Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Central Park
not the bird I was looking for

In birder jargon, a "dip" is when you chase a reported rare bird and fail to see it. I dipped twice today on the same species of bird.

Yesterday, several people saw a Connecticut Warbler in Central Park, between the Riviera and the Rustic Shelter in the Ramble. The Connecticut Warbler is a skulky bird, a little smaller than a House Sparrow, mostly olive, with a full hood, grey (in adult males) brownish otherwise, and a bold eye-ring. They walk on the ground rather than hopping or flitting, usually come through New York only in the Fall migration (in Spring I think they go north inland), and are quite uncommon even then.

Yesterday's reports were from late in the afternoon until a bit after sunset, so it seemed possible that the bird might stay overnight. So I went out in the morning to try to spot it. Nope! It wasn't a total loss--a cool humid morning with several wrens (all Carolinas, I think), various sparrows, and my first Ruby-Crowned Kinglet of the season. (Not the one above--the light was terrible this morning.)

In the afternoon, I saw a report online of another Connecticut, this one in Madison Square Park. I wasn't able to get down there until after sunset. There were a few birders left, but no bird.

In birder jargon, a "nemesis bird" is a rare bird that a birder has tried and failed to see several times. I'm not really a good enough birder to have an actual nemesis bird, but I have never seen a Connecticut Warbler in a dozen or so attempts. Some of those chases were stakeouts lasting many hours, including one where the other five birders there all saw the warbler skulking in the shrubbery at one point.

That one made me swear off chasing Connecticuts, but there I was again today--and I'll see if I can get up early enough to try again tomorrow.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Just waiting on a wren

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Marsh Wren, Central Park
at long last / suddenly / a wren appears

Some birds appear rarer than they really are, because they are simply difficult to spot even when they're around. The Marsh Wren, for example, is mildly rare and only comes through New York in migration, but the real problem is that it is tiny and brown and well-camouflaged as it skulks in the reeds at the water's edge.

In the last week, there have been two sets of reports of Marsh Wrens in Manhattan. One is at Muscota Marsh up in Inwood Hill Park. It was probably there when I went to see the the Pectoral Sandpiper last week. Oh well. Then, a series of reports from a very careful birder named Adrian Burke of a wren, and then two, in Central Park at The Pond at 59th Street. That I could try for after work, and I did, twice, without success.

But hope springs eternal, and since the bird was apparently still there on Friday--and the Global Citizen concert was going to make things difficult in the Ramble-- Elena and I went downtown on Saturday. A quick trip around the Pond--there's clearly activity in the Hallett Sanctuary, and we saw a Hermit Thrush through the fence there--ended at the northmost end of it, where there's a little mud flat near the fence around the skating rink grounds. The bit of pond that extends into the fence area is good place for a Marsh Wren. Nobody's going to bother it in there, except maybe the rats, of which there are a really startling number.

We had a little excitement shortly after arriving, when a wren popped out of the fence. But it was a grayish plain-backed bird, a House wren. Marsh Wrens are browner and have prominent streaks on the back.

A pair of Northern Waterthrushes who didn't care for each other's company enlivened the waiting, as did a Northern Parula warbler who came down to bathe.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Northern Parula bathing, The Pond, Central Park
Northern Parula with a powerful urge to get clean

The parula splashed around and was joined by some House Sparrows, huge in comparison.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Bathing Northern Parula warbler and House Sparrow
bathing with a friend

More waiting followed. Swamp Sparrows. Song Sparrows. A sparrow with a plain breast and a very streaky head, maybe a juvenile White-Crowned. A Pewee, being chased by a House Sparrow. A charming family of catbirds. It was a fun wait, but a long one. Other birders came...and went. a mile away from the Great Lawn, we could hear the bass thumping from the concert. After two and a half hours, we were thinking of giving up. I went over to the fence one last time and--something was down in the reeds.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Marsh Wren, Central Park
got to be good-looking 'cause you're so hard to see

It was the Marsh Wren. I got a good enough look to confirm the ID, and called Elena over. The bird foraged near the fence for a couple of minutes, then melted back into the foliage.

We went home happy. A happy robin bade us goodbye as we crossed Barstow Bridge.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Robin among fruit, The Pond, Central Park
thanks for coming to Central Park, we hope you enjoyed your visit!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wing, no prayer

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Pigeon wing, Fifth Avenue
Pigeon's wing in front of the NY Public Library, Fifth Avenue

This morning, I got off the bus at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. I was running late to work, but of course, I looked to see what was in the little strip of grass and bushes along the avenue in front of the main branch of the NY Public Library. Only sparrows. Then I spotted the wing.

Just a wing, a pigeon's wing, I believe. A Peregrine Falcon--they nest in the Met Life building--had dined well recently. Hardly any meat on a bird's wing, so it was left intact. That's life and death in the City.

Here's a more cheerful photo, taken last week while I unsuccessfully chased the reported Green-Winged Teals in Central Park after work:

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Central Park Lake from Hernshead
Central Park Lake from Hernshead, at sunset

Monday, September 22, 2014

End of summer

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Semipalmated Sandpipers, Inwood Hill Park
I feel there should be some fine Japanese calligraphy on this one

This weekend was the technical end of Summer. Of course, that means that Fall migration is about halfway done already--more for some birds, such as shorebirds.

Despite that, there was a report on Saturday of a very unusual bird for New York, a Pectoral Sandpiper, at Muscota Marsh in Inwood Hill Park. They come through the region on migration in the Fall fairly regularly, but apparently there had never been one in Manhattan before.

Sunday morning, a report from eBird said the bird was still there, so off I went to the very northern edge of Manhattan.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pectoral Sandpiper, Inwood Hill Park
The Pectoral gets its name from the fact that it's upper chest is quite buff. Seriously.

And there it was, hanging out with a couple of dozen Semipalmated Sandpipers. Our hero bird was notably larger and browner. I was very lucky--after I had watched the flock from some distance awhile, they took off---and landed not thirty feet in front of the bench I was sitting on.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pectoral and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Inwood Hill Park
Pectoral and Semipalmated Sandpipers synching up

I watched them there for a long time, then went off to see what was doing in the rest of Spuyten Duyvil Creek (answer: not much). When I returned, another birder told me that a Peregrine Falcon had flown in and perched atop a light tower at Baker Field (the Columbia University athletic complex right next to Inwood Hill Park). The sandpipers had mostly flown off, except a few very brave or very foolish Semipalmateds.

The Peregrine eventually gave up, but the Pectoral did not return while I was there. Which doesn't mean it's gone.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Scarlet Tanager and lunch, Central Park
dinner is served

Meanwhile, in Central Park this weekend, migration also continued. Scarlet Tanagers, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, and a good variety of warblers are all around. Oh, and hummingbirds. Did I mention the hummingbirds? They were all over the place.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Central Park
right now, wherever there's jewelweed, there are hummingbirds

I also had a Red-Breasted Nuthatch at the Pinetum--my first of the year, and I had only one in all of 2013 as well--, a Kingfisher (always charming to see) and various confusing fall warblers. One of the warblers might have been a very dull Bay-Breasted, but most were Pine Warblers, I think.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Confused Fall Warbler (Pine Warbler), Central Park
confused Fall warbler

The Red-Breasted Nuthatch was my 178th species in New York County this year, and the Pectoral Sandpiper was my 179th (and a life bird).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fall migration

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Papa Cardinal
It's tough being a Cardinal papa.

The Fall migration proceeded apace this weekend. I had 32 species in Central Park on Saturday, including eight warblers (Bay-breasted Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-White Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, and Chestnut-sided Warbler) and some other migrants, such as several Brown Thrashers and a couple of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler juvenile

Sunday was a bit slower, only 25 species, but one was a Yellow-Throated Vireo, my first of the year (and 177th species in the county).

There are still resident birds finishing up their breeding seasons, as well, like the Cardinal at the top of this post. I spotted a juvenile Cardinal begging food in the big willow at the Upper Lobe; papa came to feed him, then spotted me and decided I needed a good looking-at. He looked pretty worn out.

Raptor migration is under way. Someone showed me a nice photo of a juvenile Bald Eagle who had flown over the Ramble, and a lot of hawks have been seen. I'm told it's going to be a good week for Broad-Winged Hawks passing through--I hope I can get out somewhere I can see some.

Sunday morning, I spotted a bunch of Gadwalls on Turtle Pond. It took me a while to be sure what I was seeing, since they seemed to be in various stages of molt.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Gadwall, Turtle Pond
Gadwall on Turtle Pond

This weekend's edition of "things I've never seen before" was a red-Tailed Hawk attacking a Black-Crowned Night Heron. I saw the heron fly into a tree near Hernshead on the west side of Central Park Lake. Some 15 seconds later, the hawk flew in and made what looked to me like a pretty serious pass at the heron, who dropped out of the tree and flew low across the lake making a sound I cannot find words to describe. The ducks on the lake were quite startled.  The hawk moved north, but came back to fly around the lake a few minutes later.

I don't know what that was all about. A heron is insanely large to be prey for a Red-Tailed Hawk. Maybe it was some kind of personal grudge.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Osprey and fish; wasp and dragonfly

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Osprey and fish, Inwood Hill Park
Osprey and fish

On Friday I went up to Inwood Hill Park in search of an Osprey. Anya Auerbach had described the bird's roosting spot perfectly in an eBird report--just west of the Henry Hudson Bridge, above the paved path along the headland, the spot well-marked with what birders politely call "whitewash".

The Osprey was atop a tall snag, holding down a large fish, seemingly waiting for sunset to eat. I watched for a while until it stretched its wings, giving me the photo I wanted.

On the way up to that spot, I heard a ferocious buzzing and a commotion in the plants by the path, and saw--well, I wasn't sure what at first. Long and thin and colorful, too small for a bird and too large for an insect.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Wasp eating dragonfly, Inwood Hill Park
Wasp devouring its dragonfly prey

I finally resolved it into two creatures--a wasp dragging a struggling dragonfly along the ground. The dragonfly didn't struggle for much longer.

You can see a smaller wasp at the bottom of the photo. I don't know what kind it is, but I do know that the big wasp got the heck out of its way and let it feed on the dragonfly.

Down at Muscota Marsh, the tide was high, but a group of small sandpipers was on the rocks right near the bench on the east side of the cove. It was mostly Semipalmateds (I counted 32) and a dozen Least Sandpipers mixed in. Some were standing in the shallows, but others were on the rocks and you could see the webbing on the Semipalmateds' feet.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Muscota Marsh, Inwood Hill Park

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Muscota Marsh, Inwood Hill Park

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Muscota Marsh, Inwood Hill Park

The Osprey was my 176th species of the year in New York County, matching my total from last year.

My 175th was a Budgerigar in Maintenance Meadow of Central Park on Thrusday.

Ed Gaillard: recent &emdash; Budgie and House Sparrow, Central Park
Budgie and House Sparrow

A Budgie, of course, has to be an escaped bird (or, God help us, a released bird), and so not really "countable". But I had one on my list last year also, so I've still matched my total. Beaten it, in fact, since last year's total also included a Canary (foraging near the Great Hill in Central Park).

Funny thing about this Budgie was that the sparrows were quite comfortable with it. They chased away the blue one from last year any time it tried to forage with them. The Blue Jays gave that one a hell of a time as well.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hanging with my peeps

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Semipalmated Plover, Muscota Marsh, Inwood Hill Park
Semipalmated Plover, Muscota Marsh, Inwood Hill Park

My next trip up to Inwood Hill brought more shorebirds. A Great Egret was on the mudflat of the bay, a couple of hours before low tide, with a flock of sandpipers.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret and sandpipers, Spuyten Duyvil Creek, Inwood Hill Park
Great Egret and Sandpipers, Spuyten Duyvil Creek

The fishing was pretty good, it seems.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Great Egret fishing, Spuyten Duyvil Creek, Inwood Hill Park
Great Egret fishing, Spuyten Duyvil Creek

There were a couple of mixed flocks of sandpipers, Least and Semipalmated, in the bay and in Muscota Marsh nearby.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Inwood Hill Park
Semipalmated and Least Sandpiper

The big deal bird was a single Semipalmated Plover hanging with the sandpipers at the Muscota Marsh area.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Semipalmated Plover, Muscota Marsh, Inwood Hill Park
Semipalmated Plover, Muscota Marsh, Inwood Hill Park

The two Semipalmated species were life birds for me, and my 173rd and 174th species of the year in New York County.