Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mother's Day Fallout

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Prairie Warbler, Central Park
Prairie Warbler

One thing you will hear birders talk about is "fallout". This doesn't have anything to do with nuclear weapons--it's about bird migration. Sometimes during the spring migration, when conditions are just right--southerly winds at night, then rain a little before dawn and heavier storms just to the north--you wake up in the morning to find that migrating birds have descended on local parks and green spaces in huge numbers. They've been forced to fly low by the rain, and some have had to turn back from the storms in the north, and they all fall out of the sky after a long night's flight to frantically feed and then rest for the next night's flight.

On Mother's Day, May 8, New York City had an epic fallout event. By noon, according to one experienced birder's compilation of observations over a hundred species of bird had been seen in Central Park, including two dozen kind of warbler.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Bittern, Central Park
American Bittern

In the Ramble, three very unusual migrants were within a hundred yards of each other. In the area called the Oven, and American Bittern spent the day hunting in the tall reeds. It's bulbous form was clearly visible from the rocks overlooking the Oven from the west ("Willow Rock").

After the early rain, it turned into a beautiful day, and many people rented rowboats on the Central Park Lake. When they approached the Oven, birders would call to the rowers to turn back so as not to disturb the Bittern by coming too close.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Chuck-Will's-Widow Central Park

Fifty yards to the northeast, a Chuck-Will's-Widow roosted very close to a path. Chuck-Will's-Widow (named for its call) is a nighttime hunter of insects. By the time it was discovered in the mid-morning, it had eaten its fill and was quietly waiting for evening, relying on its cryptic coloration to hide it from the large mammals only a few yards away.

Let me digress here. On twitter, I saw a drawing by Alan Messer of the Chuck and environs. It's a great example of how drawing can sometimes be much truer than photography. The detail and depth-of-field of the drawing were simply not possible in a photo under the dim lighting.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Central Park
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Fifty yards in the other direction from the Bittern, a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron hid out at the end of the Point, red eye glaring balefully out of the depths of a willow tree. So, three birds, all rare visitors to Central Park, sen within about ten minutes.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Veery, Central Park

Of course, there were a lot of more expected migrants. All the brown thrushes were in, like the Veery above. On the south slope of Summit Rock, right by Central Park West, Tom Fiore had sixty thrushes in an area about 40x50 feet, including Hermit Thrush, Veery, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush and Gray-Cheeked Thrush at least.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cape May Warbler, Central Park
Cape May Warbler

Maybe the biggest story was the warblers. According to Tom Fiore's end-of-day roundup of sightings, people saw at least 28 species of warbler in the park (among 115 or more total species) by day's end.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Hooded Warbler, Central Park
Hooded Warbler

Considering that there are only 35 or 36 species of warbler that move through the area in migration, and three of them are normally done migrating before May, 28 in a day is really impressive. (I had only twelve that day, myself, and 48 total species, but a big chunk of my day was spent on social obligations.)

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Central Park
Red-Bellied Woodpecker

And of course, the full complement of permanent resident birds were on hand. Here's a Red-Bellied Woodpecker portrait to finish up.

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