Biggest Warbler days yet (25+ species) - more migrants coming...don't miss it.

September 6, 2017

There were approx. 25 species of warblers on last weekend's walks including some rarer ones seen by many such as Tennessee Warbler (Friday, 1 September), Mourning Warbler (Saturday) and several Cape Mays (Monday). On our best day we had 19 warbler species (Friday). This weekend promises to be as good. If history is any teacher, the days around 11 September are the peak of the warbler migration.

Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see links below), and image birds we observed on our bird walks (warblers and thrushes), and a few shorebirds (+ a Peregrine Falcon) photographed in the Bronx.

This week's historical notes (only two!) describe the 11 September 1948 night migration of birds over Manhattan, and the many warblers and others that collided with the Empire State Building.

If you want to help us out GREATLY (!!! please!), post a short review of your experience on one of our bird walks on Trip Advisor. Yes it is important! Have a look/read: http://tinyurl.com/y84789vc

Is anyone looking for someone that does home repairs/construction (including bathrooms and kitchens)? Great prices (no it is not Deborah and me): someone who did extensive work on our home (and work on the homes of our birder friends), could make your place look 100% better, increase in value - for not a lot of money. Contact us for info and yes he /they (family business) will travel to Manhattan. They are quiet, kind and will listen/follow your ideas and goals...have been doing this work for 20 years+.
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Deborah Allen sends photos from Central Park:

Yellow Warbler, Belvedere Castle, Saturday September 2, 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18420364

Veery, Belvedere Castle, Saturday September 2, 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18420363/Veery

Swainson’s Thrush, Maintenance field, Saturday September 2, 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18420362

Pelham Bay Park [Orchard Beach]:
 
Juvenile Least Sandpiper Running, August 31, 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18420360

Juvenile Killdeer, September 2, 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18420359

Peregrine Falcon Bathing, September 2, 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18420361

Link to Deborah Allen photos on Agpix site: http://www.agpix.com/results.php?agid=DeAl12
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Good! Here are the bird walks for early/mid September - each $10***

All walks in Central Park!:

1. Friday, 8 September - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and Fifth Ave) at 9am.
2. Saturday, 9 September  - 7:30am and again at 9am - Boathouse. $10***
3. Sunday, 10 September - 7:30am and again at 9am - Boathouse. $10***
4. Monday, 11 September - 8am and again 9am. Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic). $10***

*** on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays you can do two walks for the price of one: Pay $10 and do both walks (or either one).

The fine print: In September, our walks on Sundays meet at 7:30am/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/Sunday walks for $10. On Mondays we meet at Strawberry Fields: find the Imagine Mosaic and we are sitting on the benches nearby...look for people with binoculars. 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 (= rdcny@earthlink.net). We have a new web site...if in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not, check the web site the morning of the walk: info will be posted on the main landing page as well as the "Schedule" page. If still confused, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk!

We end all our weekend and Monday 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.
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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, 1 September (start at Conservatory Garden [105th street] at 9am) - 19 warbler species today including a few Tennessee Warblers on the west side of the Pool (104th street and CPW). Before the walk, I found an Orange-crowned Warbler near the Green Bench (East Drive at about 105th street): this date ties the record for the earliest Orange-crowned ever seen on southbound migration. The other record was from the late 1930s...More "good" warblers today were Nashville along the lake (106th street) and Wilson's (Lake). Of the four weekend walks during the morning, today featured the most birds and greatest diversity of species. However, each subsequent day was good in its own way, and featured new birds arriving for all to see.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/yabgp8qf
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Saturday, 2 September - (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9am; two walks for $10 total) - easily the best bird was a first fall (hatch-year) Mourning Warbler with ever so slight gray collar that was very responsive to the chip calls from my tape. It jumped up and gave everyone a good look near the Swedish Cottage (Marionette Theater) at its yellow-grey hood (greenish-grey?) and broken eye-arcs. Lots of Black-and-whites, Redstarts and Chestnut-sideds as well.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/y7bvnv8x
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Sunday, 3 September (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 9am) - Rain, rain but we had 15+ people combined on the two walks. Birds were here too: an Olive-sided Flycatcher in the Ramble and an assortment of warblers but patchily distributed. On the other hand, every time we thought it was going to stop raining we were fooled: a downpour soon ensued.

Van Cortlandt Park for Eastern Screech-owls at night: yes we had the owls in both locations. I wish we had more and better looks...but we know these little owls are holding their own in the park.

Deborah's Central Park bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/y6wygn2v
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Monday, 4 September (start at Strawberry Fields [Imagine Mosaic] at 8am and again at 9am) - a lot of people, and this was one of those walks happily when the birds and people showed up on the same day. We ran around getting great looks at warbler species (Northern Parula, Redstarts and Black-and-whites sometimes less than two feet away) - the tape was working wonders. Highlights were the Cape May Warblers, especially the two in Shakespeare Garden, and Jeff Ward's Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the Tupelo Meadow. Thanks to David Barret, Andrea Hessel MD, Gilian Henry MD, Marianne MD and some PhDs that joined us...we learned a lot from the people who know birds (Deborah A eg).

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/y7ofjpun
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HISTORICAL NOTES

The September Migration Tragedy [1948]
Arthur Aronoff

Most New York newspapers of September 11th and 12th, 1948, had stories of hundreds of birds hitting the Empire State Building during the earliest hours of the eleventh. Reports were varied, and as usual, frequently were grossly exaggerated. One well-known tabloid, of large circulation, painted this swan-song picture: It rained birds in New York a few hours before dawn yesterday a brightly-feathered shower of dead songbirds lured to poetic doom by the lights of the city.  Even as they fluttered earthward, their tiny bodies shattered by the stone of skyscrapers, thousands of others perched on window sills and warbled. It was a moment of funereal beauty such as has never been known here.

Of course such a report is sheer nonsense. However, hundreds of migrating birds did lose their lives that morning by flying into the Empire State Building or by fluttering around it until they dropped from exhaustion. The most likely explanation is that the birds were moving southward with a cold air mass from the north, which was continually forced lower until they reached the level of the building. Whether or not any birds were actually attracted from a distance by the lights of the structure, or only those birds in whose migration path it stood came in contact with it, we cannot say.  There is one explanation for the fatalities which has not been widely acclaimed and which also comes from a Newspaper: "Dem boids," one cabbie said tenderly, "must have been starving, so dey goes off lookin for a meal and den bang!"

The writer arrived at 34th street on the afternoon of the 11th after all the dead birds had been removed from the streets. He managed to gain access to the garbage room of the Empire State Building and found a pile of birds that had been swept from the Buildings ledges. Half the pile was brought home, and in it were 198 individuals of 27 species. The exact list is as follows:

Sora - 1                                                                      
Virginia Rail - 1
Veery - 1                                                 
Bobolink - 1
Scarlet Tanager - 2
Red-eyed Vireo - 8                                                                                                                                                                     
Black-throated Green Warbler - 2                                                            
Cape May warbler - 4
Parula Warbler - 1                                                    
Yellow Warbler - 1
Tennessee Warbler - 1                                                  
Connecticut Warbler - 10
American Redstart - 18                                             
Common Yellowthroat - 8
Ovenbird - 78                                                           
Blackpoll Warbler - 4
Northern Waterthrush - 10                                       
Bay-breasted Warbler - 4
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 3                               
Nashville Warbler - 1
Worm-eating Warbler 1                                          
Magnolia Warbler - 11
Yellow-breasted Chat  - 5                                          
Black-and-white Warbler -10
Prairie Warbler  - 2                                                    
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 8
Blue-winged Warbler  - 1

This list is not entirely representative of the proportions of the various species involved for several reasons, one being that several Red-eyed Vireos, Ovenbirds, and American Redstarts were rejected and not brought home and counted. Nevertheless the number of Connecticut Warblers is surprising, as is the fact that Ovenbirds were no more common than usual on the following day (at least in Central Park).  This seems to indicate the possibility of a species migrating heavily past a point during a very limited wave or period of time, and being scarce at that same point a short time later.

Among the birds killed that night and taken to the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Zoological Society were three Baltimore Orioles, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Canada Warbler making a total of 30 species known to have been involved in the accident.

The same type of mass slaughter occurred on the same night in Philadelphia at the PSFS Building.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer 11 species of birds were killed, but the actual number was probably much higher.  Since the New York Newspapers reported only about a dozen species as having been killed at the Empire State Building while actually the number was 30, a similar oversight may have taken place in Philadelphia.

Of the 11 species identified from Philadelphia, all but one, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, were among the New York casualties.

In Nashville, Tennessee a somewhat similar tragedy happened, but on the morning of the 10th, the day before the occurrence in New York and Philadelphia.  In this city, however, the birds did not strike high buildings, but were found dead around an extremely powerful (30 million candle power) mercury arc light at Berry Field, a Nashville Airport.  In this case the deaths could be attributed to powerful heat, the blinding light or to the birds actually striking the structure.  Most likely it was a combination of all three.

On September 12th, the writer again visited the Empire State Building and was allowed out on the ledge of the first setback where several dead warblers from the previous day were found, and in addition, the following live birds: Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1); Ovenbird (1); American Redstart (1); and three unidentified warblers.  Their condition was far too good for them to have been there since the previous morning, indicating that birds are probably frequently killed during migration by the building, but that this occurrence is only noticed when it is on a grand scale.
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Out of the Night Sky [1948]
Richard Pough
Curator of Conservation, American Museum of Natural History

Ever since the Egyptians erected the first Obelisk, man has delighted in rearing tall monuments.  As his technical skill has increased, they have risen higher into the sky, but until the air age, they were never regarded as perils to mankind.  Several tragic airplane accidents have, however, begun to make us realize the hazards they put in the paths of those who must travel the airways by night.

To the host of small, migratory land birds that twice a year traverse thousands of miles of night sky, danger from man-made obstacles is nothing new.  Thousands of birds die annually against stone and steel which soars into what the birds believe to be open air.  This toll will go on until the last skyscraper topples to earth.

Until recently the Empire State Building, rising 1,450 feet above the streets of mid-Manhattan, had killed relatively few birds, although it had brought down an airplane.  Then, on September 11th, 1948, shortly after midnight, birds started pelting against the Tower, and fluttering to the streets nearly a quarter of a mile below.  Some were dead, some fatally injured, some only stunned – in all, many hundreds were killed that night.  Over twenty-five different species were identified, mostly warblers with a scattering of vireos, grosbeaks, orioles, and others.  No serious attempt was made to count the victims, to determine the proportion represented by each species, or to check the dead or injured birds for bands.  Hoses and shovels cleared the streets quickly. 

What happened on that particular night to cause such exceptional bird mortality?  Anyone who has listened to the calls coming in from the night sky knows that each fall the air overhead is filled with southbound migrants night after night, yet mass accidents of this sort of comparatively rare.  During these migrations, birds do not appear to travel as organized flocks.  Each individual is on its own and many species will be simultaneously traveling the same airways.  Seldom do they appear to be compact flocks that would suffer such a high mortality only should the flock by chance happen to strike a building.

To understand the disasters which occasionally overtake these nocturnal migrants, we must know something of the way in which birds ride moving masses of air in their migrations.  Hawk Mountain and the many recent studies of the diurnal migrations of hawks have made us realize how skillfully these large birds use thermals and the powerful updrafts over mountain ranges to maintain their altitude while gliding southward.  Few persons realize, however, to what a great extent the host of small nocturnal, outnumbering the diurnal ones by probably thousands to one, use the horizontal currents of the atmosphere to carry them on their way.

It is a mistake to think that the direction in which the air is moving along the bottom of the air ocean is any indication of its direction at other levels.  How the birds select the elevation which will place them in an air mass moving most rapidly in the general direction that they wish to travel no one knows, but the testimony of aviators such as Neil T. McMillan (Bird-Lore, November-December 1938, p. 397) seems to indicate that they are able to do so.  It would appear from the lack of mortality at even the highest man-made structures under normal circumstances, that birds usually fly high enough to clear all obstructions.  And it appears that they are quite willing to go higher if necessary in order to be able to ride an air mass moving in an exceptionally favorable direction.  Only the lack of a southbound air mass at a greater height would seem to account for birds being low enough to hit obstructions like the Empire State Building.

A check with the New York Weather Bureau indicated that this was exactly the situation on the morning of September 11th.  A mass of cold southward-flowing air had just reached New York City, and as forced upward, and being overridden by, a mass of northbound warm air.  Cold air being dense is heavier than warm air, and flows under it – like molasses under water – the advancing edge of the flow often being only a few hundred feet thick.

Let us assume that the birds took off at nightfall from a point to the north into this mass of air which was moving in a favorable direction.  Once in the air they move with it, but because they were adding their own flight speed to the velocity of the air they traveled in, they approached closer and closer to the shallow southward-moving cold front.  Presumably, the birds must have had to fly lower and lower as they progressed, in order to avoid the adverse, over-riding, northward bound mass of warm air.

Thus, the stage was set for an object reaching far into the sky to intercept part of the great host of moving birds that probably filled the air on that night all along the Atlantic seaboard.

Maybe the glow from the lighted mooring mast drew a few birds slightly off their path into the Tower.  Possibly low clouds caused by the chilling of the moist warm air above, along the zone of its contact with the cold air that was flowing below it, added to the toll.  The fact remains, however, that regardless of the secondary influence of such factors, the stage for the disaster was actually set by the shallowness of the southbound air mass over New York City.  Judging from the scarcity of similar disasters in the spring, when northbound birds would avoid southward-moving masses of heavy cold air that because of their density move close to the earth, the foregoing meteorological conditions probably account for most of these autumnal disasters to birds of passage.

From: Audubon Magazine (1948) Vol. 50: 354-355
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In the February 1971 issue of American Birds Magazine (vol. 25, No. 1), Aaron Bagg in the column, The Changing Seasons, reported on the radar and ceilometer research of Dr. Ken Able in Athens, Georgia.  According to Dr Able, “…the night of Sept. 28-29, 1970: Under crystal clear skies the largest migration I have ever seen took place.  The birds were going due south here, and the traffic rate of 200,000 birds per mile of front per hour is, to my knowledge, the largest traffic rate ever recorded, either on radar or moon watching.”  It is worth noting that the next two highest traffic rates which Mr. Able recorded during this season were: 80,000 the night of October 15-16, 1970; and 50,000 the night of October 16-17, 1970 (p. 22).
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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD 
www.BirdingBob.com

 

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