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Warblers (11), Red-breasted Nuthatches + Eastern Screech-owls: August 2020

Mourning Warbler on 23 June 2020 in St. Lawrence County by Deborah Allen
Red-breasted Nuthatch at the Pinetum (Central Park), 22 October 2018 by Deborah Allen

19 August 2020

Bird Notes: We've got an OWL WALK (Thursday evening, 20 August) at Inwood Hill Park meeting at 7:30pm - details, and photos, below. Weather is supposed to be cool and dry with light winds on Thursday night - ideal for finding Eastern Screech-owls.

Last Friday-Saturday (15-16 Aug) the fall migration finally arrived in the form of warblers! Our group tallied 11 warbler species on Saturday. Just as importantly we found 7 Red-breasted Nuthatches, an irruptive species - meaning when we see them on migration it is not by ones and twos but by the dozen. In this week's Historical Notes we present (a) an explanation (hypothesis) why Red-breasted Nuthatches head south in large numbers ("irrupt") in some years, and are hardly seen in others. Is it related to climate, or food abundance in the north (seeds), or a good breeding year and simply more birds around to head south? In (b) scientists seek to explain the irruption of all winter finches such as Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks (+Red-breasted Nuthatches) and others as the result of a favorable year for seed production with good breeding success: winter finches stay "home" in the boreal forest in such years. If this is followed by a year in which there is poor seed production due to drought, excessive warmth or simply "exhausted" trees - all of which affect seed production, winter finches migrate south in large number or "irrupt" - and we seen them in our area in large number. Finally, historical note (c) is an obituary of Farida Wiley (1887-1986) who led bird walks in Central Park for approx. 45 years (1938-1982). The obituary gives a wonderful glimpse of how birding in the park changed during that time...a highly recommended read.

Mexico. Male Gray Silky-flycatcher, between Los Pescados & El Conejo, Veracruz (MX). Tuesday February 18, 2020 by Deborah Allen

Eastern Screech-owl at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan), 15 August 2019 by Deborah Allen


Bird Walks for mid to late August

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

1. Saturday, 22 August at 7:30am and again at 9:30am - Boathouse Cafe; 74th street/ East Drive $10

2. Sunday, 23 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. If there is interest/demand, we will add Monday and Friday morning walks starting in mid to late August. Let's see how this develops, or not...


3. Thursday evening, 20 August at 7:30 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 (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 (It may be closed due to Covid 2019, but if it is open it has 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:

And here is the address of the corner where we meet at 7:30pm:

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:

Virginia Rail at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx by Deborah Allen on 4 June 2020

Eastern Screech-owl at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan), 13 Oct 2019 by Jonathan Slifkin


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 ( 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 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.

Rough Grouse, St. Lawrence County in upstate New York by Deborah Allen on 22 June 2020

Bald Eagle from 16 September 2016 at Pelham Bay Park (PBPK) in the Bronx. Bald Eagles begin migrating south to Florida in August after spending the summer in Maine, and will then nest in FLA. On 17 August 2020, three of us including Patrick Horan and Deborah Allen watched a fourth-year Bald Eagle, just like the one above, steal a fish from an Osprey.


Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Sat-Sunday, 15-16 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. Saturday was the first big day for southbound (autumn) migration - though overall numbers were low for most species, we did get a very good 11 Warbler species. Our most significant find came towards the end of the walk when we called in (using my recorded chip sounds) a first-year Mourning Warbler (photo below), sex undetermined...We also found the season's first Prairie Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warblers. In addition we added Blue-grey Gnatcatcher (first of season) and Least Flycatcher. However, however one cannot forget that we found 7 Red-breasted Nuthatches (RBNUs), again using calls from my tape/speaker. The first ones in the region were seen on 13-14 August in Connecticut, and then one in Queens on 14 August. In "irruption" years, on average, we see the first RBNU in mid-July, and rarely, in late June (see historical note #3 below). This year we have had a hot summer, with almost all days with winds from the south until this past Thu-Fri nights (14-15 Aug), when winds switched to coming from the north, and the weather immediately became cooler and less humid. Like surfers on a wave came the migrants - all those different warblers and the RBNUs. Will more flights of RBNUs follow? You'll have to join us for a bird walk to see...and see how much fun they are as they come in very close to us, sometimes 3-4 at one time. On Sunday, 16 August, it rained...and was miserable. However, several nice people showed up (happy birthday Andrea Hessel MD)...and the most significant birds we found were three RBNUs together at the Pinetum..

Deborah's List of Birds for Sat. 15 August:

male Yellow Warbler by Deborah Allen at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx on 6 June 2020

Mourning Warbler (hatch-year) at Shakespeare Garden on 15 Aug 2020 by Deborah Allen



Winter Movements of Sitta canadensis (Red-breasted Nuthatch) in New England: A Multiple-scale Analysis

W. Herbert Wilson Jr and Bets Brown

Northeastern Naturalist March 2017: Vol. 24, Special Volume 7: Winter Ecology: Insights from Biology and History, pg(s) B135- B146

We analyzed 55 years of abundance data (1960-2014) for Sitta canadensis (Red-breasted Nuthatch) to seek patterns of winter irruptions on temporal and spatial scales. This species shows an erratic pattern of irruption into southerly areas from its northern breeding areas. Irruptions show a broad geographic synchrony. At the narrower level of the state or province and even more so at the level of individual counts, correlations of abundance in adjacent areas become weaker. The abundance of irruptive birds is best considered a mosaic. At the regional scale, correlations of Red-breasted Nuthatch abundance with irruptive northern finches that also depend on conifer seeds are weak to absent. The data suggest that birds irrupt because of failure of conifer seed production on the breeding grounds, not because the birds are seeking masting conifer stands to the south.

Red-breasted Nuthatch in Central Park by Jeff Ward (cell phone photo)

26 Sept 2015

Climatic dipoles drive two principal modes of North American boreal bird irruption

Courtenay Strong, Benjamin Zuckerberg, Julio L. Betancourt, and Walter D. Koenig

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Published online May 11, 2015

Pine Siskins [photo below] exemplify normally boreal seed-eating birds that can be sparse or absent across entire regions of North America in one year and then appear in large numbers the next. These dramatic avian "irruptions" are thought to stem from intermittent but broadly synchronous seed production (masting) in one year and meager seed crops in the next. A prevalent hypothesis is that widespread masting in the boreal forest at high latitudes is driven primarily by favorable climate during the two to three consecutive years required to initiate and mature seed crops in most conifers.

Seed production is expensive for trees and is much reduced in the years following masting, driving boreal birds to search elsewhere for food and overwintering habitat. Despite this plausible logic, prior efforts to discover climate-irruption relationships have been inconclusive. Here, analysis of more than 2 million Pine Siskin observations from Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program, reveals two principal irruption modes (North-South and West-East), both of which are correlated with climate variability. The North-South irruption mode is, in part, influenced by winter harshness, but the predominant climate drivers of both modes manifest in the warm season as continental-scale pairs of oppositely signed precipitation and temperature anomalies (i.e., dipoles). The climate dipoles juxtapose favorable and unfavorable conditions for seed production and wintering habitat, motivating a push-pull paradigm to explain irruptions of Pine Siskins and possibly other boreal bird populations in North America.

Pine Siskin at the New York Botanical Garden (Bronx) on 12 November 2008.

Autumn 2008 and Autumn 2019 were big "irruption" years for this species, but we are not expecting them this August-December.

Red-breasted Nuthatches - Central Park, NYC & NYBG (BX)

Date: 26 June 2018

by Deborah Allen

Prompted by the discovery of a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the Central Park Ramble Sunday Morning (24 June 2018) with a photo posted on twitter by @jian_birdcp (see for details), Bob found at least three Red-breasted Nuthatches today in the extensive conifer plantings at the NYBG in the Bronx.

The last time Red-breasted Nuthatches appeared in NYC this early was in 2016, when we found two on Saturday June 25 at NYBG in the Bronx on our Saturday morning bird walk. The following day, Sunday June 26, again on our bird walk, Jeff Ward found one on the east side of the Ramble in Central Park

That same week in June 2016, others had previously reported seeing early arriving Red-breasted Nuthatches in New Jersey as well as Connecticut on their respective state lists. Autumn 2016 proved to be an irruption year for Red-breasted Nuthatches until mid-October when the numbers of birds reported declined significantly in our area.

Twitter, particularly the different alerts for each NYC borough, has been invaluable in getting immediate information out to interested persons - and has helped birders to communicate with each other in real time. Thank You to David Barrett for setting up these alerts.

There does not appear to be any correlation between irruptions of Red-breasted Nuthatches and irruptions of winter finches, as this 2005 post from the Delaware list points out:

"Probably the greatest year for winter finches was 1969-1970, which was also a good year for Red-Breasted Nuthatches. 1977 was another good winter finch year, but there were almost no RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES found. 1982 was a good year for RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, but there were only PURPLE FINCHES in the area. Despite all efforts, there doesn't seem to be a correlation between invasion years for RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES and winter finches. You can get this information from looking at Christmas Count Data."

We also found fledged Cedar Waxwings this morning at the NYBG.

Deb Allen

Miss Wiley, Grand Birder of Central Park

By Chip Brown

December 26, 1986

Few people knew more about birds than Miss Wiley, but she was not that famous outside a circle of colleagues and admirers, many of whom accompanied her on nature walks through Central Park, which she led in good weather and bad until she was 94 and which, over the years, became part of the natural history of New York, as much a rite of spring as the blossoming world itself. She frowned on publicity -- with a characteristic harrumph she brushed off an invitation to appear on "To Tell the Truth." Fashion was no preoccupation, either. She treated herself to a new hat each April for the annual gala luncheon of the John Burroughs Memorial Association, a group dedicated to the rustic philosophy of the great poet and naturalist, but by and large she stood against the trendiness of a century. She was fond of rust-colored tweeds, sensible shoes and long-billed caps and tam-o'-shanters. She walked at a gallop, binoculars in hand -- even when she was in her eighties, birders half her age had a hard time keeping up. Her definitive field guide to the ferns of the northeastern United States was first published in 1936. For more than 60 years she taught in the education department of the American Museum of Natural History. Among the museum's many distinguished women probably only Margaret Mead was better known. It was always Miss Wiley -- she never married, and Ms. made her shudder. "She was old school," says her longtime friend and colleague Catherine Pessino. "She wouldn't even make a personal phone call from the office."

Miss Wiley died last month in Florida, where she spent the last year of her life. Her obituary in The New York Times -- "Farida A. Wiley Is Dead at 99; Naturalist and Birdwatcher" -- included a picture of her taken in 1956, the year after she officially "retired." (She was made an honorary associate and continued in her office, with an oil portrait of an osprey and a photograph of Teddy Roosevelt on the wall, for another 25 years.) She wore a pince-nez on her nose; her mouth was set in a traffic-with-no-nonsense smile; her eyes were clear, fierce and alert, crackling with the spirit of scrutiny, her respect for facts, perhaps even a hint of her faith in the tonic powers of nature. She had a wry, tough-minded bent -- preferred to say she was "interested" in nature rather than a nature "lover." But what except love can one call the scrupulous attention she gave to trees, flowers, animals and birds? Most of all to birds. We are altered by the things we love. There is an aspect in that photograph that is oddly birdlike: Her passion figured in her face.

It is one of the paradoxes of New York that on this most densely inhabited ground people often experience a sense of disconnection from life. Miss Wiley taught people to make a connection with the world, to look up, and out, beyond themselves. It seemed clear from the report of her death and the photograph that she had led an extraordinary life, and was a woman of uncommon character, a product of the 19th century who seemed to have drawn her identity not from movies and magazines but from a clear sense of purpose, her calling as a teacher. The appeal of such a character can't be overestimated in a city crawling with careerists. It would be difficult if not impossible today to achieve what Miss Wiley managed. She was self-taught -- she did not go to college. She was old-fashioned -- she never drove a car -- and she was revered largely for the principles and predilections that made her formidable. A woman in the museum's public relations office said a lot of people had called since Miss Wiley's death. A memorial service was called for the first week in December.

Looking East from the 59th street Pond in April 2009

Like so many New Yorkers, Miss Wiley was an exotic who came from somewhere else. She grew up in Sidney, Ohio (outside Dayton), on her parents' horse farm. The interest in nature that was to stand her in good stead for nearly a hundred years took hold early on. At 12 she sent reports on the nesting birds of the neighborhood to the U.S. Biological Survey. When her father died in 1919, she moved east. She lived on Long Island with her older sister Bessie and her brother-in-law Clyde Fisher, who worked at the American Museum of Natural History and later founded the Hayden Planetarium.

"She looked up to her sister and brother-in-law," recalled Miss Wiley's niece, Katherine Feller, now in her sixties. Fisher got Miss Wiley a part-time job teaching blind children at the museum in 1919. She never left. Fifty-four years later she recalled her "red-letter days" in a speech she gave when the museum awarded her its Silver Medal: She recalled Helen Keller's visit to the museum's okapi; the day Igor Sikorsky, the helicopter pioneer, stopped by to search for material on the mechanics of flight; Thomas Edison's tour of the new hall on Northwest Coastal Indians.

One November day in 1920 Miss Wiley accompanied her sister and brother-in-law to Slabsides, John Burroughs' home in the Hudson Valley. Burroughs threw a "brigand steak party" that made a deep impression on the young Farida. She helped him strip the bark off the birch-wood skewers and impale the chunks of beef, onions and bacon, and many years later wrote: "After 25 minutes, the steak was cooked and as we sat on the rocks behind the trail, munching the deliciously flavored steak, enfolded in a roll, Burroughs' delightful humor came to the fore with: 'It takes all the conceit out of an onion when you cook it.' And so it does!"

The naturalist gave her a sprig of wild herb Robert and "disappeared down the trail waving goodbye." He died the next year.

Miss Wiley went on to help found the John Burroughs Memorial Association, and to edit a selection of his writing. She subscribed to his belief that "the most precious things in life are near at hand, without money and without price." She kept portraits of Burroughs in her office and in her apartment a few blocks from the museum. The museum had become her life -- all her stocks and bank accounts listed the museum as her place of address.

She attended opera at the old Met, and may have had a man in her life, according to her niece, who knew her as Tant. "I think there was a man in her life once," recalled Feller, a former New York actress who now lives in Florida. "But you didn't ask Tant about that." Miss Wiley's friend Catherine Pessino said that Miss Wiley was "too busy" to concern herself with marriage.

So, in the informal atmosphere of lunch-hour symposia and collegial give-and-take, she pursued her interest in nature. She was ensconced in one of the most remarkable institutions in the world, and received the support and encouragement of people who carried a special blend of intelligence and idiosyncrasy to new heights -- characters who worked in isolated field camps with silver-crested cockatoos on their heads, who killed leopards with their bare hands, who returned home lugging huge meteors up Broadway. Miss Wiley knew the great ornithologist and museum curator Frank M. Chapman, who "in the field ... often pretended to be a bird himself to gain their confidence," according to Geoffrey T. Hellman in The New Yorker. In 1929 she met Meshie, a chimpanzee from French Cameroon whose mother had been shot by poachers. Meshie was brought back and raised in the suburban home of museum scientist Henry C. Raven (there's a picture of her tenderly cradling Raven's infant daughter Mary) and lived the good life for a while, too -- she had lunch with Edna Ferber and roamed the museum's fifth-floor corridor in a "kiddie car." Poor Meshie now is an anonymous specimen of taxidermy in the Hall of Primates.

Central Park Lake (looking northwest from the north side of Bow Bridge) - November 2006

In 1938 Miss Wiley began her bird walks in Central Park. Metropolitan New York lies under the North Atlantic flyway, and looks much the same to huge migrating flocks as it does to tourists: "a vast jumble of steel and stone cut by sterile gorges and steep canyons," in the words of arch-birder Roger Tory Peterson. Birds alight on Central Park as on an oasis. Thousands funnel down on the green rectangle of treetops, rills and lakes. The choicest spot is the Ramble, which is ideally composed for birders, too. Trails climb the outcrops of Manhattan schist, giving level views of perches. The hummocky ground reduces the incidence of "warbler's neck," the ache that develops from the strain of craning the head back in search of songbirds.

Miss Wiley's twice weekly morning walks departed on the dot of 7. A second walk, for the not-so-early birds, left at 9:30. Her groups entered through the gate at 77th Street, known now, in tribute to her, as Naturalist's Gate. The tour took in Ramble landmarks: the Azalea Pond where mallards feed; the Point, a small peninsula frequented by warblers, orioles and tanagers; the Great Tupelo Tree with the spreading canopy, reminiscent of the African acacia; the Spring, favored by spotted sandpipers; the Swampy Pin Oak by the Indian cave, where warblers chase insects attracted to the oak flowers; the Bow Bridge, a good place to view cormorants and ducks; and the Humming Tombstone, which is just an inhospitable electrical substation.

Sometimes Miss Wiley wore white gloves. Often she carried a shoulder bag containing a tunafish sandwich, a few pages torn from the Peterson guide, a raincoat, clippers, a penknife, Band-Aids and a chart of bird migration dates. At lunch, on daylong trips to Jamaica Bay or other natural areas in the metropolitan region, she usually stood while others sat unwrapping their sandwiches. "I asked her why once, and she said, 'I want people to know where I am,' " Pessino recalled. Sometimes she would command the crowd to hush up, so she could listen for the telltale songs. She kept to her schedule. "My watch says it's getting on time to meander." She kept a mailing list of birders who took her walks. On each card she'd scribble a description to help her place the face with the name.

Grape Root Borer Moth (male), a native insect in NYC on 12 August 2020 by Deborah Allen

She began to attract admirers in the press as well. Hellman, the New Yorker writer (he died in 1977), kept returning to write short pieces about her walks in the 1950s and 1960s. It was always the same story, filled with the verities of spring, but it captured the ritual -- Miss Wiley striding ahead with her binoculars, catching a glimpse of a bird or a snatch of its song. Here was her voice in June 1961:

" 'Will you all gather over here, please?' she said when the last car had arrived. 'Should I say I'm glad to see so many fair-weather friends? (Cries of Ooh!) O.K. Off we go ... Seventy,' she said to us, in a pleased way, as the group started its walk. 'I've had as many as a hundred. Aren't the trees in this park lovely? Beautiful white oaks, red maples. It used to be the old Peter Cooper place ... What's flying over? A starling ... And what's calling over there, making all that noise? It's an oriole singing, though I can't see it ... That's a female English sparrow ... I hear the rusty hinge of the grosbeak ... Chimney swift overhead! Two of them! Three of them! Four of them! Half a dozen! A cigar with wings!'

" 'Baltimore oriole,' someone else said.

" 'All right, where has the oriole been?' Miss Wiley said. 'Was he here all winter?'

"Everyone was silent.

" 'Don't talk all at once,' she said."

Miss Wiley had marked as many as 150 species in the Ramble, but over the years she watched the count decline to where 50 or 60 species were all one could expect -- the result of lost habitat and the effect of pesticides, she argued. There were other changes as well. Trysting gays made use of the Ramble, winos camped there, and it got to be stomping grounds for muggers. (A cop would occasionally be detailed to Miss Wiley's walks.) Malcolm Arth, head of the museum's education department since 1970, recalled the day he asked Miss Wiley about the anthropological aspects of nature in the Ramble. "I said, 'Farida, you go over to the park early in the morning, there must be a lot of strange people. What do you do?' She said very briskly, 'We just step right over them.' "

Semi-palmated Plover on 18 August 2020 in NYC

Eventually, with age, Miss Wiley lost some of the pace in her stride. She had trouble hearing the high sibilant seet-seet-seet of the black poll warbler. The museum threw parties for her when she turned 80 and 90 with an eye that each milestone would be her last, but she kept plugging away, much to everyone's amazement. A New York Times reporter dispatched a memo to her obit file in 1970 with the caveat that she would probably outlive the editors. For years she had had a hard time finding an optician to repair her pince-nez. She kept busy, discussing rental rates with bus companies, tending her mailing list and the business of the Burroughs association. She wrote book reviews for Natural History and Audubon magazines. As writer or editor she had more than six books to her credit, among them "Ferns of the Camp Wigwam Region" (1928), "The Story of Landscape" (1952) and "Theodore Roosevelt's America" (1962). To many people she didn't seem old. Give or take some lines, her appearance remained essentially the same for 50 years. Promptly at 11:30 she took a half hour for lunch in the museum's cafeteria. She never called in sick.

"There was something that radiated out of her, a kind of honesty, a quality that is rare in social discourse," Arth said. "She confronted you with the kind of directness you see in children. There was no phoniness, no subterfuge, no using of people. She was herself. You came away thinking, 'Now there's a person.' "

Miss Wiley's last walk was six years ago, in the spring. She had hurt her knee in a fall on Columbus Avenue. It was in her character not to see doctors, but she was finally persuaded to have an X-ray. She was in her nineties but a proceduralist at the hospital demanded the names and address of her parents -- people who would have remembered the assassination of Lincoln. "You can call them but they won't answer," she said. Toward the end, her knee got worse. Marilyn Godsberg, who works in the education department at the museum, brought her groceries. "When she was lonely at the end, she'd get dressed and try to walk to the end of the block."

Last year, just before Christmas, Feller moved her aunt south to a nursing home in Florida. She needed constant care. "When she left," said her friend Pessino, "I knew I wasn't going to see her again."

The weather on the afternoon of the memorial service was cold and gray. A light rain was falling, and yet more than 200 people took seats in Kauffman Auditorium. It was an elderly crowd for the most part. They came to listen to the speakers remember Miss Wiley, and to remember her themselves. One woman who wore an owl pin on her lapel had been tagging after Miss Wiley on bird walks for half a century. The air was filled with the sound of reminiscence.

"Miss Wiley knew birds, plants, animals, trees. I remember finally learning what a hackberry tree was after 25 years."

"She didn't like children at the end because they scared the birds."

"I remember one time we saw five warblers under the pin oak."

"Dog walkers would always scare up the birds, too."

"One time we heard this squeaking, a tiny squeak. She said, 'Quiet folks!' and we all strained to hear what bird it was. It was a baby carriage."

"Somebody brought a tape of a house finch."

"And there was that bird with the red nose. I said, 'Miss Wiley, what is that bird with the red nose?' She thought I was spoofing her. But there really was a bird with a red nose -- an exotic that had gotten out of the zoo," said Eleanor Popper.

"If she'd seen an owl, she wouldn't want to tell the general public."

"She got upset because people knew where the owls were and would bother them."

"I saw a saw-whet owl once, I remember."

"Everybody felt the same way about her all over the country. Every place I go, anybody who knew about birds knew about her. Everybody called her Miss Wiley."

"She'd say, 'If you're going to talk, you're not going to hear the birds,' " said Shelda Taylor. "Heaven help you if you took a leaf off a tree."

"If there were no birds she knew the flowers, and if there were no flowers she knew the plants and the weeds and the trees and the grasses and the mushrooms," said Lily Solomon. "We'd always stop under the great sour gum tupelo. It turns red before any other tree in the park in the fall. It's one of the biggest and best-known trees."

"I was talking to somebody once. That was unforgivable to her," said Jane Muccio. "I remember her once -- she'd found a little bug, and all these people, lawyers and doctors, were all bent over looking at it, like they were back in school."

And Malcolm Arth: "She gave us something we have to call inspiration, or spirit."

The speeches were done inside an hour. No one said anything that surprised Miss Wiley's longtime friends, except her niece, who raised a gasp from the crowd when she revealed that Miss Wiley had once played the piano with feeling and skill, and that her one regret in life had been letting music fall by the way. She shared a memory of a Christmas passed with her aunt in 1925, a memory that seemed to sum up the evanescent trace any one person's life leaves on the world.

"She had the most beautiful fingernails," said Katherine Feller. "They were smooth and round and almond shaped. I remember the sound they made as she played -- I remember the most beautiful melodies coming from the piano, and in the background the faint clicking of her nails."


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

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

Rough-legged Hawk (light morph) at Ft. Pierre National Grasslands (South Dakota) on 6 February 2020

Egyptian Vulture in Nepal, November 2014

1 comment

1 Comment

Aug 19, 2020

Very much enjoying your news letter, reading it in London. I wish I could join you on these walks. I have been on them twice and thoroughly enjoyed them! Thank you.

Kevin Gower

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