September! Bird Migration in Full-Swing
Updated: Sep 3
2 September 2020
Bird Notes: We begin Monday Bird Walks at 8:30am on Labor Day 7 September and continuing through the end of October - details below and on our web site (Schedule page).
In this week's Historical Notes we present information on migratory birds in September in our area: (a) a great flight of Red-breasted Nuthatches on Long Island in September 1906; (b) a night migration of Yellow Warblers in September 1889 in the Long Island Sound with these southbound warblers colliding with the south side of a Lighthouse, and not, as would be expected, on the north side of the Lighthouse. Why the south side, asks the author? (c) Hunting for shorebirds including Whimbrel in early September 1909 in Connecticut. Whimbrel are likely more common now (and less skittish near people) than in 1909! (d) an 1884 plan to use the Belvedere Castle as a Weather Station; (e) the state of disrepair of the current weather station in Central Park (1 September 2020). Please note: this station is the official weather measurement site for NYC - but in its current state, its reliability is no better than one in a third world country; and finally (f) a November 1875 note about that same Central Park Weather Station that used data from 19th century bird migration to show that weather in North America moves from west to east and across to Europe.
Baird's Sandpiper in the Bronx at Orchard Beach in a parking lot puddle on 16 August 2017 by Deborah Allen. Surprisingly, the puddles that form (and persist) in parking lots in our area, as the result of thunderstorms, are important stopover habitat for shorebirds because (a) freshwater and (b) food in the form of dragonfly larvae (Odonota) and fly larvae (Diptera).
Calligrapher Fly in Central Park (Tupelo Field) on 30 August 2020 by Deborah Allen
Bird Walks for Early September
All Walks @ $10/person - All walks in Central Park
1. Saturday, 5 September at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10
2. Sunday, 6 September at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10
3. Monday, 7 September at 8:30am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) at 72nd St. and Central Park West $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!
Monday evening, 21 September at 6:30 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 6:30pm 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 6:30pm:
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Red-eyed Vireo in Central Park (near King of Poland Statue) on 30 August by Deborah Allen
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!
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) 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.
first fall male American Redstart Central Park (Tupelo Field) on 30 August by Deborah Allen
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)
Sat-Sunday, 29-30 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. The Saturday walks at 730am/930am were definitely the one folks should have been on. However, it was rainy that morning so everyone stayed home...Don't do this! Overnight rain on a migration night forces birds to land in NYC Parks, and fewer overfly the city for points south. The only drawback is lighting on misty mornings: it was indeed awful to get a good sense of the color of many birds we saw. With a grey sky background most birds looked like cut-out silhouettes. However we saw both Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Black-billed Cuckoos; at least two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers; an Olive-sided Flycatcher; two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the Tupelo Field; four Ruby-throated Hummingbirds...15 species of warbler (Deborah's list has 14 - I forgot to tell her about a female Black-throated Blue Warbler). It was a wonderful morning with lots of birds:
Deborah's List of Birds for Saturday, 29 August: https://tinyurl.com/y34k698u
Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 30 August: https://tinyurl.com/yyvomb8f
By comparison, 30 August (Sunday) featured many more people (great!) but fewer birds. Many left the park heading south overnight, and there were few new arrivals. We found 13 Warbler species including the first of season Blackpoll Warbler and nearby a lovely Blackburnian Warbler. There were several Blue-grey Gnatcatchers - more than the previous day. On the other hand, for flycatchers we could just manage to find Eastern Wood Pewee, most all the other species had headed south overnite. My personal highlight was seeing a flyover Osprey carrying a fish. Randall Rothenberg sent us a photo and we could identify the fish: a Moss Bunker that is commonly found in the salt waters of the Long Island Sound and/or Hudson River. Our Osprey was migrating with a fish caught somewhere else, sometimes called packing a lunch.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo on 30 August in Central Park (Tupelo Field) by Deborah Allen. Both cuckoo species are very responsive to calls and frequently come in providing great views.
Remarkable Flight of Red-breasted Nuthatches  - During a vacation spent on Fire Island Beach, New York, in September, a remarkable migration of these birds was observed. Point o' Woods is a cottage settlement, on the barrier beach, at this point about one thousand feet wide, between the ocean and Great South Bay, which is here eight miles wide. The soil is sand-covered with a rank growth of weeds of various kinds, low bushes, scrub-oaks and small pines. On the night of September 20, it was very damp, with a moderate southwest wind and a number of showers. On the morning of the 21st the wind still continued southwest, very moderate, with a temperature of seventy-four degrees at seven a.m. During the night there must have been a great flight of Red-breasted Nuthatches, for they were seen on the morning of the 21st in large numbers. They remained all that day, although there seemed to be a steady movement to the west, which here is the autumn direction of migration. During the night of the 21st, we had more showers, and on the 22d, the wind was strong southeast, with some rain. There was a large migration of small birds during the night, as the bushes were full of Towhees, Cuckoos and Kingbirds, and the Red-breasted Nuthatches were more numerous than the day before. They outnumbered the sum total of all the other small migrants. On the 23d, large numbers of them still were in evidence, but not so many as on the 22d, and on the 24th only a few were seen.
The flight covered three days 21st to 23d while on the 24th the stragglers brought up the rear, a lone laggard being seen on the 25th. At the height of the migration, Nuthatches were seen everywhere, on the buildings, on trees, bushes, and weeds and even on the ground. They were remarkably tame and would permit a near approach; if the observer were seated they would come within a few feet of him. They crept over the roofs and sides of the houses, examining the crevices between the shingles; they searched under the cornices on the piazzas and in fact looked into every nook and corner that might be the hiding-place of insects.
Every tree had its Nuthatch occupant, while many of them evidently found food even on the bushes and larger weeds. On a large abandoned fish factory at least fifty of these birds were seen at one time. The proprietor of one of the hotels told me that five of the birds were in his building catching flies, they having come in through the open doors and windows. They are expert flycatchers in the open, as many of them were seen to dart after flying insects after the manner of the true Flycatchers. It would be exceedingly interesting to know how large a territory this migration covered and to get some records of it from stations north and south of this point of observation, in order to see the rate at which the birds traveled. William Dutcher, New York City.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Central Park by Jeremy Nadel on 7 October 2019
Bird Notes from Little Gull Island, Suffolk Co., N.Y. [September 1889]. Dendroica aestiva. YELLOW WARBLER. Standing on the concrete at the foot of the tower on foggy nights and looking upward, we could see around the lantern a broad halo of light, probably one hundred feet in diameter. Outside of this halo was total darkness. This phenomenon, I presume, was caused by the reflection and refraction of the light by the minute particles of water in the vicinity of the lantern; and the darkness beyond was due to the fact that very little, if any, of the small portion of light that penetrated beyond the fifty-foot limit reached the eye. The migration, which had just begun when I arrived, could be splendidly observed by means of this patch of light. The birds could be seen flying to and fro in all directions, generally keeping within the ring, as if reluctant to leave the region of light and go into the darkness beyond. Although it would be an easy thing to distinguish the different families from each other in the strong light of the lantern, it would take a good deal of practice to tell the species apart. One species, however, was easily distinguishable as the birds flew back and forth, the Yellow Warbler. It was, indeed, a pretty sight to see these birds flitting around, their yellow breasts and bellies illumined by the rays from the lantern. I identified but one other species in the halo, the Redstart. Charles B. Field said, however, that he could sometimes in the migrations distinguish Robins and Catbirds. He also remarked that in the fall migration all the birds struck on the W. S. W. side of the lantern, instead of on the E. N. E., as it might be supposed they would. All the birds that were picked up from the concrete were also on the W. S. W. side of the tower, showing that they very probably struck on that side. In fact the Yellow Warblers were seen on both Great Gull and Little Gull Islands. But few birds of any kind struck during my stay, probably because, although a number of the nights were foggy, none were stormy. Basil Hicks Dutcher
Whimbrel in the Bronx at Orchard Beach in a parking lot puddle on
30 August 2017 by Deborah Allen
HUDSONIAN CURLEW [Whimbrel] IN CONNECTICUT . On 9 Sept. 1890, I had the good fortune to shoot a Hudsonian Curlew (Numenius hudsonicus = Whimbrel), on the meadows at Westbrook on this Sound, while plover shooting. This is the only living specimen I have seen for ten years, and is a rather rare Connecticut visitant. He has been nicely mounted for me by Mr. John Clark, the Saybrook taxidermist, who has hundreds of birds in his collection, including the sicklebill (Numenius longirostris = Long-billed Curlew), and Esquimaux (Numenius borealis = Eskimo Curlew), but not hudsonicus [Whimbrel]. I have not seen a golden plover on the Connecticut coast for about ten years, and these are also getting to be rare migrants. A. W. Jones (Center Brook, Conn.).
Prof. Draper's Records
29 November 1884
Favoring a Plan for the Use of the Belvedere as an Observatory.
The wind was scurrying over the top of the old Arsenal at Central Park as Prof. Draper crossed over to the little tower where the temperature was being constantly registered. The Professor looked longingly toward the reservoir, with is eyes on the "Belvedere," the grey stone building by its side, which is now unoccupied, and wished that he could change it into an Observatory. The building is admirably adapted for the purpose, and only requires a few doors and windows to enclose it. Six thousand dollars would put the Observatory's instruments in the building, and $10,000 would fit it up nicely with some new instruments needed. It is a fireproof building, and in it the past records of 16 years of continuous observation would be safe.
These records are valuable and more so than is generally supposed. A week does not pass that Prof. Draper does not answer inquiries in regard to the temperature or direction of the wind three or four years ago. In lawsuits often the testimony of Prof. Draper's instruments plays a part, and often Judges send to him for weather statistics. In a recent divorce case, the weather played an important part, and it was not until the Central Park Observatory was consulted that the matter was decided. Several cases amounting to thousands of dollars have depended upon Prof. Draper's silent but certainly unbiased witnesses. The Park's Commissioners favor the project of moving the Observatory but they have not the necessary money. So Professor Draper patiently waits and hopes that some public-spirited citizen will perpetuate his name by fitting up the "Belvedere" and transferring the Observatory and its chief over to it. The Central Park Observatory is the only one in the country except that at Washington where self-registering instruments give a continuous record of the temperature and barometric changes.
Lesser Yellowlegs on Long Island (Heckscher State Park), 26 August 2020 by Deborah Allen
Central Park's Puzzling, Flawed Weather Station
1 September 2020
by Rob Frydlewicz
This post has been a long time coming. New York City, arguably the world's preeminent city, ironically, has a weather station in Central Park (serving as the official measurement site for NYC) that brings to mind that of a third world country. There are regularly occurring instances of reporting glitches. Last week, for instance, hourly sky conditions went missing. (Looking out the window wasn't an option?). This joined a host of other "irregularities": missing hourly precipitation/temperature reports (often during rainstorms); a five-month period in 2018-19 in which the anemometer was out of commission; a broken rain gauge that resulted in exaggerated amounts of rain for months in 1983; and flawed snowfall measurements in the winters of 2015 and 2016.
The rain gauge fiasco occurred during a year that may have been the wettest on record as 80.56" was reported (16 inches more than the previous wettest year, 1972). But it turns out that besides rain entering the gauge's calibrated opening, a faulty weld was allowing extra water to seep in. Because of this malfunction, designating 1983 as the wettest year is questionable. Although some cities in the mid-Atlantic did report their wettest year in 1983, confidence about 1983's amount in Central Park is lacking. Like Barry Bonds' home runs, 1983 should have an asterisk placed next to it. Meanwhile, 2011, which had 72.81", may actually be the legitimate wettest year.
The revision of winter 2016's snowfall came nearly three months after the blizzard of Jan. 23, 2016. At the time, the National Weather Service reported that 26.8" of snow had accumulated, which made it the City's second biggest snowstorm, 0.1" behind the blizzard of February 2006. Then, curiously, the amount was revised upward by 0.7" in late April. The previous winter the NWS revised New York's winter snowfall upward by 3.3" for three snowfalls. Specifically, snowfall was adjusted on three dates: Jan. 6 (from 0.5" to 1.0"); Jan. 24 (from 2.5" to 3.6"); and Feb. 2 (from 3.3" to 5.0").
What makes this situation more frustrating is the fact that the metro area's three airports (LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark Liberty) experienced none of these issues. So what does this say about the Central Park operation? A lack of trained employees? A lack of enthusiasm by those manning the site (perhaps they're hired from the same pool of applicants as the DMV)? Or, is it due to a lack of funding? Whatever the reason, a city with the cachet of New York deserves better.
18 November 1875. Central Park Weather Station. In the report of the Director of the Meteorological Observatory in Central Park, which has lately appeared, Dr. Draper discusses the question whether American storms cross the Atlantic to Europe, and decides in the affirmative. Leaving out of view the economical interest connected with this fact, it is valuable as a hint to ornithologists in accounting for the number of species of American birds upwards of thirty which have been found in Great Britain or on the Continent, and which in many cases have been borne across by gales in the Spring. The reverse fact, that very few European birds have been found wild on our shores, accords with the other fact that the prevailing winds across the Atlantic during the season of the migration of our birds blow toward the east.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD
Short-billed Dowitcher at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, 2 September 2019