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Migration Bigly: the Central Park Report for late April = Birds are Here.

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Field Sparrow in Central Park by Deborah Allen on 24 April 2016

25 April 2018 Schedule Notes: Bird Walks continue seven days per week. Our schedule page has the details ( - or see below. Yes you can do two walks on the same morning for $10/person...let us know if you want to rent binoculars. This Saturday, 28 April at 4:30pm, we meet at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (Orchard Beach Parking Lot, northeast corner) for a visit to a Great Horned Owl nest with young. The two young are about to fledge. Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show Central Park birds including Palm Warbler and Red-throated Loon (migrants) and Northern Flickers (nesting species). In this week's historical notes we present an amazing 1920s article about the Seaside Sparrow in Central Park on 16 May [1923]. We follow up with the history of the Field Sparrow (see Deborah's photo above) in the NYC area: This little sparrow with the pinkish beak was a fairly common breeding species in the late 19th century until about 1930 in the Bronx and Queens. And it was a common migrant through Central Park and Prospect Park until at least 1960. However, since that time it has become an uncommon migrant in NYC and no longer breeds here so far as I am aware. How and when did this happen locally (not nesting) and regionally (uncommon migrant)? Changes in the flora of the northeast 1930-1990 with grassy meadows becoming woodlands has affected this sparrow significantly - as well as the Vesper Sparrow which also once bred in NYC. Deborah and I detailed the changes to the local and regional flora in several scientific and popular articles we wrote - if interested just send us a note and we will send - or find them here on (publication section). Meanwhile see below for what the historical record has to say about the little Field Sparrow in our area. And we conclude the Historical Notes with John Kieran's summary of sparrows in NYC in 1960. The status of several have changed significantly both in our area and regionally...WHY?

Cerulean Warbler (male) on 30 April 2012 - an early migrant in our area

Deborah Allen sends Photos from Central Park:

Palm Warbler, Turtle Pond, Sunday April 22, 2018:

Northern Flicker Male Vocalizing, Warbler Rock, Sunday, April 22, 2018:

Northern Flicker Pair, Warbler Rock, Sunday April 22,2018:

Red-throated Loon, The Reservoir, Tuesday April 17, 2018:

Seaside Sparrow by Deborah Allen (Central Park on 17 April 2018)

Good! Here are the bird walks for Late April/Early May - each $10*

All walks in Central Park except the Owl Walk!

1. Thursday, 26 April - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle)

2. Friday, 27 April - 9am (only) - Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave)

3. Saturday, 28 April - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Cafe at 74th and East Drive

3a. **OWL WALK** - Saturday, 28 April at 4:30pm. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Email/call for info (and see below).

4. Sunday, 29 April - 7:30am/9:30am - DOCK ON TURTLE POND (not the Boathouse!)

5. Monday, 30 April - 8am/9am - Strawberry Fields - 72nd st. and CPW (Imagine Mosaic)

6. Tuesday, 1 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle)

7. Wednesday, 2 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle)

8. Thursday, 3 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle)

Any questions/concerns send them our way: or call: 718-828-8262

*NOTE: on MORNINGS when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 8am/9am or 7:30/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/ get two for the price of one.

**OWL WALK Saturday, 28 April at 4:30pm. Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx: The owlets (two - we confirmed that last week) are likely to be standing atop the nest. They are about 35-40 days old...and won't be in the nest much longer (perhaps 3-4 days)...Driving to the parking lot is easy - meet us at the northeast corner of the parking lot (straight ahead as you enter the parking lot); if coming by train give yourself ample time because the bus that leaves from the last stop of the #6 train (it is the #29 City Island bus) does not run frequently. Every half hour or so? Check schedule: - ask the Bus Driver to let you off at the "Orchard Beach Circle/City Island Road (also known at the Police Firing Range at Rodman’s Neck) can walk (10 minutes from there or give me a call: 347-703-5554 and I will come and pick you up). Need more info? Call or email us at home.

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here:

The fine print: On Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Dock on Turtle Pond adjacent to Delacorte Theater on the south end of the Great Lawn (approx. 79th street). We also meet here on Tuesday/Wed/Thursday in late April-May-June but only at 9am. On Saturdays, we meet at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. (It is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!). Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= On Fridays, we will meet at Conservatory Garden (105thand 5th Ave) at 9am (only). Finally, Monday walks in meet at Strawberry Fields at 72nd street and Central Park West - look for the “Imagine" Mosaic - we meet on the benches nearby at 8am and again at 9am.

NOTE: on MORNINGS (Sat/Sun/Mon) when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 8am/9am or 7:30am/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/ get two for the price of one. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not, check this 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 11pm 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.

Seaside Sparrow by Richard Nelson on 17 April 2018 in Central Park

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights).

Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Thursday, 19 April (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - a big wave of Hermit Thrushes (100+) arrived overnite along with many Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Northern Flickers. At the Upper Lobe there were 11 Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a Louisiana Waterthrush. At the Pinetum were 5-10 Savannah Sparrows. Perhaps today will be best remembered for the birds still lingering in the park for the last several days: Seaside Sparrow; Summer Tanager; Red-throated Loon; and Barn Owl. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Thursday, 19 April: ------------------- Friday, 20 April (start at Conservatory Garden, Central Park at 9am) - overnite strong winds from the northwest brought cold temps (low of 37f) and very few migrants to the park. We made due with lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets coming in to recorded calls (including nine, yes nine, in one small tree), multiple Hermit Thrushes and a few Northern Flickers. And despite Tom Ahlf's remembering a Bob pledge, "if we don't find a warbler on a bird walk after 15 April, everyone gets double their money back" - we found one Palm Warbler along the Harlem Meer on our way out...or at least I did. Other highlights: a young Peregrine Falcon female was making dives at Red-tailed Hawks with the strong winds; and a male American Kestrel caught a small bird on the south side of the Harlem Meer at 12noon. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Friday, 20 April: ------------------ Saturday, 21 April (Boathouse in Central Park at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - At 7:30am this was no picnic: it was 42f with strong winds from the NW, but at least there was bright sunshine. The Barn Owl was in its usual area near the Boathouse, but well hidden. No one today had good looks at the owl, and so far as we are aware, today was the last day the bird was (partially) seen in the park. Other birds included a newly arrived Blue-headed Vireo and many Hermit Thrushes, Eastern Towhees and some flickers. We are not getting the big flight of warblers just yet. Late Saturday afternoon on an Owl Walk at Pelham Bay Park, we found two Great Horned Owl chicks about four weeks old. In a week they will be ready to hop from the nest to the ground... Deborah Allen's list of birds for Saturday, 21 April: ------------------ Sunday, 22 April (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - of the two weekend days, Sunday featured milder weather and virtually no wind. On the bird side more left overnite than arrived. New were an uptick in the numbers of Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Swamp Sparrows. Gone were the Blue-headed Vireos and most of the Hermit Thrushes and Eastern Towhees. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 22 April: ------------------ Monday, 23 April (start at Strawberry Fields at 8am and again at 9am) - why is it that all the bright yellow American Goldfinches we see in the park are hanging around the bird feeders? Rumors of viagra laced thistle seeds may be true after all. But for today, outside of some newly arrived Black-and-white Warblers, and continuing high numbers of Swamp Sparrows, we remain in a holding pattern until the next southerly flow of air reaches our area. Despite the weather, we managed four warbler species today (Palm, Yellow-rump and Louisiana were the others) and Vicki Seabrook helped greatly finding those. We had especially good looks at a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that came right in over us in response to the recordings from my tape...and a pair of House Wrens seem to be setting up housekeeping in Shakespeare Garden. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 23 April: ----------------- Tuesday, 24 April (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - some birds moved in overnite (Blue Grosbeak found at the North End of the park); and lots more Yellow-rumped Warblers and a few more Palm Warblers. Mostly it was a "going away" party: gone were Black-and-white and both Waterthrushes (warblers), most sparrows: Chipping, Dark-eyed Juncos, All Fox, and many White-throated. We did find two Field Sparrows...but missed on the continuing male Summer Tanager on the west side of the Reservoir. We added Eastern Kingbird (Turtle Pond), and had lots of fun with a Cedar Waxwing flock at the Upper Lobe (eating the ripening seeds of Elm trees - a first for me), Goldfinches at the feeders and Palm Warblers sometimes hopping about our feet. Tom Ahlf recounted his experience with playing with a tiger in North Carolina and I wondered aloud what it was like to walk with a pride of lions..(yes someone in South Africa has his own pride). I'll stick to buying my hamburgers for Deborah and listening to the exploits of the fascinating people on these bird walks). Deborah Allen's list of birds for Tuesday, 24 April: ---------------- Wednesday, 25 April (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - RAIN! Walk was Cancelled.

Pine Warbler - an early migrant and rare NYC breeding species


Seaside Sparrow in Central Park, New York City. Early on the morning of May 16, 1923, I was crossing the bridge over the Lake leading to the Ramble on my daily tour of inspection, and was astounded to see a perfectly good Seaside Sparrow running down the rain gutter about ten feet ahead of me, in its characteristic crouching and secretive manner. Apparently it imagined that the salt marsh grass was there, as it stopped and permitted a leisurely observation in full view. A few minutes later I spied Dr. Ellsworth Eliot in the distance, who correctly interpreted my violent signals, and came running up, also to gaze upon the sparrow now crouched under a scraggly bush on the bank. A half hour later I returned with Mr. and Miss Capen. The Sparrow was under the same bush, and was apparently bewildered and dumbfounded. The salt marsh grass was lacking, and it did not seem to know what to do, so it did nothing. We were able to walk up to within 15 feet, and if it ran three feet to another bush, it would run back again in a few minutes. This was sufficient to start the Park "bird-telegraph" going, and when I dropped in again at noon several people kindly informed me that there was a Seaside Sparrow in the Ramble! No bird is more strictly confined to its chosen habitat than this Sparrow, which is really accidental anywhere except in the salt marshes where it breeds. There was a colony in a marsh containing salt springs at Piermont, N.Y., on the west bank of the Hudson, just north of the New Jersey State line, but it has not been visited for many years, and I do not know whether it still exists. There is no record in the New York City Region of the Seaside Sparrow anywhere away from its breeding grounds. The preceding night was cooler than normal, with dense fog the first half. -- Ludlow Griscom, American Museum of Natural History.

Seaside Sparrow by Linda Yuen who originally found the bird on 15 April 2018

Long Island Bird Notes - 1909 On June 20, in company with two friends, I found about twenty nests of the Seaside and Sharp-tailed Sparrow on the salt meadows off Freeport [Nassau Co., Long Island]. Some nests were incomplete, others with incomplete sets and full sets of eggs, others with young birds and from some the young birds had already flown. A beautiful nest of each with four eggs was taken and are attractive objects in my collection. The nests of both species are skillfully lodged in the thick meadow grass a few inches above the ground, thus permitting a tide to overflow the meadows to a considerable extent without reaching the nest. ----------------------------------------------- The Field Sparrow [1905] Spizella pusilla A DELIGHTFUL bird is the Field Sparrow, about the size of the Chipping Sparrow, but within the city limits not nearly so abundant. It breeds regularly in the Borough of Queens and is found in vacant or waste land, partly wooded. The bird arrives early from the South and its cheerful song is one of the very first to be heard, often as early as the end of March. He is a persistent as well as a delightful songster, generally delivering his song from the topmost branches of some half grown tree or large shrub; also from telegraph wires. This bird has the longest season of song of any which breed within the city limits, excepting only the Song Sparrow. The singing season, which commences upon its arrival from the South, say April 1st, continues well into September. The Field Sparrow builds its nest of dried grasses and rootlets and it is usually placed in a thick clump of bushes, wild rose and briar being favorites, a foot or more from the ground. I have found nests, however, built upon the ground under sheltering tufts of dried grass and also in small cedar trees as much as six feet up. The eggs are of a grayish color thickly spotted, and four is the usual number. In 1902, however, I examined some dozen nests on Long Island all of which had three eggs or three young birds; not a single one I found that year contained as many as four, while the next year all the nests in the same locality contained four eggs or four young birds, - not one that I saw had less. Like most other Sparrows this species is largely a seed eater though insects form a considerable portion of its diet. =============================== Field Sparrow in the NYC region (1923) - A common summer resident of fields and pastures throughout the area, wintering regularly and occasionally in some numbers near the coast. The first birds arrive during the middle of March, but transients are passing through up to the middle of May. The fall migration lasts from the end of September to the middle of November, when there is a marked song season. Long Island. Common summer resident, a few in winter, 15 March to 21 December. ORIENT [Long Island]. Locally common summer resident, occasional in winter, 15 March 1920 to 2 December 1920. MASTIC [LI]. Fairly common summer resident, uncommon in winter. LONG BEACH [LI]. Regular transient, often common in the fall; 1 April 1916 (Bicknell) to 21 May 1916 (Janvrin); 10 October 1918 (Bicknell) to 6 November 1910 (Griscom) and 12 December 1918 (Bicknell). New York State. Unrecorded in winter at Ossining (Fisher). CENTRAL PARK. Common transient; 12 March 1905 (Mix) and 4 April 1913 (Griscom) to 26 May 1913 (Griscom); 23 September 1913 (Hix) to 9 November 1910 (Griscom). BRONX REGION. Common summer resident, regular and sometimes common in winter; 19 March 1912 (Griscom) to December. -------------------- Field Sparrow in Central Park and Prospect Park (1924-1957) Central Park. Common transient, frequent in winter. 5 September 1957 (Peter Post) to 26 May 1913 (Griscom) and 6 June 1953 and 8 June 1954 (Carleton); also seen in summer: 7 July 1956 (Paula Messing). Arrivals noted as early as 21 March 1942 (Carleton). Prospect Park. Fairly Common transient: 20 March 1945 (Soll) to 18 May 1952 (Restivo); in autumn 13 September 1941 (Grant) and 5 October 1952 (Restivo) to 18 November 1939 (Grant); two December records. Maximum 15 on 12 October 1944 (Ferguson). -------------------- NYC Sparrows.1960. John Kieran (excerpt from, A Natural History of New York City) - That brings us down to the last great group of birds of the region, the sparrows and their allies, the largest and most familiar of which is the Rufous-sided Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), a formidable name for such a common and friendly summer resident. You may call it the Chewink if you please. Both the male and female often announce themselves by uttering something approximating that name. Because of the dark head and chestnut flanks of the male and the way the birds scratch for food in dead leaves on the floor of woods and thickets, some persons call them Ground Robins. It's curious how much noise they can make scratching among the leaves. Other common summer residents are the cheerful and musical Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), the Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana), the Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), and, in fewer numbers, the Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla). The Song and Swamp Sparrows are permanent residents to the extent that they may be found every month in the year; even a few Field Sparrows may spend the winter in our territory. As far as I know, these are the only species breeding regularly in the Spuyten Duyvil-Riverdale-Van Cortlandt Park sector and I believe they are just as numerous as summer residents over similar terrain in other parts of the city. But we have no tidal marshes in our neighborhood, nor do we have the rural sections that still remain on Staten Island. I suspect that Richmond County is the summer home of more species of sparrow than any other city division can boast because it has both tidal marshes and upland woods and fields. Only the salt-marsh species nest in the grasses of Jamaica Bay, Flushing Bay, and Pelham Bay. But whether it be on Staten Island, in the Long Island sections of the city, or the East Bronx, there are half a dozen more breeding species that must be added to our list of summer-resident sparrows. They are the Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), the Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), the Henslow's Sparrow (Passerherbulus henslowii), the Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), and those two skulkers that dodge in and out of the dark aisles made by the stiff stalks of the salt-marsh grasses, the Sharp-tailed Sparrow (Ammospiza caudacuta) and the Seaside Sparrow (Ammospiza maritima). Of that group the only one whose song is worth listening to is the Vesper Sparrow, which, to my ears, sounds like a much-improved Song Sparrow with a touch of melancholy added for artistry. The vocal offerings of the Savannah, the Grasshopper, the Sharp-tail, and the Seaside Sparrows could pass as beady and buzzy insect notes. As for the short and ridiculous song of the Henslow's Sparrow, it sounds as though the bird were attempting to stop a dribble. That about completes the list of our summer sparrows, to which we must add the roster of our regular migrants and winter residents or visitors. One of the most abundant of our migrants and one also fairly common as a winter resident is the friendly little Slate-colored Junco (Junco hyemalis) with dark upper parts and white outer tail feathers that show plainly as the bird flits about lawns and roadsides. It usually puts in an appearance about the first of October and within a few weeks it is everywhere on the ground in the region in the woods, along the roadsides, on lawns, and in the shrubbery of the parks and private estates. About the beginning of December the big rush is over and we have with us only the scattered flocks that wander about the region throughout the winter. Many of them turn up at dooryard feeding stations. The northward traffic begins in late winter, reaches a peak in April, and May finds only a few lingerers or belated travelers. Next in abundance as a migrant and in regularity as a winter resident is the handsome White-throated Sparrow (Zononotrichia albicollis), the "Peabody Bird" of Canada. Even more handsome but far fewer in numbers as a migrant and more or less accidental in winter is the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). An artist friend once remarked to me that he wished he were rich enough to give up painting magazine covers and spend the remainder of his life painting sparrows. He said they were the most beautiful of all our birds. I didn't debate the point, but I'm sure the White-crowned Sparrow was not the least of the tribe on his mind when he made the remark. It must be that the Whitethroats outnumber the White-crowns by at least 200 to 1 on migration through our region, and yet anyone who keeps his eyes open will have little difficulty in finding White-crowns in our territory in October (one reason is that they seem to prefer cleared ground and lawns to underbrush for feeding purposes and thus are more readily observed). The Ipswich Sparrow (Passerculus princeps - a race of the Savannah Sparrow) is a late autumn migrant and an early spring migrant along the ocean front and through the salt marshes that are the summer home of the Sharp-tailed and the Seaside Sparrow, and a few occasionally are turned up as winter residents. Farther inland the Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) regularly moves through the region in small numbers that for the most part go undetected or at least unrecognized by many watchers of the wild. Except for a buffy band across the breast that often is difficult to see, they look much like Song Sparrows and they are masters at dodging out of sight over a wall, into a tangle of vines, or down low in thick shrubbery before you can get a look at them. The Ipswich Sparrows are more obliging. Occasionally they move sedately around the outside of a patch of grass by a tide pool and sometimes the pace is so leisurely that they actually walk, which is a strange gait for a sparrow. But the Ipswich Sparrow is a strange bird. It breeds only on Sable Island, Nova Scotia, a narrow strip of land only twenty miles long, and it winters along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Georgia. In other words, its summer range is twenty miles and its winter range is something over a thousand miles. It's called the Ipswich Sparrow because the first specimen was collected at Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1868. You are lucky if you see either the Lincoln's Sparrow or the Ipswich Sparrow on migration through our territory, but you should not miss the large, reddish-brown, well-spotted, and sweet-singing Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca) that is a late autumn and early spring migrant in flocks of fair size and a regular winter resident in small numbers. For a sparrow it is really a distinguished vocalist and its spring aria, though short, is a fancy bit of warbling or whistling. One more of the tribe that we have on the premises each year in round numbers is the handsome and cheerful Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea) that I always expect to arrive about the first of November to settle down for the winter in the Van Cortlandt swamp and other favorable localities. Snowstorms, high winds, and low temperatures apparently have no effect on the blithe spirits of these neatly marked and delicately tinted sparrows and many a cold gray day in January has been lightened for me by meetings with flitting flocks of them going briskly about their business to the musical accompaniment of their tinkling call notes. I look for Tree Sparrows in the Van Cortlandt swamp each winter and never have they failed me. I look for the Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) and the Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) whenever I cross the nearby Parade Ground on my way to the swamp and not more than a dozen times in thirty years did I find them. These residents of the Arctic are regular winter visitors in our territory and they like the same kind of terrain on which Horned Larks occur. Indeed, they often travel in company with Northern Horned Larks. But Northern Horned Larks are regular and sometimes abundant feeders on the Parade Ground in cold weather, whereas Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings are merely occasional visitors. December 19, 1951, remains a notable day for me, because on that morning I found seventeen Snow Buntings there. In our general region the Longspurs and Snow Buntings favor the ocean beaches and flat areas nearby when they come down from the north in November. Search for them on parking lots behind the ocean beaches. What may look like hard bare ground to you may well be covered with wind-blown grass and weed seeds on which they can feed. Seaside golf courses and airports are favorite landing strips for them. I live in hope that someday an inspired enthusiast will chalk up on the bulletin board at Idlewild International Airport: "Now arriving from Labrador: Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings!" It could easily be true any day in late autumn or early winter.


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

Northern Waterthrush by Doug Leffler: a fairly common warbler migrant in our area

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