November Birding in Central Park is Snail Dynamite BOOM!
Updated: Feb 28
Bird Notes: This Saturday, 16 November (at 9:05am), we meet at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Admission is free to NYBG on Saturdays from 9-10am. You can take the 8:16am MetroNorth train from Grand Central Station (Harlem Line; Track 26) and be at the NYBG stop by about 8:50am. Just walk across the street (five minutes) and meet us at the Ticket Booths (free admission). Our walk is $10 and lasts 9:15am until 12noon or so. Call or email us with questions, for more info etc. See Schedule section below for further details.
This will be the last Newsletter for a couple of weeks: look for the next one on or about Wednesday, 27 November, or possibly even Wed. 4 December. Always check the Schedule page of our web site for the most current info on bird walks, especially after this weekend, November 15 (Fri) to 17 (Sun). There is no Monday 18 November walk.
Snail Dynamite is a Finnish expression for nothing happening, nothing happening and then Boom! A great bird pops up. Such is Birding in November in NYC: endless White-throated Sparrows but every once in a while, something amazing is found such as the Purple Gallinule at Turtle Pond in Central Park at the end of our bird walk on 2 November. A great way to finish one might say.
In this week's Historical Notes we present just one excerpt: from the 1984 book, The Falconer of Central Park by Donald Knowler. Here he writes about the birds seen in the month of November 1982 in Central Park (400 Lesser Scaup; 10 Canvasback Ducks and a Tufted Duck on the Reservoir; Red-headed Woodpecker near the Arsenal). Just as importantly, Knowler records what was happening in the park with people some 37 years ago: rampant homelessness; 25 rapes; 10 murders; and how derelict Central Park had become. If you want to purchase Donald Knowler's book, you can find it used for less than $10 (check Amazon).
Golden-crowned Kinglet by Deborah Allen in the Pinetum (Central Park) on 9 November 2019 (Saturday)
Good! The Bird Walks for mid-late November 2019
All Walks @ $10/person - all in Central Park except for the Sat 16 Nov. Walk
Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8
1. Friday, 15 November at 9:00am Conservatory Garden; 105th st. and 5th Avenue
2. Saturday, 16 Nov. at 9:05am New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx - see below
This Saturday at 9:05am, we meet at the MOSHOLU GATE (= Main Gate) of the
New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx (free admission 9am-10am).
The best way from Manhattan to NYBG is via MetroNorth: from Grand Central Station take the 8:16am train (Track 32) of the Harlem Line - arriving at 8:50am (20-30 min) at the NYBG station (three stops from Grand Central).
Walk 5-7 minutes across the street (follow signs/very safe) to the Mosholu Gate of NYBG. We will be at the ticket booths (free admission) about 30 meters inside the gate (just walk straight ahead).
Our Bird Walk is only $10...we will be out from 9:15m or so until 12noon or so. There is a nice cafe (expensive) for lunch or just coffee.
Any questions? Call us (718-828-8262/home) or email us firstname.lastname@example.org
Web Site of NYBG (click on this link) = NYBG Web Site
Trip Planner for Directions via MTA (click on this link): MTA Web Site
You can park on the street (free) on Kazimiroff Boulevard (outside Fordham University) or in the NYBG lot ($18). If parking on the street, it is a five minute walk from the entrance at that gate (called the Fordham Gate) to the Mosholu Gate (easy walk and direct).
Any questions? Call us (718-828-8262) or email us email@example.com
3.***Sunday, 17 Nov. at 7:30am/9:30am Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (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.
4. Saturday, 23 Nov. at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Park)
5. Sunday, 24 Nov. at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Park)
6. Saturday, 30 Nov. at 9:30am (NO BIRD WALK - Please Stay Home)
7. Sunday, 1 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive
Any questions send them our way: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 718-828-8262 (home)
Pine Warbler after a bath by Jeremy Nadel on 11 November 2019 at Wagner's Cove (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 17 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).
Starting Saturday, 23 November and through at least Sunday 15 December, we have weekend walks only in Central Park at 9:30am (only). Our friends Sandra Critelli and Jeff Ward (two fine birders) will be leading these weekend walks. After 16 December, we may add several other walks for the holidays through 2 January 2020. Keep checking this web site (schedule page) for updates.
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.
Carolina Wren by Deborah Allen on 10 November at Shakespeare Garden (Central Park)
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)
Friday, 8 November (9am at Conservatory Garden/105th st and 5th Ave): not a day for high numbers, but there were quality birds. A Lincoln's Sparrow (juvenile) at the Green Bench area before the walk was the best. On the walk, we had several "good" birds including male Black-throated Blue Warbler; Fox Sparrow; Golden-crowned Kinglet; and two flyover Ravens.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 8 Nov: https://tinyurl.com/uwgke33
Saturday, 9 November (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - Wow: an immature male Baltimore Oriole feeding on Porcelainberries in the Maintenance Field was quite a surprise (see Deborah Allen's photo below); also today, we had a flyover (adult) Red-shouldered Hawk (Deborah's photo just below), as well as a number of sparrow species (Fox eg) and two warblers: Common Yellowthroat and Yellow-rumped.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 9 November: https://tinyurl.com/rvzjrq2
Adult Red-shouldered Hawk [Deborah Allen] soaring over the Tupelo Field (Central Park) on 10 November 2019
Sunday, 10 November (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - in the morning we had Brown Creeper, one of the first northern migrants of the Boreal forest to visit us. But we are awaiting more southern seed-eating birds such as Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and American Goldfinches to visit us - perhaps net week they will arrive as the Sweetgum pods begin to ripen with their many seeds? In the evening on our Owl Walk at Inwood Hill Park, we managed to hear two owls and had one amazing long, and clear look at an Eastern Screech-owl: see Deborah Allen's photo below.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 10 November: https://tinyurl.com/t3e5thl
Monday, 11 November (Strawberry Fields [Imagine Mosaic] at 8am and again at 9am - Mild weather that brought out many people (the high today was 63f). The Blue-headed Vireo at the north end of Strawberry Fields was special because it was at eye-level (but we did not get a photo). Nearby, a male Pine Warbler came in close to the calls from my tape: it circled over our heads, before heading off to take a bath (and then re-visiting us - see Jeremy Nadel's photo above). In the Ramble we had multiple Cooper's Hawks including one juvenile that was quite interested in the "bird flock" calls I was playing. And the flyover Red-shouldered Hawk over the Great Lawn was pretty good as well.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Monday, 11 November: https://tinyurl.com/vwo7lle
Grey-morph Eastern Screech-owl by Deborah Allen at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan)
on 10 November 2019 (Sunday Night Owl Walk)
The Falconer of Central Park
An unseasonable heat wave enveloped the park on November 1, and the body of a seventeen-year-old youth lay still and cold in the Ramble. The corpse had been found by a jogger in the early morning and as police recovered two knives and three spent .45-caliber shells near the scene of the crime temperatures rose to the upper seventies. It was like summer again-the last of the warblers, the yellow-rumped, chased insects through the willows at the Upper Lobe, which was still in green leaf in contrast to the rest of the park.
The clues to the killing of the teenager were being pieced together the next day when a decision was made to assign two more detectives to the Central Park precinct, bringing its strength to six detectives and a sergeant. The ten killings of 1982 were more than double those in the previous year and five times those in the year before that.
The heatwave, fueled by southerly winds, persisted for the first week of November. Numbers of lesser scaups were still building up on the reservoir, reaching about one hundred and forty birds by week's end when temperatures would begin to drop again.
On November 4 detectives had charged three youths with the murder of the teenager. A routine check at hospitals had revealed the name of a sixteen-year-old boy who received treatment for a knife wound on the night the youth had been killed. The boy admitted being in the park that evening and, along with the two other accused youths, to having committed several robberies. But the three teenagers said they knew nothing of a murder.
The willows at the Upper Lobe, which had been the first trees to sprout leaves in the spring, started to turn yellow on November 8, the last time I would see the yellow-rumped warblers. By this time police had identified the dead youth as Luis Christian from a missing persons report; then a check of his friends led to a man being charged with manslaughter and to the charges against the other three youths being dropped. Christian and all the others had been part of the same gang, robbing in Central Park. On the night Christian died two intended victims had pulled guns and fired at the youths. In the melee, Christian was stabbed in the throat by his friend, staggered a few feet and collapsed dead.
Downy Woodpecker by Deborah Allen on a native Hackberry
Ramble (Central Park) on Saturday 9 November 2019
The smell of rotting leaves-the leaves forming a carpet a foot deep in places-filled the woods; a heavy, gassy, unpleasant odor. Perhaps the pungent smell drove the hermit thrushes south because I was not to see another of the species before the second half of November.
All the summer migrants had gone now except the laughing gulls on the reservoir, and these would remain until the first week of December, meeting briefly with the incoming Iceland gulls from northern Canada.
The pattern was now set for the winter and the focus of the birders switched to the reservoir. The steady build-up of waterfowl brought its surprises. A female ring-necked duck arrived on November 7 and next day four shovelers, two of them fine males, were seen preening themselves amid the raft of lesser scaups, which spread along the entire length of the west side of the reservoir.
The ducks were oblivious to the human drama and agony that haunts that top end of the park, where lights do not work and police patrols are less frequent than in the busier southern areas. Early in November a woman jogger was attacked as she ran around the reservoir footpath. It was the latest of twenty-five rapes in the park during the year, and on November 13 flyers were handed out to thousands of women taking part in a four-mile race, advising the runners to take precautions.
The titmice and chickadees were also taking precautions when a red-tailed hawk flew in low circles across the Great Lawn and then took in the Ramble in a second sweep. The small birds headed for cover and remained hidden until the hawk passed. But there was another kind of danger which tens of thousands of years of evolution had not prepared the titmice for a human trap. Bird feeders had appeared in a hawthorn bush in the Ramble, which had retained its leaf late into the fall, and then a birder had seen a man hiding in the bush. The man had a bird cage with him, full of confused titmice and chickadees, which were flying in panic against the bars. The bird feeder contained a sticky substance buried under the seed and this proved an effective method of catching the birds. The birders, however, ordered the man hiding in the bush to release the titmice and chickadees. Protesting in Spanish, the man finally opened the cage's door and the birds flew to freedom. But then he reached into a bag he had at his side, and the two birders thought he might have a gun. They scrambled to safety.
Hatch-year male Baltimore Oriole by Deborah Allen at the Maintenance Field (Central Park), 9 November 2019
Skandy, the polar bear with a record, was not alone in adversity. Soon a post-menopausal gorilla called Caroline and a mean-tempered and distrustful elephant named Tina would share something in common with him: they would all be without a home. Work had started in November on moving two hundred animals from the Central Park Zoo to other locations, in preparation for a renovation program. But homes had not been found for the trio of imprisoned souls, who had brought so much pleasure over the years to the people on the other side of the fence. Tina, who was twenty-five, had been dominated for fourteen years by her late mate, and the death of a trainer she loved had added to her paranoia and anger. She was considered dangerous and zoos were reluctant to take her. With Skandy it was a simple case of reputation, his label as a man-killer; and the saddest case of all was that of Caroline-her only fault being her age, her inability to bear a recipient zoo valuable offspring.
I had stepped up my visits to Billy [a feral cat] to every second day from the beginning of November because I knew there would be fewer birds to catch when winter arrived. His coat had been growing thick throughout November and the mini-heat wave in the first few days of November made him testy and irritable. At first he had wanted to play, to bite my hand and to be chased across the rocks, but he soon tired of this. He panted with his mouth wide open, dribbling at the tongue, and then looked at me aggressively if I tried to continue the game. Once he struck out with his front paws but stopped short of unsheathing his claws. When the temperature returned to normal, he looked happier and encouraged me to stroke his back by arching his spine and rubbing his body against my legs. But Billy never purred, he was not a purring cat.
The temperature touched freezing point on November 16 and Billy was nowhere to be seen. I walked around the outcrop which was his home, calling, but he did not arrive. The bed of grass and leaves in his lair was cold and damp; he had not slept there all night. Maybe he was still out hunting, but it was late morning. He should have been back.
I strolled to the rear of the police station house, to the place where I had first seen Billy, the location of his first lair. He was not there, either, and I began to feel a sickness in my stomach, an ache which was rising to block my throat and impair my ability to talk or think of anything but Billy's immediate fate. I strolled around the reservoir and passed a policewoman, whose curly red hair was trying to fight its way out of her flat-top cap. I wanted to ask her if she had seen a black and white cat, like the one in the Tom Cat advertisements of yesteryear, but I thought she might think me silly, or put me under surveillance as some kind of park maniac. The policewoman was on a newly instituted patrol of the reservoir footpath to deter rapists and muggers, and she walked with a confident stride that did not hide her femininity under the heavy police-issue coat. But her friendly, all's-well smile, was not enough to persuade me to ask her if she had seen Billy.
Every day I went looking for Billy. I left fish at his lair and it went uneaten, and the ache in my stomach intensified. By the fourth day I had difficulty concentrating on my job. On the sixth day of Billy's absence a male ring-necked duck was reported on the reservoir, and I thought the excitement of seeing this uncommon species in the park might take my mind off Billy. On my way to the reservoir I checked the two locations where I had been leaving scrod and was encouraged to find the fish missing from the Ramble lair. But I was guarded in my optimism. Rats could have finally found the fish, I reasoned, but I left a fresh supply at both locations, all the same.
The duck was magnificent, similar to a tufted duck, only with a ring of white behind his neck. But after watching him my thoughts wandered to Billy. I hurried back to the Ramble. From a hundred yards away, through branches now bare of leaves, I saw Billy on the top of the largest rock in the area. He was watching for me. The rock, a favorite sunbathing spot in summer for gays, is situated behind the Azalea Pond. Billy became excited as I approached. I scram bled up the schist, finding a foothold in grooves worn by glaciers forty thousand years ago, and when I reached the top Billy scaled down the far side of the rock. He was leading me back to his lair, jumping from rock to rock, looking back at me and opening his mouth in a silent mee-ow. He had already found the fish above his lair and had eaten it. He demanded more. Luckily I had some left in my pack and he fed hurriedly, swallowing large chunks of fish at a time. I stroked his warm back, digging furrows in his fur with my fingers.
I had to do something about Billy, but I did not know what. From the time he first came to my hand I had thought about taking him to my apartment, and turning him into a fifth-floor cat, with a litter box in the bathroom and meals that came in sealed tinfoil packets, the cat equivalent of the television dinner. That scheme, I decided after much agonizing, would not work out. The land beyond the park, of declawed cats, debarked dogs and de-squeezed pet snakes was not for Billy. He would not fit in, and I knew he would make a run for it down the fire escape the moment I opened a window. There had to be another answer; for the time being I hoped he would dodge the cat-catchers and the cars on the circular drive, and if he ate any rat poison, I hoped he would die quickly and not bite at his stomach where the poison bit.
Hermit Thrush by Deborah Allen at Shakespeare Garden, Sunday 10 November 2019
Greater scaups, with bottle-green rounded heads, could now be seen among their smaller cousins on the reservoir, and by Thanksgiving Day numbers of lesser scaups had increased to about three hundred. Ten canvasbacks were with them, but the day belonged to a male bufflehead with three females. The white sides of the drake's body stood out brilliantly in the sun and against the sparkling blue water, as though he were a painted, glazed piece of fragile porcelain and not a warm-blooded, feathered creature molded from nature. A cold front from the north had pushed the buffleheads into the park, and I saw the species for three days running, their arrival coinciding with a build-up of scaups to well over four hundred birds, and the sighting of a tufted duck drake on November 28.
The disused children's paddling pool had a coating of thick, crinkled ice and wrapped up warm to keep out the cold was the teenage girl I had seen so often in the park the beautiful, graceful girl with flaxen hair. She sat on a swing near the defunct pool and kicked backward to start the momentum of the swing. She pressed hard into the supporting chains and moved forward. When gravity pulled, she bent her legs under the seat to speed her motion. In three or four swinging motions she was rising almost as high as the bar holding the swing. The rushing wind pressed her fawn woolen trousers against her legs as if the material were wet and sticking to her skin. The wind tossed her pale gold hair and she puffed her cheeks in exhilaration. The girl caught sight of a young man running toward her. She stopped pushing into the chains so the swing would slow down, and she could drag her feet in the dirt to stop it.
In sign language the young man asked his girlfriend something like, "Are you having fun?"
With her hands, the deaf-mute girl said she was.
A red-headed woodpecker had set up base in the park during the fall but I had consistently missed the bird, as with so many species in the latter half of the year. The woodpecker was frequently seen gathering acorns for a winter store in an oak near the statue of a husky near East Sixty-sixth Street. The husky, named "Balto," had been the lead dog of a team that carried diphtheria serum to a stricken hamlet in Alaska in the 1920's, and he now looked in disdain at all the pooches wearing their woolen winter coats. A terrier chased a bird feeding on the ground and when the bird took wing, I recorded my 131st species. It was the red-headed woodpecker, a juvenile that had not attained its red-head plumage. The barking dog was a minor worry because blue jays had discovered the woodpecker's winter stock of acorns and were trying to raid it. The woodpecker, only slightly smaller than the jays, succeeded in driving them off.
I had known Lambert nearly eleven months but still did not know what he did for a living, and I would not find out. I did have one more piece to the jigsaw of his psyche. He was a bachelor. He did not tell me this, but I phoned his home one evening to inquire whether he had seen a tufted duck re ported in the park and a woman answered the telephone. She said she was Lambert's mother.
Lambert's mother, I was told later, was in her eighties, born in Germany, and, like mothers everywhere, felt it her maternal duty to nag Lambert about such things as his style of dress and his smoking. Among the rules of her home was one that forbade smoking, so Lambert could be seen some evenings taking a puff on the doorstep of their apartment building.
I only spoke to Lambert's mother on the one occasion. When I asked if Lambert had seen the duck, she sounded puzzled. "I don't know. He doesn't tell me anything," she replied.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD
jPeregrine Falcon (juvenile) at the Cape May Hawk Watch, New Jersey in October 2018