Friday, April 09, 2010

Silver-haired Bat in the Ramble; Brian and Tom send reports

Photo of Silver-haired Bat by Brian Padden --- 4/7/10

The incident described in the story below appears [without a date] in the first chapter of my book Central Park in the Dark. It actually happened on Friday, October 13, 2006, three-and-a-half years before the latest discovery of a silver-haired bat in Central Park. That story follows the book excerpt.

A Life Bat for Starr

One early October Friday I came home to find a message on my answering machine from Starr Saphir, one of Central Park’s most accomplished birders and bird-walk leaders. Even on a recording I could hear her excitement:

I led a walk for the Linnaean Society this morning in the Ramble. We had stopped at the benches on the east side of the Azalea Pond, and were just heading for the swampy pin oak when we saw a silver-haired bat! This was a life bat for me and for all of us. The bat was in the leaf litter on our left and then flew up to a nearby tree trunk where we all had a chance to observe it.

You know what day today is, don’t you? I think having a bat of any species is very nice on Friday the 13th, but I know a silver-haired bat is even better. It’s a most unusual species for Central Park. Thought you’d want to know.

A life bird, in birdwatchers’ lingo, is a species seen for the first time in one’s life. Like many other advanced birders, Starr has a long list of life birds—her grand total is 2,344. “That’s on earth,” she noted when I asked her for the number, adding in typical Starr fashion, “Of course I’ve never birded any other planet.” In New York alone she has 397 State birds. As she was walking in the park a day earlier, a shorebird called a greater yellowlegs flew overhead on its way from somewhere to somewhere, Central Park definitely not its destination. But a flyover counts, and that brought Starr’s Central Park bird list to 244.

But what about life bats? Her Central Park bat list increased by 33 percent with her sighting of the silver-haired bat, the other three being the little brown bat, red bat, and big brown bat. I told her about my only sighting of a silver-haired bat more than ten years earlier. One fall day as I was standing at Belvedere Castle looking down at Turtle Pond below, I saw Starr’s future fourth life bat flying low over the water. It was easy to identify because its blackish hair looked as if the tips had just been frosted at the beauty parlor. When I added that the bat actually plunged into the pond and swam for some distance to reach the far shore, Starr didn’t bat an eye. (When you talk or even write about Starr Saphir, the urge to pun becomes irresistible.) “He was probably doing the bat-stroke,” she quipped instantly.

It’s not a coincidence that Starr discovered her silver-haired bat near the Azalea Pond. Lasionycteris noctivagans (the scientific name derives from Greek and Latin words meaning “night wandering shaggy bat”) prefers to forage near the edges of wooded streams. That’s just what the Azalea Pond is—a small enlargement of the Gill, Central Park’s quintessential wooded stream. The Gill, to be sure, is not really a wooded stream; it turns on and off with a cleverly hidden faucet.

The Ramble retains much of its original Vaux and Olmsted design, but there’s an essential difference in the scene today. In place of showy rose and rhododendron displays, you’ll find a multitude of carefully chosen trees and shrubs where birds can feed and insects overwinter. At certain times of year you’ll find hundreds of songbirds—warblers, vireos, tanagers, cuckoos, kinglets, and grosbeaks—for whom Central Park has become a crucial stopover place during migration. You’ll find raccoons
wandering and occasional bullfrogs croaking. And if you’re lucky, you might come upon a silver-haired bat dozing in the leaf litter.



Yesterday I received an e-Mail from a reader named Brian Padden about the most recent discovery of a Silver-haired Bat in the Ramble--two days ago. In his note Brian included a link to a Flickr page [ with the photo printed above and the following sharply detailed description of his bat experience:
When Nicholas Wagerik tells you to come to the Gill to see something you've never seen before...... GO...!!!!

So my friend Martin and I were relaxing on a bench at Azalea pond watching the Black and White Warbler as it worked its way around the pond when Nick Wagerik comes scurrying over more excitedly than I've ever seen him move and waving at us to come with him......

Nick told us that he was going to show us something that he "guaranteed" neither of us had ever seen before in Central Park.....

Nick is one of the biggest guns you'll ever meet - with more than 25 years of experience studying everything in Central Park including birds, dragonflies, insects, trees, fauna, flora.... you name it....

So needless to say we went with Nick over to the area just north west of Laupot Bridge where he showed us this tiny little Silver Haired Bat roosting on the side of a tree.

It had previously been roosting under a loose piece of tree bark when it got flushed out by a gentleman who had walked by and brushed up against the tree it had been roosting in - slightly disrupting the bark it was under..!!!

According to Nick - this is only the third time he's ever seen one of these in Central Park.....
Tom Fiore also let me know about the bat. as well as the latest bird-arrival news. Here's Tom's report:

Hi Marie,

You may have heard all about (or been there to see) the Silver-haired Bat that was found in the Ramble near the Gill on Wednesday April 7th. This is quite an uncommon sighting for Central Park! I believe some photos were taken (?) - perhaps someone will have sent some to you. Nick Wagerik was just one of many who got to see that bat, and I think he noted that he had only seen the species twice before (ever) in Central Park. As for birds - there were at least 5 warbler species seen Wednesday, with Black-and-white Warbler the new arrival (seen in both the Ramble area as well as the Loch, thus more than one of that warbler which was seen in the Ramble by a number of people, while the north end sighting was thanks to Chris Cooper).

On Thursday at the north end of the park, an early Northern Parula found by Jim Demes, then also seen by Tom Perlman (& after a lot of effort to track it's whereabouts, by me as well)... with the previous same 5 warbler species (Pine, Palm, Myrtle [Yellow-rumped] and Louisiana Waterthrush being the four "firsts" and the several lingering Black-and-whites, making a total of 6 warbler species in the park as of Thursday.

A modest variety of other migrants are also about, still rather scattered with only the occasional mini-"hot-spots". Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and some "spring sparrows" are among the latest to have increased at least a bit.