Wrapping Up May 2019 with Strong Migration - Central Park
Updated: Feb 28
22 May 2019
Bird Notes: We focus our attention on Mourning Warblers and migrant flycatchers this week; and the flowering of the Honey-Locust that Blackburnian Warblers love so much. Sandra Critelli has her last evening Tuesday and Thursday walks for the spring, though she may do a weekly summer night walk - only $10. Check this web site for the schedule and meeting locations.
Here's your last chance to see lots of species on migration - Monday is Memorial Day and it is easy to park near Central Park on both the east and west sides: Sunday parking rules in effect.
Last week on or about 15 May, a Burrowing Owl was discovered near the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Reserve in Queens. This is not the first Burrowing Owl discovered in NYC...indeed one was found in Manhattan in the 19th century. So with this week's Historical Notes, we present (1) a mid-August 1875 Burrowing Owl found in an uptown house in Manhattan and brought to a taxidermist on [North] William street in lower Manhattan; (2) a December-January 1977-78 Burrowing Owl found at Cedar Beach, Long Island. This owl is described in great detail in (3) by the finders, Hannah Richards and her husband Arthur, in their 1988 article in the Kingbird - the couple was perhaps the first wildlife (bird) re-habbers in NYC (they lived on Coney Island, Brooklyn); and (4) a 1977 article by Tom Davis (a 1970s legend among NYC area birders) summarizing additional occurrences of the Burrowing Owl in NYC and Long Island - and interesting details on how one was transported from our area to Florida.
adult male Bay-breasted Warbler by Deborah Allen on 18 May 2019
Good! Here are the bird walks for Late May 2019
All Bird Walks in Central Park - $10
Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8
1. Thursday, 23 May at 9am - meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond (78th st. Mid-Park)
2. Thursday, 23 May at 6pm - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park (Sandra Critelli)
3. Friday, 24 May at 9am - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th st./5Ave)
4.***Saturday, 25 May at 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park 5.***Sunday, 26 May at 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park
6.***Monday, 27 May at 8am/9:00am - Imagine Mosaic at STRAWBERRY FIELDS (72nd st)
7. Tuesday, 28 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: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 718-828-8262 (home)
Eastern Kingbird by Deborah Allen on 20 May 2019
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 (email@example.com). 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.
Lincoln's Sparrow by Deborah Allen on 18 May 2019
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)
Thursday, 16 May (Dock on Turtle Pond at 9:00am): the big story today was the Swainson's Warbler found just north of Bow Bridge in the Ramble at 7:30am. David Barrett and I were seconds away (by foot) when the report came over the internet...David being younger and faster than I raced over...I walked. He saw the bird, and I had to wait until much later when the Swainson's Warbler popped up on a rock behind the Summer House (Ramble) and the first couple of people on the bird walk were also able to see it. Otherwise, today will go down as the last day of great migration for May 2019. Good numbers of birds everywhere; 19 warbler species plus both the Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Thursday, 16 May:
Friday, 17 May (Conservatory Garden at 9:00am) - The big flight of Wednesday into Thursday had mostly left by Friday...but starting early with Bill Heck we had fun, but not with many birds. Easily the best bird was a bright red male Summer Tanager, first bird of the day for the 9am walk people on the east side of the Wildflower Meadow. It has been a good spring for Summer Tanagers here in Central Park and the region (as was 2018) - one wonders if their numbers (range) is expanding...otherwise some Cape May Warblers (12 warbler species in all), and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the west side of the Wildflower Meadow.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 17 May:
Saturday, 18 May (Boathouse Restaurant Cafe at 7:30am/9:30am) - Long-time stalwarts of the bird walk, Tom Ahlf and Peter Haskel were happily here to see the Chuck-will's widow (a kind of nightjar - see Deborah's photo below) that was perched in the open above the Source of the Gill (aka Viagra Falls). Also today, we watched two Black-billed Cuckoos catching termites in mid-air in the same location, and a Yellow-throated Vireo at the Oven - well seen by the first group this morning.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 18 May:
Sunday, 19 May (Boathouse 7:30am/9:30am) - It wasn't easy but we did manage 17 warbler species today - I don't know how because the birding was sparse (low numbers)...but with the last bird of the day, a female Bay-breasted Warbler we made it. My great thanks to Great Crested Flycatchers who obligingly came in to the calls from my tape to fly back and forth over us in a couple of places...at least one pair seems ready to set up a territory in the area of the Source of the Gill. Other highlights today included at least 5 Cape May Warblers including a very nice male at the southwest corner of the Great Lawn.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 19 May:
Monday, 20 May (Strawberry Fields at 8am/9am) - walking past Balcony Bridge (77th street and the West Drive) at 7:30am I heard a bright cheery call - I played the tape and soon had a male Mourning Warbler in view. I put the info out via the Manhattan Bird Alert on Twitter...and went to Strawberry Fields to collect my people for the bird walk. Here we had the best bird of the day for the 8am group, and then again for the 9am folks: a male Indigo Bunting perched at eye-level for several minutes. But, with both groups, once we left Strawberry Fields, the birding got worse - and we had no luck with the Mourning Warbler..of course. These are skulkers - if they don't want to be seen, etc. Adding insult to injury, I had only one place with a cooperative Great Crested Flycatcher...and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo did not want to sit still in a tree for us to get a good look.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 20 May: https://tinyurl.com/y537zzxm
Chuck-will's-widow (immature) on 18 May 2019 by Deborah Allen
Mid-August 1875: A Burrowing Owl (genus Spheotyto, Groger,) was captured last Sunday in this city [New York City] in an up-town house, where it flew into the scuttle. It is a very fine specimen, and can be seen alive at the establishment of J. R. Wallace, taxidermist, 17 North William street [Lower Manhattan]. There is only one species of this bird in this country, but it is found in great abundance west of the Mississippi River. There is no evidence that this bird was ever caged. He appears to be merely a wanderer from his native prairie, at least a thousand miles due west. He is an active little fellow, and none the worse for his long journey.
5 January 1977: Florida Owl, a Rarity in the North, Rescued From Chilly Long Island
. A little Florida burrowing owl, half frozen and starved, has, been found in Cedar Beach, L.I., by birdwatchers who said only two others have ever been reported officially in New York State.
Ornithologists said that they were puzzled about how the bird from the far south arrived in the area, but that they were convinced it was not an escaped pet, partly because it is illegal to keep burrowing owls in captivity. The bird was first spotted Dec. 27, huddled disconsolately on the median divider on Ocean Parkway in the Suffolk County community half way between Jones Beach and Captree State Park. Burrowing owls, which are about the size of a man's fist, live in dwindling colonies in Florida and do not migrate. In general, news about rarities in the bird world spreads rapidly among bird-watchers, and it was not long before word reached two birding fans, Arthur Richard, a 42-year-old bus driver for the New York City Transit Authority, and his wife, Hanna, of 23 Bartlett Place, Brooklyn.. They arrived at 8 A.M. the following day and saw the bird standing on brown grass, feathers fluffed against the cold and a thin layer of ice coating its feet. Mrs. Richard had made a practice of taking in injured birds and lost no time in picking up the tiny owl, warming it under her parka and taking it home. There she fed the owl crickets, which she breeds to feed some of the dozens of injured birds she cares for each year. The owl began perking up immediately. The Richards took the owl to the American Museum of Natural History, where John Bull of the department of ornithology confirmed that the long-legged brownish creature was indeed the rarity the couple presumed it to be. Robert Boardman, public information director of the National Audubon Society said the species was on its "blue list" which comprises creatures not yet endangered, but threatened with becoming so. Yesterday, with the bird apparently restored to full health, plans were made to send it back to Florida tonight on an airplane and to release it near a colony of the species not far from the Miami Airport.
Burrowing Owls on Long Island: In his book Birds of The New York Area (1964) John Bull mentions two possible occurrences of Burrowing Owl in the New York City area: (1) one caught alive in New York City on 8 Aug 1876 [see above], but suspected of having escaped from captivity, and (2) one shot at Westhampton, Long Island, on 27 October 1950. The latter was a specimen of the western race (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) and may have been a genuine wanderer. Considering the foregoing it is against all odds that my wife Hanna and I should have been involved with three occurrences of this species on Long Island between December 1976 and March 1982.
On 28 December 1976 we picked up a Florida race Burrowing Owl that was on the verge of dying of exposure during a snow storm. The bird was on the median of the Jones Beach strip at Cedar Beach and it was given first aid and stabilized by Hanna, who has a permit to rehabilitate wildlife. At the time we had no experience with this species so Tom Davis came to our house and photographed and measured the owl. He concurred with us that it was the Florida race (Athene cunicularia floridam) thought to be sedentary. Many believed that it had accidentally boarded a truck or ship and was only able to free itself upon arriving here (cf. Kingbird 27:69; 1977 = [A BURROWING OWL present from Dec. 3 to Feb. 1 [1978-1979] at JFK Airport (S. Chevalier, AR, HR) roosted in a storm sewer pipe!]). At the American Museum of Natural History John Farrand confirmed the identification and both he and John Bull agreed that the wisest course to take would be to return it to Florida. So on 6 January 1977 the owl was returned to Miami, Florida, via National Airlines. On 3 December 1978 Port Authority supervisor Sam Chevalier, a close friend, was operating his truck along the back roads at J. F. Kennedy International Airport. Hanna was seated next to him. They were searching for a Snowy Owl seen the day before but instead flushed a Burrowing Owl. A phone call brought Jim Ash to the scene in record time. He had missed seeing the Cedar Beach Owl by minutes and was determined that history would not repeat itself. The owl was identified, with the aid of a 20x scope, as a Florida race bird. The following day Sam saw the owl in the same general area. This individual was quite wary and impossible to approach. The owl was not seen again until 30 January 1979, when it was found at a different location on the airport. It was last seen on 1 February 1979. At this time, various other raptors were on the airport, including a Peregrine Falcon, Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, Common Barn-Owl, and occasional Goshawks and Cooper's Hawks, so the possibility of foul play exists. Copies of my original notes have been filed with the New York State Avian Records Committee. On 29 Mar 1982 Sam, Hanna and I were birding the airport. We stopped the truck on a dirt road and got out. While looking for sparrows we came upon the flattened and stiff carcass of a Burrowing Owl. It was easily identified by plumage and the distinctive tarsi. At this point Hanna and I had studied the birds in both Florida and Texas, and this too was a Florida race individual! Unfortunately, its remains were misplaced before they could be deposited in a museum collection. Richard, A. 1988. Burrowing Owls on Long Island. Kingbird 38: 16-17
THE BURROWING OWL IN NEW YORK STATE Thomas H. Davis Kingbird Spring 1977 The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is represented in North America by two widely separated populations. The migratory subspecies hypugaea breeds in the western United States east to Minnesota. The supposedly sedentary race floridana occurs in peninsular Florida from Alachua Co. southward (Sykes, 1974) to the Bahamas, Hispaniola (Bond, 1971), and Cuba (Garrido and Garcia Montana, 1975). In 1973, A.c. floridana was discovered breeding in Cuba (Bond, 1973). In New York State the Burrowing Owl has been reported on three occasions: (1) Griscom (1923) reports a bird that "flew into an uptown house in New York City, August 8, 1875, and was caught alive." He does not state whether the bird was kept as a specimen, and dismisses the possibility that it was a wild bird, stating "this record is so remarkable, that one instantly suspects an escaped cage bird." (2) Bull (1974) reports a bird of the race hypugaea collected on Long Island at Westhampton, Suffolk Co. October 27, 1950, by Art Cooley, and identified to subspecies by John T. Zimmer. Art Cooley (verb. comm.) told me a friend of his shot the bird at a sandy spoil area a quarter of a mile west of the West Bay Bridge in Westhampton, within sight of the barrier beach. This specimen was placed in the private collection of LeRoy Wilcox. However, the specimen is no longer extant, having been stolen along with the entire collection of Wilcox during a vacation absence (Wilcox, pers. comm.). (3) On October 27, 1976 Steve Kriss discovered a Burrowing Owl at dusk at Cedar Beach, Suffolk Co., perched atop a low post adjacent to a roadway. As Kriss sat in his car studying the bird, it suddenly flew into nearby beach grass, then returned to the post with a prey item, apparently a large insect. Finally, the bird took flight and disappeared over the Cedar Beach pitch-and-putt golf course. Kriss returned to Cedar Beach on several occasions with his friend Bob Leporati to search for the Burrowing Owl, but to no avail. Rather unfortunately, word of the sighting did not spread far. On December 27, 1976, T. Rodney Gardner, a visiting birder from Pennsville, New Jersey, discovered a Burrowing Owl roosting under the edge of a row of Japanese Black Pine trees growing along the median strip of Ocean Parkway at Cedar Beach. Gardner immediately notified Robert Arbib at the National Audubon Society, who in turn alerted the local birding community. That afternoon Mike Gochfeld relocated the bird at this spot, due north of the above-mentioned golf course. The bird stood at the edge of the pines, its feathers fluffed out. The temperature was below 30F., the winds were NW at about 15-20 mph., and the ground was nearly covered by a recent snowfall. The bird flew short distances several times, usually alighting in the shelter of the pines, but twice perched atop high, exposed branches. Photographs were taken by Rod Gardner, Mike Gochfeld, Paul A. Buckley, the author, and others. That night two inches of wet snow fell, and by morning the temperature had fallen to 21F. Shortly after dawn the owl was found "huddled" under the pines. It appeared weak, and only flew short distances. It once alighted on Ocean Parkway and promptly closed its eyes! The bird was obviously ailing and a decision was reached to capture it. This was accomplished by Arthur Richard, who simply walked over and picked it up. An immediate examination revealed that "hardened snow or ice had begun to form on the bird's feet and lower tarsi, and it felt extremely emaciated" (Richard). The bird was taken home by Art and Hannah Richard, who are equipped to care for sick or injured birds, especially raptors. Later that day the owl consumed 6 crickets and 4 dead mice. The next day, December 29th, the bird ate 2 more mice and 4 strips of lean beef. The owl's reactions appeared to have returned to normal. The next morning the first pellet was found in its cage. The Richards suggest that this delay in casting a pellet indicates that the owl was even more starved than they had first imagined (see Richard, 1977). At this point there were two issues concerning the owl-which race was it, and what should become of the bird once restored to health? Arrangements were made to have it brought to the American Museum of Natural History the following Monday for subspecific determination. On December 30th Tony Lauro telephoned me to convey a growing" sentiment that the bird should be released in the wild in its native habitat, a feeling later voiced by others. Tony suggested that Mike Cooper, a birder holding an airline ticket for Miami January 5th, would be willing to transport the bird. I consulted John Bull and John Farrand, and we agreed that if the owl was identified as the western race hypugaea then it should be donated to the Bronx Zoo and not sent further astray. The corollary was understood, were it floridana then to Florida it would go. The Burrowing Owl was examined by John Bull and John Farrand on January 3, 1977. Farrand's comment (in litt.) follows: "The Burrowing Owl from Cedar Beach, which I examined with John Bull . . . was identifiable as a Florida Burrowing Owl, A.c. floridana, on the basis of its small size (wing, 166 mm.; tail, 72 mm.), its darker brown upperparts with whitish, not buffy, spots, its whiter underparts, its rather heavily spotted and only very pale buffy under wing-coverts, and its very sparsely feathered tarsi. Taken together, these characters eliminate not only A. c. hypugaea of western North America but all other races of the species... "When I got the skins out to look at the differences between floridana and hypugaea, I was struck by the fact that these are very good races. A. c. hypugaea is a bigger, paler and more buffy bird with very densely feathered tarsi. There is no doubt at all that the Cedar Beach bird is floridana, much to my surprise." Arrangements were then made for Mike Cooper to transport the bird to Florida and release it near Miami. At the same time several newspapers were contacted, and human interest photo stories appeared in the Long Island Press January 4th, and the Daily News and New York Times on the 5th. That evening Art and Hannah Richard brought the owl to Mike Cooper at JFK Airport. Within minutes of Cooper's departure two U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agents appeared, inquiring whether a permit had been obtained to transport the bird interstate. Everyone had neglected to consider this necessity, and the owl was immediately confiscated! With the intercession of Harvey Berman, a National Airlines public relations man, a compromise was reached, and the Burrowing Owl was allowed to fly to Miami where other special agents seized the bird. A follow-up story in the Daily News January 6th wryly commented that the owl almost didn't make the flight to Florida since it lacked a permit to "fly"! On January 6th Paul Sykes was contacted in Delray Beach, Florida. Sykes is an avid birder and is employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a biologist. With his intercession the red tape was soon dispensed with. Later that week the owl was given to Paul and he released it "in good health" in Burrowing Owl habitat on the mainland west of Hypoluxo Island.
Disorientation might cause a western, migratory Burrowing Owl to occur in the Northeast, but how a bird of the southern, supposedly sedentary race might reach Long Island is less clear. Newspaper stories referred to above suggested the owl was carried north by auto or train, but this seems implausible. A small, illegal cage bird trade involves only western birds according to Richard Ryan (pers. comm.), and there was nothing about the bird's appearance that hinted at recent captivity. Paul Sykes stated to me that while Florida Burrowing Owls are considered sedentary, some dispersal obviously does take place. He collected a Florida Burrowing Owl on the Outer Banks of North Carolina at Salvo, Dare Co., on February 14, 1967, that had been present since November 14, 1966 (Sykes, 1974). Sykes' paper cites two other specimens of A. c. floridana from outside its normal range, from Alabama and Cuba. He mentions sight reports of undetermined subspecific identity from Virginia and South Carolina both at coastal locations. Two other sight reports were from offshore: a bird boarded a vessel at night just off Cape Henry, Virginia, October 22, 1918, and one flew aboard a boat at 10 a.m. 24 miles east of Cocoa Beach, Florida, July 27, 1972. The latter bird remained aboard until 5 p.m. when the boat docked at Port Canaveral and the bird flew ashore and disappeared. Sykes states that these offshore reports suggest "a possible mechanism by which A. c. floridana could readily reach places along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. far from its normal range. On the southeast coast of Florida the busy coastal shipping lane is within 1-2 km. of shore." Frederick A. Probst has sent me photographs of a Burrowing Owl taken in June, 1976, at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina. John Farrand has examined these photographs and writes: "On the basis of the general coloration and the fact that the tarsi appear largely bare, this bird is almost certainly A. c. floridana; it is definitely not the western race hypugaea. " This additional evidence supports the idea of dispersal by the Florida population.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Assembling this paper brought me in contact with a great number of people, all of whom enthusiastically contributed their time and expertise. Needed documentation was supplied by Paul A. Buckley, John Bull, Art Cooley, Pat Probst, Richard Ryan, and LeRoy Wilcox. Persons who played a role in accounting the history of the Cedar Beach Burrowing Owl included Bob Arbib, Harvey Berman, Mike Cooper, John Farrand, T. Rodney Gardner, Mike Gochfeld, Steve Kriss, Tony Lauro, Bob Leporati, and Art and Hannah Richard. Paul Sykes supplied much background material, as well as being ultimately responsible for the Cedar Beach bird's successful reintroduction to the wild. Frederick A. Probst kindly sent me photographs of the Huntington Beach, South Carolina, bird. My best wishes to that dauntless owl wherever it lives; that bird's appearance on Long Island thrilled many, and was entirely responsible for inspiring this article!
Bond, J., 1971. Birds of the West Indies, 2nd ed. Collins, London. Bond, J., 1973. 18th Suppl. to W. Indian Checklist. Bull, J., 1974. Birds of New York State. Doubleday Natural History Press. Garden City, N.Y. Garrido, O. H., and F. Garcia Montana, 1975. G'aialogo de las Aves de Cuba. Academia de Ciencias de Cuba, Havana. Griscom, J., 1923. Birds of the New York City Region. AMNH. N.Y. Richard, A., 1977. Burrowing Owl on Long Island. News and Notes. Queens Co. Bird Club, February 1977. Sykes, P., 1974. Fla. Burrowing Owl collected in North Carolina. Auk 91: 636-637 Thomas H. Davis 9446-85 Road Woodhaven, New York 11421
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in June 2015