Monday, May 2, 2016

April 28 - Central Park - More on the Swainson's Warbler

Thursday's AMNH bird walk in Central Park started out relatively quietly at 7:00 am as usual. At Hernshead there were fewer birds than the morning before. However, looking across the Lake I could see Chris Cooper, Doug Kurz and a few other birders clearly looking at something in the trees near the north end of the Bow Bridge. I called Chris on his cellphone to find out what they had over there. After looking across the Lake at me calling him, Chris laughed and said they had a cooperative Worm-eating Warbler. I thanked Chris for the info and said I would head over there with my group to look for the bird. After heading north up the park drive and crossing the bridge by the Upper Lobe - and not seeing much along the way - one of my group got a call on his cellphone and I heard the electrifying name, "Swainson's Warbler". Of course, my immediate reaction was: "What!, Where?" That is how we first heard about the report of a Swainson's Warbler down by Strawberry Fields. I told my group, forget about the Worm-eating. we are headed for Strawberry Fields to look for the Swainson's.

My feelings were in quite a jumble. Swainson's Warbler was my most wanted bird in New York State. There are not many records for the state, but I had managed to miss, for various reasons, all of the few individuals that had shown up in New York in the 45+ years I have been birding. On most occasions, I had been out of the state when they showed up or for other reasons couldn't try for them. Now, one was being reported only minutes away. On the other hand, I was leading a group of birders, most of whom didn't have the same insane desire I had to see this one, relatively drab warbler. However, the length of time of any ambivalence in what my decision was going to be, was probably measurable in nanoseconds. After all, as I explained to my group, this was likely to be the rarest bird seen in Central Park this spring. (I should know better than to make pronouncements like this. See note below.) Even before crossing back over the bridge over the Upper Lobe, I was on my cell calling my friend Sean Sime in Brooklyn. I knew Swainson's was at the top of his wanted list also. I will not repeat his words - this is a family blog - but he said he couldn't leave Brooklyn until 9:00 at the earliest. I told him I didn't know anything beyond that there was a report, but that I would let him know more as soon as I found out more.

As you know from my earlier post, the Swainson's Warbler was indeed there. When we arrived, there was already quite a crowd of birders, some of them on the ground peering into the underbrush. Someone told me, "Joe, you can see it through this opening." Even before I actually saw the bird, I heard its song, reminiscent of a Louisiana Waterthrush. I pretty quickly got a glimpse of the bird and then reverted to leader mode and worked to get all of the people in my group views of the birder. More and more birders kept arriving until there must have been fifty plus birders trying to get a look at this secretive, drab little bird. Some people commented that it didn't look like much, but many of us explained how rare it was this far north. After making sure everyone in my group had sen the bird, I texted Sean that the bird was indeed present. I then called him to make sure he got the message and he told me to send out a posting to the Internet since though word had spread via Twitter, nothing had yet gone out on line to people who did not use Twitter. Sean left Brooklyn as soon as he could after 9:00 am and got the nice photo below of the bird. The bird stayed in the same vicinity all day and I have heard estimated of perhaps 200 or more birders seeing it. For me it was my 420th species for New York State and my 400th for the New York City/Long Island region.
Swainson's Warbler -  04/28/2016 - Central Park
After we had our fill of seeing the bird I led my group over the Bow Bridge and back to the Ramble. We were further rewarded with the Worm-eating Warbler we had started to chase over an hour earlier, as well as a male Orchard Oriole. The full list below is smaller than we usually get on our walks, but it certainly makes up for its length with quality.

Canada Goose
Double-crested Cormorant
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue-headed Vireo
Blue Jay
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Worm-eating Warbler
Swainson's Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Orchard Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Above, I said that I told my group the Swainson's Warbler would be the rarest bird seen in Central Park this spring. Roger Pasquier, who was one of the many birders encountered at the Swainson's, said, but Joe, the spring is still young. I replied that I would love to be proven wrong. On Sunday, May 1, Alexis Lamek, Karen Fung, and Anthony Collerton found an even rarer warbler, a Hermit Warbler, just in from the West 77th Street entrance to the park. Karen was able to get some pictures of the birder, but unfortunately, as of Monday afternoon, May 2, the bird has not been refound.

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