Thursday, April 21, 2016
Return of the Timberdoodles, and other stories
So I've been letting the blog slide lately. Most of that was life getting in the way. Anyway, migrants are starting to come in, and before they become a flood, I'm going to try to catch up with tales of the late winter and early spring.
Late winter is the doldrums--not that much of birdiness in late February and March. In December and January, you have vagrants and too-late migrants showing up and often settling in around feeders or other winter food sources. But the late winter is kind of static--just waiting for the early migrants to show up.
The Killdeer above I found on the northeast shore of Randalls Island at the end of February. It seems to be teh first one seen in New York county this year, and a nice-looking bird. Last year, a pair tried to nest inthe wetlands area on Randall's Island. I wonder if this is one of them.
In a post late last year, I talked about the birds at the plaza of the old International Paper building in midtown. Some of them--two Thrashers, a towhee, a Swamp Sparrow--were still there in mid-January, and at least one was still there in early March.
The thing with unusual overwintering birds is that they tend to stay around whatever food sources they can find until the weather starts warming up around the beginning of March. Then they start moving around, maybe trying to figure out where the heck they're supposed to go in the spring. So if a vagrant or overwintering bird disappears in January or early February, that's a bad sign. For example, the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker I saw a lot in the Midtown East area in December and January, I last saw around January 18, so it probably died. But birds that make it to the end of February and then disappear, may well be OK. Anyway, I was glad to see that this Thrasher made it.
So by now you're probably wondering why this post is called "return of the Timberdoodles". Well, I'll tell you. Timberdoodles are American Woodcock, a football shaped bird with eyes set well back on its head and more nicknames than you can shake a stick at. Timberdoodle, bogsucker, Night Partridge, Labrador twister, hokumpoke, mudsnipe. They come north very early--late January through March--and have an awful time navigating through cities because they don't see very well straight ahead of themselves. As a result, they often get stuck in small urban parks, so it wasn't a shock when two of them showed up in Bryant Park at the same time.
I'm glad I saw these two there, because I didn't see any in Central Park this winter. Woodcocks like places with a lot of underbrush to hide in, and last year, for example, I saw a dozen of so in the Ramble over the course of the late winter and spring. This winter, the Central Park Conservancy in its wisdom decided to clear out almost all the brush and low shrubs in the Ramble, so no good habitat for the Timberdoodles. Because life wasn't tough enough for them on migration already.
The Conservancy's no-brush idea also means it's probably going to be a rotten spring to see migrants in the Ramble. You heard it here first.
Among the full-time residents, the Cardinals started singing in mid-January, and are still going strong. One interesting thing is that there have been several sightings of leucistic males singing, like the one above. (Leucism is a genetic condition of partial loss of feather pigment; in cardinals it makes a normally bright red male loot a lot like the mostly gray-brown female.) It's startling to see what at first appears to be a female Cardinal start belting out a song.