The Cuckoo and the GOAT: a Parable of Central Park Birding, September 2019

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

Yellow-billed Cuckoo September 2019 by Robert Blank

Bird Notes: The next three weeks are best for finding migrating warblers, sparrows, kinglets, hawks and more.

The Cuckoo and the GOAT: A Central Park Parable

It is not unusual for some birders in Central Park to refer to me by something other than my name...though Sweet Old Bob (or simply SOB) is close enough. Recently I heard someone call me a goat, probably because at least one remains in Riverside Park stuffing its mouth with poison ivy - a happy thought to those who don't like that I use recordings to bring in distant birds for better looks. I've often wondered how best to ease the pain these people must feel when I appear on the scene with speaker in hand.

To resolve this ethical crisis, I put on my best homeless clothing, and creeped into the library at the nearby Museum of Natural History. There I dug out old field notes of early bird walk leaders to study how they dealt with naysayers. I found a book (see illustration below) with a witches' brew of unethical spells and divinations to calm tortured birder souls. I decided upon a truly evil spell, because it involved the use of a cuckoo and an actual ethicist. I memorized the steps, kind of a dance really, that one had to follow exactly in order for the spel to have maximum effect. But the magic bird book emphasized this: an ethicist must be present at all times...

I ran back to Central Park and looked everywhere. I could not find anyone or anything approaching ethical...much less someone who might be an ethicist. So being bob (well SOB), I decided to "wing it" on my own. I would recite the words and dance the dance I just learned without anyone helping me who was well-versed in moral courage, ethics, good deeds etc.

I made my way to the Tupelo Meadow. The wind whipped up and clouds obscured the last rays of the sun. I began my chants that I cannot repeat here (someone ethical reading those chants might keel over and die). Then as commanded in the holy bird book, I played the call of the cuckoo from my speaker, closed my eyes and hoped for the best. I did not know what might happen next. Perhaps a lawyer would appear?

I held out my hand and felt a tickle. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo had landed (photo above). Behind me I could hear a group of birders, from the ancient order of Linnaeus, wailing in sadness. I turned to face them. One of the wailers yelled at me: "You are a Goat."

Whereupon the cuckoo, fluffing its feathers, sang: "Yes a Goat: Greatest Of All Time. GOAT!"

It was over. The cuckoo had sung. With that I left to release the cuckoo where the wild things are, while the Linnaean people stared at their shoelaces.

In this week's Historical Notes, we present: (1) the Connecticut Warbler in Central Park in September 1908; (2) the Palm Warbler on West 129th street on 2 September 1896 - a very early fall arrival date for this species in NYC; (3) autumn 1889 comments on the night migration of Yellow Warblers and others at a Lighthouse on an island in the Long Island Sound - note that no birds died that night; but when they were killed, note the side of the Lighthouse that they collided with; finally our featured article (4) Homeless in Central Park (and Manhattan) in Summer-Autumn 1960, an excerpt from our friend Emmet Logan's book, From the Bowery to the Boardroom: Lessons Learned. Emmet (of nearby Jersey City) went from a paratrooper in post Korean War America to a homeless person trying to survive in NYC, including Central Park in 1960. How did homeless people survive back then? Read Emmet's succinct account of how he went from homeless to Board Member of a major North American corporation, retiring 1991.

Birdwatchers in Central Park (1948) by George Tooker

Birdwatchers looking for cuckoos in Central Park: illustration from a book on evil spells to make birding good again

Good! The Bird Walks for late September 2019

All Walks @ $10/person

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here:

a. Thursday Evening, 26 September at 6pm Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Park) - with Sandra Critelli [] - 1.5 hours at dusk in the Ramble for birds, bats.

1. Friday, 27 Sept. at 9:00am Conservatory Garden; 105th st. and 5th Avenue (Central Park)

2.***Saturday, 28 Sept. at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Pk)

3.***Sunday, 29 September 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Dr. (Central Pk)

4.***Monday, 30 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: or call: 718-828-8262 (home)

female Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Deborah Allen at The Oven, Saturday, September 21, 2019

female Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Deborah Allen at The Oven (Central Park), Saturday, September 21, 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 ( 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.

Northern Fulmar by Deborah Allen on 22 Sep 2019 on a Pelagic Birding Trip off of Long Island, NY

Northern Fulmar by Deborah Allen on 22 Sep 2019 on a Pelagic Birding Trip off of Long Island, NY

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Thursday Night, 19 Sept (6pm in Central Park [Meet at Boathouse] with Sandra Critelli) - Abbiamo iniziato con I Colibri` che tutti adorano. E` un piacere vederli in azione a passare da un fiore all`altro a cosi`alta velocità`. Abbiamo poi visto un Northen Parula Warbler e un American Redstart, femmina, dietro la Summer House. A Shakspeare Garden abbiamo avvistato un altro Northen Parula, mentre a nord di Oak Bridge un Common Yellow Throat and un possibile ma non confermato Winter Wren. Camminando sulle rocce nella parte nord di Upper Lobe, e` stato avvistato uno Spotted Sandpiper da uno dei nostri birdwatcher scozzese in visita a NY. Abbiamo visto molti Chimney Swift volare ma sfortunatamente neanche un pipistrello, nonostante la presenza di molti insetti nell`aria. Nella zona di Oak Bridge sono apparsi 4 procioni e hanno cominciato le loro attività` notturne. Un Northern Flicker e` sfrecciato nel cielo mentre camminavamo. Alla fine ci siamo ritrovati a Turtle Pond in cerca del Green Heron. Non lo abbiamo trovato. A parte i soliti Mallard Duck, a questo punto era troppo buio per avvistare o identificare qualsiasi altro uccellino. E` stata comunque una bellissima serata con splendida luce al tramonto che colpiva il castello Belvedere sul lago.

Friday, 20 September (9am at Conservatory Garden/105th st and 5th Ave): On the way to the walk at 7am, I had a Western Palm Warbler on the North Meadow Ball Fields, the first of 13 warbler species for the day. The highlights were the Nashville Warbler (and Prairie and Black-throated Green) just outside Conservatory Garden. Later we had at least 7 Northern Parula warblers fly over from Duck Island (the lone island in the Harlem Meer) to land about us along the shore. Flycatchers were around (three species) as well as two Vireo species...and Hummingbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and more.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 20 Sept:

Saturday, 21 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - it was David Barrett who found the first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the day at the Oven at 7:45am. Later we used the tape to bring in another at Azalea Pond. This was to be the beginning of a flood of cuckoos (all Yellow-billed) we would call in using recorded calls during the next few days (Sat-Sun-Mon), and I bet if I did bird walks on T/Wed/Thu I'd still be pulling them in. We are in the season of cuckoos - and the young ones are very responsive to sound. Other highlights today included our first (of many) Blackpoll Warblers (found by Karen Evans at Warbler Rock): it was pale yellow, and not ethical because it had crooked streaks on its back. Overall nine warbler species today, but the best place was the Oven in the Ramble to watch several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds battling for the best Jewelweed flowers - sometimes hovering in front of our noses.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 21 Sept:

Immature Male American Redstart at Belvedere Castle (Central Park) on 21 September 2019 by Deborah Allen

Immature Male American Redstart at Belvedere Castle (Central Park) on 21 September 2019 by Deborah Allen

Sunday, 22 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - Deborah was on a pelagic bird trip today (hence the abundance of sea bird photos in this issue), so others had to keep the bob from sleepwalking and keeping a more or less straight line. The best bird was a colorful Bay-breasted Warbler up the hill from the Boathouse that John Bitetti found - we then used the tape to bring it down from the top of a tree to approx 20 feet above us. A close second was the Belted Kingfisher that flew past us at the Oven and into the Ramble - but only seen by a few. Wandering the Ramble we found Red-tailed Hawk (2), one taking a bath; lots of Hummingbirds...and of course Yellow-billed Cuckoos of which I will say no more. I will recommend visiting the Tupelo Tree up the small hill from Viagra Falls (Source of the Gill). Lots of Yellow-shafted Flickers, Robins and others (including Brown Thrashers) flying in to feast on the many dark purple fruits that are now ripe: much activity and you never know what will fly in next...especially if some joker is using recorded calls to bring in...

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 22 September:

Monday, 23 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - the morning of the Brown Thrasher! Before 8am while wandering through the Ramble, I played the calls of thrashers and had several (3-5) jump up at each site. At the onset of the walk, with many first time people, I was playing warbler chip calls on the south side of Strawberry Fields. I estimate that we had 25 or so warblers above us, almost all Redstarts and Northern Parulas...perhaps one a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Over at the Lake, we had Yellow Warblers and a nice male Wood Duck we lured out of hiding and reeled in to us via female calls from the tape. All in all 10 warbler species today...nice looks t Hummingbirds...Brown Thrashers everywhere...BUT! It was the Yellow-billed Cuckoos that kept flying into the Tupelo tree as I was playing the tape. We had the same cuckoo experience a few minutes later at the Oven (at least 6-10 Yellow-billed Cuckoos this morning with reports of others throughout the park).

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 23 September:

Adult male Magnolia Warbler at the Summer House (Ramble/Central Park) on 21 September 2019 by Deborah Allen

Adult male Magnolia Warbler at the Summer House (Ramble/Central Park) on 21 September 2019 by Deborah Allen


Connecticut Warbler [1908] in Central Park by Ludlow Griscom. A young b