See No Weevil: Central Park July 2021

Updated: Jul 2


Large Milkweed Bug at Jamaica Bay (Queens) 23 June 2021 by Deborah Allen

1 July 2021


Bird Notes: For July, there are only SUNDAY morning bird walks at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. Starting early to mid-August we will go "full-time," meaning bird walks on Fridays through Mondays as the fall (southbound) migration heats up - and yes there can be many migrants in NYC Parks starting in August! We might add a Saturday trip here or there to Jamaica Bay (Queens) and/or NYBG (the Bronx!) or an owl walk at dusk. See the SCHEDULE page of this web site for the most up-to-date info for bird walks and meeting locations/times.


It is summer, and July is traditionally the time birders turn to insects - Deborah Allen sends a selection of photos herein. That being said, the weather for this Sunday's (4th of July!) bird walks is for overnight winds from the northwest along with cool temperatures. We could have the first early migrants including Worm-eating Warbler and male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds...


In this week's Historical Notes, we send only one excerpt, albeit a somewhat lengthy one: July 1982 in Central Park, from the book by Donald Knowler, The Falconer of Central Park. You can find it on Amazon (used for less than $10) here: Book!

(above) Eastern Kingbird at Oak Bridge (Upper Lobe) in Ramble/Central Park

27 June 2021 Deborah Allen


male Wood Duck in eclipse plumage on 27 June 2021 Deborah Allen

Bird Walks for July 2021

All Walks @ $10/person

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


x. Saturday, 3 July. NO BIRD WALK!!!!


1. Sunday, 4 July 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.


x. Saturday, 10 July. NO BIRD WALK!!!!


2. Sunday, 11 July 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.


x. Saturday, 17 July. NO BIRD WALK!!!!


3. Sunday, 18 July 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.


x. Saturday, 24 July. NO BIRD WALK!!!!


4. Sunday, 25 July 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.


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

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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 (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) near 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 aim to please.


Margined Calligrapher Fly in our backyard in the Bronx on 26 June 2021 Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights):


Sunday, 27 June (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am/9:30am): It is late June! Nevertheless a lot of people on this nice mild Sunday made their way into the Ramble where we used the scolding calls of Robins and Jays to track down Barry Barred Owl (on both walks). We were also lucky to find a lone Black-capped Chickadee (not nesting in Central Park); but NOT the lone White-breasted Nuthatch also here for the summer. Cavity nesting birds have great difficulty in Central Park since there are many mammals such as innumerable squirrels and raccoons, that want to live in any tree cavity - and there are only so many small ones big enough for small birds to nest in...Also seen today was a Great Crested Flycatcher - the mate is probably in a tree cavity nest in the west Ramble. And we found that the Eastern Kingbird nest at Turtle Pond is still active, with at least one young...one of three Eastern Kingbird pairs (and nests?) in the park this year. Finally, for anyone looking for migrants, a singing male Northern Parula was at the west end of Azalea Pond, while three White-throated Sparrows were responding to the early autumn subsong from my tape.


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 27 June 2021: Click Here


European Paper Wasp in Central Park on 28 June 2021 Deborah Allen

HISTORICAL NOTEs


The Falconer of Central Park [1982]

Donald Knowler

July 1982


A Central Park bench offers the perfect antidote to the United States' largest city. It was from a bench on the Great Lawn during 1982 that I surveyed my life, a wandering existence very much like the winding, rambling paths of the park. I had been a journalist for my entire working life, some nineteen years, working on some very good and some very bad newspapers. In recent years I had traveled to Africa as a roving correspondent, initially going to South Africa on what I told myself would be a year-long working holiday. I had stayed on the continent for nine years. The wildlife of Africa, its abundance and easy accessibility, persuaded me to stay every time I had thoughts about moving on. I had grown blasé about the sight of a pride of lions, or a three­ hundred-strong herd of elephants, and when it was finally time to leave I thought I was an expert, I knew it all and, anywhere in the world, I would be something of a wildlife guru, with all that Africa experience behind me, all those African tales to tell. A latter-day Kipling.


Many times I held court in the boathouse cafeteria on subjects that ranged from "what to do if you come across a hippopotamus out of water" (run) to "the first step in treating a gaboon viper bite" (amputate). But my knowledge and understanding of the workings of nature, its complexity and continental interdependence, was shallow and superficial. Lambert knew a thousand times more than I, although I had visited a thousand more places. I could not compete with a man who had seen more than two hundred species of birds in Central Park or had identified a greater number of butterfly and moth species on Manhattan than are found in the entire British Isles. My Africa stories had finally stopped in the telling when Lambert had read me a quotation from an author I had not heard of before, the late Hal Borland:


He knows most about the world who knows best that world which is within his own footsteps. Not all hills and valleys are alike, but unless a man knows his own hills and valleys he is not likely to understand those of another…


European Paper Wasp in our backyard in the Bronx on 26 June 2021 Deborah Allen

Six in the morning on the first day of July. A black-crowned night heron has its eye on the chicks of a female mallard. The heron stands hunched at the edge of the reservoir; the mallard is leading her brood of eight down the steep concrete bank to the water. The mallard, the-second to rear chicks in the park, has nested in scrub sprouting from the stone embankment. The brood has probably hatched the previous day. They are tiny. One chick lags behind and the heron strikes from a few feet away. The mallard swings around in a cacophony of quacks and startles the heron. This gives the chicks a chance to slide into the water, and the determined red-eyed heron takes to the wing again and swoops at them. The heron plunges its foot into the reservoir for balance but cannot find its grip on the steeply sloping bottom. The chicks, their first time in water, dive and sur­face close to their mother, who sweeps in tight circles like a naval destroyer searching for a submarine. The mallard family, intact, heads rapidly away from the bank, and the heron is in hunched posture again, waiting for the chicks to return to the bank, waiting for a second chance to strike.


• • •


A small but enthusiastic band of butterfly enthusiasts met at the boathouse cafeteria sharp at 10 A.M. The group was led by Lambert and another nature-lover called Mervyn, whom I had not met before, introduced himself with a firm hand­shake. With temperatures rising steadily through June to the anticipated eighties throughout July, the butterfly season had arrived and Lambert announced that he had already counted six species on his way to the cafeteria. Interrupting a donut and coffee breakfast, the members of the party solemnly signed their names as witnesses to Central Park's second-ever butterfly count. Then off they went on a walk through the glades, hearts and voices rising at the sight of any erratic flutter through the leaves.


"Mourning cloak," Lambert said authoritatively as the species swept by and settled on a flower. "We've already got that." There were also red admirals, monarchs, alfalfas, spring azures and question marks. And then the sight of the magnificent tiger swallowtail at the flooded and disused children's paddling pool, which had been so good for birds in the early spring. The tiger swallowtail is a large, yellow butterfly with striking black pattern on broad wings that taper to a rounded point beyond the insect's body. This was a perfect specimen, the sunlight making it dazzle like gold tinfoil; the butterfly twisting and turning, fluttering and gliding. A robin sprang from the shade of an elm, displaying the agility of a swallow as it chased the insect. And then a sharp "crack." The robin nailed the swallowtail with its beak and threw it to the ground. The rapid beat of the butterfly' s wings died in slow flaps, the robin biting at the body of the insect. "That goddamn bird," said Lambert, pulling his favorite bush hat over his eyes. Mervyn, with crease lines scarring a windburned face, was standing at the disused children's pool remembering his childhood of fifty years ago. His eyes followed a dragonfly, which had dark tips on transparent wings.


"When I was a kid we believed that if a dragonfly landed on you, you would die. So we killed them. We must have been mad," he said quietly.


Someone said that he had seen a dragonfly resting, exhausted, on a wall in Times Square a few days previously. "What 's a dragonfly doing in Times Square?" someone else asked. The question went unanswered as all eyes now followed the dragonflies, which flew low across the mud, stopping to hover in mid-air. The butterfly count clocked twenty-six species.

male Wood Ducks at Turtle Pond, Central Park on 6 June 2021 Deborah Allen

The Loula D. Lasker Pool opened in the last week of June after skinny little black kids had gathered at its fence for the preceding two months hoping that someone would let them in. On fine, sunny days the kids were always at the fence and numbers had increased as days grew longer and hotter through June. The pool is the only official swimming pool in the park and the only way the poor kids from the adjoining streets of Harlem can keep cool during the long, hot summer. Into July it grew very hot and sticky and, long after the gates had closed with a clang of steel, the sound of splashing and laughter and delighted shrieks came from the Loula D. Lasker Pool. Up to three thousand people have been known to use the pool illegally at night, gaining access through neat holes in the fence opened up with wirecutters. Sometimes a man would come to fix the fence, but before he had returned to the park's maintenance depot, the open again. There was something unusual about this night, although the shrieking kids might not have noticed it. The bright full moon had its usual summer halo of humidity but during the early hours of the next morning, July 6, the moon began to vanish. At 2 A.M. the shadow of the planet Earth, where the skinny Harlem kids were swimming illegally in the Loula D. Lasker Pool, began to creep across it. By 2:38 A.M. the moon could be seen as a copper dot during the longest total lunar eclipse in 123 years. Out on Fifth Avenue, at the intersection of Fifty-ninth Street, moon-watchers had gathered.


"So what?" said a woman wanting to get back to the Oak Room bar in the Plaza Hotel. "Wait a moment and you'll see the shadow of your nose," said her irritated male companion. "Go f- - - yourself," replied the woman, self-consciously fingering a nose larger than most.


• • •


Six days after its bombardment by the night heron, the mallard family on the reservoir was still intact. With temperatures hitting eighty-four degrees, mother and babies sheltered under a bush of willow on a stretch of dam wall that still had to be cleared of rogue vegetation by maintenance men slowly working their way around the reservoir's circumference during the summer. A chick wandered from the female and started tugging at a reed bent double in the water. Mother scolded the baby with a low whistle; the fledgling scurried back to her side.


Evidence of the vulnerability of the young mammals and birds was everywhere in the park. A flattened robin, speck­ led with youth, lay on a footpath, and on the circular drive I counted the bodies of six or seven young gray squirrels. The first of two broods of squirrels had appeared early in the spring. The young were virtually identical to the adults, if slightly smaller and thinner, but their stupidity gave them away. The young were unbelievably tame, coming up close and showing a slowness to recognize a threatening gesture. In other creatures wariness is a basic instinct from birth, but this did not seem to be the case with the squirrels. They learned the hard way, and either schoolboys with rocks or cars on the circular drive kept the park's squirrel population in check.


Young birds, though, could also show gross stupidity; perhaps out of confusion, the trauma of being confronted by open spaces after the security of the nest. On the East Side drive, where the road follows the curve of the reservoir, a catbird battled to keep a brood of two chicks together. The fledglings were on the road surface when one became separated from the mother by a stream of marathon runners pounding south. The mass of athletes thickened, and the bird was driven to the other side of the road, the parent trying at first to dive at the runners in a futile attempt to frighten them off. Then she flew to the young catbird, leaving the other fledgling to fend for itself momentarily in the nest-site bush, a hawthorn. After the bulk of runners had passed, she managed to coax her offspring to fly low and fast back across the road.


By mid-July the mallard family on the reservoir was down to four ducklings from the original eight. It appeared the night heron had perfected a technique for attacking and killing the chicks. But the second family of mallards, on the boating lake, was still doing well. Perhaps to avoid the herons, the mother had marched the brood a quarter of a mile to the Belvedere Lake. The ducklings, by now the size of pigeons, still had not grown wing feathers and could not fly. They were lucky they had not run into Billy on the walk. He had proven he was not afraid of taking the bigger birds, because I had seen him with a dead pigeon. And a duckling would have made a pleasant change from his usual park diet of house sparrows and starlings.

Termites Central Park on 21 May 2011 Deborah Allen

One hundred years ago and more, before apartment air conditioning, it was common for the poorer people of New York to drift from their overcrowded tenements to the park, to sleep there during those frequent, unbearable nights when summer humidity forms a steamy blanket over the city. Now only the bag people, without possessions to have stolen, and the crazies and crooks roam and sleep in the park's acres by night. It is a pity the park is not accessible during the summer nights, because it has an uncanny calm at this time: the thick, hot air cushions the hard sounds of the streets and the roar of jet aircraft overhead. Around the reservoir, with water evaporating rapidly, the air hangs still and heavy and is only pierced by the rhythm of the cicadas and crickets or an occasional high-pitched squeal from a bat using echo location to detect insects around the lights on the reservoir footpath. Dawn comes slowly, imperceptibly; the trees taking shape as rounded masses of black as the sky turns from ink-black to navy blue, to opal. Then the sun bursts above the Fifth Avenue apartment blocks, as though it has been turned on with the flick of a switch.


On such a morning a .22 caliber bullet in the left side stopped Michael Turner's life six weeks short of his thirtieth birthday. Turner, a Parks Department security guard, was found slumped at the wheel of his patrol vehicle at 8 A.M. on July 15. He was working the midnight-to-eight duty, filling in for a man who was sick, and last made radio contact at 5:10 A.M. Police said a gunman had shot Turner at point­ blank range under the armpit, the bullet penetrating a lung and his heart.


Turner, who was unarmed, was the first parks department employee to die in the line of duty. He was the sixth person murdered in the park since January.


• • •


An elderly man with a bare, bronzed chest and a scraggy straw hat stood on a green wooden bench I had come to regard as my own. In his hand was an imaginary baton that he used to summon a not so imaginary overture. His face was hidden under the hat, but the perspiration started to run down his arms, dripping onto the wooden slats of the bench, when Tchaikovsky's "1812" was in full flight. The music stopped abruptly and the man stopped in the frozen pose of a conductor.


"One more time," said the bare-chested man to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which was situated one hundred yards away across the Great Lawn. Simultaneously, almost as if he were a shimmering, heat-haze reflection of the man on the bench, conductor John Nelson waved his real baton. The orchestra swung into the overture's stirring crescendo, with rising strings, woodwinds, and brass. The orchestra, its members in T-shirts and shorts in the ninety-­two degree heat, was practicing for an open-air performance the same evening. The music died away after a final thud of percussion, and the old man put away his imaginary baton and said to the distant orchestra: "That'a do. . . ."


The musicians were departing as the first music-lovers reserved their patches of sand and grass for the concert, raising Hags and banners to let their friends know where they had staked their musical claim. That night a man climbed on stage and grabbed the conductor. The man was dragged away by police who later reported he was protesting over the choice of the piece of music being played at the time-Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade." He liked Wagner.

Leafhoppers Central Park in August 2006 Deborah Allen

A tourist from Maine was sitting with his girlfriend on the terrace of the boathouse cafeteria, which overlooks the boating lake. He saw the group of people with binoculars at the next table and inquired whether they were "into birds," as he put it.


"Well," he continued, "I was sitting here this morning and this big heron came by and settled right in front of us. I couldn't believe it and I said to my girlfriend here, 'That's like a great blue heron which we get in Maine.' But you wouldn't get such a bird in the middle of New York.''


"Well, you can," Lambert replied, continuing that an entry for a great blue heron had been made in the bird sightings register. A Northern waterthrush, traditionally the first bird of the downward fall migration, was also recorded that day, July 27. I did not see the heron or the waterthrush but a hard day's birding rewarded me with a brown-headed cowbird with a youngster in tow. Although brought up by foster parents of another species, the young cowbird had recognized its own kind as soon as it was able to fly and fend for itself. I like to think the cowbird was one of the offspring of the cowbirds that I had seen in courtship in the spring. It was difficult to believe the fledgling had not been reared by the cowbird it was with. It worried the adult bird constantly, chasing it along branches and following the cowbird to the grass to search for food.


Although it was only two months since the northward migration petered out, the birds would soon be coming south again in large numbers. The fall migration is basically a mirror image of the one in spring, with the insect-eaters now coming first and the hardier birds arriving later.


A severe thunderstorm struck New York on July 28. Trees were felled and it rained all day, making the hunt for the waterthrush and another trumpeter of fall, the redstart, impossible. But next day I came across waterthrushes by the dozen and a single redstart, precisely on schedule. I paused to survey the rich green foliage of the park, layers of leaves ruffled by a slight northerly wind. Cicadas chirping, the plop of bullfrogs leaping into the boating lake-my mind could not grasp the harsh images of winter, the skeletal branches, the coating of snow, the ice on the reservoir, the Iceland gulls, the scaups, and the canvasback ducks coated with oil, coming to the park to die. The redstarts and waterthrushes could not endure a northern winter. Something told them the insects they feed on would soon be dying, and it was time to head south.


• • •


A blue jay was on a branch just above my head, peering down and making a gurgling sound that I thought might be part of a mating cry. The bird descended rapidly, brushing my head before I had time to duck. The jay, which had young about, dove twice more, causing me to throw up my arms to cover my head. I let out a yell. The jay's mate joined it in the attack, and I started to run, my body straightening from its crouched position as I picked up speed. Crash. After looking behind me at the jays, I had tripped over a root, banged my head against the ground and rolled beneath a linden, blood trickling from a nick across my left eyebrow. "Sir," said a little boy, who was half hidden behind the trunk of a tree. He had the supercilious, stern, head-cocked-back look of a child trying to be an adult. "I wouldn't be frightened of a mere bird…"


The incident happened during a period when I was still telling my Africa stories, and I did not recount it at the boathouse. I had already been shamed by a mere plant, poison ivy. Lambert had pointed out its glossy, bottle-green leaves in spring, rising from the earth in sets of three. I said that someone who had entered crocodile-infested rivers, and climbed thorn trees in search of martial eagles' nests, would not be deterred by a plant, which in all probability would have no greater sting than the slight irritation caused by a brush with British stinging nettles.


''I'm immune to poison ivy," I joked, pushing aside a few sprigs of the plant to climb the steep bank of the Upper Lobe. I was only wearing a T-shirt, my arms exposed, and that night I thought I had contracted the tick-borne Rocky Mountain spotted fever. My arms swelled in red blotches, and I scratched and could not sleep. I got up to have a hot bath and sweated and itched some more. Next day I was fidgety. I could not hold my binoculars up to my eyes for more than a few seconds.


"What's wrong with you?" said Lambert, losing patience when he was trying to point out a chickadee's nest. "I think it's poison ivy," I replied.


"But I thought you were immune."

Blackened Milkweed Beetle, Jamaica Bay (Queens) 23 June 2021 Deborah Allen

A blue jay, emitting an ecstatic cooing, rolled its body in a heap of dried leaves that had been overrun by ants. The jay then pushed its body and wings tight to the ground and watched, its beak gaping, as the ants crawled over its feathers, the ants tunneling amid the shafts and vanes. The blue jay antics were taking place off the Mall, and a man I suspected was a drug seller stopped to watch, and then asked me what was going on.


I explained it was a behavioral characteristic, common to many species of birds, which ornithologists call "anting." The ants release acids that deter parasites and are also believed to bring relief to skin made sore by the moult and the growth of new feathers at the end of summer. The drug seller had another, more concise term for anting. He called it a "fix."

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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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

Turtle Pond, Central Park 20 August 2006


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