My office closed at two on Friday to give us a jump-start on the holiday. Clearly, the only thing to do with this windfall of daylight hours was get some birding done, so I made plans to head to Central Park.
“What will you be looking for?” the Inimitable Todd asked as we stood on the train platform that morning.
“A Wilson’s Warbler,” quoth I. Wilson’s Warbler is still yet another of my very favorite species of warbler; the males are distinctive and to my eye, very earnest-looking in their natty little caps. And this is the time of year for them.
One of the things that I’ve really started learning in depth since I moved to New York is the rhythm of migration here. Migration is a spectral phenomenon, a continuum where no fine bright lines can be drawn, but the changes of shading are easy to see. Magnolia Warblers, for instance, are the new Yellow-rumps of mid to late May; the quantity and selection of Flycatchers is expanding almost as fast as that of the spring greens at the farmer’s market; species like American Redstart and Black-throated Blue Warblers are increasingly being represented by the ladies, but there’s still a good chance of seeing a gorgeous male Canada Warbler – or a Wilson’s.
Meanwhile, many of our breeding birds have already experienced blessed events; I saw three separate Robins’ nests with young in the Ramble, and a House Sparrow being followed by a fledgling with a yellow gape in the Shakespeare Garden. The hawk-followers in the audience have probably already heard that Pale Male and Lola’s eggs failed to hatch, and that the Riverside Red-tail nest suffered disaster (though they’re attempting to regroup,) but the Prospect Park Red-tails, several other Manhattan Red-tails, and the oft-beleaguered Jersey City Peregrines are still making a go of their 2008 breeding attempts.
Others are ramping up – in particular the Baltimore Orioles, who are singing with gusto. I was filled with gusto, too, as I realized that here was yet another bird that I’d learned to identify by ear. I never really set out to learn to ear bird with the concrete game plan that I, say, came up with for learning Latin names, but I know it’s an invaluable skill and I’m glad that my “immerse myself and see what happens” technique is starting to work.
The Wilson’s Warbler – of course I got a Wilson’s Warbler, I asked for one – came down the stretch with an Eastern Wood-pewee, my year Red-eyed Vireo, and the day’s first Canada Warbler.
In the Ramble, I got the day’s first Magnolia Warbler – which might also have been the day’s last Magnolia Warbler, for all I know, since they can apparently be in twelve or more places at once – and my life Lincoln’s Sparrow. It was one of those interesting moments where a bird that I was not at all confident about identifying when I read the description was, in real life, utterly obvious. Yes, there was the buff. It was buff-er across the face and chest than a Swamp Sparrow, just the way that a Swainson’s Thrush is buff-er than a Gray-cheeked Thrush, which is in turn more gray-cheeked than the other thrushes; when you see it, in spite of everything that birds have ever done to confuse you, you know.
Also in the Ramble, I discovered a raccoon asleep in a tree. A bunch of civilians were staring at it, which made me think it might be a hawk, but it wasn’t. Apparently civilians stare at raccoons. (Apparently birders do sometime too, but with more justification.) I saw a raccoon asleep in a highly-visible Central Park location last week too, but didn’t make the connection to young and inexperienced raccoonlets being out and about until now.
The last highlight of the day was up in Strawberry Fields, across the lawn at a little distance from the hippies and canoodling couples. A single male Canadian Warbler sat on the lawn, and looked at me while I looked at him. A shaft of afternoon sun illuminated his slate back, yellow breast and onyx necklace. Only when I got out my cell phone to try to get a picture did he pick up and leave.
Happy long weekend!
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
American Redstart Setophaga reticilla
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis
Red-eyed Vireo Vireo olivaceus
Eastern Wood-pewee Contopus virens
Gadwall Anas strepera
Veery Catharus fuscescens
Wilson’s Warbler Wilsonia pusilla
Canada Warbler Wilsonia canadensis
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens
Gray-cheked Thrush Catharus minimus
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Magnolia Warbler Dendroica magnolia
Northern Parula Parula americana
Lincoln’s Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii *LL
Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus
Barn Swallow Hirunda rustica
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Archilochus colubrus