Wrens, Sparrows and some warblers still: a portrait of late October bird migration in Central Park.

October 25, 2017

25 October 2017

Here's a link to Deborah Allen's cover photo of a Long-eared Owl in this month's issue of BirdWatching magazine - photographed in February 2011 at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx: https://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/the-magazine/current-issue/

Meanwhile, Signe Hammer (off to Mexico to her winter home for the next six months) sends a link to an article about bird murals painted on buildings in upper Manhattan: http://tinyurl.com/yd3dp2tq

Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show a hawk, sparrow, warbler and more...all photographed in Central Park on Sunday, 22 October 2017.

This week's historical notes include info on the Field Sparrow (1906) that once was a fairly common breeding species in parts of NYC (Queens). Also, we provide information on the Vesper Sparrow, today a rare migrant in our area, but once (1906) a breeding bird in Queens and elsewhere such as eastern Long Island (1914). Finally, we send an 1881 note from Ms. Annie Trumbull Slosson (1838-1926) who purchased several sparrows from a New York bird store, and tells of their habits in captivity - see especially her info on a Swamp Sparrow. The author later would be best known for writing short stories, and especially for her efforts in founding the New York Entomological [Insect] Society in 1892. She was the first (only) female member for some time; the Society still meets at the American Museum of Natural History. In her lifetime, she named many insects, and several were named for her. See below! and: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Trumbull_Slosson
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Deborah Allen sends photos taken in Central Park on 22 October 2017:

Adult Male Red-tailed Hawk, Tupelo Field:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18432034/Adult-Male-Red-tailed-Hawk

Song Sparrow, Sparrow Rock:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18432032/Song-Sparrow

Palm Warbler, Pinetum:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18432031/Palm-Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pinetum:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18432030/Yellow-rumped-Warbler

Winter Wren, Shakespeare Garden:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18432033/Winter-Wren

Large Milkweed Bug Nymph, near Cleopatra’s Needle:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18432029/Large-Milkweed-Bug-Nymph

Link to Deborah Allen photos on Agpix site: http://tinyurl.com/ydflkdp4
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Good! Here are the bird walks for late October - each $10***

All walks in Central Park:

1. Friday, 27 October - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and Fifth Ave) at 9am.
2. Saturday, 28 October  - 7:30am and again at 9am - Boathouse. $10***
3. Sunday, 29 October - 7:30am and again at 9am - Boathouse. $10***
4. Monday, 30 October - 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). On Fridays there is only one walk.

The fine print: In October, 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, 20 October (start at Conservatory Garden [105th street] at 9am only) - a nice, sunny day with lots of people. The Red-breasted Nuthatch at the Green Bench pine trees was my favorite. These birds are quite social, and upon playing the calls of comrades, these nuthatches are apt to come flying right at my speaker - as was the case today...several times. This male was very happy to hear his friends...We found a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow and seven (7!) Field Sparrows - though most were found by Bob before 8am. A total of five warbler species today, with a Northern Waterthrush at the Pool being the most unexpected. We missed the Clay-colored Sparrow at the Wildflower Meadow found by Stefan Passlick PhD - though we had lots of similar Chipping Sparrows at various locations.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/y8xpgut3
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Saturday, 21 October - (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9am; two walks for $10 total) - Another Red-breasted Nuthatch today; this one not quite as social, but it came in close enough. Other fun birds were many Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets that came in close. We also had four Blue-headed Vireos, and five species of wood warblers. Marianne Sutton MD found the Black-and-white Warbler in the Ramble (has been hanging around for a bit in that area), and there was an amazing Black-throated Green Warbler in Maintenance Field that followed the tape (my chip calls) to the left (75 feet) and back to the right into the sunshine for several minutes. That migrant gets an "A" for cooperation.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/yakxwt3h
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Sunday, 22 October (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9am; two walks for $10 total) - well that same Black-throated Green Warbler was still in the Maintenance Field (found by Christine today), but did not follow the tape/calls whatsoever. Meanwhile, the superb and kind and brilliant Jeff Ward (now a devout Yankee fan) found an adult male Baltimore Oriole in the Pinteum. Here also were a number of Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, as well as a fleeting look at a Pine Warbler (found by Deborah Allen, also a Yankee fan). On the early walk (7:30am), we had a quick look at an Orange-crowned Warbler at the NW corner of the Maintenance Field...for a total of seven warbler species today (including Marianne Sutton's Black-and-white in the Ramble near the Bird Feeders).

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/y833q8la
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Monday, 23 October (start at Strawberry Fields [Imagine Mosaic] at 8am and again at 9am/$10) - Carine Mitchell found yesterday's male Baltimore Oriole (Jeff Ward - a Yankee fan) in the Pinetum, in the same tree (a Siberian Elm) where it was found yesterday...it must be feeding on the sap coming from the Siberian Elms, because they are being drilled by numerous Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Taking advantage of this are also many Yellow-rumped Warblers, and in most years, Cape May Warblers. We had a total of four warbler species today, with some other birds (Winter Wren, Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse) giving us a glimmer of hope that northern see-eating birds might still make an appearance here in southern New York State. Has anyone seen a migrant American Goldfinch or Pine Siskin this autumn?

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/y7ely87l
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HISTORICAL NOTES

The Field Sparrow [1905] - Spizella pusilla
 
A DELIGHTFUL bird is the Field Sparrow, about the size of the Chipping Sparrow, but within the city limits not nearly so abundant. It breeds regularly in the Borough of Queens and is found in vacant or waste land, partly wooded. The bird arrives early from the South and its cheerful song is one of the very first to be heard, often as early as the end of March. He is a persistent as well as a delightful songster, generally delivering his song from the topmost branches of some half grown tree or large shrub; also from telegraph wires. This bird has the longest season of song of any which breed within the city limits, excepting only the Song Sparrow.
 
The singing season, which commences upon its arrival from the South, say April 1st, continues well into September.
 
The Field Sparrow builds its nest of dried grasses and rootlets and it is usually placed in a thick clump of bushes, wild rose and briar being favorites, a foot or more from the ground. I have found nests, however, built upon the ground under sheltering tufts of dried grass and also in small cedar trees as much as six feet up. The eggs are of a grayish color thickly spotted, and four is the usual number. In 1902, however, I examined some dozen nests on Long Island all of which had three eggs or three young birds; not a single one I found that year contained as many as four, while the next year all the nests in the same locality contained four eggs or four young birds, - not one that I saw had less. Like most other Sparrows this species is largely a seed eater though insects form a considerable portion of its diet.
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Vesper Sparrow [1905] - Poocates gramineus
 
THIS bird is often mistaken for the Song Sparrow. Its song is similar, but easily distinguished when one becomes familiar with both. In size and coloration there is much similarity between the birds, but their habits are materially different. About New York the bird is much more abundant than the Song Sparrow and occurs in goodly numbers within the city limits. Among the fields of the Borough of Queens it is particularly abundant. Its food habits are similar to those of the Song Sparrow.
 
The Vesper Sparrow or Grass Finch is essentially a ground bird, living, feeding and nesting in pastures, fields and vacant lots. Its song is slightly less pleasing than that of the Song Sparrow, and may be heard late afternoons, particularly at sunset and dusk. Its habit of singing freely at this time gives the bird its common name. The principal distinguishing marks are its two white outer tail feathers. When the bird is flushed these two white feathers show plainly, as is the case with the Slate-colored Junco (Junco hyemalis).
 
The Vesper Sparrow builds its nest on the ground, and in location, construction, coloration and size of the eggs, which are four or five in number, closely resembles that of the Song Sparrow.
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A Winter Flight of Vesper Sparrows [1907]. - The following account, relating to a midwinter flight of Vesper Sparrows in the vicinity of New York City, appears to constitute an unprecedented record. The presence of this species here first came to my notice on February 12,1907. During the forenoon of that day I observed many individuals of the species in the grassy fields and stubble growth north of Merrick, Long Island; and from this locality southward to the salt meadows and westward along the Merrick Road, I found Vesper Sparrows in comparative abundance. The birds were sometimes seen singly or in groups of two or three, but were more commonly found associating with Juncos and Tree Sparrows. All three species were industriously feeding among the roadside weeds, in a temperature which stood near the zero point.

Within the limits of Freeport, L. I., just north of the center of the village, many Vesper Sparrows were seen feeding between the rails of the electric-car tracks from which the snow had been entirely cleared, and, as I followed the tracks toward Hempstead and Garden City, one bird after another flew up from before me, only to alight again some distance ahead. After being repeatedly flushed, the birds would fly into a near-by bush or tree, and allow me to pass before resuming their quest for food. They were, without exception, exceedingly tame, and usually permitted a close approach before flying and expanding their white edged tails. North of Freeport, one of the birds was secured for the Museum, thus making identification positive.

On February 17, a careful search in the vicinity of Jamaica, Long Island, failed to disclose a single Vesper Sparrow, and none was seen by members of the Museum staff, who spent several days on the south shore of Long Island during the latter part of February and the first week in March. Several hunts made since that time have yielded no better results; the conclusion, therefore, is that the flight must have been either very local or of short duration, probably the latter.

Although Giraud, in his 'Birds of Long Island,' says of the Vesper Sparrows, ... "A few remain with us throughout the year," recent records for dates later than the middle of November are not common, and, moreover, the above statement would hardly account for such numbers of the birds as were seen by the writer. With the exception of Giraud's account, the northernmost recorded winter range of the species is in southern Pennsylvania, where, according to Warren, the birds are frequently seen in winter. In Rhoad's and Pennock's list of the' Birds of Delaware,' the Vesper Sparrow is given only as a summer resident.

The fact that the Vesper Sparrows were with us during the coldest period of the winter would appear to preclude the supposition that they were early migrants from the South, and yet no other theory seems probable. Field notes from all sections of the country around New York City might aid greatly in determining the direction of the flight, so it is to be hoped that other observers will be heard from.  ROBERT C. MURPHY, American Museum of Natural History, New York City.
===========================
Loss of the Vesper Sparrow, at Orient, L. I. (1914)

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

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

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

Though it is the popular opinion that the summer residents observed at the North in winter are individuals of the species from farther north taking the places of those that nested in the vicinity, my study of the Vesper Sparrow leads me to believe that these Sparrows observed in winter are the identical ones that bred here.

This is my reason for thinking that the exceptional winter of last year is the principal factor in the absolute disappearance of the Vesper Sparrows from Orient this summer.

There has previously been no variation in their numbers for a score of years. The various pairs were scattered, returning each season to breed in their long-chosen localities. So attached do they become to certain fields or tracts that, covering a period of fourteen years, they have clung to them adapting themselves to the various changes from pastures to potato-fields, strawberry-beds, etc. Roy Latham, Orient, L. I.
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Habits of the Swamp Sparrow in Confinement [1881].
 
Dr. Elliott Coues: My dear Sir:

You may recall a conversation on the subject of my aviary which took place at the "Wentworth" last summer. As you then appeared somewhat interested in my experiments with native birds I venture to send you some new facts. In the early part of November I visited a New York bird store, and there found a cage of our native birds, freshly caught, and very wild. The trapper who had just brought them in was present. But as he was a German, speaking very little English, and was moreover more than a little intoxicated; as he also while talking held a short pipe in his mouth from which he puffed the smoke of villainous tobacco into my face, our interview was not wholly satisfactory. Still, I succeeded in obtaining some scraps of information. He had a Song Sparrow, a "Chippy," a White-throated Sparrow, two Purple Finches (in different stages of plumage), a Snow-bird (Junco hyemalis = Junco), Snow Bunting (Plectrophanes nivalis), and one small bird I did not know. On questioning its captor as to this last stranger he gave me to understand that it was " Kleiner wasser birdlive in vet place, vere never could go the lady she vet her foots." I bought the whole lot, and, when at home, studied up my unknown friend. He proved to be the Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza palustris), and his habits are so curious I want you to know of them. I placed him in a large cage, already containing some fifty birds, native and foreign, and in a few days he became quite at home, and seemed quiet and friendly, much more so than any of the other new arrivals. I soon noticed that his mode of feeding was peculiar. Instead of eating from the seed dishes or cup of soft food, like the others, he proceeded in this way: Perching upon the edge of the bath tub (a large shallow dish of earthenware filled with water), he balanced himself skillfully upon one foot, and with the other, scratched or dabbled in the water. This stirred up the seed, and bits of green stuff, scattered by the other birds, and as it rose to the surface he secured it, picking it up, bit by bit, with his bill and eating it. This he did constantly, very rarely taking food in any other way. Sometimes he scratched in the gravel, thrown upon the floor of the cage, and moistened by spray from the birds' ablutions, and picked up the seeds he thus found.

The constant use of his little right foot, and the strain of reaching so far when the water was low, finally lamed Swampy (my birds have each his own pet name, used only in "the family"), and he was forced to hop about drearily on his left foot. I then scattered seed and Mocking Bird food carefully upon the surface of the water, and he at once accepted the situation and without scratching. He is quite well again now. He has never sung or uttered the faintest chirp, but may begin with the approach of spring. I will not weary you with a longer story, but trust the items concerning M. palustris, a bird not often caged, will prove of some interest. Very sincerely. Annie Trumbull Slosson, Hartford, Conn.

Annie Trumbull Slosson and Entomology: http://tinyurl.com/y7r5osnt and http://tinyurl.com/y7yolpt4
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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD 
www.BirdingBob.com

Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC

 

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