Friday, May 30, 2014

Green Heron at work

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park
apparently, fish tickle when you swallow them

A Green Heron showed up at Azalea Pond in Central Park on Thursday, and spent the day happily fishing. It was a good close look--the bird spent most of its time on a small fallen branch only a few feet from the pond's edge.

It was the smallest Green Heron I've ever seen. They're supposed to be 15-18 inches long, but I think this one was barely a foot. It seemed to be OK, though. Maybe it's just young.

When resting, it looked like it had almost no neck.
Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park

But when it got interested in something...
Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park would stretch out and get it right quick.
Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park

After that, it would swallow the fish and do that ruffled-feathers thing in the top photo.

I watched the heron work for quite a while.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park
Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park
Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Green Heron, Azalea Pond, Central Park

Time well-spent, I think.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Perils of ear birding

So the other day, I was at east end of Turtle Pond, contemplating gong to the Ramble. Then I hear a bird singing somewhere on the north shore, couldn't tell if it was in the reeds on the shoreline, or in a tree. "Pizza pizza!" it called, high and crisp. "Pizza pizza!"

That was odd. What sings like that? It was the wrong cadence for an Acadian Flycatcher--too quick and not squeaky enough. It wasn't a Titmouse's sharp "peter peter" or an Ovenbird's eager "teachER teachER". Must be some bird whose song I don't know--no shortage of those. So I circled around to check it out.

It was down in the reeds at the water's edge. I couldn't even see the plants moving, just heard the song. The bird was moving west. I followed it, threading my way among sunbathers and picnickers on the lawn. I wonder what they thought I was doing.

After about twenty yards and twenty minutes, it flew out for a moment. Little bird, brown back, maybe some kind of light streak on the back of the head? A flash and back into the reeds. Some kind of wren?

It stayed hidden, but moved a little faster. Only a few minutes later we were nearly at the west edge. There are a couple of pines there, and then a pier. It wouldn't be able to move under cover much longer.

So it didn't. The bird went back east, singing all the way. I spared a glance at the warblers in the pines, and followed again. I really wanted to know who this bird was.

We got back to the place where it flew out before. It did it again, but this time went up into a tree. Aha! I got my binoculars up fast.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat singing, Central Park

A Common Yellowthroat? What, now? They don't sing like that, they sing a rapid, light "Wichita Wichita Wichita Wichita".

"What the hell, little bird?" I said to him. "That's not your song."

"Pizza Pizza!" The Yellowthroat replied, and dove back into the reeds.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A blue bird of happiness

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female), Tanner's Spring, Central Park

I'm still working up a post about the various Empidonax flycatchers I saw the other day. In the meantime--Saturday morning I saw a report of an Eastern Bluebird in a meadow quite near the West 81st Street entrance to Central Park. Bluebirds are common in many places, but visit Manhattan only during migration and not in any numbers. I'm lucky to see one or two a year here, so I went to check it out.

Alas, I did not see the Bluebird. I think the increased activity in that part of the park as the morning went on probably made it seek a quieter meadow--there's plenty of suitable places in the park for a Bluebird to forage.

I did get to see a couple of warblers quite close up at Tanner's Spring nearby, including the female Black-Throated Blue Warbler shown above. She was all of four or five feet away from me. This species tends to be pretty confiding, but I've never been close enough to see the traces of blue on the female's head before.

The books generally call the female Black-Throated Blue "drab". I think that's a gorgeous little bird, myself.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kentucky Warbler

Wednesday morning, I saw a report online of a Kentucky Warbler in the Tanner's Spring area.

The Kentucky Warbler is a member of a small group of very secretive, ground-hugging warblers that used to be all in the genus Oporornis until the splitters got to work on it. But I digress. Anyway, the members of the group--the Connecticut, Mourning, and Kentucky Warblers, and the western MacGillivray's Warbler--are notoriously difficult to find, even when you know where they are.

In fact, I'd never seen a Kentucky Warbler, so off I went in pursuit.

When I entered the park, I saw a group  people with binoculars and big cameras looking into the vegetation just north of the Diana Ross Playground, always a good sign that there's a bird down there--and surprisingly shortly thereafter, the little skulking bird popped into view.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Kentucky Warbler, Central Park
Kentucky Warbler!

I've now seen 34 of the 36 warbler species that normally occur in this part of the country, missing only the Connecticut and the Golden-Winged.

The Kentucky continued for a while poking along under the plants and occasionally popping up for a photo op. Eventually, I decided to escape the press of the crowd watching it, and went to nearby Tanner's Spring, where only one other birder was watching a great variety of birds coming down to drink and bathe.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Chestnut-Sided Warbler and Gray Catbird, Tanner's Spring, Central Park
Chestnut-Sided Warbler and Gray Catbird at Tanner's Spring

Elsewhere in the park there were a lot of Canada Warblers

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Canada Warbler, Central Park
O, Canada!

and more Swainson's Thrushes than I can recall seeing in one day before.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Swainson's Thrush, Central Park
When you look at the Swainson's Thrush, the Swainson's Thrush also looks back at you.

Besides the Kentucky Warbler, the other notable rarities in the Park on Wednesday were Mourning Warblers reported in several locations (and I couldn't find any of them, darn skulky birdies), and a Bicknell's Thrush found by David Barrett at Strawberry fields.

Bicknell's Thrush winters in a few isolated spots in the Caribbean and breeds only on a few mountaintops in upper New York State, New England, and Ontario. It is not distinguishable from the Gray-Cheeked Thrush except by song--and I've listened to recordings of both, and I can't distinguish them that way either. So I decided not to chase a bird I can't ID.

The Kentucky Warbler was my 161st species of the year in New York County It was also my 202nd life-list species in the county according to eBird--number 200 was the Summer Tanager--but that list includes a couple of obvious escaped birds (Budgerigar and Yellow-fronted Canary), so the Kentucky is my "real" 200th life bird here.

(The list also includes European Goldfinch, but that bird was flocking with House Finches the whole winter of 2012-2013 after first being seen in spring 2012, and I don't see why it couldn't have been a true accidental. So I'm counting it.)

Thursday had more reports of Mourning Warblers, and a lot of Empidonax flycatchers (including Acadian and Yellow-Bellied). I'll write about them later.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Three days

Tuesday there were apparently two Red-Headed Woodpeckers in Central Park. One was reported by Anders Peltomaa early in the morning at the Great Lawn, moving north, and the second was in the Ramble. I glimpsed the second east of Evodia, in the same trees that last May's Red-Headed liked. It flew off quickly towards Azalea Pond, but I guessed that it would return, which it did, at least for a few seconds about 15 minutes later.

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

Then it disappeared again, and this time did not come back for the hour I waited in hopes of a better photo.

The Ramble was otherwise moderately birdy. I had a nice view of a female Black-Throated Blue Warbler having lunch.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Black-Throated Blue Warbler (female), Central Park
Mmm.. Tasty!

The Red-Headed Woodpecker is my 160th species of the year in New York County. Aside from that, the only rarity I've heard about in Manhattan is a very late Pied-Billed Grebe on the Reservoir.

Monday was rather slow in the park--28 species, only four warblers. My highlights were a very cooperative Eastern Kingbird near Greywacke Arch:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Kingbird, Central Park
The Kingbird is not afraid of a peasant like you

and a nice view of a female Indigo Bunting drinking in the Gill.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Indigo Bunting (female), Central Park
the subdued elegance of a female Indigo Bunting

Female Indigos tend to be difficult. They're a bit skulky, and somewhat non-descript. This one, though, came out in the open and had a nice warm brown look overall, with a bit of blue in the tail, so she was fairly easy to ID.

Sunday I went up to Riverdale to take my aunts out to lunch. I rewarded myself for the good deed by birding in Van Cortlandt Park for a couple of hours afterward. I have never heard so many Warbling Vireos in my life--easily over a dozen, including several doing song battles, one of them a three-way fight.

The vireos stayed pretty well hidden, but I did see a loudly singing House Wren.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; House Wren singing, Van Cortlandt Park
House Wren, belting out the hits

Also, the Ring-Necked drake was still on Van Cortlandt Lake, where he's been hanging out since at least late March. He's pretty decisively taken himself out of the mating game for this year.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tweeting about birds

Twitter has made it a lot easier to find good birds in Manhattan. Birders are naturally helpful, but before the digital age, helping was done retailretail--telling one person at a time where the birds are. Things began to change in the 1990s with mailing lists, and in the last couple of years there's been an explosion of text alert systems and Twitter use. The #birdcp hashtag is widely used by Manhattan birders now.

Saturday, as I headed to the park, I saw a #birdcp tweet from Roy Tsao that a Blackburnian Warbler was singing in the elms near Cleopatra's Needle. I wanted to go visit the magic beech tree at nearby Greywacke Arch anyway, so I went there. Roy showed me the tree and described the bird's behavior before going on his way. It was about 25 minutes before the bird showed up--I heard a high tsip-a tsip-a song, and found him well up near the trunk. The photos will need some work, so let me show you one of my older Blackburnian photos instead.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Blackburnian Warbler, Central Park
That's what I'm talking about!

The Greywacke area was otherwise pretty quiet, as was Turtle Pond. I was able to show and tell a few people about where the Blackburnian was. When I saw another tweet, this time about a Common Nighthawk Eric O. had found roosting high up a tree near the High Meadow in the North Woods, off I went.

One problem was, I didn't know where the High Meadow is. I don't think it's called that on any map. But Karen Fung (who had tweeted the report) was able to give me directions on Twitter, and when I neared the area, another helpful birder pointed me to the right place to stand to see the Nighthawk.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Nighthawk, Central Park
Common Nighthawk, chillin'

The Common Nighthawk is my 159th species in New York County this year.

Friday, May 16, 2014


The last few days of migration have been much slower. Wednesday I was up in the north end of the park; a tree at the south end of Harlem Meer had nine species of warbler (Magnolia, Yellow, Wilson's, Chestnut-Sided, Black-Throated Blue, Black-Throated Green, Yellow-Rumped, and Blackpoll Warblers, and American Redstart), but that was the busiest spot of the week by a long way. Up at the compost area on the Mount the Solitary Sandpipers were gone, bit I had a nice view of a Lincoln's Sparrow up in a tree.

The find of the day was a female Mourning Warbler near the north end of the Loch. She came hopping out of the vegetation on the east side of the stream and came down to the water's edge, long enough for me to see the complete hood extending onto the breast, bright yellow underparts, and very thin eyering; and then as I tried to get my camera focused, a group of schoolkids came noisily along and the bird flushed to the west side of the stream, well back in the bushes, and I never picked it up again. Neither did anyone else, as far as I know.

A nice bird, but I found it very frustrating. I hate being the only person to see a good bird. I especially hate it when I don't even get a photo. I think I have a good reputation for being a reliable reporter, so when I report something that turns out unfindable and I don't have documentation, it eats at me. You know what they say: "oh, well".

Thursday, I went out a little too early and got rather damp. But there was a White-Crowned Sparrow right on the path at the north end of the meadow north of the King Jagiello ("Poland") monument at the east end of Turtle Pond. Best view of that bird I've ever had.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; White-Crowned Sparrow, Central Park
totally worth getting soaked for

My only new bird of the day was a Bay-Breasted Warbler, up in the big beech tree by Greywacke Arch (which is the underpass under the East Drive at the bottom of that same meadow). That's a fairly hard-to-get bird as well, but at least I have some crappy photos of it. The crappy photos were frankly needed to even ID the bird--it was a terrible view, high in the tree and backlit all to hell and back by the bright overcast sky after the rain stopped.

In the Ramble, an Indigo Bunting sang briefly at Evodia, and a Common Yellowthroat there gave a longer concert.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Common Yellowthroat singing, Central Park
Common Yellowthroat, tearin' up the stage

and several warblers and a Lincoln's Sparrow were on the Point. One Chestnut-Sided Warbler was especially confiding:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Central Park
why couldn't I get a shot like this of the Mourning Warbler?

Friday was very slow. I had expected a lot of birds to arrive ahead of the rain, but that didn't happen. We'll see whether good things happen after the storm.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Enough swallows to make a summer

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tree Swallow, Randall's Island
sure, one isn't enough, but Randall's Island now has enough swallows to make a summer

I went to Randall's Island yesterday. Swallows have taken over the northeast shore. Everywhere you look, there are Barn Swallows. I counted a couple of dozen at least, all swooping around, too fast for me to photograph.

The Tree Swallows were fewer and more cooperative.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tree Swallow singing, Randall's Island
Tree Swallow singing to claim a nesting area

The Parks department has put up some nest boxes, and the Tree Swallows have moved in.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tree Swallow, Randall's Island
the happy homeowners

Of, course, if there's a nest, the birds must be getting ready to fill it.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tree Swallows mating, Randall's Island

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Tree Swallows mating, Randall's Island
Ah, Spring, Spring! Great is the Spring, and so forth! -Basho

The nest boxes are right out in the open in an area with unrestricted access (that is, no fences; you're meant to walk along the shoreline); one of them is about 25 feet from a picnic table. The swallows aren't especially shy birds, I don't think, but if you visit, do give them a little space.

There were a lot of other birds as well. A big shoal of Brant was in the East River, along with a few Laughing Gulls, and there were Killdeer and a Spotted Sandpiper on the shores of the Bronx Kill (the bit of riser that separates Randall's Island from the Bronx). And some remarkably sharp-looking Savannah Sparrows.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Savannah Sparrow, Randall's Island
King of the world, Ma!

In the freshwater marsh neat Little Hell Gate Inlet, I found Red-Winged Blackbirds (of course), but also Common Yellowthroats, a Yellow Warbler, and a Warbling Vireo singing loudly (of course).

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Warbling Vireo singing, Randall's Island
Warbling Vireo, just like it says on the label

A splendid day in a splendid Spring migration. The Spotted Sandpiper and the Laughing Gulls were my first of the year, bringing me to 155 species in the county. I didn't get to that number until September last year.

Monday, May 12, 2014


The variety of birds passing through Central Park this weekend was astonishing.  Let's start with this guy:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Wilson's Warbler, Central Park
Wilson's all over

Wilson's Warbler. I saw my first of the season on Thursday. Sunday I saw sixteen. Possibly more--I tried not to count more than one in an area unless I saw them all at the same time. That's a crazy number. You see one or two Wilson's a day, if you're in luck. Not sixteen.

Wilson's wasn't the only very abundant warbler. Sunday we saw eleven Magnolia Warblers,

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Magnolia Warbler, Central Park
That's a Magnolia, sugar

which is a lot, and nine Redstarts, which is not too few.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Redtsart disapproves of you
American Redstart disapproves of you

Friday I saw eleven Ovenbirds, but they seem to have mostly moved on (only three on Sunday), or maybe they were just less noticeable with all the other activity. Other warblers were frequent as well. I even got a Tennessee Warbler on Friday, my first of the year, and a couple of Blackpolls on Sunday (also FOY).

And then there were rarities. This fella showed up roosting in a tree near Azalea Pond:

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

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a life bird for me, and I not something that shows up in Central Park often. If ever. And we (Elena and I and our friend Melissa) ran into a group of birders near the Weather Station who were looking at a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Central Park
Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

OK, those come through every year. One or two, anyway--so you don't necessarily see them every year. I didn't get a Yellow-Billed last year, for instance.

A couple of other first-of-year birds for me his weekend were Olive-sided Flycatcher (at the northeast corner of Azalea Pond, favoring the bare branches at the top of a tall snag--I think the same bird visits there every migration) and Eastern Kingbird (at least one at Turtle Pond).

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Eastern Kingbird, Central Park
any question as to why they call him the King-Bird?

That all puts me at 153 species in New York County this year.

Some nice birds continue, as well. A Summer Tanager has been hanging around Turtle Pond the last few days.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Summer Tanager, Central Park
Summer Tanager

Scarlet Tanagers have been pretty frequent, as well.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Scarlet Tanager, Central Park
any excuse is a good excuse to post a photo of a Scarlet Tanager

And, well, almost everything else. Really an astounding migration season.

Friday, May 9, 2014

No Bobolinks

Wednesday morning, there were reports of a singing Bobolink near the Loch in Central Park. Unfortunately, single Bobolinks don't hang around very long, and by the time I got up there, the bird was probably long gone.

But I had a pleasant wander through the North Woods--lots of Northern Waterthrushes and Wood Thrushes, and a really amazing number of Hermit Thrushes--they popped up everywhere I looked. Plus I watched a pair of male Black-Throated Blue Warblers fighting--they chased each other around the bushes and pecked at each other. I've never seen that before.

I ran into Kyu Lee and Tom Fiore, who told me there was a Solitary Sandpiper not far away at the compost area on the Mount, so I set off to find it.

I've written about the Mount before. It's where all the leaf litter and downed tree branches and so on get composted. Because of all the rain this spring, there's a bit of a pool between the heaps of mulch. When I arrived, there were four Mallard drakes hanging out on the edge of the water, and some Robins and Mourning Doves were poking around, but I couldn't see the Sandpiper.

I circled around the area looking for a vantage point where I could see the most north-eastern part of the puddle. It took some doing, but eventually I spotted something walking the water's edge and bobbing its head.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Solitary Sandpiper, Central Park
Solitary Sandpiper (and nearby American Robin) at the Central Park compost area

Every time I see a sandpiper in Central Park, I'm surprised by how small it is. For a moment I took it for a waterthrush. I watched for a long time. It seemed pretty happy wading in what I assume was pretty filthy water.

Solitary Sandpiper is an infrequent bird in Central Park (though there seem to be a few out on Randall's Island right now), and is my 146th species in Manhattan this year.

On the way out, I went by Harlem Meer and saw a Great Egret fly in and perch high in a tree. That always looks wrong.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret, Harlem Meer
Great Egret, Harlem Meer

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Magic Tree

Sometimes a tree becomes a "magic tree", filled with birds (especially warblers). Sometimes this is associated with a termite hatch-out nearby, or some other insect hatch-out, but often not.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Blackburnian Warbler, Central Park
Blackburnian Warbler in the magic tree

Today, a big oak tree on the south shore of Turtle Pond became magic for no visible reason. There were at least nine species of warbler in the tree at once, headed by Blackburnian and Cape May Warblers

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Cape May Warbler, Central Park
Cape May Warbler in the magic tree

but also including Nashville, Black-Throated Green, Black-Throated Blue, Yellow, Prairie, Northern Parula, and Black-and-White Warblers.

The Cape May and Blackburnian Warblers (no, I don't know why it's called "Blackburnian" and not "Blackburne's") were new species for the year for me; I also saw my first Gray-Cheeked Thrush and Red-Eyed Vireo of the year, among 46 species for the day. I'm up to 145 on the year in the county; didn't get there until June last year.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Summer Tanager, Central Park
I even got a good photo of the Summer Tanager (continuing at the Oven)

On the way out, I spotted a Winter Wren at Evodia, the first I've seen this year (though I heard one in the North Woods).

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Winter Wren, Central Park
Cute little ball of feathers

At this point, there are too many birds in town to do a sensible rumors report. The warblers are there, go out and look up.

Yellow and Red

Migration slowed down a little the last couple of days. Sunday, Elena and I had a nice day out in Central Park, but I had no new species. We missed the big bird of the day, a Kentucky Warbler seen at Evodia north of the feeders about 5:30pm. Oh well, you can't get all the birds.

Monday afternoon, I went down to Madison Square Park to chase the Prothonotary Warbler that had been reported there for a few days. Got it!
Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Prothonotary Warbler, Madison Square Park
Mister Yellow

Madison Square Park was amazingly birdy for such a small urban park. I saw several other warblers including my first-of-season Black-Throated Green Warbler there (141 species for the year in Manhattan now).

Earlier, I finally saw the Summer Tanager that has been seen for a few days in the Ramble.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Summer Tanager, Central Park
Mister Red

Not a great shot, but hey, life bird.

In the morning, I had a great view of a Warbling Vireo singing and feeding in a flowering tree at Maintenance meadow. They are such secretive birds, normally you only hear their loud, cheerful song.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Warbling Vireo, Central Park
Mr. Elusive

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Still very birdy in Central Park

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Northern Parula, Central Park
Northern Parula

Saturday was perhaps a bit less frenetically birdy that Friday, but still a lot of activity.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; American Redstart singing, Central Park
American Redstart singing

I had 46 species, seven of them first-of-year for me (up to 137 for the year). One of the FOY species was a Black-Billed Cuckoo (hiding deep in the leaves of a treetop near Warbler Rock), which doesn't always appear in Manhattan.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Lincoln's Sparrow, Central Park
Lincoln's Sparrow

Two sparrows, Lincoln's and White-Crowned, usually show up somewhere but generally need some work to find.  The Lincoln's was hanging out in a marshy lawn area with just an Indigo Bunting, but the White-crowned was in a flock of seventy or so White-Throated Sparrows methodically working over a newly-seeded slope.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; White-Crowned and White-Throated Sparrows, Central Park
White-Crowned Sparrow with White-Throated Sparrows

The other four new species (Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Least Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrush, and Magnolia Warbler) are common visitors, but always nice to see. And of course, many species already present were seen everywhere.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Rose-Breasted Grosbeak singing, Central Park
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak singing

It looks to me like the winds started out southerly tonight, but are turning westerly in the small hours. I think that means that some birds will move out, but fewer will come in. I could be completely wrong; we'll see.

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

I did miss one very good bird seen in the Ramble, a Summer Tanager.  Maybe tomorrow.  It's supposed to be a beautiful day again.