House Finch (male on left) 13 April 2021 by D. Allen
15 April 2021
Spring Bird Notes: Four mornings of Bird Walks on Fri/Sat/Sun/Monday mornings through mid-June. On both Saturday and Sunday, there are two walks (7:30am/9:30am). OWL Walk! this Saturday AND Sunday 17-18 April (both at 4pm), to TWO different Great Horned Owl nests in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (free safe parking); details below (and Deborah's photo just below); see the SCHEDULE page of this web site.
This weekend starts the big waves of migrants through Central Park on their way north. Weather is forecast to be good, almost as good as our bird walks...AND if you ever considered visiting a Great Horned Owl nest, now is the time...young will be leaving the nest soon - see you in the Bronx.
In this week's Historical Notes, we send (a) an excerpt from the 1984 book, the Falconer of Central Park by Donald Knowler. Therein he describes birding in Central Park in April to early May 1982. The park was quite different back then: 10 murders would occur in the park that year, and birders were afraid to venture north of 96th street, even to see a Prothonotary Warbler! Knowler writes about "hundreds of Blue-grey Gnatcatchers" (was he mistaking some for Ruby-crowned Kinglets?); the arrival of the first spring warblers; and the 10 native mammals of the park found in 1982: Chipmunks were rare; Cottontail Rabbits were present...and there were no Coyotes.
Great Horned Owlets Pelham Bay Park (the Bronx) on 14 April 2021 by Deborah Allen
Bird Walks for mid-April 2021
All Walks @ $10/person
1. Friday, 16 April at 8:30am. Bird Walk. Conservatory Garden; 105th street and 5th Avenue (uptown!) $10. Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here
2. Saturday, 17 April at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. If you do the 7:30am walk, you get the 9:30am walk for free.
3. Saturday, 17 April at 4pm. OWL WALK. $10 - Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx - Meet at the FREE parking lot at Split Rock/Pelham Golf Course on Shore Road - More DETAILS on the SCHEDULE page
Nesting Great Horned Owls (GHOs) of Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx
Meeting Location (Free Parking): Split Rock Golf Course
Address for your GPS: 870 Shore Road, The Bronx, NY 10464
Use this Google Map for Directions from Your Home (Click Here)
Here's a Map (note red pin) of Parking Lot: (Click Here)
Here's a VIDEO of the GHO Nest we will visit: (Click Here)
If using Public Transportation (long trip but doable): (Click Here)
4. Sunday, 18 April at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. Bird Walk. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. If you do the 7:30am walk, you get the 9:30am walk for free.
5. Sunday, 18 April at 4pm. OWL WALK. $10 - Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx - Meet at the FREE parking lot at Orchard Beach - More DETAILS on the SCHEDULE page
Nesting Great Horned Owls (GHOs) of Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx
Meeting Location (Free Parking): Orchard Beach Parking Lot
Address for your GPS: Orchard Beach Parking Lot, Unnamed Road, the Bronx 10464
Use this Google Map for Directions from Your Home (Click Here)
MEET AT THE NORTHEAST CORNER of the PARKING LOT
(look for asphalt path that slowly leads uphill onto Hunter Island - the latter is adjacent and connected to the parking lot
If using Public Transportation (long trip but doable): (Click Here)
6. Monday, 19 April at 8:30am. Bird Walk. Strawberry Fields (IMAGINE MOSAIC) at 72nd st. and Central Park West (inside the park) $10. Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here
Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 7:30/9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive). 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 meet at Conservatory Garden; Mondays at Strawberry Fields - check the "Meeting Points" page of this web site for exact meeting location.
Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is (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) near 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 in April 2021 according to the owners. 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 aim to please.
Western Tanager (female; first spring)
at Carl Schurz Park (Manhattan) on 9 April 2021 by D. Allen
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights):
Friday, 9 April (Conservatory Garden at 105th st. at 8:30am): Bob was knocked out and almost dead after his second Covid vaccination (Moderna) - a not uncommon situation after the second (booster) shot. So Deborah happily covered the Bird Walk, finding the Eastern Meadowlark and Barry Barred Owl that headed up north for a day.
Deborah's List of Birds for Friday, 9 April: Click Here
Saturday, 10 April (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am/9:30am): The last slow Saturday for the spring - or at least until mid-June...Really not much exceptional except two Northern Rough-winged Swallows at Turtle Pond; a Field Sparrow also at Turtle Pond; a flyover Peregrine Falcon; a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets...but no Eastern Phoebes; and rapidly diminishing numbers of Tufted Titmice and Black-capped Chickadees - though we had three of the latter together at the Upper Lobe.
Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 10 April: Click Here
Sunday, 11 April (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am/9:30am): NO BIRD WALK = RAIN
Monday, 12 April (Strawberry Fields [Imagine Mosaic] at 72nd street and Central Park West at 8:30am): NO BIRD WALK = RAIN
The Falconer of Central Park (pages 49-57)
What is thought to be America’s most prolific land bird, the Red-winged Blackbird, sang heartily from the reeds skirting Belvedere Lake on 12 April . A few days after his cousin, the rusty blackbird, had shared a patch of mud with a woodcock. The red-wings form southern roosts with other family members in winter,which can number millions of birds, but they do not generate much interest during the spring in Central Park. Spring, the birders will remind you, is warbler time. In April the hunt is on for the first warblers of the migration. Someone had already seen a Pine Warbler, but the other early arrivals, the palm warbler and the Louisiana waterthrush, had yet to make an appearance.
Lambert [Pohmer - a Central Park birder of the 1970s/80s) was sporting his spring birding outfit, a denim jacket and khaki pants,on 15 April. He had a grackle's feather tucked in his hat; he vowed he would find one of the three warblers before the day was out.Lambert had a jauntiness about him, a quickness of pace, and the strengthening sun of spring had given a red flush to his face so it showed no lines to indicate his age. His eyes were blue and clear,and they led him away from the Ramble, because half a century of springs had taught him that the Ramble was not the place to find the first warblers.
I had been out for five hours and had enough of this fruitless warbler chase for the day. But after fifteen minutes in the boathouse cafeteria, I succumbed and went in search of Lambert, who had headed in the direction of the Belvedere Lake. The Palm Warbler seemed the best bet for the day, being the commonest of the early trio. The species winters in the southern United States, and its name is largely erroneous; the palm warbler seldom feeds in palms but prefers the floor of deciduous forests during migration, and likes boggy areas in its breeding range in southern Canada. Lambert was sitting, smugly,on a bench on the south side of the lake. Behind him, amid dead beech leaves, was a small yellowish bird with a chestnut cap - a Palm warbler.
The entry in my diary read: "Spring arrived on April 16, sunny, warm-temperature seventy degrees." A log in the boating lake, which had been coated with snow just nine days previously, now had two species of turtle on it, a red-eared turtle and a diamondback. Neither of these species are indigenous to the park but have been placed in the lakes and ponds after outliving their novelty as pets, growing too large for apartment tanks. The red-eared turtle was more than a foot long and in the coming months I would see it mate. But the turtles would not be able to propagate because the park is without suitable sand in which the turtles can bury eggs. The six species of turtles, including the park's indigenous snapping turtles, would have to rely on the pet trade to keep their species represented in the heart of the city.
On the southerly winds bringing warm air from Florida, a deluge of migrating birds was awaited. Two weeks ahead of the warbler timetable came a blue-winged warbler, making the Point his home for ten days while he allowed the rest of his species to catch up with him. On schedule was the Louisiana waterthrush, to be followed quickly by ground feeding birds of different species that had not moved north until they were sure the thaw was for real. These were the Rufous-sided Towee and the brown thrasher, a relative of the mockingbird which, despite a mad look in its yellow eyes, is one of the loveliest birds of the woods. Next to arrive was the Northern Waterthrush as preparations for the nesting season began, and the woods were a frenzy of activity. A blue jay flew by, struggling with a ten-inch stick, which would form the main support of a heavy nest. And in a nearby beech, a male and female jay squabbled on a slender branch. Then the birds touched beaks tenderly-a ritual I saw performed by many of the park's nesting birds-before the female spread her wings in submission and lay her body low along the branch so the male could climb on her back.
Blue-headed Vireo by Doug Leffler
The avian activity coincided with an explosion of small leaves and flowers, although, in an overview, the park retained the bare, bleak appearance of winter with splashes of whites and greens dotting the branches. Pink cherry blossoms attracted the first bee of the spring, and a flicker I had seen scouting nesting sites near the boathouse cafeteria called for a mate to join him. There was competition of a different kind for the robins, some of whom had found a patch of grass near the boating lake, which was alive with hundreds of worms. Little boys with fishing rods had discovered this area as a source of bait; when the boys arrived the robins had to move out. The fishermen brought an unexpected bonus for the robins, though. Discarded fishing line made ideal nest material, and many times I would see a robin trailing a length of line to its nest. Binding twigs, leaves and moss with the nylon line made the nests indestructible to everything but the schoolboys, who would later be bent on their destruction.
The next birds to arrive came in bulk. Hundreds of Blue Gray gnatcatchers, relatives of the kinglets, flooded into the park in mid-April. They could be seen in virtually every tree, creeping through the treetops like feather-tailed mice in search of insects. On the forest floor there was a similar invasion of hermit thrushes. Within a week this phase of the migration would be over, only the occasional gnatcatcher or thrush being caught in the surge of the next species to hit the park.
Eastern Meadowlark North Meadow Ballfields (Central Park) on 9 April 2021 by D. Allen
A change in wind direction, from the south to north, appeared to halt the migration on April 18, but there was a migration of a different kind, which came from the streets. With the blossoming of spring, less hardy New Yorkers, who had shunned the park in winter, re-discovered its beauty, and hundreds of thousands of people made for its two-and-a half-mile openness. Bird song was drowned by the heavy, thudding beat pulsating from music systems. Conflicting rhythms from Jamaican steel drums and Puerto Rican skin instruments reverberated across the boating lake; under a statue of Polish warrior King Jagiello, at the Belvedere Lake, folk dancers gathered, as they do every weekend during the spring and summer and early fall. Central Park has an estimated fifteen million visits by three million people each year, the biggest crush occurring in the early spring. Crime also rises at this time and neighboring police precincts transfer officers there, to boost the permanent force at the Central Park station house.
I had now seen sixty-three species of birds and was awaiting what birders call a "wave
day" to increase my total. The bird watchers now made a daily note of the wind direction, looking for a south-westerly wind, which followed storms, or for strong winds coming from the north. Migrating birds mainly travel on southerly winds in spring. Although headwinds might not hamper them unduly, gales and storms force the birds to hold tight wherever they are until the wind changes direction. If there is persistent bad weather, a build-up occurs. Once the wind changes direction, possibly a hundred species of birds will move at once, their vast numbers creating a wave.
Common Yellowthroat (male) by Doug Leffler
Steady southerly winds in the latter half of April gave the migration clockwork regularity and on time, on April 20, three of the commonest warblers arrived at the Point: the Yellow-rumped or Myrtle warbler, the Common Yellowthroat [above], and the Black-and-white. Hundreds of the three species descended on the park, but they did not compete for food, explaining why they migrate together. I saw the Yellow-rumped warblers high in the trees, feeding on tiny insects attracted to the-flowering buds and the newly opened leaves. The Yellowthroat, nicknamed the "bandito" because the male has a black mask across his face, feeds in low bushes and shrubs, and the black-and-white generally feeds off the boughs, trunks, and branches of trees, like a nuthatch or tree creeper.
The wintering sparrows had left now, but their niche was filled briefly by the arrival of other sparrows, like the finely marked Field Sparrow I found one morning. The field sparrow scampered up a grassy bank overlooking the boating lake, and a little later the trilling call of the yellow warbler, another new arrival, rose from a willow overhanging the water. The bird,a male with maroon brush strokes on its chest, flew out into the open to hawk an insect and returned to the willow to continue singing.
The sun shone strong and hard on April 24, and it was not a time to die. Half the leaves were out and white and pink flowers, hanging in tassels or lifting upward in cones, festooned the park. As he cycled to work Michael Anthony Bradley would have heard the song of the yellow warbler, the harsh notes of the busy blue jay, and he would have smelled the scent of the flowering white cherry. A family out for their first picnic of the year found the body of the 35-year-old Bradley sprawled over his bicycle near 108thStreet by Harlem Meer, a lake in the northeast corner of the park. He had been shot once in the left eye and, after the police were called,Bradley was pronounced dead at the scene. Bradley worked as a doorman at an apartment block on the Upper East Side; he had been cycling to work from his home in the Bronx. He did not always go via Central Park, but neighbors said on sunny, pleasant days he preferred to take that route.
Michael Bradley, born in Ireland and recently a naturalized American, would be the first of ten people to die violently in the park during the year. It was not a requiem for the Irish doorman who, on pleasant days, cycled through the park, but it might have been. That evening a woman in a maroon smock, which failed to conceal her heavy pregnancy, sat on a rocky outcrop near East Seventy-ninth Street, playing a flute.
Half an hour after seeing a male robin tugging at a kite string on the Great Lawn, I saw another dangling from an oak, nylon fishing line tangled around one of his feet. Several times the robin managed to flutter to the branch above him but the line, also wrapped around the branch, merely pulled him down in a flurry of beating wings. All the time the line was getting tighter, but he was high in the tree, and I could not reach him. While the robin struggled to free himself, his mate sat in a on nearby branch, twittering softly, unable to comprehend what was happening.
A day later the robin was dead, his body with outstretched wings swinging in the breeze. His female hopped through the woods in search of another male. There was no time to lose for the female. The nesting season was short; she had to be wooed, build a nest and raise two or even three broods in just a few months.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (male) in Central Park in Spring 2018 by Deborah Allen
In their haste to build nests, the robins and blue jays had not waited for leaf buds to pop, for trees to become impenetrable jungles of foliage. The nest structures, which were often built low in trees and shrubs, now stood out bulkily, a sure target for vandals. The warblers-which do not nest in the park-would have to wait before starting the mating and nesting ritual. Males were moving through to establish territories, soon to be followed by the females. One bird species that did not have to worry about defending a nesting territory or building a nest was the brown-headed cowbird. In a black cherry in the Ramble a pair of cowbirds sat close together on a twig-branch, like lovebirds in a pet shop. The female crossed to another branch, and the male pursued her, squatted down a few feet away and edged closer until both birds were pressed together. The cowbirds, members of the blackbird and oriole family, are parasitic nesters, the female laying eggs in the nest of warblers and other small birds. The unsuspecting hosts hatch the cowbird egg and do not question why other eggs or young are thrown out of the nest. The chick grows to be larger than the foster parents, and the sight of warblers frantically coming back and forth to feed the greedy chick is one of the sadder sights in nature. Before the European settler came to America, the cowbirds followed bison across the great prairies, relying on them to kick up insects. Even before the buffalos were wiped out, cowbirds started associating with the cattle that replaced them.
Thoughts of buffalos, spreading like brown waves across the prairies, were with me when I passed the Indian Cave looking for more warblers. Something else caught my attention, a mammal; but it was getting dark, and I could not make out its shape. Was it a woodchuck I had seen, sliding across a rock with belly pressed close to the ground to avoid detection? In Central Park?
"My schedule will improve as the fever of migration heats my brain." Lambert was keeping in touch by letter again, because I had not seen him for a few weeks. "It never fails to happen. May madness is almost on us and there is no cure…"
Northern Waterthrush in Central Park Spring 2009 by Deborah Allen
The Falconer of Central Park
Late April-Early May 1982
May Day brought a northern waterthrush to the Indian Cave and a "Rock Against Racism" concert to the Bandshell, a structure with stage and high domed roof which dominates the only straight path in the park, the conspicuously formal Mall. It was one of many musical happenings and the scenario was much the same: a thin blue line of policemen to keep order, the circling drug dealers selling marijuana and cocaine, and a park drunk dancing to the music with his trousers sagging around his backside. The amplified music could be heard from the Point, where a large, brown bat flew over my head, its large ears and canvas wings veiny in the daylight. The bat appeared to collide with a tree. I went to investigate and found the bat had merely landed flat against the bark, and was panting. Then it was off again, on the next leg of its migration. I later established the bat was, in fact, officially called a big brown bat, and it would be followed a little later by a smaller cousin, the red bat.
The area that is now Central Park had a mammal population as diverse as anything found in the eastern United States before the European settlement of Manhattan. Only ten indigenous species of mammals have managed to remain there consistently, these being five species of bats, the grey squirrel, cottontail rabbit, eastern mole, short-tailed shrew, and the chipmunk (the rats and house mice found in the park are of a species introduced to the United States from Europe).
The chipmunk, which I was told inhabited the woodland bordering the Fifty-ninth Street Pond, eluded me all year, and the raccoon threatened to do likewise. Raccoons are common on the green fringes of New York City, but their appearance in Central Park is generally believed to be an act of man. They have been forsaken as pets, and usually they have no fear of humans. A raccoon had been seen curled up, asleep, in a tree near the boathouse in the last week of April. I studied the tree for an entire afternoon but could not pick out the animal. This experience raised the possibility that another mammal, the woodchuck, could survive in the park without detection—if one had been released there. I was convinced I had sighted a woodchuck in the Indian Cave at the end of April, and I returned to the same location a few days later, at dawn when the grass was still wet with dew, and the first catbird of the year mewed at me from a low branch. I did not have to look far for the woodchuck, because it was staring at me from the entrance to the cave. The size of the woodchuck surprised me; it was larger than I had expected. When it established I was not a threat, it moved out of its hiding place to feed. The hairs on its stout body had a frosted appearance, and it slid across the grass to nibble at fresh shoots. If it had been someone's pet, it seemed the height of cruelty to release the woodchuck in the park where it would not find a woodchuck community, and a mate. The poor animal, like a migrating bird stranded in a foreign land, was destined to spend the rest of its life in solitude. It would survive until schoolboy vandals, hunting with rocks, caught up with it; or it would be killed by poison put down by the Parks Department to control rats.
Great Horned Owlet Pelham Bay Park (the Bronx) on 14 April 2021 by Deborah Allen
Gangs of schoolboys roaming the park posed a danger not only to the animals and birds. Some of the mugging of park users is attributed to high school students, especially the robbing of other children, and in April a birder had been threatened with a baseball bat after he refused to take the picture of a gang of youths (he had taken his camera into the park to photograph woodcocks). During May I had my own brush with vandals when I found myself surrounded by a gang armed with stones and sticks. Selfishly, I was relieved to discover they were pursuing squirrels and not me. The youths had cornered a squirrel against a boulder, but the squirrel escaped and climbed a pine, dodging behind the trunk as the rocks were hurled at it. I shouted in protest but, counting about fifteen boys, between thirteen and sixteen years of age, all bending to pick up a fresh supply of ammunition, I backed off.
To be intimidated by schoolchildren is an affront to an adult's dignity, especially when the adult stands six feet three inches tall, weighs 180 pounds and, in years gone by, has confronted risk and danger in pursuit of an outdoor experience. But the mountains, deserts and seas, and the creatures that inhabit them, mean no real harm to those who accept them on their conditions. I felt a different kind of fear in the park, a dry-mouthed apprehension, and, after the incident involving the vandals, for a few weeks I adopted the same strategy as an old couple I often found at the boathouse in the mornings. They delayed over a cup of coffee to await an escort of other birders.
The mugging threat was particularly annoying in the spring because it cut off areas where rare birds might be located. Even the sighting by an intrepid birder of a prothonotary warbler—one of the rarest warblers to come through in the spring—failed to entice any other birders to the location, the Pool at West 100th Street. Because the top section of the park borders some of the meanest streets of the city, birders generally consider it "out of bounds.” Common Grackle (male) by Doug Leffler