Monday, May 5, 2014

Madison Square and Central parks - May 5 - Chasing uncommon birds.

It was quite a birding day - before and after work.

It started with a subway ride down to Madison Square Park to try for the Prothonotary Warbler that was discovered there on Saturday. When I arrived there was a small group of birders at the south end of the park west of the Shake Shack. I went up to them and asked if there had been any sign of the Prothonotary and one replied it had been in the tree just in front of us but had flown off somewhere ten minutes earlier. As long as it had been seen I wasn't worried, figuring it is a small area and the bird was probably just making circuits. My only concern was how much time I could devote to waiting for it since I did have to get to work. After a few minutes I decided to start looking around. I suddenly heard the bird sing, but with the traffic noise wasn't sure where the song came from. Continuing to hunt for it, I happened to glance back and saw the small group of birders all either with binoculars raised or pointing into the tree to others. I quickly headed back and got nice views of the bird, which obligingly sang again while we viewed it. Then it was back to the subway and to work. The whole stay in Madison Square Park was only about 25 minutes.

At the Museum I heard about a Chuck-will's-widow in the Ramble in Central Park, but the bird had been flushed by another bird and flown off. Around noon Sean Sime called to tell me a post had gone out about the Chuck being refound. I decided to devote lunch to a run into see the bird. I missed it by about 30 seconds when it was flushed again, by a robin I think I was told. Disappointed I went back to the office. About 4:30 Sean called again to tell me about a new post going out to report the bird being refound, again near the Maintenance Meadow. I left work a little early to try for the Chuck again. Coming into the Meadow I saw a group of birders looking up into a tree. When I asked, hopefully, if they were looking at the Chuck, they said no, they were looking for an Orange-crowned Warbler (another uncommon bird for NYC, especially in the spring) that was high in the tree and the Chuck was in another tree around the northeast side of the Meadow. Leaving that group, without even trying to spot the Orange-crowned, I headed past the Maintenance Building to find another group of birders looking into a tree. Coming up to them, Lloyd Spitalnik very obligingly said: "Joe, just look through my camera." There it was!

After getting some nice, satisfying views, through my own binoculars I decided to head back to see the Orange-crowned. The other group of birders was still looking up at the same tree where the bird was being intermittently seen. Before I could spot the warbler, another birder walked up and announced she had just had nice views of the male Summer Tanager down by the Lake. For the second time in under a half hour I walked away from an Orange-crowned Warbler to chase after a rarer bird. It took a little hunting, but the tanager was finally tracked down on the "Riviera" between the Bow Bridge and the Point. Then it was back to the Maintenance Meadow for a look at the Orange-crowned. Back there I began to think the warbler may have had its feelings hurt by my twice snubbing it as it now proved to be elusive high in the tree. The tree in question was anything but quiet. While trying to spot the Orange-crowned we came across Warbling Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Northern Parula, Blue-winged Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and yes, at last the Orange-crowned. During the hunt I had also seen my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year.

It was quite a bird list for a day which wasn't even supposed to be a birding day!

While watching the Chuck-will's-widow, the question that came up, quite naturally, among a number of birders, was how did we know this was a Chuck and not the very similar Whip-porr-will. After all, the birds are usually identified at night by their very distinctive calls. During the day, when they are only uncommonly seen, they both have extremely similar camouflage appearance looking like a bump on a tree limb. First, the Chuck is a much larger bird than the Whip, over two inches longer with a proportionately bigger head accentuating its size. But size can be a very hard think to judge, especially in species that are only rarely seen. However, the Chuck is a much browner bird overall with a brown throat and a usually thinner white neck collar. The Whip is also brown, but much grayer toned overall with a dark gray to black throat and a usually broader white neck collar.

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