Rare October Migrant: the Orange-crowned Warbler in NYC
Updated: Feb 28
Bird Notes: This coming Sunday, 3 November, is Marathon Day: the great race of NYC through the five boroughs. We move Sunday's bird walk uptown to meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue) at 9:30am only! See the Schedule section below for details. And Daylight Savings Time begins this Saturday night into Sunday morning - make sure to set your clocks back.
This past Monday, 28 October, two Orange-crowned Warblers were found in Manhattan indicating this rare late season migrant had arrived. The bird in Central Park was confusing: it had a grey head leading one to believe it might be a Tennessee Warbler. However, first-year male Orange-crowns have a grey head (see Deborah Allen's photo above; young females have grayer heads than young males), and in all plumages have a strong yellow vent (ditto). Another first-year bird was found in East River Park and photographed by Lotus Winnie Lee - see her photo below, as well as Doug Leffler's bird just below - both have grey heads of hatch-year birds making their first migration south. For comparison we also include an adult with tan/yellow/greenish head photographed on 21 October 2014 (see D. Allen's photo well below). Interesting to us are the two photos from May 2017 showing a bird with a grey collar - perhaps a hatch-year bird making its way back north for the first time? See Bruno Boni's two photos from Central Park. As an aside, good luck finding the orange-crown - it is not often seen, and even less frequently photographed.
In this week's Historical Notes we present accounts of the Orange-crowned Warbler (1876-present) in our area - a species that was rare in 1880, and is still rare today - though with all the birders out and about, it is now reported more often: (a) October 1876 from the Bronx, the great E. P. Bicknell reporting from Riverdale; (b) October 1892 in Flatbush, Brooklyn; (c) winter 1935 at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan) and in southern Connecticut (Allan Cruickshank); In (d/e/f) we present a summary of the status of the Orange-crowned Warbler in Central and Prospect Parks 1923 to the present; and finally, (h) October 1919 and the end of World War I: a birder records his observations of troops in Manhattan, and one special bird along the Central Park Reservoir.
Orange-crowned Warbler in Michigan by Doug Leffler on 11 October 2018
Good! The Bird Walks for Early November 2019
All Walks @ $10/person - all in Central Park except for the Owl walk on 10 Nov.
Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8
1. Friday, 1 November at 9:00am Conservatory Garden; 105th st. and 5th Avenue
2.***Saturday, 2 Nov. at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Pk)
3. Sunday, 3 Nov. at 9:30am (ONLY) Conservatory Garden; 105th st. and 5th Avenue (Note change of location! Also: Beginning of Daylight Savings Time - set clocks back one hour)
4.***Monday, 4 Nov. 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.
5. Sunday, 10 Nov. at 4:45pm - Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan for Eastern Screech-owls.
Meet outside Indian Road Cafe: 600 W 218th Street at Indian Road in 10034 upper Manhattan. We will be out for about 1.5 to 2 hrs. Bring a tiny flashlight (and if not, don't worry use your cell phone as a flashlight. I will have a powerful flashlight that is great for photography). Meet at 5pm at the Indian Road Cafe (has nice bathrooms [you don't have to purchase anything to use them]); a nice bar that sells soda and iced or coffee - and dinner/snacks which are quite good. We meet right outside the Cafe at 5pm - sunset is at approx. 5pm. NOTE WELL: Parking is very difficult in the nearby neighborhood...give yourself at least an hour to find a spot (too many apartment buildings and too few parking spots for everyone You have been warned!).
More info on Indian Road Cafe:
Here is a map, and if you plug in your starting point, you will get directions: https://tinyurl.com/y5o9pab5
This is the web site of the Indian Road Cafe where we meet (outside): http://www.indianroadcafe.com/
And here is the address of the corner where we meet at 5pm: 600 W 218th Street in 10034
Any questions send them our way: email@example.com or call: 718-828-8262 (home)
Orange-crowned Warbler by Lotus Winnie Lee on 28 October 2019 in East River Park, Manhattan
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.
Orange-crowned Warbler by Bruno Boni in May 2017 in Central Park, Manhattan
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)
Friday, 25 October (9am at Conservatory Garden/105th st and 5th Ave): The North End had surprises today, everything from White-crowned Sparrow (another fine autumn for seeing this uncommon sparrow in Central Park), as well as five warbler species - the best being a Wilson's Warbler at the far west side of the Pool. The willow tree there has been especially productive this year - including 15 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (and one Golden-crowned) here as well.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 25 Oct: https://tinyurl.com/yybf7ads
Saturday, 26 October (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - Brown Thrashers have been seen in number this autumn, and we had one today (with more on the way for Monday, 28 Oct.). Golden-crowned Kinglets at Belvedere Castle and Ruby-crowns everywhere coming in to flocking calls - much fun. There were many Yellow-rumped Warblers in the Maintenance Field and Tupelo Meadow, high in the trees in the early morning - chasing insects where the sunshine first hits the tops of those trees. On the other hand, we could only manage two other warbler species - an American Redstart (Deborah's photo at the very bottom of this Newsletter), and Sandra Critelli's Pine Warbler at Shakespeare Garden. It's getting late in the season...but there will be surprises: Owls, waterfowl, sparrows...not in number but here if we look closely enough.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 26 October: https://tinyurl.com/y2c5a5c7
male Eastern Towhee by Deborah Allen at Willow Rock (Central Park), 26 October. It has been a banner autumn for seeing Towhee migrants in Central Park.
Sunday, 27 October (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - RAIN! Both Bird Walks were cancelled.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 27 October: Rain...no bird walks today
Monday, 28 October (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - An Orange-crowned Warbler for the 8am group at the north end of Strawberry Fields was the highlight, foraging low in Mugwort, Goldenrod and other herbaceous plants...and not re-found for the 9am group (apologies). Other highlights included two Cooper's Hawks (both hatch-year birds) circling over us along the west drive near Balcony Bridge; a Brown Creeper in the Ramble (they have been rare so far this year...but no one has seen a single Red-breasted Nuthatch or Pine Siskin - remember last autumn 2018?) However, Brown Thrashers (7) and Eastern Towhees (20) were almost common today.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 28 October: https://tinyurl.com/y6r8uud3
Orange-crowned Warbler by Bruno Boni in May 2017 in Central Park, Manhattan
Helminthophaga celata. Orange-crowned Warbler. A female was taken on October 9, 1876, and a second specimen seen on the 29th of the same month. The former bird was shot while gleaning among the withering blossoms of a patch of golden-rods (Solidago), while the latter was hopping about in a clump of leafless briers and shrubbery quite unsuspiciously, allowing an approach of a few feet. E. P. Bicknell, Riverdale, N.Y.
Helminthophaga celata. Orange-crowned Warbler. On October 12, 1892, at Flatbush, King's Co., New York, I shot a young male. It was in a hedge-row in company with great numbers of Myrtle Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and a few other species. My brother and I were driving these birds along the hedge, watching for anything rare, and most of them were very alert and continued their flight at every motion we made. This bird, however, was sitting quietly on a bush, and was at once shot. ARTHUR H. HOWELL, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Orange-crowned Warbler in the New York City Region . Of all the Warblers which occur in the New York City Region the Orange-crowned (Vermivora celata celata) is certainly among the rarest and many keen and active field-men in this region have yet to see this species in life. While this bird must be regarded as a rare migrant it is one of the few Warblers which one may expect to meet with in the New England and Middle Atlantic states during the winter months. It has been my good fortune, to twice meet with the Orange-crowned Warbler during the month of January within thirty miles of New York City. On January 20, 1926, while meandering along the eastern shore of the Hudson River at Inwood Park, New York City, I noticed a small Warbler flitting about the low shrubs of a garden. Careful study of this bird through 10 power binoculars left no doubt as to its identity. This individual appeared to be in perfect condition despite the cold boreal blasts which came across the Hudson and was in characteristic manner restlessly flitting about. My second winter meeting with this species came on the dull cold day of January 6, 1935, at Old Greenwich, Connecticut. Miss Helen B. Gere, Mr. and Mrs. Murdockand the writer had just finished combing a hemlock grove for a Barred Owl (Strix varia varia) which had been observed the week before, when we heard a sweet song. It was on the style of a Chipping Sparrow's chant but had a much sweeter more musical quality. None of us had any idea as to the identity of the songster but a few minutes search brought us face to face with a typical fall-plumaged Orange-crowned Warbler. It was soon joined by two others of the same species and we carefully studied the trio for the next half hour. The birds seemed to prefer the low shrubbery along the marshy edges of a stream and not until disturbed did they take to a small group of white pines on a nearby ridge. Two of these birds were in the typical dull autumn plumage but the third was much more sulphur below and had a gray wash to the head. We can only suspect that the song first heard was given by one of these birds but for the length of our observations we heard only the characteristic call note which is a sharp "chip.” ALLAN D. CRUICKSHANK, New York City
1923. Orange-crowned Warbler. Central Park. No records before 1923. A single individual was discovered in the dense ornamental conifer groves of the Moravian Cemetery on Staten Island, 8 January 1917 (W. H. Wiegmann) and remained at least until 20 January (Hix); another found in the same place 26 December 1920 (Lester Walsh), seen so well and described so accurately, that there can be no reasonable doubt of its identity.
1958. Orange-crowned Warbler. Central Park. Very Rare spring, and "only" rare fall transient. 4 May 1956 (Cantor, Messing, Norse, Post - photographed); 10 September 1949 (Cantor, Norse) to 27 October 1939 (Carleton) and 22 November 1941 (Carleton). 1959-1967: no new data. 1958. Orange-crowned Warbler. Prospect Park. Rare fall transient. 17 April 1943 (Jacobson) and 27 April 1936 (Russell) to 20 May 1918 (Allen); 11 September 1949 (Jacobson) and 3 October 1948 (Jacobson) to 14 November 1953 (Carleton, Cashman, Restivo, Smith, Usin). 1959-1967: no new data. 1974+. Orange-crowned Warbler. Central Park. "The Orange-crowned Warbler, although unobtrusive, inconspicuous, and occasionally difficult to identify, is nevertheless not as scarce as some observers believe. In October, when more are seen than at any other time, they are less arboreal in habits and often are found low down in scrub growth, especially in old, overgrown, weedy fields adjacent to woodland. In spring, when they are much rarer, they are more often observed in the taller trees, but usually only during the bigger warbler waves." Even in fall, it is rare enough that there are reports of no more than two or three individuals at any one time." August reports of this warbler are considered unsatisfactory and have been rejected because of confusion with dull or immature Yellow Warblers and Tennessee Warblers. Several years ago [this was written in 1964], a warbler thought to be an Orange-crowned was brought to a bird club meeting for identification. It was variously identified by those at the meeting as: Orange-crowned, Nashville, Tennessee, Yellow and female Wilson's Warblers. Upon examination of skins, it was correctly identified as immature Yellow Warbler." Any warbler seen after mid-October could be this bird...and it is warbler most likely to be present in Central Park in December-January (rarely - but Deborah and I have seen several 2000-2019).
Adult Orange-crowned Warbler by Deborah Allen, Compost Area (Central Park), October 21, 2014
A Parakeet in a City Park [October 1919]
Nothing could be more pleasing to the eye than the sight of the distinguished officers of the Allies in their handsome uniforms as they go about the streets of our city. The drab-clad civilian notes them from the corner of an envious eye, and the small boys gaze with frank and unqualified admiration. I noticed much the same effect among the birds in Central Park one afternoon in October. I was coming along the path around the Reservoir above 85th Street when my eye was caught by a large flock of dingy English Sparrows that were feeding in the grass by the bridle-path. As my eye roved from the outskirts of the flock toward its center I became aware of some cause of commotion and special interest. The birds were craning their necks, chirping loudly, and jostling one another in their effort to stand all in the same place. In another moment I had discovered the cause. Shining with the brightness of a patch of sunlight on the green grass, and politely oblivious of the vulgar peering crowd about him, sat a little Parakeet busily engaged in feeding on the grass seeds. He showed little fear as I approached, and finally flew to a small tree a few paces away, from which he watched a moment or two and then returned to the grass. The distinguished stranger was about the size of a White-throated Sparrow in body, but of course his tail was much longer. On his forehead he bore a clear yellow mark. His head, throat, breast, underparts, and rump were bright bluish green. His upperparts were distinctly yellowish green, while the wing coverts were blackish, each feather being delicately fringed with pale yellow or whitish. The tail feathers, as the bird spread them in alighting, showed a fringe at the outer ends of yellowish green and whitish. Such a sight always fills the observer with strange I thoughts of other lands and times. Perhaps some will be reminded of the day when Carolina Paroquets were casual visitors even in New York State. I suppose the little Parakeet was an escaped cage-bird, or, possibly, one that is allowed to fly at large to return at night to his cage. Anyway, I have not seen him since, and often wonder what became of him. But nothing can blot out the picture of the graceful, brilliant stranger so superior to the vulgar curiosity of the dingy Sparrows.
TERTIUS Van DYKE, New York City.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD
American Redstart, Female or Immature Male by Deborah Allen
Azalea Pond (Central Park), Saturday October 26, 2019