Everybody, Everybody...Birds are Over Here

Updated: Apr 29


28 April 2021


Spring Bird Notes: FIVE mornings of Bird Walks on Thu/Fri/Sat/Sun/Monday mornings. AND evening walks on Tuesday and Thursday at 5:30pm with Ms. Sandra Critelli meeting at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe. See the SCHEDULE page of this web site for info/photos.


Bird Migration will pick up in earnest this week...so don't be surprised if our Newsletter goes bi-weekly through May: most of our energy will be on doing bird walks - if we don't walk we don't eat.


As the peak of bird migration approaches we can't help thinking this is just as much about people as birds: photo above (+ Everybody Everybody ) ...better click on that link


In this week's Historical Notes, we send (a) what was happening bird and people-wise in mid-May 1982 in Central Park as written in the Falconer of Central Park by Donald Knowler.


Great Horned Owlet Pelham Bay Park (the Bronx) on 25 April 2021 by Deborah Allen

Bird Walks for Late April - Early May 2021

All Walks @ $10/person

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


1. Thursday, 29 April at 8:30am. Bird Walk. Dock on Turtle Pond. $10. Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


1a. Thursday, 29 April at 5:30pm. Bird Walk led by SANDRA CRITELLI. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. Every Thursday up to and including 20 May.


2. Friday, 30 April at 8:30am. Bird Walk. Conservatory Garden; 105th street and 5th Avenue (uptown!) $10. Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here


3. Saturday, 1 May 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. Sunday, 2 May 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. Monday, 3 May 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


6. Tuesday, 4 May at 5:30pm. Bird Walk led by SANDRA CRITELLI. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. Every Tuesday up to and including 18 May.


7. Thursday, 6 May at 5:30pm. Bird Walk led by SANDRA CRITELLI. Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/East Drive $10. Every Thursday up to and including 20 May.


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) - 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.


Great Egret in breeding plumage in Central Park (the Reservoir) on 24 April 2021 by D. Allen

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


Friday, 23 April (Conservatory Garden at 105th st. at 8:30am): We began with the first Warbling Vireo of the season at Conservatory Garden...and from there we headed full speed to the Kentucky Warbler where "chip" calls from my tape put the male Kentucky in front of us at eye-level. Otherwise a good walk but more typical of early April: still not many birds around except Palm, Pine, Louisiana Waterthrush and a couple other warbler species...plus Blue-headed Vireos coming close to the calls and displaying Gadwalls - both species can be very responsive to sound.


Deborah's List of Birds for Friday, 23 April: Click Here

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Saturday, 24 April (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am/9:30am): The first walk (please always try and do the early walk!) was much more eventful than the later one. We had displaying Brown-headed Cowbirds; close Blue-headed Vireo...and Red-breasted Nuthatch practically doing loop-de-loops on branches a foot over our heads.


Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 24 April: Click Here

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Sunday, 25 April (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am/9:30am): TOTAL RAIN OUT! No Bird Walk Today


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 25 April: No Bird Walk (Rain)

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Monday, 26 April (Strawberry Fields [Imagine Mosaic] at 72nd street and Central Park West at 8:30am): we had the first Grey Catbird of the season - and the second Wood Thrush seen nearby at the Maintenance Field. We had much fun with close Red-breasted Nuthatches at Shakespeare Garden, and Blue-headed Vireos also came in close to my calls from the tape. Overall, this spring the numbers are way down so far - but species (albeit lone individuals) are arriving on-time. This weekend should be an explosion of arrivals of many birds of all species.


Deborah's List of Birds for Monday, 26 April: Click Here


Louisiana Waterthrush 23 April 2021 Cental Park (the Loch) Deborah Allen

HISTORICAL NOTEs


The Falconer of Central Park (pages 65-72)

Donald Knowler


Mid-May 1982


For a month I had been taking food for Billy [a stray cat], leaving it first near the wall of the police station house and then hiding it under an outcrop of rock in the Ramble, where Billy had taken up residence. Billy was shy and elusive but he grew to know who was leaving the food. Some days I even suspected he was watching out for me, but he gave nothing away. In all probability, Billy had been dumped as a kitten - like the turtles who outlived their usefulness as pets - and I also believed he had been ill-treated, because he was wary of humans and would usually bolt when people approached. Now he resisted the urge to run when he saw me, but he would not let me come too close. The weather had been hot during the first two weeks of May, and Billy would seek out the coolness of the shaded glades in the Ramble which, during the mid-afternoon, were dappled with yellow sunlight.


The blustery winds of early spring had passed and soft, May breezes rustled the young, rich leaves. There was not much water about for the birds; they sought sheltered bathing places in wet areas. The best location to observe warblers and other small birds at close range was a little stream feeding the Point Lobe. A spring emerged from inside a rock crevice and trickled under an overhanging hawthorn, whose roots raised the soil and created pools. The hawthorn also provided cover from surprise attack by a kestrel. One afternoon thirteen species came to drink and bathe in the space of thirty minutes. The smallest birds held back in the hawthorn and a clump of knotweed, patiently waiting for the jays and robins to finish. Everything was orderly until three grackles swept in. One plunged straight into the water and startled the jays into flight, and the others approached the series of pools from different ends, chasing off the warblers waiting in line to take a dip.

Kentucky Warbler 23 April 2021 Central Park (the Loch) Deborah Allen

The starlings had not been content to oust the flickers from the decaying birch on the west side of the park where I had seen the fight. The tree was also home to a pair of downy woodpeckers, and another pair of starlings had dis possessed them. The downies wanted everyone in the park to know what had happened because they called loudly and, learning from the flickers' battle, employed a different strategy for war. Aware that they could easily be killed by the much larger starlings, the downy woodpeckers avoided direct contact and engaged in hit-and-run attacks. Finally. they were forced into retreat and the downies, North America's smallest woodpeckers, started hunting for another hole this time too small for a starling to squeeze through.


The migration had now peaked and so had the controversy over the cutting of trees. Parks staff doing the lumbering were being booed in the Ramble, the petition against cutting was presented to the Central Park administration, and The New York Times ran a front page article on the conflict. But the trees continued to come down. It was all a question of priorities, said park administrator Elizabeth Barlow in a letter to The New York Times. Either you retain dying and dead trees for the birds or you weed them out and create a neatly manicured park like the one envisaged by Olmsted and Vaux.


Pine Warbler 17 April 2021 Central Park Deborah Allen

The Parks Department had not forgotten the birds altogether. More than two thousand berry-bearing plants, which attract birds, had been planted, mainly on the Point. I disagreed with the cutting program; yet I had to concede the shrubs had attracted birds. The Point had proven my best bird watching location in April and May, and it was from there on the afternoon of May 11that I saw two birds of prey, one of them a new species. High in the sky, watching below them with side-to-side motions of the head, the two large hawks circled in thermals. The bigger of the birds was a red-tailed hawk and moving northward with it was a broad-wing. I headed north myself hoping for another look at the raptors, but I only reached a disused children's paddling pool near the Pinetum. Surrounded by elms, the pool, which forms a dusty bowl in summer, was now flooded by a couple of inches of muddy water, making it an ideal haunt for migrating shore birds. A solitary sandpiper waded amid the thick mud and half bricks and beer cans. The slender bird, on stilt legs, daintily picked its way through the trash, probing for grubs. The solitary sandpiper is a loner as its name suggests and is mainly found on small ponds or on mud flats. Next day the slate-gray bird, with a white eye-ring that resembles a ship's porthole, was still at the paddling pool and had been joined by a rarity for the park, a least sandpiper. The second shore bird was only the size of a sparrow and scurried about the pond in a completely different manner from its bigger cousin-fast and erratic and lacking the latter's poise and elegance. The arrival of the two sandpipers meant a third member of the family, a spotted sandpiper, was probably in the park, and I went in search of it, not wanting to risk missing the bird in the spring. I could not find it at all the regular shore bird locations, like the Fifty-ninth Street Pond or the boating lake.

Hermit Thrush 23 April 2021 Central Park (the Loch) Deborah Allen


The last place to check was the Pool at West 100th Street, where the Prothonotary Warbler had been discovered earlier in the month. Frequently I was informed that the top end of the park was unsafe at any time and, failing to find any of the birders keen to walk the couple of miles from the Ramble to 100h Street, I went by myself. It was late morning, there were quite a few people out, and I stuck to the west circular drive. A group of black schoolkids was being given a biology lesson on the grassy banks of the Pool. Some had nets and were hauling out bullfrog's spawn to take back to class, where they would watch the tadpoles hatch. A boy fell in and the teacher screamed, and the boy, crying, scrambled out of the water. The teacher held him up - a bedraggled example of what happens to kids who don't watch what they are doing. I anticipated finding a spotted sandpiper at the Pool, but I did not expect it to be wading among the kids, unafraid of their noise. The bird's plain white chest and belly was now gaining its spotted breeding plumage. The sandpiper was like a wind-up toy, bobbing and teetering. When it finally grew nervous of the schoolkids, it refused to fly, preferring instead to run into the undergrowth surrounding the pond in its hunt for insects.


A printed line on a poster that said "Adults must be accompanied by a child" had been crossed out by someone having second thoughts about banning the grown-ups. But not many adults were in the Delacorte Theater for what was termed a protest concert to draw attention to the horrors of nuclear war. A movement of eight to eighteen-year-olds calling itself "Future generations for nuclear disarmament" had arranged a program of poetry and music, but the adults missing this protest would have their day during the next month when what was believed to be the largest anti-nuclear rally ever recorded, anywhere, would cover the Great Lawn.


A solitary sandpiper came to the Belvedere Lake, which nudges the back of the theater's stage, while the children were applauding a poem called "Survival." The sandpiper had survival in mind, too, but the word had a connotation that predated the brief history of nuclear weapons, or that occupation, peculiar to Homo sapiens, called war.


My checklist of birds had gone better than I had expected. I had now seen all the common or regular warblers, except one, the Blackburnian, which most birders regard as the prettiest of the family. So sorties for the Blackburnian - the twenty-eighth warbler I would see that year - started, with my first call being the Turkey oaks by the reservoir. It was on one of these hunts that I first saw a vagrant, whom birders call "the sweeper." For reasons trapped in a tangled, confused mind, the vagrant had an obsession with keeping Central Park clean, and when I came across him he was holding a giant broom of the type city-employed sweepers use. He was sitting on a bench, gazing up at the Turkey oaks through sunglasses and matted, long hair that fell over his face. He was about thirty, but had the appearance of a man in his sixties. Every few minutes "the sweeper" jumped to his feet to start sweeping furiously, pushing the litter and leaves into neat piles. He merely left the piles where they were before moving on to another bench. And on days when I did not see the sweeper, I would find evidence of his sweeping over large areas of the park.

Red-breasted Nuthatch 24 April 2021 Central Park Deborah Allen

The Blackburnian warbler is named after an English biologist, Anna Blackburne, who studied specimens of American birds sent to Britain by her brother from New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut in the late 1700's. I saw my first Blackburnian in a flowering black cherry in the Ramble on May 16. It was a male in superb summer plumage, bright orange head and chest, coloring he would lose before heading south again in three months' time.


Research into the winter habits of warblers has revealed that many of them assume completely different feeding and territorial characteristics in the months they spend in Central and South America. Some fiercely independent species join mixed flocks of other warblers, possibly explaining why brightly colored birds moult into dull coloration, which makes them less conspicuous in the flock and more acceptable to the other species. The Blackburnian in May plumage stood out a mile; his orange breast had a luminous quality, and a female would not fail to notice him in the thickest of foliage.


Into the third week of May the temperature rose to the eighties, and a female robin gathered a beakful of worms from the bridle path at the reservoir. I followed her to her nest in the fork of a maple and saw my first young birds of the spring. The ugly, bald chicks still had a pink membrane over their eyes, and when the mother arrived four wide open yellow beaks thrust skyward in unison. Near the Point, a female Northern oriole had nearly completed a pendulous nest of dried grass after six days of hard work. The nest was strung between two thin branches of a London plane, and it swung crazily as a thunderstorm gathered.


A cluster of solemn and disappointed birders gathered in a drizzle, under the umbrella of a tulip tree, on May 22. They nodded in agreement. It looked like the migration was just about over. They had failed to find a warbler that morning-not even the yellow-rumped warbler, which had been common for more than a month-but there was some consolation later in the day when a summer tanager settled in a sourgum. The oriole's nest near the Point now held the female incubating her clutch of three or four eggs and every few minutes the male, resplendent with black head and orange body, arrived to cling to the nest's side and feed his mate through its oval opening. It was one of three oriole nests I had found.

Great Horned Owlet Pelham Bay Park 25 April 2021 by Deborah Allen

The frenzy of migration had now given way to the rush to feed young. Beaks sprouted from most open nests and adult birds divided the long daylight hours between feeding their young, feeding themselves and defending their nests against predators. Raiding squirrels looked for eggs to smash so they could eat the yolks, and one of the most ferocious battles I saw during the summer involved a pair of blue jays and two nest-raiding squirrels. While a jay sat incubating eggs in her nest atop a maple, the squirrels slowly edged along the branch, flat on their bellies, trying to hide among the leaves. The jay flicked her tail nervously, aware of impending attack. Then she let out a scream, rose from the nest and flew into one of the rodents, pecking it. The dismayed squirrel slipped from the branch but managed to cling with sharp claws to its underside. The male jay, responding to the female's alarm call, swooped in and gave the second squirrel a sharp nip as he passed at great speed. The male repeated his swoops, smacking the large, palmate leaves in which the squirrels were trying to bury themselves. The battle in the treetop brought in other birds as spectators. A curious grackle arrived on the same branch and was unfortunate enough to receive a smack from the male jay. The fight lasted fifteen minutes, the female never straying too far from the nest and both birds pausing for breath, with beaks open, before lunging at the squirrels again. At one point a third blue jay arrived; he planted himself in a branch directly above the nest, to provide extra cover in case a squirrel tried to advance from that direction. A mockingbird I had seen with three fledglings out of the nest during the previous week now had only two, when I found her again during the Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. I assumed the third chick was killed by a predator, and I hoped it was not a human. The kestrel, or even Billy, would have been preferable. The remaining chicks were now well past their early days of vulnerability when they first leave the nest, and they could fly up to ten yards, allowing them to make a rapid, if erratic, escape. From the size of the young I determined the parents had started incubating eggs in mid-April, early for mockingbirds, and already the birds had completed a second nest, to raise another brood. The overworked male soon found himself feeding the young, feeding his female on the nest and, when he had time, finding food for himself. He had a ragged look about him as he hunted insects, grubs and fresh shoots near the south end of the Mall, where the second nest was located in a low bush. Mockingbirds defending territory and young show a belligerence that is fiercer than in any other bird their size, and the male mockingbird, which I had in my sights, policed an area of about twenty square yards, swooping at unsuspecting squirrels, dogs, cyclists, joggers, and vagrants who invaded his patch.

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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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

Armando Central Park in January 2021 Everybody Everybody


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