• Robert DeCandido PhD

August is Warbler Migration!

Updated: Jul 30

Pine Warbler in Autumn 2018 by Deborah Allen

28 July 2020

Bird Notes: Autumn migration is starting. Already, since July, shorebirds have been moving south, stopping to feed on mud flats at low tide here in our area. In the first week of August landbird migration picks up: warblers are on the move, and we will see them in Central Park especially after nights when winds are FROM the northwest.

August is the best month to find warblers on their way south stopping for a day or two here in NYC. From mid-July through early August early migrants we see are Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, Black-and-white and American Redstart as well as the rarer Worm-eating W. and Yellow-throated W. Indeed, warbler migration for most species is well underway by mid-August. Other migrants to look for are Cuckoos, primarily Yellow-billed....and raptors such as Bald Eagles, and a few Broad-winged Hawks, particularly on days when winds are from the northwest.

In this week's Historical Notes we present information about birds and fish (Sharks!) in the NYC area in the 1830-1910 time frame: (a) a Mourning Warbler in Central Park in early August 1908; (b) the Heath Hen (now extinct) on Long Island at the Hempstead Plains in the 1830s; (c) Sharks in northern waters (Sept. 1891): the Dusky Shark was the common species off Long Island, with the Great White hardly ever seen; (d) some fish food for sharks, the Moss Bunker in July 1879: "Bunker" remain the most important prey fish for predators in our area including the many nesting Osprey in NYC, as well as summering Humpback Whales off the coast of Brooklyn; (e) northbound, as well as southbound (returning) shorebirds on Long Island in June-July 1921 with notes on Pectoral Sandpiper, White-Rumped Sandpiper and Least Sandpipers.

Chalk-fronted Corporal Male, 23 June 2020, St. Lawrence County, NY by Deborah Allen

Bird Walks for Early August

All Walks @ $10/person - All walks in Central Park

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here

1. Saturday, 1 August at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10

2. Sunday, 2 August at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10

If you do the 7:30am walk you can do the second (9:30am walk) for free. You get two for one. Weekend walks will continue through August and into December. If there is interest/demand, we will add Monday and Friday morning walks starting in mid to late August. Let's see how this develops, or not...

Call/email us with Questions: rdcny@earthlink.net

Great Crested Flycatcher (adult and young) in Central Park, 12 July 2020 by Deborah Allen

The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 7:30/9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through mid-March 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!

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. 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) - though the Boathouse is closed right now and will re-open...no one knows quite yet. 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.

Blue Dasher [female], 26 July 2020, Shakespeare Garden, Central Park by Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Sunday, 26 July 2020 (Boathouse Restaurant at 8:30am): Please note: the bathrooms at the Boathouse are NOT open. However, we do pass two other sets of bathrooms on the walk. Meanwhile, Deborah is still on vacation - we will get her lists again soon. We can't detail how miserably hot it was this past weekend (doing so would keep everyone home this coming weekend), but we can say that on both Saturday and Sunday we found Yellow Warblers - all migrants, and probably all young birds. We also found one Red-eyed Vireo; three Great Crested Flycatchers (family that bred in the park); Eastern Kingbirds (several - bred); Northern Flicker (5-6: bred in the park); White-breasted Nuthatch (2: bred); Song Sparrow (bred along Reservoir); Great Blue Heron (juvenile; species breeds in NYC); Red-tailed Hawk (and one probably Pale Male). Those are the highlights, and as you can see it is certainly summer in Central Park. However, once August arrives, we turn the page and the pace of migration picks up for warblers, vireos, flycatchers and others.

Eastern Amberwing Dragonfly [female] in Central Park on 26 July 2020 by Deborah Allen


Mourning Warbler [August 1908] - Central Park

Miss Crolius and I watched a female of this rare warbler for over an hour on August 6 [1908]. It was very shy and spent its time in thick clumps of rhododendrons, occasionally walking on the ground and stretching up to pick insects off the lower leaves. While feeding, it gave a whispered sip, as if it were talking to itself. When alarmed, it uttered a sharp chuck, very much like the call-note of the Water Thrush in quality. Once or twice it flew up to a branch about fifteen feet from the ground and sat perfectly still watching us.

After a time it would fly down again into the bushes and resume its feeding. This is the first fall record of this warbler for the Park, and, indeed, I believe it is very rare at this season in the neighborhood of New York City.

Ludlow Griscom

======================================== Heath Hen [1893]

Tympanuchus cupido. HEATH HEN [aka Prairie Chicken or Pinnated Grouse]. There is no specimen of this species in the collection. Col. Pike remembers having killed individuals of this species a number of times on Long Island -- the first time in 1836:

"I was making a tour on foot round the Island, collecting, and one morning while encamped at 'Comac Hills' [Long Island] we found our larder empty and visited the plains for game. We killed a number of these birds and made some skins of them. They were not plentiful, yet we procured all we wanted. Soon after a law was enacted for their preservation. I have not met with an individual for twenty-five years [1861] in the woods or plains which I have hunted over, and I am afraid they are nearly extinct."

The Heath Hen has undoubtedly been extinct on Long Island for at least half a century, and it is important, therefore, to place on record all of its life history that can now be obtained from living witnesses. Our esteemed fellow-member Mr. George N. Lawrence is one of the few living scientists who have had the privilege of seeing this species on its native heath. It is with much pleasure, therefore, that I append herewith a letter from Mr. Lawrence relative to bygone days and that extinct bird:

"Did you ever endeavor to trace the specimen of Pinnated Grouse which I informed you I saw at Hempstead about sixty years ago, mounted and under a glass shade? It was said to be the last example of its race on Long Island, formerly so numerous, and known to the natives as the Heath Hen.

"I think it was in the summer of 1831 that I accepted the invitation of a friend to spend a few days with him at the residence of his grandmother at Mastic for the purpose of shooting Bay Snipe in the Great South Bay. At that time the only mode of conveyance was by stage coach. We started from Brooklyn in the morning (another friend going with us), and by noon we reached Hempstead [Long Island] where, at the roadside tavern, while waiting in the parlor for dinner, I was interested in the specimen above alluded to; it was a fine specimen and in good condition; possibly it may be still in the possession of some member of the family. At night we stopped at Patchogue [Long Island] and did not reach our destination until the next morning.

Greater Prairie Chicken [male] in Junction City, Wisconsin on 18 April 2016 by Doug Leffler

"The Grouse at one time were quite abundant in the scrub oaks of the middle part of the island. I remember hearing of the successful shooting of them by Mr. John Norton. One day he got in the midst of a covey, which was scattered around him in a piece of scrub oak. On shooting one, instead of securing it, he threw down some part of his wardrobe to mark the spot, first his hat, then his cravat, coat and vest; -- how far he disrobed I am unable to tell, I suppose that depended upon the number of birds killed. I remember Mr. Norton very well, he was a small man and an enthusiastic sportsman. The family mansion where be resided was on comparatively high ground, just west of Far Rockaway, and bordering on the ocean. The old house was removed by the march of improvement, and the grounds in which it stood are now known by the euphonious name of Wave Crest.

"As is known by ornithologists, the Long Island bird was considered to be identical with the Prairie Hen of the West, but quite recently it has been decided by Mr. William Brewster that they are distinct species. It is surprising that this was not discovered sooner, as their habitats were so very different, one frequenting a dense scrub oak region and the other an open prairie country.

Yours truly,

January 20th, 1892. GEO. N. LAWRENCE."

Greater Prairie Chicken [male] in Junction City, Wisconsin on 18 April 2016 by Doug Leffler



AN unusual number of large sharks has been reported during September in Long Island and Fisher's Island sounds. To these the name of man-eater is generally applied. As a matter of fact, however, the true man-eating shark, the Great White (Carcharodon carcharias) is rarely seen on our coast. This species grows to a length of 25ft. and to the weight of one ton, being surpassed in size only by the basking shark. It is a relative of the enormous shark whose teeth occur fossil in the phosphate beds of South Carolina. Any shark measuring 9 or more in length is liable to be called a man-eater, and not without warrant, for all of them will attack man with slight provocation or when suffering from hunger. A few days ago Mr. Willard Nye, of New Bedford, Mass., was attempting to feed a small Dusky Shark [https://tinyurl.com/y4pt89x5] at Woods Hole with the meat of a clam. He had a theory that the animal would turn before taking the food and would be slow in its movements; but to his surprise the shark snapped sidewise "as quick as lightning," took the clam and three fingers of the hand that fed it. Other sharks in the pool, attracted by the sight of blood dashed up to the edge and would have made serious work if the victim had been within reach. The notion that sharks always roll over when taking food is deeply rooted in the popular mind, but the foundation for this theory is not evident. But we have seen them taking Menhaden in the side of the mouth while in the upright feeding position, shaking the head like a dog until the sharp teeth cut off a portion of suitable size and afterward picking up the remainder of the fish, provided some other shark had not captured it. As Mr. Nye says, the shark is totally depraved and swift in his depredations; it is therefore a dangerous associate in close quarters, and bathers who fear it are wise. Its indifference to pain is notorious at Woods Hole, Hollyoke, Mass., some years ago a great many examples were cut open to ascertain the nature of their food and internal parasites, and in some cases the contents of the abdomen were removed entirely. It was supposed that such rough surgery would kill them; but some of the eviscerated specimens were seen swallowing food after the operation as readily as if nothing had happened.

Familiar Bluet (immature male) in the Bronx on 15 July 2020 by Deborah Allen

========================================== Bunker Fishing. [Early July 1879]. The amount of moss bunkers brought in to the Peconic Works, Shelter Island, from June 30 to July 3, was 164,500. The steamer Peconic caught 153,000 in Long Island Sound. The steamer Amaganset caught 550,000 in two days of the preceding week off the south shore of Long Island. We hear that the Eastern fishermen are all coming this way again. The law in Maine does not allow bunkers to be caught within three miles of the shore, and therefore business in the eastern waters is dull. McL

Bunker Fishing. From July 21 to July 26 [1879], the Peconic Oil Works, of Shelter Island, took 400,000 caught chiefly in Long Island Sound by steemer Peconic. The Hawkins' Works caught 408,000 last week. We hear that now Long Island Sound is full of fish, but only the steamers can follow them and bring them in to the factories in season, for the fish soon spoil, and as soon as they begin to decay they are unfit, for use either for oil or scrap manure. A very large number of sailing craft and steamers are now engaged in this business off the southern coast of Long Island and Long Island Sound, which are the best fishing grounds. I have a bower of cedar trees overlooking Peconic Bay, and from it yesterday with my glass, counted over forty fishing vessels. McL. ======================================

Painted Skimmer (female) in the Bronx (NYC) on July 26 by Deborah Allen

Summer Shore Birds [1922]. E. L. Poole records an assemblage of northern breeding Limicoline birds at islands of the Virginia coast, which, for the dates when the recorded observations were made, namely June 30 to July 2, 1921, is truly remarkable. The species noted are as follows: Wilson's Snipe, Dowitcher, Knot, Pectoral Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Red-backed Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Sanderling, Black-bellied Plover, Semi-palmated Plover and Turnstone.

Let us for a moment suppose we are modifying the given status of these species in a Virginia list, to fit this observation. The simplest way to dispose of it would be to label them all off hand "non breeders sometimes summer." However, the writer's studies of shore-bird movements (mostly on Long Island, N.Y.) lead him to look at the matter differently. Distances mean so little to a migrating shore-bird that the difference of latitude between New York and Virginia is almost negligible, except as it affects climate. In the present connection, the most important difference probably is that, according to available evidence, these birds are more likely to summer within their winter ranges, without attempting to migrate north, than to do so in transient localities.

Each of the enumerated species has different dates of passage, and each should be considered separately. There is no reason to suppose the Least Sandpiper was in anything but regular migration. The writer has personally observed it on Long Island, bound south, June 22, June 27, and it regularly arrives about the first of July. Dowitcher was probably an early south bound migrant. Though there is no June arrival recorded for it on Long Island, such is to be expected there, since, as a rule, it arrives as early as the more numerous Lesser Yellow-legs, which he has observed as early as June 27. The Pectoral Sandpiper migration is something like that of the Dowitcher, though but few Pectorals appear in early July compared to those later. The Wilson's Snipe would seem a casual early arrival rather than a summering bird, though the earliest such casual Long Island date the writer has obtained is July 10, 1921.

Turn now to the other end of the list, species, the regular northward migration period of which extends well into June, and which may not be expected south again so soon: [Red] Knot, Red-backed Sandpiper [Dunlin], Black-bellied Plover, and Turnstone. If these were moving, they were moving north. The writer would consider the date for all four species a late north-bound date, with a fair chance that the last three would "summer."

This leaves White-rumped and Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Sanderling, and Semi-palmated Plover, which linger very late north bound, often in flocks, and yet are recorded in return, stray birds, the first week in July. There still is a summer hiatus for each on Long Island, as follows (dates inclusive): White-rumped Sandpiper, June 21 to July 3; Semi-palmated Sandpiper, June 28 to July 3; Sanderling, June 15 to July 3; Semi-palmated Plover, July 4, one day only. In these species dates over a period of years, with the migration variously early and late, will probably close the gap. That for the Semi-palmated Plover, of one day only, may be considered closed. Yet it is doubtful if individuals actually summer on Long Island, though they may do so in Virginia.

It will be appropriate, in closing, to call attention to summer presence of shore-birds on Long Island in 1918: The most notable bird phenomenon on this vicinity was the abundance and lateness of north bound shore-birds, several species lingering through June, the last of this spring flight being a single Ring-neck Plover [? Semi-palmated Plover?] at Long Beach on July 3 (E. P. Bicknell). As the Least Sandpiper had returned there from the North on that same date (about its usual time of arrival), north and south-bound birds actually met in this latitude. It is assumed that the Ring-neck of July 3 was a straggler from the northward flight, as that species had been present through the month of June. It would be interesting to know whether this individual continued northward until it met members of its own species returning, remained in this vicinity until they arrived, or turned southward at this point with Least Sandpipers and other birds with which Ring-necks associate.

J. T. Nichols, New York City.


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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Along the Bronx River on 27 March 2010 - panoramic Infra-red Black-and-white

Along the Bronx River on 12 January 2011 - panoramic Infra-red Black-and-white

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