COLD, Blustery and Windy....YES! Rare Migrants headed our way - come see them.

November 8, 2017

8 November 2017

The weather descending upon us this week is cold cold cold - but I will be at the listed meeting places (even at 7:30am), and taking attendance. That same cold weather has produced some great birds: a Corn Crake (Eurasian type of rail) is on Long Island (found yesterday) - the first time since 1963. A Virginia Rail was photographed this morning (8 Nov) standing on a Lexus stuck in traffic on 45th street and Park Avenue. More great migrants will be discovered with this advancing cold weather parade.

Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show some less common birds, seen on our bird walks in Central Park: Eastern Bluebird and Eastern Meadowlark, as well as a late Black-throated Green Warbler. And from Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx (NYC!), a female Lapland Longspur.

This week's historical notes include info on some of the rare birds we found/saw/photographed this last week: the aforementioned Meadowlark and Bluebird (Saturday, 4 Nov), as well as Lapland Longspur (5 Nov.). Meadowlarks and Bluebirds once nested in NYC. The Meadowlark bred until at least 1910 on Staten Island and Manhattan Island (area of Inwood Hill Park), and as late as at least 1921 at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The Bluebird, historically a less common breeding bird in NYC, also nested until at least 1921 (NYBG - Bronx); more recently Eastern Bluebirds have bred at Pelham Bay Park (one pair at Golf Course) in the last 15 years, and may have bred at Van Cortlandt Park (Bronx) in the last decade - there are Bluebird boxes set up for them on Vault Hill. The House Sparrow and Starling are primarily responsible for the loss of nesting Bluebirds; the loss of grassland habitat led to the local extirpation of the Meadowlark. Don't forget the Lapland Longspur either: a migrant, and we provide a 1917 snippet on its occurrence near NYC.
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Deborah Allen sends photos

Central Park:

Immature Male Eastern Bluebird, The Oven/Willow Rock, 4 November:
http://tinyurl.com/yb8jloos

Eastern Meadowlark, The Great Lawn, Saturday, 4 November 2017:
http://tinyurl.com/yalb7ymv and http://tinyurl.com/yd7g59d8

Immature Female Black-throated Green Warbler, Laupot Bridge, 4 Nov.:
http://tinyurl.com/yatnvrye

American Crow, Balancing Rock, Saturday, November 4, 2017:
http://tinyurl.com/yc8ydh2z

Pelham Bay Park, Bronx, NY:

Lapland Longspur, Orchard Beach Parking Lot, 5 November:
http://tinyurl.com/ycwjdf57

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

All walks in Central Park:

1. Friday, 10 November - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and Fifth Ave) at 9am.
2. Saturday, 11 November  - 7:30am and again at 9am - Boathouse. $10***
3. Sunday, 12 November - 8am and again at 9am -  Boathouse (74st/East Drive)***
4. Monday, 13 November - 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 November, 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, 3 November (start at Conservatory Garden [105th street] at 9am only) - today might have been the last delightful day of 2017...with a high temperature above 70f and abundant sunshine. We found four warbler species including several Northern Parula warblers and a Magnolia W as well. The highlight was a flock of 26 Turkey Vultures over the Great Hill, spotted by Sally Kopstein. Tom Ahlf added a few Golden-crowned Kinglets (near Blockhouse), and Will Papp contributed a flyover Sharp-shinned Hawk being circled by a small flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/ybuc38ta
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Saturday, 4 November - (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9am; two walks for $10 total) - what a day! There were not oodles of birds but what we missed in number we greatly made up in quality. Deborah Allen and I scared up an American Woodcock in the dark (7am) at the south end of the Tupelo Meadow; we found as Eastern Meadowlark on the Great Lawn - thanks to Jeff Judge (Ward) a true Yankee fan (he changed his name!); an Orange-crowned Warbler just east of the Maintenance Field; an Eastern Bluebird (at the Oven - see Deborah's photo); and after lunch a pair of Ravens soaring and calling above the Ramble with a pair of Red-tailed Hawks. The birding gods were good to us today. But the ordinary birds were just as wonderful: a flock of 25 or so Golden-crowned Kinglets in the Tupelo tree; four Blue-headed Vireos and four Winter Wrens were also wonderful.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/y8cva3zl
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Sunday, 5 November (start at the Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9am; two walks for $10 total) - We cancelled today's walk (check the web site if in doubt...info was posted by 7:30pm on Saturday/last night). The weather forecast was "iffy" and though not raining at 8am and 9am, we cancelled the walk because of Saturday night's forecast, and especially because of the increased security presence in the park due to the recent terrorist incident in Manhattan along the west side bike path.

Deborah's bird list for the day: NO...cancelled due to rain and heightened security.
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Monday, 6 November (start at Strawberry Fields [Imagine Mosaic] at 8am and again at 9am/$10) - the migration that began on Friday night into Saturday moved through Central Park. On Saturday we could find hundreds of White-throated Sparrows in the Ramble...today only a few scattered small groups. The highlights were (all less than ten!) Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-belled Sapsucker and Hermit Thrush. We had the most fun with swooping Red-bellied Woodpeckers who are getting territorial again after a late summer of the laughing cavalier lifestyle.

Deborah's bird list for the day: http://tinyurl.com/ycxzp2xe
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HISTORICAL NOTES

LAPLAND LONGSPUR. Calcarius lapponicus lapponicus. 1917. This species, though of regular occurrence at the eastern end of Long Island is very rare near New York City. Recent records are 26 November 1910 (Manhattan Beach/Brooklyn) by W. H. Wiegmann and G. E. Hix; 25 November 1911 to 11 February 1912 up to 5 individuals present (Manhattan Beach/Brooklyn); one on 26 November 1916 (Long Beach/Nassau Co.). John T. Nichols, Robert C. Murphy and Ludlow Griscom.
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Meadowlark in NYC (1905)
Sturnella magna

IN years past the Meadowlark has been rather a common bird in many places within the present limits of the city of New York, but they have steadily retreated as improvements have advanced and it is now a difficult matter to find a pair breeding in any of the Boroughs, though I believe a few are left. On the Hempstead plains in Nassau County, and only a short distance over the city line, a good many pairs breed every season. In the vicinity of New York the Meadowlark is an all-the-year resident, and during cold, snowy spells in winter he sometimes comes almost to our door in quest of food.

This bird ought to increase in number now that they are no longer regarded as a game bird, which was the case a few years ago and a great many were killed by gunners, especially near large cities where game is scarce. It was only fifteen or twenty years ago that gunners came to Long Island in September and October by the score and slaughtered Robins, as well as Meadowlarks, by the bagful. We are all thankful that the day of such killing is passed, never to return.

Meadow Larks build their nests upon the ground and conceal them well. A full set of eggs ranges from four to six. They are of good size, white, spotted brown, and some examples are remarkably handsome. The note, or song of the Meadowlark, if it may be so called, is soft and pleasing.
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Staten Island: the Redwing [1910]
By HOWARD H. CLEAVES, Staten Island. N. Y.
 
The Red-wing Blackbird is generally associated with wet, marshy places.  His three-syllable note, or song, we expect to hear from the tree-tops on the border of some cat-tail swamp, along some creek, or at the edge of a pond.

The nest is easily located, being placed sometimes in a tussock of grass near the margin of the water, or out in an open stretch of marsh-land in the short grasses. More often it is suspended from the upright stems of the highwater-shrubs or, the tall marsh grasses. The two latter nests differ from the others. They are woven on the outside with plant fibers, and fastened to their supports in a manner which makes them resemble, in a degree, the nest of the Baltimore Oriole. Generally they are placed several feet from the ground. The former nests are invariably placed very close to the ground, or water, being only a few inches up the stems of the grasses to which they are attached, and in no wise do they resemble a pendent nest. They are constructed throughout of grasses of various sizes.
 
But the Redwing is changing the nest-building customs of his race. He is completely shifting the scenes of his domestic life. That is, he is doing so in a certain section of Staten Island.
 
Last summer, while photographing Bobolinks, I had occasion to do a great deal of walking back and forth through a daisy field, in search of nests. Red-winged Blackbirds seemed numerous about the place, and would first alight on the tree-tops at the edge of a wood, and then fly excitedly out over the field and hover just above my head. I must have been too much absorbed in my Bobolinks at first to take note of the Redwings, for not until a female of the latter species had actually been flushed from her nest did it occur to me that these birds might do such an unheard-of thing as to build in an upland hay-field, within a few rods of the nests of the Bobolink and Meadowlark. But here was unquestionable proof. Father Redwing sat in a tree-top, scolding; the mother hovered excitedly over my head; and just in front of me, supported by a cluster of daisy stems, was the nest. The set of eggs was incomplete, but the eggs were unmistakable. The nest-site had changed, but the eggs were scrawled with the same short-hand markings that adorn all Redwings' eggs. The nest was of the type found in the short salt-meadow grass, and was only four inches from the ground.
 
I stopped long enough to photograph this rather unusual find, and when I resumed my Bobolink work I soon happened upon another, this one containing four eggs. This second nest was distant from the first about a hundred yards, and no doubt there were more nests in the field, because at one time there were four anxious' females hovering in the air.
 
As stated above, the Redwings have always nested hereabout, either on the salt meadows or along the borders of fresh-water ponds. The pond-borders have, of late years, become so spoiled by cows and men that they now offer scarcely a suitable nesting-site. The salt meadows have all been ditched, and I often think that I would much rather endure mosquitos in their former numbers than to have the scarcity of bird-life on the meadows which this ditching has apparently caused. Formerly, during the spring and fall migrations, the meadow lands attracted Greater Yellow-legs, Least and Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plovers, and several others which are now rarely seen there.
 
However, these migrants are not the only birds to be affected. The Redwings nested formerly in such numbers that to find half a dozen or more of their nests within an hour was nothing remarkable. But the drying up of the meadows has brought about a change. The grass is now parched, and small fish lie dead in stale water-holes where Night Herons and Green Herons once made successful catches. Soft mud here and there after a rain bears the impressions made by Crows' feet, and I am inclined to believe that the Crows play a more or less important part in the increasing discomforts of the Redwings. Before, the meadows were, for the most part, covered with water to the depth of several inches.
 
Now the water is all drawn off, and the Crows can alight anywhere they please and destroy the contents of the Blackbirds' nests. On several occasions, nests containing eggs have been located, and a day or two later have been found empty and deserted. One day four such nests were observed, their linings being usually torn out and scattered about the spot. Last season no Redwings nested on the meadows.
 
The question arises: Are these adverse conditions causing the Redwing to move to a new and different place during the nesting period, or is he doing it for reasons of another character? It seems that the dominant instinct to return each year to the same general locality is still strong, but that an entirely new area in that locality is gradually being accepted as the place for the rearing of the annual brood.
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BIRDS IN THE New York BOTANICAL GARDEN (Bronx 1921) - This spring not only seems to have been an unusually favorable one for the observation of bird-life in the Garden, but the number of observers engaged in this interesting outdoor recreation has doubtless been greater than ever before, which would at least partly account for the many species noted. The earliest arrivals from the South were the red-wing blackbird and robin during the first week of March. Next came the bluebird, whose presence seems to announce, to many, more definitely than that of any other bird, the real beginning of another Spring. The blue-birds were followed shortly by the grackle and meadowlark. Then came the phoebe and golden-winged woodpecker or flicker, soon followed by the cowbird and towhee, these March arrivals all being birds that remain in more or less numbers to nest in the Garden. Next observed were two migrants that pause only for a short time here before going on farther north to their summer homes, namely, the hermit thrush, on April 4th and ruby-crested kinglet, April 5th. These were followed by the chipping sparrow, a summer resident, and on April 7th a flock of palm warblers were seen, the earliest of the wood-warblers, soon to be followed by a somewhat straggling host of others, representing many species and including some of our most beautiful native birds. A number of these warblers are rarely seen and then only by persistent effort, for the majority of them breed farther north and may pause with us for only a short period, during which they will be found mostly among the upper branches of the forest trees. This year the warblers appeared in greater numbers than usual, from about the 13th to the 16th of May, a period including the time of the severe storm in which so many birds, warblers and many other species were found dead in or near Madison Square Park. (It was estimated that about 1,000 bodies of the smaller birds were scattered about, evidently killed by striking the head against glass or other parts of the tall buildings near.)

And speaking of cavities in trees, recalls an incident that happened a number of weeks ago. It seems a bluebird, recently arrived, was examining rather carefully a hollow limb, evidently with a view to nest-building. Two ubiquitous house sparrows, shortly appeared on the scene and a fight promptly began for possession of the premises. The bluebird could drive off either sparrow when alone, but together the sparrows were too much for the bluebird, which, after fighting for half an hour or so, finally left the field to the sparrows, not, however before removing a feather or two from at least one of them. It would appear that the sparrows did not really care for the place, as they have failed to make any use of it, all of which seems to show that they are not wholly desirable citizens, with which remark these brief notes must be closed, although many of our very commonest birds have not been mentioned.  R.S.W.
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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD 
www.BirdingBob.com

Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC

 

 

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