• Robert DeCandido PhD

More Owls, More Nuthatches, More Migrants: The Last Days of August

Updated: Aug 27

Chestnut-sided Warbler (Central Park: Tupelo Field), 22 August 2020 by Deborah Allen

27 August 2020

Bird Notes: We've got another OWL WALK (Tuesday evening, 1 September; re-scheduled from 27 Aug/Thu night due to forecast of thunderstorms, high winds and 90+ temp). Meet at Inwood Hill Park at 7:00pm - details below. Also, we will be doing a Bird Walk on Labor Day (Monday, 7 September at 8:30am in Central Park, and every Monday thereafter through October at 8:30am). See our Schedule page on this web site for more information..

Interested in seeing migrants? Always check the weather! Look for nights when winds are northerly, especially when winds COME FROM from the northwest (or even west). Then on the mornings following those nights rush out to your local park and you will find migrants of all sorts. This coming weekend both Friday night (28 August) into Saturday morning (29 Aug), as well as Saturday night into Sunday are forecast to have these good winds (as of the forecast on Tuesday afternoon 25 Aug.). If it rains a little overnight, even better - this tends to force migrating birds down to land rather than "overfly" New York City Parks.

In this week's Historical Notes we present info on migratory birds in August-September in our area: (a) the abundance of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers in Central Park in August 1908; (b/c) the trapping (and subsequent law to protect) Reed Bird's (Bobolinks); in the 1880s, Reed Birds would be sold on the streets of NYC, to be eaten, after being barbecued over coals; (d) the Eskimo Curlew (now extinct) shot at Rockaway Beach, Brooklyn on 14 September 1902; (e) Wilson's Storm Petrel off of Long Island and Brooklyn in July-August 1885, and in the LI Sound off of Nassau County in early August 1881; and finally (f) Swordfish in the outer Long Island Sound in August 1878.

Red-breasted Nuthatch on Cedar Hill in Central Park on Saturday, 22 August by Deborah Allen. We continue to see many of these birds on our walks in this "irruption" year for this species - as many as ten in one tree at the same time. The bird above appears to be a male.

Blue-winged Wasp on a mint plant in the Bronx (in our yard) on 20 August 2020 by Deborah Allen. This insect is a late summer flyer in our area, and we see it in Central Park as well.


Bird Walks for late August

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

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here

1. Saturday, 29 August at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10

2. Sunday, 30 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. Monday walks at 8:30am begin on Labor Day, 7 September and will continue through the end of October. We are still considering doing Friday morning walks...Is there any interest?

SPECIAL OWL WALK! (Re-scheduled from Thu evening 27 August due to forecast of Thunderstorms and High Winds)

3. Tuesday evening, 1 September at 7:00 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 for use while walking in the dark on the paths (and if not, don't worry use your phone as a flashlight...and I will have a powerful flashlight - good for photographers). Meet at 7:30pm at the Indian Road Cafe. (The Cafe is open, has great food, and especially 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: http://www.indianroadcafe.com/

And here is the address of the corner where we meet at 7:00pm:

600 W 218th Street in 10034

If you are driving, give yourself an hour to find a parking space...this is important!

Call/Email us with questions: rdcny@earthlink.net

Eastern Screech-owl in Florida in 2018 by Stephen Spenceley

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 (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) 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 re-open...no 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.

female Common Yellowthroat on 19 August 2020 at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx by Deborah Allen. Females of this species lack the black mask of the male.

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Sat-Sunday, 22-23 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. if you came to the Saturday walks you helped us find 12 warbler species plus a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that we all had a great look at. That night (Saturday into Sunday) many birds left the park, and the only new arrivals on winds from the southwest seemed to be Magnolia Warblers. On both days we had lots of Red-breasted Nuthatches with Saturday again being better than Sunday for seeing these birds up close and many (10) at one time in the same tree. Overall it was a good weekend for birds...numbers of individuals were down from last year at this same time, but we are seeing the same number of species. In August 2019 we had many more nights with winds from the northwest...while this August has been dominated by warmer weather coming up from the south on winds from the southwest. Other highlights from this past weekend were Ruby-throated Hummingbirds on both days, and a Giant Swallowtail butterfly (a southern species) on Saturday morning in the Tupelo Field.

Deborah's List of Birds for Sat. and Sun 22-23 August: https://tinyurl.com/y2jddce7

Eastern Screech-owl in October 2018 at Van Cortlandt Park (Bronx) by Rafael Samanez on one of our night walks. This owl seems an intermediate between grey and red morphs.



Yellow-bellied Flycatcher [1908] - This Flycatcher was almost common in the August migrations in Central Park. I have records of six individuals, the first having been seen on the 16th of August (1908). LUDLOW GRISCOM, New York City

Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Central Park by Deborah Allen on 22 August 2020

THE REED BIRD LAW [1886]. New York, Sept. 11. Editor Forest and Stream: I desire to call the attention of market-men and others interested in the subject to the fact that by a law passed by our last Legislature (Chap. 427, Laws 1886), the possession or sale of bobolinks [otherwise known as reed birds], robins and meadow larks after the same have been killed, is prohibited. As this is an entirely new statute, which I shall deem it my duty as one of the State Game and Fish Protectors to enforce, and as the season is at hand during which those birds have heretofore been sold without interference, I think it proper that I should call the attention of the public to this subject. J. H. GODWIN, JR., State Game and Fish Protector for the Second District.


A BARN FULL OF RAILS [1886]. Chester, Pa., Sept. 4 [1886]. The open season for reed birds commenced on the 1st; but for the past three weeks birds could be bought in plenty. A man by the name of Rambo, living about two miles below Philadelphia, was caught trapping reed birds, and had in his barn over 5,000 of them which he expected to pick and flood the market with on the 1st of September. The birds are still poor and are hardly fit to eat. They say that all the farmers in Rambo's vicinity were engaged in the same business. Rambo was held in $600 bail by a Philadelphia magistrate. The penalty for trapping birds in Pennsylvania is $5 for the first bird and $2.50 for each following, so that if the law is followed out it will make quite a nice little sum, but I am afraid it will all end in smoke. MAC

male Eastern Forktail Damselfly in Central Park (Turtle Pond) on Sunday, 23 August 2020 by Deborah Allen.

Numenius borealis. Eskimo Curlew. [1902] A bird of this species (male) was shot at Rockaway Beach Sept. 14, 1902, by Mr. Robt. L. Peavey of Brooklyn and is now in his collection of mounted birds, and has been examined by the writer. Mr. W. F. Hendrickson in a recent communication to Mr. William Dutcher referred to a strange bird which was shot from a flock of about fifteen as they were passing along the beach, near Zach's Inlet Life Saving Station [now part of Jones Beach State Park in Nassau Co., LI] on August 29, 1903. From the description furnished, Mr. Dutcher was inclined to believe the bird one of this species and referred the matter to me for investigation. The captain of the life saving crew, Philip K. Chichester, who saw the bird, is certain the bird was an "English Fute," that is, an Eskimo Curlew. The life-saver is an old-time gunner who in former times saw the bird in much greater numbers than it is now known to occur anywhere. There seems to me no reasonable doubt that this bird, which unfortunately was promptly plucked and eaten, was also a specimen of the Eskimo Curlew. WILLIAM C. BRAISLIN, M D., Brooklyn, N.Y.


Oceanites oceanicus. Wilson's Petrel. [1885] Of this species Mr. Giraud says: "Are not uncommon off Sandy Hook [New Jersey], within sight of land, and occasionally stragglers are seen coasting along the shores of Long Island." Petrels are not uncommon off the Long Island coast during the summer months, and that they are mostly of this species I am led to believe from the present evidence. Gunners and baymen on the south side tell me that they have seen Petrels off shore while bluefishing, but that they rarely see them near the surf line, or on the bays, except after very heavy blows. A letter written by Mr. W. L. Breese, who owns and resides on an extensive estate called Timber Point, near Islip, L.I., proves that they are sometimes found in Great South Bay. In a communication to Dr. A. K. Fisher, June 25, 1885, he says: "I saw a flock of about twenty-five Petrels in the bay, this week, the only ones I have ever seen down here. I do not know what they were doing here so late in the season and so far up the bay [about eight miles northeast from Fire Island inlet and near the mainland]. July 20, 1888, Mr. N. T. Lawrence, B. H. Dutcher, and the writer sailed through Rockaway Inlet in a bluefish smack, for the purpose of ascertaining what Petrels, if any, were to be found off Rockaway Beach and Coney Island. We went out on the last of a strong ebb tide and with a very light breeze, that hardly filled our flapping sail. When about a mile off shore we saw a single Petrel, which passed us out of gunshot, flying parallel with the shore. In a short time this or another individual passed us going in an opposite direction. Until we were nearly two miles off shore we saw single individuals at short intervals, always just skimming the tops of the long ground-swells, apparently in search of food. When about two and one half miles off shore, we changed our course and sailed parallel with the beach; almost imperceptibly the Petrels became more numerous. We would see a pair flying in company, or a small flock of six or eight scattered in an irregular but following manner. Sometimes one or two would rest for a moment on the water, floating buoyantly, like a tossing cork. Where the ebbing tide made slick, greasy looking streaks on the water, and also in eddies where drift and floatage gathered, these birds seemed most fond of congregating, evidently for the particles of food they there found. We remained on the ocean about three hours, when the gathering wind and clouds warned us to return to the more quiet waters of the bay. While the wind was light the Petrels were quite shy and would rarely come within gunshot, but as the breeze became stronger and the water rougher, they seemed to lose their fear of our boat and we could sail within gunshot without difficulty. Six specimens were secured, all proving to be of this species. Many more could have been shot, but unfortunately we were without a landing-net and so could not recover them. While returning to the beach we saw them in gradually lessening numbers, the last one being just inside the mouth of the inlet. While feeding, their movements were extremely graceful. On finding floating matter they would hover over it, dropping their feet to the water and apparently patting it, and, with partially extended wings, bend their necks so that their bills would point downwards at a right angle to the body. During the early part of August, Petrels were common at the entrance to Long Island Sound, as per report of Basil Hicks Dutcher; the only one he secured was of this species. That they sometimes wander westward through the Sound is established by the record made by Robert B. Lawrence, of one taken near Sands Point, Queens Co., August 7, 1881.

Oceanites oceanicus. Wilson's Storm Petrel. On Aug. 1, 1881, Mr. O. B. Smith, of Brooklyn, shot a specimen of this petrel on Long Island Sound near Sands Point, Queens county [now Nassau County]. The bird was mounted, and I had the pleasure of examining and identifying it in Mr. Smith's office, where it now is.

White-faced Petrel in New Zealand (near Auckland) in December 2019


Bridgeport, Conn., August 22, 1878.


I have just returned from a sword-fishing excursion off Block Island, and have become very much interested in the habits of this fish, and especially its manner of breeding, concerning which I am unable to find out anything. The fishermen know absolutely nothing about the habits of the swordfish except that he comes up to the surface periodically for the purpose of sunning himself. They also know that he is a migratory fish, because "he's here in summer and he ain't here in winter."

I have never seen a fisherman who ever saw a female, or who has ever seen anything which evinced any difference in sex. The smallest one which I overheard of being caught weighed 46 pounds, the commonest size caught in Block Island waters ranging from 80 to 225 pounds, fish being occasionally caught as high as 450 to 500. These, however, are rare. I wish you would publish something concerning this curious fish in the columns of your valuable paper, as I am sure they would be appreciated by such of your readers as have ever seen one. The "Encyclopedia Britannica (1860), Eighth Edition, "gives a somewhat meagre description of the fish itself and the methods employed in its capture in the Mediterranean, but says nothing of the habits of the fish, and does not even mention that it is found in American waters. Any information which you can give regarding their habits and method of reproduction will be very gratefully received by myself and several others. We had very good luck fishing, and in twelve and one-half days' fishing captured 13, varying from 94 to 326 pounds in weight. S. H. Hubbard.

We may state to our correspondent that the sword-fish probably never spawns on our coast. The only known spawning grounds are in the Mediterranean, and especially about the Straits of Messina. In the Mediterranean quantities of young sword-fish are seen from half a pound upward. None less than three or four feet long have ever been seen in the Western Atlantic, and these have lost the distinguishing character of the young fish, which have a high, sail-like fin the whole length of the back and a prominent spine on the operculum. The Fish Commission recently had a sword-fish from the coast of Maine, which weighed nearly 600 pounds, one of the largest with authenticated weight. The Cape Ann [MA] fishermen have of late caught many of these fish on their trawl-lines when fishing for halibut on the Nova Scotia Banks at a depth of 150 to 200 fathoms, an entirely new phase in the history of this species.

The sword-fish make their appearance on our coast off Block Island and Montauk from May 15 to June 1, and remain in the New England waters till early winter when the snow falls. Their presence seems to depend on that of their favorite food, the mackerel and menhaden, which they follow industriously. When the schools of summer fish disappear the sword-fish also goes. It is impossible to say how far they are influenced by temperature, though it does not at present appear as if they were sensitive to cold. They kill their prey by striking it sideways with their sword. They must needs do this, because their toothless mouths are not adapted to seize and hold living struggling fishes. Mackerel and menhaden taken from their stomachs are usually marked with a stray gash in their sides, the effect of the blow of the sword. We may add that Professor G. Brown Goode is collecting material on the sword-fish, which will shortly appear in the " United States Report of Fish and Fisheries."


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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Black-headed Ibis in Thailand, January 2013

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