• Robert DeCandido PhD

ATTACKED while Birding in Central Park: September 2019

Updated: Feb 28

Attacked by a Fellow Birder: Friday, 27 September 2019.

This past Friday morning at 7:30am, I met two wonderful folks from New Zealand for a private bird walk through the Ramble area of Central Park. We started in the usual way: me using bird calls (not songs) via a speaker/Iphone, and they marveling at all the birds coming in close to us.

By 7:45am, as we turned a corner I saw someone who I am, unfortunately, all too familiar with. He is a birder/photographer who occasionally comes in from New Jersey to look for birds in Central Park. I said to the two New Zealand folks in a soft voice: "This fellow hates me...in fact, saying he hates me is like saying he loves me." Given the way he has treated me in the past, the word "hate" is an understatement.

We were standing about 30-40 feet away from this fellow. I was playing my calls, and the birds were coming in. I was looking up into the trees with the sun at my back...when out of the corner of my eye I see a large object running at me. Next thing I know I am being held against my will in a bear hug, with the person trying to grab my speaker and I-phone (while scratching my arms). He held me for about 20 seconds, roughing me up in the meantime, and when he realized he wasn't going to be able to steal the speaker/I-phone, flung me away.

The two New Zealand people with me were horrified. They had not realized that birding in Central Park was a contact sport, somewhat like their rugby...except I was not a willing participant.

When I recovered I told the attacker that if he ever put his hands on me again, I would call the police. He started walking towards me. I held up my phone: "I'll call the police right now if you don't cut this out." He stopped. I then asked him: "Is this how you represent the university you work for?" That university is Princeton. Yes some people can be really smart in some areas, but have the emotional intelligence of a two-year old in others.

Sadly there is a history here. This is now the third time I have been physically assaulted by this person. Twice he has tried to take my I-phone/speaker away. The other time he grabbed me by my backpack and flung me while I was leading a bird walk - that was about five years ago..After that incident, one of my friends (she is an MD Psychiatrist) emailed him at his Yahoo bird group to try and get everyone to calm down before anything escalated. Instead he used that opportunity to call the administrators at the hospital where she works to get her fired/disciplined. He even wrote an email to her outlining what he would do to hurt her. His words from his email: "Who do I start first with, the chair of your department or your IT department?" Luckily the administration at her hospital laughed it off thinking he was one of her patients gone rogue.

Phil Jeffrey is the person who assaulted me, and also tried to hurt my friend. There are more incidents I could write about him that go back to the 1990s, but I will stop here for now.

No one should be physically assaulted by anyone. It is fine that people tell me to my face they disagree with my methods of leading bird walks including using sound to bring in birds. I am an adult and can handle the criticism. I cannot and will not accept physical assault, or intimidation of my friends.



Historical Note: an excerpt from the 1984 book, The Falconer of Central Park by Donald Knowler. We send his essay on birding in Central Park in the first half of October 1982...including the arrival of waterfowl (Northern Shoveler was rare back then - but Lesser Scaup was not); and an owl walk in the Ramble looking for a Long-eared Owl.


Sora Rail in Madison Square Park in Manhattan by Deborah Allen on 1 October 2019


Good! The Bird Walks for Early October 2019

All Walks @ $10/person

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


a. Thursday Evening, 3 October at 5pm 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, 4 October at 9:00am Conservatory Garden; 105th st. and 5th Avenue (Central Park)

2.***Saturday, 5 Oct. at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Pk)

3.***Sunday, 6 Oct. at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Dr. (Central Pk)

4.***Monday, 7 Oct. 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: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 (home)


Black-throated Gray Warbler September 2019 in California by George Dondero. It is a hatch-year (young) bird. Why?

Deborah Allen says to look at the white veiling on the black of the throat/crown and the pointed (not blunt) tail feathers.


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 (rdcny@earthlink.net). If you are lost and trying to get to the bird walk, call Deborah's cell phone...but remember on weekends there will be 2-3 other people calling who are also lost - please be patient. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. We end all our 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.

Indigo Bunting by Deborah Allen on 30 September 2019 at the Gill Overlook, Central Park


Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Thursday Night, 26 Sept (5pm in Central Park [Meet at Boathouse] with Sandra Critelli) - Per fortuna ha smesso di piovere prima delle 6. Ho cominciato portandoli a vedere il Ruby Throated Hummingbird ( Colibri ) a Oven. Quando sono arrivata al parco ne ho visti 2 ma ora solo uno ma molto disponibile a farsi ammirare e fotografare. Abbiamo visto lì vicino un Hermit Trush , Common Yellow Throat e poi continuato nel Ramble. Li abbiamo incontrato I soliti gruppi di Cardinals, maschi e femmine, catbirds, Robin , starling and many Chimney Swift flying in the sky. A Shackspeare Garden abbiamo osservato un maschio di Black Throated Blue Warbler. 2 Northern Flicker sono passati volando ma senza fermarsi. Prima di incontrare il gruppo ho visto Black And White Warbler e White Throated Sparrow. Alle 7 era ormai buio.Non abbiamo visto tanti uccellini ma I birdwatcher erano contenti con ciò che abbiamo trovati inclusi scoiattolo nero, fiori, moth...



Friday, 27 September (9am at Conservatory Garden/105th st and 5th Ave): quite a great day with 15 warbler species including Tennessee, Cape May, Prairie and Black-throated Green. The area just west of the north entrance to Conservatory Garden was very good...and many people called attention to birds here including Vicki Seabrook, Tom Ahlf, Peter Haskell, Patricia Pike - and more. That was Deborah's group at the north end. As for me, with the two folks from New Zealand, we had a wonderful time despite a bully's attempt to derail it (see intro story above). Our best bird was a Black-throated Green Warler about 18inches away just sitting at the edge of low conifer branch...we watched it for 30 seconds (better: it watched us) and then went back to feeding in the Tanyosho Pine.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 27 Sept: https://tinyurl.com/y2euq4qv



Saturday, 28 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - today was the day of the Brown Thrasher. When we played the tape in the Ramble (eg near Swampy Pin Oak), we had 3-5 Brown Thrashers come in above us...I think at one location we had at least 10. The two Yellow-billed Cuckoos at the Maintenance Field were fun...it is always thrilling to watch them zoom in overhead and become motionless in the tree above us. Try to find them then! We also had 12 warbler species, the best being a male and female Black-throated Blue Warbler foraging on the ground near us at the Bird Feeder area (Evodia Field).

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 28 Sept: https://tinyurl.com/y4gjcy2f


female Scarlet Tanager by Deborah Allen the Tupelo Field (Central Park) on 29 September 2019


Sunday, 29 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - eleven warbler species today in the warm (mid 80s) weather. It was actually a very productive day, but numbers of birds were on the low side. Everywhere we went we had 1-2 birds...occasionally good ones such as the Cape May Warbler in the Ramble (Deborah) and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Tupelo Field. We had a lone Blue-grey Gnatcatcher - probably the last one we will see until late April 2020! Overhead a few raptors were migrating including Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, and one Osprey. However, it was the Bay-breasted Warbler toward the end of the walk that stole the show - coming in very close to the calls from my iphone/speaker.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 29 September: https://tinyurl.com/yyb4j78j



Monday, 30 September (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - At 7am I was standing at the Dock on Turtle Pond watching a great movement of birds coming in from the south (yes from the south) and heading north over the park. I watched three Scarlet Tanagers land in the tree above me...and I also saw many (in the hundreds) of Northern Flickers flying every which way just over the tree-tops. This was a "dawn flight" with these migrants re-orienting after overnight winds carried them further east (or even south) than they wanted to be...and they were searching for a good quality habitat to spend the day. As for the bird walk, any morning when we find not one but two Philadelphia Vireos is a good one! Standing below the Hackberry tree on the south side of Strawberry Fields, and using my recordings, we had a lot of Northern Parulas and Red-eyed Vireos, and small numbers of American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Wood Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker...other highlight birds today included Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Indigo Bunting. BUT, heck just look at the first two photos in this Newsletter: the Virginia Rail and the Sora (Rail). Both photographed by Deborah Allen today - because both had arrived overnight and landed in small pocket parks in Manhattan...Monday morning was quite the for seeing birds, throughout Manhattan.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 30 September: https://tinyurl.com/y2qutz9j


Immature Red-tailed Hawk by Deborah Allen above Shakespeare Garden, Sunday September 29, 2019


HISTORICAL NOTEs

Falconer of Central Park [October 1982]

by Donald Knowler: https://tinyurl.com/y4h96jxe

Part One of Two: October 1-15, 1982

A kettle of hawks, high in the sky, so high that at times they are mere dots. An impossibly blue sky laced with cirrus clouds, which take the sharpness out of the sun, so it is possible to gaze skyward without blinking and rubbing the eyes. Two ospreys, a broad-winged hawk, and seven or eight sharp-shinned hawks in big circles-lazy, supreme, nothing to touch them.

I had entered the park with an expectation that today would be different, a day not better than most but better than them all. Even at 8 A.M., I knew the temperature on the first day of October would go to eighty degrees, but without humidity or stickiness. My pace had quickened on hearing a blue jay somewhere on a tall apartment block on Lexington Avenue. I had chased a winter wren through the Gill, a waterway forming a series of rapids in the Ramble, and then had come upon a small group of birders studying a fruiting evodia tree in an open glade, which had been good for birds during the fall. "You've just missed an osprey going over, minutes ago," they said and my face registered disappointment. "Damn that wren," I thought and lapsed into the birders' equivalent of self-pity. But the day, with mist clearing earlier, promised more hawks, and I went to the Bow Bridge for a clear view of the sky. Then I saw the ospreys, majestic. I do not think I saw them flap their wings. They were in thermals, conserving energy, letting the rising warm air do the work for them. Then the broad-winged hawk, stubby, chunky-winged in comparison to the ospreys, with three black bands across its tail. Around and above him were the sharp-shinned hawks with elongated tails. I had now tasted the hawk migration, or part of it, and it was not to end all day. At times there were up to twelve hawks in the sky with possibly many more that were higher and out of sight. The broad-winged is classified as a Buteo or buzzard hawk and feeds primarily on rodents like rabbits. The crow-­sized hawk was heading for a wintering ground somewhere between the Florida Keys and Brazil while the much smaller sharp-shinned would spend the winter months in the southern United States, or possibly as far south as Panama.


Downy Woodpecker (female) by Deborah Allen at the Gill Overlook in the Ramble (Central Park) on 1 October 2019


During the late afternoon I passed the Upper Lobe and found two young wood ducks dabbling in the weedy mire under the willows. The ducks, scraggy in their juvenile plumage, appeared bewildered and unsure of the journey south. I ventured too close and flushed them out, but I found them a little later sheltering in a dried-up section of the Gill. The waterway at this location was overhung with bushes and the ducks pressed against the shadow of a log. Foolishly, I startled them again, and they smashed through the branches, leaving downy feathers floating behind.

I had thought that the duck migration would come later, and already this mis-assumption had caused me to miss a rare green-winged teal on the Pond at Fifty-ninth Street. So the day after seeing the wood duck, I toured the lakes and ponds first. At the Belvedere Lake two ducks stood out among about seventy mallards. They were darkish but not black ducks, which were also on the lake at the time. These birds had shovel-like bills, which they dipped toward the water, as though the out-sized bills were too heavy for their heads.

They were, in fact, ducks called shovelers, two juveniles, lacking the edginess of the wood duck. They appeared at ease among the mallards, which are quite friendly birds, and at one point they ventured close to the bank, unconcerned about me. There was another surprise: an American wigeon in the same crowded area of water. I did not have to raise my binoculars to see the distinctive white crown, which gives the bird its nickname of "baldpate." The bird was a good-looking male, characteristically sitting high in the water. The white crown rested on a line of green feathers covering the eye, and the body was colored a pink-gray.

As I was watching the wigeon a chevron of maybe a hundred Canada geese was flying to the west of the park, somewhere over Columbus Avenue. The geese were in two perfectly straight lines merging at a point. A week later I would see a similar number of cormorants taking the same flight-path. Theirs was a ragged, loose chevron, swaying and bending when individual birds broke the line.



Dyer's Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), 29 September 2019 by Sandra Critelli: https://tinyurl.com/yy2ru69q


The weather had continued hot and sunny, and on the second day of October I came across the last of the tanagers. This one was a female summer tanager feeding in the Evodia tree, a popular birding spot. It was still early morning after I had completed my round of the park and, with time to spare, I decided to look for sparrows, due to arrive in great numbers in the Ramble. Pushing away spiderwebs, which were still hung with silver droplets of dew, I found Chuck from Pennsylvania sleeping in a large hawthorn bush that was still heavy in brown leaf. Chuck was just a rounded shape in a sleeping bag, but I recognized him. I could identify the sack. I began to back off but trod on a dry twig, and he rolled over quickly, as the "snap" ricocheted around the tree trunks of the Ramble.

What you want?" he shouted, struggling to his feet with the blue quilted bag around his ankles. He held a long knife in his right hand, and he slowly lowered it as his sleepy, semiconscious mind registered it was me.

"You jerk, what you creeping up on me like that for?” he said angrily.

"How was I to know you would be here?" I replied, what happened to your home?"

He explained someone had tried to rob him recently, while he was asleep, and he was frightened they might return. "That's what I got the knife for;' he said. But I sensed he had always carried it because it fitted neatly in a blue denim waistcoat he always wore.

''Any luck finding a job?" I inquired, trying to make small talk, to be friendly.

"What's it to you?" Chuck said aggressively. "Just go fuck off.”

He kicked his foot out of the sleeping bag and there was a clink of glass. A bottle of bourbon had been in the sleeping bag with him.

A crowd was being marshaled for the last bird walk of the year on October 3 and, as I approached the boathouse car park, Lambert put two fingers behind his yellow bush hat and started to bob up and down. He was telling me a long­ eared owl was in the Ramble. Sarah was doing her bird routine as I hurried to the location Lambert had given, a cherry tree behind the Point Lobe willows. The owl, with his back to me, was about forty feet up, partly obscured by the clusters of leaves. The poor owl, napping after a busy night's hunting, could not have known that in the next few minutes it would be surrounded by the excited people on the walk, most of whom had not seen an owl before. There were shrieks of, "Where is it?" The owl swung its head around in almost a full circle without moving its body, to establish what was going on. From his perch he saw a mass of bodies, pushing and shoving, straddling the footpath. Half the people pointed toward him and the others scanned the tree through binoculars. Some of the crowd, being pushed from behind, slipped off the footpath and started to slide down a slope into the lobe. The owl blinked, slowly, as if deliberately assuming a look of amazement. Then it turned its head forward again. The blue jays' cries of hysteria, when they found it, were nothing compared with this.

The owl, however, was not to lose it composure. A wise owl stays put and makes the most of a difficult situation, which does not immediately threaten him. I led an old woman down the slope for a better look. A low bush laddered her stockings but, taking me by the arm and stepping carefully, she said: "Young man, I don't care about my tights. I've always wanted to see an owl." It was a good twenty minutes before Lambert and Sarah could persuade the crowd to move on, with most people screaming that they hadn't seen the owl. "But, we've got more birds to see and, anyway, we might find another owl in a better position,” said Lambert tugging at his hat nervously. He did not let on that the owl is one of the rarer birds of the park, and he hoped no one would realize the promise of another owl was a ruse.

I left the tour and the excitement of the owl to stroll through the park alone, away from the crowd. I found two brown creepers on an oak, a new bird for the fall. And I later heard that the tour had picked up a golden-crowned kinglet. It was another gorgeous day, with a large crowd out in the park. In quiet spots I would find the shy, unobtrusive mourning doves feeding on berries. But my mind was not really on birds today. The park had that bizarre quality again, which produces in me fits of whimsy, of Homo sapiens Central Park, a rush-to-the-head of summer before summer finally dies. Children clambered over the Alice in Wonderland statue at East Seventy-fifth Street and, at the park's bowling greens to the south, a croquet game was in progress. Above the white-clad players and hoops and mallets sat an umpire, tennis-style, in an umpire's chair. He was also giving a running commentary through loud-speakers; every now and again there would be a "clud" as mallet hit ball. Did I see one player using a flamingo as a mallet? Had the Mad Hatter joined Lambert and Sarah's bird walk in the Ramble? I could have believed so.

I found a golden-crowned kinglet myself next day when the temperature hit eighty degrees again, and mosquitoes rose like smoke over the corners of the boating lake, where the rocks were coated bottle-green with algae. It was another good day for birds. A black-throated green warbler hopped through the Turkey oaks near the reservoir and I also saw my last black-and-white warbler. The Evodia tree, which attracted so many birds, had turned gold, but the majority of trees held their summer appearance. The occasional sweetgum stood out yellow in the same way that the cherries in flower had held the eye in spring. And a red oak was at its peak of transformation. The oily, glossy leaves were alive in death; rich red, and when they fell to the ground, they retained their moist texture for a few days. From a distance a carpet of red oak leaves looked like a pool of blood on a footpath.

A party-goer in what had been a neatly-pressed dinner jacket, bow tie askew, staggered up the slope leading from the boathouse to the Ramble. The gentle slope was too steep for him. He paused to correct his balance by leaning forward sharply. Then he started off again, large patches of dried mud all over his tuxedo, his shirt hanging out at the back. It was noon and the party-goer was on his way home from the party of the night before; He had slept in the park and was lucky not to have been attacked.

This state of inebriation did not appear to be confined to the party-goer. A robin hung his black head low and spread out his wings on the dust of the footpath. He shook his beak from side to side, flapped his wings slowly and spread them out again. I ventured to within a few feet of the robin, but he was unaware I was standing over him. When I clapped my hands to make him fly, he looked at me for a second and tried to give out his alarm cry but it would not come. Then the robin slowly took off with a heavy heave of the legs and settled in a bush only five feet away from me. The birders say robins and other birds partial to fruit become drunk when the vast quantities of berries they eat in the fall ferment inside them. I have my doubts, though. In Africa, veteran white hunters tell stories of elephants getting drunk on the fruit of the marula tree. I have never met a zoologist with experience in the African bush who can confirm this. Many park rangers will tell the story to tourists but will admit they themselves think it a myth when you question them closely. I thought the story of the robins a myth and still do. But I cannot explain the robin's behavior.


Winter Wren by Deborah Allen (Ramble in Central Park) on 1 October 2019


Ten days after his death, the body of Conrado Mones was still in the city morgue. Rita Serrano was struggling to raise the money for his burial but there was hope for her. The circumstances of Mones's death had received wide publicity in New York. Money was trickling into the parks department and The New York Times.

A thick, soupy mist lay on the reservoir on the seventh day of October. The Indian summer and its humidity was clinging, like the sweat soaking my shirt, as I paced the footpath looking for ducks. But I could not see beyond the ill-defined shape of a cormorant, which fished about forty yards from the bank. What I thought was a bat fluttered closer and I realized it was a large monarch butterfly, migrating south. The crickets were chirping and insects still abounded; yet there was a definite feeling that fall had arrived although the trees remained dark, rounded, full shapes in the mist, showing silhouettes of leaves without revealing their changing color. A Chinese woman bent below a gingko tree to pick up nuts, which were falling from the upper branches. The gingko's fleshy seeds are considered a delicacy by the Chinese and the woman's husband had climbed forty feet to risk life and limb to dislodge some of the fruits. If the couple had known of the tree's history they might have been more gentle with it. The gingko has survived from the age of the dinosaur and, with its fan-shaped leaves, it looks like a pre­ historic relic. Its family was prevalent over much of the globe millions of years ago, but it died out as the world underwent climatic changes, continental drift, and mountain upheaval. A member of the family, Gingko biloba, survived in a corner of China, however, and Chinese and Japanese Buddhist priests later planted it in temple gardens. A German botanist brought the gingko to the attention of the Western world in 1690, and it was finally imported to Europe in the eighteenth century. It is not just the shape of the leaves that gives the gingko its mystery. The seeds have a peculiar smell, which I liken to someone throwing up.

Part II in the next week or so.


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow our Bird Sightings on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC


Greater Shearwater by Deborah Allen in the Atlantic Ocean on a pelagic birding trip off of Brooklyn on 22 Sept 2019

#DonaldKnowler #October1982Birding #AssaultedinCentralPark

@2020 ROBERT DECANDIDO, PhD