OWL WALKS by Night + Historical Christmas Counts of Central Park: 1919/1949

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

Bird Notes: Besides the 9:30am walk on Christmas Day in Central Park, we have an OWL walk on Christmas evening meeting at 4:45pm at the Indian Road Cafe just across the street from Inwood Hill Park in northern Manhattan. We have had great success finding (and seeing up-close) Eastern Screech-owls at this location. This Sunday morning (29 December) we feature a 9:30am bird walk in Central Park (meet at the Boathouse Restaurant). There is also a Sunday night OWL walk for Eastern Screech-owls at Van Cortlandt Park (4:30pm start) in the Bronx. Details in this Newsletter and on our web site.

We hope you are planning to come to one or more OWL walks in this holiday season - we have had great success throughout 2019 particularly with Eastern Screech-owls - see Deborah Allen's photos in this Newsletter. Both locations, Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, are easy to reach via train or car.

In this week's Historical Notes we present the results of the Christmas Bird Counts from 100 years ago. Back then, very few people participated in the annual count that was started on New Year's Day 1900 - and continued on each New Year's Day until recently. The big difference from 100 years ago, besides the great increase in the number of people participating today, is how many more birds species and numbers of birds we see TODAY than back then. But don't take our word for it - see the CBC results from 1919 we provide below...

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male) by Deborah Allen in the North Woods of Central Park on 8 November 2019

Summer Tanager by D. Allen at the "Blowdown Meadow" = southwest corner of the Great Hill at the North End of Central Park on 15 November 2019. It is a record late date for Central Park, but not Manhattan Island.

Good! The Bird Walks for 25 December to 1 January:

All Walks @ $10/person - Note Meeting Locations (some walks not in Central Park)

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here

  1. Wednesday, 25 December (Christmas Day) at 9:30am - Meet at the Boathouse Cafe; 74th street at the East Drive (in Central Park)

  2. Wednesday, 25 December - 4:45pm (Eastern Screech-owls) INWOOD HILL PARK in Upper Manhattan - Meet at Indian Road Cafe at 600 West 218th street @ Indian Road New York, NY 10034. For Directions: https://tinyurl.com/qnfodb6 The Indian Road Cafe is a wonderful small restaurant with nice, clean bathrooms for all to use. The Cafe/park is easy to reach via subway / #1 Train to 215th street / or car: if driving allow 30 min. to find a parking spot. Dress Warm; bring binoculars; we will have plenty of light...$10 for owls and fun Any questions? Call us (718-828-8262/home) or email us rdcny@earthlink.net

  3. Sunday, 29 December at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive

  4. The Following Trip is CANCELLED due to forecast of RAIN: Sunday, 29 December at 4:30pm (Eastern Screech-owls at Night) VAN CORTLANDT PARK in the Bronx - Meet at the GOLF COURSE PARKING LOT (free and open until 10pm). For Directions: https://tinyurl.com/rzgtnar Yes the meeting time is 4:30pm - there are bathrooms in the golf course clubhouse. The entrance to the Golf Course Parking lot is just off Bailey Avenue in the Bronx (near Van Cortlandt Park South) Any questions? Call us (718-828-8262/home) or email us rdcny@earthlink.net Dress Warm; bring binoculars; we will have plenty of light...$10 for owls and fun

  5. Wednesday, 1 January 2019 (New Year's Day) at 9:30am - Meet at the Boathouse Cafe; 74th street at the East Drive (in Central Park)

  6. Wednesday, 1 January - 5:00pm (Eastern Screech-owls) INWOOD HILL PARK in Upper Manhattan - Meet at Indian Road Cafe at 600 West 218th street @ Indian Road New York, NY 10034. For Directions: https://tinyurl.com/qnfodb6 The Indian Road Cafe is a wonderful small restaurant with nice, clean bathrooms for all to use. The Cafe/park is easy to reach via subway / #1 Train to 215th street / or car: if driving allow 30 min. to find a parking spot. Dress Warm; bring binoculars; we will have plenty of light...$10 for owls and fun Any questions send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 (home)

Boreal Chickadee at Sax-Zim Bog, northern Minnesota on 14 January 2019

The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through early January 2020. Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!

Please note that on SATURDAYS we may meet at other locations than Central Park. For example, on 21 December (Saturday) we will be at NYBG in the Bronx...so keep an eye on the Saturday schedule: we might also have no Saturday walks on some weekends in December-January.

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.

Hairy Woodpecker at Sax-Zim Bog, northern Minnesota on 14 January 2019

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Saturday, 21 December (New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx at 9:00am) - We love NYBG at Christmas time...all the conifers and all the decorations...and all the birds. Thankfully we had a lovely couple from Louisiana originally (who now live in New Hampshire) who kept finding birds for us: male Ruby-crowned Kinglet (flashing its crest and coming in close via the sounds from my tape); male Golden-crowned Kinglet; at least six Fox Sparrows; Hairy Woodpecker...and best of all at least three Rusty Blackbirds. If we did not get called away to check on a different bird, I think we would have found more...but when we returned a few minutes later, a largish flock of 10-20 birds (many, if not all, were Rusty Blackbirds) had flown off...so we are being conservative in our count.

Deborah's list of birds from today's bird walk

Sunday, 22 December (Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am and then an Owl Walk at 4:30pm at Inwood Hill Park, northern Manhattan) - Deborah and I are sure happy to be home. Travel is nice, but we are New Yorkers, and NY scientists...our best work is here. We had heard the park was quiet without us, so without hesitation, Bob used his bird calls to bring in lots of White-throated Sparrows...we see more of these in Central Park than any other NYC Park. We were also impressed with the number of House Finches that had appeared since we left in mid-November. However, our overall impression was that December 2019 was/is not December 2018...when we had three owl species in the park(Barred/5; Northern Saw-whet/3 and Great Horned/1). One year ago we also had finches such as many American Goldfinches (only one or two today), Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches. There were also Cedar Waxwings, which until about five years ago, we could always count on in December in Central Park. About the best bird thing this December 2019 is the number of Cooper's Hawks around...at least three if not 4-5. All was not lost because that evening we did an Owl Walk at Inwood Hill Park in northern Manhattan (easily accessible via the #1 Broadway local to 215th street). It was a small group, about 15 people, and this was good. Because it was a perfectly clear night, it did not get dark until 5:45pm or so...though having no wind and relatively mild temperature (44f) was great. Anyway, for the first hour or so, I kept explaining we need really dark to get owls close...and though we had a few tantalizing close approaches by Eastern Screech-owls (perhaps two different birds), the owl(s) refused to stay put once they landed near us...and this was very frustrating for the group. I kept trying to reassure everyone, that we need "dark." And we also needed a place where the owls had sufficient cover. Finally, at 5:45pm it was dark dark or about as dark as it was gonna get in a city park. We played the call...an owl flew in low - and if it wasn't for Lucy from Australia, we would have missed it completely. Lucy told me where the owl was and where to shine my light...and she was 100% right. The rest is history as they say...we ended up about seven feet away from the owl - see Deborah's photo below. And we left before the owl flew off...with many people getting great photos (and videos) just using their cell phones.

Deborah's list of birds from today's bird walks

Eastern Screech-owl by Deborah Allen at Inwood Hill Park (northern Manhattan) on 22 December 2019



New York City (Central Park). Dec. 23, 1919; 8.30 to 10.20 a.m. and 12.30 to 4.50 p.m. Clear,cloudy in afternoon; light snow on ground; no wind. I covered the entire Park, 59th to 110th Streets. Herring Gull, 6; Sparrow Hawk [American Kestrel], 1; Downy Woodpecker, 3; Starling, 112; White-throated Sparrow, 1; Fox Sparrow, 1; Brown Thrasher, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 2; Black-capped Chickadee, 50. Total, 9 species, 132 individuals.

Bernard Tread.

New York City (Ramble, Central Park). Dec. 25, 1919; 8.30 to 10.10 a.m. Clear; ground snow-covered; wind north, light; temp. 24f at start. Herring Gull, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Starling, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Black-cap Chickadee, 2. Total, 5 species, 7 individuals.

[THEN] to the Bronx: Simpson Street subway station to Clason Point, Castle Hill and Unionport. 2.50 to 5.30 p.m. Clear; snow melted in places, bays open; wind north, brisk. Herring Gull, 2,000; Black Duck, 6; Scaup, 50; Red-tailed Hawk, 3; Starling, 400, mostly in one flock; Vesper Sparrow, 1; Tree Sparrow, 40 (flock); Song Sparrow, 11; Black-cap Chickadee, 1. Total, 9 species, about 2,500 individuals. The Vesper Sparrow was seen in the road (Sound View Avenue). It spent part of the time squatting upon the pavements between the trolley tracks, and eventually disappeared over a fence into a truck garden.

George E. Hix

New York City (from Battery via St. George to and at Grant City and Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island). Dec. 27, 1919; 11.20 a.m. to 4.20 p.m. Cloudy (foggy on water); ground mostly snow-covered; wind southwest, light; temp. 35f at 3.30 p.m. Five miles by boat, 5 miles by railroad, chiefly in the Cemetery on foot. Black-backed Gull, 1 adult; Herring Gull, 145; Bonaparte's Gull, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Blue Jay, 2; American Crow, 8; Starling, 8; Red Crossbill, flock of 13; Goldfinch, 1; Tree Sparrow, 1; Junco, flock of 4; Song Sparrow, 1; Fox Sparrow, 1; Cardinal, 1 pair; Myrtle Warbler, flock of 3; Black-cap Chickadee, flock of 6; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1; Hermit Thrush, 1; Robin, 2; Bluebird, 1 male. Total, 20 species, about 205 individuals.

Charles H. Rogers.

Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island, N.Y. Dec. 21 [1919]; 10.30a.m. to 4p.m. Clear; wind light; temp. 20f to 25f. Five miles on foot; ferry across Upper Bay. Herring Gull, 29; Bonaparte's Gull, 1; Long-eared Owl, 1; Hairy Woodpecker, 1; Blue Jay, 6; Crow, 4; Starling, 4; Red Crossbill, 26 (one flock); Redpoll, 2; White-throated Sparrow, 1; Tree Sparrow, 16; Junco, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Tufted Titmouse, 1; Black-capped Chickadee, 300+; Brown-capped [Boreal] Chickadee, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1. Total, 17 species, 396+ individuals. Bonaparte's Gull observed through field-glasses at 30 feet. The Crossbills were very tame. The Brown-capped Chickadee was also very tame, and together with the Tufted Tit, approached to within 6 feet of me.

Ralph Friedmann.

New York City (Jerome Reservoir, Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx Park, and Clason Point). Dec. 22, 1919; 8.45 a.m. to 4.20 p.m. Cloudy in morning, clear in afternoon; 2 in. snow on ground; wind north, very light; temp. 30f to 36f. About 10 miles on foot. Observers in two parties until 10 a.m. Herring Gull, 2,100; Merganser, 11; Black Duck, 5; Scaup Duck, 32; over 200 ducks on the Sound too far out to identify; Black-crowned Night Heron, 60 (the Bronx Park colony); Killdeer, 1; Red-tailed Hawk, 4; Sparrow Hawk, 1; Kingfisher, 1; Hairy Woodpecker, 2; Downy Woodpecker, 15; Blue Jay, 15; Crow, 25; Starling, 550; Red- winged Blackbird, 8; Bronzed (?) Grackle, 1; Purple Finch, 1; Goldfinch, 6; Pine Siskin, 4; White-throated Sparrow, 65; Tree Sparrow, 75; Field Sparrow, 10; Slate-colored Junco, 45; Song Sparrow, 48; Brown Creeper, 8; White-breasted Nuthatch, 16; Black-capped Chickadee, 44; Robin, 2. Total, 28 species, over 3,100 individuals. Before meeting the rest of the party, the Messrs. Pell saw a bird in the Van Cortlandt Swamp which Morris Pell later identified as an Orange-crowned Warbler. He had three-power glasses, and was able to approach to within 8 feet of the bird. He had seen this species before, in the winter of 1916-17.

Edward G. Nichols. L. Nelson Nichols, S. Morris Pell, Walden Pell II.

Yonkers, N. Y. Dec. 25, 1919; 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. Clear; 2 in. snow; wind north; temp. 19f to 30f. Herring Gull, 1; Hawk, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Blue, Jay, 2; Crow, 4 Goldfinch, 1; White-throated Sparrow, 4; Tree Sparrow, 25; Slate-colored Junco, 5 Song Sparrow, 29; White-breasted Nuthatch, 2; Black-capped Chickadee, 8. Total 12 species, 83 individuals.

Charles and William Merritt.

White-crowned Sparrow in Washington state (Bellingham) on 27 January 2019


In case you have nothing to do these holiday times you might like to try bird counting. A lot of people are going to, and that does not mean counting the weird birds that show up at holiday cocktail parties. On the contrary. The week of Dec. 25 is the time set by the National Audubon Society for its nation-wide count. From Texas to Ontario, Maine to Mexico, groups of bird counters will be out at dawn on one chosen day in Christmas week, weather or no. Armed with binoculars and pad and pencil, each group will survey a neighborhood area not more than fifteen miles in diameter and make notes on species and numbers seen.

This Yuletide custom is now fifty years old. In 1900 the naturalist Frank Chapman, shocked at an old Christmas custom of bird-hunting, with "Sportsmen” out to get as many dead birds of as many species as possible, instituted a bird count instead. In the first count twenty-seven people took part. In 1949, 4,615 were out before dawn searching swamp, shrubbery and savannah.

Bird-counting at the end of December in New York City might seem to most of the denizens of Manhattan asphalt as one of the more fruitless occupations in the world. A brisk walk along the waterfronts would show some gulls, but to men not trained to see birds that would be about all. Yet the results of the Manhattan Island bird count of Dec. 31. 1949, taken in the various parks from Inwood to Madison Square, on Bedloes Island [Liberty Island] and on ferries, showed a total of forty-four species seen, with 85,672 individuals. Most of those were starlings, but the observers saw mallards, Sparrowhawks [kestrels], mergansers, falcons, owls (snow and short-eared), flickers, woodpeckers, cowbirds and cardinals among others.

The thirty-eight observers who toured the Bronx on Dec. 28 last year [1949], going into Westchester County as far north as Scarsdale and Rye, had better luck. Lest anyone think that nothing lives in the Bronx except people who work in Manhattan, these bird counters noted ninety-one species, for a total of 32,199 individuals. They saw wrens, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, pheasants, golden crowned kinglets, and even one rare bird, the palm warbler. Over in Brooklyn, on Dec. 26, twenty-four observers who could jump out of their beds before dawn on the day after Christmas turned up sixty-seven species for 26,228 individuals. Far ahead of all the bird counters in this area, were the Long Island groups. Those who counted in the region east to Jones Beach and north to Westbury found 107 species, while those who worked from Flushing Bay to North Hills found 106, with about 39,919 individuals. Nation-wide, twenty-eight groups reported more than 100 separate species seen in 1949, but the counters at Harlingen, Tex., came in first, as they have done since 1947, with 151 species. Their list included such exotica as snowy egrets, burrowing owls and some Canadian geese in winter quarters.

As groups in different communities try to outdo each other in results each Christmas bird count and try to surpass their record of the year before, the Christmas count puts a sense of competition into bird-watching, which otherwise would seem to be about the least competitive sport on earth. All records are sent to one central headquarters, collated, and the total results published. There is much excitement among ornithologists, amateur and professional, When the reports show varieties in various places – a western tanager at Cape Cod, emperor geese at Monterey, Calif., and a Blackburnian warbler, from its winter home in South America, in Rochester. The count shows something about the rise and fall of our bird population, and as it marks the continued appearance of southern birds ever farther north and western birds continuing to come east,it may hint at basic climatic changes. But those who love birds need no such utilitarian justifications. It is enough that the Christmas count gives them another chance to train their binoculars on that sudden flash of brown and white among the pines and once more test their knowledge gained so slowly over the years.

New York Times

Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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

Green Honey-creeper on 30 January 2017 at Buenaventura, Ecuador

#ChristmasBirdCount1919 #ChristmasBirdCount #EasternScreechowl