• Robert DeCandido PhD

INVASION! Grosbeaks, Siskins, Crossbills heading to Central Park

Updated: Mar 1

24 October 2018 Notes: This Saturday (27 October) sounds like a rain-out according to the weather forecast - check the web site for a cancellation. Sunday morning is also in jeopardy - check the weather forecast, and then the web site for cancellations. Finally, Monday is not looking good either...make sure to check the web site if any cancellations have been posted to the bird walk schedule.

We are in the midst of an invasion of seed-eating birds from the north. Already Red-breasted Nuthatches have been with us since mid-July...but now others that we rarely see (or may not see at all) in most years are being observed in Central Park and the region: Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak and two species of Crossbills. We have been "calling-in" many of these birds using our recordings - and getting close looks... Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen and feature birds seen/photographed recently in Central Park such as Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Purple Finch. In this week's historical notes we present information on the ongoing finch/seed-eating bird irruption into the northeastern USA including Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks: (1) a September 1906 article on a large flight of Red-breasted Nuthatches on eastern Long Island; (2) a November 1923 article on Evening Grosbeaks at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx; (3-4) 1926 and 1949 articles on the tameness of Pine Siskins; (5a-f) a series of late October-early November 2008 posts about Pine Siskins in Central Park, Staten Island, Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey and the thousands of Pine Siskins being seen in our area in the last irruption year. Get ready...it can happen again in the next few weeks.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Central Park, 22 October 2018 by Deborah Allen

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

All Bird Walks in Central Park

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8 1. Friday, 26 October - 9:00am (ONLY!) - Conservatory Garden at 105th st. and 5th Ave. 2. Saturday, 27 October - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe in Central Park. 3. Sunday, 28 October - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe in Central Park. 4. Mon. 29 October - 8:00am/9:00am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) at 72/CPW. 9. Monday, 5 November - 6:00pm - Inwood Hill Park: Eastern Screech-owls ($10) - more details next week Any questions/concerns send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net 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.

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 (= rdcny@earthlink.net). 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.

Eastern Bluebird feeding on Pokeweed berries on 21 October in Central Park by Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights)

Friday, 19 October (Conservatory Garden at 105th St. and 5th Avenue at 9am) - a robust group of local (or loco) NYC birder regulars, and many folks from out of town. Before the walk (7am-8:30am), I found several species not seen on the scheduled walk such as Purple Finch (six early and only one on the walk); Blackpoll (1) Palm Warblers (3); and Merlin. That is not to say the regularly scheduled walk was no good! Oh contrar...we had several Blue-headed Vireos, a couple of Cape May Warblers...and others such as Black-and-white, Pine, Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Blue (m/f) - so eight warbler species in all. Other highlights included White-crowned Sparrow, (+ Swamp, Chipping, Song and White-throated Sparrows); both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets...and of course Red-breasted Nuthatch (uncommon today). Tufted Titmooses were coming in from all directions to the calls from my tape, and a few Black-capped Chickadees came with them. In the waters of the Harlem Meer, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers and a lone male Wood Duck were bob-bob-bobbing away in the choppy wind driven waves. In the skies were a couple flocks of Cedar Waxwings, Red-tailed Hawks and a large flock of 30+ migrating Canada Geese. Goldfinches and some Grey Catbirds and Eastern Towhees were dashing to and fro in the understorey, and a few Eastern Phoebes stayed low to escape the wind. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were abundant on certain tree species, particularly Siberian Elm. All in all, once the weather warmed, a great day with so many nice people. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Friday, 19 October: https://tinyurl.com/y8t59g3l

Saturday, 20 October (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - yet another Saturday morning when it was raining very early, with an ever so slight mist at the start of the walk. Can't it be even slightly miserable later in the day (it cleared after 1pm!). As for birds there were many White-throated Sparrows, and two highlight sparrow species: White-crowned (juvenile) and Field Sparrows. Last year at this time, Field Sparrows were common - this year they are back to being uncommon to rare so far. Other highlights: good number of Blue-headed Vireos still, but overnite many Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatches left the park. At the Pinetum we could only find three Red-breasted Nuthatches though these came right down to my tape. They are caching pine nuts taken from pine cones into the grooves of Siberian Elms - see Deborah Allen's photo below. Also at the Pinetum was a late female (or immature) Baltimore Oriole getting sap from the wells made by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers; one Cape May Warbler, many Yellow-rumped Warblers and even a few Purple Finches were also working the wells - or at least perched nearby. My two favorites for the day were (a) the Black-and-white Warbler outside the Boathouse at eye level on a trunk of a tree - we watched it for 20 minutes about four feet away; and (b) the two (three?) Brown Thrashers that started making all sorts of strange calls when I played my tape just east of Belvedere Castle. Today's list of birds for Saturday, 20 October: https://tinyurl.com/ybkgp9fr

Purple Finch female by Deborah Allen on 22 Oct 2018 - usually a rare migrant inn October in Central Park - this year its common!

Sunday, 21 October (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - there was wind, more wind and a gale today...wind gusts often reached 30mph and sometimes more. As a result, a fine raptor migration was taking place over Manhattan: David Barrett recorded 10+ Bald Eagles at Inwood Hill Park, and Ryan Zucker added a Golden Eagle there as well. In Central Park, Tom Socci (and our group too) saw a flock of 15+ Turkey Vultures. We would add to this many Cooper's Hawks, a few Sharp-shinned Hawks, one Bald Eagle and while we were watching Purple Finches at Sparrow Rock, an adult Red-shouldered Hawk appeared over us and circled a couple of times. Our best birds were seen in the Maintenance Field: here one of our group (Annette Pasek) heard an Eastern Bluebird, so we used the tape to bring it in close for a good look (thanks to Will Papp for his use of the green laser pointer to show everyone the exact location of the bird); here also we used the tape to bring in a few Pine Siskins (these will peak in early November); and also several Purple Finches (about a dozen males and females). Later we would add additional Purple Finches and Eastern Bluebirds at Sparrow Rock along with Cedar Waxwings, a White-crowned Sparrow and a Field Sparrow as well. Nearby Chipping Sparrows and Song Sparrows were in abundance - but the best was found later in the day northwest of Sparrow Rock: a Nelson's [formerly Sharp-tailed] Sparrow - a bird of the salt marshes of the Newfoundland coast as well as midwestern alkaline prairie grasslands...probably pushed here from the midwest with the northwest winds of the last several days). If we weren't so frozen (the temperature dropped to 48f by noon but the winds were the deciding factor), we would have stayed out past 12:30pm...but we beat a hasty retreat to have coffee and lunch in the Boathouse - thank You to Sandra Critelli and Andrea Hessell MD for so much help today. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 21 October: https://tinyurl.com/ybwqo6k4

Monday, 22 October (Strawberry Fields at 8:00am and again at 9:00am) - overcast and not as windy today as yesterday (approx 5-10mph from the northwest). By the end of the walk (12noon) we were cold, but not frozen like yesterday. And though we had fewer raptors, there were many more smaller birds such as White-throated Sparrows...but no Bluebirds. Highlights for me were the 15 or so Golden-crowned Kinglets in Strawberry Fields, in one tree, that came in very close (how close? - as close as your nose reading this account) and when I commanded one to fly to the ground at my feet, it did...though that individual did not roll over as per the second part of the command. No matter - the group was impressed and the kinglet was none the worse for wear. Other highlights included the dozen or so Purple Finches at Sparrow Rock - see Deborah's photo above...we saw lots this weekend. And perhaps best of all, while standing at Balcony Bridge at 7:25am, I was playing Pine Siskin calls and three came in to perch above my head; later (9:55am) at the Fruited Plain (lawn just north of the Upper Lobe) while playing Pine Siskin calls, two more came in to perch above the group. That is what I call bird fishing - using an audio lure to "catch" birds and bring them in for all to see. No one else has reported Pine Siskins in the last few days from Central Park: perhaps this method works? By the way, the birds flew off unharmed and just fine...thank goodness no need to hook them to remain with us for a few minutes... Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 22 October: https://tinyurl.com/yc8k9xoz

Red-breasted Nuthatch getting ready to "cache" a pine nut at the Pinetum on 22 Oct by Deborah Allen


Remarkable Flight of Red-breasted Nuthatches [1906] - During a vacation spent on Fire Island Beach, New York, in September, a remarkable migration of these birds was observed. Point o' Woods is a cottage settlement, on the barrier beach, at this point about one thousand feet wide, between the ocean and Great South Bay, which is here eight miles wide. The soil is sand-covered with a rank growth of weeds of various kinds, low bushes, scrub-oaks and small pines. On the night of September 20, it was very damp, with a moderate southwest wind and a number of showers. On the morning of the 21st the wind still continued southwest, very moderate, with a temperature of seventy-four degrees at seven a.m. During the night there must have been a great flight of Red-breasted Nuthatches, for they were seen on the morning of the 21st in large numbers. They remained all that day, although there seemed to be a steady movement to the west, which here is the autumn direction of migration. During the night of the 21st, we had more showers, and on the 22d, the wind was strong southeast, with some rain. There was a large migration of small birds during the night, as the bushes were full of Towhees, Cuckoos and Kingbirds, and the Red-breasted Nuthatches were more numerous than the day before. They outnumbered the sum total of all the other small migrants. On the 23d, large numbers of them still were in evidence, but not so many as on the 22d, and on the 24th only a few were seen. The flight covered three days 21st to 23d while on the 24th the stragglers brought up the rear, a lone laggard being seen on the 25th. At the height of the migration, Nuthatches were seen everywhere, on the buildings, on trees, bushes, and weeds and even on the ground. They were remarkably tame and would permit a near approach; if the observer were seated they would come within a few feet of him. They crept over the roofs and sides of the houses, examining the crevices between the shingles; they searched under the cornices on the piazzas and in fact looked into every nook and corner that might be the hiding-place of insects. Every tree had its Nuthatch occupant, while many of them evidently found food even on the bushes and larger weeds. On a large abandoned fish factory at least fifty of these birds were seen at one time. The proprietor of one of the hotels told me that five of the birds were in his building catching flies, they having come in through the open doors and windows. They are expert flycatchers in the open, as many of them were seen to dart after flying insects after the manner of the true Flycatchers. It would be exceedingly interesting to know how large a territory this migration covered and to get some records of it from stations north and south of this point of observation, in order to see the rate at which the birds traveled. William Dutcher, New York City.

The Evening Grosbeak in New York City (1917). Walking along the path by the upper lake near the Botanical Garden Museum, on the morning of Nov. 23, of this year (1917), I passed almost under three male Evening Grosbeaks. They were feeding in an Ironwood tree on which a few old seeds still remained, and allowed me to pass not more than four or five paces away. While looking at and admiring the birds, which I had been acquainted with for many years in the West, the Assistant Director, Dr. Murrill, came by and I called his attention to them. He at once pronounced the birds to be similar to eight he had seen a week earlier in the Garden at no great distance from this point, and feeding on the same species of tree. This is the earliest date, I believe, recorded for their far eastern range, and I can find only four other birds mentioned in the past as having been seen within the city limits. Up to the time of writing this note, Dec. 25, I have seen or heard nothing more of these strikingly showy visitors. R. S. Williams, Administrator Assistant, New York Botanical Garden.

Evening Grosbeak 29 January 2017 in Ontario, Canada - rdc

Pine Siskins 1926: "In a short time the birds [Pine Siskins] came to regard me as their friend, and in the days that followed grew to be exceedingly sociable and to lose every vestige of fear. Whenever I would appear at the window, or step outside the door, down they would come and, settling upon my head, shoulders, and arms, would peer anxiously about for the food that they had learned to know I held concealed from them in a box, dish, or other receptacle. The moment I removed the cover or exposed the food, they would make a dash for it and the usual scrapping program would be on. Nor was it at all necessary for me to go outside the door. In a short time the siskins discovered this opening [in a window pane], and it was only necessary for me to draw the slide when one after another would come right into my kitchen, and soon one or more of them would be perched on my head or shoulder, or hopping around on the desk where I was writing, looking for the handful of seeds that they all knew was forthcoming. Now and then some members of the flock would elect to spend the night in the warm room, sleeping on the clothes-line, stretched across the room a little below the ceiling. On such occasions they seemed to be without fear and totally oblivious to people moving about the room, often within a few inches of them, turning on or snapping off electric lights." E.R. Davis (1926): in the AC Bent series on the Birds of North America

Pine Siskins 1949: Salt in some form is a real desideratum of siskins. "At this time, the birds were encountered chiefly on the highway where they assembled in dense flocks, eating gravel mixed with chloride. Soon after sun-up they began to appear in these places with their numbers reaching a peak around midday, followed by a slow decline until, just before sunset, the last flock flew away to roost. Many of these birds apparently travelled considerable distances to these cherished feeding-places; I saw birds winging their way to and from the highway from the woods at least a mile away. When disturbed, the birds swung off the road as of one accord, amid excited twitter, to alight in the trees alongside and there continue their feeding on the seeds of the evergreens, or on the buds of the white birches and aspen trees, with the siskins showing particular liking for the seeds of the alder-bushes. The siskins were a gregarious lot, associating freely with all the other finches, especially with the Goldfinches and the Red Crossbills." Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1949): in the AC Bent series on the Birds of North America

Pine Siskin on 12 November 2008 at NYBG in the Bronx - rdc

Sunday, 26th October 2008 (north end – Central Park) – This was one of the great all time autumn walks...When I left my Bronx home at 6:30am, a Merlin was swooping and chasing birds in my neighborhood. When I arrived at the park, in the moderate northeast winds, there were flocks passing overhead of Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Occasionally there were smaller birds traveling in tight balls and these we discovered were Pine Siskins. (American Goldfinches have not been common so far this autumn in the park.) Standing in the southern part of Conservatory Garden at about 8:30am, I began playing the Pine Siskin call to a flock of small birds hidden in a somewhat distant Red oak. Almost immediately the flock flew down into a Japanese Lilac tree a few feet away. People from the walk began to arrive as well...and in the ensuing minutes (until about 9:20am), more Pine Siskins continued to arrive and perch in the lilac tree. The birds were calling to one another (and my tape). Soon, a few began to land in a still-blooming pink rose bush about five feet from us. And then the amazing began to happen - groups of 3-5 birds would fly down and hover over us, and one bird actually landed and sat on my head (luckily I was wearing a hat). We estimated about 200 Pine Siskins mulling about the area...and as our group expanded in number to about 25 people, I could hear the oohs and aahs as they watched the siskins fly down and around us, and then disperse into the nearby trees. Amazing...So later it almost seemed like a let down when we found a lone Purple Finch, two Blue-headed Vireos, two Palm Warblers (+ several Yellow-rumps), as well as the first Buffleheads (two females) of the season. One last note: on sparrow hill (at the northeast corner of the north end baseball fields), we were standing near a pine tree with no birds in sight. I decided to play the Pine Siskin call, and within 30 seconds, a flock of 25-50 zoomed down from a clear blue sky to land in that pine tree! Folks were amazed. Basically, my interpretation is this: for nomadic birds looking for feeding areas, hearing the calls of happy cohorts is a strong suggestion that appropriate conditions (food, water, safety) are nearby so they come over to have a look. One last observation: on this Sunday (2 Nov), numerous observers from the area reported Pine Siskins, but by Monday morning the areas where Siskins were common just a day before were now devoid of finches...

Subject: Pine Siskins on Staten Island Date: Sun, 2 Nov 2008 Grymes Hill / Wagner College Clove Lakes Park 8:30am

Early this morning a number of Pine Siskins flew over and some were feeding in spruces on Pleasant Valley Ave. In total, there were more than 100 birds in small flocks, and one larger flock numbering ~ 60 birds. At CLP near the dump and tower there were 8 Purple Finches, one of which was an adult male. About 100-150 Pine Siskins were also flying over the park moving in a westerly direction.

H. Fischer

Subject: Pine Siskins Celery Farm New Jersey Date: Sun, 2 Nov 2008

On a brief walk with the family this morning. At 10:30 we came upon a very active and vocal flock of Pine Siskins (30 to 40, rather difficult to count) feeding in the leaves and the underbrush all along Allendale Brook, north of the Pirie Platform. The birds came quite close (they were pretty hungry) and we got some great views. (Great auditory experience also: "zrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeee!" little screaming banshees from the northwoods). Also had a few Siskin flyovers at the Greenway entrance. John Workman Ridgewood, NJ

Subject: 6520 Siskins at Fire Island From: "Shaibal Mitra" Date: Monday, 10 Nov 2008

Pat Lindsay and I tallied 6,520 Pine Siskins migrating past the Fire Island Hawkwatch, at Robert Moses SP, Suffolk, between 7:30 and 9:30 this morning (Monday, 10 Nov 2008). This is by far the most I've ever seen in one day, anywhere.

Broader geographical considerations also apply. For instance, while Seth was seeing multi-thousands at Jones Beach yesterday morning, Pat and I saw just two at Block Island, RI. Undoubtedly this was because the slow-moving front finally passed that more easterly site quite a few hours after it passed western LI. I bet there were thousands funneling up to the north end of Block Island this morning!

Shai Mitra Bay Shore

Subject: Pine Siskins of Quaker Ridge [Greenwich, Connecticut] From: Brian Bielfelt Date: Monday, 10 Nov 2008

Still lots of siskins moving passed Quaker Ridge hawk watch, even on overcast days when the hawks don't seem to be moving.

Monday, 11/3: 200 Tuesday, 11/4: 160 Wednesday, 11/5: 775 Thursday, 11/6: Rain Friday, 11/7: 0 Saturday, 11/8: Rain Sunday, 11/9: 741 Monday, 11/10: 470

Brian Bielfelt Greenwich, CT

Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

The view from Gapstow Bridge at 59th street (Central Park South) 27 Nov 2009 - rdc

#PineSiskin #RedbreastedNuthatch #EveningGrosbeak #PurpleFinch