Updated: Oct 13, 2021
7 October 2021
Bird Notes: NOTE BENE: On Saturday/Sunday October 16/17, there will only be a 9:30am walk (and NO 7:30am bird walks). Also, there are NO bird walks on Friday, October 15 and Monday October 18. Monday and Friday walks will resume the following week (Oct. 22 and 25 at 8:30am). Why? We are off to Minnesota for a week to do some research/photography on migrating Northern Goshawks for Deborah's book; back on 21 October. You can always find our SCHEDULE here (click on that link!)
Oh no...! An owl came to town this past Sunday in Central Park. Of course it set off a firestorm of comments on the internet from people taking the high moral ground. This Great Horned Owl (GHO) had found a nice perch over a very public path, and people gathered to oooh and aaah as well they should. We want as many people as possible to know that owls regularly pass through Central Park: some stop for only a day (as did this one) and others spend a few days or several months - the food is abundant and the absence of resident (nesting) owls leaves the territory wide open. Great Horned Owls are not rare in NYC - there are at least 20 nesting pairs, if not closer to 30. They have nested in every borough in the last decade (even Manhattan) - and there are at least five breeding pairs in one Bronx Park. This particular Great Horned Owl survived the attention by sleeping, preening, trying to cough up a pellet, and even stretching. In other words, not the signs of a bird in distress. We named this owl "glorious." However, reading some of the comments from people on the internet, one would think the gathered photographers, birders, and very curious [non-birder] passers-by, were shooting the owl with surface to air missiles. We politely and humbly suggest that the angst directed at the owl watchers would be better directed by writing to the Central Park Conservancy and asking them to stop using pesticides to kill rats here. Those anti-coagulant poisons used only work their way up the food chain, as the toxic rats are subsequently eaten by predators. These are some of the birds/mammals we've seen killed by rats that have consumed pesticides: owls, hawks, Great Blue Herons, squirrels (they nibble on the poison "bait") as well as dogs. For the latter, the toxins have to smell/taste good to attract the attention of the mammal consumer. It would be glorious if people took their angry comments and instead made positive suggestions to the CP Conservancy such as: "Why not use Carbon Dioxide via dry ice in rat burrows to reduce the rat population (by reducing the oxygen in the burrows to zero)?" The Conservancy is not going to eliminate rats whatever treatment they use...The Conservancy should use a treatment that cannot, and will not, harm anything but rats in their burrows.
For those of you who are not prone to "ethical" battles on the internet over who is evil, and the greatest threat to the life of a migrant owl in Central Park, we include at the end of this Newsletter, links to prior Newsletters that (1) provide extensive information on why going to see an owl is good for you and the owl (and causes no harm to either party); (2/3) two Newsletters from a few months ago on the History of Great Horned Owls in NYC: there are more nesting GHOs in NYC now than 30 years ago...than 50 years ago and even 100 years ago! GHOs do fine in our parks if not poisoned by eating rats full of toxins put out by people following ancient policies. The primary problem for all birds of prey in NYC is NOT the people who go see them (we highly encourage this by day and by night), but the rat poisons put out - that do not eliminate the rat problem anyway.
In this week's Historical Notes, we send two excerpts: (a) Birding Central Park in October 1982 from the wonderful book, The Falconer of Central Park by Donald Knowler - about $5 at Amazon; (b) during the research for that book, at least five people were murdered or found dead in 1982 in Central Park. We send a NY Times obituary for one of those people, Conrad Mones, who was killed after he climbed into the polar bear enclosure one night in late September 1982.
Great Horned Owl (adult female) The Bronx on 30 September 2021 Deborah Allen
Below: Ovenbird at the 11 September (9/11) Memorial 5 October 2021 Deborah Allen
Bird Walks for Mid- to Late October 2021
All Walks @ $10/person
1. [CANCELLED] Friday, 15 October 8:30am. Bird Walk. NO FRIDAY WALK this WEEK. Yes again on 22 October, an 8:30am bird walk - same logistics.
2. Saturday, 16 October at 9:30am. Bird Walk. [ONLY 9:30am! No 7:30am walk today]. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. If you do the 7:30am walk, you get the 9:30am walk for free. 7:30 am walks resume next week, Saturday 23 October.
3. Sunday, 17 October at 9:30am. Bird Walk. [ONLY 9:30am! No 7:30am walk today]. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. If you do the 7:30am walk, you get the 9:30am walk for free. 7:30 am walks resume next week, Sunday 24 October.
4. [CANCELLED] Monday, 18 October. 8:30am. Bird Walk. Strawberry Fields (72nd street and Central Park West) $10. N.B. this walk meets at the IMAGINE mosaic inside the park at 72nd - about 50 yards from CP West. NO MONDAY WALK this WEEK. Yes again on 25 October, an 8:30am bird walk - same logistics.
1. Friday, 22 October 8:30am. Bird Walk. Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave) $10. N.B. this walk meets uptown - at the north end of the park...but easy to reach.
2. Saturday, 23 October 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. Sunday, 24 October 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.
4. Monday, 25 October. 8:30am. Bird Walk. Strawberry Fields (72nd street and Central Park West) $10. N.B. this walk meets at the IMAGINE mosaic inside the park at 72nd - about 50 yards from CP West.
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). 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.
Sharp-shined Hawk (adult male) in Manhattan 13 March 2021 Deborah Allen
Below: Cooper's Hawk (juvenile) Pelham Bay Park [the Bronx] 12 Sept 2019 D. Allen
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights):
This week's bird walks started with a bang as The Friday people found Scarlet Tanager and 10 warbler species - with Deborah later heading down to the south end of the park to photograph the Eastern Meadowlark (photos in coming issues). With a strong overnight migration, the Saturday early (730am) walk was the best one to be on: A Lincoln's Sparrow foraged in the open for quite a while, so all of us had long good looks at the golden feathers here and there; a Yellow-billed Cuckoo came in to sounds from my tape - cuckoos are quite responsive to calls - and it is amazing how many birders appear out of nowhere to see a cuckoo. A Belted Kingfisher was at the Upper Lobe; the last of the Chimney Swifts cruising for insects high overhead. We had twelve species of warblers and the first large group of White-throated Sparrows. On Sunday, Dr. Ryan Serio beat me to the Great Horned Owl by a couple of minutes - we duly reported it to the Manhattan Bird Alert on Twitter. A few minutes later, we observed birders/photographers show up - great! Some of these folks roundly criticize me for making birds known on the internet...this is actually funny sometimes. People on the early 730am and the later 930am walk had long great looks at that Great Horned Owl - for so long that I was able to have a seat and check the internet to find out how evil I was/am in real time for making this owl known to NYC people. But I have to confess, it was Dr. Serio who made the find, and first report...I am an innocent man! I will admit to naming the Owl "glorious" and noting it is the earliest fall MIGRANT Great Horned Owl ever found in Manhattan. Usually GHOs arrive in early November or so...and since these owls regularly turn up in summer in other Manhattan parks such as Inwood (and stay for the autumn/winter there), only Central Park is a reliable place to assess their migration time periods in NYC. What owls will arrive next, and what trouble will they cause? Stay tuned...
We cancelled the Monday, 4 October bird walk because the forecast on Sunday evening (3 Oct) was for occasional rain all morning. We try and do cancellations the night before so people can make plans...rather than cancelling at the last moment! Unfortunately the rain had stopped by about 8am! (Please always check our web site if the weather looks "iffy" - the walk cancellation notice was published on the main and schedule page of our web site by 5pm on Sunday, 3 Oct...).
Deborah's List of Birds for Friday 1 October: Click Here
Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday 2 October: Click Here
Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday 3 October: Click Here
Deborah's List of Birds for Monday 4 October: RAIN! No Bird Walk
Below: Common Yellowthroat (female) at the 9/11 Memorial 5 Oct 2021 Deborah Allen
Below: Mourning Warbler (male) at the 9/11 Memorial 5 Oct 2021 Deborah Allen
Below: Broad-winged Hawk (juvenile) Pelham Bay Park [the Bronx] 4 Oct 2019 D. Allen
Falconer of Central Park [October 1982].
by Donald Knowler: https://tinyurl.com/y4h96jxe
A kettle of hawks, high in the sky, so high that at times they are mere dots. An impossibly blue sky laced with cirrus clouds, which take the sharpness out of the sun, so it is possible to gaze skyward without blinking and rubbing the eyes. Two ospreys, a broad-winged hawk, and seven or eight sharp-shinned hawks in big circles-lazy, supreme, nothing to touch them.
I had entered the park with an expectation that today would be different, a day not better than most but better than them all. Even at 8 A.M., I knew the temperature on the first day of October would go to eighty degrees,but without humidity or stickiness. My pace had quickened on hearing a blue jay somewhere on a tall apartment block on Lexington Avenue. I had chased a winter wren through the Gill, a waterway forming a series of rapids in the Ramble,and then had come upon a small group of birders studying a fruiting Evodia tree in an open glade, which had been good for birds during the fall. "You've just missed an osprey going over, minutes ago," they said and my face registered disappointment. "Damn that wren," I thought and lapsed into the birders' equivalent of self-pity. But the day,with mist clearing earlier, promised more hawks, and I went to the Bow Bridge for a clear view of the sky.Then I saw the ospreys, majestic. I do not think I saw them flap their wings. They were in thermals, conserving energy, letting the rising warm air do the work for them. Then the broad-winged hawk, stubby, chunky-winged in comparison to the ospreys, with three black bands across its tail. Around and above him were the sharp-shinned hawks with elongated tails. I had now tasted the hawk migration, or part of it, and it was not to end all day. At times there were up to twelve hawks in the sky with possibly many more that were higher and out of sight. The broad-winged is classified as a Buteo or buzzard hawk and feeds primarily on rodents like rabbits. The crow-sized hawk was heading for a wintering ground somewhere between the Florida Keys and Brazil while the much smaller sharp-shinned would spend the winter months in the southern United States, or possibly as far south as Panama.
During the late afternoon I passed the Upper Lobe and found two young wood ducks dabbling in the weedy mire under the willows. The ducks, scraggy in their juvenile plumage, appeared bewildered and unsure of the journey south. I ventured too close and flushed them out, but I found them a little later sheltering in a dried-up section of the Gill. The waterway at this location was overhung with bushes and the ducks pressed against the shadow of a log. Foolishly, I startled them again, and they smashed through the branches, leaving downy feathers floating behind.
I had thought that the duck migration would come later, and already this mis-assumption had caused me to miss a rare green-winged teal on the Pond at Fifty-ninth Street. So the day after seeing the wood duck, I toured the lakes and ponds first. At the Belvedere Lake two ducks stood out among about seventy mallards. They were darkish but not black ducks, which were also on the lake at the time. These birds had shovel-like bills, which they dipped toward the water, as though the outsized bills were too heavy for their heads. They were, in fact, ducks called shovelers, two juveniles, lacking the edginess of the wood duck. They appeared at ease among the mallards, which are quite friendly birds, and at one point they ventured close to the bank, unconcerned about me. There was another surprise: an American wigeon "in the same crowded area of water. I did not have to raise my binoculars to see the distinctive white crown, which gives the bird its nickname of "baldpate." The bird was a good-looking male, characteristically sitting high in the water. The white crown rested on a line of green feathers covering the eye, and the body was colored a pink-gray. As I was watching the wigeon a chevron of maybe a hundred Canada geese was Hying to the west of the park, somewhere over Columbus Avenue. The geese were in two perfectly straight lines merging at a point. A week later I would see a similar number of cormorants taking the same flight-path. Theirs was a ragged, loose chevron, swaying and bending when individual birds broke the line.
Below: Western Palm Warbler with Black-shouldered Drone Fly
Central Park on 3 October 2021 Deborah Allen
The weather had continued hot and sunny, and on the second day of October I came across the last of the tanagers. This one was a female summer tanager feeding in the Evodia tree, a popular birding spot. It was still early morning after I had completed my round of the park and, with time to spare, I decided to look for sparrows, due to arrive in great numbers in the Ramble. Pushing away spiderwebs, which were still hung with silver droplets of dew, I found Chuck from Pennsylvania sleeping in a large hawthorn bush that was still heavy in brown leaf. Chuck was just a rounded shape in a sleeping bag, but I recognized him. I could identify the sack. I began to back off but trod on a dry twig, and he rolled over quickly, as the "snap" ricocheted around the tree trunks of the Ramble.
"What you want?" he shouted, struggling to his feet with the blue quilted bag around his ankles. He held a long knife in his right hand, and he slowly lowered it as his sleepy, semiconscious mind registered it was me.
"You jerk, what you creeping up on me like that for;' he said angrily.
"How was I to know you would be here?" I replied, what happened to your home?"
He explained someone had tried to rob him recently, while he was asleep, and he was frightened they might return. "That's what I got the knife for;' he said. But I sensed he had always carried it because it fitted neatly in a blue denim waistcoat he always wore.
"Any luck finding a job?" I inquired, trying to make small talk, to be friendly.
"What's it to you?" Chuck said aggressively. "Just go f-- off '. He kicked his foot out of the sleeping bag and there was a clink of glass. A bottle of bourbon had been in the sleeping bag with him.
• • •
A crowd was being marshaled for the last bird walk of the year on October 3 and, as I approached the boathouse car park, Lambert put two fingers behind his yellow bush hat and started to bob up and down. He was telling me a long-eared owl was in the Ramble. Sarah was doing her bird routine as I hurried to the location Lambert had given, a cherry tree behind the Point Lobe willows. The owl, with his back to me, was about forty feet up, partly obscured by the clusters of leaves. The poor owl, napping after a busy night's hunting, could not have known that in the next few minutes it would be surrounded by the excited people on the walk, most of whom had not seen an owl before. There were shrieks of "Where is it?" The owl swung its head around in almost a full circle without moving its body, to establish what was going on. From his perch he saw a mass of bodies, pushing and shoving, straddling the footpath. Half the people pointed toward him and the others scanned the tree through binoculars. Some of the crowd, being pushed from behind, slipped off the footpath and started to slide down a slope into the lobe. The owl blinked, slowly, as if deliberately assuming a look of amazement. Then it turned its head forward again. The blue jays' cries of hysteria, when they found it, were nothing compared with this. The owl, however, was not to lose it composure. A wise owl stays put and makes the most of a difficult situation, which does not immediately threaten him. I led an old woman down the slope for a better look. A low bush laddered her stockings but, taking me by the arm and stepping carefully, she said: "Young man, I don't care about my tights. I've always wanted to see an owl." It was a good twenty minutes before Lambert and Sarah could persuade the crowd to move on, with most people screaming that they hadn't seen the owl. "But we've got more birds to see and, anyway, we might find another owl in a better position," said Lambert tugging at his hat nervously. He did not let on that the owl is one of the rarer birds of the park, and he hoped no one would realize the promise of another owl was a ruse.
I left the tour and the excitement of the owl to stroll through the park alone, away from the crowd. I found two brown creepers on an oak, a new bird for the fall. And I later heard that the tour had picked up a golden-crowned kinglet. It was another gorgeous day, with a large crowd out in the park. In quiet spots I would find the shy, unobtrusive mourning doves feeding on berries. But my mind was not really on birds today. The park had that bizarre quality again, which produces in me fits of whimsy, of Homo sapiens Central Park, a rush-to-the-head of summer before summer finally dies. Children clambered over the Alice in Wonderland statue at East Seventy-fifth Street and, at the park's bowling greens to the south, a croquet game was in progress. Above the white-clad players and hoops and mallets sat an umpire, tennis-style, in an umpire's chair. He was also giving a running commentary through loud-speakers; every now and again there would be a "clud" as mallet hit ball. Did I see one player using a flamingo as a mallet? Had the Mad Hatter joined Lambert and Sarah's bird walk in the Ramble? I could have believed so.
I found a golden-crowned kinglet myself next day when the temperature hit eighty degrees again, and mosquitoes rose like smoke over the corners of the boating lake, where the rocks were coated bottle-green with algae. It was another good day for birds. A black-throated green warbler hopped through the Turkey oaks near the Reservoir and I also saw my last black-and-white warbler. The Evodia tree, which attracted so many birds, had turned gold, but the majority of trees held their summer appearance. The occasional sweetgum stood out yellow in the same way that the cherries in flower had held the eye in spring. And a red oak was at its peak of transformation. The oily, glossy leaves were alive in death; rich red, and when they fell to the ground, they retained their moist texture for a few days. From a distance a carpet of red oak leaves looked like a pool of blood on a footpath.
Great Horned Owl Central Park on 3 Oct 2021 Deborah Allen
A party-goer in what had been a neatly-pressed dinner jacket, bow tie askew, staggered up the slope leading from the boathouse to the Ramble. The gentle slope was too steep for him. He paused to correct his balance by leaning forward sharply. Then he started off again, large patches of dried mud all over his tuxedo, his shirt hanging out at the back. It was noon and the party-goer was on his way home from the party of the night before; He had slept in the park and was lucky not to have been attacked.
This state of inebriation did not appear to be confined to the party-goer. A robin hung his black head low and spread out his wings on the dust of the footpath. He shook his beak from side to side, flapped his wings slowly and spread them out again. I ventured to within a few feet of the robin, but he was unaware I was standing over him. When I clapped my hands to make him fly, he looked at me for a second and tried to give out his alarm cry but it would not come. Then the robin slowly took off with a heavy heave of the legs and settled in a bush only five feet away from me. The birders say robins and other birds partial to fruit become drunk when the vast quantities of berries they eat in the fall ferment inside them. I have my doubts, though. In Africa, veteran white hunters tell stories of elephants getting drunk on the fruit of the marula tree. I have never met a zoologist with experience in the African bush who can confirm this. Many park rangers will tell the story to tourists but will admit they themselves think it a myth when you question them closely. I thought the story of the robins a myth and still do. But I cannot explain the robin's behavior.
• • •
Ten days after his death, the body of Conrado Mones [see the NY Times article immediately below this excerpt] was still in the city morgue. Rita Serrano was struggling to raise the money for his burial but there was hope for her. The circumstances of Mones's death had received wide publicity in New York. Money was trickling in to the parks department and The New York Times.
• • •
A thick, soupy mist lay on the reservoir on the seventh day of October. The Indian summer and its humidity was clinging, like the sweat soaking my shirts, I paced the footpath looking for ducks. But I could not see beyond the ill-defined shape of a cormorant, which fished about forty yards from the bank. What I thought was a bat fluttered closer and I realized it was a large monarch butterfly, migrating south. The crickets were chirping and insects still abounded; yet there was a definite feeling that fall had arrived although the trees remained dark, rounded, full shapes in the mist, showing silhouettes of leaves without revealing their changing color. A Chinese woman bent below a gingko tree to pick up nuts, which were falling from the upper branches. The gingko's fleshy seeds are considered a delicacy by the Chinese and the woman's husband had climbed forty feet to risk life and limb to dislodge some of the fruits. If the couple had known of the tree's history they might have been more gentle with it. The gingko has survived from the age of the dinosaur and, with its fan-shaped leaves, it looks like a prehistoric relic. Its family was prevalent over much of the globe millions of years ago, but it died out as the world underwent climatic changes, continental drift, and mountain upheaval. A member of the family, Gingko biloba, survived in a corner of China, however, and Chinese and Japanese Buddhist priests later planted it in temple gardens. A German botanist brought the gingko to the attention of the Western world in 1690, and it was finally imported to Europe in the eighteenth century. It is not just the shape of the leaves that gives the gingko its mystery. The seeds have a peculiar smell, which I liken to someone throwing up.
The weather continued misty and humid for the next few days-a massive storm appeared to be building up. A female kestrel crossed the Great Lawn with something large in her talons-maybe a starling-and the birds fell silent as usual, but this time an eeriness was injected into the air, quiet and still. The trees were heavy with dying leaves, sullen, defying the wind to rock them with its full force. With tension between heavy trees and mist-defined air in creasing, something had to snap. Crack. Thunder and lightning stabbed across the sky in the small hours of October 8 giving the city the effect of a multi-candled birthday cake with just one ignited candle. Tall, thin skyscrapers standing black and white, stark.
Again and again came the flash of light and then the crack, which shook windows already vibrating under the impact of pelting rain. By first light the park was fresh and clear and a sweetgum had dumped all its leaves over a bench in the Ramble. The leaves were a foot deep. A swain son's thrush, decorated with yellow cheeks and yellow eye ring, looked tired and shaken after being forced down by the storm, and a yellow-rumped warbler tripped gingerly through the Evodia tree. That night a cold, blustery north east wind blew. And next day the mean temperature had switched from an abnormal high to an abnormal low, eight degrees below normal. Ten ruddy ducks were on the reservoir along with a lone Canada goose and as I watched them the cold wind bit my ears. Summer had finally let go, and the ruddy ducks' heads were tucked into warm back feathers, the birds bobbing on the choppy water.
Swainson's Thrush in Michigan by Doug Leffler on 26 September 2017
The body of Conrado Mones was laid to rest in a cemetery over the Hudson River in New Jersey. Enough money had been donated to pay for the funeral. Some organizations had even offered to take care of the arrangements, but these were finally handled by the Parks Department. Before burial, Mones had a mass at a Roman Catholic church in the Bronx, close to the funeral home which had finally taken his body from the city morgue on October 8, the day before the burial. In death, Conrado Mones had been cared for.
• • •
The ruddy ducks had moved on within a day but five Canada geese replaced them on October 11. The sounds of marching bands drifted across the reservoir from Fifth Avenue, where New York's Italian community was celebrating Columbus Day with an annual parade. The Italians-unlike the Irish and the Puerto Ricans for their big days-had sunshine instead of rain; but the gentle southwesterly breeze had a bitter edge to it. A bullfrog, feeling the cold, moved slowly under the surface of the boating lake and a green heron struck. The big, bloated amphibian would not see another spring.
I had seen fall's first hermit thrush on October 5, and seven days later the small thrushes appeared to be the most common birds in the park. There were hundreds of them and, in the Ramble, they outnumbered all the other species by about two to one. I did not know it at the time, but I was walking under a tree where a barn owl was roosting. Lambert telephoned me at work to tell me about the owl: "It's between the rustic bridge over the Gill and the wooden pavilion," he said. "There's a lamppost right under the tree with the number, 7535." I could not get into the park that afternoon and by early next morning the barn owl moved out. Although some of the larger owls pose identification difficulties for a person who is not used to seeing them too often, the barn owl is distinctive because it has a white, heart-shaped face instead of the usual disc pattern around the eyes. The barn owl once nested in hollow trees but when Europeans settled the land and built permanent structures, the owl took to nesting in such buildings as farm barns, church belfries, and even in disused mechanical equipment. Basically, the barn owl stays pretty much in the same location all year, but there is a partial migration in the northern United States; and the owl in the park might have been moving only a few hundred miles to a place where there would be a supply of rodents or small birds to keep him fed through the winter.
After work, I went back to the park in the hope of seeing the barn owl hunting on silent wings, but I only saw two or three suspicious-looking characters in the Ramble and retreated to the reservoir, scared. Reassured by a constant stream of runners, I looked across the blackening water knowing I was safe from attack from behind. I could make out the shape of a cormorant in the distance, and I wondered how long it would remain because most of the cormorants had long since flown south. I did not have to ponder the question long. The cormorant reared like a bear standing on its hind legs, threw out its neck and lifted into the air, the water pulling at the bird's large body and then letting go. Five days later the lesser scaups would arrive from north central Canada to claim the same patch of water for their six-month winter, while the cormorant flew south to claim a piece of ocean off Florida. The laughing gulls, also heading for Florida, remained on the reservoir a little longer and for a time they overlapped with the ring-billed gulls moving to the coast from inland. In the last weeks of October I saw the laughing gulls sitting with the ring-bills in the furrows made by a tractor on the Great Lawn baseball outfields. The laughing gulls had also discovered the fenced-in areas designated for replanting were safe from marauding dogs. The gulls had lost their black-hooded breeding plumage and merely had a dirty patch where the hood had been. They were not as noisy as they had been in the spring, either, and the park would not ring with their laughter.
The lesser scaups had formed flotillas on the reservoir until March when the last ones had left. And now they were back. They returned on October 17, carried by an overnight northwesterly wind. If only they could communicate with me. I wanted to know what adventures they had traveling to the lakes of Canada, as far as the Arctic Circle, where their neighbors were grizzly bears. The scaups have the feel of winter about them, the males with frosty white sides and ice-blue beaks; the females with a white ring of feathers around their beaks as though they have dipped their faces in snow.
It was a special day, one of the better ones of the fall. As I came across other birders here and there I established that there were two birds which would be new species for me. A bluebird was on the Point and in more or less the same location a red-headed woodpecker was also feeding in a mature black cherry.
The bluebird is a small thrush, the male combining a shimmering blue tail, wings, and back with a soft shade of orange on the chest; the female duller but with the telltale blue in the wings and tail. The bird in question was a juvenile but still had enough blue in its plumage to make it unmistakable. Needless to say, I missed the bird, together with the elegant red-headed woodpecker, and I should have been reconciled to my misfortune, but I wasn't.
Next day the influx of interesting, not so common birds continued and so did my bad luck. A hairy woodpecker was seen in a pin oak near the top of the Point and I missed it by five minutes. This woodpecker is a slightly bigger version than the downy, with a sharper beak. The hairy used to be common in the park but seems to be declining over much of its former range. The decline is attributed to the cutting and clearing of its favorite deciduous woods habitat. The species' decline seems to demonstrate that habitat, even if it is only a fraction of what was there once, has to be preserved over a wide range for a species to survive. Birds do not know boundaries, such as those fencing in a park, and must be free to roam to places where they will be assured of the right feeding and nesting sites. The hairy woodpecker dodged me but two rusty blackbirds did not. They were not new species for the year but it was good to see them back again. The male of this couple had lost his jet-black late-winter plumage for the rusty breeding look which gives the species its name-a dainty bird, carefully walking along dead branches in the Point Lobe to pick at insects.
Dogged by bad luck, I had now given up any hope of seeing 150 of the 259 species recorded in Central Park since its opening. By the second half of October I thought that even 130 birds was an ambitious project. But I reached this total on October 21, with two species in one day. First a hairy woodpecker feeding on the Turkey oaks lining the bridle path. Two hours later came what I would regard as my second best find in the park: a flock of five Eastern bluebirds. A northeasterly wind had held promise, and I knew it would probably be the last good day of the southward migration. This proved to be the case. Interesting species that day included a red-bellied woodpecker and a very late waterthrush; but it was the sight of the bluebirds that I will remember. I had left Lambert late in the morning to keep an appointment in town. Because I was late, I broke into a trot near the elm circle, and a bird I could not identify flew from under my feet. It took a few minutes for the mystery bird to settle and, once I had binoculars trained on it, I recognized it immediately. I ran back to the place where I had left Lambert and asked, nonchalantly, how rare the bluebird was in the park.
It was the first time I had seen Lambert run.
We found four more bluebirds, two more males, a female and a juvenile. Lambert said he remembered seeing a flock of twenty-seven in the park when he was a child. He had never seen so many since and said sadly he would never see that number again. The bluebirds had not only lost ground to the starlings but they had also been forced out of the old-style orchards, one of their favorite habitats, by new methods of cultivation and the application of harmful insecticides.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male) Central Park on 26 April 2019
The year's last big Central Park crowd gathered on October 24 for the New York Marathon. In all, two million people were lining the streets of New York City to cheer on fourteen thousand runners on a journey from Staten Island to Central Park. A dachshund, tied to a lamppost, barked madly as Alberto Salazar and Rodolfo Gomez raced by neck and-neck at the twenty-four mile stage of the twenty six mile race. The dog went on to bark at the next thousand runners before his owner called it a day and took him home.
Darkness was falling and the robins had long since re claimed feeding areas taken over by spectators when the race's last finisher, Redmond Dadone, crept across the finish line at the Tavern on the Green restaurant. Dadone was officially listed 13,746th, finishing nearly five and a half hours after winner Salazar's time of two hours, nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds.
In the final week of October up to one hundred scaups started to use the reservoir;on one day they were joined by three canvasbacks, the first since mid-March. The wind now piled leaves in drifts against the reservoir fence and on the last weekend of the month the color-change peaked. The best view was from the south rim of the reservoir, looking north. The line of trees at the top end merged from reds to yellows, to bronzes, to browns, and even to greens: oils on a landscape artist's pallet, round blotches of color with no clear, definite shape but a form and texture all the same. Rainfall the previous week had flooded the Gill and the cold water preserved the richness of a multicolored film of leaves which covered the series of ponds. A yellow-rumped warbler looked for a moment like a tumbling leaf as it chased one of the last insects. Yellow-rumps were few and far between now.
• • •
The opponents of the Parks Department's tree cutting program suffered another defeat in October when the Landmarks Preservation Commission ruled a grove of pin oaks could be removed from the Bethesda Fountain area. The trees had been planted as a memorial to servicemen who died during World War II, but the Parks Department argued the pin oaks' roots were undermining the foundations of the elaborate Bethesda Fountain terrace, a centerpiece of the park's original plan. The anti-cutting lobby had said the trees were too precious to be destroyed. And color slides of tree stumps were not a strong enough statement to persuade the commission to rule against the cutting.
A thick deciduous forest of hickories and oaks covered the area that is now Central Park, when the Dutch first explored and settled Manhattan in the early 1600's. The basic vegetation remained the same until land for the park started to be acquired in 1856, although taller trees among the forty-two indigenous species had been cut down to make ships' masts, and parts of the future park were used for the grazing of pigs and goats.
The exotic forest would come later with the planting of foreign trees but the Algonquin Indians noticed their woods changing irrevocably soon after the arrival of the first settlers. The aliens brought alien plants-often by accident, and the Indians saw unfamiliar weeds sprouting in the undergrowth. On their trails linking fishing and trapping points to villages, the Indians noticed the leaves of the broad-leaf plantain from Europe, which flourishes in open spaces. The weeds' seeds, as with so many plants, came to America in the straw of packing cases or in mud caked on shoes. The spade-shaped leaves of the plantain, which are a common sight on the park's footpaths to this day, were a symbol to the Indians of what was to come and, with an uncanny prescience, the Algonquins called it "white man's footprint."
A craggy policeman, the first police officer I had seen on a routine patrol in the park, asked me what I was looking at. I had been so engrossed in watching a wheeling osprey that I had not seen him approach. The policeman had a pinched nose, which tried to make an impression on a round, ruddy, flat face. Hitching up his trousers, which were sagging under the weight of his gun belt, he moseyed closer, pushing back his cap so he could look into the sky for the osprey. The bird circled the reservoir and on the second sweep the police man caught sight of it.
"Can I look?" he said pointing to my binoculars and, reluctantly, I let him have them. I wanted to look at the osprey myself.
"You sure that ain't no bald eagle?" he said. "No it's an osprey… ."
"You shur it ain't a bald eagle? I read all about dem when I was a kid."
"No, I can assure you it's an osprey, which is similar," I said, trying to sound like an expert.
The osprey came around a third time, hovered, and did just what I feared it would do. It plunged into the reservoir, scattering the gulls, and rose with a big, silvery fish.
"Goddamn did you see dat?" said the policeman.
"No, you had my binoculars," I replied, digging my toe into the cinder of the reservoir footpath. I could not recall anyone, not even Lambert, seeing an osprey fish in Central Park.
White-crowned Sparrow in Michigan by Doug Leffler on 2 October 2015
NEW YORK; Death of A Biology Teacher in Central Park
Sydney H. Schanberg in the New York Times
5 October 1982
The newspapers described him variously as ''a derelict'' and ''a vagrant'' who was ''deranged,'' ''irrational'' and ''homeless.'' What he really was was a high school biology teacher from Havana. Yes, by the time he climbed into the polar bear's cage in the Central Park Zoo and was killed two weekends ago, he had become mentally disoriented, but it would be too easy for all of us to remember Conrado Mones that way.
The homeless in this city are almost always described as derelicts with mental problems. This is the convenient language we have devised to protect ourselves from feeling guilty or even socially responsible.
The sketchy details I have been able to gather about his life might help remind us that the thousands of homeless on our streets and in our doorways -whose rising numbers are a scandal in this city - did not start out that way.
Conrado Mones came to this country from Cuba in May 1980 - when he was 27 - in the so-called Freedom Flotilla. Unlike some of the refugees whom the Castro Government cast off then to our shores, he was neither a mental patient nor a convict.
He was born Feb. 19, 1953, in the town of Artemisa a few miles southwest of Havana, and he had been a biology teacher in the Cuban capital for two or three years before he decided to take a chance and come here, though he spoke almost no English. He told friends here after he arrived that he had left Cuba because ''there was no future there,'' because ''it was always the same routine'' and because he ''didn't like the system.''
A 64-year-old Cuban named Hunaldo Planas, who has been in this country for 13 years and who has a home in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, took in Mr. Mones and several others like him because he wanted to help the new refugees.
Mr. Planas says Mr. Mones spent almost all his time during the first six months studying English because he wanted to qualify as a high school biology teacher here.
His job hunt got nowhere, and Mr. Planas helped him find work in a grocery story doing unskilled chores. Later Mr. Mones would work at gas stations in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
After about nine months in the Planas home, he moved out to live in the Bronx with a woman friend, whom he later came to call his common-law wife. But he continued to return periodically to visit his friend and pick up occasional letters from his grandmother in Havana. Little is known of any other family members except that he listed his parents' names on his immigration papers.
A few months ago, the former biology teacher decided to leave his gas station job - he had reached the position of assistant manager despite his limited English - so that he could study the language full time on his own.
At this point he applied for welfare assistance, which he began receiving in July - roughly $260 every four weeks. His welfare record contains no indication of any mental problems. He also registered with a state unemployment office in his search for a better job - but again nothing came of it.
Sometime during this recent period, Mr. Mones told a friend that he occasionally went to a Catholic church to seek counseling with ''his problems.'' The friend, Jose Antonio Murillo, said the young man was naturally frustrated by his job search but that more importantly, he had ''sentimental problems'' with his woman friend, Rita Serrano, with whom he was now living only sporadically. He occasionally stayed at Mr. Murillo's place in the Bronx and possibly with other friends as well. It would also appear that late this summer he began spending a night here and there on the streets.
But according to friends, he neither looked like, nor ever was, a derelict. ''He was not a bum, he wanted to work,'' says Mr. Murillo. ''He was a very intelligent guy. He would talk about everything - medicine, the human body. He wanted to teach someday even at the university level. He was always studying, always studying.
''He never set anyone a bad example.'' So it is very hard to know what snapped inside Conrado Mones two weekends ago that led him to say to a zoo guard, ''You have to get close to the animals, I'm just trying to show them I love them,'' and then led him to scale the 12-foot iron fence into the cage of the polar bear, who did what such animals will do - mauled him to death.
Perhaps, among our thousands of homeless - some of them new refugees and immigrants - Mr. Mones was not one of the strongest ones, not the ultimate survivor. But clearly, neither was he one of the weakest, a misfit from the start. Is it not probable that many of the wanderers who have taken to sleeping in Central Park, in particular the Zoo because of its steam-pipe-heated sidewalks, have autobiographies not too different from Conrad Mones's? None of them started as nomads.
Mr. Mones's body lies now in the city morgue, where Rita Serrano, his common-law wife, is trying to claim it - to keep it from being laid in a group grave in the municipal potter's field on Hart Island. But the requirement is that she has to raise the money for a proper funeral director to bury him elsewhere.
And she is trying hard - for her husband was not a bum.
A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 5, 1982, Section A, Page 31
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD
Golden Crowned Kinglet (male) in Michigan by Doug Leffler on 8 October 2015