Warblers (four) and Hammond's Flycatcher: a great December Sunday in Central Park

December 6, 2017

                                                                                                                        Nashville Warbler by Doug Leffler

6 December 2017                                     

This past Sunday, 3 December, at least four warbler species (Wilson's Warbler, Magnolia W., Nashville W., and Northern Parula), as well as one other neotropical migrant, the Hammond's Flycatcher, were present and reliably reported in Central Park. It was quite a day!

 

With all these birds that should be well south of us, you might ask, "What's going on with the weather here in NYC?" Our favorite weather person tells me, "November 2017 featured two weather highlights. The first was the flash-freeze of Nov. 10 and 11.  After eight weeks of very mild autumn weather that began in mid-September (including the warmest October on record), arctic air moved in on Nov. 10, ushering in the earliest reading of 25f since 1976.  The lows on the 10th and 11th were both records - the first back-to-back record lows since August 1994.  The month's second noteworthy aspect was minimal rainfall.  With just 1.58", November was the driest month since March 2016, the driest November since 2001 and the fifth driest since 1970.  Nearly half of the month's rain fell on 7 November, when 0.70" was measured, mostly during the evening.  November's rainfall deficit was in contrast to a late October nor'easter that produced New York's greatest rainfall in more than three years (3.28" on 10/29-30). Temperature-wise November 2017 was 1.1 degrees below average.  The first and last six days were nearly five degrees milder than average while the period from Nov. 7 thru 24 was five degrees colder than average.  Only five days had highs of 60f or milder - the typical number is nine.  However, it was the chilliest November since 1959 to have two or more days with highs in the 70s.  (In recent history the fewest number of 60f highs was in 1962, when there was just one; the most is sixteen, in 2005, 1999 and 1979.)  Besides Nov. 10, 11 and 12, Thanksgiving Day (11/23) was the only other day during the month to have a low of 32f or colder."

SCHEDULE NOTES! This Saturday (9 December/$10), we will be at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in the Bronx, meeting at 9:45am or so. There is FREE admission to NYBG grounds before 10am on Saturdays, so make sure you arrive early...There is also free parking nearby on the street (Kazimiroff Blvd) outside of Fordham University. A MetroNorth train leaves Grand Central station at approx. 9:15am and gets you to the NYBG by 9:45am or so (only three stops). Call or email us for more info, questions about where to park for free...where we are meeting (the main gate at NYBG opposite MetroNorth), etc. ALSO, we have scheduled at least two upcoming evening (6pm) owl walks: 16 December (Central Park); and 23 December (Inwood Hill Park, Manhattan) for Eastern Screech-owls.

Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show birds from Central Park (and a raccoon): two of the four warbler species reliably observed on Sunday, 3 December, as well as an image of a hatch-year Boat-tailed Grackle (only the second time this species has been sighted in Central Park).

This week's historical notes provide more info on small, non-descript Empidonax flycatchers in our area in November-December: (a/b) a 16 December 2001 note on a Least Flycatcher found on a Central Park Christmas count; (c) Yellow-bellied Flycatchers (Empidonax) on Long Island in November 1980-2001; and (d) since we are on the subject of small tropical birds that really should be someplace else, a NY Times article on the two Calliope Hummingbirds in north Manhattan (Fort Tryon Park) in December 2001.

Nashville Warbler, adult in Central Park on 3 December 2017

 

Deborah Allen sends photos from Central Park, NYC:

American Coot, The Pond, 23 November 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18442069/American-Coot

Nashville Warbler, The Pond, 3 December 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18442077/Nashville-Warbler
https://www.photo.net/photo/18442078/Nashville-Warbler

Northern Parula, The Pond, 3 December 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18442076/Northern-Parula

Immature Boat-tailed Grackle, Sheep Meadow, 3 December 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18442079/Immature-Boat-tailed-Grackle

Raccoon, The Pond, 3 December 2017:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18442070/Raccoon-Climbing

Link to Deborah Allen photos on Agpix site:

http://www.agpix.com/results.php?agid=DeAl12

 

 

                                                                   Boat-tailed Grackle (hatch-year; sex cannot be determined yet)

 

Good! Here are the bird walks for mid to late December - each $10

1. Saturday, 9 December - 9:45am - NYBG in the Bronx (email/call for more details)
2. Sunday, 10 December - 9:30am (only) - Central Park - Boathouse (74st/East Drive)

3. Friday, 15 December at 9am - meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and Fifth Ave)
4. Saturday, 16 December - 6pm - Owls of Central Park. $10 (email/call for more details)
5. Sunday, 17 December - 9:30am (only) - Central Park -  Boathouse (74st/East Drive)

6. Saturday, 23 December - 6pm - Eastern Screech-owls of Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan). 
7. Sunday, 24 December - 9:30am (only) - Central Park -  Boathouse (74st/East Drive)

The fine print: In December, our walks every Sunday meet at 9:30am 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 7:30am. On Saturdays we sometimes meet at the Boathouse (74th street and the East Drive) at 9:30am - but check schedule on web site and here because we often go further afield such as NYBG in the Bronx. The Friday walks (only 15 December at 9am) 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 by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 7:30pm 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 weekend Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon - you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total - coffee is now $2.75).  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:

Saturday, 2 December (start at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx at 9:30am) - not many people know NYC's largest park. There are large tracts of forest, some grasslands and lots of water so seeing a diversity of birds in one day is possible. With us was Jeff Ward who is becoming one of the top birders in NYC because he puts in the time. Jeff has other skills though, that set him apart: he is a very nice, kind man who is always willing to help - and is really good at putting people at ease. (Yes, Yankee fans from the Bronx are like this.)  Our best sightings today were finding a Garter Snake on Hunter Island trying to sun itself (a December snake!); sea-watching from Twin Island near the Orchard Beach parking lot, we saw several Harbor Seals, Long-tailed Ducks, 50+ Red-breasted Mergansers and Common (and Red-throated) Loons...plus more. Many thanks here to Richard Aracil and Jared Cole at this location. Our other big highlight was a female Merlin in the Orchard Beach parking lot who had come down to take a quick bath in one of the puddles in the southwest corner of the parking lot. We have never seen that before anywhere in NYC.

Deborah's bird list for the day: https://tinyurl.com/ybe64gwk
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Sunday, 3 December (start at the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park at 9:30am) - we were excited to get back out to the Ramble and re-find our rare bird (the Hammond's Flycatcher; if you missed all the commotion about this really really rare bird that we discovered in Central Park, read last week's Newsletter/29 November available free on our web site). So off we went, and it took us about 20 minutes and some kind advice via Twitter and people on site to get us to the general vicinity of the Hammond's Flycatcher. Yes we found it - everyone had fine looks, and we even re-located the Wilson's Warbler our group first reported on Thanksgiving Day. However, we were not done with great birds: we found a total of three Nashville Warblers, one Northern Parula Warbler - but we missed on the Magnolia Warbler others reported. That's ok because we found the hatch-year (sex cannot be determined) Boat-tailed Grackle (only the second occurrence of this species in Central Park - thank You Vicki Seabrook), multiple Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets...Great Blue Heron, Northern Pintail Duck...really good stuff! And by the way, if you happen to see one person reporting 10 warbler species from the park today, that was incorrect, as in wrong, as in a lie. Sadly that observer is too well-known for making false reports through the years: remember his breeding bird list from summer 2017? Several of those species were obvious lies. When trying to be the #1 birder in Central Park becomes more important than accurate reporting - there is not only a problem with the historical record for Central Park, but with the mental stability of that fellow.

Deborah's bird list for the day: https://tinyurl.com/ycnslbbt
=======================================
HISTORICAL NOTES

On 16 December 2001, Richard Guthrie reported that Kenn Kaufman and others birding in Central Park saw and heard an Empidonax flycatcher. The observers noted it as "99% sure it is a Least Flycatcher," per Kaufman's comments that the remaining uncertainty was "because we could not rule out Dusky." Later in the morning, some vocalizations (call notes only) were heard, which Kaufman used to eliminate most other Empidonax species. "We did note a small bill, rather distinctive eye-ring, and other more subtle features which will be enumerated on the rare bird sighting report to be submitted to NYSARC." This date for an Empidonax flycatcher, regardless of species, is remarkable.

The Kingbird 52(2): 190 (June-August 2002)
=======================================
FROM: NYSBIRDS-List
DATE: Sunday, 16 December 2001
SUBJECT: Central Park CBC - Empidonax sp. & Northern Parula
OBSERVERS: Kenn Kaufman and others

REPORTED BY: Richard Guthrie

Since I haven't seen any post related to this item, I take the liberty to inform all:

An unidentified Empidonax flycatcher ("99% sure it is a Least", Kenn Kaufman) was seen and heard in Central Park, NYC yesterday (16 December 2001). The remaining uncertainty is because we could not rule out Dusky. Pretty remote, but so would Calliope Hummingbird in NYC be remote. And for that matter, Least Flycatcher in December.

The bird was seen briefly at about 9 AM (at which time Kenn was able to put us all on the alert for an Empid (pretty impressive since it was a fly-by with very brief "T-up" before disappearing in the treetop twiggery)). After Ken's persistent searching, the bird was relocated at about 11 AM. The later sighting offered some vocalization (call notes only - which Ken used to eliminate most - including westerners - other species). The bird was high up, so good views were difficult. We did note a small bill, rather distinctive eye-ring and other more subtle features which will be enumerated on the rare bird sighting report to be submitted to NYSARC.

Richard Guthrie
New Baltimore,
===============================================
Late Fall Records of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on Long Island [2001]
Robert O. Paxton
460 Riverside Drive New York City 10027

Not all late fall Empidonax flycatchers are western strays. On three different occasions I have encountered Yellow-bellied Flycatchers in November on Long Island. These birds showed little or no yellow below, and could be identified only in the hand.

On 2 November 1980, Anthony J. Lauro and I captured an Empidonax flycatcher while we were banding birds at Tobay Pond (John F. Kennedy Sanctuary), Town of Oyster Bay, Nassau County. It was identified in the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History as a juvenile Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, sex undetermined, and is now # 824664 in that collection. It was the first November record of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher for New York State (Am. Birds 35(2): 165).

Sarah Plimpton and I trapped, banded, and released New York's second November Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on 12 November 1988 at Gilgo Beach, Town of Babylon, Suffolk County (Am. Birds 43(1):74). We identified this bird using the criteria of wing formula combined with measurements of wing chord and bill breadth set out in Allan R. Phillips, Marshall A. Howe, and Wesley E. Lanyon, "Identification of the Flycatchers of Eastern North America, with Special Emphasis on the Genus Empidonax," (Bird Banding 37(3): 153-171). We photographed it and sent the pictures to Lanyon, who found the photos "too overexposed to be helpful," but concurred in the identification based on our measurements (letter to the author dated 8 January 1989.). We did not examine this bird's skull ossification to determine age, but Lanyon thought it "probably an immature male." This is still the latest observation on record of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in New York State.

Sarah Plimpton and I banded and released the third bird, also at Gilgo Beach, on 4 November 2001 We identified it in the hand by the same criteria. We did not determine its age and there was no way to determine sex. After release, this bird was seen in the same general area through 11 November by A. J. Lauro and other observers (N. Am. Birds, in press).

Although the first two of these records were published at the time in American Birds, none were published in The Kingbird and therefore not noted in Bull's Birds of New York State (1998 E. Levine ed., Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY). The next time someone decides to do a later version of this work, no doubt most published records will be available in an electronic database and therefore be included.

In light of these three records, it is likely that Yellow-bellied Flycatchers showing little or no yellow are regular in small numbers on Long Island in November. This possibility needs to be kept in mind when attempting to identify late fall Empidonax flycatchers in the field in northeastern North America.

The Kingbird 52(3): 220 (July-September 2002)

=============================================
A Tempest Over a Teaspoon of a Bird
https://tinyurl.com/ybb8awdz
 
BARBARA STEWART in the NY Times
Published: December 16, 2001

Two calliope hummingbirds, each one-tenth of an ounce and 2,000 miles off course, are attracting hundreds of people to Fort Tryon Park at the northern tip of Manhattan. The tiny birds are also inspiring debates over the virtues of compassionate interference with nature versus steely hearted but scientifically correct Darwinism.

The birds ought to be sipping nectar in the Mexican sun by now. Ordinarily, they summer in British Columbia and migrate through the Rockies into Mexico. Instead, these calliopes flew east and wound up in upper Manhattan, where they were spotted about a month ago.

At first, the calliopes were thought to be ruby-throated hummingbirds, the only hummingbird native to the Northeast. Even that would have been remarkable, since ruby-throats should be in Cuba by this time of year.

The first to identify them correctly was the president of the Hudson River Audubon Society, Michael Bochnik, who, coincidentally, found a Western rufous hummingbird in a park in Yonkers this fall. ''Pretty miraculous,'' he said of the calliopes.

The calliope hummingbird, said Dr. Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation biology at Columbia University, ''is very, very small -- a teaspoonful of a bird'' that weighs no more than ''the salt on the heavily salted dinner.''

It resembles a metal-green fluff ball with a white throat, a few purple or red stripes and a black needle of a beak. Like all hummingbirds, it darts, hovers and whirs like a helicopter, dipping constantly into blossoms, eating half its weight every day. ''A wonder,'' Dr. Pimm said, ''to watch.''

These calliopes were the first seen in New York State and, along with a calliope sighted in New Jersey last year, the second reported in the Northeast. They are among an increasing, though still tiny, number of Western hummingbirds showing up along the East Coast.

''Rare birds,'' Dr. Pimm said, ''turn up in the most extraordinary places. Rarity is common, if you know what I mean.''

One immediate concern is what to do with the calliopes, which will probably die in the first cold snap. Last week, five bird feeders were set up in the park. If the birds are fed well, they may survive the cold, birding experts said. In addition, the Wildlife Conservation Society has offered to house them in the Bronx Zoo for the winter.

But Alexander Brash, chief of the Urban Park Rangers, for one, thinks that feeding or housing the calliopes is meddling with the course of God or Darwin. ''They're two teenagers hitchhiking across the country,'' he said. If left alone, he said, they might start a new colony here.

To keep the birds alive outdoors, the feeders must be checked each day at dawn to make sure the liquid feed has not frozen. Even a few hours without food could leave these hummingbirds, which are constantly seeking to eat, frozen as well.

''They're so undeniably cute and wonderful and marvelous,'' Dr. Pimm said of the calliopes. ''You hate to think, when the first freeze comes, they'll die. But from a more sanguine scientist's point of view -- these are not the smartest hummingbirds, because if they were, they'd be in Mexico by now.''

Either way, he is pleased that New Yorkers care enough to argue over their fate. ''New York is a remarkable place for wildlife,'' Dr. Pimm said. ''I've looked from my office at Columbia and have seen peregrine falcons on Riverside Church. This big, bustling, incredibly ethnic city has wonderfully diverse wildlife.''
=================================================
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD 
www.BirdingBob.com

Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC

Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx in Infra-red Black-and-white

 

 

 

 

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