Last of the Spring Migrants - Breeding Birds in Full Swing

6 June 2018

Schedule Notes: on Sunday 10 June at 7:30/9:30am, we are meeting at Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave) because of the Puerto Rican Day Parade (and associated security craziness) in the lower park. Saturday (9 June) is looking rainy - do check the web site the morning of the walk to see if the walk is cancelled (if no notice is posted on the main page in red, the walk will take place as scheduled). Our Bird Walks are now Thursdays through Mondays with no walks on Tuesday/Wednesdays. Our web site lists all our upcoming walks: https://www.birdingbob.com/birdwalks - or see below. Beginning Saturday 16 June (Saturdays 16, 23 and 30 in June), we will be heading to Jamaica Bay (16 and likely 30 June) and NYBG (23 June) in the Bronx. Detailed info to follow next week. We will also be adding some late June - early July night walks for Eastern Screech-owls at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan) and Van Cortlandt Park (Bronx).

Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show birds from Central Park including nesting Cedar Waxwings, nesting Northern Flicker and Yellow-billed Cuckoo with possible nest material...plus a Snapping Turtle laying eggs in Central Park...and more.

In this week's historical notes we feature information about northern Manhattan birds and parks, 1885-1940 (a) the abundance of game birds in autumn 1887, including Meadowlarks and Bobwhite Quail, in the marshes of Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan) and nearby Bronx that would soon be developed for the ship canal connecting the Hudson River to Harlem River (where the Columbia University "C" emblem is now painted - that gneiss outcropping rises above the dredged waterway); and (b) nesting Virginia and Sora Rails in 1907 in northern Manhattan in the area where the 207th street Bridge connects Manhattan to the Bronx. The article about nesting rails specifies locations that no longer exist.  The freshwater marsh must have been adjacent to and under the 207th street (Fordham Road) bridge on the Manhattan side. There has been significant fill-in and expansion of the shoreline in that area - and the freshwater marshes were lost long ago.

 View from Fort Tryon (Manhattan) looking east across 207th street to the Bronx ca. 1910

 

Deborah Allen sends Photos from Central Park:

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Azalea Pond, Saturday 2 June 2018:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476786/Yellow-billed-Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo with Twig, Azalea Pond, 2  June 2018:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476787/Yellow-billed-Cuckoo-with-Twig

Olive-sided Flycatcher, Gill Source, Saturday 2 June 2018:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476782/Olive-sided-Flycatcher

Female Northern Flicker outside nest site at Gill Overlook, 3 June:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476781/Female-Northern-Flicker

First-spring Female Cedar Waxwing near Nest, Shakespeare Garden, 3 June:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476778/First-spring-Female-Cedar-Waxwing-Near-Nest

First-spring Female Cedar Waxwing, Shakespeare Garden, Sunday 3 June 2018:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476777/First-spring-Female-Cedar-Waxwing

Snapping Turtle Laying Eggs, Gill Overlook, Saturday June 2, 2018:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476784/Female-Common-Snapping-Turtle
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476785/Female-Common-Snapping-Turtle

Snapping Turtle at the Reservoir in early October:
https://www.photo.net/photo/18476783/Common-Snapping-Turtle

Deborah Allen's web site for bird photos:
https://tinyurl.com/ydflkdp4

 Virginia Rail inspecting Bob's speaker June 2006

 

Good! Here are the bird walks for early June - each $10***
All walks in Central Park (except 16 June at Jamaica Bay)

1. Thursday, 7 June - 9am (only) - Dock on Turtle Pond (opposite Belvedere Castle)

2. Friday, 8 June - 9am (only) - Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave)

3. Saturday, 9 June - 7:30am/9:30am - Boathouse Cafe at 74th and East Drive

4. Sunday, 10 June - 7:30am/9:30am - Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave) - Today is the Puerto Rican Day Parade in the lower park, so we move the walk uptown...at 7:30am meet outside the front gates (5th Ave and 105th st) of Conservatory Garden because those gates open later (at 8am when the Garden opens).

5. Monday, 11 June - 8am/9am - Strawberry Fields at 72nd street (Imagine Mosaic)

6. Saturday, 16 June - 10am - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Reserve (meet at Visitors' Center) - email/call for details

 

***NOTE: on MORNINGS when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 8am/9am or 7:30/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/person...you get two for the price of one.

 

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8

Any questions/concerns send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262
--------------

The fine print: On Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Dock on Turtle Pond adjacent to Delacorte Theater on the south end of the Great Lawn (approx. 79th street). We also meet here on Thursday in early June but only at 9am. On Saturdays, we meet at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 7:30am and again at 9:30am. (It is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!). Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= rdcny@earthlink.net). On Fridays, we will meet at Conservatory Garden (105thand 5th Ave) at 9am (only). Finally, Monday walks in meet at Strawberry Fields at 72nd street and Central Park West - look for the “Imagine" Mosaic - we meet on the benches nearby at 8am and again at 9am. 

 

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 11pm 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). For our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue. 

 Bobwhite Quail: formerly bred in all five boroughs...most recently in the Bronx to the 1930s

 

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights). Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best:

Thursday, 31 May (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9am) - spring migration is slowly coming to a close...there are going to be slow days such as today when we found only two warbler species. On the other hand, for the people on the walk, getting close-up looks at Great Crested Flycatchers, Baltimore Orioles and Northern Flickers was well worth it.

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Thursday, 31 May: https://tinyurl.com/y7ua5rnt
-------------------
Friday, 1 June (start at Conservatory Garden, Central Park at 9am) - Rain and heavy fog: No Bird Walk today! At 5am when I was doing the final check of the weather forecast, the WCBS weatherman was talking about how rain at that time was overspreading eastern NJ and would soon arrive in NYC and last for most of the morning. I then turned on my computer and checked the radar: sure enough green (meaning rain) was covering northeastern NJ and heading to NYC. I then canceled the walk based upon the forecast, what I saw and the heavy fog that the weather people also mentioned was affecting NYC to at least 10am. So imagine my surprise at 9am when in the Bronx, the fog had dissipated, and the rain had stopped. So anyone who came to the bird walk this morning - I apologize.

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Friday, 1 June: No Bird Walk
------------------
Saturday, 2 June (Boathouse in Central Park at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - with overnite light winds from the northwest (and a little rain), we had migrants again in the park. At 6am, I was greeted by a calling Yellow-billed Cuckoo and later on the bird walk, we called in two to land above us, one with a twig in its beak. Also today, Deborah found for the group (in the same tree, 7:30am walk) an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird. We also managed six warbler species including female Blackburnian and male Canada at the Humming Tombstone (thank You Andrea!). Finally, we found, for the 9:30am walk, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at the Upper Lobe. Add to this swooping Northern Flickers (probably two pairs in the Ramble), Great Crested Flycatchers (one pair and a lone adult), and a female Snapping Turtle laying its eggs at the Gill Overlook - it was a good day.

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Saturday, 2 June: https://tinyurl.com/y7unfyad
------------------
Sunday, 3 June (start at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - overnite winds from the east to northeast brought much cooler conditions (65f for the high) and few birds. Whenever we get easterly winds overnite, birds leave the park to head north and the bulk of the arriving flight (small to begin with) seems to be pushed to the east of us...and we get very little in Central Park. We did manage a continuing Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at the Upper Lobe, first seen yesterday. Also, we had a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird near the Summer House - this bird might be nesting nearby (check area of Laupot Bridge and the Upper Lobe)...but only two warbler species (Magnolia and American Redstart). We found a nest of Cedar Waxwings (southwest corner of Shakespeare Garden in an ash tree above the southeast corner of the Swedish Cottage)..the female is a first spring female (thank you Deborah Allen). And we had fun with local birds particularly Great Crested Flycatchers and Northern Flickers.

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 3 June: https://tinyurl.com/y9a7lflw
------------------
Monday, 4 June (start at Strawberry Fields at 8am and again at 9am) - RAIN! Walk cancelled...everyone hopefully checked the web site and saw the walk was cancelled at about 5:56am - and stayed home!

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 4 June: No Bird Walk

 Mourning Dove: a very rare breeding bird in Manhattan in 1900...now common

 

HISTORICAL NOTES

 

NEW YORK MEADOWS ALIVE WITH GAME [1887]. A few days ago, while proceeding with a survey over the Dykeman Meadows, at Kings Bridge, at the extreme upper end of Manhattan Island, where the new ship canal is to pass, we had the pleasure of coming in range and raising three woodcock, five meadowlarks and two snipe. On Sept. 17 [1887], when engaged on the line of the old aqueduct, passing through the grounds of Mr. Lewis G. Morris, at Fordham, we marked down fifteen fine, fat, plump meadowlarks within a line of 200 yds. of the old  aqueduct, which is there quite secluded by a cedar wall environment. Again in various meadows on the river line the like pleasant things occur, with a continuous call note from morn till nightfall, and erewhile the night moon sheds its modest silver rays upon the gloaming, we hear the most welcome call of King Bob White. CANONICUS (Westchester, Sept. 17).
 
Lewis G. Morris: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_G._Morris
=================================
"Although the legal proceedings to establish Inwood Hill Park originated in 1903, title became vested in New York City by a Supreme Court order issued April 21,1925. The condemnation proceedings of 1903 caused many estates to be abandoned years before the land was purchased for the park. Little was preserved, especially no botanical descriptions, from these relicts of architectural grandeur and elegant gardens.

"The Harlem Ship Canal was completed in 1938 after cutting through rock in a freshwater marsh called Dyckmans Meadows. Most of the wetland vegetation in Spuyten Duyvil was destroyed, including a stand of Caulophyllum thalictroides [Blue Cohosh - now extirpated in all of NYC] at the west ridges northern base. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses directed the filling of the Inwood Hill Park marsh with debris from subway excavations to form six baseball fields. After the hurricane of 1938 toppled the oldest Liriodendron tulipifera [Tulip Poplar] tree in the park (and toppled more than 1000 trees in Central Park), the remaining marsh was filled for a soccer field. In 1935, Robert Moses decided to build the Henry Hudson Parkway straight through the west ridge of Inwood Hill Park. To create the highway right-of-way, Moses ordered the felling of a 160 year old Liriodendron tulipifera tree and hundreds of other old Liriodendron tulipifera and Quercus species (Oak trees) as well as the removal of shrubs and ground layer plants. Under Robert Moses direction, the Parks Department regularly cleared the ground layer of New York City park forests and planted new species of trees and shrubs."

 

Historical Ecology of Inwood Hill Park, Manhattan, New York. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 135(2), 2008, pp. 281-293. Judith M. Fitzgerald and Robert E. Loeb

Fort Tryon (looking from east/Bronx) to the west (Manhattan) with Broadway in the foreground ca. 1906


THE VIRGINIA AND SORA RAILS NESTING IN NEW YORK CITY (1909).
 J. A. WEBER.
 
The marshes inhabited by the rails are situated at the northern portion of Manhattan Island and extend northward and eastward from the foot of the hill at Fort George (190th Street and Amsterdam Avenue). These marshes formerly lined the shore of the Harlem River, but through street improvements have been separated from the river and cut up into small areas. The water in these marshes no longer rises and falls with the tide and the only connection with the river is through drain pipes under the streets; consequently the water is more or less fresh.
 
The rails first attracted my attention during the early part of June, 1902, when my brother who had climbed into an oak tree overlooking the marshes, shouted to me that he saws one Water Chicken running about in the swamp. I made a thorough search of the marshes on the 24th of the same month and secured a specimen which proved to be the Virginia Rail (Rallus virginianus).  It was the 4th of June, 1905, however, before I discovered any nest and eggs. This nest was found in the cattail marsh situated on Ninth Avenue between 205th and 206th Streets. The eggs were scattered in and around the nest and had been emptied of their contents by some animal, probably by a muskrat. I found a dead rail in the vicinity but was unable to determine the cause of her death.  
 
On June 1, 1907, I found a Virginia Rail on her nest, incubating ten eggs, in the patch of rushes about half a block south of the Dyckman Street subway station [#1 train]. The bird allowed me to approach within three feet of her, when I flushed her from the nest by a sudden movement on my part to gain a solid footing. She remained in the immediate vicinity of her nest while I adjusted my camera, strutting about with her feathers puffed up and wings spread like a turkey cock, giving her a rather formidable appearance: at the same time she uttered a low grunting sound which I had never heard from a rail before and quite unlike their characteristic notes. The male showed his interest by his sharp “kckk-ck-k-ck-k-cck.” all evidently trying to lead me away from the nest.
 
The nest was placed in the usual position near one of the streamlets which intersect all of these marshes forming an irregular network, in the center of a circular of growing cat-tails. It consisted of a mass of cattail blades and stems, placed layer upon layer, the foundation resting on the mud, so that the rim of the nest was 7 inches above the surface of the water. The inside of the nest was rather shallow, 4 X 4 inches in diameter, and lined with cat-tail blade chips to 2 inches in length.
 
I discovered another nest of the Virginia Rail on June 6, 1908, in the small marsh bordering on Dyckman Street, with two baseball fields adjoining it on the east and south. The nest was placed within twenty feet of the street where hundreds of people as well as vehicles pass daily and large crowds often assemble to witness the Speedway trotting races or the baseball games. Yet the little mother rail quietly sat on her ten eggs, apparently unconcerned about the civilization around her. She was fully as tame as the former bird and acted in a similar manner. I tried to photograph her on the nest but she refused to return to the nest while the camera was near it; I had no difficulty however in taking snapshots of her as she crossed and re-crossed the narrow lanes through the cattails made by the ditches of water.
 
Within an hour after finding the above nest, I discovered a nest of the Sora (Porzana carolina), containing 14 eggs. This bird, unlike the Virginia Rail, was very shy, necessitating several visits to the swamp to accurately identify her. Approaching the nest ever so stealthily should she dart from the nest, and go off splashing through the water, before you were within fifteen feet of her, the only indication of her and her mate's presence being a call note at a distance from the nest.
 
The marsh in which this nest was built is situated on the south side of 207th Street between the foot of the new bridge across the Harlem River at this point and the 207th Street subway station. The marsh is so close to the subway station that some of the passengers noticed and watched me from the station platform while I was floundering about among the rushes. Yet strangely enough the noise of the numerous passing trains did not deter these shy birds from nesting in such close proximity.
 
The nest of this bird differed in many ways from the Virginia Rails' nests. It was suspended in a clump of cattails; the material composing the nest extended about 5 inches above and below the surface of the water, leaving the bottom of the nest about 11 inches dear of the mud below it. The foundation of the nest looked like a miniature hammock and the bird probably formed it by simply trampling down the dead lower blades still adhering to the growing cat-tails. The composition of the nest, like that of the Virginia Rail's, consisted of cat-tail blades, but the lining of the nest presented a distinct departure being made of fine marsh grasses in place of the chips of flat cat-tail blades. The inside of the nest was 3 X 4 inches in diameter and 2 inches in depth, and deeply cup-shaped in contrast to the rather flat form of the other bird.  It was loosely arched over by the growing rushes surrounding it and concealing the bird so that it was difficult to identify her. A narrow runway of fallen dead cat-tails led to the nest; this appears to be a characteristic feature of all the nests of this family of birds I have found. The water in this swamp was 16 inches or more in depth throughout, due to a clogging of the drain pipe. I was unable to find any Virginia Rails in this swamp; evidently this depth of water is preferred by the Sora but not by the former bird.  

The breast of the Sora is about 1 inches in diameter and it seemed wonderful to me how the little bird managed to keep her four men comparatively large eggs warm. She succeeded however, for they were found to be in various stages of advanced incubation. So deeply cup-shaped was the nest that the eggs around the edge were in an almost vertical position thereby considerably reducing the horizontal area to be covered. Upon a subsequent visit to the nest, two of the eggs were found in the center of the nest lying on top of the others; a habit also shared by the domestic hen of placing one egg in this position. The bird probably shifted the eggs occasionally so as to get the others in this position to give them an extra amount of heat and render their hatching more certain.
            
Ridgeway’s 'Manual of the Birds of North America,' states the size of the Sora's eggs as 1.23 X .89 inches; the average size of the above set is 1.18 X 0.89 inches, but the loss in size of the individual egg is amply supplied by the larger number of eggs in the clutch, numbering 14 while Ridgeway’s' Manual quotes the number as 9 to 12. The measurement of two sets of Virginia Rail's eggs showed an average of 1.32 X 0.98 and 1.22 X 0.92 inches proving the eggs of this bird to be larger than the Sora's; but the difference in size is not as apparent as the difference in color and the distribution of the markings. The ground color of the Virginia's eggs is cream buff, that of the Sora is much darker, being deep brownish buff. The eggs of both species are abundantly spotted and speckled with chocolate brown and a few purplish gray and greenish spots and specks; but the spots of the Virginia's eggs form a dense cluster around the larger end, while on the Sora's they are evenly distributed over the egg with no tendency to cluster at the larger end.  
            
During the past few years building operations and street improvements have encroached so much on the breeding grounds of the Rails, Red-winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks, that I fear the breeding of these birds in this locality will soon terminate.

 The freshwater marshes referred to are just to the right of the #1 train at far left of photo ca. 1906

 

LEWIS G. MORRIS DEAD [= Bronx Resident who advocated building the canal that connects the Hudson River to the Harlem River at the northern edge of Inwood Hill Park].


New York Times 22 September 1900

 

Member of Distinguished American Family-Advanced Harlem Ship Canal Project.

 

Lewis G. Morris, one of the oldest residents of Westchester County and the Borough of the Bronx, died at his residence, Mount Fordham, Morris Heights, at 4:15 o'clock yesterday afternoon. He was born Aug. 19, 1808, in Fordham, and was a son of Robert Morris of Mount Fordham and Frances Ludlam of Goshen, Orange County.

 

Mr. Morris was descended from old Revolutionary stock. He was a grandson of Richard Morris, Colonial judge to the Admiralty, and Second Chief Justice of New York State and a grand-nephew of Gouverneur Morris, Washington's Minister to France, and of Lewis Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

 

Mr. Morris's home, Mount Fordham, was in the possession of the family for many years prior to the Revolutionary War. The original mansion was burned by the British. The present house was rebuilt by his father, Robert Morris, and enlarged by Lewis G. Morris. 

 

Since 1838 he has taken a deep interest in the navigation of the Harlem River. It was largely due to the efforts of Mr. Morris and his neighbors that the Harlem River is spanned by the aqueduct bridge, known as High Bridge, instead of by a solid structure which would have prevented the navigation of the stream.

 

From 1838 almost to the present time [1900] he has advocated the improvement of the Harlem River. It was due largely to his efforts that the United States Government has at last completed the cut known as the Harlem Ship Canal, connecting the Harlem and Hudson Rivers.

 

Mr. Morris, before the old farm at Fordham was encroached upon, took a great interest in agriculture, and was one of the first breeders and importers of Short Horn and Devonshire cattle and south down sheep.

 

When his farm became too small he purchased another at Scarsdale and on these two he raised his celebrated herds of cattle. He visited Europe in the fifties [1850s] and in England he made some remarkable selections of livestock.

 

These animals he imported to Cuba, Sandwich Islands, and South American ports and it may be said that the importation of the Short Horns by Morris, Becar, Thorn, and the Alexanders of Kentucky has resulted in the improvement of the breed of American cattle so that the development of the Texas steer has developed into one of the greatest of American Industries.

 

Some of the descendants of Mr. Morris's stock were taken back to England again.

Mr. Morris served as President and was for a time one of the most active members of the New York State and Westchester County Agricultural Societies, and at the time of his death was a member of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

 

Mr. Morris, though unskilled in military life, as far back as 1840 was Inspector, with the rank of Colonel, in the Division of New York Militia, which at that time included the Counties of Rockland, Putnam. and Westchester. When the civil war broke out Gov. Morgan appointed Mr. Morris a member of the War Committee, which was charged with the duty of raising recruits.

 

Mr. Morris married Emily Lorillard, who died in 1850, and he had been a widower ever since Mrs. Morris was a daughter of Jacob Lorillard, a well-known merchant in the swamp. Mr. Morris having no daughters, Lucretia, a daughter of a dead brother, was at the head of his household for the last forty years.

 

He leaves one son, Fordham Morris, and two grandchildren. Alice Cheesman and Lewis G. Morris, Jr., daughter and son of a dead son, Francis Morris.
=================================
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD 
 

Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

 Walking to Inwood Hill Park across Broadway at about 212th street - Inwood is the green area - 2009

 

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