• Robert DeCandido PhD

Warblers Calling: Central Park Early May

Updated: Feb 28

1 May 2019 - Measles of Migrants

Bird Notes: Migration is best in May - don't miss it! The next five days will have unsettled weather, so please keep an eye on the Schedule page of this Web Site for possible cancellation notices due to rain, etc. However, for the first 2-3 weeks of May, our default position is to have the walk unless it is an outright downpour. Indeed some of our best days in May have been on rainy ones: birds come down from the tops of trees and are very responsive (come in close) to the calls from my tape...probably because the weather is cooler when overcast/raining, and the birds more active. Finally, Sandra Critelli is having smashing success on her bird walks (she found Hooded Warbler on Tuesday night) - so check out her evening walks at 6pm meeting at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe (Tue and Thu). She is our own Isabella Rossillini, except a much better birder (and Sandra's Italian is mucho better too).

We now enter the tiempo of fantastic, wonderful, amazing, stunning, spectacular, supremissimo birding. Each of you has been subpoenaed to appear before the Birding Bob court to testify what you have seen with your own eyes. In the last few days, there have been: Yellow-throated Warbler; Golden-winged Warbler; Hooded Warbler (many); Worm-eating Warbler (many); Yellow-throated Vireo; Spotted Sandpiper; Solitary Sandpiper...Come join the fun.

With Historical Notes, we present a spring 1965 article about several days of birding in the Central Park Ramble by Bill Oddie (https://www.britishbirdlovers.co.uk/articles/profile-bill-oddie ). From 29 April through 4 May (1965) Mr. Oddie wandered about a more dangerous park than today - indeed the phrase, "Muggers' Woods" dates to about that time. From an historical perspective, it is interesting to note that he had slow days in late April, and the first grand wave of warblers in early May - much like this (2019) spring.

Adult male Common Yellowthroat by Deborah Allen

Good! Here are the bird walks for Early May 2019

All Bird Walks in Central Park - $10

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

1. Thursday, 2 May at 9am - meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond (78th st. Mid-Park)

2. Thursday, 2 May at 6pm - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park (Sandra Critelli)

3. Friday, 3 May at 9am - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th st./5Ave)

4.***Saturday, 4 May at 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park 5.***Sunday, 5 May at 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park

6.***Monday, 6 May at 8am/9:00am - Imagine Mosaic at STRAWBERRY FIELDS (72nd st)

7. Tuesday, 7 May at 6pm - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park (Sandra Critelli)

*** On mornings when two walks are scheduled, you can do both walks for $10/person. So you get two for one. OR you can do either the early walk or the second walk for $10/person.

Any questions send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 (home)

Green Heron by Deborah Allen

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!. On Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue - walk down the steps and walk straight ahead for the far side. If worried, ask someone to direct you to the men's restroom - we meet 10 meters from that location. On Mondays we are at Strawberry Fields - meet at the Imagine Mosaic - that is approx. 72nd street about 40 meters inside the park from Central Park West. On Thursdays we meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond - for all of these meeting locations check this web site - there is a full page devoted to meeting locations! Evening walks (Tuesday and Thursday nights from 23 April through and including Thursday, 16 May) meet at 6pm at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe. These evening walks are led by Sandra Critelli.

Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (rdcny@earthlink.net). If you are lost and trying to get to the bird walk, call Deborah's cell phone...but remember on weekends there will be 2-3 other people calling who are also lost - please be patient! 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 walks (except Fridays) at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). 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.

Indigo Bunting by Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Thursday, 25 April (Dock on Turtle Pond at 9:00am): A warm day after cool, and sometimes rainy, weather the migrants started to arrive. An Orange-crowned Warbler found by David Barrett and myself before the walk was a preliminary for the main course: Blue-winged Warblers were seen (and calling) around every turn. Indeed this may prove to be the spring of the Blue-wing...All told ten Warbler species today + three Vireo spp.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Thursday, 25 April:


Friday, 26 April (Conservatory Garden at 9:00am) - RAIN! No Bird Walk.

Saturday, 27 April (Boathouse Restaurant Cafe at 7:30am/9:30am) - it got cold again, and this put a halt on significant migration. However, the tape was magical at Warbler Rock as we brought in an eye-level Hooded Warbler male in direct sunlight. All told eight warbler species today.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 27 April:


Sunday, 28 April (Boathouse 7:30am/9:30am) - a grumpy, sometimes rainy and always cool and overcast morning...despite this people came to see birds. The early walk had a few birds coming into the tape including Baltimore Oriole and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We had Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in two places (thanks to Deborah Allen)...and eight warbler species today. On the second (9:30am) walk, we had much difficulty calling down the migrants from the tops of oak trees where they were feeding on the pollen and caterpillars in the oak flowers.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 28 April:


Monday, 29 April (Strawberry Fields at 8am/9am) - while we were calling in warblers via the tape at Warbler Rock, one tried to sneak in behind us...a Hooded Warbler - but Jane was there to see it. We continued to use the tape, and finally had good looks at this male in front of us, perching in the sunshine...until it sped off to chase another male Hooded Warbler away. Three Blue-winged Warblers were good, as well as Red-breasted Nuthatches coming down close to inspect us...thanks to the tape. Overall we saw nine warbler species today.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 29 April:


Field Sparrow in Central Park (Maintenance Field) on 28 April 2019 by Deborah Allen


Birding in Central Park - Spring 1965

by Bill Oddie: https://tinyurl.com/y56vunwz

This is an excerpt from Oddie's book, Best Days with British Birds (pages 50-52); Sent to us by Mark Varley on 28 June 2018; he had been on our bird walk in May 2018.

"...Central Park also provides cover for muggers, rapists, junkies and assorted all American psychopathic loonies. Outside daylight hours, most sensible New Yorkers wouldn't be seen dead in the park - unless that's what they already are - dead! A fair smattering of murders take place in the park too. However...Central Park is also a very good place for birds and there is no better time to see them than at dawn. Which is why, back in 1965, I was in the habit of going bird-watching in Central Park just before it got light. My American friends thought I was nuts. "What was I doing in the States, anyway? I was 'performing' in the theatre, in the cast of 'Cambridge Circus', the 1963 Cambridge Footlights' Revue that had taken London by storm, toured New Zealand, and ended up on Broadway, no less - well, for three weeks, anyway. We had got 'rave' reviews, but none of the ticket agencies seemed to know the show was on. The impresario who had brought us over usually produced operas, Russian Dance Troupes, Military Tattoos and the like, and we suspect he thought we really were a CIRCUS! When he realized he had brought over a bunch of rather silly English undergraduates, he was no doubt so embarrassed he tried to close the show. He failed. The critics loved it, and so did the audiences, so that after moving to a cosier off-Broadway theatre-club, we ran for nearly a year. Looking back, it is not surprising. The cast was full of stars, though we didn't know it then: embryo 'Pythons', John Cleese and Graham Chapman; eventual co-'Goody' Tim Brooke-Taylor; Jonathan Lynn, future co-author of 'Yes Minister'; David Hatch, now head of BBC Radio One; and...me.

"I was the only birdwatcher. During the year we had not only worked in New York, but had also done a whistle-stop tour of North America, zooming around California, Canada, Florida, Louisiana and that huge bit in the middle known as the 'Mid-West'. We had played everything from astrodomes to village halls. In between shows, I spent many frantic hours 'twitching' round gardens, parks, waste patches and local reservoirs. Our itinerary had often been exhaustingly illogical, involving some bizarre contrasts. I recall one afternoon sweating under a New Orleans sun, watching Scissor-tailed Flycatchers cavorting about the magnolia blossoms. The next day, I was in a bare Canadian forest, sinking up to my knees in snow in pursuit of a Great Grey Owl! This sort of thing went on for two months, and the result was that I still have a longer American list than British. "By the end of April 1965, I was glad to be back in Manhattan. The spring migrants should already have begun travelling northwards up the east coast of America. To any of them looking down on New York, Central Park must appear as an oasis in the middle of a concrete desert: an isolated sanctuary offering rest and food, as obvious in its way as Fair Isle in the middle of the bleak North Sea. On April 25th, I made my first dawn visit to the park. I found myself in the company not of mime artists or muggers, but hundreds of old ladies with binoculars. Not voyeurs, but birdwatchers. Their favoured habitat is known rather sweetly as "The Ramble", a half-natural half-landscaped area appropriately close by the Natural History Museum. There are cute little bridges over shallow streams - perfect for waterthrushes to trot along - overhanging foliage for warblers to dangle from, bare branches for Flycatchers to perch on, small bushes for thrushes to skulk under and even a lake or two with concrete shorelines, which might fool the odd wader. The old ladies were on an Audubon Society Field Trip. I approached them with the international birdwatchers' standard enquiry: 'Anything about?' I was informed that the 'warbler waves' weren't in yet, and my attempts to discuss abstract points of American bird identification foundered totally. "We don't bother with "peeps", let alone confusing fall warblers". I wandered off to check out The Ramble for myself. It was true, there weren't any 'waves', the only warblers were three Palm Warblers hopping around on the rocks, looking like something between a chat and an accentor. There were half-a-dozen Chipping Sparrows, as well as thrashers, flickers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets - all a bit too easy to be much fun. A single phoebe was more up my street - a really dreary little Flycatcher with virtually no distinguishing marks, which needed studying and looking up in the book. The ladies probably didn't bother with them, either! "On the morning of the 29th, the weather was warmer and there were three species of warbler - Palm, Myrtle (now dismally re-titled Yellow-rumped) and Black-and-White (which ought to be renamed Creeping Zebra Warbler), but I still didn't feel that three constituted a 'wave'. Well, four actually - the stream had now acquired a Northern Waterthrush, but it was hard to think of a bird that looked like a small hybrid Song Thrush Rock Pipit as a warbler. "On the evening of May 3rd, I risked my life. I stayed in the park until after dark. Something was happening. The trees were beginning to blossom with small migrants. Flitting shapes seemed to be materialising out of the gathering gloom. I didn't know where to turn - my binoculars misted up as I breathed heavily with excitement, and my pencil trembled. My notes were unreadable, and I kept dropping my held Guide. Frantically, I scampered round The Ramble seeing lots and identifying very little, until the sun dropped behind the Empire State and I raced for the subway before I was mugged, raped and murdered, or mimed to death. I had a sleepless night. Clearly, I witnessed the beginning of "it" - the 'wave'. It had arrived just as I was leaving. I was due to fly back to England at 10.30 the next morning!

"May 4th, 1965 I galloped into Central Park about 5.00 am. The psychopaths were snoozing safely under the rhododendrons as I leapt over the junkies and scaled a small hillock, which allowed me to scan across The Ramble and put me on a level with some of the tree tops. The sky was full of bird-calls - the relieved squeeks and twitters of weary night migrants discovering 'the oasis '. The sun rose to illuminate showers of assorted warblers literally cascading into the tree tops. For once I was glad that many American bird names are so literal. Describe them and you've got it. 'Black-throated Green Warbler', 'Black-throated Blue', 'Chestnut-sided', - even 'Hooded ' and 'Yellowthroat' are quite helpful, as long as the birds are in spring plumage. These were, and what plumages they possessed - like everything American, Flashier and grander by far than the dreary old British versions. Once you've seen them looking like this, I must admit 'confusing fall warblers' are a bit of a come-down.

"I had an hour and a half before I had to race off to catch a plane. I didn't panic. In fact, I never even moved from my perch. I sat and let the birds 'come to me' and every time I scanned the tree tops the selection had changed. Not only warblers: four species of thrush; three different Flycatchers; five sparrows; two wrens; three vireos; tanagers; orioles. And not only 'little birds': a Sharp-shinned Hawk swung overhead; two Little Green Herons dived down in to a little green reed-bed; and there were even waders - Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers calling above me and then pitching on to the concrete mud.

"At not much after 7.00am I had to leave. In a way, it was heartbreaking. Still, I sort of enjoyed the flight back to London. It took me much of the seven hours translating my squiggly notes and hurried drawings, and writing everything up neatly into my 'big note-book'. The morning of May 4th, 1965, became recorded history. In little over 90 minutes I'd seen 17 species of warbler, plus so much more. If only I could have stayed all day, I would surely have had just about every bird on the American check list! And all that slap bang in the middle of the most crowded concrete city in the world. "As the plane circled over London I looked clown and recognized Hyde Park. It didn't impress me a bit."

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

The End...North End of Central Park on 6 April 2017

#BillOddieBritishBirder #WarblersMay1965