma Abstract A bird identified as New York State's first recorded Hammond's Flycatcher was seen by many observers at the West End of Jones Beach State Park, Nassau County, on 27-28 Oct 2001. It was studied and photographed, and was finally captured by a Merlin. We describe its diagnostic features, and note that New York birders might do well to look for other western species of Empidonax, especially during fall migration. A Fine Day at the Beach During the fall migration, many birders monitor weather maps and forecasts as they look forward to the arrival of cold fronts that bring with them waves of migrants. The projected arrival of a strong cold front from the west on Thursday night, 26 October 2001, after several days of southerly winds, held promise of a good flight. The authors spoke that evening, to establish that we would independently work the barrier islands along the South Shore of Long Island the next morning, and keep in contact by cellular telephone. These islands - Fire Island and Jones Island to its west - concentrate migrants that move west-southwestward along the ocean front, and offer the most exciting birding on Long Island during autumn. As predicted, the front materialized, and a cold, strong west wind on the morning of 26 October was the THE SEASON'S FIRST convincing augury of approaching winter. Futuyma began his day at the western end of Fire Island, while John and Gerta Fritz drove directly to the West End of Jones Beach State Park, where the last healthy stands of Japanese black pine remain and act as a haven for tired passerines on their westward flight. Unfortunately, the pines all along the length of Jones Island have been devastated by nematode-bearing sawyer beetles and fungus-bearing turpentine beetles, except for the extreme west end. We were not disappointed. In both areas, throngs of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and other late fall migrants were to be seen, while flocks of American Robins and blackbirds, a few Pine Siskins and American Pipits, and even a late Bobolink passed overhead. Shortly after 0900 hours, as he worked the westernmost pine grove, Fritz became aware of a raucous flock of American Crows, which had already drawn Al Wollin's attention to a large female Barn Owl. Fritz called Futuyma to announce this happy find. Futuyma was on the point of leaving Fire Island for Jones Beach, and so drove all the more urgently to the West End. By the time Futuyma arrived (09:25), Fritz had noticed an Empidonax flycatcher along the eastern side of the westernmost pine stand, in the lee of the wind. The bird favored a small clearing between the shrubs, that caught the sun's rays and evidently was warm enough for midges or other small insects to be active near the ground. The flycatcher foraged near the ground, usually less than a meter high. From a distance of about 8 to 15 meters, its most immediately apparent features were the small size, a strikingly long primary projection, a strong green cast on the crown and back, a plain, almost blue-gray face, and a bold whitish eye-ring that was widest behind the eye. We rapidly agreed that it was almost certainly a western vagrant. Although we had both seen all the species of Empidonax north of Mexico, we had not studied them with an eye to identifying silent individuals out of range, and it was clear that we needed to consult field guides. Identification After about five minutes of carefully registering as many of the bird's features as possible lest it decamp, Futuyma retrieved the Sibley (2000) and National Geographic Society (1999) guides from his car. As he thumbed through Sibley while returning to the observation site, he noticed that Sibley marks the gray face as a distinctive feature of Hammond's Flycatcher - which quickly became the leading hypothesis on the bird's identity. For the next 40 minutes or so, we worked together on the identification, with Fritz maintaining a vertical posture so as to mark the bird's dorsal features, and Futuyma lying prone in an almost hopeless effort to see the ventral side of the lower mandible. We noted the points mentioned above, as well as the whitish gray throat, an olive wash across the gray breast and down the flanks, the yellow wash on the lower belly in contrast to the utter lack of yellow on throat or breast, the broad, buffy wingbars, the pale but not very strongly contrasting edges of the tertials, the rather short, slightly notched tail, the fresh plumage and lack of wear. The bill was rather small, and when seen several times in dorsal aspect appeared narrow and triangular, lacking the strongly convex sides of broad-billed species such as Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. We desperately looked for the dusky color that that according to our field guides characterizes the distal half of the lower mandible of Hammond's Flycatcher, but the bird stayed so low that even from his inferior position, Futuyma could not be sure that the cantaloupe-orange color of the base of the mandible did not extend throughout. Both we and Al Wollin and Manny Levine who had joined us, remarked on the bird's behavior. While it frequently flicked its tail upward as do many Empidonax species, this action was accompanied by a kinglet-like flick of the wings that none of us could recall seeing so prominently in any eastern Empidonax. Also present were Pat Jones and Sam Jannazzo, the latter taking photographs which he generously provided for our use in submitting a report to NYSARC. We concluded, before leaving the bird at about 10:45am, that all Empidonax species north of Mexico, except for E. hammondii, could be eliminated. The size, shape, color, and strong eye-ring were wrong for Alder or Willow. The shape of the eye-ring and bill and the gray face eliminated Acadian. The shape of the bill and the utter lack of yellow on throat or breast were wrong for Yellow-bellied or "Western" (i.e., Cordilleran and Pacific-slope). For many reasons, it was quite obviously not a Buff-breasted or Gray Flycatcher. Dusky Flycatcher, the species that is famously similar to Hammond's, has a short primary projection and moults on the wintering ground - and so would show worn plumage at this season. The greatest risk of confusion (as several friends remarked the next day) might well be with Least Flycatcher, but this species should show a shorter primary projection, more strongly contrasting pale edges of the tertials and secondaries, and more convex sides of the bill, and also moults after migration on its wintering grounds. According to our field guides, the points favoring Hammond's Flycatcher included the small, almost straight-sided bill, the gray face, the shape of the eye-ring, the olive wash on breast and flanks, the very long primary projection, the fresh plumage, and the frequent wing-flicking behavior. We were uncomfortable on only one point. We had not definitively seen a dusky tip to the lower mandible. Before leaving, we called friends who we thought might be free to look for the bird later that day, and succeeded in leaving a message for Shaibal Mitra. Later Observations At about 14:30 that afternoon, Mitra called Futuyma to report that he was watching the flycatcher in the same location that it had occupied that morning. Familiar with fine points of Empidonax identification by virtue of extensive mistnetting and banding experience, Mitra concurred with our identification, and expressed little concern about the color of the lower mandible, which he felt could vary with age. Indeed, Pyle et al. (1987;1997) note that in hatching year Hammond's Flycatchers, the dark pigmentation of the mandible may not develop until November or later. The next morning (Saturday, 27 Oct), flocks of birders found the flycatcher obligingly present at the same site. Perhaps because the wind was weaker than on the previous day, it foraged more widely and at greater height (up to about two meters from the ground). In mid-morning, disturbed by a passerby, it flew about 150 meters eastward, and settled along the south-facing border of a row of pines, where it remained. At least 40 birders had the opportunity to study it at length through spotting scopes. Some were certain that the bird did have dark pigmentation toward the tip of the lower mandible, forming a narrow medial spot that was difficult to see in lateral view. Birders' confidence that it was Hammond's ranged from substantial to complete. By early afternoon, only a few birders remained. At about 1400, they were the last to see New York's first apparent Hammond's Flycatcher, as a Merlin stooped and carried it off. Kingbird 52(1): 2-4 (March 2002)

=============================================== Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC

Along the Loch at the north end of Central Park, autumn 2002 (from a scanned Kodachrome image...the slide film days!) - rdc

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