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An Early Spring 2023: What do the Birds Tell Us? Looking Back to Spring 1923 and 1933

Updated: Mar 29, 2023


Bald Eagle, the Bronx NYC, 11 March 2023 Deborah Allen

22 March 2023


Bird Notes: In March: Bird walks on Fridays/Sat/Sun. In April we add more days (Monday and Thurs.), and 7:30am walks on weekends. Keep an eye on the Schedule page of our web site for details, especially the Calendar towards bottom. Cancellations due to rain (probably Saturday, 25 March) will be posted on the web site. Our Schedule is also in this Newsletter.


In this week's Historical Notes the article from 1923 (c) mentions the opening of Elm and Maple flowers in mid-April. We've had these trees in flower since mid-March (2023). Granted the spring of 1923 was late after a "hard" winter, and the winter of 2022-23 was unusually mild. This does give some indication of how the arrival of "real," and not calendar spring, can vary year-to-year. In 1923, we have the arrival of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet in NYC on 31 March. This year, the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet was seen about 12 March...and we had them on the bird walks this past weekend (18-19 March). In the 1933 notes (d) mention is made of of the arrival on Long Island of 45 Ruddy Ducks on 12 March, and two Northern Shovellers on 19 March. Since 2000 at least, these ducks winter annually in Central Park, both species in flocks of 100-200 birds. On the other hand in note (b) from 1923, Black-crowned Night Herons (up to 90) spent winters roosting at the Bronx Zoo by night, and flying to feed at the Harlem River in upper Manhattan by day. We no longer see this species anywhere in NYC during winter. Finally in note (a) there is the first record of the Red-bellied Woodpecker (autumn 1870) in NYC at Flushing, Queens Co. It was not until the 1970s that this southern species was common in NYC, and it did not nest in Central Park until the late 1980s. This Red-bellied northern range expansion mirrors the one of the Tufted Titmouse. Our take home point is this: we agree the planet is warming - especially in the last 20-30 years. On the other hand, many factors play into why certain species arrive earlier on migration in some years...or why others who once spent the winter here in large number (Black-crowned Night Heron), no longer do...Indeed if this was 1980, and I told you that Ospreys, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons would all be nesting in NYC by 2020, you would have thought I was crazy. Are other raptors such as Black Vultures seen over NYC indicators of a warming climate? The story is much more complicated...


Eastern Towhee (male) in Central Park 12 March 2023 Deborah Allen

In mild winters, Towhees overwinter in NYC parks, as did three in Central Park 2022-23.

Bird Walks for Late MARCH and Early April 2023

All Walks @ $10/person - all in Central Park (except where noted)


1. Friday, 24 March at 8:30am. Bird Walk. Meet at the Conservatory Garden $10. Conservatory Garden is located at 106th st. and Fifth Avenue. Led by Deborah Allen.


2. Saturday, 25 March at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond $10. The Dock on Turtle Pond is located mid-park at 79th street opposite Belvedere Castle.


3. Sunday, 26 March at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond $10. The Dock on Turtle Pond is located mid-park at 79th street opposite Belvedere Castle.

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1. Friday, 31 March at 8:30am. Bird Walk. Meet at the Conservatory Garden $10. Conservatory Garden is located at 106th st. and Fifth Avenue. Led by Deborah Allen.


2. Saturday, 1 April at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond $10. The Dock on Turtle Pond is located mid-park at 79th street opposite Belvedere Castle


3. Sunday, 2 April at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond $10. The Dock on Turtle Pond is located mid-park at 79th street opposite Belvedere Castle.


4. Monday, 3 April: (8:30am) Strawberry Fields (72nd st. and Central Park West) $10


Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions: rdcny@earthlink.net


American Robin (male), Central Park 5 March 2023 Deborah Allen

In mild winters, a few Robins (<25) overwinter in Central Park feeding on crab apples and other fruits. In early March 2023, we had a large number arrive - a bit ahead of schedule.

The fine print: Our walks on weekends through the end of March meet on Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30am at the Dock on Turtle Pond (approx. 79th street in the middle of the park...at the south end of the Great Lawn). Please note: Delacorte Theater is just next door to the Dock...look for the the path (paved) that heads out to Turtle Pond, and find a wooden dock that extends into the pond. Directions to the Meeting Locations (CLICK HERE) page of our web site. In early April we start 7:30am/9:30am walks on weekends - these will meet at The Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe - more info on our web site: see the SCHEDULE page.


Friday morning walks (8:30am) begin on 17 March and run through 2 June. These walks begin at Conservatory Garden (mostly closed for renovation in spring 2023): we meet at 106th street and 5th Avenue (north side of Conservatory Garden). Deborah Allen leads the Friday walks - she knows more about birds than Bob...Her email is: DAllenyc@earthlink.net and phone: 347-703-5554. If you want to rent binoculars ($10) please (please) let her know the night before! If you are lost (or god forbid, arrive late) and need to find the group, feel free to call her but do note that 2-3 other people are calling her at the same time...


Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is (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. Walks last about 3 hrs (a bit less if cold 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 aim to please. We usually end our M/Th/Sat/Sun Central Park walks at about noon near 79th street and the East Drive.


Two Early Spring migrants to NYC: (a) Song Sparrow Jamaica Bay (Queens) 7 June 2014 D. Allen

[below] (b) Field Sparrow 29 June 2011 Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Friday 17 March through Sunday 19 March: The last weekend of winter started fast for Deborah and company on Friday (17 March; 830am at Conservatory Garden): they found a couple of Eastern Phoebes at the Pool...plus Flaco the Eurasian Eagle-owl nearby. Swamp Sparrows (2) were new for us...and the number of Song Sparrows (14) was the highest since last autumn. On Saturday, spring migration continued: we had an American Woodcock land in front of us, fifteen feet away, at the Pinetum. We had both Golden-crowned Kinglets and Ruby-crowned Kinglets...plus a few male Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and lots of Song Sparrows. By Sunday 19 March, the park was more or less empty again: no kinglets, woodcocks or Swamp Sparrows...just a nice look at the Great Horned Owl atop Cedar Hill and Fox Sparrows (4), Song Sparrows (15+), Red-tailed Hawks and a Cooper's Hawk. The winds from the northwest had pushed the migration to our east where Vesper Sparrow and Lark Sparrow were found in the coastal Bronx (Pelham Bay Park).


Deborah's List of Birds for Friday, 17 March 2023: CLICK HERE


Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 18 March 2023: CLICK HERE


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 19 March 2023: CLICK HERE


Palm Warbler Central Park 19 April 2022 Deborah Allen

HISTORICAL NOTEs


First Occurrence of the Red-bellied Woodpecker in New York City [1870]


A New Long Island, N.Y., Record for the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus): When visiting Mr. C. DuBois Wagstaff at Babylon, N.Y., last fall, I noticed a well-mounted specimen of this southern Woodpecker among a collection of local birds, and on inquiring the particulars of its capture, Mr. Wagstaff informed me that he shot it upon a locust tree close to the house, a year or two after the war [Civil War]. A specimen was shot by me in Flushing, N.Y., in October 1870, which I understood was the second record for Long Island, N.Y., but this bird antedates my specimen some years. The specimen in the collection of Mr. Geo. N. Lawrence, which was taken at Raynor South by a Mr. Ward, was killed many years ago and was, I believe, the first record for this locality.


Robert B. Lawrence, New York City.

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Black-crowned Night Heron in the City [1923].


Undoubtedly, more has been written in our ornithological publications regarding the distribution and habits of the Black-crowned Night Heron than any other species of the family. It is a common bird throughout many of the northern states, and many of its breeding colonies are known to bird-students, as, for example, the colony near Roslyn, L.I., and the one in the bushes among the Barnstable sand-dunes on Cape Cod. This species is not so much wedded to tropical countries as the other Herons we have been discussing. During the winter, when snow lies upon the earth, I often see them flying by my home in New York City as they go to and from their feeding-grounds on the Harlem River. In the Bronx Zoological Park, they may be seen, I suppose, any day of the year. They gather in the trees over the flying-cages, and I have counted as many as 90 roosting at one time in trees around one of the ponds in the park.

T. GILBERT PEARSON

Info about T. Gilbert Pearson: Click Here. His house was on Loring Place in the Bronx near Bronx Community College

Ring-necked Pheasant (male) the Bronx, NYC February 2002

Ring-necked Pheasants were common in many NYC Parks 1900 until 2000. Now

they are extremely rare. The arrival of the Coyote is correlated with their decline.

The Season: February 15 to 15 April [1923]


NEW YORK REGION. A period of cold, with the ground snow-covered, showed no break until February 25. Then a week's thaw set in, which culminated in a warm spring-like day, March 4. A wild storm, with snow soon followed, to dash hopes of an early spring. Though this snowfall was insignificant, and the ground was free from snow through March, where the thaw had eliminated it near the city and on Long Island, the weather remained unseasonably cold in March and early April. The earliest signs of awakening vegetation came on very slowly, and in mid-April red maples and elms were just in flower. The first spring Grackles and Song Sparrows, which may arrive the end of February, were behind time. March arrivals, on the other hand, came notably promptly on their respective dates, by species if not by individuals, but following a sharp 'cold wave' about March 31, migration was badly retarded. Three early dates, however, are Hermit Thrush in Central Park, March 28 (Tertius van Dyke), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Van Cortlandt Park (The Bronx), N.Y., March 31 (F.L. Starck), and Blue-headed Vireo near Newark, N.J., April 13 (R.F. Haulenbeek). The first two of these may have wintered at no great distance. On the spring-like morning of March 4, a newly arrived Robin was in full song from a treetop at Garden City. In that section, the Robin does not arrive in flocks but increases gradually from March 1 to April 1. The incident suggests that the earliest birds are summer residents. As regards winter birds, the White-winged Crossbill was reported in the Bronx as late as April 1, two individuals (F.F. Houghton). This being one of the rare winters when the Vesper Sparrow was present on Long Island in February (see Dec-Jan report in last week's Newsletter), careful watch was kept of its main Long Island breeding grounds in the Hempstead Plains section to see if it would return early, but it was not noted there until April 6, which would suggest that such February birds are New England nesters. The first satisfactory observation of the wintering of the Killdeer on Long Island, that has come to the writer's attention, is furnished by Charles R. Weinburger. He found 4 individuals at Hempstead Reservoir from January 3 to 7, 1923, 3 individuals on eight separate dates from January 9 to 31, and on seven dates from February 7 to March 7, then 4 on March 9, six on March 13, and 10 on March 15 and 20. His first bird of the species at the same locality in the six years 1917-22 has varied from February 14 to March 11; average February 28. The locality seems to have been an unusually favorable one for the Killdeer to winter - a pond with water low, mostly mud, numerous little streams entering it to keep it always moist, sheltered to the north by a wooded swamp, to the northwest and west by high ground, and open to the south and east. On March 25, where a pair of Killdeer had nested on the Hempstead Plains the year previous, three of these birds were encountered by the writer, one of the three only loosely associated with the other two, which seemed to be a pair. These were very demonstrative and noisy. They used the same complaining notes as when nesting, and one even squatted with wings at the side and low chittering call, apparently under ordinary circumstances a ruse to attract one away from nest or young, and at this date when even nesting-site would not have been selected, purely reflex or instinctive. It would seem to be a reasonable hypothesis that the arrival of northbound migrants at a given point depends on weather conditions at their point of departure further south, not at their point of arrival. Two incidents on Long Island, the present season, support this view. Some 12 Pintail, mostly drakes, were noted at Mastic, February 22 (J.T.N.), and 3 at Amityville the same day (M.S. Crosby). On that date a long period of cold showed no signs of breaking, and lower courses of the creeks were frozen to an extent rare at any time in winter, yet these Ducks were probably migrants. That there was a spring Pintail movement of considerable extent is evidenced by a pair flushed from a temporary rain-puddle near Garden City, March 17 (R.C. Whitman). Three or four days of unseasonable cold culminated on April 1 with a dawn temperature of only 13F at Mastic, yet probably a half dozen Pine Warblers, bright birds, likely all males, were observed there March 31 and April 1 in sunny deciduous shrubbery and on the ground, not back in the pines where they are usually found. There was a satisfactory and in many ways remarkable showing of Ducks on Overpeck Creek, N.J., in March and early April. Besides an abundance of more usual kinds, the occurrence of American Widgeon, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, and Ring-necked Duck is especially notable. Griscom, April 15, obtained the latest local date for Green-winged Teal (1) and Canvasback (6), as also the earliest date for Greater Yellow-legs (3). A pair of Ring-necks on March 25 (Griscom and J.M. Johnson) is the first record for the locality. Crosby at Rhinebeck, N.Y., also reports an unusual spring flight of Ducks, including a record of Ring-neck and Shoveller. Small flocks of Cedarbirds [Cedar Waxwings] appeared in March, as they do every few years. At Garden City, flocks of from 2 to 15 were noticed on March 14, 22 24, 27, 30, but none the first half of April. Reports of similar occurrence in New Jersey show the movement to have been general: Branch Brook Park, large numbers (R.F. Haulenbeek); Englewood, March 3 or 4 (T. D. Carter); Montclair, March 9, three individuals (R.H. Howlaand); Ridgewood, March 11, five individuals (J.M. Johnson); etc. Looked at critically, there are reasons for considering such March movements of Cedarbirds not a true spring migration. Early migrants are usually early nesters, the Cedarbird a late nester. At this season it feeds to a considerable extent on fruits of which the supply must still be decreasing instead of increasing. It winters much more plentifully or frequently in the broken country north of the coastal plain than in our northern edge of the coastal plain. Breaking up and scattering of wintering flocks could easily increase the frequency of reports and give a false impression of an increasing number of birds. The most interesting return reported by local bird-banders has to do with the Purple Finch. B.S. Bowdish trapped a large number of this species at Demarest, N.]. where one, banded on January 12, repeated as late as March 15. Among them he took, on February 12 and March 12 respectively, two individuals, both banded by Frank J. Novak, at Fairfield, Conn., about January 22. This definitely proves an east-west movement of the Purple Finch along Long Island Sound in late winter, which direction is that ordinarily followed by 'southward' flights of Finches and other birds. Stray Purple Finches appearing at certain points in our region as early as February have sometimes seemed like 'spring arrivals,' and this does not definitely disprove that they are such.

J. T. NICHOLS, New York, N. Y Info about John Treadwell Nichols: Click Here.


Ruddy Duck Central Park 22 March 2012 Deborah Allen

The Season: February 15 to 15 April [1933] New York Region. This year, winter faded off into an unusually wet, early spring; by mid-April shrubbery and trees seemed somewhat advanced for the date. Water-fowl of various kinds have pretty numerous here and there in the region. Considering its one-time rarity, the numbers of the Ring-necked Duck now observed are notable. We find some 45 reported on March 25-26; some 30 on April 2 at Rye [Lake, Kensico], N.Y. (J.F. and R. Kuerzi and others); 25 on February 26, and over 100 on March 12 at Brookhaven, L.I. (Local Bird Club). Of the Ruddy Duck, 40 are reported on January 8 (LeR. Wilcox) and 45 on March 12 (Local Bird Club) at Southampton, L.I. A flock of 35 Holboell's [Red-necked] Grebes, with many Horned Grebes on March 5 at Bayville, L.I., and a pair of Shovellers on March 19 at Mill Neck, L.I. (Local Bird Club) are of interest because of the localities. An unusual record is that of a flock of about 100 Snow Geese on April 2 at Troy Meadows, N.J. (Mr. and Mrs. C.K. Nichols and R. Lind). The Mockingbird has been wintering at Verona, N.J., and 3 or 4 were present there on April 15, near where the species attempted to nest last year (Mrs. C.S. Hegeman). From Arthur McBride we learn of a wintering Yellow-breasted Chat which had been coming to the feeding station of William Sheehan at Forest Hills, L.I., for bread-crumbs and suet since November. It was identified by McBride on February 28, identification corroborated by W. Sedwitz and L.A. Breslau of the Local Bird Club on March 5, and also observed by A.L. Walker and A.L. Walker, Jr., on March 9. A Grackle, on January 15, in Central Park, New York City, was definitely a Bronzed, whereas three there on December 24 were probably all Purples, as was the one that spent the preceding winter in the Park (G. Carleton). A singing European Goldfinch at Bayside, L.I., on March 18 (H. Bohn) should be recorded in an attempt to keep track of the scattered individuals of this species near New York. Arrival of migrants was in the main about normal, though some were distinctly late at certain localities, and there are a few very early dates. The following may be mentioned: Laughing Gull, 1 reported on April 1 at Pelham Bay Park, N.Y. (P.P. Malley), 2 on April 13 at Oakwood Beach, Staten Island (Walker and W.H. Wiegmann); Sapsucker, a pair on March 4 at Hollis Woods, L.I. (Walker and others); Purple Martin on April 2 at Rye, N.Y. (Bronx County Bird Club); a satisfactory observation of a Migrant Shrike on April 2 at Garden City, L.I. (D.G. and J.T. Nichols), and again on April 3 at Mastic, L.I. (J.T. and W.F. Nichols); Rusty Blackbird on March 5 at Oyster Bay, L.I. (Local Bird Club).

J. T. NICHOLS, New York, N. Y Info about John Treadwell Nichols: Click Here.

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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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


Monk Parakeet In our Yard in the Bronx 19 March 2023


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