Sniper Birding: Central Park in October
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
17 October 2018 - Wilson's Snipe Issue Notes: weather looks good for this weekend...and mark your calendar for the next Owl walk: Monday evening 5 November (night before election day) at Inwood Hill Park in upper Manhattan for Eastern Screech-owls. Details to follow in the next couple of weeks.
This week's Newsletter is mostly devoted to the Wilson's Snipe (see photo above). On Sunday, 14 October, a Wilson's Snipe was found on the Great Lawn in Central Park (photo below). Fortunately the lawn was closed to people for the day so many folks got good looks of the Snipe sitting in plain sight. Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen, Doug Leffler and rdc featuring the Wilson's (Common) Snipe and other migrant birds seen recently in Central Park. In this week's historical notes we present information on one bird (the Wilson's Snipe) and the flora of one park (Pelham Bay Park, Bronx). The Snipe is an uncommon migrant in NYC parks these days but 100+ years ago it was a favorite of hunters on Long Island and New Jersey. We present several short articles below tracing its status in the NYC area from 1880-present with notes on its occurrence in Central (Manhattan) and Prospect (Brooklyn) Parks. The article on the flora of Pelham Bay Park is from 20 October 1957 and describes some of the plants in the area of the newly constructed New England thruway that bisected the northern half of that park.
Wilson's Snipe on Great Lawn, Central Park on 14 October by Deborah Allen
Good! Here are the bird walks for mid-October - each $10***
All Bird Walks in Central Park 1. Friday, 19 October - 9:00am (ONLY!) - Conservatory Garden at 105th st. and 5th Ave. 2. Saturday, 20 October - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe in Central Park. 3. Sunday, 21 October - 7:30am/9:30am - Meet at the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park. 4. Monday, 22 Oct. - 8:00am/9:00am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) at 72 st/CPW. Any questions/concerns send them our way: email@example.com or call: 718-828-8262 (home) ***NOTE: on MORNINGS when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 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 Saturdays and Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive). Please note: the Boathouse 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 (= firstname.lastname@example.org). On Mondays we meet at 8am and again at 9am at Strawberry Fields (the benches near the "Imagine" Mosaic. Enter the park at 72nd street and Central Park West and walk about 1 minute due east on the main, paved path and find the Mosaic - we are sitting nearby. On Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden located at 105th street and 5th Avenue. Enter through the main gates and walk down the steps - head straight ahead along the long, grassy area - we meet by the giant water spout between the men's room and the women's room. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: info will be posted on the main landing page of this web site 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 and Monday 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. Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.
Swamp Sparrow by Doug Leffler
Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights).
Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best: Friday, 12 October (Conservatory Garden at 105th St. and 5th Avenue at 9am) - wind was the name of the game today - strong wind from the north-northwest. And with cooler temperatures (high 60s), diurnal migrants were on the move. At Inwood Hill Park in northern Manhattan, David Barrett counted 28 migrating Bald Eagles; at Cape May in NJ, counters tallied 5,500+ American Kestrels, their second highest single-day total. In other words, the mild weather so far this late summer-early autumn left many birds north of us, and the change in weather provided the impetus (and winds) to move south. In Central Park the most obvious migrants were the flock of Double Crested Cormorants (31) at about 8:30am headed south over Fifth Avenue, and the V-skein of Canada Geese (approx 50) seen from the North Woods with Tom Ahlf, John from Boston and others. There were also a few migrating raptors including Cooper's Hawks and an Osprey - but no eagles that we saw over Central Park. We did get two Ravens that no one else saw today - but these nest in Manhattan and other areas of NYC. As for little birds in the woods, this was another matter. The previous night had been rainy, so this held migrants back. For example, it was difficult finding Red-breasted Nuthatches today (compare this to Saturday/tomorrow's totals). And the ones that were here stayed in the woods and it was difficult to bring them to the edge to be seen. That being said, we had a wonderful female Cape May at the island in the Harlem Meer; close-up Northern Parulas at the Wildflower Meadow in nice sunlight (13 total warbler species today); and several nice Blue-headed Vireos. Today's list of birds for Friday, 12 October: https://tinyurl.com/yas7b3gg
adult female Cooper's Hawk with pigeon in the Ramble on 14 October by Deborah Allen
Saturday, 13 October (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - Where did the rain come from? Just a couple days ago the forecast had brief light rain for an hour or so ("passing showers"), that turned into 0.25inches of rain more or less continuously from 6:45am through 10:45am. Of course this ruined not one but two bird walks for people. On the other hand, no rain all night and more winds from the northwest brought the small birds to the park. Highlights were lots and lots of close Red-breasted Nuthatches (25+ today), Tufted Titmice, Golden-crowned Kinglets, a few Black-capped Chickadees and especially the flock of 20 or so Purple Finches at Sparrow Ridge. Other highlights: a lone Green Heron in the Ramble (in a tree); Theodora ("Teddy" from Texas) Redding finding a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Turtle Pond and then using the tape to bring it in from across the water...and 75 Chimney Swifts here as well coming in to get water; and nice looks at close-up warblers albeit in the rain: Blackpoll, Ovenbird and Black-and-white all coming in to the tape for long close looks (12 warbler species in all today). Did I mention so many thrushes? Mostly Hermits - but here they are finally.
and an American Woodcock in Central Park for comparison
Sunday, 14 October (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - overcast skies but thankfully no rain..and cool temperatures, about 60f for the high temperature today. Overnite winds from the northwest continued. There were fewer small migrants seen today particularly Grey Catbirds, Brown Thrashers and warblers - so there was more movement out than arriving in the early morning. New for today was a Wilson's Snipe found by Carine Mitchell on the Great Lawn of all places - which was closed to people this morning. Deborah and many others photographed this snipe near the baseball backstop at the southwest corner of the Great Lawn as hundreds of people walked past nearby on the paths surrounding the "Lawn." Above us, diurnal birds of prey were migrating: we saw a young (dark) Bald Eagle that passed directly over us near Turtle Pond, and also watched American Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawk and an Osprey from that spot as well. In the woods we had an adult female Cooper's Hawk land a few feet from us carrying a pigeon - but birding in the Ramble was slow. We had better luck along the west side of the park with very close Red-breasted Nuthatches (the most we have seen so far this season - if you use a recording of their call, it is possible to bring in 5-15); more Tufted Titmice than seen on any other single day so far this autumn - but no Purple Finches (compare to yesterday); a group of only first year Cedar Waxwings at Sparrow Rock...and small numbers of 10 warbler species with Blackpoll and Black-and-white Warblers coming in very closer to calls from my tape. And it was nice to see 10 Chimney Swifts over the park at about 7:15am and later...but we are starting to wind down the migration for autumn 2018. Still to come: waterfowl, more sparrows (especially White-throated), raptors and the odd rare bird such as the Hammond's Flycatcher we found (via Linda LaBella) in December 2017. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 14 October: https://tinyurl.com/y848pc4u
Monday, 15 October (Strawberry Fields at 8:00am and again at 9:00am) - RAIN! RAIN! RAIN! No bird walk today Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 15 October: no bird list from Deborah because today's walk was cancelled due to rain.
An all-too-common view of a Wilson's Snipe during the day
SNIPE ON BONNETS [December 1886]. A Long Island gunner shot in the months of July, August, September and October, more than 8,000 snipe for milliners; about 500 of them were large snipe. OLD GUNNER. ------------------- 1876. Snipe shooting on Long Island commences about the 15th of April, is best about the middle of May, and continues until the 10th of June. Then there is a little lull, while the birds are away breeding, until about the 10th of July, when they come back in swarms, and the shooting is good again until about the 10th of September ----------------- Snipe Shooting at Good Ground, Shinnecock Bay, L.I., Aug. 2nd . Snipe shooting is improving as the season advances, and the young birds begin to fly. We have been getting good bags right along for the past week, and the birds have commenced in earnest. Now, yesterday, Aug. 2d, we had a very good flight. Mr. A. Hass, New York City, killed 107 large snipe, and, while I write, I hear guns continually. I anticipate a big bag again to-day. The young birds are coming on now, and I look for a good season during August and September. William N. Lane. --------------- New Jersey Red Hook. Nov. 11 . The Hackensack meadows have yielded a goodly number of snipe and ducks this season. The latter were most numerous in the middle of September, when fine bags were made. Later most ducks kept along the river, where they are hard to approach. Snipe were most plentiful the first half of October, though not in as good condition as in other seasons. Some hang around yet, and three were killed only a day or two ago. If we should have another warm spell a few more birds, in "prime condition," may be looked for. If so, shall report again. Justus
Arrived home Saturday night; had four days' ducking on one island in Spesurtia Narrows, one mile below the "Havre de Grace” Flats. F. R. Ryer and self killed 91, and the poorest kind of weather for fowl: six boats on flats killing 100 to 150 per boat. Wild.
Hoboken, Nov. 5th . I have just returned from a ten day's shoot in Rockland Co., N. Y. Quail are said to more numerous than for several years, but have been very difficult to find on account of the disagreeable, cold and windy weather, and only small bags have been made so far. Fall woodcock have been more numerous than for several seasons, and fine bags were made. The bulk of the birds left about the 26th of October, and since only stragglers have been shot. Partridges [Ruffed Grouse] are pretty scarce. Rabbits arc quite abundant, but owing to the dry and hard ground only a few have been killed before the hounds. The local hunters have given up hunting for quail and rabbits, and are waiting for a warm, muggy spell. -------------- Late Snipe Tolland Co., Conn., Dec. 24 . We all read that the Wilson snipe is a migratory bird; still this is not strictly true. The ground is frozen solid, and all water, except running brooks; likewise, on such brooks they are now here. I have shot them this week, as have others. I have learned from the farmers that they remain all winter. I would not have believed it had I not seen and shot them myself. Partridge and quail scarce, and too cold to shoot anyway. Mars We killed on Saturday, December 18th an English snipe (Gallinago wilsoni) on Waywayanda Mountain, N.J. It was living along a spring brook and was in good condition. Another was seen by an acquaintance on Monday, the 20th., near the Rutherford's creamery in the Vernon Valley. --------------- THE ELUSIVE SNIPE . NEW YORK, April 15. I have often read in the columns that spring snipe shooting should be abolished. I always thought before that this sentiment was correct, but now I know it.
My father had been urging me to go down into the classic State of New Jersey, where a pup of ours is hibernating, and combine with the pleasure of seeing whether the pup would recognize me the business of snipe shooting, and intimating that if I didn't take every opportunity for shooting that presented itself, I would never be able to slay anything. The latter argument, which was rather personal, finally started me off last Wednesday night, hand in hand with a bag weighing several hundred pounds, and a gun. I arrived at last at my destination with my hands full of blisters caused by the bag, and slept peacefully till early cock crow-which was early. We then started to drive to various small ponds and meadows. We soon ran into a snipe, which my guide laid out all mangled on the ground, about sixty yards off.
We then proceeded on our way, and found nothing but a few mosquitoes, which weren't however, in good health for some time. Finally, as we crossed a small piece of meadow I saw a snipe spring into the air. He corkscrewed off, and I was preparing to lay him low, when he sat down of his own free will. I approached him with great care, and when he rose I let fly both barrels at him in quick succession, which always sounds more sportsmanlike than to fire one only. He didn't pitch headlong in his swift flight. We never saw him again.
I have read in the pages of "Frank Forester" that when a snipe rises be pauses there and utters a peculiar whistle. My snipe (for he was mine in heart if not in reality) did not pause and he did not utter a peculiar whistle or any other whistle. "Frank Forrester" adds that when the snipe gets through pausing and whistling his peculiar whistle he begins to zig-zag, and after he has zig-zagged for a short distance he goes straight. My snipe did not zig-zag and then go straight. He flew as if he was intoxicated, in every way at once, but from the instant he started he made as hard as he could go for the dim distance, and he got there before he had straightened himself out.
Soon after this we started back and I soon realized that though it may sound more sportsmanlike to fire both barrels of your gun, it gives you double the amount of cleaning that you would otherwise have.
I got home to New York the same night. Next morning I had a stiff neck and a bad cold. To-day is Saturday and I am in the house with that same stiff neck and cold and expect to stay here several days longer. But that is not all. I would have gone after the snipe yesterday afternoon instead of Wednesday if it had not been that I wanted specially to see a base ball game to-day. The game is being played at this moment, but I am not looking at it, though I am in town.
But to cap all, my father gave my brother, who does not shoot, $5 to make up for my trip. I don't want any more spring shooting. B.
1930 - WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata) - Ludlow Griscom
The Snipe is a common transient in our fresh-water marshes, occurring regularly in our most inland areas. It is entirely indifferent to brackish water, but is less frequently seen in pure salt marsh. It sometimes puts down in swamps, and I have even flushed it from bayberry thickets on a dry hillside. It flies away with a peculiarly erratic, zig-zag flight, uttering a harsh "scape," and the long bill and boldly striped appearance above render it unmistakable. Crippled birds are reported to have nested many years ago near Chatham, N. J. (Herrick), and a nest was more recently found near Newfoundland, N.J., by A. Radclyffe Dugmore, which is probably a genuine breeding record. Careful search may show that the Snipe breeds in locally favorable places in northwestern New Jersey. In the fall it normally arrives with frosty weather in early September and lingers until its haunts are frozen, so that it is occasional in winter, especially on Long Island.
Long Island. Common transient; occasional in winter. Most numerous in October.
ORIENT, L.I. Usually rare, sometimes common transient, frequently seen in winter; March 12, 1904 to May 23, 1914; August 15, 1919 to December 5, 1918.
MASTIC, L.I. Fairly common transient, once in winter; noted as late as May 11, 1918; also July 17, 1920 and July 10, 1921.
LONG BEACH, L.I. Casual during migration; three fall records, September 22, 1921 to December 1, 1921 (Bicknell); four spring records, April 5, 1917 to April 21, 1921 (Bicknell).
BRONX REGION. Now a very rare transient, formerly common; October 8, 1911 (Griscom and LaDow) to October 31, 1910 (Hix); March 30, 1919 (Clarke L. Lewis); one winter record at Riverdale, February 24, 1880 (E. P. Bicknell).
1964 - WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata) - John Bull
Migration and Winter: This species frequents wet meadows and pastures, shallow marshes, and cultivated fields after rainstorms. Snipe fluctuate in numbers from time to time. They are rare in dry years and occasionally numerous after suitable areas become flooded. The spring flight is chiefly inland and occurs principally in April, while in fall the flight is primarily coastal with the peak in October.
Maxima: Spring - 40, Carmel, N.Y., Apr. 3, 1959; 75, Chatham, N.J. on Apr. 21, 1928; 65, Overpeck Creek, N.J., on Apr. 25, 1946. Fall - 23, Easthampton, Oct. 15, 1939. Winter - 12, Mecox Bay, Jan. 9, 1940; 16, southern Nassau Christmas count, Jan. 2, 1956. In winter, Snipe are most often found in low areas where springs prevent freezing. There are but two known winter specimens in our area: Far Rockaway, Jan. 1, 1890 (A. Marshall) A.M.N.H.; Orient, Jan. 30, 1919 (Latham), in his collection.
Extreme dates: July 4, 10, and 16 (specimen) to May 24 and 31; a few non-breeding stragglers in June. Usually rare before mid-March.
1958-1967 - WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata) - Geoffrey Carleton
Central Park: Rare Transient. 16 March 1948 (Sutton) to 8 May 1940 (Irv Cantor); 10 September 1931 (Alan Cruickshank) to 7 November 1935 (Birckhead).
Prospect Park: Rare Transient. 21 March 1952 (E. McGovern, Restivo) to 8 May 1942 (Alperin, Jacobson); 28 September 1946 (Tengwall) to 20 November 1952 (Restivo).
October 20 , Pelham Bay Park, N. Y. We were disappointed to see the meadows torn up for construction of the New England Thruway. A colony of Mentha arvensis [Mint] grew there which had a peculiar scent very different from any mint the leader had ever noticed. It was his intention to collect a sample, perhaps for oil analysis. Fortunately, the wooded knolls in the Eastchester Marshes still remain. Here are found stands of Aster patens var. phlogifolius [Thin-leaf Late Purple Aster] and Desmodium cuspidatum [Large-bracted Tree-foil], probably the last in the city. The former was characterized as "rare and local" by Taylor; the latter, "unknown in the Bronx '. A report on last year's visit to the area appeared in the Bull. Torr. Bot. Club 83: 172-173. A supplementary partial list of plants observed on the present trip follows: The arborescent flora of the hillocks is chiefly of oaks, Quercus alba, Q. coccinea, Q. palustris, Q. prinus, Q. rubra, Q. stellata (rare), Q. velutina, and hickories, Carya cordiformis, C. tomentosa. Sassafras is extensively and closely suckering into weed-like scrub colonies. Only sprouts of Castanea [American Chestnut] were found; Populus grandidentata [Bigtooth Aspen] and Robinia pseudo-acacia [Black Locust] were sparse. There is a grove of Juglans nigra [Black Walnut] in the border of the second hillock, possibly persistent from early cultivation. Cornus florida [American Dogwood] is also there. Shrubs: Baccharis [Groundsel], Ceanothus americanus [New Jersey Tea], Rubus phoenicolasius [Wineberry], Sambucus canadensis [Elderberry], Viburnum dentatumm [Arrowwood Viburnum], V. prunifolium [BlackHaw]. Herbs and vines: Agrimonia pubescens [Downy Agrimony], Apocynum cannabinum [Indian Hemp], Arisaema triphyllum (rare) [Jack-in-the-Pulpi], Aster lowrieanus [Lowrie’s Blue Wood Aster], A. undulatus [Wavy-leaf Aster], Atriplex patula var. hastata (fruits up to 3 mm. wide) [Spear Orache], Chenopodium hybridum [Maple-leaved Goosefoot], Cimicifuga racemosa [Black Cohosh or Black Snakeroot], Cryptotaenia canadensis [Honewort or Wild Chervil], Desmodium canadense [Showy Tick-trefoil], D. paniculatum [Panicle-leaf Tick-trefoil], Distichlis spicata [Black Grass or Saltgrass – a rush], Eupatorium rugosum [White Snakeroot], Galium triflorum [Fragrant Bedstraw], Helianthus giganteus [Giant Sunflower], Hibiscus palustris [Swamp Rose Mallow], Hypericum perforatum [St. John’s-wort], Lechea minor [Small Pinweed] and L. villosa (growing together and affording excellent contrast) [Hairy Pinweed], Lonicera japonica [Japanese Honeysuckle], Lysimachia ciliata [Fringed Loosestrife], Scirpus robustus [Salt Marsh Bulrush], Silene stellata var. scabrella [Starry Campion], Solidago bicolor [White Goldenrod], S. caesia [Blue-stemmed Goldenrod], S. nemoralis [Grey Goldenrod], S. speciosa [Showy Goldenrod], Vitis aestivalis var. argentifolia [Silver-leaf Grape]. Only the green fruited variety of Pilea pumila [Clearweed or Richweed] was found in the many plants examined, indicating a genetic factor for color. Mixed populations of green and black fruited varieties are sometimes found in New York City (e.g., grounds of The New York Botanical Garden). The two colors do not show intermediates. Perhaps just to be perverse, the several clumps of Aster macrophyllus [Big-leaf Aster] inspected had only white rays. Clusters of fruits of Solanum carolinense [Horsenettle] were collected to serve as an ornamental subject; the berries are perfect opaque globes (1-2 em. across) of a clear vivid yellow, rather pleasantly peppery-sweet scented but tasting horrible, set on decurved-seculid pedicels and forming elegant one-sided racemes. The return walk was hurried. We did stop, however, to observe closely a stand of Diplotaxis tenuifolia [Perennial Wall-rocket], probably introduced as a result of the construction job. As far as New York City is concerned, at least, this is the species frequently found, and not at all D. muralis [Annual Wall-rocket]. The New Britton and Brown gives the length of the fruit, 2-3.5 mm. long, which is the dimension given by Clapham et al., Flora of the British Isles, but the fruit we saw were up to 5.5 cm. long, their stalks 1.3-2 cm. long. The siliques were sometimes about as long as their pedicels, as described for the British plants, but often much longer. Attendance 14. Leader, Joseph Monachino.
Chestnut Oak at Pelham Bay Park 27 October 2015
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC
White Oak at Pelham Bay Park 27 October 2015