Northerly winds are expected for the next several days - with rain in the forecast for Saturday, 29 July. Keep your eye on our web site if you want to know whether the bird walks on Saturday morning are cancelled or will take place (7:30am and again at 9am). Northerly winds usually bring us migrants - last year at this time we were getting six warbler species on a walk.
Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen and include Song Sparrows, a singing Wood Thrush, and some local Mockingbirds - all from Central Park - see links below.
This week's historical notes focus on the nine species of gulls that have occurred in Central Park since records have been kept in the late 19th century. It seems one or two were more common in the past than now (for example, Bonaparte's Gull), but the majority are reported more often now than in the past. Again, this info is focused on Central Park, and to a lesser degree, Prospect Park in Brooklyn. After the accounts of the nine species, we provide three brief articles about gulls in Central Park and NYC: an 1880 snippet on the two gull species seen in the park in autumn; a 1900 article on the economic importance of gulls in our area; and finally, a 1963 article by Pauline Messing on the gulls of Central Park. As to why gull diversity and number has changed through time - the Hudson River (and all NYC water bodies) are much cleaner now than in the past. We no longer dump garbage in the Hudson, and the landfills in the Bronx and other parts of the city (Staten Island) have been closed. Gulls are now more often seen as migrants than winter residents...though some species (Ring-billed Gull) are overwhelmingly more common now that 100 years ago - in all seasons. Some Gulls of the Bronx on the Bronx River:
Deborah Allen sends photos from Central Park and the region:
Song Sparrow at the Pond on Sunday July 23, 2017:
Great Egret at Turtle Pond on Sunday July 23, 2017:
Singing Wood Thrush in Hallett Sanctuary on Sunday July 23, 2017:
Adult Female Northern Mockingbird at North Meadow Ballfields on Saturday July 22, 2017:
Northern Mockingbird Fledging Fed by Adult on Friday July 21, 2017:
Link to all Deborah Allen photos on Agpix site:
Good! Here are the bird walks for mid-July - each $10
All walks in Central Park:
1. Friday, 28 July - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and Fifth Ave) at 9am.
2. Saturday, 29 July - 7:30am and again at 9am - Boathouse [Breeding Bird Survey]. $10
3. Sunday, 30 July - Meet at the Boathouse (74th street and the East Drive) at 9am. $10
The fine print: In late July, our walks on Sundays meet at 9am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approximately 74th street and the East Drive on the lake; it is NOT one of the buildings on the nearby Model Boat Pond). Bathrooms are nearby and ok; they open at about 7am. On Saturdays we continue to meet at the Boathouse (74th street and the East Drive) at 7:30am/9am - but check schedule on web site just in case we are going further afield such as NYBG in the Bronx. You can do either or both Saturday walks for $10. Check the schedule in these emails and on the web site - email/call us with questions/concerns. The Friday walks meet at Conservatory Garden - enter at 105th street and 5th Avenue and walk down the stairs - we meet straight ahead at the end of long (75 meter) grassy area, and adjacent to the men's bathroom (women's bathroom on opposite side about 50 yards away). Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= email@example.com).
We end all our weekend Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon - you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $5 total - coffee is now $2.25). Our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue.
Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights) with some anecdotal notes and observations. Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best:
Friday, 21 July (start at Conservatory Garden [105th street] at 9am) - no bird walk today, we had the third day of a four day heat wave. The high temperature today was about 94f, depending upon what part of the city the reading was taken.
Saturday, 22 July - (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9am; two walks for $10 total) - Overnite winds from the northwest should have brought us a number of migrants, but instead the park was rather quiet. Mayra Cruz found a Northern Waterthrush at the Upper Lobe, an almost early record date for this species...we missed by less than a week. Usually, the first waterthrush of the season is the Louisiana...this is the first year I can remember that a Northern was reported first. Thankfully this bird remained "findable" for people on the two walks. We had good looks, and the confirmation of Deborah Allen that this bird was indeed a Northern Watherthrush... sometimes despite what one sees, what one expects (Louisiana) is more believable - and becomes the de facto identification. So thanks to Mayra and Deborah for holding firm in their IDs. Other birds of note today were a lovely male American Redstart for Gilian Henry, Tom Ahlf and others, and our continuing male Magnolia Warbler that we have watched moult from breeding plumage (late June) to "basic" plumage by mid-July. Finally, we found the first fledged Red-bellied Woodpecker of the season. This species seems to be the woodpecker most affected by Starlings, and in Central Park, nests later than the Downy and the Northern Flicker.
Deborah's bird list for the day: http://birding.aba.org/message.php?mesid=1311942&MLID=NY01&MLNM=New%20York
Sunday, 23 July (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 9am) - I was not expecting anything today...but it seemed as though the overnite rains and light northwest winds after 3am or so, caused some birds to "fallout" on migration, and take refuge in Central Park. We had two different Louisiana Waterthrushes today (one at the Oven and one at the 59th street Pond). Our Northern Waterthrush of yesterday, remained in the same general location (Triplet's Bridge) today...and the Magnolia Warbler male was no match for Jeff Ward's keen eyes as it tried to hide in the dense shrubs of the "Swampy Pin Oak" area - which is no longer swampy nor composed of pin oaks! Other highlights included lots of Yellow Warblers - all young ones to my eye (greenish yellow with no red streaks). We had at least 10 for the morning, including six in the area of Turtle Pond. Perhaps of the most significant find of the day was made by Deborah Allen and Mayra Cruz at 7am: they found a singing male Wood Thrush at the Hallett Sanctuary at 59th street. A bunch of us later re-found this bird after lunch...still singing - see Deborah's photo above.
Deborah's bird list for the day: http://birding.aba.org/message.php?mesid=1312207&MLID=NY01&MLNM=New%20York
1923. Iceland Gull ssp. glaucoides. Central Park: Casual on the Reservoir, with Herring Gulls, March 29, 1912 (Griscom and LaDow). BRONX REGION. One record, Rye, March 3, 1894 (Porter). The spp. kumlieni was not seen in the NYC area at this time. Regarding ssp. kumlieni, Griscom writes (1923): Only one definite record, an immature bird shot 5 miles off Rockaway Beach, 8 March 1898.
1958. Iceland Gull. Central Park. Fairly common winter visitant. Seen as early in the autumn/winter as 13 November 1961 (Peter Post) and 18 November 1953 (Paula Messing) to as late as 19 May 1956 (Irv Cantor); Seen also 13 September 1957 (Peter Post). A majority of immatures are pale ("second year") birds. Maximum seen were seven on 7 February 1957 (Messing). Moderately distant identifications of supposed adult nominate ssp. glaucoides are omitted as being too critical. Adults with grey spots on the wing tips, appearing to be ssp. kumlieni, are rare visitants: 12 February 1958 (Eisenmann, Post) to 9 March 1927 (J.T. Nichols, Watson) and 20 April 1956 (Post); maximum three on 15 February 1958 (Carleton, Post). From 1959 to 1967: ssp. glaucoides: an adult seen on 7 February 1965 (Carleton); observed at less than 100 feet standing on the ice; it fanned the air with its wings twice. The primaries extended and folded were pure white. This bird is recorded on the assumption that the nominate race (ssp. glaucoides) is thus identified. From 1959 to 1967: ssp. kumlieni: adults with grey spots on the wing tips are rare visitants from 4 January 1959 (Post) to 20 April 1956 (Post). Maximum seen were 3 on 15 February 1958 (Carleton, Post).
1958. Iceland Gull. Prospect Park . Seven records: 6 December 1947 (Grant, Whelen); 29 December 1956 (Carleton); 9 March 1957 (many observers) to 19 May 1957 (Carleton). Another individual seen 9 March 1957 (Paul Buckley, R. Clermont, Restivo) was an adult with grey spots on the wing tips and appeared to be kumlieni. From 1959 to 1967: no change in status noted.
1974. Iceland Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Iceland Gull in Central Park. in 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler mentioned that one (no ssp. noted) was seen on the Reservoir on 17 January 1982. Today, Deborah Allen's records shows that this gull is seen in Central Park approx. once every other year.
1923. Great Black-backed Gull. Central Park: Regular in the Bay and the lower Hudson. CENTRAL PARK. Casual on the reservoir, 22 January 22 1907 (Hix). BRONX REGION. Casual winter visitant; 7 records: 6 on the Sound, 1 on Jerome Reservoir; 6 December 1915 (Hix) to 20 February 1922 (L. N. Nichols).
1958. Great Black-backed Gull. Central Park. Common to abundant winter visitant, recorded all through the summer. Maximum 129 on 30 December 1955 (Peter Post). From 1959 to 1967: Maximum 165 on 21 January 1959 (Carleton).
1958. Great Black-backed Gull. Prospect Park . Fairly common winter visitant, recorded every month of the year. From 1959 to 1967: Maximum seen was 55 on 7 March 1962 (John Yrizarry).
1974. Great Black-backed Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Black-backed Gull in Central Park - still abundant. In 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler also often saw this gull on the Reservoir. Today, this gull is common year-round and even breeds in New York Harbor (yes, New York County).
1923. Lesser Black-backed Gull. Central Park: No mention from NYC or anywhere in our area! Probably this gull was around in small number, but no one knew to look for it.
1958. Lesser Black-backed Gull. Central Park. 6 March and 10 April 1957 (Peter Post). Dark mantle, greenish yellow legs and relatively small bill noted in comparison with Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls; the March bird was seen standing on the ice. From 1959 to 1967: 6 March 1963, standing on ice in company of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls; photograph by Peter Post seen by Carleton.
1958. Lesser Black-backed Gull. Prospect Park . No Records. From 1959 to 1967: No Records.
1974. Lesser Black-backed Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Lesser Black-backed Gull in Central Park. In 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler never saw this gull on the Reservoir. Today, the Lesser Black-backed Gull is reported in winter (only) about every five years from Central Park (the Reservoir).
1923. Herring Gull. Central Park: Present throughout the year on the Long Island Sound, in the [New York City] harbor and on the Hudson River from early August to the end of May. CENTRAL PARK. Common on the reservoirs or flying over, 26 August 1922 (Griscom) to 8 May 1922 (Griscom). Migrants arrive from the north in August. Long Island. Abundant winter resident, common non-breeding summer resident, most numerous at all seasons at the western end. Arrives in August and departs commonly in May.
1958. Herring Gull. Central Park. Abundant winter visitant, common to abundant summer visitant. Large numbers come on to the Reservoir towards dusk from all directions (Peter Post). From 1959 to 1967: In recent winters in late afternoon they often soar high in the air and depart eastward, contrary to the statement in the 1958 publication.
1958. Herring Gull. Prospect Park . Abundant winter visitant; recorded throughout the year. Maximum 375 on 3 January 1954 (Usin). From 1959 to 1967: no change in status noted.
1974. Herring Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Herring Gull in Central Park. In 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler also often saw this gull on the Reservoir. Today, we consider this gull "common as mud." It (like the Great Black-backed Gull) nests in NY harbor, yes in New York County.
1923. Laughing Gull. Central Park: No mention. Common in the New York harbor and the lower Hudson in the fall of 1921 and 1922; also common both seasons in Haverstraw Bay (Brandreth); has occurred every fall in recent years up to the middle of September. BRONX REGION. One record, October 17, 1921 (L. N. Nichols). Now common on Long Island Sound; elsewhere a not uncommon and regular transient, most numerous in September; an occasional bird through June, and the species may be found breeding in the near future.
1958. Laughing Gull. Central Park. Common to abundant transient. 27 March 1945 (Carleton) to 28 December 1957 (Harrison). Up to 200 present in late April or early May; immatures appear in July and there is a lesser peak in September (Peter Post). From 1959 to 1967: 24 March 1966 (Carleton) = new early arrival date for spring; Present throughout the winter of 1962-1963, except for February (Messing, Peter Post).
1958. Laughing Gull. Prospect Park . Fairly common transient and summer visitant: 19 April 1947 (Grant, Whelen) to 19 November 1953 (Carleton) and 9 December 1939 (Grant). Maximum 32 on 11 August 1953 (Usin). From 1959 to 1967: 9 April 1964 (Raymond) = new early arrival date for spring; 7 December 1959 (Carleton) = new late autumn date.
1974. Laughing Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Laughing Gull in Central Park. In 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler also often saw this gull on the Reservoir. Today, Deborah Allen considers this gull as an uncommon spring/summer visitor (but can occur in winter) - never more than a few at a time.
1923. Glaucous Gull. Central Park: No mention. NYC Area: Uncommon but regular winter visitant to the coast of Long Island and New York Harbor, rarely seen much before Christmas, but lingering into May. Rare in Long Island Sound; Always in increased numbers in severe winters; November 2 to May 26.
1958. Glaucous Gull. Central Park. Uncommon winter visitant. 10 January 1956 (Peter Post) to 14 April 1952 (Denham, Messing) and 26 May 1954 (Peter Post). From 1959 to 1967: 27 December 1960 (Carleton) - new autumn early arrival date. Maximum 2 (adults) on 7 February 1965 (Carleton, Post); there were also 2 or 3 adult Iceland Gulls that day and no immatures of either species, a very unusual situation.
1958. Glaucous Gull. Prospect Park . Five records. 1 December 1939 (Nathan); 6 February 1953 (Russell) to 16 March 1940 (Nathan). From 1959 to 1967: 31 March 1963 (Nielsen, Raymond) = a new late date for winter/spring.
1974. Glaucous Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Glaucous Gull in Central Park. In 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler never saw this gull on the Reservoir. Today, Deborah tells me this gull occurs once every ten years, but in the winters of 2016 and 2017, one Glaucous Gull (not the same bird) was seen on the Reservoir. In the last winter (Dec. 2016 to March 2017), there were three reports of two different birds.
1923. Black-headed Gull. Central Park: No mention from NYC or anywhere in our area! Probably this gull was around in small number, but no one knew to look for it.
1958. Black-headed Gull. Central Park. 10 January 1958 (adult in flight and on ice, red bill and dark under primaries seen by Peter Post and Paula Messing). From 1959 to 1967: Since 1958 a rare winter visitant; it occurred annually from 1960 to 1963 such as 4 November 1961 (Bloom, Carleton, Messing) to 6 April 1961 (Carleton, Post). Maximum 2 on 13 January 1963 (Paula Messing).
1958. Black-headed Gull. Prospect Park . 3-4 March 1957 (adult flying and standing, dull red bill seen by Meyerdierks, Nielsen; photographed in color by John Yrizarry). From 1959 to 1967: No Records - and still classified as a very rare visitor to Prospect Park.
1974. Black-headed Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Black-headed Gull in Central Park - still rare. In 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler never saw this gull on the Reservoir. Today, Deborah Allen tells me this gull occurs about once every ten years in Central Park.
1923. Bonaparte's Gull. Central Park: No mention from Central Park - it was not seen on the Reservoir or anywhere else in the park. However, in 1923, this gull was considered to be very rare or casual in the NYC area, except in the lower bay. BRONX REGION. Very rare; two records, 27 December 1913 (Hix) and 9 February 1922 (L. N. Nichols).
1958. Bonaparte's Gull. Central Park. Six records since 1923: 10 November 1957 (15 birds! - seen by Peter Post) to 1 January 1956 (Carleton, Feinberg); 1 March 1955 (Paula Messing). From 1959 to 1967: A new late winter date (8 February 1959 seen by Peter Post); and a new maximum (27) on 27 November 1959 by Paula Messing.
1958. Bonaparte's Gull. Prospect Park . Rare transient and winter visitant. 28 December 1946 (Soll) to 3 January 1954 (Cashman, Smith); 26 February 1955 (Russell); 18 April 1943 (Russell) to 5 May 1955 (Raymond, Restivo, Smith) and 27 May 1951 (Alperin, Sedwitz). From 1959 to 1967: still considered a rare transient and winter visitant. 7 November 1954 (Yrizarry) is an added date of occurrence.
1974. Bonaparte's Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Bonaparte's Gull in Central Park - still rare. In 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler never saw this gull on the Reservoir. Today, Deborah Allen tells me her records indicate this gull occurs about once every five years in Central Park.
1923. Ring-billed Gull. Central Park: No mention (yes that is correct, until 1923 it was not seen in Central Park) OR the lower bay/Hudson River in/around Manhattan. BRONX REGION. One positive record; February 9, 1922 on the Sound with Herring Gulls (L. N. Nichols). Few birds are more frequently misidentified than this species, due to failure to understand its plumages and those of the Herring Gull, and few species are harder to identify positively. When direct comparison is possible, the smaller size of the Ring-billed is obvious. In spite of these handicaps to observation, there is no doubt that this species is a common migrant in Long Island waters. For a number of years observers suspected its occasional presence in winter, but the discovery in 1911 that the great majority of observations were unreliable at every season of the year, prevented the data at hand from being accepted. Subsequent observation shows that this species winters occasionally, at least, at the western end of the island. It has been collected and observed off Staten Island, but is unknown from the Hudson River in recent years, although Fisher reports it as a casual migrant at Ossining.
1958. Ring-billed Gull. Central Park. Abundant winter visitant, mostly adults; immatures common throughout the summer; rare before 1950. Maximum 700 on 30 December 1955 (Peter Post). From 1959 to 1967: still abundant but no new dates added.
1958. Ring-billed Gull. Prospect Park . Common winter visitant; recorded throughout the year. From 1959 to 1967: still abundant but no new dates added.
1974. Ring-billed Gull. Central Park. Roger Pasquier did not note any change in status of the Ring-billed Gull in Central Park - still abundant. In 1982 (The Falconer of Central Park), Donald Knowler also often saw this gull on the Reservoir (abundant). Today, we still consider this gull "common as mud." These days first-year birds hang around all summer at the Reservoir, and adults can occasionally be seen by July.
GULLS in Central Park . Visitors to Central Park during the fall before freezing weather comes will do well to observe the gulls which are to be seen in great numbers about the reservoir, either resting on the water or flying over it. At a distance they appear to be snow-white, and whether winging their way with graceful flight from one end of the reservoir to the other or floating lightly on the water's surface, they are beautiful objects. We have as yet observed but two species among them, Larus argentatus [Herring Gull] and L. delawarensis [Ring-billed Gull], though others no doubt are sometimes to be seen.
A Note on the Economic Value of Gulls (excerpt) - 1900
BY FRANK M. CHAPMAN
....this photograph was made in the lower bay of New York harbor on February 20, 1886, under conditions which prohibited technical success. [Ed note: the photo shows a large number of dots = gulls - over the Hudson River in the area of lower Manhattan.] It serves very well, however, to give an idea of the number of Herring Gulls with a comparatively small number of Black-backs which at that time were attracted to the vicinity by the refuse which each day at high tide was dumped upon the waters by the scows of the street cleaning department. The Gulls had gathered to feed upon the animal and vegetable matter deposited. On this occasion eleven scows were dumping, and over the wake of each one fluttered a throng of birds similar to that shown in the picture.
No more impressive object lesson in the value of Gulls as scavengers could be imagined; and no one convinced of the services rendered by these birds throughout our coast-line and on many of the interior lakes and rivers, could, for a moment, doubt the importance of protecting them.
But in place of Gull protection we are having Gull destruction. Gulls, in whole or part, have become fashionable, and Gulls' wings, breasts, heads, bodies and entire skins are worn on hats in countless numbers.
It is stated that in a fire which destroyed the millinery taxidermist establishment of William L. Wilson, at Wantagh, L. I., on November 22, 1899, no less than 10,000 Gulls' skins were consumed; and these figures doubtless represent only a fraction of the number handled during the year.
If the birds remain fashionable the demand for them will, of course, be supplied, with a resulting loss to man which, perhaps, we may realize when it is too late.
Gulls in Central Park 
Gulls are now wide spread and successful. With the exceedingly large number prevalent in the New York City region, there has been a corresponding increase in Central Park. Here, on the site of the present Reservoir, as well as on the 100th Street fields east of the West Drive, every species in the area has been observed. The Reservoir, in particular, seems to be a choice stopover for large concentrations of gulls (up to 1,000 in a day have been counted). The predominant species is not always the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), generally believed to have hegemony; in the last ten years or so the Ring-billed Gull (L. delawarensis) has presented a challenge to the Herring Gull; Ring-billed Gulls often establishing themselves in the overwhelming majority.
The status of the rarer gulls has also changed. Since the first record of the Black-headed Gull (L. ridibundus) in Central Park on January 10, 1958, by Peter Post, this species has been reported by observers each fall-winter season. The Iceland Gull (L. glaucoides), both juvenile and adult, is a regular visitor, and even the less common Glaucous Gull (L. hyperboreus) makes its appearance once or twice yearly in the period from December to March.
Interestingly, the arrival of the white-winged gulls and the Black-headed Gull is determined by the weather. The stimulus is unsettled" conditions. Light precipitation - snow or rain - pendant clouds and "smog" are practically a signal for their entry into the park.
I saw my first Black-headed Gull for the season on December 7, 1962. All the succeeding records of this and the white-winged gulls throughout the winter months were on days unusually bleak. As the Reservoir became about three - quarters ice, with just enough water at the north end for bathing, all of the gulls showed a decided preference for the ice instead of the fields.
On January 7, 1963, a Laughing Gull (L. atricilla) was present on the iced reservoir. Almost a week later, January 13, 1963, a day of rain and fog, was for me a climactic gull census. Approaching the 100th Street fields [today the North Meadow ball fields], I sighted two Black-headed Gulls. As I made my inspection of the Reservoir, I added one Laughing Gull, one Iceland Gull in second-year plumage, and another "Iceland" with the gray spots in the wings. A total, including the Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and Great Black-backed Gull (L. marinus), of six species of gulls. It is rather arduous separating the gulls, and only the hardy field people will risk cold extremities to do so, but in Central Park it is comparatively easy, especially as one realizes that the pattern of weather simplifies it.
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD