More Tales of Migrant Virginia Rails on NYC Streets - October Birding!

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

female Easern Towhee by Deborah Allen at the Upper Lobe of the Ramble (Central Park) on 20 October 2019

Bird Notes: Make sure to watch the weather for this coming Sunday, 27 October: heavy rain is forecast all day - so the Sunday bird walk will most likely be cancelled. And as a reminder, on cold mornings, birds are just as active on the second (9:30am) walk - so if you cannot get to the early Sat/Sun/Mon walks, the second walk will often be as good, if not better - on cool mornings (less than 65f).

We have had wonderful support from many people through the years - we could not do what we do without people. This week we call attention to the many photographers who have sent amazing images for this Newsletter (published since 2004). For example, on her way home from this past Sunday's bird walk, Lucy McLeod of Australia (and one of NYC's premier orthopedists who specializes in hands) found an odd bird on 53rd street and Madison Avenue - and she took the photo posted below. It is a Virginia Rail, a bird that can turn up anywhere in NYC on migration. Indeed, a couple of years ago, Ryan Bass photographed one standing on a Lexus in a mid-town traffic jam - his photo is also below. Our Opera singer star Emilie Storrs wrote us in autumn 2005 about a Virginia Rail she found casually walking on the sidewalk on Broadway near Columbia University. Meanwhile Jeremy Nadel, originally from the Bronx and just retired from teaching for 30+ years, took two wonderful photos of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in Central Park during last Friday's (18 Oct) bird walk. Further afield, Doug Leffler continues to send great close-up bird photos from Michigan - see his Swamp Sparrow below. And this Newsletter would not be possible without the note-taking and bird photography of Deborah Allen. Thank You everyone.

In this week's Historical Notes we present more tails of Virginia Rails on NYC streets: (a) from Emilie's Storrs account of one on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to another spending the day on an air-conditioner on the 26th floor of a building in lower Manhattan (Oct 1999) = Virginia Rails regularly turn up in odd places in NYC. Historically (b) Virginia Rails bred in freshwater marshes of this city including Brooklyn (Dyker Heights) and Queens (Astoria), and as we have shown in other Newsletters, in Manhattan (Inwood Hill Park) and the Bronx (Kingsbridge Meadows and Van Cortlandt Park). Today, the Virginia Rail may still nest in the Bronx (Pelham Bay Park) and possibly Staten Island. We also include information (c), that the Virginia Rail was a popular bird to hunt, with accounts from Queens (February 1885), New Jersey (September 1877) and Connecticut (September 1949). Finally (d) we present a summary of the weather here in NYC for September 2019 - one of the driest Septembers on record. Thank You to Rob Frydlewicz and his NYC Weather blog, a wonderful source of information:

Virginia Rail found/photographed by Lucy McLeod on 53rd street and Madison Ave (Manhattan), Sunday 20 October 2019

Virginia Rail found/photographed by Lucy McLeod on 53rd street and Madison Ave (Manhattan), Sunday 20 October

Good! The Bird Walks for Late October 2019

All Walks @ $10/person

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here:

1. Friday, 25 October at 9:00am Conservatory Garden; 105th st. and 5th Avenue (Central Pk)

2.***Saturday, 26 Oct. at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Pk)

3.***Sunday, 27 Oct. at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Dr. (Central Pk) -

4.***Monday, 28 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: or call: 718-828-8262 (home)

adult Red-tailed Hawk by Deborah Allen bathing in the Gill (Ramble, Central Park), Sunday October 13, 2019

Adult male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker by Jeremy Nadel on 18 Oct 2019 in the North Woods of Central Park

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.

Hybrid Male Spotted x Eastern Towhee by Deborah Allen, Tupelo Field (Central Park Ramble), Sunday 20 October 2019

male Spotted x Eastern Towhee by Deborah Allen, Tupelo Field (Central Park Ramble), Sunday 20 October 2019

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Friday, 18 October (9am at Conservatory Garden/105th st and 5th Ave): Wind, wind, wind and more wind. Birds are getting fewer, but they are still coming into the calls from my speaker. Best were the three Cape May Warblers feeding on sapsucker holes in a Siberian Elm atop the Great Hill. (Overall we had 7 warbler species today.) The Blue-headed Vireo at the west end of the Pool at eye-level was a winner (we had two BHVi this morning plus one Red-eyed Vireo); the Winter Wren along the Loch - came right in to perch in front of us, thank you tape - a life bird for Enrico Leonardi (off to northern Somalia next week). We had three wren species today, but missed the Marsh Wren along the Harlem Meer, probably because we were watching a rare bird for Central Park: Green-winged Teal (female) on the west side of Duck Island. Finally, there were raptor flyovers including a Turkey Vulture, Cooper's Hawk and many soaring Red-tailed a male American Kestrel hunting small birds at Conservatory Garden.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 18 Oct:

Saturday, 19 October (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - easily the best birds were the close-up Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets that came in close to the sound of my tape ("flock calls") that both the first and second walk people had close and extended looks at these small birds with one Ruby showing its red crest. Carolina Wrens were active and calling today (three pairs) - and we heard Ravens over the park, the first ones for a while. Only six warbler species today - we are definitely are on a downward trend with these neotropical migrants as November approaches.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 19 October:

Swamp Sparrow by Doug Leffler in October 2018 in Michigan2019

Swamp Sparrow by Doug Leffler in October 2018 in Michigan

Sunday, 20 October (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - Ruby-crowned Kinglets were again everywhere: several times we had groups of at least ten right over our heads, perhaps five feet away. Six warbler species again today with Black-throated Blues being the favorite. And then Val Landwehr, visiting from Minnesota (and who found the White Pelican at Jamaica Bay) spotted a male Scarlet Tanager at the Gill Overlook...feeding on Crab Apples.

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 20 October:

Monday, 21 October (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - Strawberry Fields was wonderful this morning with Field Sparrow, Carolina Wren (that followed us around), and many Yellow-rumped Warblers following Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers as the latter drilled holes into non-native Siberian Elms. We found two adult Cooper's Hawks at the Oven - both appeared to be males. Most of the Cooper's we get in NYC in winter are first-year seeing two adults was a surprise. Only two warbler species today...

Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 21 October:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Maintenance Field (Ramble, Central Park), Saturday October 19, 2019 by Deborah Allen

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Maintenance Field (Ramble, Central Park), Saturday October 19, 2019 by Deborah Allen



From: Emilie Storrs (2005), our favorite professional opera singer. Emilie gets the award for best bird sighting of Autumn 2005, and just as importantly, the best note taking to confirm her observation. Here is what she emailed us late last week: "About five thirty on Friday afternoon (30 September 2005) I was walking south on 108th street and Broadway on the east side. I had just crossed 108th St. Along the stores I saw a little bird running. My logical brain said starling but then the rest of my brain said wait that's not a starling!! It ran through the people and stood on the curb for a very long time while I wrote down all the characteristics. Several people asked me what it was and I said "It is some sort of marsh bird but the body's not right for a sandpiper or a plover so I don't know what it is." I went so far as to run to the Rite Aid and ran back with a five dollar instant camera to take pictures of it. It was slightly smaller than a robin, orange legs, orange beak with a tiny curve at the end of it (although a little bit of black on the end of the beak). It had a big black stripe running from the beak down the back of its head. It's face was gray. It had no eye rings but a whitish stripe running from the beak to the top of its eye. Its back had a pretty speckly pattern and its chest was a pretty, rusty red. Honestly, this bird looks exactly like the picture on page 130 of my Sibley's guide of the Virginia Rail, although what it had to be doing on Broadway I have no idea. Twice the bird ruffled up its "shoulder" feathers and puffed its chest way out. It was perfectly mobile on its legs. Another woman suggested perhaps putting it in a box and taking it to the park but the bird would have none of that and hid under a parked car. Has anyone else reported seeing this bird??"

Virginia Rail in Central Park by Deborah Allen on 24 November 2017