Updated: Feb 28, 2020
14 August 2019
Bird Notes: Try to make the 7:30am walk on Sat/Sundays: Birds are more active then. Our third Eastern Screech-owl walk will be on Tuesday evening, 20 August at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx - meet at 7:30pm in the parking lot (free) of the Golf Course - look for the large Club House on the lake, and we meet 75 feet to the left. On Thursday evening 22 August there is a 6pm walk in Central Park (90 minutes) with Sandra Critelli. All walks: $10! More details on each of these walks below.
Note! We re-scheduled our screech-owl walk for this Thursday evening 15 August - meet at the Indian Road Diner just across the street from the park at 7:30pm. See their web site for directions (or email/call us for info): Meet at 600 West 218th Street @ Indian Road New York, NY 10034 https://tinyurl.com/y5o9pab5 We have seen screech-owls every time we have gone out this summer...up to four in a night, and heard others. We are hoping to find several young ones Thursday night at Inwood Hill Park. If you miss this one, then catch us in the Bronx next week - details on that owl walk below.
Our cover photo shows "Sealy" a Harbor Seal that has been present at Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan for the last few weeks. He (a young male) is easy to see from where we meet for the owl walk...and best to look at high tide and after 3pm. He is not shy and people have been getting great images with just their cell phones.
In this week's Historical Notes, we present: (1) 1934 New York Times article on the "savage" Eastern Screech-owls nesting in Douglaston, Queens - and the patrol that was organized to track them down; (2) a summary of a 27 August 2018 Eastern Screech-owl walk at Inwood Hill Park; and (3) is a New York Times article from August 1998 about an owl walk at Inwood Hill Park - more Eastern Screech-owls!
Male Great Blue Skimmer , Turtle Pond (Central Park), Saturday August 10, 2019 by Deborah Allen
Good! The Bird Walks for mid-late Summer
All Walks @ $10/person
Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8
1.***Saturday, 17 Aug at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Park)
2.***Sunday, 18 August at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Dr. (Central Park)
***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.
3. Tuesday, 20 August at 7:30pm - Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx for Eastern Screech-owls. We will be out for about 90 minutes...bring a light mosquito repellent (10% or less deet) for bare legs/arms. Bring a tiny flashlight (and if not, don't worry use your phone as a flashlight...and I will have a powerful flashlight). Meet at 7:30pm at the Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course Parking lot (turn on the intersection of Bailey Ave and Van Cortlandt Park South): 189 Van Cortlandt Ave W, The Bronx, NY 10471. For directions to VC Park (Bronx), the Golf Course Parking Lot, see: https://tinyurl.com/y9lbd2lq
Now if you are taking the #1 train, contact me to let me know and I will meet you at the train station (last stop of #1 train = 242nd street and Broadway) at 7:15pm. Please let me know...
4. Thursday evening, 22 August at 6pm Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Park) - our first of a series of evening walks that will meet every Thursday during the autumn. These are led by Sandra Critelli who specializes in sharks and birds - and hails from Italy. The evening walks will last for 90 minutes or so, and will focus on birds, bats...and raccoons and whatever else is out and about at dusk. Any questions, contact Sandra (SandraCritelli@gmail.com) or me.
Any questions send them our way: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 718-828-8262 (home)
Eastern Screech-owl at Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx on 18 February 2018 by Deborah Allen
The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through November. 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 Fri/Sat/Mon walks will resume in early to mid-August.
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 Central Park 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.
Immature Male American Redstart, Upper Lobe, Central Park, Sunday 11 August 2019 by Deborah Allen
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)
Saturday, 10 August (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - This morning set a record not for the number of warbler species seen (8), but because the number of PhDs and MDs (and millionaires) on the walk exceeded the number of warblers. That was disappointing as I was hoping to see more birds...We had PhDs/MDs from multiple states (California, NY and Massachusetts), countries (Spain and India) and backgrounds (engineering, literature, sociology, mathematics and biology). That being said, you would not be able to tell these folks from any common criminal on NYC streets! Put them in a police line-up and they would look like everyone else...I guess you can't judge a book by its cover as the saying goes.
We were expecting more birds today! Overnite winds had been from the northwest, and though we did get 8 warbler species (the best being Canada/first of season [FOS], Ovenbird [FOS] and Blue-winged), numbers were low. Last Saturday, we easily managed 25 Yellow Warblers (this morning less than five); today the most common warbler was Redstart (about 15), but we had to work to get them. Throw in a couple Blue-grey Gnatcatchers and it was a good day - for early August. I have to remember, it is indeed still early August...However, after last week's stellar Saturday, we expected more today.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 10 Aug: https://tinyurl.com/y2jlv6ll
Sunday, 11 August (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - we adjusted our expectations downward (after all this was a walk led by the bob), and were not disappointed. The highlights were a few (3) Least Flycatchers (FOS); and seven (7) warbler species the best being a Blue-winged and a first fall Canada, the latter found by Andrea Hessel MD. Overhead many small flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds were headed south - their migration starts in mid-July so it is expected we see them now (except no one ever looks up)! An Osprey that Deborah found with Enrico (of Italy then South Africa and Indonesia - he works for the United Nations) was good; earlier Deborah had an adult Peregrine at the Reservoir while two young kestrels sailed over my head at the Tupelo Field. Numbers of migrants (warblers and a few gnatcatchers besides the Leasts) were about the same as Saturday, suggesting to us that more migrants had come in overnite on the light winds from the northwest. BUT, if we did not use my chip calls from my tape, we would have missed 80% of these birds.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 11 August: https://tinyurl.com/y54j77tz
Tuesday, 13 August (7:45pm for Eastern Screech-owls at Inwood Hill Park) - Re-scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday night, 15 August) - It almost rained Tuesday afternoon/night 13 August - so we cancelled the walk (always check the web site!). We have re-scheduled: Same time and place on Thursday night. Hey, what are you doing reading this? Come out and see owls on Thursday night 15 August meeting at the Indian Road Cafe: 600 West 218th Street @ Indian Road New York, NY 10034 https://tinyurl.com/y5o9pab5 or on Tuesday 20 August at 7:30pm at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, meeting at the Golf Course parking lot: 189 Van Cortlandt Ave W, The Bronx, NY 10471. This is at the intersection of Bailey and Van Cortlandt Park South. For directions to VC Park (Bronx), the Golf Course Parking Lot, see: https://tinyurl.com/y9lbd2lq
Least Sandpiper 18 August 2018 at Pelham Bay Park, Bronx
Queens Vigilantes Hunt Savage Bird New York Times - June 1934 - Part 1 Patrol Douglaston with Rakes and Clubs for Creature that Attacked Passerby Woman's Face is Gashed Five Other Victims Reported - Dr. Blair Suspects Screech-owl is 'Protecting' Nest
A vigilante committee formed to hunt down a savage night bird that had attacked at least five persons along 241st street Douglaston [Queens], within the last five nights, patrolled the vicinity for at least five hours last night without catching a glimpse of the marauder. Just before the vigilantes turned out, the mysterious bird - which is believed to be a screech-owl - chalked up his sixth victim. He was Charles Taylor, a student at New York University. Taylor reported that the bird struck him while he was crossing the lawn to his home. He ducked and the bird skimmed past his head. The bird's other victims, all neighbors on 241st street in the Douglaston Park sector, were Arthur L. Stemler of Bancamerica-Blair Corporation; Russell Cardigan, a stock broker; Mrs. Earl R. Evans, 23 year-old housewife; Peggy Noone, 13 year-old daughter of John B. Noone, assistant treasurer of Standard Brans; and William MacDonald.
The Vigilantes Set Out The vigilantes, about twenty strong, assembled at Mr. Cardigan's home before nightfall. They were armed with lawn rakes, rug beaters, tennis racquets, an assortment of clubs, and even one bayonet and one rusty machete, souvenir of the Cuban insurrection. Henry M. Ferguson, a bank engineer, wore a Prussian helmet. Earl Trangmar, director of marketing research for Metropolitan Life, had another steel hat and carried the machete. Up and down the street they marched, using unarmed decoys to lead the way, while the rake or strong-armed men carried up the rear. Joseph Spiro, owner of Douglaston's taxi fleet, hooted at intervals. Once his imitation was so realistic that a vigilante swatted him with a tennis racquet. Mosquitos came and went, leaving their mark on the vigilantes. A group of youngsters strolled by chanting, "Who's afraid of the big bad bird?" Wives hooted from suburban doorways. Patrolman George Ludwig was summoned by a grouchy neighbor to drive the rowdies away. And there wasn't a chip out of the man-eating bird, not a single hoot, even of derision. Finally the vigilantes broke up. Their wives and unsympathetic friends saw that they got their bird - but not the one they were seeking. Their initial defeat did not, however, change their stories of the savagery of the feathered attacker. All six attacks were on Snell Boulevard and Rushmore Avenue. The heavy foliage of the Maple trees on both sides of the street hides the marauder by day, and at night serves as a leafy ambuscade, whence at any moment, a winged fury with blazing eyes and nerve-shattering screech may drop upon an unprotected head. Mr. Stemler was the first to have an encounter with the "Douglaston Devil." The next victim was Mr. Cardigan. When he told his story the next day to commuters, they joked about it so mercilessly that he determined to capture the bird. He is the organizer of the vigilantes. Mrs. Evans was attacked shortly before midnight, Saturday. She and her brother, Mr. Tyrell, had gone for a walk. Hardly had they left their home at 46-54 241st Street, when the bird flew down. They beat it of but it returned to the attack. It flew at them five times and then disappeared.
What the Bird is Like
"I could not see the bird clearly at all," Mrs. Evans said. "It seemed dark and had a wingspan of about sixteen inches. It kept flapping its wings in my face and shrieking and trying to get at my eyes." Other persons in the neighborhood could add little to that description except that the bird seemed soft and furry. Dr. W. Reid Blair, curator of the Bronx Zoo, said he believed the nightbird would prove to be a screech-owl with a nest in the vicinity.
End of Part One - Part Two Next Week.
Eastern Screech-owls at Inwood Hill Park on 27 August 2018
On a walk with two guests from Germany on 27 August 2018 (Monday evening at 8pm/dusk), we headed past the soccer fields where a crowd of 12 people were seated to watch the original 1933 "King Kong" with Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong...and up into the nearby Clove area. Here accompanied by [movie soundtrack] drums summoning "Kong" from the forest, I assumed my role as Fay Wray, temptress of all owls of the land. Playing my screech calls, we had two adult Eastern Screech-owls calling above us almost immediately...and we thought we heard more in the area...but no visuals were obtained of more than two owls at once. However, we remain optimistic that there is a family in the Clove area of Inwood. Following our escape from the tropical island paradise Inwood - it was hot/humid last night and the blonde wig did not help much - we ventured to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx where we quickly had a long visual of one adult screech-owls, but heard several more close to us. The shrub layer at VC Park can be dense, and combined with the leafy summer trees overhead, I am not surprised we did not get as good look at these owls as we did this past winter - but the wavering tremolos of several screech-owls were unmistakable. We believe that a family of two adults and several (four?) young ones were around us. One final note: I am not the original Fay Wray at Inwood...nor keeper of owls. That honor goes to Mike Feller (whom I've known since 1987 or so)...Remember this article about Eastern Screech-owls in the New York Times and looking for them in July 1998? Both Mike and I had more hair back then...and I am just following his lead - see next article
Eastern Screech-owls along the Bronx River at the Bronx Zoo in March 1917
A Walk on Manhattan's Wild Side
By PETER HELLMAN
New York Times July 24, 1998
As darkness falls, a burly man lugging a boom box heads into Inwood Hill Park followed by a group of others. Your heart could sink at the prospect of Manhattan's last stand of real forest, tucked away in the northwestern corner of the borough, being desecrated by loud music. But hold on. The fellow in front is Michael Feller, the parks department's senior naturalist. He is leading a nocturnal tour of the 190-acre park. What happens next is, to say the least, not typical of Manhattan night life.
Mr. Feller's group hikes into the narrow valley called the Clove. It is dominated by tulip trees soaring to 100 feet, their high canopy shattering the starlight. This kind of verticality could be confused with a redwood grove of the Northwest. Mr. Feller flicks on the boom box. It's now 9:20 P.M. Out of the tape drive comes a high, arching whinny, pure and sweet. If a mare could sing Puccini, this would be its voice. Mr. Feller turns off the boom box. The group waits and listens.
At first, there is only the layered, sotto voce drumming of crickets and cicadas. Then, from the high ground to the west, comes what at first sounds like a distant echo. He replays the tape several times. The answering whinny comes closer. Suddenly, a pair of ash-gray wings swoops low over the group, swift and silent. It's a screech owl, ready to challenge the electronic trespasser on its hunting territory.
Another screech owl makes a sortie so low over Mr. Feller that he instinctively rubs the back of his neck. ''He's ticked off at us,'' he says. Moments later, a third owl appears on the branch of an oak. Its eyes, caught in the beam of Mr. Feller's head-mounted flashlight, are golden yellow and hard as marbles.
No other Manhattan park is known to play host to a family of screech owls. Neither is any other park in the borough quite like Inwood Hill. The others are distinctly urban places. Their beauty, even when they are verdant, may have been enabled or enhanced by artifice and engineering. At Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, or on the overlooks of Fort Tryon Park, you always know you're in the city. Trekking over the slopes of Inwood Hill Park, though, you are simply in the woods.
''You could define this as Manhattan's wilderness,'' Henry J. Stern, the Parks Commissioner, said one morning, sitting on a bench under a sweet gum tree at the Isham Street entrance to the park. ''It's also the park that nobody knows.''
Mr. Stern grew up a few blocks away in the Inwood section, on Post Avenue. His father, a Boy Scout enthusiast, owned a tent store in the neighborhood on Nagle Avenue. Mr. Stern said one of his earliest memories was of playing at the Beak Street entrance to the park, while his mother sat with other mothers and chatted. Running just 300 feet from Seaman Avenue before dead-ending in the park, Beak Street is the borough's shortest mapped street above Canal Street. Aficionados of intact Art Deco apartment houses will love Beak Street, along with dozens of others in Inwood.
In his most feeling tribute to his boyhood days spent in Inwood Park, Mr. Stern said gratefully: ''I never got beat up here. This was not a fighting park. Neither the Jets nor the Sharks would have been comfortable in Inwood Park.'' Timber in Revolutionary War
There is nothing scrubby about Inwood Hill's forest, which makes it easy to mistake it for virgin growth. But most of the timber there was cut down during the Revolutionary War by British troops and Hessian mercenaries who used it for firewood and fortification. They had driven Colonial forces from this strategic spot, as well as from Fort Tryon to the south, on Nov. 16, 1776. They did not leave until 1783.
After the Civil War, several great estates were built on Inwood Hill, including an Italian-style villa belonging to Isidore Straus, the retail tycoon who went down on the Titanic. The Refuge of Mercy, an Episcopal home for unwed mothers, was also built on the crest of the hill, overlooking the Hudson River. It was, presumably, suitably removed from the rest of the city to give the young women privacy. Ornamental trees planted then still flourish. Frederick Law Olmsted, the park designer, recognizing the value of this terrain, recommended that development be restrained. Public-spirited landowners, notably the Dyckman, Isham and Payson families, deeded large tracts to the city. In 1916, Inwood Hill became a public park.
The most dramatic approach to the park is from the north, along 218th Street, a five-minute walk from the 215th Street subway station on the IRT's Broadway local. You will come upon a complex vista unlike any other in Manhattan.
To the north, on your right, is the Harlem River on its final leg before joining the Hudson in the swirl of Spuyten Duyvil. The sheer cliff on the far side, threaded at its base by Metro North tracks, defines Marble Hill, its heights studded with ungainly apartment buildings. Straight ahead is a tidal lagoon. Bordered by swamp grasses, it is the only accessible salt marsh in Manhattan and a magnet for water birds. Off to the left are low rolling athletic fields where soccer is the favored sport.
Straight ahead, Inwood Hill itself juts into Spuyten Duyvil, which is spanned by the Henry Hudson Bridge, its steel gridwork painted bright red. Beyond that is the low-slung Amtrak bridge, part of the shoreline route to Albany. The final piece of this complex tableau is the noble New Jersey Palisades, looming up a mile away across the Hudson.
Black-throated Green Warbler, September 2017 by Doug Leffler
Everyone knows that, back in 1626, Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the Indians for $24 worth of trinkets. But few know where the deal was struck. Right here, according to a tablet on a large stone, Tablet Rock, also known as Shorakapkock Rock, near the 218th Street entrance to Inwood Park. An ancient tulip tree grew at this spot, said to be the oldest living thing in Manhattan. Indians held powwows, with dances and chanting, under this tree every September right up until it was finally cut down in 1938. They also held canoe races in the river. An Indian named Princess Naomi, always dressed in Indian clothing, once kept a trinket shop beside this spot.
[This is a great article about Princess Naomie, a Cherokee: https://tinyurl.com/y2wctwpl].
The Indian Caves
Within a few steps of entering the park, you are in the Clove. Almost magically, any and all signs of the city are shut off. A steep, rockbound hillside rises to the right. Its rock ledges and overhangs are known as the Indian Caves. Many artifacts of the Shorakapkock Indians of the Delaware tribe have been found here. This year's mild winter invited an early arrival of Dutchman's-breeches and other spring ephemerals, which precede the leafing of the trees. The Clove's season of copious dogwood also came early. May brought on ferns, jack-in-the-pulpits and Solomon's seal with its dangly little flowers. Last to appear are the highest blossoms, the pale white ones of the tulip trees. As summer deepens, blackberries and wineberries ripen along the path. They are delectable.
''In geology, form and species, what you have here is close to a Southern Appalachian bowl forest,'' explains Adrian Benape, the parks department's Manhattan chief. What's extraordinary about that comparison? Only that Mr. Benape is standing a few blocks from two subway lines and not even a mile from the infamous drug-dealing zone of Washington Heights.The path upward through the Clove is blocked here and there by fallen trees and narrowed by bushes, including poison ivy. Old-fashioned street lamps, installed in the 1960's, are all broken, as they are throughout the park. And they will stay that way.
''They can't be defended against vandals,'' Mr. Stern explained. ''And without them, the park is more rustic.''
As for those fallen trees, the idea is to let them become havens for small creatures. The single biggest boon to Inwood Hill Park in recent years was the blocking of its narrow, paved paths. They were just wide enough for car thieves to drive into the wilderness, where they could strip the cars in peace. Stanchions now prevent their entry.
Walking higher, you will leave behind the tulip trees, which prefer the fertile soil of the valley floor. Oaks, maples and black locusts now predominate. You will also see a pair of the largest copper beeches in the city, their smooth-skinned, bulbous trunks more than 14 feet in diameter. They flank what may also be the city's most ancient ginkgo. Mr. Benape estimates its age at 150 years. There are few evergreens in Inwood Hill forest.
The smooth schist outcropping at the western crest of the park, elevation 210 feet, is protected by a chain-link fence. Step through the giant hole in it, and you will be privy to an unimpeded and almost unsullied view of the Palisades all the way up to the Tappan Zee Bridge, 15 miles away. The only unwanted intrusion at this overlook is the steady rumble of traffic from the Henry Hudson Parkway below.
William Exton, a former trustee and treasurer of the Municipal Art Society, tried to keep Robert Moses from cutting the parkway through this woodland. ''I can still remember Moses saying that the view from the road would be outstanding,'' Mr. Exton recalls in ''You Must Remember This,'' Jeff Kisseloff's oral history of Manhattan. ''I said, 'Yes, but the view of the road would not be.' When we finally got a hearing, the trees were already cut down.'' Miraculously, the separate north and southbound parkways do no fatal damage to the park.
Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile) on migration
Just behind the overlook is a pleasant high meadow, once the site of the home for unwed mothers. Jane Schachat, director of upper Manhattan parks, says, ''Everything is blooming a week or two early this year.'' Right now there is joe-pye weed with its fuzzy pink top clusters. As high as seven feet or even higher, this plant can go head to head with any New York Knick.
In summer the meadow is also swept with goldenrod, daisies, wild roses, milkweed and jewelweed, attractive to hummingbirds migrating south. ''They're very fond of the jewelweed nectar,'' says Todd Miller, who was an urban park ranger in Inwood for five years. Even a Flying Squirrel
One September, Mr. Miller decided to have a close encounter with the hummingbirds. ''I crawled under a patch of jewelweed and lay down flat on my back,'' he said. ''Then I took off my shirt to blend in better. The first one that came by was eight inches from my head. Another one came, and I could feel the air motion from its wings.''
Mr. Miller also reports spotting a rarity in the city, a nocturnal flying squirrel. He even once saw what he had first thought was a juvenile fox but now believes was a small coyote. The park, Mr. Miller points out, is also a great place to observe butterflies.
If you turn right at Tablet Rock, the path climbs northward along the dramatic Spuyten Duyvil shoreline. Chestnut oaks, whose leaves are ringers for those of nearly extinct real chestnut trees, are rare in the city, but not here. They favor the shoreline rocks.
Passing under the Henry Hudson Bridge and rounding the south shore of Spuyten Duyvil, you will come to an unexpectedly serene cove. You can sit on the rocks at the water's edge and watch the Amtrak trains go by. Or see the bridge swing open for pleasure boats. You can even make your way to a strip of sand, bordered by spartina grasses, that must be the city's smallest beach. Surely, it is the most private.
Continuing south, you will come to a footbridge over the railroad tracks. It takes you to quite a different Inwood Park: a flat, six-block-long string of athletic fields along the river, including a shoreline promenade. It ends at the foot of Dyckman Street, once the terminal for a ferry to Alpine, N.J.
It has been replaced by a new recreational pier. If Inwood forest made you forget you were in the city, you will remember it here, a lively gathering spot for Hispanic families on weekends. A variety of fried seafood is available at Dyckman's Landing, an outdoor restaurant on the pier. Like a teen-age romance, the rush from the first tramp in Inwood Hill Park is hard to forget. When Michael Feller came to work in Manhattan, after a stint in the Brooklyn parks, he said, he was depressed. ''My friends told me to buck up,'' he said. ''But it was hard. Then I came to Inwood Park.''
The magic works on even New Yorkers who have seen it all. Deputy Inspector John Romero, commander of the 34th Precinct, which includes Washington Heights and Inwood, went along on one of Mr. Feller's nocturnal park tours. Up on the west ridge, Inspector Romero got a priority call on his cell phone. He moved a few steps away from the group. Then, speaking quietly but with uncloaked excitement, he said: ''Hey, Chief, you'd never guess where I am right now. On top of Inwood Mountain!'' Inwood, a neighborhood tucked away in the northwestern corner of Manhattan, is easily reached by the IRT No. 1 train, stopping at 215th Street, or the A train, terminating at 207th Street.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD
Central Park, The Oven, 31 October 2015