Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday morning in the park

The Western Tanager continues at his usual spot between Tanner Spring and Winterdale Arch [reported by Jack Meyer via Lloyd Spitalnik's Metro Birding Briefs]


a Common Loon on the Reservoir as of 7:15 this morning
[reported by Lyn Dominguez on e-birds]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Yellow-bellied indeed

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker-----Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Like the rare Scott's Oriole that visited Union Square Park last winter, the Western Tanager now delighting birdwatchers in Central Park is feeding on sap in holes drilled by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

As you can see in the photo above, the belly of this handsome woodpecker is hardly yellow. At best it might be said to have a slight yellowish tinge. But having seen both the Union Square Oriole and the Central Park Western Tanager chasing away the diligent sapsuckers trying to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and having watched the sharp-billed sapsuckers give up their sap-holes without the smallest fight, I am beginning to wonder if the bird was named yellow-bellied for its character, not its belly color.

Rare Bird update- Friday a.m.

From this morning's Metro Birding Briefs:

Tom Fiore just called with news that the Western Tanager is still being seen in Central Park. It's coming into the leatherleaf vibrnum which is just to the left side of the Winterdale Arch. Look at previous postings for complete directions.
Good luck if you go,

Lloyd Spitalnik

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rare bird in Central Park - and UPDATE at end

Western Tanager - 3/26/08
Photo by David Speiser

The last rare bird to galvanize the Central Park birding community was a western species called Scott's Oriole and it wasn't in the park at all. It showed up in Union Square Park, a little vest-pocket-sized enclave between 14th and 17th Streets. The handsome immature male hung out there for several weeks, peacefully feeding near the statue of Gandhi at the park's southwest corner. It was clearly attracted to the sap-wells drilled into numbers of trees and shrubs by a local Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. During its long visit the oriole attracted crowds of birdwatchers who spent many hours admiring it and each other's snappy binoculars.

Now it looks like another unusual visitor is sharing sap with a local sapsucker, this one in Central Park itself. It is a Western Tanager, and like the Scott's Oriole, this species belongs on the other side of the divide.

Central Park birder and photographer David Speiser [also known by readers of this site as Liliana's father] wrote a report on e-birds on 3/26/08:

A Western Tanager was found in Central Park today by the Winterdale Arch. This is located by the entrance to CP on 81st and Central Park West. Follow the path to the archway. The bird is to left of the arch up the hill a little toward the roadway. It is in a viburnum and appears to be following a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Many, perhaps most Central Park birdwatchers made a point of seeing this rare visitor. It may still be there today ---worth a special trip.

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE -LLoyd on Metro Birding Briefs
The Central Park Western Tanager is still coming to the same Viburnum just above the Winterdale Arch in Central Park. The easiest way to get to the spot is enter the park on W. 81st St and walk the path towards the east. You should easily see and archway that goes below the park drive. The Viburnum is on the left side. Go up the slight hill until you're almost at the roadway. You're now here.
Thanks to Alice Deutsch for letting us know that the bird is still here.
Lloyd Spitalnik

NYC Audubon Hawk Report and Blakeman's comments

Riverside Park female Red-tailed Hawk sitting on nest -- March 2008
Photo by Bruce Yolton ©

Hawk Report from the NYC Audubon Raptor Census

Those who breed regularly and in greater numbers are listed first and in greater detail.

A large number of birds were found through the census, including eight species confirmed to be breeding within city limits. In addition to the five diurnal species, three species of owl are found in the city year round and are covered separately from the diurnal species. Seven of those species are widespread, the eighth, Cooper’s Hawks, were confirmed as breeding only once. Species not confirmed as breeding within city limits, including migratory species, those found only in winter, and those species found in areas near the city and who may occasionally cross its borders, are not addressed in the same detail.

Cooper’s Hawks, Accipter cooperii
Cooper’s Hawks were the rarest of the species confirmed as breeding in the city with only one confirmed pair and two probable breeding pairs. They were reported in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The Bronx had no confirmed or probable breeders, Queens had two probable pairs and Staten Island had 1 confirmed pair.

Red-Tailed Hawks, Buteo jamaicensis
The census found 20 Red-tailed Hawk nests in addition to 12 pairs whose nest locations are unknown. Adult Red-tails have been recently sighted at four additional locations however further information was not available. The occurrences of reports of Confirmed or Probable breeding are as follows: three CO in Brooklyn, two CO and one PR in the Bronx, five CO and one PR in Manhattan, four CO and five PR in Queens, and seven CO and four PR in Staten Island.

Among the known nesting locations the number of eggs laid and the number of young fledged is unknown. Some nests were monitored closely by various birders, others were not, either due to their remote locations, or the fact that a nest might only be known to a select few individuals. The offspring data that was collected was incomplete due to the same aforementioned factors. Therefore, the numbers obtained are incomplete.

Citywide, 28 eyasses were recorded, split up among 12 nests. Two nests were known to have young but actual numbers were unknown. In these cases, the number of young in the nest was recorded as being one. Brooklyn had four young, Bronx had three, Manhattan had eight, Queens had seven and Staten Island had six young. Two of the pairs whose nests were observed failed to rear young. One of these produced an egg which did not hatch. For the other, no data on eggs is available. All hatched young observed fledged successfully.

This census used a new method to gather information. In the NY Breeding Bird Census, volunteers walk or drive along predetermined routes. At set distances along the route they stop and record all the birds that they hear or see for a specified length of time. The specific quarry being censused, combined with the size of the area involved, made this a difficult approach to take; therefore, it was decided that information should be obtained by interviewing knowledgeable individuals.

Due to the nature of the methods used to gather information, getting precise numbers on any species was difficult. For some species such as Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels, the census data are likely lower than the actual numbers due to a lack of adequate coverage of certain areas (as with Red-tailed Hawks) and/or difficulty in finding the birds (as in kestrels). For other species, the numbers here might be higher than the actual ones due to mistaken identification, overlapping reports that are not recognized as such and inability to accurately assess the exact numbers found in an area. In all cases, steps were taken to be cautious and err on the low end. Nonetheless, the final numbers can be considered a fairly representative picture of the city's raptor population.

Cooper's Hawks were the rarest of the confirmed breeding species having only one breeding confirmation and two probable breeding pairs reported. It is notable however that the species is more common than that would suggest- in addition to the three pairs mentioned, Cooper's Hawks have been seen in five additional areas around the city, occurring in every borough except Manhattan. In all instances, the birds have been associated with parks or cemeteries. Red-tails were the easiest birds on which to find information. They are large and conspicuous. Even better, they have a large number of devoted birders or hawk watchers who keep close track of them.

The first pair of Red-tails to live in the city appears to have been Pale Male and Lola; they were first discovered living on 5th Avenue in 1991. Since then, the number of Red-tailed Hawks has grown. The numbers found in this census are likely lower than actual numbers. While in the wild Red-tailed Hawks nest on trees or rocky ledges, New York City pairs seem to feel equally comfortable nesting on the sides or roofs of buildings. Of the nests whose locations are known, ten nests are built on trees and eleven are nesting on man-made structures. Seven of the latter were built on buildings, two were on bridges, one on a sculpture and one on a crane.

A stronger need than nesting on trees or buildings seems to be nesting in or near parks. Of those 21 nests mentioned, only one is not located right next to or inside of a park. Many of the Red-tailed Hawks in the city appear to maintain small territories compared with their rural counterparts. Moreover, at least one observer noted their increased tolerance, both of other Red-tails and members of other species, intruding on their territories. This could indicate that food availability is fairly high.

The reproductive success of the observed nests is high. Two nests were known not to produce young; both of those had reportedly failed to do so last year as well. This may be a result of age or some other biological factor. In order to determine that, more research would need to be done. There does not appear to be a difference between the reproductive rates of those nesting on trees and those nesting on buildings or other structures.

There are still dangers associated with living in the city. One of the pairs that built their nest on a bridge inadvertently built it on a section of the bridge that was slated for demolition. In addition to the nest itself being in danger, nearby trees which could be used by the newly fledged chicks once they left the nest were removed. The wall was left up until the chicks left but what happened to them afterwards is unknown.

Manhattan Hawk Report
by Bruce Yolton

Red-tailed Hawks, along with Peregrine Falcons and Kestrels are doing especially well in Manhattan and the rest of the city. Red-tails have established at least seven nesting sites in Manhattan this year, up from five last year. So, the state of Red-tails has changed from a status of being rare and unusual, to one where they are now common place. The new question is how soon will all the available territories be filled in by the species.

It's an exciting time to be studying their urban expansion.Of the eight known nests in Manhattan, here's their status this week...

5th Avenue, Lola sitting on the eggs.

888 Seventh Avenue, Lots of mating and twigging. Not sure if brooding has started.

St. John the Divine, Not sitting yet.

Highbridge Park, New nest location. Female sitting on eggs.

Inwood Hill Park, New nest location. Female sitting on eggs.

South Riverside Park, Female sitting on eggs.

Houston Street, Female sitting on eggs. The male picked up earlier in the month downtown, turns out NOT to be from this nest.

Shepard Hall, City College, New nest. Not sure of status.

And in the Bronx, Chris Lyons reports Rose is sitting on the Fordham University nest.

For more information about Urban Hawks and Bruce Yolton, please visit Bruce's website

John Blakeman sends in a comment about the NYC Audubon report:

For me, the question now becomes, "When will NYC become saturated with Red-tails?" It would be interesting to plot the number of nests and pairs in each borough and the entire city and region each year.. Through the recent years, and into the future, what's the shape of the population trendline?

Right now, it's obviously shooting up at a rather steep angle, with more new nests each spring. But sometime in the future the line will start to flatten across the top, with all the available territories becoming occupied. I'm sure saturation hasn't yet been achieved, but if the annual nest numbers are plotted, the leaning inflection point, when the slope first begins to flatten, will show that Red-tail "housing" has begun to get tight.

A note about the apparent paucity of Cooper's Hawk nests in NYC. :

Everywhere else these bird-eating hawks are exploding in numbers. They've invaded and nested in virtually every city, town, or village in Ohio and much of the rest of North America. But why do so few nest in New York City? Here's the reason,

I believe. Cooper's Hawks almost always prefer to have a small, flowing stream within a quarter-mile of their nests. Sometimes, a pond or lake will suffice, but a nest is almost never built in the absence of these close-by water features. Coop's like to take a bath each day, and they like to do this in flowing water.

I doubt that there are many free-flowing small streams in NYC. Manhattan certainly doesn't have any that would be acceptable. So the Cooper's Hawks seen in Central Park have flown over from New Jersey or down the Hudson Valley. But they will have great difficulty finding an NYC neighborhood with the small flowing stream they so much prefer for nesting. Until a population emerges that no longer prefers to take a daily bath, there will be few Cooper's Hawk nests in The City.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Early spring

Pine Warbler - Spring 2007
Photo by David Speiser

A somewhat disorganized round-up of early spring happenings in Central Park:


Central Park's first Eastern Phoebe was seen on March 17. Among the early migrants seen by numbers of birdwatchers during the week that followed:

Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night-heron
American Woodcock
Winter Wren
Rufous-sided Towhee
Swamp Sparrow
Fox Sparrow [singing!]
Song Sparrow

Birds that might show up during this coming week, according to my records:

Wilson's Snipe
American Bittern
Spotted Sandpiper
Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets
Pine Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Belted Kingfisher
Rusty Blackbird
Field Sparrow

Usually seen around this time, so keep your eye out for them: Little Brown Bats
Seen everywhere: many big raccoon babies--almost teen-agers

Trees and Flowers:
Red Maples flowering
many trees budding
Daffodils everywhere
Cornus Mas in full bloom
Forsythia about to bloom
Andromeda blooming at the Model-Boat Pond
Lesser Celandine [a rampant invasive] coming up everywhere
Japanese Knotweed -- Ditto

any minute now--Mourning Cloaks and Cabbage Whites

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bye for now and PS about Parakeets

The harbor seal at 72nd Street and the Hudson River



Bye for now

Many thanks to Bruce Yolton --
for the great pictures of the seal, for many photos of Red-tailed Hawks all around New York City, and, last but not least...for the photo of a little Screech-owl peering out of its cavity that is featured on the book jacket of Central Park in the Dark.
I've made my final corrections and said Bye for now. You'll see it in June.

In regard to the Monk Parakeets and my recently posted note about their whereabouts, a few days ago Robert Schmunk, who lives near 103rd St and walks up Broadway every day on his way to work, wrote:

Marie, The monk parrots on 103rd St. abandoned their nest at Amsterdam about this time a year ago. They started on some serious renovations which involved ripping out much of their original work, and then they disappeared. All the twigs and sticks are still there as of today,unchanged.

By the way, Robert Schmunk has a frequently updated blog that covers local hawk nestings [the Cathedral of St. John the Divine nest, for example] and other nature happenings near and far. You can find it at

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Someone is mocking the Riverside Hawks

Tess Eliot writes on 3/18/07
  The little mockingbird who occupies the planting bed at the entrance at 79th St. of Riverside Park was singing his heart out today. He did the local cardinal, some starlings, some warblers--and what really made me laugh were some of the hawk calls. Ye gods--if I can figure out how to record it, I will. I have finally heard the hawks' vocalizations since they started mating (my hearing is a little impaired in the high ranges), which is why I thought one of them was up at the entrance near the nest. It was the mockingbird! I stood behind the tall bushes on the sidewalk and listened to him sing for awhile, and now I have generic mockingbird songs on my computer just so I can laugh remembering it. . .  I would love to hide somewhere when the female starts staying in the nest and see if that mockingbird doesn't make the photographers go crazy. It's really fun being an amateur sometimes!

Tess on March 17th

Photo of a Mockingbird in Riverside Park courtesy of