Friday, September 18, 2009

Master of disguise in Shakespeare Garden

This katydid, an insect rarely seen in the daytime, was photographed today by sharp-eyed observer Marianne Girards. It's definitely a member of the group known as "false katydids." I hope to get a specific ID soon.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The first White-throated Sparrow + PS from Tom

White-throated Sparrow, 12/17/06
Photo courtesy of

White-throated sparrows are easy to find in Central Park during the fall and winter. There are hundreds of them, maybe thousands, to be seen throughout the park, scratching around in the leaf litter in search of seeds and an occasional spider or millipede.

Sometimes in winter you can catch fragments of the White-throated Sparrow's haunting song. As spring approaches you begin to hear the entire melody: Old-Sam-Peabody, Peabody, Peabody, or Oh-Sweet- Canada, Canada, Canada, as it is variously transliterated. The tune is in a minor key. It has a doleful sound, though it is the bird's breeding song and thus the emotions it represents are more lustful than mournful.

Every year towards the end of April the number of whitethroats in Central Park slowly diminishes. And by early May they are gone. Not a single Zonotrichia albicollis to be seen. They have gone to their breeding-grounds far to the north of us. Many nest throughout Canada's boreal forests. Some even breed in the Arctic Circle.

Nobody pays much attention to these sparrows when they leave Central Park, because their disappearance coincides with the glorious spectacle of Spring Migration. Who would search for this brown little bird with its striped head and, yes, white throat, when there are scarlet tanagers and prothonotary warblers and yellow-billed cuckoos to be found?

When whitethroats start trickling back to Central Park at the end of their breeding season nobody pays them much attention either. They begin to arrive just as the Fall Migration nears its peak.. Again the park's woodlands are full of warblers, tanagers, vireos and flycatchers making their way to their wintering grounds in the south.

But when all the migrants are gone, in mid-October or so, then the hey-day of the White-throated Sparrow begins. They too have made their Fall Migration, but they weren't bound for Alabama or Georgia, Mexico or Panama or South America. When they get to Central Park that's it -- they've arrived. This is their wintering grounds.

That's why every year Central Park's regular birdwatching community [as compared to the Migratory Birdwatchers, who only show up for the Spring and Fall Migrations] eagerly await the first White-throated Sparrow of the season.

Last year Jack Meyer found the first one on August 9th . The bird was scratching around the wooded area at the edge of Strawberry Fields. Jack takes an early morning bird walk in the park virtually every day from January through December. It's not surprising that he'd be the one to discover this year's first whitethroat too.

Jack made the sighting on September 17, 2009 -- that is, today!. This time he and a little group of fellow birdwatchers saw the bird in the little wooded area in the Ramble known as Muggers Woods. Since nobody has encountered a mugger in Muggers Woods for decades [perhaps ever], I propose that the location be renamed Whitethroat Woods in honor of this morning's welcome arrival.

PS Tom Fiore sends in a correction and a clarification:


There were a few arrivals of white-throated sparrows by yesterday [9/16] as well. Also there have been a couple of them spending the entire summer almost every year for some time, definitely not breeding but staying in the park all thru the summer months of June, July & August. There have been a few doing so in the Ramble some years and perhaps more regularly in the north woods.


Hummingbirds and a Big Day report


Get set


Photographer David Speiser was in the park yesterday, sent in the sequence above, and wrote:

Hummingbirds seemed to be everywhere.

Meanwhile, there were a few [!] other migrants in the park that day. Tom Fiore writes:

Hi Marie,

Briefly, 9/16 was a good day for migrants in Central Park with more than 100 species of birds seen in or over the park, almost one-fourth of that species total being wood warblers (24 species of them). A single American Pipit was the most notable of birds that I observed in the park. There was no one obvious hot-spot - birds were in many areas however and there was at least some activity throughout the day, including some fly-over migration.

Tom Fiore

after Scott Haber, a New Jersey birder, sent a report to e-birds with his findintgs of the day Tom sent6 an addit6ional tally:

Hi Marie,

Scott's additional report places the wood warbler tally at 25 species with his mention of a Hooded Warbler, and his mention of Black-billed Cuckoo means that both of our cuckoo species was seen - this pretty much looks like a rather big day, possibly among the biggest of the fall so far for diversity. Incidentally this was echoed by active Brooklyn-Prospect Park birders who found at least 22 wood warbler species & many other migrants on Wednesday in Prospect Park.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009


photo by F. Lilien

I rarely stray from Central Park on this page. But I have a weakness for adorable baby pictures and this one can't be beat.

Actually there is a Central Park connection. The baby [eleven months old yesterday] is Sinan, the son of Pale Male's notable film chronicler Frederic Lilien. Pale Male, of course, is still a full-time resident of Central Park, and his photo may be seen almost daily on the website

P.S. Toasting Sinan is his mother [and FL's wife] Vanessa.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to Birds

Common Yellowthroat

American Redstart

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, female

Photographer David Speiser sent in the 3 photos above and wrote:

Still not much migrant activity in Central Park. Requires a lot of work to
pull the birds out. Hoping tonight's winds will produce more.

PS from Marie: Don't forget it's fall-- many migrating songbirds look different than they did in the spring. And don't forget to check out David's website for other great pictures of birds,

Monday, September 14, 2009

After the Crawl is over and a PS from John Blakeman

Crunching in Cricket Crawl data at the American Museum of Natural History in the small hours of the morning of 9/13/09

From the Cricket Crawl organizers as they work on the mountains of reports phoned and e-mailed in on 9/12/09:
"It's too preliminary at this point to make any meaningful assessment, but we've all been amazed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the volunteers. We also have several new, interesting records for the common true katydid. It will be interesting to see what will show up as we wade through all the data. For now, quoting Kevin Matteson from the Matteson-Clark Expedition, I doubt the night will ever sound quite the same again."

Those last words reflect my feeling exactly!

Today [9/14] Margot Adler told the story in a brief segment at the end of NPR's All Things Considered. Here's a link to her piece:

and the Cricket Crawl website started a page devoted entirely to the Common True Katydids [and my role in their re-discovery on the island of Manhattan]:

PS -- John Blakeman hears about our crickets and katydids on All Things Considered and sends a note:

Heard the NPR report on the katydid quest. Delightful and well done.
Particularly, it was delightful to hear the informed enthusiasm of everyone, all for a visually obscure group of arthropods seldom associated with New York City, of all places. How nice it was to learn that at least a few city residents were able to take some joy from the same group of creatures we so casually dismiss out here in rural, more naturally wild (or so we might think) areas.
And the converse happens here, too. I get into Cleveland several times during the year and visit the great Cleveland Art Museum, have heard concerts of the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall; and my wife just thrills to spend a few hours at Cleveland's West Side Market, a fresh food venue that certainly must match a bit of similar such offerings in Manhattan.
Country people need to know and experience the best of the city, and city people need to be as close to nature as possible. I commend you for all your many efforts in that regard.
As a few have learned, they ain't just big green bugs.
My best.
John A. Blakeman

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Cricket Crawl Saga

The back story:
Riverside Park is right across the street from our apartment house .To the left is a shot of the park entrance on 91st St.
and Riverside Drive from our 4th floor window.. [You can see part of the window sill in the foreground.]

Last year and the year before, whenever we opened our living-room window in late summer, we could hear the loud song of katydids coming from the park. This year we heard them too. We had always assumed they were Common True Katydids,
the kind you hear in the country,

A few weeks ago we received notice of a forthcoming city-wide census of crickets and katydids called The Cricket Crawl. And to our amazement, the Cricket Crawl folks seemed to suggest that Common True Katydids might no longer exist in New York City. Wiped out. In that case, then, who were the critters we'd been hearing from our window every summer? They sounded exactly like the country katydids. Were we completely nuts?

We were determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. And clearly the song was the clue. If we could get an expert, someone from the American Museum of Natural History perhaps, to come and listen to the Riverside Park katydids, "our" katydids as we thought of them, that man or woman
could quickly tell us whether our nocturnal singers were True or False.

We knew busy museum experts were hardly likely to come and investigate every time someone wanted a creature identified. Obviously, the best thing to do would be to get a recording of "our" katydids to bring to the expert for identification. One night while the katydids were making an enormous din in a certain Pin Oak in Riverside Park [see photo at right]., I had tried holding my cell phone up to the tree and calling someone on the Cricket Crawl team to listen. But the cell phone didn't pick up the sounds well enough for anyone to identify the katydids. I'd need to find someone with better recording equipment.

Then I thought of Margot Adler, a journalist for NPR whose stories often run on "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition." She had interviewed me twice about the Pale Male story, and once when my latest book had first been published. She'd certainly have good recording equipment. Maybe I could interest her in the Cricket Crawl.

The Cricket Crawl is a journalist's dream -- it only took one e-mail to entice Margot Adler. Of course first she would have to come over and record "my" katydids.

The photo at right shows the park bench
where I met Margot Adler on the night of September 6. We sat on the bench and listened to the katydids loudly proclaiming. Then she held up her microphone to the same tree where I'd stood with my cell phone a few weeks earlier. But she had better results.

Adler's excellent audio equipment caught the katydid song. She sent her recording as a WAV file to Lou Sorkin, a noted entomologist at the AMNH. And on Wednesday, September 9, he called me with his verdict: Our Riverside Park singers were TRUE not false! Now our team could send out a report on the night of the Cricket Crawl refuting the hypothesis that Common True Katydids had been extirpated from NYC!

The night of the Crawl, 9/12/09 : [It was postponed one day by rain.]

A.Miller & M.Winn

Here is the True Katydid Search team about to set forth on Saturday night.

Our mascot for the evening had appeared on an ornament near our building's entrance

and then on my shoe[Its true home is on display with other orthopteran treasures on a shelf in my living room.]

Our Cricket Crawl expedition began in Riverside Park. At 8:05,p.m. sitting on the same bench I'd sat on with the NPR reporter, I used my Blackberry device to report our sightings, or rather soundings, of three of the target species: the Fall Field Cricket, the Jumping Bush cricket, and -- hurray! -- the Common True Katydid.

We went to three other spots : 104th and Central Park West, where Rebekah Creshkoff had reported hearing CTKs singing earlier in the week;
Fifth Avenue and 64th St, inside Central Park, due south of the Arsenal. I'd heard katydids singing there a few years ago; and finally, a tree between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues on 86th St., just outside 107 W. 86th St where I'd heard CTKs singing in 2004 and 2005. We didn't find CTKs in any of these locations.