A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 3 December 2015

New York Trip Report - Day 2 (Central Park)

Day 2 -  Friday 22nd May 2015

With our jet lagged internal clocks still operating 5 hours ahead in UK time, we were able to get out bright and early the next morning ready for a dawn start on what was our second day in the Big Apple. With news that my most sought after species (Blackburnian Warbler) had just been spotted at a part of Central Park called Cherry Hill, we rushed out to try and catch up with what could potentially be a difficult warbler to add to our trip list.

It was immediately obvious that there had been a small fall of migrants during the night – we had barely gone a few metres in to the park when the chattering of birds in the entrance trees at Artisans Gate distracted us. Two Red-eyed Vireos were moving stealthily through the leaves at height, quite elusive but occasionally giving good enough views for us to clearly see that bright red eye that gives them their name. Luckily, this was one of the commonest Vireo species we saw in New York, and we had great views on almost every day of our trip. Interestingly, they seemed to be instantly attracted to Alex’s pishing noise – something to bear in mind the next time one is reported in the UK!
Red-eyed Vireo - Central Park, New York
The red eye that gives the Vireo its name was clearly noticable even at a distance!
Moving on to Cherry Hill, we immediately spotted the trees the Blackburnian had been reported in, and it was no easy feat trying to spot a small warbler at the top of these towering giants. A Canada Warbler flitted briefly through the leaves, while the bright yellow of several Magnolia Warblers caught our eye in the early morning light. Deciding that a row of smaller trees positioned in the sun may hold more birds, we headed over to keep watch for any warblers passing through. Several female American Redstarts hovered in search of prey, and whilst not in the same league visually as the fiery black and red males, it was still great to watch them as they foraged, their long and rounded yellow-patched tail distinctive.

A pair of Swainson’s Thrushes hopped along amongst the pine needles below (their spectacles again confirming that this was indeed the species we had seen the day before) while an extremely showy Gray Catbird foraged near enough under our feet. A flash of yellow and black caught our eye, and our first male Common Yellowthroat of the trip popped in to view.
Swainson's Thrush - Central Park, New York
The spectacle markings were always obvious on the Swainson's Thrushes we saw
Swainson's Thrush - Central Park, New York
Common Yellowthroat - Central Park, New York
Male Common Yellowthroats were not as numerous as the females
With no sign of any Blackburnians, my attention turned to a small, drab brown looking warbler skulking in the shrubs lower down. With a diagnostic white triangle on the wings, this could only be one thing – a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. While no comparison to the beautiful shimmering blues of the male, it was still a great addition to our list, and one of only a handful we saw all trip.

With the Blackburnian Warbler seeming to have moved on, we decided to make our way to the Ramble, one of the best spots in Central Park and an area guaranteed to get us some new species. A showy Red-winged Blackbird perched obligingly in a nearby bush as we passed the lake, while the high pitched calls of several Cedar Waxwings in the tops of a tree soon gave their presence away.
The Lake - Central Park, New York
The view of Manhattan from across the lake
Exploring a small garden near Robert Wagner Cove, we encountered our first Red-bellied Woodpecker (bizarrely named as the belly is completely lacking any red colouring) showing incredibly well on a fallen trunk at the side of the path. With a gorgeous black and white chequerboard back, this was definitely one of the most attractive woodpeckers we saw in America, and we often spotted them creeping up the sides of the trunks.
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Central Park, New York
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Central Park, New York
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Central Park, New York
Continuing on around the lake and along the road, amongst all the early morning joggers Alex noticed a large brown flycatcher perched in the top of one of the trees in Strawberry Fields. Having received a Twitter alert of an Olive-sided Flycatcher in the area, this could only be one thing. Getting good views through our binoculars, despite the distance across the road we could clearly see the well-marked olive brown patches on the sides, a great addition to our list and an uncommon bird in Central Park in some years.
Olive-sided Flycatcher - Central Park, New York
One of the easier flycatchers to ID!
Upon reaching the Ramble, despite our earlier success things seemed relatively quiet, and everyone we spoke to shared the same opinion – the birding was definitely hard work today with not much showing. A very fleeting glimpse of a Black-capped Chickadee (our only one of the entire trip) was a plus, but the morning passed with nothing else new – a fantastic male Chestnut-sided Warbler taking a bath in one of the pools the only bird of note.
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Central Park, New York
Chestnut-sided Warbler - Central Park, New York
Record shots of the male Chestnut-sided Warbler
With Twitter telling us a Summer Tanager had been spotted at the Captain’s Bench, we made our way through the twisting pathways in an attempt to find the spot. With almost all the quirky names for parts of Central Park listed on our map, the Captain’s Bench wasn’t one of them, and by the time we reached the right area, it was clear the bird had already moved through.

However, this was definitely a promising area, and following on the end of a guided bird tour, we heard that a Black and White Warbler had just been seen down the path. Hurrying to the trunk in question, we soon caught up with what is definitely one of my favourite American Warblers. 
Black and White Warbler - Central Park, New York
The black and white humbug plumage, whilst not as bright as some of the other species, is still classically beautiful, and we managed to catch up with four individuals as the week progressed. We watched as this Nuthatch-like warbler crept up the trunks in the search for insects inside the gnarled bark, often upside-down in a Treecreeper-like fashion as it worked the bark above our heads.
Black and White Warbler - Central Park, New York
Black and White Warbler - Central Park, New York
Black and White Warbler was one of my favourite species in America
The tell-tale song of a Northern Parula echoed behind us, and getting better positioned we could clearly make out a male perched on one of the branches, the rainbow patterned plumage standing out against the light green leaves. Plentiful throughout, we caught up with a good number of these stunning warblers on our trip.
Northern Parula - Central Park, New York
Things in this area started to pick up – Alex spotted a second Olive-sided Flycatcher perched on an exposed bough right in front of us, a gorgeous Northern Flicker flitted on to an exposed trunk ahead, while we eventually nailed down an elusive thrush as our first Grey-cheeked Thrush of the trip.
Olive-sided Flycatcher - Central Park, New York
Our second Olive-sided Flycatcher of the day
Northern Flicker - Central Park, New York
We only got brief views of this Northern Flicker
Grey-cheeked Thrush - Central Park, New York
Gray-cheeked Thrush - Central Park, New York
We eventually nailed the ID of an elusive thrush as our first Grey-cheeked
Gray-cheeked Thrush - Central Park, New York
Heading for a spot of lunch opposite the feeders, we watched on as up to 10 Mourning Doves hoovered up the fallen seed below. A bright flycatcher soon caught our eye in the canopy above as we ate – lemon yellow in colouration with a well-defined white eyering and bright wing bars. It wasn’t until later when we learned one had been present in the area all morning that we realised it was in fact a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, an excellent species to catch up with and our only individual of the trip.

I was drawn away from the flycatcher by a sudden and panicky “Get on this bird”. The urgency in Alex’s voice made my heart pound, and I knew instantly what he had got. Rushing over, a frantic and torturous few minutes followed. The bird had flown further in to the canopy, high in the trees and impossible to locate amongst the sun dappled leaves as it flitted and flew from one leaf covered branch to another. Trying to make sense of directions in a panic was also extremely difficult, and “It’s on that branch” was quite hard to follow when the whole patch of woodland was full of branches! With just a few naked eye views as the bird tantalisingly dropped down, I was getting frantic – would I miss my dream bird? Of course not! Eventually, I caught sight of it fly on to a large exposed bough above us, and raising my binoculars – there it was. I was greeted by an absolutely magnificent warbler, my favourite species in the world, and the one bird above all others that I was determined to see here in New York – a male Blackburnian Warbler. The fiery orange of the throat was alive with colour, shining out like a beacon and creating a beautiful contrast with the jet black head markings. At last. This is what I had come to see, for me the ultimate in American warblers. Presumably this was the Cherry Hill bird from earlier that morning having made its way through the park, and it was even better that we had managed to find it ourselves without any outside help. Magical.
Leaves - and no Blackburnian!
Leaves - all I could see when trying to spot the Blackburnian Warbler!
Still elated at our against all odds success with the Blackburnian Warbler, we headed over to the source of the Gill, an excellent section of Central Park with a small waterfall that is fantastic at attracting a whole manner of migrant birds to bathe and drink. Alex spotted a brief male Black-throated Blue Warbler that I unfortunately missed, but we both got incredible views of our second Black and White Warbler moments later as this zebra patterned marvel crept up the horizontal boughs at eye level right in front of us.
Black and White Warbler - Central Park, New York
Black and White Warbler - Central Park, New York
Black and White Warbler - Central Park, New York
We later saw a male near Captains Bench - the only one of our trip
Heading round the corner, I then spotted what was our first Wood Thrush of the trip and the species of thrush that I had most wanted to see over in America. Calling Alex over, we watched as this large thrush moved through the leaves, the large black bold spots on the chest reminiscent of a Christmas pudding laden with sultanas.

Further up the slope, a movement of leaves under the shrubs revealed our second Ovenbird slowly creeping through the foliage and out of sight. Trying to re-find it, we came across our second White-throated Sparrow – remarkable to get another individual so late in to May. Less than a metre away from us and foraging at the base of the tree for any morsels, we watched as this beautiful and brightly marked sparrow happily went about its business, providing point blank range views of what was our most attractive sparrow of the trip, the white bib and hint of gold standing out.
White-throated Sparrow - Central Park, New York
We had fantastic views of this White-throated Sparrow
With afternoon approaching, we decided to walk as far as the Turtle Pond and the reservoir in the hopes of finding the pair of Wood Ducks that are regularly seen. Often found as escapees in the UK, these would be the real deal over in America, and we were especially keen to catch up with these brightly patterned waterbirds. 
Red-eared Slider - Central Park, New York
Red-eared Slider covered in green sludge! 
Sadly, both Turtle Pond and the reservoir drew a blank for our target, although several Double-crested Cormorants fishing near the sides were an excellent addition to our trip list. Diving just a few metres away from the edge, we were really able to study the subtle differences that separate them from our European Cormorants – the dark line running from the bill to the eye clearly separating the two distinct sections of yellow, something which is absent in our cormorants.
Double-crested Cormorant - Central Park, New York
Double-crested Cormorant - Central Park, New York
With nothing more at the reservoir, we headed back to the Ramble and Captains Bench for a last look around in case the Summer Tanager had returned. Sadly, there was still no sign, but a call of “Drink your teeeaaaa” emanating from the dense foliage near the feeding station revealed itself to be our first Eastern Towhee of the trip. A large, long tailed bird, this individual proved to be highly elusive, and quickly melted in to the surrounding shrubs and bushes with just a few fleeting further glimpses.

With Northern Waterthrushes conspicuous by their absence on our lists, we spent the remainder of the afternoon checking the watery and muddy edges of the lakes, pools and streams in an effort to try and locate this large, water-favouring warbler. Looking much more like a thrush than a warbler in appearance, Northern Waterthrushes often forage around the shallow banks of muddy water bodies, and Alex eventually found one making its way along the edge of Bank Rock Bay. Bobbing up and down as it moved in the fashion of a Dipper, and with the tail constantly dipping, we enjoyed good scope views as our largest warbler of the trip slowly made its way through the mud. Extremely similar to Louisana Waterthrushes, these are two species that I find especially difficult to separate, but with the earlier Louisianas already having passed through, late May tends to see just Northern Waterthrushes moving through Central Park.
Northern Waterthrush - Central Park, New York
Record shot of the distant Northern Waterthrush
With time pressing on, we headed back to the hotel, passing through Strawberry Fields as opposed to walking down the road. A flock of 5 or 6 Cedar Waxwings gave great views as they moved from tree to tree, eventually settling in a group of conifers and allowing us to get some photographs, their high pitched calls surrounding us.
Cedar Waxwing - Central Park, New York
Cedar Waxwing - Central Park, New York
It was odd seeing Waxwings in warm weather instead of wintery conditions like in the UK!
The trails of Strawberry Fields also brought our best views yet of the brightly coloured male American Redstarts, one of the most beautiful and eye-catching warblers in America, and we watched as they danced through the leaves, red and black tails splayed out as they called.
Northern Cardinal - Central Park, New York
This female Northern Cardinal was particularly confiding
A male Common Yellowthroat provided great views as it took a bath in one of the garden watering hoses, while an inquisitive Red-eyed Vireo simply couldn’t resist investigating Alex’s pishing noise and came in for a closer look. Our most unexpected sighting however happened to be a birder crawling through the undergrowth on his belly, emerging right on the trail in front of us covered in blood and scratches, and claiming he was looking for nothing in particular. Very odd indeed!

Heading towards the end of the hill, an unusual thrush perched on an open branch caught Alex’s eye, and calling me over I was met with a medium sized brown bird with no obvious facial markings. The light brown spots on the belly ruled out Wood Thrush immediately, while the lack of white spectacle markings around the eye and no grey cheek colourations ruled out both Swainson’s and Grey-cheeked respectively.
Hermit Thrush - Central Park, New York
Hermit Thrush - Central Park, New York
This just left Veery and Hermit. With no experience of either in the field, we were unsure. The obvious rusty red colour of the tail pointed to Hermit rather than Veery, but the end of May was surely far too late for what was an uncommon early migrant to Central Park. An unlikely saviour came to our rescue however in the form of a young boy that looked no older than 10 years old, a huge pair of binoculars swung around his neck. Seeing him spot the bird, I asked if he knew what it was. “Hermit Thrush” was the reply, without even a second of hesitation, his thick American accent filled with confidence and confirming our suspicions as to the ID. This was an excellent species to catch up with, and one we had definitely thought we would miss!
Hermit Thrush - Central Park, New York
Remaining perched on the branch for some time before hopping on to the ground below, despite the lateness of the day we enjoyed excellent views as this uncommon visitor foraged around our feet, the rusty red tail clear to see as it moved through the leaves right in front of us, completely unperturbed by our presence.
Hermit Thrush - Central Park, New York
Hermit Thrush - Central Park, New York
Hermit Thrush - Central Park, New York
The rusty red tail of the Hermit Thrush in all its glory
Pleased that we had managed to make the most of what many thought was a slow day birding wise, we had secured some excellent birds for our trip list – Hermit Thrush, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and the all important Blackburnian Warbler - and we celebrated with a delicious Japanese meal a few doors down from the hotel, hoping for similar success the following day.
Times Square, New York

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...