Friday, April 16, 2010

The case for bird-listening

Worm-eating Warbler - Central Park
Photo by David Speiser

Two days ago I spent an inspiring morning wandering through the Ramble with Gabriela Klassen's 5th grade class from P.S. 145. They had been studying birds and already knew quite a bit about birdwatching. Best of all, they were wildly enthusiastic about every bird that appeared in our field of vision, be it a house sparrow, a blue jay, a cardinal, a red-bellied woodpecker a white-throated sparrow or a yellow-rumped warbler. [Actually, those were our important sightings of the day.] The focus of the morning was on bird song, and before the morning was over they had added at least four new songs to their repertory.

I left the group as they settled down for their picnic lunch in a little meadow a bit east of the Evodia Field feeding station. They had each brought a bag lunch from home and just before I left I sampled something Joanna Kuang's mother had cooked up that morning: the best chinese dumpling I've ever tasted -- still warm!.

As I was leaving the park I heard a bird singing an unusual song in a tree just north of the 79th St. Maintenance building. It was a short, buzzy, raspy trill repeated again and again. and though I was almost late for an appointment, I stayed there for a few minutes, scanning the trees and bushes with my binoculars as the bird continued to sing.

I never found the bird-- it was somewhere deep in the green. But something clicked into place as I listened, and I left with a feeling that I knew exactly what bird had been singing.

The next day I sent a note to Tom Fiore:

Hi Tom,

around 1pm, as I was leaving the park via the W. 81st st. entrance, in the greenery near the parking lot of the Maintenance shed I was pretty sure I heard the insect-like trill of a worm-eating warbler. It was singing persistently. Alas, I didn't find the bird -- the sun was not helping, and I was a bit late for an appointment.But I was wondering: is this about the time you'd expect to see one?


That evening I received Tom's reply:

Hi Marie,

In the north woods today (Thursday) I found a singing Worm-eating Warbler; good views, so no doubts. I also see that one was reported to ebirdsnyc list for Forest Park in Queens. On the early side, yes - unprecedented, no. . .

I'd not "expect" Worm-eating for about 10+ days more, but there will be the odd early arrivals. From records in Central & Prospect Parks in the past decade, around April 25 is a bit more typical of a FIRST arrival for Worm-eating, with most later. We're in or near the period when just about any migrant could turn up, though some species are extremely rare before May.