Bird Walks Sat-Sun 15-16 August + Owl Walk Re-Scheduled

Mourning Warbler on 23 June 2020 in St. Lawrence County by Deborah Allen
European Honeybee in Shakespeare Garden on 9 August 2020 by Deborah Allen

12 August 2020

Bird Notes: Due to the weather, we've re-scheduled tonight's OWL WALK (Wed. 12 August) at Inwood Hill Park to Thursday evening 20 August at 7:30pm - details below. The hot weather and potential for thunderstorms does not make a good mix for seeing owls at night...Meanwhile the weather for both weekend days (15-16 August) looks good: cool weather in the 70s/low 80s and migrant warblers arriving in number.

Apologies for re-scheduling the owl walk at the last moment, but the weather forecast for this afternoon (Wednesday 12 August) just does not look promising enough...we will wait a week, and move it to a Thursday evening, 20 August - details below.

So far August has been slow birding - hot weather from the south, and no evenings with winds from the northwest. Migrants are trickling through - but mostly to the west of us...But some migrants are being seen: People are regularly finding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the red Cardinal Flowers in Shakespeare Garden; and at the ocean beaches in Brooklyn, or the mud flats at low tide in Inwood Hill Park and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, shorebirds such as Semi-palmated Sandpipers (and several other species) are regularly seen. On the warbler front however, only five warbler species have been reliably found on migration so far - this will change soon.

In this week's Historical Notes we present (a) August 1982 birding in Central Park from the book, The Falconer of Central Park (Donald Knowler). The author was a journalist at the United Nations and spent as much time as he could in 1982 (Jan through Dec) birding in Central Park, essentially doing a "big" year. He records a Central Park no one would recognize today: murders, drug sales and other dangers in the Ramble...and a small group of birders including Lambert Pohner (mentioned in the excerpt below) and Sarah Elliott who led bird walks in the park from about 1975 to 2013. Birders today would recognize the pattern of migration: Knowler writes about migrants appearing in early August, with Canada and Blue-winged Warblers being in the "second" wave of mid-August. On the other hand, some of the breeding birds he mentions would be WOW nesters in CP today: Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse. However, the Northern Flicker is a regular nesting species today (unsuccessful in 1982) and the Red-bellied was NOT nesting in the park in 1982 (first nesting circa 1988). Knowler's book is available used on Amazon for less than $5...he now lives in Tasmania; and (b) an article on finding the Snout Butterfly in Central Park in late July 1984, with Lambert Pohner as your guide...

Mexico. Male Gray Silky-flycatcher, between Los Pescados & El Conejo, Veracruz (MX). Tuesday February 18, 2020 by Deborah Allen

Silver-spotted Skipper in Shakespeare Garden on 9 August 2020 by Deborah Allen

Bird Walks for mid-August

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

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here

1. Saturday, 15 August at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10

2. Sunday, 16 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...


3. Thursday evening, 20 August at 7:30 pm at Inwood Hill Park [Manhattan] for Eastern Screech-owls. We will be out for about 90 minutes...bring a light mosquito repellent (10% or less deet) for bare legs/arms. Bring a tiny flashlight (and if not, don't worry use your phone as a flashlight...and I will have a powerful flashlight - good for photographers). Meet at 8:oo pm at the Indian Road Cafe (It may be closed due to Covid 2019, but if it is open it has nice bathrooms; air-con...has a bar and also restaurant). Here is a map and if you plug in your starting point, you should get directions:

Otherwise, this is the web site of the Indian Road Cafe:

And here is the address of the corner where we meet at 7:30pm:

600 W 218th Street in 10034

If you are driving, give yourself an hour to find a parking space...

Call/email us with Questions:

Virginia Rail at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx by Deborah Allen on 4 June 2020

Eastern Screech-owl at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan), 27 August 2019 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 ( 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 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.

Rough Grouse, St. Lawrence County in upstate New York by Deborah Allen on 22 June 2020

American Goldfinch Male, Shakespeare Garden, 8 August 2020 by Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Sat-Sunday, 8-9 August 2020 (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am): Please note: the bathrooms at the Boathouse are NOT open. However, we do pass two other sets of bathrooms on the walk. YUCK! Birding was slow, and the weather was hot and humid. On both days we found four warbler species (Yellow, Black-and-white, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart), with Saturday featuring many more individuals. Sunday was downright slow...Other highlights: a Ruby-throated Hummingbird came in to the Cardinal flowers (red) in Shakespeare Garden while we were waiting on Sunday morning; and a first of the year Cooper's Hawk (juvenile) was found by us and photographed by Randall Rothenberg. This is the earliest a migrant Cooper's Hawk has been found in Central Park, though they have been seen as early as the first week in August in other NYC Parks (Pelham Bay Park in the Bx for example).

male Yellow Warbler by Deborah Allen at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx on 6 June 2020

Yellow Warbler [male] near the King of Poland statue in Central Park on 8 Aug 2020

Deborah Allen


Falconer of Central Park [August 1982].

by Donald Knowler:

AUGUST 1982 [pages 103-112]

The wind was listless and the only ripples on the boating lake were caused by the girl I had seen twice in winter, ice-skating and jogging. Now the girl, alone, was rounding the tip of the Point in a rowing boat. Her flaxen hair had been bleached by the sun and a yellow T-shirt hung loosely on a mahogany body. The rowing motion revealed slender but strong arms, the outline of pert breasts whose nipples pushed into the soft fabric of the T-shirt as she pulled on the oars. It was hot and the girl, maybe eighteen years of age, was perspiring gently. She laughed at a group of slightly younger teenage boys on Bow Bridge, who threatened to drop stones into the water to make a splash. Under the bridge she rowed, slowly, and she was soon lost in the glare of sunlight reflecting from her oar strokes.

In the boathouse cafeteria a man sat talking to himself, a middle-aged man in a neatly pressed navy blue suit, his striped shirt unbuttoned at the collar. People paid little attention to him and no one joined in his laughter, when he laughed at a joke he had told himself. At another table outside on the terrace, a man scolded a couple for feeding the pigeons.

"It's unhygienic," he said, the gray stubble on his chin moving as he spoke. He had taken off his holed leather shoes to reveal that he was not wearing socks. His feet were lined with dried dirt, like the tide mark on a beach, and the couple feeding the pigeons nervously sneaked a crumb to a sparrow that had landed on their table. The man saw them, and without looking up, uttered an obscenity into a cardboard cup that had a tea bag floating in it.

A kingbird hawked insects a few feet above the rowing boats on the lake, returning to a nearby linden after each sortie. When perching, the bird held an erect posture. He had a slight crest and his plumage was colored matte black on the head and back, whitish below. Kingbirds, members of the tyrant flycatcher family, were present in the park all summer, but , by 1 August, I had not yet determined if they bred there.

A search for the kingbird nest, and a nagging concern about the mallard family threatened by the night heron, took me in the direction of the Reservoir. Three remaining mallard chicks had lost their mother, but they appeared to be supporting themselves adequately and had grown to half-size, too big now for the heron to seriously consider them as prey. What had happened to the mother? Had she deserted the ducklings, or just lost track of them in a storm that had lashed the park in late July? Was she shot by a pellet gun aimed through the Reservoir fence, or speared in a night time encounter with a heron's bill? I would never know.

I had neglected the Reservoir in summer. But in August there was an interesting arrival in the low-hung shape of a double-crested cormorant, a fish-eating water bird with a snake neck and long bill, hooked at the tip. The cormorant, mid-way in size between a duck and a goose, dives for long periods in pursuit of fish. Unlike members of the duck family, the species does not have a biological process for oiling its feathers, to keep water from seeping into them, and the cormorant has to dry its wings on exposed perches, standing like a black scarecrow. The cormorants are common on the coast during migration; they breed beyond Massachusetts, but visits to the Reservoir by up to forty cormorants had only started occurring in recent years.

Lambert had told me to watch the Reservoir periodically in mid-year because juvenile loons, too young to breed, had sometimes spent the summer there, but he did not have an explanation for the cormorants' recent arrival.

I had my own theory, in defiance of any esoteric explanation that might be advanced by a professional ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History. It concerned a lone cormorant, heading south, who happened to cut inland and cross Manhattan. The clear waters of the Reservoir looked inviting on a hot August afternoon and the cormorant decided to spiral down with the herring gulls, to investigate the park's marine world. The first underwater dive produced a meal of largemouth bass, and so the cormorant dried its wings on the exposed water pipeline and moved on to the park's other pools and lakes, an explorer, the Christopher Columbus of the avian world. The cormorant of this piece of whimsy discovered nine species of fish and a freshwater jellyfish, making a note of the fish so he could report back to his friends: pumpkin-seed, bluegill, golden shiner, yellow perch, banded killifish, black bullhead, brown bullhead, goldfish, and largemouth bass.

The goldfish were a surprise, easily detected in the murky waters of the boating lake. Honey bees are known to guide other members of their colonies to food sources, so why not the cormorant? Certainly, after I first saw the lone bird, numbers of cormorants were to appear in successive weeks.

Lambert told me the migration south would be a leisurely affair, compared to spring, but during the final days of August and building up to mid-September there were wave days to almost equal those of May. As in early spring, the movement of birds through the park had started slowly. After the Northern waterthrushes [likely Louisiana Waterthrush] and [American] redstarts, the black-and-white warblers appeared in the first week of August. There were also increased numbers of birds I had observed all summer long in the park: night herons, grackles, robins and flickers, all moving south. The leaves on the trees now had a slightly jaded, tattered look like the wings of the butterflies that had laid eggs and were now preparing to die. The leaves were also turning a dark, dirty green before their transformation into shades of brown, red and gold during the fall.

But the weather continued hot in early August, causing the horses that haul the carriages around the lower part of the circular road to foam white and frothy at the bit, to struggle wearily up the slight gradients. Three horses whose lifetime job had been to pull the carriages had dropped dead on New York streets during summer and, on August 4, another beast of burden lay dead on Central Park South. The twelve-year-old carriage horse was covered by a blanket, and mothers led their children away. An autopsy later showed the horse's death was related to the heat. At the scene a summons was issued to the stable owner because the horse's log, to show how long it had worked on the days preceding its death, was not up to date. The other three horses' deaths had been caused by heat exhaustion.

Looking West from The Empire State Building at Night, August 2005

Blue-winged and Canada warblers were the next insect eaters to swarm through the park, and they brought with them a summer storm from the west that tore some of the posters carrying the face of murdered park guard Michael Turner from tree trunks (the police were offering fifteen thousand dollars for information leading to his murderer's conviction). The torrent on August 10 had created bathing pools in rock grooves for birds to wash in, and the storm had also spurred a squirrel to start building his winter nest in a willow. The nest was a mass of green vegetation camouflaged in the tree, but in winter it would stand out as a solid, if untidy, bundle in the crisscross of branches.

Intermittent rain did not deter thousands of schoolchildren from gathering in front of the Bandshell. A summer carnival for the city's underprivileged children had been organized by the Police Athletic League, and disco music boomed through the elms along the Mall. A giant map gave locations of where the street games were being played in the vicinity: "double dutch," hopscotch, tag, and hockey. And at a table manned by a plainclothes policeman there was a display to illustrate another kind of street activity with another kind of street language: "bennies," "block-busters," "coke," "brown sugar, Junk," and "joints." Laid out on the table was the paraphernalia of the drug cult, from syringes to razor blades, and after fingering a plastic poppy and a plastic marijuana plant, the kids in PAL [Police Athletic League] issued T-shirts moved on to another stall, which had free candy and helium balloons.

Many of the same kids were getting hooked two days later in the park. The New York Housing Authority was holding its annual fishing contest for four thousand children of tenants in its housing projects. More hooks were caught in young anglers' clothing and hair than in the waters of the boating lake, giving a break to several thousand fish that had been slipped into the lake for the occasion by the State Conservation Department.

After searching all summer for evidence of kingbirds nesting, I was now convinced I had seen a family party of the flycatchers, although they were some distance away, beyond the Point. I found the kingbirds in the trees where I had seen the ruby-throated hummingbird in May. Two noisy, anxious youngsters were pursuing their parents, demanding food. As the nesting season was closing, I had a tally of sixteen birds breeding in the park and possibly four others.