The ice on the Reservoir is finally, slowly, melting. The area of open water around the fountain now reaches east to the dike and nearly to the southern edge; the whole dike (which runs down the center of the reservoir) is now open water, from the south pumphouse to the north pumphouse.
As the water opens up, new birds begin arriving. A Red-Necked Grebe has been sighted intermittently for several days; an Iceland Gull was spotted yesterday; Red-Breasted Mergansers have been around. The usual late-winter grew of Shovelers, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks, American Black Ducks, and an occasional Ruddy Duck is present.
Today, rain was promised but only late in the afternoon, so I went around 2 PM to see what was around. Nothing out of the ordinary that I could see on the south edge; no Red-Necked Grebe and none of the gulls looked exotic. I watched a Ruddy Duck diving for a long time. After yesterdays long hike I found I lacked the energy to walk to the north part of the Reservoir; there was less open water there anyway.
Scanning the farther reaches of the open water, I saw a small bird diving repeatedly. Couldn't quite make it out. Ruddy? Pied-Billed Grebe? I watched a while. About 3:30, it was being harassed by gulls, and lifted off into a crazy twisting flight, dodging in and out of the air traffic and coming down square in the middle of a group of Buffleheads, who greeted her as one of their own, which indeed she was.
I thought about leaving, but I noticed that a lot of birds were arriving from the north. I decided to walk back to the south pumphouse and see if anything turned up. From about 50 yards off, I saw a duck frantically preening himself in the narrow strip of open water over the dike near the pumphouse. It had a shockingly white head. When I got closer, I realized it was an American Wigeon.
That's a pretty nice bird for Central Park (and a life bird for me, and my 75th species in New York County this year). After getting some photos, I sent an email to the NYS-Birds mailing list and a tweet to the #birdcp hashtag (and if anyone reading this knows who runs the @BirdCentralPark account that retweets that hashtag, can you ask them why they ignore my reports?) and went back to watching. He was a very itchy bird.
Eventually a few birders showed up and saw the Wigeon. I went back to the larger patch of open water, but nothing new had shown up. Eventually, about 4:30 or so, with the sky looking more threatening and the rain overdue, I decide to leave and headed back toward the pumphouse.
Just then, a birder whose name I unfortunately do not know came from that direction and said the red-Necked Grebe was present; he and David Barrett had been watching it swimming down the dike corridor. And there it was.
This was a far better view than I had at Randall's Island last month, and I watched and photographed as the rain began to come down. I didn't care about the rain.