Late September Birding: Great Weather and Even Better Birds
Updated: Feb 28
18 September 2019
Bird Notes: Great weather for the next week. We guarantee warblers, vireos and flycatchers on every walk.
In this week's Historical Notes, we present: (1) the first known occurrence of the American Golden Plover in Bronx County on 14 September 1924 - since one was just found on 15 Sept. (2019) at the Jerome Park Reservoir in the west Bronx. This species was rare in the past and remains so to this day; (2) an unusually high number of Laughing Gulls in Manhattan/Bronx in early September 1924; these days this gull breeds in NYC - it is one of a number of birds that have become more common in our area in the last 100 years; finally (3) the conclusion of September 1982 from Donald Knowler's wonderful book, The Falconer of Central Park. Take note of the number of murders/deaths in the park back then; the general malaise of the economy; the number of homeless people living in the park; and that some scientists thought we might be entering a time of global cooling because of worldwide volcanic activity. People who lived through the 1970s and early 1980s have to blink twice when they walk through Central Park these days - it is a new world. Better in many ways...but missing the raw, Lou Reed NYC milieu we grew up with.
Black-throated Green Warbler (adult female), Shakespeare Garden (Central Park), 15 Sept 2019 - Deborah Allen
Good! The Bird Walks for mid-late September 2019
All Walks @ $10/person
Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8
a. Thursday Evening, 19 September at 6pm Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Park) - with Sandra Critelli [SandraCritelli@gmail.com] - 1.5 hours at dusk in the Ramble for birds, bats.
1. Friday, 20 Sept. at 9:00am Conservatory Garden; 105th st. and 5th Avenue (Central Park)
2.***Saturday, 21 Sept. at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Pk)
3.***Sunday, 22 September 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Dr. (Central Pk)
4.***Monday, 23 Sept. at 8:00am/9:00am Strawberry Fields at West 72nd Street and Central Park West - meet at the "Imagine" Mosaic (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.
Any questions send them our way: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 718-828-8262 (home)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Michigan) by Doug Leffler on 16 September 2019
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! Fridays we are uptown at 9am only (Conservatory Garden at 105th street and 5th Avenue; nice bathrooms there); on Mondays at the Imagine Mosaic of Strawberry Fields (west 72nd street about 75 meters inside the park from Central Park West; no bathrooms here but we will pass bathrooms by 10am or so).
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.
Eastern Wood Pewee (Michigan) by Doug Leffler on 16 September 2019
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)
Thursday Night, 12 Sept (6pm in Central Park [Meet at Boathouse] with Sandra Critelli) - Sandra reports she was surprised since forecast was not good and real weather even worse and visibility was terrible (dark from the thick clouds above). There were many Chimney Swifts flying above; Ruby-throated Hummingbirds vying for nectar at the Jewelweed patch at the Oven (and several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks there as well). And Raccoons headed out for dinner early in the low light.
Friday, 13 September (9am at Conservatory Garden/105th st and 5th Ave): of the days that followed, Friday was the best one in terms of number and diversity of species. Thursday night into Friday had moderate winds from the northeast that started a big movement of migrants from Canada into the area. We got some of them...if the winds had been from the northwest (rather than from the northeast), many more birds would have been seen in the park. Nevertheless, the Cape May Warbler at the Great Hill (Vicki Seabrook); the Prairie Warbler along the Loch (Ryan Serio); and the Wilson's Warbler at the Island in the Meer were the best of the 13 warbler species. Others reported Yellow-breasted Chat and Philadelphia Vireo from the north end - we missed those, but instead had 5 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks pop up out of one patch of Jewelweed along the Loch - thanks tape!
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 13 Sept: https://tinyurl.com/y56j4df7
Saturday, 14 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - Numbers of individuals counted declined noticeably this morning...in other words many more birds left the park overnite than came in. Highlights included a well-seen Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at Belvedere Castle overlook; Black-throated Green Warbler at Shakespeare Overlook (the honey locust and Siberian elm trees here have been very good for warblers lately); four total Northern Waterthrushes...overall 14 warbler species: the best of the Fri to Mon time frame. Numbers of birds were low, but wherever we went, we found something. And to watch two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds chasing each other back and forth at the Oven in a contest for the best feeding spots in a patch of Jewelweed, that was fun. At times we had them hovering in front of us, or cutting between folks on the bird walk.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 14 Sept: https://tinyurl.com/y4c4te6x
Black and White Warbler (female) at Shakespeare Garden (Central Park) on 15 September 2019 by Deborah Allen
Sunday, 15 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - compared to Saturday we had a lot more people on the walk...a further conversation about ethics with Karen Evans - and lots of walking to find birds in ones and twos here and there. It is on days such as these my great wish is to have lots of birds to go along with lots of people - but that will have to wait for next Sunday. In the meantime, we found an Ovenbird in the Ramble (same spot as Saturday) that hopped up onto a branch and stared at us with its small crest puffed up; a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at the Maintenance Field; three Black-throated Green Warblers (two at the honey-locust and elm trees mentioned in the Saturday report); and found two Pine Warblers (first of season) in a hackberry tree at the northwest corner of the Great Lawn - for a total of 11 warbler species for the morning. And an Eastern Towhee - the sparrows re arriving...One day I will write a summary of just people: all the ethical ones and the one outlier too.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 15 September: https://tinyurl.com/y2rogwo8
Monday, 16 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - the overnite weather into Monday morning were winds FROM the northwest, and this is very good for the park. I could sense a change in the number of birds: many Veerys were foraging again on paths in the Ramble...and during the day the first Connecticut Warbler of the season was found near the southeast corner of the Reservoir. For the bird walk, it was very sparse at Strawberry Fields where we began. It continued slow through most of the walk (we totaled 12 warbler species today). The best spot was Belvedere Castle deck and the nearby Shakespeare Garden deck (Whisper Bench) with warblers such as Prairie and Canada. However, it was at the end of the walk where it became amazing: we were watching 2-3 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds battling each other below eye-level for the best perching spots in the Jewelweed patch at the Oven. This is an amazing spot to sit and watch/photograph at this time of the year. Nearby a small bird in the willow trees caught my eye: a yellow-green Tennessee Warbler. Someone said they thought they saw a Cuckoo, so I began playing the cuckoo calls...quickly one Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew in high above us, and then two more Yellow-billed Cuckoos into the willows of the Oven. They were quite hidden (and silent)...but with patience one could find them. Later that morning, someone would find two more Yellow-billed Cuckoos near the Pinetum, and another was seen in Bryant Park. So if I forget this coming Friday, remind me to play cuckoo calls - looks like this is a good week to find them on migration.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 16 September: https://tinyurl.com/y4as7uwm
Scarlet Tanager (hatch-year male) at Shakespeare Garden (Central Park) on 15 September 2019 by Deborah Allen
Black Skimmer and Golden Plover in Bronx County . On 14 September 1924, we noted a Black Skimmer flying north, off Hunt Point. Approaching us from the direction of "Hell-Gate," it hovered for a moment, and alighted on a mud-flat, not thirty yards distant, in company with a large number of Gulls. After taking wing, it flew by, and we were at once impressed by the remarkably long slender wings, the forked-tail, the sharply contrasting black and white coloration and the low, easy flight over the water. None of us had ever seen the species before in life, but we were able to name it before referring to a text-book. Moreover, this is not a bird likely to be confused with any other North American species. Our friend, Mr. J. T. Nichols, informs us that a "northward invasion" was underway, this summer, the birds being recorded more freely in Long Island waters, than since 1898, when another such movement took place. He attributed the birds' presence "inland" to the storms which had been sweeping the coast line. On the same date the writers met with a couple of Golden Plovers, on a nearby stretch of burned meadow. They were approached within seven or eight yards and were watched on the ground for over a quarter of an hour. A decidedly yellowish tinge covered the top of the head and the middle of the back. The call-note was heard at regular intervals. When the birds finally flew, we were careful to note the gray axillars which at once distinguish this species from the Black-bellied Plover. It is perhaps only proper to add that the writers have been long familiar with the Black-bellied Plover in life. J. AND R. KUEIZI AND P. KESSKI, New York City.
Abundance of the Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla) about New York City . During the past late summer and early fall there was an unusual abundance of the Laughing Gull in the vicinity of New York City. It was first reported in the latter part of August. On September 6 , the writer counted around 50 along Brooklyn's water front. The following day about 25 were seen from the Fort Lee ferry (125th street). The largest flock was seen at the mouth of the Bronx River on September 28. On this date there were fully 1000 birds in the flock and their cries were deafening. At this writing, October 8, there are still some birds present. GEORGE E. HIX, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Monarch Butterfly in our backyard in the Bronx (10462 zip code) feeding on Mexican Sunflowers by Deborah Allen on 15 Sept 2019
Falconer of Central Park [September 1982].
by Donald Knowler: https://tinyurl.com/y4h96jxe
A man out walking his dog lay dead on the west side on 16 September . The dog sat by the body of forty-year-old Richard Sperandio, on a leash that was still wrapped around his master's cold wrist. Sperandio had been shot in an area of the park between 104th and 105th Streets and police struggled to find a motive for the killing. Detectives even considered the possibility that Sperandio's dog had lunged at someone, and that person had taken umbrage.
The temperature touched eighty degrees on September 18 but even an oriole picking at berries on the Point could not feed an illusion of endless summer. Dead leaves crunched underfoot and the birds of early winter were reclaiming the park. A winter wren, stub-tailed and tame, and then a fine male ruby-crowned kinglet arrived at the Upper Lobe. On the bridle path I came across another winter bird, a white-throated sparrow, and all that was needed was a junco and a fox sparrow to seal summer in a capsule of memory.
Gray squirrels had taken over a hole in a Turkey oak where bees had nested earlier in the summer and were using it as a store for winter food. And, above, ospreys and sharp-shinned hawks sailed over but I missed them again. I began to wonder whether I should spend more time looking up at the sky and concentrate less on what went on immediately around me. Did I need to stop, yet again, to observe the lonely man, khaki shirt and knapsack, standing, as always, under the pin oak on the west side? He had his camera out but, as usual, was not filming anything or anybody. He merely stood shuffling from side to side, but with a shuffle of contentment, a relaxed, easy shuffle devoid of nervousness or paranoia. The alternative to those long days in the park was probably a dingy apartment in the city somewhere that never caught the sun and never trapped people's laughter and held it for a second like the embrace of the gentle and reassuring oaks. This man was not a "crazy" like so many of the people who claim one spot as their own in the park. He had contact, although tenuous, with other park users. Many joggers and cyclists recognized him and gave a smile or a nod of their heads to say hello and the man smiled back.
In the red-brick building, which houses a carousel, a man in his fifties sat astride a black and white wooden horse. The horse slowly rose and fell to the organ music and the grey-haired man rose and fell with it. He did not have a child with him and none would claim him later, after he had enough of the ride and looked for a stick of cotton candy.
Drizzle, northeasterly winds and a sharp drop in temperature coincided with an article in The New York Times warning of another severe winter. It could be the coldest winter this century, a number of meteorologists were quoted as saying, and they explained that billions of tiny parasols - drops of sulfuric acid released by volcanic eruptions - were shielding the earth from the sun. I cast my thoughts back to the last winter, the freak blizzard in April that left flickers and robins dead in the snow. The flickers this day, hundreds of them, were feeding on the berries that had fallen to the ground. As I walked through the Ramble I would count twenty at a time.
Canada Warbler in Michigan, 16 September 2019 by Doug Leffler
Among the water birds there are few as stately, as regal as the grebes. These avians, which are duck-like but unrelated to ducks, are considered the most perfectly adapted to water of all birds. Grebes not only feed, sleep, and court on water, but they also carry downy young on their backs in piggyback fashion. The bird register recorded two pied-billed grebes on the reservoir on September 22, but by the time I reached the location the grebes had flown, probably to another fresh water location because this species avoids salt water estuaries and the sea. I was bitterly disappointed because I am fond of grebes and particularly wanted to see this species. The pied-billed grebes are the smallest of the family in North America, stocky birds with stout bills, which look as though they are made of lead and have been flattened in a vise. I changed my routine next day, going to the reservoir first instead of heading straight into the Ramble as I had done since the end of spring. But my luck was not to change, nothing interesting was on the water except for gulls. The juvenile ring-billed gulls, which had stayed in the New York area all summer, were waiting for their up-country cousins to arrive in November. Next year it would be the turn of these youngsters, now more white than brown, to join the rigorous routine of migration, finding mates and rearing young.
Rain fell heavily along Fifth Avenue, hitting the road with a splatter and rising again in a fractured mushroom of sparkling light. A wind whipped sodden leaves from the London plane trees, and they fell black against the light. I was walking home from work at about 9 P.M., a hard day at the office and five beers inside me, when I paused at an entrance to the park in the Sixties. Too dangerous to venture in, black and foreboding; the trees, still heavy in thick leaf, obscuring the few lights there are in the park that work. I saw a black and white cat and realized it was Billy. He darted across the footpath about twenty yards into the park, more shadow than cat. But he turned as I called out and I caught the pattern on his face, his wild, wide eyes. Then he was off again, leaving me to dodge the suspicious glance of a policeman sheltering in a glass booth on the other side of the road.
The northeast wind that brought the rain also carried a rare golden-winged warbler and a gray-cheeked thrush to the Ramble. Both birds would have been new ones for the year but I missed them. I consoled myself that the thrush is not much to look at, not like his elegant cousin, the wood thrush, and the woods were now full of these. I had only seen one of the species in the spring and now I could see three or four at a time in the Ramble. The wood thrush is probably the most underrated of birds in terms of beauty. Birders are usually too busy chasing rarities to focus binoculars on the thrush and study its subtlety of plumage. The thrush appears to have brown spots on a buff breast, but when it is viewed closely these are not spots at all but chevrons. The wood thrush stands smaller than its abundant relative, the robin, and his warm brown back merges into chestnut on the crown.
A vagrant insisted on trying to reach the lions at the zoo, pressing his face against the bars of their cages. Zoo keepers chased the man away several times but he returned each time. The vagrant had a vacant look to his brown eyes, a hint of despair, and when the keepers finally asked him if he needed help, the derelict looked into the distance and muttered, "You have to get close to the animals."
A horse chestnut tree embodied the message of fall, somber and grim, a chill wind of winter already touching the yellow-gold leaves, which turned under themselves at the edges, tired and ready to surrender to the next cold blast. A female towee, chestnut brown and active, joined two thrashers thrashing for insects amid the dead horse chestnut leaves and, in the tree itself, a ruby-crowned kinglet arrived, a male with spikes of red showing through the moss green feathers of his head. Above the tree, waves of blue jays went over to the south and I followed one batch through my binoculars, losing them somewhere over the zoo.
The body of the vagrant who wanted to get close to the animals lay in the polar bear cage. The sun had just started to poke along the cross streets slicing the East Sixties, shedding zebra stripes of light up the shadowed Fifth Avenue. The body was lying partly in the wading pool of the cage and it had deep gashes to the head, neck, chest and arms. Skandy the 1,200-pound eleven-foot bear was close by. Zoo guards reported the vagrant, dressed only in a shirt and blue jeans, had twice been led out of the zoo by a watchman during the night. But he had been determined to enter the cage. He had scaled a ten-foot spiked fence enclosing the zoo, a five-foot fence surrounding the open-topped cage and then the twelve-foot cage itself.
Pine Warbler (First of Season) on 15 September 2019 at northwest corner of the Great Lawn by Deborah Allen
A palm warbler, the first warbler I had seen in the spring, was feeding at the Point on 27 September, but the birders gathering in the boathouse cafeteria had other things to discuss. One of them reported finding dozens of warblers each morning at the base of an office tower in midtown Manhattan. The glass building, its thousands of windows edged with silver and white, was illuminated at night, and this appeared to be a factor in the death of the migratory birds. In mist and low cloud, and disoriented by the dazzling light, it appeared confused birds were either flying into the building or trying to land, exhausted, on its smooth sides. From the time Manhattan's skyline first started to rise straight and fast like a plantation of young pines, the tall buildings have proven a deathtrap for migrating birds. John Bull records in his Birds of the New York Area that the Empire State Building was a notorious hazard until the 1960's when the management shut off a stationary all-night beacon during migrations. On a night in September 1948, 212 birds of thirty species were killed hitting the building;and after a rainy night in the same month in 1953 at least 130 birds died there. The birders mulled over these statistics and agreed it would be impossible to ask the owners of every high rise building in the city to turn off their lights.
"We'll just have to wait for the birds to evolve a navigational system for avoiding the lights," one of them said, half jokingly.
"And how long will that take?" asked another.
"Oh, about twenty-five thousand years," said Lambert, and no one could tell if he was joking or not.
Magnolia Warbler in Michigan on 16 September 2019 by Doug Leffler
Shadows were growing longer by mid-afternoon; the gradual closing in of daylight, which lets you know summer is ending and soon it will be cold and dark by 4:30 P.M., and when you wake up next morning it will still be dark. The prolific movement of birds through the park would drop off dramatically; Billy would have to go farther and farther for food, increasing the risk of being caught in the cat-catcher's trap, of eating poison laid for the rats or of being killed by an automobile on the circular drive. I feared someday finding his body by the roadside. I knew he sometimes wandered across the circular drive because I had seen him a few times on the east side of the park. I had called his name on these occasions but he did not respond. I think he only associated me with the Ramble and was shy of approaching someone who could be a stranger.
Mist covered the park on September 23 but I made out the shape of a male belted kingfisher hurrying through the tulip trees edging the boating lake. A well-fed woodchuck ran across the path leading to the Point, and I wondered whether it was the same animal I had seen in the Indian Cave at the end of April. It must have been, I suppose, and now the woodchuck had moved to a clump of rocks on the Point where Chuck, the vagrant from Pennsylvania, had built a home of cardboard. Chuck told me that park rangers had evicted him from the bird sanctuary when he had tried to build a temporary home there, ready for the winter. His new house was hidden under an overhanging rock and shielded by a black cherry. I had stumbled on it by accident and promised Chuck I would not point out its location to the rangers.
I found Chuck most mornings sitting under the willows at the Point Lobe, a short distance from his home, and when he was not reading discarded newspapers with yesterday's unemployment figures he stared at the water. He pretended not to notice me after I had discovered his home so I honored his privacy. He also lost interest in the birds that came to drink and feed at the lobe, and he would not bother to look up at the noisy blue jays frequently mobbing night and green herons in the willow.
Sitting on my favorite park bench I thought about many things in 1982, but my thoughts were mainly taken up with two subjects: retracing the course of my life and the topic of evolution. Contemplating evolution, especially, took up much of my time when I was not actually chasing birds. Sometimes I could watch birds from the bench and ponder evolution at the same time, as I did one Saturday afternoon in September when I observed a mad-eyed thrasher under a copper beech. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution seemed so obvious now, and I wondered how I would have felt about creation one hundred and fifty years ago when Darwin was ferreting about the Galapagos Islands and most other people still believed all creatures great and small were created as is, plain and simple, by God.
I am watching a thrasher, thinking this bird could have evolved just to feed and reproduce in the fall, so perfectly does its warm brown plumage, its brown-speckled chest on buff, merge with the freshly fallen leaves. Later, on the Point, I find the three members of the thrasher family-the thrasher, the mockingbird, and the catbird-in one location, and I now start to think about coexistence and harmony: the mockingbird feeding on berries in a black cherry, the catbird crunching a moth larva it had prised from a dead knotweed stem under the tree, and a thrasher turning leaves on the ground. Perhaps Olmsted and Vaux had studied the "mocker" trio, diverse in plumage but sharing lovely songs, when they drew up their plan for the park. They named the plan Greensward and set out to cater to different levels of human activity and recreation in the same space, the bridle paths, footpaths, and carriage ways all going to the same place, sharing the same locations, but never clashing, never crossing each other on the same level. But the bridges and embankments to make this concept possible had been created with humans in mind; the animal kingdom of the park had evolved over millions of years to acquiesce in nature's architecture.
With the bulk of migrating passerines, or perching birds, already past, the birders were anticipating the next phase of the migration: the arrival of the waterfowl. Throughout the third week of September numbers of mallards and black ducks had built up on the Belvedere Lake bringing the promise of other species. The mallards reaching more than one hundred in number on some days - found unexpected competition. A group of model boat enthusiasts had abandoned the Conservatory Pond for the lake, and a Second World War battleship one afternoon declared hostilities against a small group of ducks.
The vagrant found dead in the zoo was identified next day as Conrado Mones, a twenty-nine-year-old former biology teacher from Cuba. Mones had come to the United States sixteen months earlier in search of the American dream. He had spent the first six months studying English because he wanted to continue teaching but his job hunt had been fruitless. Mones worked at a gas station for a time but his friends said he had started to act erratically in recent months, giving up his job and occasionally spending nights on the streets. Now he lay on a slab at the city morgue.
The fast and direct flight of a tree swallow carried the message for the insect-eating birds that it was finally time to leave New York City. I only caught a glimpse of the swallow and someone else had to identify it for me. It was brownish, an immature, with buff belly and less of a forked tail than the barn swallow. The swallow was one of six species which could have had a place on my list, but I was reluctant to put any of the six down because I was not absolutely sure about their identification. The other birds were the olive-sided flycatcher, Eastern pewee, a willow and least flycatcher, and a night hawk. A bird that did not need a second opinion was a male junco, which arrived with a female on the same day as the swallow, September 28. The pair of juncos would be followed by hundreds of others in the next few days. The wind was blowing strongly from the south but five species of warbler arrived in the park, including a magnolia and a batch of redstarts. There was also another gray-cheeked thrush reported but, needless to say, I missed it.
Another fall arrival was a lone yellow-bellied sapsucker, noisily scaling a tree trunk near the Azalea Pond. The sapsucker heralded the arrival of possibly thirty or forty of his species in the next few days, and I would get tired of seeing what is normally a difficult bird to see in the park.
In the last days of September Rita Serrano tried to claim the torn body of her boyfriend, Conrado Mones, from the city morgue so that he could have a decent burial. Rita, with whom Conrado had lived until he wandered out onto the streets, was told she needed more money than she had. A funeral director had to be hired to bury the body in someplace other than the municipal potter's field on Hart Island, and funeral directors came expensive, she was told.
The leaves of the pin oaks had started to turn the color of claret, and the woods were becoming largely deserted of birds compared with the first day of September. Only an invasion of grackles made it obvious that the migration was still taking place. Hundreds of grackles swarmed over the ground on the west side, which was covered with the acorns of pin oaks, a favorite food. Although some of the grackles had lost their long, wedge-shaped tails in the fall moult, they still had traces of the species' gaudy purple-black plumage, tinged with bottle-green.
Warm and balmy. The sun about to fall behind the West Side and vanish beyond New Jersey. I am on my favorite bench, thinking about Darwin and his theory of evolution, again. I am looking at a bullfrog on a stone at the edge of the Belvedere Lake [Turtle Pond], and I am reminded that one of the birders has met a wildlife biologist in the park who is doing a survey of the mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. The bullfrogs, sensing the lake's water is getting colder, are less inclined to leave their sunning spots now, and they take an added risk to steal a last ray of sunlight before it is time for them to hibernate.
Early in the year I had considered the park an oasis, but I have come to see it as an island, perhaps like the Galapagos where specific species, adapted to the park, might evolve. Darwin would be interested, if he were around, in something the birder recounted. The wildlife biologist had said that unusual patterning had become fixed in the population of bullfrogs at the Belvedere Lake, patterning you would not find in bullfrogs elsewhere. I am thinking, on my park bench, that Central Park could have its own species of bullfrog in twenty thousand years. And there are other possibilities; even a human subspecies evolving in the park – Homo sapiens Central Park. The gene pool would come from the hundreds of people lingering, like the bullfrogs, to catch the sun on this balmy evening; most of them park freaks like myself who are reluctant to enter the city simply because they are reluctant to leave the park. My own favorite park people are about. Lambert is chasing the last of the swallowtail butterflies in the Ramble, the lonely figure of the oaks is standing under his pin oak, Chuck from Pennsylvania is at home with yesterday's unemployment figures and the flaxen-haired girl who skates and jogs and rows is now watching a performance by mime artists under the turrets of the Belvedere Castle.
The woods were still scented with the white-star flowers of woodland aster on the last day of September, and the full, liquid song from a robin bounced off the trunks and boughs. I wanted to tell the robin to forget his spring song and concentrate on conserving energy for the long winter. But song from robins is not unusual at this time of year. In certain bird species, the glands affecting singing behavior are stimulated in fall and for a few weeks these birds recall the pregnancy and hope and promise of spring, when much about them is dying.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD
Eastern Phoebe by Rachel Berardinelli from our bird walk on Sunday, 15 September - near Bow Bridge, Ramble (Central Park)