October 2007


Missed the Eurasian Wigeon at Prospect Park by mere hours. I’m bumming hard about that. Besides being a nice potential addition to my year list and Brooklyn list, this bird was offering good looks on a small pond, unlike my life-list Eurasian Wigeon from last year, which by my estimation was parked halfway back to Eurasia.

To add insult to injury, just when I’d given up on the day and decided to head to work, some guy on a bike decided to do the hey you… I want to talk to you…. but I just want to get to know you… just give me your number bullshit. I don’t care how ingratiating your tone is or how ‘nice’ your intentions are, if you have to be told three or more times that someone doesn’t want to speak with you, you’re definitely being rude. This has been a public service announcement.

On the good side, I saw a Palm Warbler so tame that when I sat in the grass, it hopped to within a yard of me and foraged while I watched without even needing binoculars. And another late Ovenbird. NYC Bird Report lists an expected late date of October 5 for Ovenbirds, although in 2006 one turned up in December.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Rock Dove Columba livia
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Palm Warbler Dendroica palmarum
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicolla
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus

I got lost in Central Park, oh yes I did. I think the cold wind coming off the Reservoir befuddled me or something. Of course, in the process of being lost I saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk that brought my year list to 145, a very late Ovenbird, and a couple of other things as well.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Rock Dove Columba livia
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucoprys
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Northern Junco (Slate-colored) Junco hyemalis hyemalis
American Robin Turdus migratorious
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) Colaptes auratus
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
American Coot Fulica americana
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Double-crested Cormorant Phalocrocorax auritus
Great Black-backed gull Larus marinus
Gadwall Anas strepera
Bufflehead Buchephala albeola
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Northern Shoveler Anas acuta
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius

Remember that Wren sp. on the end of my last list? Of course not. But I sure do, because I stared at those little bastards for probably ten minutes in the fading light, unable to quite make out to my satisfaction whether they were House Wrens or my life-list Winter Wrens. Stubby tail is all very well and good, but compared to what? So I wanted to see the dark bellies, and looking down on the birds from above with the streetlights coming on that was exactly what I couldn’t see.

So anyway, guess what I saw today in the nice ten o’clock sunshine in Central Park? Having seen this one, I’m pretty convinced that the Prospect Park birds were Winter Wrens too, but I don’t think it’s quite sporting to ex post facto that sort of thing, so today I got my life lister.

Even if that hadn’t happened, it still would have been a good day from the perspective of filling in holes in my year list. The renovation work on the lake left extensive mud flats, on which a late Solitary Sandpiper or four have been hanging on, and I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which would be really embarrassing not to see for a whole year. And a female Purple Finch. So I’ve warmed up to fall again, even if sparrows are still all little and brown.

Rock Dove Columba livia
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
American Robin Turdus migratorius
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Gadwall Anas strepera
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus
Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes *LL
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus

What a day. It took me almost two hours just to get to the park, because the trains were fubar, and then… well, there were plenty of birds. It was just that they were almost all hiding and/or in the dark and/or moving too fast and/or washed out in the sun and/or tiny and greenish brown. The wind never let up; the leaves never stopped moving. It was the most frustrating day of birding I’ve had in a long time. I got my head so turned around that I tried to turn an LBJ into a Swainson’s Warbler and had to give myself a good talking-to.

The only good news for my lists was my year-first White-crowned Sparrow; the best news for my eyes were incredible looks at a Golden-crowned Kinglet that seemed for a moment as though it was seriously considering landing on me (perhaps I looked like I was covered in bugs?)

Rock Dove Columba livia
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Hermit Thrust Catharus guttatus
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Buteo sp.
Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroic caerulescens
American Robin Turdus migratorius
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Accipiter sp.
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricappilus
Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
American Coot Fulica atra
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Northern Shoveler Anas acuta
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Wren sp.

Fall is well upon us. You can’t tell by the thermometer, I know, but it is.

I went to Prospect Park today after learning that a Great Cormorant had dropped in. These birds, though common in the grand scheme of things, are relatively rare on fresh water any distance inland in New York, and those that do turn up tend to come with the harsh winds of winter. My first Great Cormorant was almost bought at the price of my toes. A nice, simple, warm Great Cormorant, I thought, would be a well-deserved treat and a shiny addition to my borough list.

I got a late start, but that was ok; the bird had been around for several days, it might have the courtesy to wait until I had my breakfast. Fueled, I made my way into the park at 15th street and headed down towards the lake.

I wasn’t even in sight of the water when I stopped to watch a Blue Jay make away with acorns, and heard the tell-tale squawk of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Needless to say, I was thrilled. These little guys are among my favorite birds, and they’re shaping up to have a big irruption this year. Reports of them had been trickling in from all over the five boroughs throughout September, and I’d kept on missing them. Now a pair descended from the canopy and made their way around the trunk of the oak, close enough that if I had arms just twice as long I could have grabbed one (except that I’d be confined in a freak show as the Amazing Gorilla Woman instead of out birding.)

Only when the pair had gotten their fill of bark insects and flown away could I bring myself to continue on to the lake.

On the water, two typical birds of winter had made their entrance – the Northern Shoveler, which always strikes me as an oddly dignified duck despite its outsized beak, and the drab eclipse-plumaged Ruddy Duck. Neither were present in anything like the numbers that I’ll no doubt be seeing in January, but they were definitely there.

And the egrets were definitely gone. This year, haunted by the forlorn hope that the Western Reef-Heron would turn up one more time, it was an especially sad transition. The warblers, so much smaller and yet so much pluckier, were still in evidence though; two Yellow-rumped and a Magnolia Warbler turned up keeping company with a lovely pair of White-throated Sparrows, one with a white crown and one in tan.

I only saw two cormorants as I made my way up the side of the lake; one was an obvious immature Double-crested Cormorant, sitting only a few yards off shore. The other, perched on a snag off the island near the paddle-boat rentals, seemed bigger, heavier, but it kept its back to me. My only hope, without the cash on hand to rent a paddle-boat, was to go all the way around the lake to the peninsula and try to get a look at it from there. I doubted that the bird would be so obliging as to sit still; I’d already kept it waiting while I fed my face and ogled nuthatches. But I couldn’t very well not try.

Up the Lullwater I trekked. It had never been so long before. Besides the urgent desire to see the other side of that cormorant, I also had an urgent desire at this point to see a water fountain, and I knew that there was one near the boathouse.

With that need slaked, the trip down to the peninsula was a bit quicker, although I couldn’t resist stopping for the ever-popular male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Then I passed the concrete ‘beach’, looped through the woods, and emerged at the gazebo just across the lake from where I’d last seen the cormorant. That might not, I told myself sternly, even be there any more. And that might be a Double-crested anyway.

It was, and it wasn’t.

The Great Cormorant seemed disinclined to move at all in the unseasonable 80-degree heat; it sat panting, occasionally twisting its head to regard a boisterous Mallard and doing little else. Why it didn’t just plunge into the lake I don’t know. I certainly felt like it.

Since the day was going so well, I decided to walk up through the Nethermead trails and hit the dog beach, which often features oddball ducks that don’t care to hang out with the unruly mob on the lake – I had a Ring-Necked Duck there this spring. The woods were fairly quiet, though I did trip over one more flock of warblers. And the beach didn’t disappoint; in with a small flock of mallards near shore was a lovely female/eclipse American Wigeon, my third year bird for the day.

Overall, a great use of a day off.

Rock Dove Columba livia
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
American Robin Turdus migratorious
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
American Coot Fulica atra
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Northern Shoveler Anas acuta
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Double-crested Cormorant Phalocrocorax auritas
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
White-throated Sparrow Zonotricha albicollis
Magnolia Warbler Dendroica magnolia
Osprey Pandion halietus
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Palm Warbler Dendroica palmarum
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapullus
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Great Cormorant Phalocrocorax carbo
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea
American Wigeon Anas americana

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