Thursday, August 12, 2010

Look up for Nighthawks

Common Nighthawk roosting in Central Park, May 2006
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik --

On August 12 Tom Fiore wrote:

We are now into the period when Common Nighthawk southward migration should be upon us, and these can sometimes be seen in good numbers in the city, more likely at dawn or dusk although occasionally found in numbers in daytime in certain weather conditions and by "chance". They'll also use city parks to roost in a bit before continuing south. The "fall" nighthawk migration or at least staging has begun in some northern areas.

Below, Tom's latest Central Park report featuring migrating nighthawks:

Central Park, Manhattan, N.Y. City

On Monday (16 August, 2010) evening at around 7:45 to 8 p.m., at least 15 (fifteen) Common Nighthawks moved southward over Central Park, as viewed from the south end of the Reservoir there, and subsequently seen as they moved on over the Great Lawn area, into the air-space farther south and out of view. They were trending slightly southwest from there. There may have been at least a few more as I was not fully noticing them until a few passed almost directly in front of me (that is, above but nearly directly overhead) - in any case I was able to count 15 in a period of only 15 minutes, most coming thru all at once in what could almost be called an extremely loose "flock", some separated by up to 50 yards or more per bird.

Their speed was misleading, as it seemed they were just lazing along, but when I ran out to the Great Lawn area -a distance of maybe a few hundred yards from my 'perch' by the reservoir- most were already far away, towards or even beyond the castle which is another 1/4-mile or so distant from where I stood. There was little discernible wind yet clouds were in motion so obviously the wind was in motion above the surface. Most of the nighthawks looked to be at about 300 - 500+ feet above the ground or water when I first saw them, and some or maybe all looked to be climbing as they went south. I watched for another 20 minutes as dusk really came on and saw no more in that additional time.

. . .

It is certainly the time for nighthawks to be migrating and these little weather changes sometimes (not always!) seem to get them moving, too. Watching the birds with 12x optics helped get on those that were a bit distant, as they moved... Otherwise, from what I found earlier and in each day since last Wednesday, there had been relatively scant migrants although some of the most typical mid-August birds are going thru. It look as though a good number of Eastern Kingbirds may have moved on, although I'd expect some more to still be on their way south.

At least some freshly arrived migrants in Central Park's north end this Tuesday a.m. (6/17). More later...

- - - - - -

PS From Marie:

As you are looking for nighthawks at the appropriate times of day, you may have trouble distinguishing them from small flocks of similarly sized swallows or swifts also swooping around in the same area. Here's a hint: as you look up, if you see conspicuous white wing patches on the birds' underwings , you can identify those birds as nighthawks.

As for discovering roosting nighthawks [or other nightjars -- whip-poor-wills or chuck-will's widows] in Central Park, good luck! Thanks to their cryptic plumage, all three of these species are devilishly hard to distinguish from ordinary lumps and bumps on a limb. But once a sharp-eyed birdwatcher has managed to find a roosting nightjar words spread fast. And since these birds are sleeping during the day you generally don't have to rush out to see a reported nightjar as you might a prothonotary warbler or a Lincoln's sparrow. The sleeping bird stays where it is.

Tom's report on the migration

Orchard Oriole [1st summer male]
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Indefatigable bird reporter TOM FIORE has sent in another comprehensive fall migration round-up:

Hi Marie,

There are a lot of birds that migrate south through the NYC area and more specifically through Central Park, in the month of August. For a number of species, most of their southward migration, their departure from here or from points farther north, is completed by the end of August. One of the best examples of such a species is Orchard Oriole - this is a species only rarely seen in our area after August of each year, most having already made the trip south to wintering areas. This stands in great contrast to our more-familar Baltimore Oriole which can be seen thru the fall - and occasionally is found even in winter months, although that is never expected. In the past 3 weeks or so, most Orchard Orioles had already made the trip south. I was able to see a few - with some searching - in the last week of July in Central Park, but no longer: I believe all may now be gone.

There are a good number of Baltimore Orioles around Central Park (and also in Riverside Park) and I believe at least some of these may be migrants from elsewhere which are beginning to pass through. We expect more in September and October, after which they are usually very scarce.

Among other birds, including the many species which pass through Central Park each spring & fall but don't nest in the city, a good variety are now coming back through, and for some species, they are in good numbers. I would like to make note of the recent report of some of these from long-time keen Central Park observer Junko Suzuki who had managed to find time in a busy schedule to do what we all must, see the birds when they are with us! Junko reported a number of warblers in a few places, with a highlight of two Hooded Warblers at the area of the "Lower Lobe", or as some prefer "Wagner Cove" - in any case, at the southwest end of the lake.

A number of other birders who have been out and about over this past week have found a variety of migrant species as well. Now, with a northerly component to the wind (it was from the northwest Tuesday night for a time and then came more from the northeast, at & after sunrise) - more birds have arrived from the north. At least thirteen species of warblers are in Central Park on this Wednesday as well as a number of other migrants passing through - and my point about this is to gently remind all that it is absolutely normal and expected - these are explicitly not early: not earlier than usual but moving south much as they do each and every year, with a lot of species almost all departing before August is done in the northeastern part of North America. We won't see a lot of Cerulean warblers in any season, but that is a species that is among those that primarily migrate south by middle August. Another such species is Worm-eating Warbler - even though these sometimes turn up in September or very rarely early October, the vast majority are far south of NY by the end of August. There are more examples - Canada Warbler, another early-deaprting species. The list goes on and on - and is not at all made up of just warblers; many flycatchers (other than Eastern Phoebe) also move south in great numbers in August: Eastern Kingbird is among the August-migrators.

Even species that may not commonly be associated with summertime migratory movement are to be seen moving south to some extent, including blackbirds such as common grackles, and although not regularly reported at Central Park, expected as mid-summer migrants are Bobolinks, a lot of which will pass through NYC & even fly past Central Park, all too typically not stopping in unless rather briefly to rest & move on again. Bobolinks, the Orioles - these are blackbirds, in family relationships all are part of the large "Icteridae", which also include all meadowlarks and many more birds that are not found in North America at all but are resident in the lower latitudes of the western hemisphere. Occasionally, as large flocks of blackbirds such as Red-winged Blackbirds migrate during daylight in mid-fall or later, a few orioles (generally Baltimore in the eastern half of the U.S.) will join in too.

A list, partial as it probably is, of some of the migrants present in Central Park Wednesday, 8/11:

[I was in the park a bit more than 8 hours in all areas.]

Great Egret (may or may not be migrating this early)
Snowy Egret (flying by and seen from the north end)
Green Heron (maybe still the local individuals)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (not migrating yet)
Wood Duck (Meer & Pond)
Gadwall (many, on Meer)
American Black Duck
Green-winged Teal (Meer)
Osprey (fly-over)
Solitary Sandpiper (Meer, early a.m.)
Spotted Sandpiper (in several places)
Least Sandpiper (a few passing over)
Laughing Gull (well, not migrating yet)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Loch)
Common Nighthawk (1, fly-by, 7:55 pm)
Chimney Swift (20+)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (several sightings)
Northern [Yellow-shafted] Flicker (90+ in early a.m.)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Wildflower Meadow)
Empidonax [genus] Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird (15+ - including high fly-overs)
Tree Swallow (mostly high in air and in morning)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (less common)
Bank Swallow (few)
Barn Swallow (most common)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (n. end & Shakespeare Garden)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Veery (one, north end)

Blue-winged Warbler (2 seen separately)
Brewster's Warbler (Great Hill, east slope)
Tennessee Warbler (first-year, north woods)
Yellow Warbler (several)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (1)
Blackburnian Warbler (1)
Prairie Warbler (1)
Black-and-white Warbler (4)
American Redstart (10+)
Worm-eating Warbler (1)
Ovenbird (3)
Northern Waterthrush (6+)
Hooded Warbler (young one west of Hallett Sanctuary)
Canada Warbler (4)

Indigo Bunting (1)
Bobolink (12+ fly-bys)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole (25+, in many areas)

I won't go into the butterflies around the park just now!