September days are often beautiful in New York City. The stranglehold of heat and humidity that choked us into dazed submission throughout August has usually passed, and the cold and slush are yet to come. Summer birds and migrants linger, while tantalizing hints of what the winter might bring crop up in reports from just north. Post-breeding wanderers yet wander, and occasionally a hurricane drives something really special up the coast or in from the briny deep (until the day comes when we get the hurricane that wipes Long Island into a shmear of rubble, of course – the clock is ticking.)

So, with great delight, I wandered out into Central Park on Sunday morning, along my usual route – in at 81st Street (best. subway. stop. EVAR.) and south through the Ramble.

In the Shakespeare Garden I stopped to admire the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that were fueling up for the morning at the cardinal flowers. And speaking of Cardinals, they mostly seemed to be over that molting thing, and gearing up to be decorative all winter long, although a few persistent young were still begging after their parents.

A big group of birders was entering the Ramble at the same time I was, and I thought about tagging along, but felt awkward and decided to go off on my own. It didn’t seem like they were having any more luck than I was.

The Ramble itself was mighty quiet, except when large, raucous flocks of Blue Jays moved through. Which was pretty often, actually. I love Blue Jays, the nattiest of birdfeeder birds, and while they’re in Central Park all year round the difference in population in the fall is very noticeable. I surprised a group of three bathing and drinking in the Gill, a beautiful sight that wiped any thoughts of grumbling about my paltry three species of warbler on the day list from my mind.

Until I went to work the next day and heard about this on the mailing list.

No, the Black-throated Gray didn’t make the Blue Jays less blue or the Hummingbirds less green. But I still ground my teeth a little bit, and sent an urgent e-mail to the Inimitable Todd, who being inimitable brought my binoculars to me at lunch*. Monday evening found me charging up Central Park West, back to 81st Street, to head north this time into the gathering gloom… both literal and figurative, as the daylight slipped away and the small group of equally deprived birders I found at Tanner’s Spring slowly gave up and left.

I suppose it could be worse. I could have been in Ithaca, planning to go look for the Frigatebird – hell, I could be the Frigatebird in Ithaca. It’s not as bad as the Great Reef-heron Fiasco of ’07. There’ll be other Black-throated Grays, and in the meantime, there are Blue Jays.

But still, I suck. I bet if I’d followed the tour group, I would have got it.

*I was able to make it up to him by finding his ID in time to bring it for him before a concert that very night. It’s symbiosis, which is like love, but even better.

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