Spring Ahead with Central Park Bird Walks and the amazing Jeff Ward this weekend March 17-18
Updated: Mar 1
14 March 2018 SCHEDULE NOTES! Jeff Ward, best of the best, is leading the two bird walks this weekend, 17-18 March, both in Central Park meeting at the Boathouse at 9:30am. Deborah Allen and I are away in northwest Washington state: http://www.wingsoverwaterbirdingfestival.com/ where we are the keynote speakers at the Wings over Water Bird Festival. Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show Eastern Screech-owl from this past weekend at Inwood Hill Park. We had close-up looks: about five (5) feet away for the male, and at another location, perhaps eight (8) feet away for the female. Through the many years of owl walks, never have owls been this close for so long (5+ minutes easily). We left both birds sitting in place still looking at us as we walked away. In this week's historical notes we trace the early history of the House Finch in our area. From its escape (release) in Brooklyn in 1940 (see articles below), it has managed to extend its range up and down the east coast. However, unlike the introduction of the starling in the early 1890s, no native species declined measurably when House Finches began nesting in our area. My first experience with House Finches was in the Bronx in the late 1960s/early 1970s. I remember playing stickball on the street when a bird with red on it (there were no Cardinals in my neighborhood) came flying past...and was carrying nesting material. That was amazing - no birds except sparrows, starlings and robins lived near me. It proved to be a male House Finch bringing nest material under an awning over a porch door. The nest failed, but I remember standing transfixed at home plate (a round sewer cover in the middle of the street) that morning with my friends yelling at me to hit the ball, a spaldeen (https://tinyurl.com/ybzwkqeu ).
Black-footed Albatross, Pacific Ocean, Washington, summer 2016
Deborah Allen sends Photos from NYC Parks Inwood Hill Park, Manhattan on 10 March Male Gray-morph Eastern Screech-Owl: https://www.photo.net/photo/18461440/Male-Gray-morph-Eastern-Screech-Owl Female Gray-morph Eastern Screech-Owl: https://www.photo.net/photo/18461438/Female-Gray-morph-Eastern-Screech-Owl Link to Deborah Allen photos on Agpix site: http://www.agpix.com/results.php?agid=DeAl12
Good! Here are the bird walks for March - each $10
1. Saturday, 17 March - 9:30am - Central Park Bird Walk meet at Boathouse Cafe. 2. Sunday, 18 March - 9:30am - Central Park Bird Walk meet at Boathouse Cafe. --- 3. Saturday, 24 March - 9:30am - Central Park Bird Walk meet at Boathouse Cafe. 4. Sunday, 25 March - 9:30am - Central Park Bird Walk meet at Boathouse Cafe.
The fine print: In March, our walks every Saturday and 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 9:30am - but check schedule on web site and here because we often go further afield such as NYBG in the Bronx. Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= email@example.com). 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 and as a last resort, 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). For 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).
Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Saturday-Sunday, 10-11 March 2018 - a cool, brisk morning to greet the unofficial start of spring on Sunday: clocks were set ahead by an hour early this morning. As for birds, we had a few Fox Sparrows, a couple of Song Sparrows and very cooperative (males) Golden-crowned Kinglet and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The latter was the first we've seen in several weeks, since the cold snap of late December/early January. Highlight birds were the male Northern Pintail (Carine Mitchell) on the lake, and a flock of Cedar Waxwings (Sandra Critelli) just south of Indian Cave, probably newly arrived on northbound migration. The previous evening we had one of our best Screech-owl walks ever: at Inwood Hill Park in two widely separated places we had a male screech-owl and then a female come in and perch in front of our group for full-frame photos with cell phones! And not to be left out, on Saturday (10 March) the female Great Horned Owl was still sitting on her nest at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx...and there were at least a dozen seals hauled out on rocks in the nearby Long Island Sound. Deborah Allen's list of birds for the weekend walks: https://tinyurl.com/yco7mwsq =============================
Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk (juvenile); Washington State; July 2016
New Resident Bird for Long Island  John. J. Elliot In April 1941 a male House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) was observed at Jones Beach by R. Fleisher, David and William Reid, Jr., and this writer, and believed at that time to be an escaped bird. In April, 1942, at Babylon, I found 5 House Finches and 7 were present in the summer of that year with several singing males. From then on my Birdfile card is full of birds feeding young after nest-leaving, also of a nest-collected, after rearing young, on June 3, 1944 - the first ever collected (so far as I can determine) east of the Great Plains - and a maximum of 38 individuals counted in August 1945, under very favorable conditions. For approximately two years reports have come to me of nesting Purple Finches, unheard of previously, and nesting suspiciously early in several cases, at Westbury and in the Hewlett Bay area. On July 4, 1945, I visited both sections and found four House Finches at Westbury and five or about Hewlett. A record of six at "Lawrence" on April 13, 1947 (Darrow, Eisenmann, Meyer) and earlier observation by Sedwitz confirms their identification. Although re less rosy coloration and dark stripes on the sides and belly of the male identifies it. Once learned, the rich, rippling song and especially the English-sparrow-like chip and harsh nasal inflective note, are good field characteristics. After some experience, one may locate the species by its notes at fully one-sixth of a mile. ===================================== FURTHER NOTES ON THE LONG ISLAND HOUSE FINCHES  Edward Fleisher M.D. Mr. Elliott's article seems to indicate that the House Finch is establishing itself, as a resident bird on Long Island, and there is a possibility that it will extend its range. It therefore seems in order to write a note on how these birds managed to cross the Great Plains. In January 1940 I saw, in the show-windows of a bird store in Brooklyn a large cage containing some twenty or more house finches marked "Hollywood Finches. 98 cents each." Some months before I had seen in the same window a pair of handsome Bohemian Waxwings, and I thought that something ought to be done about what appeared to be a growing traffic in native American birds. I accordingly wrote to the National Audubon Society asking them to take some action. It appeared that Mr. Richard Pough, who handled such matters, was out of town, and the case was referred to the State Game Protector for this district. I received, through the kindness of Mr. Carl W. Buchheister, a copy of this official's reply. In it he stated that the birds were sold by the Beresford Aviary of San Meto, Cal., and he intimated that the sale was not illegal because the species "is not protected in California nor is it native to New York State." On Feb. 15, 1940, I wrote again to the Audubon Society, trying to establish the irrelevancy of these admitted facts to this larger question of the sale of native song birds. On March 14th I wrote to the Bureau of Biological Survey, and I received a reply dated Mar. 16th, signed by Chester A. Leichhardt, Acting Chief of the Division of Game Management. In this letter I was informed that House Finches were placed on the protected list of migratory birds following the convention between the United States of America and the United Mexican States -- and hence their trapping and sale without a Federal permit constitute violations of the law. On March 20th I wrote again to the Audubon Society and also continued my correspondence with the Federal and local enforcement authorities. Shortly thereafter I was visited by Mr. Orin D. Steele, U.S. Game Management Agent. In answer to one of his questions I strongly opposed the releasing of these birds in this area, and I asked that they be disposed of in some other manner. A few days later, Apr. 1st, Mr. Steele sent me a letter of appreciation in which he said, "Based entirely on information furnished by you we have been able to stop the trapping and transportation from California, and have stopped the sales throughout the U.S." About the same time the Audubon Society also took action locally. Mr. Pough sent a detailed report to Mr. S. Robinson of the Bureau of Biological Survey, a copy of which he kindly sent to me. He had telephoned to twenty local dealers and to one wholesaler, and found that all carried the species, or had carried at some time during the three or four years that the treaty had been in effect. Three dealers said that they no longer carried them, two because they were too cheap and the third because they were too wild and did not live long in captivity. Most of the local birds were supplied by a wholesale dealer on lower Fifth Avenue. This dealer told Mr. Pough that there was some trouble about the legality of their sale, and until the matter was straightened out, they could not ship. He thought that in a week or so he could start shipping. He quoted a price of $35 per hundred. He said they would probably get around the present difficulty by calling the birds Purple Finches instead of Linnets (!). Purple Finches, he said, were a local California bird not protected by the Mexican treaty, so they could be sold. This statement is most enlightening, and indicates that conservationists must be eternally vigilant. As far as I know there has been no resumption of the traffic in house finches. There is little doubt that some of the caged birds were released and formed the nucleus of the local colony. Most of the dealers sold only male birds, but the discovery of nests indicates that some females were released. It remains to be seen whether there were enough to insure the establishment of a permanent colony. Editor's Note: Mr. Fleisher's convincing evidence seems to be a reasonable explanation for the sudden appearance of the House Finch on Long Island, but with definite knowledge of actual release dates and localities missing, he is wise in allowing at least a suggestion of doubt. It is interesting to note that the first observation of the House Finch in the wild on Long Island was on April, 1941 - a full year after the presumed release of the caged stock. Perhaps further investigation will fill in the gaps in the House Finch story. Subspecific determination of these birds still remains to be made, and the wintering status is still in some doubt. ==================== 27 March 1954. Queens County, N.Y. for bird life. House Finches were "'lifers'" for most of those present. Hooded mergansers, gadwalls, and green-winged teals represented the waterfowl except for an irate swan that was determined to drive a Canada goose from Valley Stream Lake. Attendance 14. Leader, Harriet J. Brown. =============== 18 January 2012 - Brooklyn: The backyards of the brownstones of Brooklyn make for accidental block-sized arboretums. This January, as usual, a flock of 10-12 house finches have been moving through the leafless canopies of backyard hardwoods, following the daily progress of the sun. In the past week, they have been spotted daily in the collective backyard of a block at the top of a hill in Carroll Gardens, about 700 yards up from Buttermilk Channel and the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. By late afternoon, they move from the lower limbs on the west side of the block, to the upper limbs on the east side. By sunset, they sit quietly together in the treetops, huddled against the cold wind, bathing in afternoon's last golden sun, the light slowly firing the red on each bird's throat, head and breast until dark. Robert Sullivan
Barrow's Goldeneye, Washington state near Blaine in March 2016
Origins and Status of the House Finch in the Eastern United States  John J. Elliott and Robert S. Arbib, Jr. ON January 17, 1948, at Hewlett, Nassau County, Long Island, New York, an adult male House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, was collected by Arbib from a flock of 40 or more birds. This specimen (now No. 348793, Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist.) was the first House Finch collected in the eastern United States, and it proved that the species had been correctly identified as a resident-indeed, a breeding bird on Long Island-an assertion that had been maintained in the face of some skepticism during the previous five years. HISTORY: The known history of the House Finch in the eastern United States begins with the first published record east of the great plains. This involved a highly-colored male bird discovered at Jones Beach, Long Island, on April 11, 1941, by Richard B. Fischer and Robert Hines. This record was published in a weekly column on local ornithology edited by Elliott and appearing in the 'Nassau Daily Review-Star,' a newspaper (Rockville Centre, N. Y., April 23, 1941). The bird was subsequently seen and heard on April 15, 17, and 20, 1941, by numerous observers, this being the only record from Jones Beach. About a year later, in March 1942, Elliott found seven House Finches in the vicinity of a tree nursery at Babylon, Long Island (about 12 miles northeast of Jones Beach) and lists the following records from that area: summer of 1942 - small colony found on nursery grounds with several males singing from the tops of ornamental ever-greens; summer of 1943 - about a dozen birds present. On May 28, 1943, a nest with four young was found. This is the first recorded nesting in the area; July, 1944 - about 18 birds present, and young being fed at perches on electric wires. Numbers increased to 24 in 1945 and to 38 in 1946. One evening in late summer of 1947 a flock, closely estimated at 50 individuals, flew into the Babylon nursery area. In 1947-48, after a heavy snow-fall, the Babylon colony seemed reduced to a very few birds; none could be found for a month, although previously they wintered there. There were, however, several dozen birds in the summer of 1948, and these increased to 70 by the winter of 1949-50. At the time of the absence at Babylon in 1947-48, large increases were noted at Hewlett (23 miles west) and at Lawrence (26 miles west) where other colonies had definitely been known to exist since 1944, and possibly had existed earlier. At Westbury (12 miles northeast of Hewlett) House Finches were found in a large nursery in 1944, and these increased to several dozen in 1948, with young noted from 1945 on. At this writing, the four colonies mentioned are all thriving, with slight increases indicated over the populations of 1949. In the last two years, increasingly frequent records have been obtained outside the Babylon-Westbury-Lawrence triangle, evidence of peripheral spread. Long Island locations include Riis Park, Idlewild, Williston, Roslyn, and Wyandanch. On May 18, 1948, the first unimpeachable record of a House Finch from off the island was made at Tarrytown, New York, by Lester Walsh, and there are subsequent records from Ridgewood, New Jersey (1949) and Bedford and Armonk, New York (1951). During the winter of 1951-52 a small colony (20-30 birds) was found along the Long Island shore in Greenwich Township, Connecticut. ORIGIN: In May, 1947, Elliott wrote a brief summary of the status of the House Finch on Long Island. At that time there was no clue as to how the species had come into the East, why it had not been noted in other parts of the continent out-side its normal range, and why all known colonies were concentrated on Long Island. Several theories were advanced, including the escape of cage birds, deliberate planting, and the possibility that some birds may have been inadvertently trapped in freight car shipments of nursery plants from the West. It seemed impossible that a characteristically sedentary, or at best only locally migratory species should suddenly appear in numbers, of its own volition, some 1,500 miles from its normal range without a single record from intervening areas. An answer was immediately forthcoming, which at first seemed to solve the riddle of the birds' appearance, though it subsequently raised several corollary problems. The answer came from Dr. Edward Fleisher, of Brooklyn. Fleisher [see his article above] wrote that in January, 1940, he had discovered in a bird store in Brooklyn a large cage with 20 House Finches for sale as "Hollywood Finches." He had previously seen Bohemian Waxwings for sale in this store, and decided to put an end to this traffic in protected American passerines. Meanwhile, the National Audubon Society had taken action locally. Richard Pough had telephoned to 20 local dealers, and found that all carried the species, or had carried it at some time during the four years the treaty had been in effect. Three dealers said they "no longer carried House Finches ... because they were too cheap ... and because they were too wild and did not live long in captivity." Most of the local bird shops were supplied by one wholesaler, who confided to Pough that there was some present trouble about the legality of their sale, and until the matter was straightened out, he could not supply. He thought that in a week or two he could start shipping. He quoted a price of $35 per hundred. He said they would probably get around the difficulty by calling the birds Purple Finches, since, he said, these birds were not protected by the Mexican treaty. In seeking to trace this illegal traffic, the authors canvassed bird shippers known to have engaged in trapping House Finches. Some were no longer in business, others refused to answer, but several replies were informative, and revealed an unsuspected magnitude of the operation. One shipper, located at Reseda, Los Angeles County, California, stated that he had ceased shipping House Finches, known to the trade as "Red-headed Linnets" in 1936, but that many thousands of these birds were shipped by him and almost every other dealer to nearly every state east of the Mississippi. He stated that they were shipped so fast that the State Fish and Game Department put a ban on further shipments. (This may have been the ban imposed in 1940.) To quote him: "Some of the shippers shipped them regardless of the ban, but gave them different names. It is still unlawful to ship these linnets but some of the dealers still ship them under various names. Only about 100 females were shipped to every 1,000 males, the males being the colored ones. They used to breed these males to female canaries. The amount shipped must have run into many thousands but no one can tell just how many. My guess would be about 100,000 or more. No birds were returned to California as they had no value here." Although this information is admittedly unverifiable, there is no reason to doubt its general theme - that many thousands of House Finches were shipped to many eastern states from California by many shippers during a period of years, which practice may still be carried on to a minor degree. And circumstantial evidence, at least, indicates that the surplus unsalable birds were released, perhaps by a single New York bird dealer, when the ban was effected in 1940. There is no evidence that the Long Island population is the result of a Carpodacus-Serinus cross, but canary breeders consulted were unanimous in agreeing that it is possible, and point to a long list of successful hybridization with Serinus and other fringillid genera. However, with all the evidence suggesting a California origin, it is noteworthy that the House Finches of Long Island appear, to all observers who have studied the bird in the field and then compared their impressions with museum specimens, to be extremely dark, dusky, and "smokier" than the average in California populations-indeed-than almost every other race of the species. This obvious duskiness proved baffling at first, and because the birds most closely resembled the populations of Carpodacus mexicanus smithi from Colorado and New Mexico, an entirely different explanation of their appearance on Long Island was sought. The possibility that the Long Island birds might be "sooted" was considered improbable, since the areas frequented by the House Finches on Long Island are suburban, close to the sea, non-industrial, and relatively clean. To date there has been little evidence of sooting in this area among other species with comparable habits. Subsequent examinations of freshly collected specimens from Long Island, however, prove conclusively that these birds are heavily sooted. In New York, Dean Amadon compared newly-collected, washed House Finches with earlier, unwashed specimens from Long Island, and found that the darker color of Long Island birds was attributable to dirt-stained plumage. In California, Alden H. Miller compared two specimens from Long Island with a large series in the collection of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. He reported that he could match them perfectly with individuals taken in the spring in the San Joaquin Valley of California and in the Los Angeles area. At this time of year the House Finches from these California areas show a great degree of individual variation in the degree to which the browns and reds have faded and brightened, respectively. Most of the birds from these areas were lighter and brighter than the Long Island birds, but apparently some individuals, depending on local conditions of exposure, remain much darker than others. From these same areas were found birds that were so dirty that they were actually darker in appearance than the two washed Long Island birds. Miller also compared the Long Island birds with smithi from the Denver district, and concluded that even when sooted, smithi shows broader stripings in both male and female than California birds. His conclusion, which the authors accept, is that the Long Island birds are without doubt C. m. frontalis, from California.
Young Bald Eagle, British Columbia, March 2016
HABITAT AND BEHAVIOR ON LONG ISLAND: In its native West, the House Finch is found in a wide variety of environments. Dawson (Birds of Calif., 1: 214, 1923) speaks of its adaptability as being marvelous, and its success in its new eastern locale is perhaps further proof. According to Grinnell and Miller (Pacific Coast Avif., no. 27: 454, 1944) the habitat in California is remarkably varied, with a great diversity of situations meeting the four apparent requirements of: 1) water within a fairly wide cruising radius; 2) open ground affording growths of low seed-producing plants; 3) fruits and berries during part of the year, these may also substitute for nearby water; 4) places for roosting and nesting above ground level. At all its eastern sites, these requirements are amply met. On Long Island, east of the Lawrence-Hewlett areas, the species resorts principally to ornamental shrub and tree plantations in and around nursery grounds. In the Lawrence-Hewlett area, it 1s found chiefly associated with cultured evergreens on old estates. In the West, the House Finch often nests in outbuildings and around the eaves and porches of houses, on cliffs, in shrubs, trees, hedges, or cactus of any size or height. Thus far on Long Island, the House Finch has confined its nesting to hedges and to coniferous trees of various heights. The first nest discovered on Long Island was well-concealed near the center of the foliage of a 30-inch Austrian pine, about 12 inches from the top; this was the above-mentioned Babylon nest. Other nests in Hewlett and Westbury have been placed in ornamental spruces at heights up to 30 feet. Another nest in Babylon was found in a hedge about five feet from the ground. As in the West, the Long Island birds build their nests of whatever materials may be locally available. The Babylon nest, found in the Austrian pine, was constructed of coarse grasses which made the exterior bulky. The interior was lined with finer grasses and contained little or no thread, floss, down, or string, material often noted in western nests. A nest in Hewlett was woven of slender twigs and rootlets with a lining of fine grasses and spruce needles. FOOD: In the East, the House Finch has not thus far been reported in any of the destructive feeding practices often condemned in California. Its primary items of diet are weed and grass seeds, and the seeds of Cerastrum (mouse-ear chickweed), but it has also been seen feeding on the fruits and berries of some flowering shrubs. In winter, besides eating the fruit of nursery shrubs, it feeds on Rhus (sumac) berries to some extent. During the coldest months, the birds gather in flocks, and especially in the Lawrence-Hewlett area, depend on food set out at feeding stations. Here they often remain until late spring (May) when food becomes otherwise available to them. At Babylon and Westbury feeding stations are not as numerous; this is perhaps the reason for the disappearance of the birds in the winter of 1947-48 in the Babylon area and the increase in numbers farther west. At the feeding stations the preference is for sunflower seeds (the bait which the California trappers cited as most successful); but in the absence of this seed, hemp, millet, rape, and cracked corn are readily consumed. PRESENT STATUS: The House Finch on Long Island is non-migratory, although given to local wandering in winter to procure food. During frequent visits birds were found consistently in the Babylon area from 1942 through 1946, even in winter, although there was a noticeable increase in individuals concentrated here prior to the nesting season of 1946. In the Lawrence-Hewlett area the birds seem to gather in the winter into cohesive flocks, although there is considerable trading back and forth between nearby feeding stations, and almost daily variation in the number of visitors at the numerous feeding stations in the area. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS: The House Finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, is now a resident species in the Eastern United States, with an estimated population (1951) of 280 individuals, located almost entirely in southern Nassau County, Long Island, New York, and in Greenwich Township, Connecticut. The first published record was for April 11, 1941, and the first collected specimen was taken January 17, 1948. The first nest was found in May, 1943. The origin of the House Finch in the East appears to be in the release of caged birds by bird dealers following a ban on their sale commercially, enforced early in 1940. These caged birds had been trapped in California and shipped east in quantities during the preceding ten years. The Long Island birds appear in the field to be extremely dark and dusky; but this appearance is caused by sooting, and washed specimens are identical with specimens of Carpodacus m. frontalis from California. The habitat, behavior, and prospects for the species in the East are discussed. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. In seeking to unravel the mystery of the appearance and history of this western species in this new locale, the authors have been greatly assisted by the professional opinions and advice of Dr. Dean Amadon and Dr. John T. Zimmer of the American Museum of Natural History and Dr. Alden H. Miller of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Information valuable to the study was generously supplied by John L. Bull, Jr., Edward Costich, Richard B. Fischer, Dr. Edward Fleisher, Charles E. Mohr, Richard H. Pough, and Lester Walsh.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC
Glaucous-winged Gull near Westport, Washington state, July 2016