• Robert DeCandido PhD

The Kirtland's Warbler: Psycho Birding at its Best!

Updated: Mar 1

16 May 2018 Schedule Notes: Bird Walks continue seven days per week through 11 June. If you can make it to an early walk (7:30am on weekends, 8am on Mondays) you will have the best experience. When it is cloudy and/or raining the birds are lower, easier to see, and more likely to approach the group closely due to calls from my speaker. So don't disregard "bad" weather days: such days are often best for birding. Our schedule page on our web site lists all our upcoming walks: https://www.birdingbob.com/birdwalks - or see below.

If you were away from NYC this past week you missed the Kirtland's Warbler (see photo above) first found on Friday, 11 May at about 91st street and the West Drive. The discovery of this bird (the first ever for Central Park and only the third ever seen in NYS) created craziness, zaniness and a lot of foot traffic of birder psychos running towards the northwest corner of the Reservoir.

The Kirtland Warbler migrates from its wintering area in the Bahamas to North/South Carolina. From there it heads due northwest over the Appalachian Mountains, and NOT north along the Atlantic Coast. This bird took a wrong turn to somehow be discovered in Central Park - a true needle in a haystack. It is a rare warbler in North America because its habitat requirements are very specific: ONLY young Jack Pine forests (average height of the pines must be about 10 feet) where it nests on the ground. It breeds in the upper midwest (primarily Michigan), and estimates of current population suggest 5,000 individuals (up from 200 or so in the early 1990s) - and almost all are banded. The photo above shows an unbanded young male and according to Deborah Allen:

"the Kirtland's that was here from at least 11 May through at least Sunday 13 May (last seen approx.8:45am on our bird walk) was a first-spring (second-year) male. After examining photos taken this morning, I was able to determine the age and sex of this Kirtland's Warbler. The bird has worn brown primary coverts with narrow pale edges that contrast with the fresher greater coverts (lower wing bars) an indication of a second-year (first-spring) bird. Seen from below its (his) outer rectrices (tail feathers) are the rounded feathers of a second-year (first-spring) bird rather than the truncate feathers of an after-hatch-year (adult) bird. This young male lacks the dark lores and deep yellow throat and breast of an adult male bird. For these and other plumage criteria see: Pyle, Peter. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part 1. Slate Creek Press. Bolinas, California." For more photos and also information about our experience seeing this bird on the bird walk, see below. Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show birds from Central Park: Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole as well as more Kirtland's Warbler images. In this week's historical notes we present (a) the Connecticut Warbler in Central Park on 16 May 1912: like the Kirtland's Warbler, the spring migration of this species is nowhere near Central Park but every 25-50 years a Connecticut Warbler is found in the park in SPRING (in autumn it is a regular but rare/uncommon migrant along the east coast); (b) breeding warblers from the NYC region including Parula Warbler (Long Island 1882); Blue-winged Warbler (LI 1907); Black-and-white Warbler (LI 1907); Prothonotary Warbler (New Jersey 1924); and Prothonotary Warbler (LI 1979). --- NYC Weather Summary for April 2018 by Rob Frydlewicz: "Like four of the past five months, April was colder than average. (February 2018, the mildest on record, was the outlier.) This was the chilliest April since 1975, 3.5 degrees below average. Eight days had mean temperatures ten degrees or more colder than average (and half of the month's days were five degrees or more below average). Just three days had highs of 70f+, the fewest since April 2000. Two of them were back-to-back: 82f and 77f on 4/13 and 4/14. Earlier that week the month's coldest temperature, 32f, was posted on consecutive days, on-par with what the coldest reading is during a typical April (33f). However, the number of days with highs chillier than 50° (nine) and lows in the 30s (sixteen) was well above average (three and five days, respectively)." "April was also a wet month, with 5.78" of precipitation measured, making it the third month in a row to receive more than five inches (5.83" fell in February, 5.17" in March). The last time this occurred was August-October 2011. More than half of the month's precipitation fell during a rainstorm on 4/15-16 that dropped 3.29", the biggest deluge since April 30, 2014. Finally, Easter, which fell on 4/1, was sunny and pleasant, with a high of 60f. However, 5.5" of snow fell the next morning (forcing postponement of the Yankees' home opener). This was the biggest snowfall in April since 1982." "April 2018 was just one of three Aprils since 1970 to have an average temperature below 50.0 degrees (coming in at 49.5 degrees). Before 1970, however, April temperatures this cool were much more common, with half of the Aprils between 1869 and 1969 being that chilly. Therefore, when compared to all Aprils, this April ranks as 44th coolest overall. Finally, March and April 2018 combined were the coldest first two months of meteorological spring since 1984, and the third coldest in the years since 1970."

Adult male Baltimore Oriole in a Redbud tree (Central Park) on 3 May 2018 by Deborah Allen

Deborah Allen sends Photos from Central Park:

Male Black-throated Blue Warbler, The Ramble, Saturday May 5, 2018:


Male Black-throated Green Warbler, Tanner’s Spring, Monday May 7, 2018:


Preening Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Gill Overlook, Thursday May 3, 2018:


Adult Male Baltimore Oriole in Redbud, The Point, Thursday May 3, 2018:


First-spring Male Kirtland’s Warbler, near the Reservoir, Saturday May 12, 2018:


https://www.photo.net/photo/18473650/First-spring-Male-Kirtland-s-Warbler Deborah Allen's web site for bird photos: http://www.agpix.com/results.php?agid=DeAl12

First spring male Kirtland's Warbler in a European Turkey Oak in Central Park on 3 May 2018 by Deborah Allen

Good! Here are the bird walks for mid-late May - each $10***

All walks in Central Park 1. Thursday, 17 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) 2. Friday, 18 May - 9am (only) - Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave) 3. Saturday, 19 May - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Cafe at 74th and East Drive 4. Sunday, 20 May - 7:30am/9:30am - Dock on Turtle Pond 5. Monday, 21 May - 8am/9am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) 6. Tuesday, 22 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) 7. Wednesday, 23 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) 8. Thursday, 24 May - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle) Any questions/concerns send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net 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/person...you get two for the price of one. Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8

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 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 (= rdcny@earthlink.net). 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.

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 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.

Nashville Warbler, adult male, in Central Park by Bruno Boni de Oliveira on 15 May 2018

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

Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Thursday, 10 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - Deborah Allen led the bird walk today while I had a private walk with a group from Germany...what a wonderful time we had particularly since there were so many more birds today than yesterday. Highlights include the young male Blue Grosbeak feeding out in the open on the ground in front of us; two female Cape May Warblers coming in close to calls from my tape at the Upper Lobe (while birders who disagree with what I do watched from nearby - they liked the Cape Mays!); a male Blue-winged Warbler at the top of the Upper Lobe a few feet from us (thanks tape); and a Black-throated Green Warbler that came down to perch a foot away from us and watched our group for 30 seconds - and headed back to the tree tops. Again, the judicious use of sound makes for a wonderful experience for groups of people. As an educator I see the smiles and hear the minds thinking. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Thursday, 10 May: https://tinyurl.com/y77uos9q -------------------

Friday, 11 May (start at Conservatory Garden, Central Park at 9am) - though 18 warbler species were found at the north end of the park (and at least 15 on the bird walk), it did not seem like a busy day. Unless that is you saw the way Deborah dashed from our Bronx home at 4:30pm to head back to Central Park to see/photograph the Kirtland's Warbler (a first for Central Park and perhaps the third record for New York State. This is a mega rare sighting.) Meanwhile, the Kirtland's eclipsed the amazing Kentucky Warbler that Will Papp (along with sister Mindy) and nearby Tom Ahlf found along the Loch. That Kentucky (sadly a skulker and despite long waits, could not be re-found by everyone on our walk) would have been the highlight of the day. Also, despite the lower park reporting many Cape Mays in a single tree (the Honey-locust - a non-native species in the NYC area), we had none at the north end...nor did we see a Canada Warbler either. How we made 18 warbler species total, I don't know. That being said, the highlights were male Blackburnian Warbler close to us at the west side of the Loch (and a Nashville Warbler nearby that David Barrett found - though his sighting was eclipsed by the Blackburnian). Also, Emmet and Mary Logan finding a few distant Indigo Buntings that we brought closer to us for better looks...Notably absent were any ducks on the Harlem Meer. There was a time when the Gadwall was a regular early May resident on the Meer - so what happened this year? Deborah Allen's list of birds for Friday, 11 May: https://tinyurl.com/y7j95xvs ------------------ Saturday, 12 May (Boathouse in Central Park at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - If we only showed people the 20 warbler species we expected to find it would have been a pretty good day. BUT, we added to that total with one more, the Kirtland's Warbler that everyone seems to know about now. That made 21 warblers seen on the two bird walks...and the first time anyone has ever seen a Kirtland's Warbler in NYC or anywhere in our area. All was not rosy - it was a rainy day. Yes the birds were lower and came in easily and quickly to calls from my tape. But seeing them through sometimes blurry optics (raindrops on the glass will do this) was maddening...and for Leon Zhu and a couple of other photographers on the walk, the overcast skies meant poor light - so despite having warblers and others in front of our noses it was almost impossible to "capture" them unless of course they captured our minds and hearts. Hopefully folks had enough fun they want to go see birds again...Ironically on days such as today when we have 10-15 birds in a tree right in front of us it is too much for new birders to process. Thank Goodness then for the Black-and-white Warbler - that is indeed the one warbler they will remember. Beyond that for many today it was impressions of color: what (and where on the bird) was yellow or blue or stripes or spots or streaks? It takes time to sort through the details and then the bird has moved! Nothing ventured nothing gained: for those who know well a day with Bay-breasted, Cape May (multiple), Wilson's (10 or more), Canada, Blackburnian...and the Kirtland's - today was a day to remember in Central Park history. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Saturday, 12 May: https://tinyurl.com/y8rubz6v ------------------ Sunday, 13 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - another dreary overcast day - but at least the rain did not begin in earnest until after 12noon. Deborah called it a Psycho Birding day between crazed birders running around to find the Kirtland's Warbler (not seen after approx 9am; our 7:30am walk found it easily), and so many birds in the trees above us - all back-lit when up high. Thankfully the recordings brought many birds lower: I remember eye-level Black-throated Green and Magnolia Warblers, and a Blackburnian male and female just a few feet above our head. In between those easy ones we also had looks at a couple Prairie Warblers (late for them), Nashville, one lovely Bay-Breasted...23 warbler species in all. It was one of the highest total warbler days we've ever had - and we've been doing this since 1992. (I think the highest # of warbler species in a single day was 24 on one of our walks.) At the end, despite my warnings no fights broke out though someone did post a glowing review of the bird walk on Trip Advisor while someone else absolutely hated it writing he knew the birds must be stressed and I was playing awful sounds from my speaker. Oh well... Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 13 May: https://tinyurl.com/y9cuht3v ------------------ Monday, 14 May (start at Strawberry Fields at 8am and again at 9am) - the morning started out as yesterday: overcast, damp and cool. Migrants were calling in many places (though less than yesterday) - and I was easily able to bring in several warbler species (+Lincoln Sparrow and male Indigo Bunting). I tweeted my results (see the Manhattan Bird Alert created by David Barrett on Twitter). Soon a young man arrived sans binoculars wanting to see an Indigo Bunting - and I used the alarm call of a Yellow-throated Vireo to summon it back (sans Lincoln Sparrow and half as many warblers). It was his first look at the electric blue Indigo - and it was perhaps 10 feet away in the bare branches of a Sumac tree. Once the walk began, the early birders (8am) had the best experience: the weather stayed cool and overcast. By 9am the skies were clearing and birds tended to respond less well to the recordings - or became "flighty" meaning one would land and another warbler species would chase it away...making viewing maddening of these tiny active birds. However, we also had really good looks at other individuals - so no rule is 100% here...and for me, it is difficult to know when to revert to only pishing or add in the recorded calls...perhaps there is no answer to that or no right way. (You've heard the expression, "It was like herding cats"?) Anyway, with that caveat, we still managed 21 warbler species (including a male Cerulean Warbler at the Upper Lobe), very close Black-and-whites, Black-throated Green...and when told to perch on a branch as it was flying by (and playing the "perch" call) a male Tree Swallow perched just over the path along the Reservoir for folks to see and study. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 14 May: https://tinyurl.com/y9wlabd3 ----------------- Tuesday, 15 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - a warm day that set a record for high temperature for the date (92f). With such conditions (bright sunshine and 80f at the start of the walk) bringing birds in via the tape is difficult. Where we normally get several warbler species plus a vireo or two, we are lucky to get 2-3 warbler species. All good sightings came in the Ramble where it is cooler/shadier and away from tall oak trees. Highlights today were male Blackburnian (Summer House), female Blackburnian (Indian Cave) both giving long looks as they came in slowly. We also had Olive-sided Flycatcher for most, but the trio of Wood Ducks, with one male coming within 20 feet of us) was great - thanks to the use of a female Wood Duck call. We missed the Mourning Warblers reported on the west side of the Ramble - but so did many other people looking for it at 11:30am when we were in the area. So with a lone Great Crested Flycatcher following us through the west side of the Ramble (it seemed fascinated with vireo alarm calls), we were happy with 18 warbler species seen/heard, but gosh darn I sure wish the male Prairie would have shown itself at Turtle Pond rather than singing up a storm! Oh well - bright sunshine and warm weather... Deborah Allen's list of birds for Tuesday, 15 May: https://tinyurl.com/ybl626mv ----------------

Wednesday, 16 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - Rain! We had to move fast to beat the rain if we were to see birds. In our favor was the temperature (coolish - about 65f) and overcast skies. I knew birds would come in close - and there were lots of them. We tallied 19 total warbler species...but the best bird was the Bicknell's Thrush seen in the Ramble singing a partial song and making call notes. In a coming Newsletter issue, we will paint a portrait of Bicknell (E.P. for Eugene Pintard Bicknell of Riverdale in the Bronx) and the bird of Adirondack mountaintops. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Wednesday, 16 May: https://tinyurl.com/y9xp48e7

Nashville Warbler, adult male, in Michigan by Doug Leffler on 4 May 2018


The Connecticut Warbler in Central Park, New York City (1912). I was fortunate enough to find an individual of the Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis) in Central Park on May 16. The bird was a male in curious plumage, as there was not the usual amount of slate-gray on the breast. At first sight I thought it was a Nashville Warbler, but soon noticed it walking on the ground, with its tail up in the air, and then obtained a view of its breast. It was absurdly tame, and was within eight feet of me, when first observed. During the day I showed it to about ten bird students. Mr. W. deW. Miller, of the American Museum of Natural History, came over in the afternoon, and four of us leaned in a row on a fence, while the bird walked unconcernedly around catching flies, not more than 15 feet from us. We were able to make out every detail, including the elongated tail-coverts. Part of the time the bird was so close that I was unable to focus on it with my binoculars. The Warbler remained in the Park in the rhododendron bushes for six days, walking about frequently in the open. This species is apparently a very rare spring migrant along the Atlantic Coast. Ludlow Griscom, New York City. ================== Notes from Shelter Island [1882]. Blue Yellow-backed Warbler [= Northern Parula Warbler]. June 12 [1882], took a set of six eggs, being the second set of that number taken by me. Once found a nest containing eight, but was satisfied it belonged to two females. One nest found contained two eggs and one of the Cowbird. It is a mystery how the Cowbird gets into the nest of the blue yellow back. (Does this not tend to confirm the theory advanced that the Cowbird and Cuckoo of Europe lay their eggs on the ground and place them in the nest with the beak? Ed.) W. W. Worthington. ================= Bird Notes for 1907. The spring of this year was a most unusually late one and bird migration was, in consequence, quite irregular. A brief but very warm spell in March brought many of the early spring migrants ahead of their usual time, while the inclement weather of April and a large portion of May delayed many of the later species. Blue-winged Warbler [1907]. A single male Blue-winged Warbler in fine plumage was observed by me the end of May in a small piece of scrub-oak and chestnut near Floral Park [Nassau Co., LI on the border w/ Queens], just outside the limits of Greater New York. This bird was undoubtedly breeding and it is the first one I have ever seen or heard singing on Long Island during the breeding season. Black-and-white Warbler [1907]. While the Black and White Warbler is seen on Long Island every year during the summer season, I found my first nest of this species on May 29th. The nest contained four slightly incubated eggs and one Cowbird egg. It was situated in a little bank by the side of a roadway leading through a piece of woods. ============== Nesting of the Prothonotary Warbler in Northern New Jersey. On 30 June 1924, Rev. W. D. Quattlebaum of East Orange, New Jersey, discovered a Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) entering a hole in a stump near the Passaic River at a point between West Caldwell and Pine Brook, New Jersey. This interesting news was reported and on July 5, we accompanied him to the spot. Here, situated within one hundred and fifty feet of one of the busiest auto roads of northern New Jersey, we were shown what we believe to be the first breeding record for this bird in the State. The nest site was in a decayed red-birch stump, the opening being 8 feet from the ground, within a foot from the top and facing southeast. The site was one hundred feet from the river proper, but during the spring rains the river had overflowed much of this territory and upon receding had left a number of small ponds. On the edge of one of these the nest stump was located. The two most common trees near this site were the red-birch (Betula nigra) and the silver maple (Acer saccharinum), while poison ivy (Rhus radicans) over-ran everything on or near the ground. Upon investigation we found that the nest contained two young. Both parents entered the nest-hole with food and with little concern because of our presence, the male singing frequently. On July 9, the birds were observed by Messrs Quattlebaum, W. DeWitt Miller, W. G. Van Name and Carter, the two young birds being banded by the last. Again the male was in full song. At dawn on July 11, we found that heavy rains had caused the river to again overflow, the ground about the nest site being flooded. While we were not prepared for this emergency and did not visit the nest, observations from the road disclosed the birds entering the nest-hole, and the male was heard to sing occasionally. Messrs. Maunsell S. Crosby and Ludlow Griscom visited the spot the same day, arriving about noon, and while both parents were observed, they were not seen to visit the nest and the young were not in evidence. It is possible that the nest was vacated during the forenoon. On July 13, Howland did not find the birds in the vicinity. The diameter of the opening to the nest-hole was one and three-eighth inches, the nest being two inches below the opening. The nest was composed principally of decayed leaves, plant stems, a little moss and plant fiber, the cup being lined with very fine rootlets, fine grasses and leaf stems, a little moss and a strand or two of horse-hair. The cup was two and one quarter inches in diameter, one and one-quarter inches in depth. The cup was entirely open on one side, the nest conforming to the shape of the inside of the trunk. The nest was most compact and weighed five sixteenths of an ounce.-- R. H. Howland, T. Donald Carter, American Museum of Natural History, New York City. ========================================= PROTHONOTARY WARBLER BREEDING ON LONG ISLAND [1979] After a number of years in which male Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) have been found singing during the month of June, the first nesting of the species on Long Island has been confirmed. The first sighting occurred on 6 June, 1979, when a male was discovered singing at the Nissequogue River State Park in Smithtown, Suffolk County, by Park Naturalist Gregory Mertz and the writer. Mr. Mertz saw the bird fly to a hole in a stump; thereafter we saw both a male and a female make repeated visits to this hole. On 10 June I saw the adults feeding two young in the nest, and on 12 June, Adrian Dignan and I visited the site and again saw two young. Mr. Dignan returned on 13 June to photograph the birds; his photographs later revealed that there were three young. On 16 June the young were no longer in the nest, although the adults still made occasional visits to the nest-hole. At this point, we wondered whether the young had actually fledged or had been victims of a predator, but on 18 June Richard Houghton saw an adult Prothonotary feeding one newly fledged young bird, and a few days later, Park Naturalist Jack Cahill saw two young being fed. On 12 September I returned to the site and made some measurements. The lip of the cavity was three feet, ten inches from the base of the stump; the cavity was three inches wide and four inches high; the depth of the cavity from the lip was three inches. The stump was that of a red maple (Acer rubrum), according to Mr. Cahill. The nest itself consisted of grass, strips of purplish bark, perhaps of fox grape, (Vitis labrusca), short pieces of very thin twigs or stems with tiny, crumbly seed-pods, and small, dry pieces of sphagnum moss. Edgar M. Reilly, Jr. (1968, Audubon Illustrated Handbook of American Birds, p. 399) describes the nest of this species as being made of "mosses and lined with grape bark, rootlets, and fine grasses; built in cavities or holes in trees or stumps 3-30 ft. above the ground, but generally below 10 ft." The nest was in an eight-foot stump that leaned out from the bank of a quiet stretch of water leading to a quarter-acre fishing pond; part of the base of the stump was submerged. The low banks of this narrow stretch were lined with sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) which were crowded around the stump. In the immediate vicinity were two red maples with four-inch trunks, one red maple with a one-and-a-half-inch trunk, a black oak (Quercus velutina) of the same size and a slender young tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). These trees and shrubs provided good cover from the bank, while the nest-hole faced obliquely over the water, easily accessible to the adults. This first breeding record for Long Island had been anticipated for several years. A singing male was recorded at Manorville, Suffolk County, on 10-11 June, 1961. Barbara Spencer discovered a singing male at Mill Neck, Nassau County, on 1 June, 1969, and again on 5 June, 1976, in an area of streams, red maples, and tupelos. In Spring, 1979, a male and a female were observed at Manorville, according to David Larsen; these birds disappeared and are not known to have nested. There are other such sightings on Long Island. The Prothonotary Warbler is a southern species that has been extending its range to the north. According to John Bull (1974, Birds of New York State, p. 464), the species was not reported with any regularity in the state until the 1920's and 1930's. The first nesting record was in 1931 at Old Orchard Swamp, near Alabama, Genesee County, where there is now a "permanent colony" of the species. Other such colonies listed by Bull are at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in Seneca and Cayuga counties and at Oneida Lake in Onondaga County. Maxwell C. Wheat, Jr. 333 Bedell Street, Freeport, New York 21520

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

Birdwatcher Central Park in Infra-red Black-and-white on 8 May 2011 (rdc)