Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rare bird at Falconer Hill

What better place for a rare bird to show up in Central Park than Falconer Hill, named for the nearby statue of a birdwatcher, that is, a man holding [and watching] a large bird [see below]?

The Falconer

The work of British sculptor George Blackall Simonds (1844-1929), the bronze statue depicts a young falconer in Elizabethan garb, holding aloft a falcon poised for release. It is installed on a cylindrical granite pedestal perched on a natural rock outcropping south of the 72nd Street transverse road, and east of the park's West Drive. It was dedicated in Central Park on May 31, 1875.

The rare bird

It was a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, a most uncommon visitor to Central Park.

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Photo by David Speiser -5/19/09

The bird is on the National Audubon Society's Watchlist for birds in special need of conservation. Here, from the NAS website, is a description of the sparrow's usual habitat:

On the edge of the Atlantic coast, the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow lives in a shrinking ribbon of grassland. This bright-faced songbird usually prefers to run or clamber through the marsh, rather than to fly over it. The Saltmarsh and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows were considered a single species until 1995. The separation into two species focused attention on the plight of the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow's habitat and the need to better understand its biology.

The discovery

The bird was discovered on May 13, 2009 [a week ago today] on Falconer Hill by Janet Wooten, a regular birdwatcher. Pat Pollack, another birdwatcher, put the news on eBirds, and soon that peculiar and highly contagious disorder, Rarebirdmania, spread throughout the park's birdwatching community. Though birdwatchers continued to haunt Falconer Hill, the bird was gone by the next day.

The photographer

Since photographer David Speiser is a perfectionist, [and since the bird was very elusive during its stay in Central Park, making very brief appearances between long intervals of hding] David headed for Long Island yesterday to photograph the bird in its more usual habitat. That's where he took the striking picture above. Few in Central Park managed to get as good a look at a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow as you are getting now on this page.