• Robert DeCandido PhD

Birding 2019 - January Edition: The Message

Updated: Feb 28

2 January 2019

Bird Notes: this coming weekend will be the last one until March when we have both 7:30am and 9:30am walks. Be aware though that this Saturday 5 January, it is supposed to rain heavily, so there may be no bird walks at all. Owl Walks will resume in mid-February. Finally, Deborah and I will be in and out of NYC for the next several weeks so these Newsletters may not always be as timely as we would prefer. Please consult the "Schedule" page of this web site for meeting times and places for the next few weeks.

Deborah Allen and others including Melissa Fleming and Andrew Greller send photos of Evening Grosbeaks, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Great Blue Herons, Great Grey Owls and more. See their photos throughout this Newsletter. In our Historical Notes we send an assemblage of NYC bird observations from the 1875-1925 time frame, and a summary of the December 2018 weather in NYC compared to all Decembers past: (a) the Northern Cardinal in Manhattan as a winter resident on 17 January 1888; (b) the Central Park Bird Feeders in January 1924; (c) an 8 January 1912 note about the first occurrence of the Evening Grosbeak in NYC; (d) a January 1879 article about the large numbers of Evening Grosbeaks and Tufted Titmice in the eastern states; (e) eating buffalo in a NYC restaurant in January 1890; and finally, (f) a summary of the weather for December 2018 - that was milder than average, and the ninth wettest December ever. Indeed 2018 was the fourth wettest year on record, and had the most number of days with precipitation of any year on record.

Northern Saw-whet Owl by Deborah Allen on 30 December 2018 in Shakespeare Garden (Central Park)

Good! Here are the bird walks for Early January - Each $10***

All Bird Walks in Central Park

1. Saturday, 5 January 2019 - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.

2. Sunday, 6 January - 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.


3. Saturday, 12 January 2019 - 9:30am (only!) - Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.

4. Sunday, 13 January 2019 - 9:30am (only!) - Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.


5. Saturday, 19 January 2019 - 9:30am (only!) -Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.

6. Sunday, 20 January 2019 - 9:30am (only!) - Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8

Any questions 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.

First-year Great Blue Heron by Melissa Fleming in late December 2018 in Central Park

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: 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.

Pileated Woodpecker (first-year male) on Hunter Island in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx by Deborah Allen on 19 December. Yes that is a male Red-bellied Woodpecker trying to chase the much larger woodpecker from a prominent tree in the RB Woodpecker territory

Here is what we saw last week

(selected highlights; the full list for each day is available at the links below):

Saturday, 29 December (Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx at 9:30am) - rarely have bird walks started this well. The first bird of the day at the Rodman's Neck traffic circle was a Barred Owl. The second bird of the day was the Pileated Woodpecker (first-year male) on Hunter Island, just 50 meters from the Orchard Beach Parking Lot. And if we ignored the nearby Tufted Titmice, Blue Jays, White-throated Sparrows (and Red-bellied Woodpeckers), the third bird of the morning was a flyover adult Bald Eagle. We would add a second Bald Eagle later in the morning...and a second Barred Owl (and Jack Rothman too). The other amazing and fun event was taking people to a rocky peninsula in the park that is usually mostly underwater. However, with today's very low tide (thank you full moon), we were able to see up close the glacial erratics known as Bronx Stonehenge; and with some help from Andrew Greller PhD (who taught botany and other subjects at Queens College/CUNY for 30 years+), we got a good look at a pink pegmatite intrusion into the bedrock gneiss there too. [See Dr. Greller's photo below.] Because the water levels were so low we did not see any waterfowl of note (a male Barrow's Goldeneye was seen the next day), but we went on to see a Great Horned Owl...and the tree where it nests. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Saturday, 29 December: https://tinyurl.com/y97j9hme

Sunday, 30 December (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am AND an Owl Walk at 4pm) - we were walking, walking and walking - but with lots of people it seemed like we skipping too. It was an easy day really...with so many owls around people are happy just to be in their presence. Interesting highlights occurred early (7am) when Deborah and I watched the Pine Hill (just south of the Boathouse) Barred Owl act, to our eyes, quite agitated by the presence of several squirrels within 50 feet of his perch, with one coming almost up to the owl, and then climbing above to look down on the owl. For its part the Barred Owl flew into the pine trees, then a deciduous tree, finally coming to rest higher in a deciduous tree. This is when a small group of crows arrived to harass the owl...but a young male Cooper's Hawk burst on the seen to chase the crows...the Owl hopping even higher up in the deciduous tree (with no leaves but lots of little branches). The other fun owl story occurred at 4pm for the Owl walk: in Shakespeare Garden everyone was happy to see a close Saw-whet Owl - that unfortunately had its head tucked in and back to the owlers. So we sent them a few more feet where a second Northern Saw-whet Owl was perched at eye-level and facing everyone for all to see. That made the kids happy and even their parents...For the Barred Owl we got there just in time to see it stretching its wings and then take off away from us. I played some Barred Owl calls and it came flying back to several perches in the area - we had great looks at its dark eyes...and manner of flight. The kids were happy again...parents and grandparents too. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 29 December: https://tinyurl.com/yakbhzlx

Tuesday, 1 January 2019 (Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am only, AND an Owl Walk at 4pm) - where were the owls today? We could only find the Great Horned Owl, today on the west side of Belvedere Castle. Two Saw-whet Owls were found uptown along the drive at 106th street roosting in conifers. As a result the night owl walk was less than stellar. The Great Horned Owl leaped out of its conifer at approx. 4:55pm and headed east and out of sight. For small birds during the day, we found two Fox Sparrows and several Eastern Towhees (male and female). Overall it was slow - but interesting especially when we were discussing would birders go to heaven or Purgatory once done with this earth? With us we had several Catholics, Protestants, a Baptist, one Hindu but no Buddhists. Before we could reach a consensus we were watching Buffleheads, Gadwalls, Pied-billed Grebes and the other waterfowl of the Reservoir. Duly noted were the continuing Cooper's Hawks throughout the park - at least four sending many smaller birds to Heaven or Purgatory. Birds that I'll never see because the evil place I am headed to only has House Sparrows and European Starlings. Deborah Allen's list of birds for Tuesday, 1 January 2019: https://tinyurl.com/y96kgkce

female Evening Grosbeak in Algonquin National Park, eastern Canada in January 2016


CARDINAL GROSBEAK IN NEW YORK IN WINTER [1888]. On Tuesday, Jan. 17, I saw on 156th street, near Eleventh avenue, a young male Cardinalis virginianus. The species is not uncommon in Central Park in summer, and has been reported more than once as occurring in winter; but the circumstance is perhaps sufficiently unusual to warrant this brief mention. G. B. G. (New York, Jan. 20).

January 1924: Mrs. Mead spoke of her feeding station in Central Park where a Chickadee (Penthestes a. atricapillus) and Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) feed from her hand. A White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) was a constant visitor and up to a few days previous a Fox Sparrow (Passerella i. illiaca) was seen daily.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. On January 8 [1912], I saw, in Forest Hill Park, Brooklyn, a bird which was undoubtedly a Grosbeak. It was about the same size and shape as a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but the bill was even heavier and larger than theirs, and wax-yellow in color. The body was a grayish olive with a decidedly yellowish cast, almost bright yellow on the rump and lighter and yellower on the breast and sides. The outer wing feathers looked to be black their entire length, but the inner feathers, the secondaries, had a good deal of white in them, so that they had the appearance of being striped cross-ways with white. The tail was black, but also had white on it. The head was more grayish, also a grayish mark along the sides and breast. The bird had the clumsy movements of a Grosbeak-hopped along the branches. It was in a dogwood tree, and was feeding on the buds at the ends of the twigs. It showed absolute unconcern at our presence, and kept right on eating even when we came directly under it. It gave, occasionally, a note like a thrilled chur-r-r, very soft and low. Unfortunately, some boys saw us looking at it and came under the tree. I tried to interest them in the bird, and, upon leaving they promised me they wouldn't harm it. We were no sooner out of hailing distance, however, before they began to throw stones at it. It then flew into another tree not far away, and its note then was a single note, rather sharp and high, as if alarmed. Could it have been an Evening Grosbeak? [See above photo.] I have a picture of a pair of these birds, and it was not like the picture of the male. It had no black cap and its forehead was not yellow, and the secondaries were black and white; and yet the bird was much yellower than the picture of the female. - MARY W. PECKHAM, Member of Bird Lovers' Club, Brooklyn. [Mrs. Peckham's bird, which very evidently was an Evening Grosbeak, is the first bird of this species to be recorded from Long Island. - ED.]

January 1879. The Evening Grosbeak. The appearance of the evening grosbeak in the Eastern States prompts me to make a few remarks on some other birds which I have observed for the past ten years. A notice of the taking of the evening grosbeak has been sent by your old correspondent, Dr. E. Sterling. I may say in addition that when I killed one of the birds the others would follow their wounded comrade to the ground. I have also heard of a great many more being taken along the Lake Erie shore. They have migrated to our northern borders in large numbers, but in scattering flocks. They are seen only in orchards and dooryards, where the red cedar abounds. I took a specimen of the pine grosbeak (Pinicola eriucleator) Feb. 15. It was perched upon a larch tree near the house. This is the second occurrence - in this vicinity since 1860, when it was recorded by Dr. J.P. Kirtland [of Kirtland's Warbler fame]. I notice that the tufted titmouse (L. bicolor) is exceedingly abundant this winter, more so than I have ever seen it before. They are very restless little fellows, continually darting from tree to tree, picking at everything they see uttering at intervals a loud whistle, "peto!'' which can be heard a long distance. They breed here. I have always seen them while woodcock shooting in July in the dark woods, where the elm, black ash and hickory raise their great branches to the sky, almost hiding the sun from the earth. Dec. 4, 1878, I shot seven white-wing crossbills (Loxia leucophera). I saw them feeding upon weeds, and they were so tame that I could almost take them with the hand. After shooting at them, they would fly to a tree or a weed nearby and continue their search for seeds as if nothing had happened. This allowed me to kill them all without once moving from my tracks. I have remarked this same tameness in nearly all rare birds that I have seen. This species is reported as being quite numerous in the vicinity of Cincinnati, O., in the winter of 1868-9. A man recently brought me a barn owl (Strix flammea var. americana), which be shot on the lake shore near Rocky River, in the summer of '87. This is the first recorded occurrence of this species in northern Ohio. A. HALL. LAKEWOOD, Ohio.

Eating Buffalo. 30 January 1890. MR. C. J. JONES, of Kansas, perhaps better known as ''Buffalo Jones," was in this city [NYC] last week on his way to Washington, D. C. Mr. Jones had with him some capital photographs of buffalo. What was much more remarkable than the buffalo photographs was a lot of buffalo meat, taken from a buffalo steer, which Mr. Jones killed shortly before he left Kansas. This meat was fat, juicy, tender and delicious, and those who had an opportunity to taste it will not soon forget its delicacy and its rare flavor. It is many a long year since we have tasted fat buffalo meat, and the dinner that we ate with Mr. Jones seemed to carry us back into the past more years than we like to count. The eating of buffalo meat at the present day, and in New York city, is such a remarkable event that it deserves to be chronicled.

DECEMBER 2018 Weather Summary by Rob Frydlewicz https://tinyurl.com/ycy7l65d

Very Wet 2018 Ends With Very Wet December

2018 was New York's fourth wettest year on record and the final month of the year followed that theme. December was the year's fifth month with six inches or more of precipitation (all of them occurring in the second half of the year). The month ended with the wettest New Year's Eve since 1948, and for the first time since 1994 rain fell during the ball drop in Times Square. Most of the month's 6.51" of rain (the ninth wettest December on record) fell after 12/13. This followed a ten-day dry spell, which was the longest in more than a year. Four days had an inch or more of rain, all occurring in the second half of the month.

December was 2.6 degrees milder than average. The month started out colder than average, with December 1-13 averaging three degrees below average, then a shift occurred and the rest of the month was nearly six degrees above average. The final twelve days of the month all had above average temperatures (as did sixteen of the last eighteen). The range in temperatures was rather narrow, from 24f to 61f (the coldest reading in December is typically in the upper teens while the mildest reading is in the low 60s).

November 2018 was snowier and had colder readings than December (two days had lows in the teens). Typically December is ten degrees colder than November but this year it was only four degrees colder. Just ten other Decembers have been closer to November's average temperature. After 6.4" of snow fell in November (all on 11/15) there was just a trace of snow in December. This was the twentieth December on record with a trace of snow or less (nine of them have been in the past 25 years). And it joined a handful of Decembers with much less snow than November.

Finally, December had the same average temperature as March (40.1f). December is typically about five degrees colder. However, while the overall temperature was the same as March's, December's average high was about a degree colder than March while its average low was about one degree milder. And while both month's had above average precipitation, March was much snowier, with 11.6" measured.

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

Great Grey Owl in New Hampshire - These boreal forest owls are not accustomed to seeing humans - and used this person's head as a perch. Deborah and I are off to photograph these owls at Sax-Zim Bog in northern Minnesota, perhaps the best place in the eastern USA to find these birds in winter. Wish us luck in the balmy 15f high temps and zero or so at night.

#PileatedWoodpecker #EveningGrosbeak #NorthernSawwhetOwl