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A December of Owls - Central Park

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

Barred Owl by Deborah Allen near the Wildflower Meadow (north end of Central Park) on 30 November 2018

5 December 2018

Bird Notes: This Sunday, 9 December we have an Owl Walk starting at 4:15pm meeting at Shakespeare Garden (approx. 79-80th streets and the West Drive) in Central Park. On Saturday, 8 December we meet at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx at 9:30am ($10 and free admission to NYBG until 10am). Email or call us if you have questions or want more info.

Deborah Allen sends lots of Owl photos in this issue: Barred; Northern Saw-whet and Great Horned. In our Historical Notes we send (a) Central Park bird notes from late 1908 including the discovery of the park's first Great Horned Owl; and in b/c/d are the results of the 1908 Christmas Bird Counts on Long Island and New Jersey.

November 2018 Characterized By An Early Taste of Winter

by Rob Frydlewicz -

After a mild start, with highs of 70f, 72f and 65f during the first three days of the month, the rest of November 2018 contended with unseasonably cold temperatures. Overall, the month was 3.3 degrees below average, making it the coldest November in six years and the fifth coldest since 1960. (Excluding the mild readings of Nov. 1-3, which were 11 degrees above average, the rest of the month was nearly five degrees colder than average.) In addition to the unseasonable cold, November 2018 was also unusually wet, with half of its days reporting measurable precipitation. With 7.62" measured this was the wettest November in 30 years - and the seventh wettest on record. It was also the third month of 2018 to have more than seven inches of precipitation (the other two months were July and August), joining eight other years that have had three or more months with this much precipitation. The crowning achievement of the month's rainfall occurred on 11/26 when the day's rainfall was enough to place 2018 among New York's ten wettest years (going back to 1869). Besides this excessive rainfall, the month will also be remembered for two other weather events: 1) the surprise afternoon/evening snowstorm of 11/15, which dumped 6.4" of snow, and 2) the bone-chilling cold on Thanksgiving Day and the day after. The snowstorm of 15 November, the earliest date on record for a snowfall of six inches or more, snarled the evening rush hour in a big way for most commuters. This was the greatest snowfall in November since 1938 (when 8.8 inches fell on Nov. 24-25).

One week after the snowstorm Arctic air descended upon the region. The high/low of 28/17 on Thanksgiving Day made it the coldest holiday since 1901. And the following day the low fell to 15f, the coldest reading in November since 1932. These cold readings, which would be well below average even during mid-winter, came near the end of a sixteen-day streak (Nov. 9-24) with below average readings that were nearly nine degrees colder than average.

Northern Saw-whet Owls have come south in higher than usual numbers in autumn 2018. We know of two in Central Park and another two in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx - but there are likely many more around. Standing about 8 inches high, and preferring to perch in dense shrubbery, they can be difficult to find - but we will do our best on this Sunday's owl walk.


Good! Here are the bird walks for Early December - each $10***

All Bird Walks in New York City

1. Friday, 7 December - 9:00am Conservatory Garden at 105th st and 5th Ave.

2. Saturday, 8 December - 9:30am - NYBG in the Bronx (free admission until 10am).

See: and Take the 8:42am train from Grand Central which will put you at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx by 9:05am. Walk across the street (five minute walk) and meet us at the Main Gate (Mosholu Gate) of NYBG at 9:25 or so. You can also drive (parking is about $15 if you use the NYBG parking lot, but FREE if you park outside Fordham University on Kazimiroff Boulevard). Send us an email or call if you want more info...

3. Sunday, 9 December - 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.

4. Sunday Afternoon, 9 December - 4:15pm - Meet at Shakespeare Garden.

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here:

Any questions send them our way: 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/ 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 ( 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: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there 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.

The Long-eared Owl is a rare winter visitor to Central Park (seen every other year), but there was a time from ca. 1998-2002 when up to five spent the winter here roosting in the spruce trees of Cedar Hill or even the small pine trees just south of Bow Bridge.


Here is what we saw last week

(selected highlights; the full list for each day is available at the links below): Friday, 30 November (Conservatory Garden at 105th st and 5th Ave at 9am only) - Both Deborah and I were in the park leading bird walks: Deborah covered the north end walk starting at 9am, and I had two fine folks from Ireland in the Ramble. Tom Ahlf, who is still wandering in exile looking for Bluebirds joined Deborah and her better birders, while I tried to make birding in the Ramble great again. Both walks had Bluebirds, but we in the Ramble saw a nice male up close, while those in the North heard Tom Ahlf is left to wander still, perhaps he will wander my way on Saturday! The two walks tallied a total of four owls of two species: Northern Saw-whet (two in the Ramble - the first two Saw-whet Central Park day I can remember), and a Barred Owl; and another Barred Owl in the north end. All owls were well seen. Additional highlights: early (before 9am) it was a spectacular finch flight morning. Indeed we had 40-50 Pine Siskins (half a dozen came down to perch less than a meter from my head as I played their calls); over 150 American Goldfinches; and somewhere between 12--20 Purple Finches. Add to this Cooper's Hawks (three at one location), Red-tailed Hawks, and owl pellets at another location near the Boathouse, it was a great morning for people on both walks. And for those who wander, see you tomorrow morning for Bluebirds in the Ramble and Saw-whet Owls too.

Deborah's list of birds for Friday, 30 November:


Saturday, 1 December (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and 9:30am) - with fine weather this morning (and the forecast of misery weather for Sunday), we had an appropriate number of people for the quality birds of Central Park. And what people! There was Karen Evans, Philosophy Professor of good and evil (and Aesthethics too); Dr. Gillian Henry MD; retired computer whiz Alison Schondorf; Peter Haskell PhD (scholar of ancient Japanese literature); EMW (undercover ethical lawyer, but no TA and no Bluebirds for him either); and a few other notables: folks from Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Canada and even Bob from New Jersey. All in search of owls and by the end of the second walk, with the help of Will Papp, we saw two Barred Owls and one concealed unethical Northern Saw-whet Owl. (I confess that once we found the Saw-whet I kissed one of the ethical lawyers - professionals do this when finding a significant bird to confirm they are not dreaming - this is nothing personal and in accordance with Rule Six of the ABA's NEW field manual for ethical birding). The Barred Owl at Warbler Rock was almost impossible to see except to Will who calmly pointed to the top of the giant pin oak still with golden leaves - and there it was stoically and ethically watching the curious onlookers below. (Mind You, there was no kissing here, but I could have kissed Will for finding this hidden owl.) Other highlights included the Hooded Mergansers (3) at Turtle Pond; six Pine Siskins landing a couple of feet from us (thank you tape - we were playing Christmas Carols and not bird calls of course); and flyover Black Vultures (3) mixed with Turkey Vultures (2) called out to us by Karen Evans. I think it was that time of the bird walk there was so much smoooching going on, faces had become one. I appealed to the higher instincts of the smooochers that they were violating Rule 7 of the ABA manual (only smoooch for significant birds - not any bird), but the birders paid no mind to my words. Even the appearance of a sparrow resulted in...well who am I to judge?

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sat. 1 December:


Sunday, 2 December (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and 9:30am) - Rain! No Bird Walks this morning.

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 2 December: No Bird List - No Bird Walks: Rain.


Monday, 3 December (Strawberry Fields at 8am and again at 9am) - this was a stoic group. I had sent out an email on Saturday night that I would tolerate no more smoooching on these bird walks. These are serious walks, and anyone intent on smoooching behind my back has to apply for a waver. So I could not believe it when one of the lovely birders on the walk asked to go to the Christmas tree decorated with cards and tinsel in the Ramble. This tree is also known as, "Tree of Endless Smooooching" (yes with four o's). I was crestfallen...there we were dressed in Monk's robes and Nun''s habits (Little Bluebird Sisters of now you see it now you don't) - and someone, a serious student of Peregrine Falcons, wants to be taken to the least ethical place in the entire park: the Tree of Endless Smooooching. As this tree is near that waterfall in the park known as Viagra Falls, I don't need to describe what happened I will describe everything up to that point: we had two Barred Owls today but could not find any Northern Saw-whet Owls (but one returned to its usual roost on Tuesday, 4 December). We had several Red-tailed Hawks including a very pale one who was not very good at chasing squirrels on the ground in the Ramble. Nearby a lovely Golden-crowned Kinglet was foraging down and then up at our knees. Our tape pulled in several Pine Siskins at various locations, but even better was the lone female Purple Finch at eye-level near Armando's in the area of the "Oven." Finally, the large flock of Cedar Waxwings in the Ramble near the Amur Cork trees got a lot of ooohs and aaaahs - and no one started xxxxxing.

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 3 December:

White Breasted Nuthatches - though the Red-breasteds keep getting all our attention, recently the White-breasts have become the most common nuthatch in the park far and away.

Close-up of a Northen Saw-whet Owl by Deborah Allen on Friday November 30, 2018 in Central Park



New York City: More Central Park Notes [1908]

Great Horned Owl. I should like to record a Great Horned Owl which my brother and I saw on the afternoon of December 10, 1908, in the Ramble. It was completely dazed, and permitted a very close approach. We flushed it from a dense thicket of creepers near the ground. This is the first time that this Owl has been seen in Central Park, to my knowledge.

Cape May Warbler. In addition to the individuals recorded in the December (1908), I should like to record another seen on October 11. It was a male. Black and White Warbler. An individual of this species was seen for several days in the Ramble in November, disappearing after the fourteenth of the month. I did not see it, but several other observers noticed it. This is, of course, a very late date.

Blackpoll Warbler. This Warbler was excessively abundant this autumn. It arrived August 21, and I saw it last on October 22. This date is two weeks later than that given in 'The Warblers of North America.'

Brown Thrasher. I have three records of this bird in November, one on the sixth, two on the ninth, and one on the thirteenth.

Pine Siskin. Mr. Stanley V. Ladow and I saw a flock of these birds on October 17. This bird has always been rare in the Park. The date is also an early one. It might also be of interest to add that I have seen 104 species in the park during 1908. I also know of sixteen other species seen by other observers, making a grand total of 120 species. It has been a very good year and four birds have been added to the park list, which now contains over 160 species. Ludlow Griscom, New York City.

The Great Horned Owl (Deborah Allen) is a rare winter visitor to Central Park (seen every few years), but it nests in at least four boros and sometimes even in Manhattan at Inwood Hill Park


Christmas Bird Counts - 1908

Mt. Sinai, Long Island, N.Y. 26 December 1908. All day. Clear; heavy cumulus clouds; one inch of snow on ground; rather strong northwest wind; temp., 33f to 40f. Horned Grebe, 6; Loon, 2; Kittiwake Gull, 9; Great Black-backed Gull, 1; Herring Gull, 300; Black Duck, 6; Old Squaw, 8; White-winged Scoter, 40; Bob-white, 2; Ring-neck Pheasant, 1; Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; Horned Lark, 15; Blue Jay, 2; Crow, 30; Meadowlark, 10; Purple Finch, 9; Goldfinch, 4; Junco, 60; Song Sparrow, 14; Winter Wren, 4; Chickadee, 25. Total, 21 species, 548 individuals. Country visited, Sound beach, harbor shores, and woods along streams. Gertrude Anna Washburn and Robert Cushman Murphy.

Western shore of Shelter Island, N.Y. 27 December 1908. 8.40 a.m. to 4.45 p.m. Sunny in morning, overcast in afternoon; ground bare, except for snow-patches in sheltered spots; wind west, brisk; temp., at start 27f. Horned Grebe, 8; Loon, 2; Great Black-backed Gull, 2; Herring Gull, 200; Red-breasted Merganser, 5; Black Duck, 30; Greater Scaup Duck, 300; American Golden-eye, 12; Old Squaw, 300; American [Black] Scoter, 12; White-winged Scoter, 200; Surf Scoter, 15; Bob-white, 6; Marsh Hawk, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 1; Kingfisher, 4; Downy Woodpecker, 4; Flicker, 5; Horned Lark, 10: Prairie Horned Lark, 2; Crow, 25; Starling, 2; Meadowlark, 3; Am. [Red] Crossbill, 2; Redpoll, 3; Goldfinch, 10; Pine Siskin, 2; White-throated Sparrow, 7; Tree Sparrow, 50; Song Sparrow, 20; Myrtle Warbler, 50; Brown Creeper, 1; Chickadee, 25; Golden-crowned Kinglet. 2; Hermit Thrush, 3; Robin, 12; Bluebird, 10. Total, 37 species, 1,346 individuals. Roy Latham, Francis Harper and Clinton G. Abbott.

Snowy Owls are best seen along the ocean beaches of Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, though they have been observed on the upper west side of Manhattan (Riverside Drive approx. 120th street perched on a building outside the window of Robert Paxton PhD) and once in Central Park in the last 25 years.


Bloomfield and Newark, N.J. 25 December 1908. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cloudy; ground covered with snow; wind southwest, light; temp., 30f to 50f. Marsh Hawk, 1; Crow, 4; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Starling, 119; White-throated Sparrow, 4; Junco, 1; Song Sparrow, 3; Brown Creeper, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 2; Hermit Thrush, 1; Robin, 5. Total, 11 species, 142 individuals. Louis S. Kohler.

Newark, N. J. (Branch Brook Park). 25 December 1908. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Partly cloudy; wind southwest, fresh; ground covered with snow, except in exposed places; temp., 40f to 45f. Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Blue Jay, 1; Crow, 1; Starling, 20; Goldfinch, 1; Pine Siskin, 3; White-throated Sparrow, 6; Tree Sparrow, 2; Junco, 4; Song Sparrow, 3; Brown Creeper, 2; Chickadee, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1; Robin, 1. Total, 14 species, 47 individuals. Chas. A. Merrill.

Troy Hills, N. J. 28 December 1908. 7.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. Clear, ground partly covered with snow; wind west, light; temp., 32f to 50f. Marsh Hawk, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 1; Red-shouldered Hawk, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 2; Red-headed Woodpecker, 2; Northern Flicker, 2; Blue Jay, 13; Crow, 40; Starling, 3; Meadowlark 15; Goldfinch, 3; White-throated Sparrow, 12; Tree Sparrow, 75; Song Sparrow, 1; Slate-colored Junco, 1; Winter Wren, 2; White-breasted Nuthatch, 3; Tufted Titmouse, 2; Black-capped Chickadee, 8; A Kingfisher was seen on December 26. Total, 19 species, 200 individuals. Benj. F. Howell.

Plainfield, N. J. 25 December 1908; 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Weather mild, partly cloudy; about two inches of snow on ground. Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 2; Sparrow Hawk, 1; Barred Owl, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 10; Flicker, 3; Blue Jay, 17; Crow, 50; Fish Crow, 2; European Starling, 50; Meadowlark, 16; Bronzed (?) Grackle, 1; Purple Finch, 2; American [Red] Crossbill, 9; Goldfinch, 9; Pine Siskin, 90; White-throated Sparrow, 15; Tree Sparrow, 12; Junco, 80; Song Sparrow, 12; Swamp Sparrow, 2; Fox Sparrow, 1; Winter Wren, 1; Brown Creeper, 2; White-breasted Nuthatch, 6; Tufted Titmouse, 5; Black-capped Chickadee (P. atricapillus), 13; Hermit Thrush, 2; Robin, 1. Total, 29 species, 416 individuals. Before this winter the Fox Sparrow had never been seen near Plainfield between December 2 and March 1. W. DeW. Miller.

Morristown, N. J. 25 December 1908. 8.45 to 11 a.m. Partly cloudy; wind southwest, light; ground partly covered with snow; temp., 38f. Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; Kingfisher, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 6; Red-headed Woodpecker, 1; Blue Jay, 35; Crow, 50; Starling, 2; Meadowlark, 4; Purple Finch, 7; Goldfinch, 9; Pine Siskin, 6; White-throated Sparrow, 13; Tree Sparrow, 15; Junco, 17; Song Sparrow, 4; Carolina Wren, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 6; Tufted Titmouse, 2; Chickadee, 9; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 5; Bluebird, 2. Total, 21 species, 196 individuals. R. C. Caskey.

Morristown, N. J. 25 December 1908. 10 a.m. to 12 m. Partly cloudy; ground covered with light snow; wind southwest, light; temp., 38f. Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; Crow, 11; Blue Jay, 20; Purple Grackle, 5; Red-headed Woodpecker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 3; Junco, 47; White-breasted Nuthatch, 2; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Song Sparrow, 1; Fox Sparrow, 1; Chickadee, 1; White-throated Sparrow, 5. Total, 14 species, 99 individuals. Anna A. and Frank D. Vogt.

Princeton, N. J. 25 December 1908. 9.15 a.m. to 1.30 p.m.; 3 to 5 p.m. Clear to cloudy; wind northwest, light; ground snow-covered, average depth, four or five inches; temp., 28f. Red-tailed Hawk, 1; Red-shouldered Hawk, 2; American Sparrow Hawk, 1; Hairy Woodpecker, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 5; Flicker, 1; Horned Lark, 1; Blue Jay, 13; Crow, 500; Purple Finch, 46; Goldfinch, 37; White-throated Sparrow, 1; Tree Sparrow, 225; Junco, 200; Song Sparrow, 50; Cardinal, 18; Carolina Wren, 1; Brown Creeper, 2; White-breasted Nuthatch, 2; Tufted Titmouse, 16; Chickadee, 7; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 2. Total, 22 species, 1,132 individuals. William M. Norris, Jr.

Asbury Park, N. J. (Around Deal Lake). 26 December 1908; 9 to 11.45 am. Clear; ground snow-covered (not deep); wind west, moderately strong; temp., 42f. Herring Gull, 25; Downy Woodpecker, 3; Crow, 7; Tree Sparrow, 1; Song Sparrow, 3; Junco, 2; Carolina Wren, 1; Brown Creeper, 1; Tufted Titmouse, 2; Chickadee (heard). Total 10 species, about 46 individuals. Bess Bernhard and Emma van Gilluwe.

Hackettstown, N. J. 27 December 1908; 8.45 to 11.30 a.m. Cloudy; ground covered with crust of snow; wind south; temp., 30f. Downy Woodpecker, 2; Flicker, 1; Blue Jay, 1; Crow, 3; Purple Finch, 3; Goldfinch, 43; Tree Sparrow, 8; Junco, 10; Song Sparrow, 9; Myrtle Warbler, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Chickadee, 2; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1; Robin, 1. Total, 14 species, 86 individuals. Mary Pierson Allen.

Newfield, N. J. 25 December 1908; 9.30 a.m. to 2.50 p.m. Cloudy; light rain in afternoon; wind south, very light; ground covered with six to fifteen inches of snow; temp., 40f. Cooper's Hawk (?), 1; Red-shouldered Hawk (?), 1; Downy Woodpecker, 6; Crow, 6; Blue Jay, 4; Meadowlark, 3; Goldfinch, 3; Tree Sparrow, 30; Junco, 100; Song Sparrow, 10; Robin, 1; Chickadee, 8; Bluebird, 5. Total, 12 species, 180 individuals. Wm. W. Fair.

Moorestown, N.J. 28 December 1908; 6.33 to 7.40 a.m.; 8.05 a.m. to 12.45 pm-; 1.30 to 6.30 p.m. Cloudy, becoming clear; ground generally snow-covered; wind west, light; temp., 32f. Turkey Vulture, 1; Marsh Hawk, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 4; Red-shouldered Hawk, 1; Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 6; Hairy Woodpecker, 3; Downy Woodpecker, 6; Flicker, 1; Horned Lark, 20; Crow, 92; Meadowlark, 29; Purple Finch, 2; Goldfinch, 22; White-throated Sparrow, 13; Tree Sparrow, 30; Snowbird, 104; Song Sparrow, 39; Cardinal, 8; Winter Wren, 4; Brown Creeper, 3; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Tufted Titmouse, 7; Chickadee, 2; Catbird, 1. Total, 24 species, 400 individuals. William B. Evans.


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

And don't forget our local Eastern Screech-owls that still nest in NYC in at least three boros. We will be doing owl walks at night in December specifically to find these birds at Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx


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