Rare Sparrows are Here! And Looking for Owls in Central Park

Updated: Oct 24


Grasshopper Sparrow in Central Park on 14 October 2022 by Deborah Allen

20 October 2022


Bird Notes: We are heading into the last two weeks of good migration/good birding for Autumn 2022...We will be looking for Eastern Bluebirds; and big winds will bring the big raptors such as Bald Eagles, possibly a Golden Eagle...and by night Great Horned and Barred Owls. Keep an eye on the weather: Monday, 24 October looks to be a rain out. You can always find all our bird walks here: SCHEDULE.


Migration starts to slow down in late October, but there are always surprises - and owls come to mind. Already the first Barred Owl has been seen in the Bronx (Van Cortlandt Park), and we are in the peak migration time of the Northern Saw-whet Owl in our area.


Rare Sparrows that once nested here tell us much about what natural areas looked like in NYC in the not too distant past. In the last several days, two rare species, the Grasshopper Sparrow and the Vesper Sparrow were seen on the short cut grass near Turtle Pond in Central Park. Because these species are rare even as migrants here, few people would believe these sparrows once nested in NYC...in the late 19th century through about the 1930s, grasslands were fairly common throughout the city - and Bobolinks and Meadowlarks (and several sparrow species) bred in multiple boros, even in Manhattan. In the last 75 years, grasslands in our parks have become (first) shrubland, and now forest. Each of these species (+ most sparrows) prefers grassland habitat - some very short grasses (Grasshopper, Vesper and Savanna), and others taller grasses with some shrubs (Field Sparrows; Bobolinks/Meadowlarks). For a variety of reasons, grassland habitat is small and declining - with former landfills in the Bronx, Brooklyn and State Island being the best place to find migrating (and even nesting) sparrows. The overwhelming majority of natural areas in NYC and the region are now wooded...and we've lost many grassland species that were once common breeders because of this habitat change. So.....:


Our Historical Notes focus on sparrows that we consider rare to see on migration today, but that once bred in NYC and Long Island: (a) nesting Grasshopper Sparrows in Queens 1905-1909 ("abundant" in 1909); (b/c) breeding Vesper Sparrows (abundant!) in Queens in 1905, but the loss of nesting Vesper Sparrows on Long Island 1914; (d) nesting Grasshopper and Vesper Sparrows at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx in 1955; (e) watching the common White-throated Sparrow in winter in the Bronx (Riverdale) in 1879.

(above) Vesper Sparrow Central Park 19 October 2008 Deborah Allen

(below) Purple Finch Central Park 15 October 2022 Deborah Allen

Bird Walks for Late October 2022

All Walks @ $10/person

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found: (Click) here


1. Thursday, 20 October 8:30am. Bird Walk. Meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond. $10.

Last Thursday walk of Autumn 2022! The next Thursday walk will will be in April 2023.


2. Friday, 21 October 8:30am. Bird Walk. Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue) $10. Deb is back leading today's walk.


3.!!! Saturday, 22 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.!!! Sunday, 23 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.


5. Monday, 24 October. 8:30am. Bird Walk. Strawberry Fields (72nd street and Central Park West) $10.


!!!: if you do the 7:30am walk, you can come on the 9:30am for free (two for one).

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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. Walks last about 2.5 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions or help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we aim to please. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) near the Boathouse at about noon; Please note: the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe (and even the outdoor Bathrooms) are CLOSED until March 2023.


(below) Eastern [Yellow] Palm Warbler Central Park 14 October 2022 Deborah Allen

(below) Magnolia Warbler Central Park 14 October 2022 Deborah Allen

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights): there were several highlight birds this week including a Grasshopper Sparrow that was first seen on 13 October (Thursday), with a nice synoptic article, click here. There is a video of this bird, click here. The Manhattan Bird Alert (David Barret) and Deborah Allen tell me that in the last decade we get one Grasshopper Sparrow once every two years on average...and they usually stay but a day or two. This one on the east side of Turtle Pond has been here for five days (last seen 18 Oct.), with the record stay being six days in April 2020 (Barrett).


The other bird of note of the prior week was a Sora Rail found in the same area (Turtle Pond) on the same day (13 Oct.) as the Grasshopper Sparrow. It is the second Sora found this month...I can remember autumn migration seasons when we did not see (find) any. Finally, though our group did not see it, a Vesper Sparrow was seen briefly near the Dock on Turtle Pond on Saturday, 15 October. As for other birds, Tufted Titmice have rapidly increased in the park - it is starting to remind us of autumn/winter 2020-21 when Titmice were everywhere in Central Park - as well as Black-capped Chickadees. We have seen only a handful of the latter so far this October. Hermit Thrushes are the dominant thrush now, with the last of the Swainson's Thrushes still remaining. Finally, start looking for Eastern Bluebirds, they migrate by day in flocks and should arrive any day now.


Deborah's List of Birds for Thursday, 13 October: See Below!

Deborah's List of Birds for Friday, 14 October: See Below!

Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 15 October: Click Here

Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 16 October: Click Here

Deborah's List of Birds for Monday, 17 October: RAIN: No Bird Walk!


Central Park NYC

Thursday 13 October 2022

OBS: Deborah Allen, m.ob.


Highlights: Peregrine Falcon, Cape May, Tennessee and Orange-crowned Warblers. Grasshopper Sparrow and Sora reported*. Thanks to Dan Stevenson and Peter Haskel for the excellent bird spotting.


Canada Goose - 51

Mallard - 23

Ruddy Duck - 1 female south end Reservoir (first-of-season)

Mourning Dove - around 20

Chimney Swift - 20-30

Ring-billed and Herring Gulls - around 200

Great Black-backed Gull - 10

Cooper's Hawk - 2 over Great Lawn

Belted Kingfisher - 1 hatch-year female fishing at Turtle Pond

Red-bellied Woodpecker - 4

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 20-25

Downy Woodpecker - female Azalea Pond

Northern Flicker - 3

Peregrine Falcon - pair circling over Central Park West & 87th Street (Deb - early)

Blue Jay - 6

Black-capped Chickadee - 3

Tufted Titmouse - 15-20

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 15-20

Golden-crowned Kinglet - 6

Red-breasted Nuthatch - 3

White-breasted Nuthatch - 3

Carolina Wren - 2 heard

Gray Catbird - a dozen

Brown Thrasher - heard

Hermit Thrush - 1 Willow Rock

American Robin - 20-30

White-throated Sparrow - 40-50

Song Sparrow - 3

Eastern Towhee - 3

Common Grackle - 5-6

Tennessee Warbler - 1 Willow Rock

Orange-crowned Warbler - 1 Willow Rock

Cape May Warbler - 1 with Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the Oven

Northern Parula - 3

Black-throated Blue Warbler - 6

Palm Warbler - 2 Pinetum

Yellow-rumped Warbler - 6

Northern Cardinal - 4

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*The lawn adjacent to Turtle Pond was a hotspot today with Charlotte Khoo reporting a Grasshopper Sparrow, and Ed Gaillard reporting a Sora at that location.


Deb Allen

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Central Park NYC

Friday 14 October 2022

OBS: Deborah Allen, m.ob.


Highlights: Sora, Grasshopper Sparrow, Hairy Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole, American Redstart and Nine other Species of Wood Warblers. Thanks to Paul Curtis, Scott Brevda and Caren Jahre for the excellent bird spotting. The Sora and Grasshopper Sparrow continued at Turtle Pond from Thursday with numerous observers.


Canada Goose - 46

Northern Shoveler - 22

Gadwall - 21

Mallard - 52

Mourning Dove - 9

Sora - 1 Turtle Pond (after walk - continuing bird - photo below)

Herring Gull - a dozen flyovers

Double-crested Cormorant - 2 Harlem Meer

Red-tailed Hawk - 4 or 5

Red-bellied Woodpecker - 1 male at the Great Hill, others heard

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 5

Downy Woodpecker - 1 Grassy Knoll

Hairy Woodpecker - 1 female near the Green Bench

Northern Flicker - 4 or 5

American Kestrel - 1 flyover Conservatory Garden (another flyover there later)

Eastern Phoebe - 3

Blue Jay - 6

American Crow - flock of 10

Black-capped Chickadee - 1 Fort Clinton

Tufted Titmouse - 20-25

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 20-25

Cedar Waxwing - flock of 7

Red-breasted Nuthatch - 2 (Fort Clinton & the Green Bench)

White-breasted Nuthatch - 2 (Nutter's Battery & the Grassy Knoll)

House Wren - 1 at the Pool

Carolina Wren - 1 Plant Nursery

Gray Catbird - 10-15

Northern Mockingbird - 2 (Conservatory Garden & Compost Area)

Hermit Thrush - 1 at the Loch

American Robin - 20-30

House Finch - 5

American Goldfinch - 3

Grasshopper Sparrow - 1 Turtle Pond (after walk)

Chipping Sparrow - 8-10

Dark-eyed Junco - 2 near Nutter's Battery

White-throated Sparrow - 30-40

Song Sparrow - 3

Swamp Sparrow - 2 (Wildflower Meadow, the Pool)

Eastern Towhee - 1 male north of the Pool, others heard

Baltimore Oriole - 1 hatch-year male north of the Pool

Black-and-white Warbler - 1 female King of Poland (after walk)

Common Yellowthroat - 3

American Redstart - 2 or 3 at the Loch & North Woods

Northern Parula - 1 near Nutter's Battery

Magnolia Warbler - 1 Turtle Pond (after walk)

Black-throated Blue Warbler - 4

Palm Warbler - 2 Plant Nursery

Pine Warbler - 1 Fort Clinton

Yellow-rumped Warbler - 3

Black-throated Green Warbler - 1 Fort Clinton

Northern Cardinal - 4 or 5


Deb Allen Sora Rail Central Park 14 October 2022 Deborah Allen

(below) Grasshopper Sparrow Central Park 14 October 2022 Deborah Allen

HISTORICAL NOTEs


The Grasshopper Sparrow Coturniculus savannarum passerinus [1905]


THE Grasshopper Sparrow [photo above] is an extremely rare bird within the city limits, or, in fact, anywhere near New York City. Previous to 1904 I had seen it only once at Floral Park during the breeding season. Last year a nest with two eggs was found in a field at Belmont Park near where the city line divides the Borough of Queens from Nassau County. I believe that two or three pairs were nesting in this locality, as the chirring song, like the stridulation of a grasshopper, was frequently heard in different parts of the field. The parent bird was flushed from the nest when found and there is no mistaking its identity. Eggs white with numerous small brown spots.


Long Island Bird Notes [1909]


Grasshopper Sparrows have been very abundant in and about Floral Park, and a pair of Orchard Orioles nested here, the first in many years, in fact the second record.


Vesper Sparrow Central Park 19 October 2008 Deborah Allen

Loss of the Vesper Sparrow, at Orient, Long Island [1914].

The failure of the Vesper Sparrows to return to their usual haunts, at Orient, L. I., summer of 1914, caused keen regret. The reason of their absence is somewhat of a question.


This Sparrow has always been a regular and not uncommon summer resident. It lingers late in autumn and early winter; midwinter records are plentiful, and the birds frequently brave the entire winter, evidently being influenced in their stay by the temperature.


The preceding winter was warm and open, and found these birds tarrying late, as usual, or induced them to advance only slightly southward. Then the sudden burst of winter, with clinging snow and sleet, hurled itself into the bird world, taking the Sparrows unawares, and I believe that it wiped out absolutely the long-established Vesper Sparrows of Orient.


Though it is the popular opinion that the summer residents observed at the North in winter are individuals of the species from farther north taking the places of those that nested in the vicinity, my study of the Vesper Sparrow leads me to believe that these Sparrows observed in winter are the identical ones that bred here. This is my reason for thinking that the exceptional winter of last year is the principal factor in the absolute disappearance of the Vesper Sparrows from Orient this summer. There has previously been no variation in their numbers for a score of years. The various pairs were scattered, returning each season to breed in their long-chosen localities. So attached do they become to certain fields or tracts that, covering a period of fourteen years, they have clung to them adapting themselves to the various changes from pastures to potato-fields, strawberry-beds, etc.


Roy Latham, Orient, L. I.

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The 1955 Breeding Season in the Pelham-Baychester Area, Bronx County (SPARROWS!)


Charles Young


During the period 5 June-10 July, 1955, the writer investigated every part of Pelham-Baychester (Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx), finding a total of seventy-one breeding species (in addition, nine species present in the area at one time or another during the census period were presumed not to have bred).


Unusual Breeding Species in 1955


Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). A single pair bred on Rodman’s Neck and two pairs were present on Glover’s Rock Meadows.


Sharp-tailed Sparrow (Ammospiza caudacuta). A total of 121 pairs (probably an under-estimate) were found distributed throughout the area.


Seaside Sparrow (Ammospiza maritima). Four pairs bred on the east shore of the Hutchinson River at a point about 1000 yds. north of the Parkway Bridge. The rarity of this species in the area seems paradoxical.


Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus). A single pair was present on the Glover’s Rock Meadows. Conclusive evidence of breeding was not secured. Should the birds have bred, however, it would constitute the first county breeding record since the ’thirties (date of last breeding most indefinite).

White-throated Sparrow in Michigan Doug Leffler

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicolis. [1879]. Mr. Bicknell writes me: "A regular winter resident here (Riverdale) is Zonotrichia albicolis. I rarely find it, however, in winter, except in the vicinity of private residences, where an abundance of spruce-trees and other evergreens affords it a suitable shelter. At that season it often approaches familiarly about the kitchen doorstep, in company with Junco hyemalis [Dark-eyed Junco] and Spizella monticola [American Tree Sparrow]." EDGAR A. MEARNS


Birds Breeding Within the Limits of the City of New York [1905]

Vesper Sparrow Poocates gramineus


THIS bird is often mistaken for the Song Sparrow. Its song is similar, but easily distinguished when one becomes familiar with both. In size and coloration there is much similarity between the birds, but their habits are materially different. About New York the bird is much more abundant than the Song Sparrow and occurs in goodly numbers within the city limits. Among the fields of the Borough of Queens it is particularly abundant. Its food habits are similar to those of the Song Sparrow.


The Vesper Sparrow or Grass Finch is essentially a ground bird, living, feeding and nesting in pastures, fields and vacant lots. Its song is slightly less pleasing than that of the Song Sparrow, and may be heard late afternoons, particularly at sunset and dusk. Its habit of singing freely at this time gives the bird its common name. The principal distinguishing marks are its two white outer tail feathers. When the bird is flushed these two white feathers show plainly, as is the case with the Slate-colored Junco (Junco hyemalis).


The Vesper Sparrow builds its nest on the ground, and in location, construction, coloration and size of the eggs, which are four or five in number, closely resembles that of the Song Sparrow. White-crowned Sparrow in Washington State January 2019

Grasshopper and Savanna Sparrows on Long Island [1913]. On 28 June 1913, at Mastic, the writer stopped to examine some Grasshopper Sparrows at a little open golf course bordering on Moriches Bay. He chanced to bring his binoculars to bear on a bird which was chipping from the summit of a fence-post, evidently with nest or young close by, and was surprised to find it a Savanna Sparrow, a species whose breeding on Long Island is little known. It was examined closely, leaving no question as to its identity. On July 5 we landed at the same point and found two of them. They were worried by our presence, and we started to search for the nest, when one flew to a patch of bare sand and pointed out a young bird of the species.It had much the same sharp marking as the adult, its breast was strongly yellowish, sharply striped with black, and its tail squarish and ridiculously short. It sat on its heels on the sand, its two pale-colored legs stretched out, and, when pursued, flew low and swiftly, but rather weakly, would drop into the low growth and disappear, and was finally cornered against the water and caught in the hand. There could be no mistake in the identity.


Evidence of the presence of these two lesser Sparrows in the Long Island breeding avifauna seems worth placing on record. They will probably be found to breed here more commonly than has sometimes been supposed.


John Treadwell Nichols, Englewood, N. J.

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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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Northern Parula (warbler) in Central Park on 13 October 2022 Deborah Allen

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