Friday, December 8, 2017

November rarities

In November the rare birds come. Hatch-year birds who've never migrated before, birds blown by storms, birds whose sense of direction has gone off--all sorts of birds can show up anywhere.

There was a Corn Crake on Long Island. I missed that--no transport--and the poor bird got hit by a car a couple of days after its discovery. That's a ridiculously rare vagrant from Europe, only a few North American records in the last century. Excellent young birder Ryan Zucker wrote a very nice blog post about the Crake twitch.

Closer to home, we had a different skulky bird of the reeds up in the Loch section of Central Park, a Virginia Rail . This wasn't off-course so much, but unusually easy to see, foraging in the leaves just off a popular path.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Virginia Rail, Central Park

I got to see an interesting bit of behavior--a Blue Jay who had been hanging around suddenly flew up to the top of a small tree and started alarming, and the rail ran for cover, closing the 15 feet or so to a large log in about a second and crouching underneath until the danger had passed, or at least until the Jay quieted down.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Virginia Rail, Central Park
in this and the next picture, look at the feet.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Virginia Rail, Central Park
seriously, aren't they amazing?

The Rail might have been released in the park by the Wild Bird Find after a rehab stint.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Virginia Rail, Central Park
This is just a ridiculously close look at a Rail. That never happens.

Down in the Ramble, an apparent Hammond's Flycatcher has been around for almost two weeks now. Hammond's is a western Empidonax flycatcher, and empids are notoriously hard to identify, but this bird's small bill, teardrop eyering, long tail, and long "primary projection" (which makes the wings look sword-shaped) are pretty strong evidence, and people have heard it call (which is usually the best way to identify Empidonaxes), so everyone seems happy with the ID.

I had an unsatisfactory look at it when it first showed up, and then for some days the bird was seen before and after I left the park, but then first I had a decent look late one afternoon, and then a couple of days later I came upon a couple of people looking at it at perched over a small stream the Gill)...

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Hammond's Flycatcher, Central Park

..and then it flew right in and showed off on a fence six feet from me. I've never had such a good look at any empid before.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Hammond's Flycatcher, Central Park

As of today (Friday 12/8), the bird is apparently still present. It goes all over the Ramble, so it might take some searching unless you see a crowd of people staring into the trees.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Hammond's Flycatcher, Central Park

That same day I saw two other nice birds. While entering the park I stopped to watch a biggish flock of Common Grackles on Cedar Hill, maybe 150 or 200 birds. They weren't two nervous and I was able to walk pretty close as the foraged and fussed, and then I spotted a slightly larger and browner bird in with them.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Boat-Tailed Grackle, Central Park

A Boat-Tailed Grackle! Very unusual for Manhattan, though there's a breeding colony at Jamaica Bay in the summer. I think this is the same bird that was spotted by Anders Peltomaa a week or so before. It's been seen almost daily since; opinions are divided as to whether it's a female or a hatch-year male.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Boat-Tailed Grackle, Central Park
hey there, long legs

It was interesting to watch this bird interact with the Common Grackles. Aside from being a bit bigger, it had much longer legs, and when it felt crowded, it would rise up on them and kind of lean on the neighbors a little until they backed off.

After seeing the Grackle and then the nice view of the Hammond's, I wandered around the Ramble for a while, and came upon a Pine Siskin in a holly tree.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Pine Siskin, Central Park
Pine Siskin (OK, next to the Holly)

Pine Siskins are a decently unusual bird here, although some winters we see a number of them as they wander the region looking for good crops of pine cones to eat. This was the first I'd seen this year.

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