Birding Central Park NYC

11 09 2009
Pine Warbler - Luke Tiller

Pine Warbler - Luke Tiller

It always amazes me how few birders outside of New York seem to know what a great birding spot Central Park is in NYC. Think about it you are a lonely Cape May Warbler heading to your breeding grounds in Boreal Canada, the sun is rising and you know you have to get down on the ground for the day to rest and feed up. Problem is you are over an ocean of concrete, glass and metal..but hello, there is a large green oasis coming up right ahead – New York’s Central Park.

For this reason spring (and fall) migration in the park can be absolutely superlative. Name me another spot on the east coast where you can get to see 26 species of warbler in just a few blocks as I did one may day in 2005! Who needs Point Pelee or Magee Marsh! The other thing that always amazes me is that the birds in Central Park almost always seem to be exceptionally confiding. It seems like they hit this busy city and figure there’s no way of getting away from all the people so they might as well just relax and get on with it! Ever seen a Connecticut Warbler walking on a lawn? It happens all the time in Central Park.

Birders in Central Park belie the general impression of New Yorkers as unfriendly, too busy to care types. My birding rebirth was very much encouraged by an exceptionally friendly group of birders who allowed me to tag along for the day or even volunteered to show me the ropes of birding the park and some ID pointers when I was just staring out again. A couple of them have a website or two so let me share those here and let you in on some of the delights of Central Park Warblering (David Speiser and Lloyd Spitalnik). In fact if anything Central Parks birders can err on the too friendly sometimes and you spend more of your time chatting than getting any birding done 😉

Now you’ve seen the pictures I am sure you are intrigued – no? Perhaps the most off putting thing for most birders is that they have an image of Central Park as it probably was in the late 70’s, a dark place in the heart of a dying city full of drug dealers, hustlers and junkies. None of that is true these days, it’s a perfectly pleasant place where millions of tourists, families and New Yorkers hang out and spend pleasant days getting back to nature. Now I am not claiming it is all sweetness and light but in 6 years of birding there I have never had what I would consider trouble or unpleasantness (a little qualifier later).

So now you have to work out how you are going to get to all the best spots in the park. That’s the hardest thing to work out. There are two general approaches to the park. One is to hit the North End Woods (where I must be honest I have birded many times and felt perfectly safe but perhaps as a lone female birder you may feel a little more intimidated). The woods are great for birds but they are much quieter and you do feel somewhat isolated from the rest of the park/city and potential help. The other plan is to hit the Ramble. This is essentially the central/south end of the park and is much busier with dog walkers, people strolling and on good days a large number of birders!

Probably the best site for getting information about spots to bird is Phil Jeffrey’s websites section on Central Park (here) .  Here you can even see a map of the notoriously maze like Ramble. As I said in my previous post I always end up at some point during a day in the park where I am in the ramble and am aimlessly wandering around trying to work out where exactly it is that I am. No big deal though, although mazelike, the Ramble isn’t that big and you always find yourself back at a spot you recognize (or a friendly birder you can get directions from). The second qualifier for the Ramble is that the area by ‘The Point’ particularly is a well know pick up spot for gay men and some people find it a little seedy. It takes more than that to put me off one of the parks best birding spots though, and I find a theatrical scan for birds with my bins lets the locals know that I am looking for nothing more than the throngs of birds that are often loitering there.

Ask 10 birders their favorite parts of the park or ramble and you’ll get at least 10 different answers. For me I like to start bright and early at the Maintenance Field which is an open area which is great for catching the early morning sun and the associated early morning birds. The Maintenance Field also has a set of bathrooms which might come in handy if you’ve over indulged in coffee for that early start! Then I like to have a wander through the ramble and then up towards Belvedere Castle and the path that runs behind Turtle Pond to the the Polish Statue. As the day heats up, a good spot to check (or if you are after photos) is Tanners Spring where bathing and or thirsty birds often come during the hotter parts of the day when other spots become less active. Here I have seen a wealth of uncommon birds that have been just a handful of yards from the appreciative crowds of excited birders and photographers.

There are a few books on Central Park birding and nature if you feel like reading further including Marie Winn’s Redtails in Love (about Pale Male, CP’s celebrity Red-tailed Hawk) and Central Park in the Dark. You can also read her blog (here). If birding photography is your thing then check out Cal Vornberger’s book  Birds of Central Park (website here). If it’s film you want then Pale Male documentary might be for you (youtube clip here).

So there you go as promised a little introduction to the world of Central Park birding. Hopefully see you down there at some time! Next time perhaps my favorite NYC bars, restaurants, galleries and whatnot to hit after a days birding!

Continued adventures in the Big Apple

9 09 2009
Worm-eating Warbler - Luke Tiller

Worm-eating Warbler - Luke Tiller

Went to Central Park for the day and met up with birdspot who was kind enough to let me join her for a day of ‘edgy’ birding in the Big Apple. Skipping past the usual unseemly detritus of Central Parks Ramble (condoms, used tissue paper – nice!) we were soon on a few decent birds: a couple of Black-throated Blue Warblers were stunning as ever, although a rather subtly attractive Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was probably the early highlight for me at least (somewhat more common in the park than they are in Connecticut – but isn’t everything!). Although certainly not a big day in Central Park terms we managed to unearth a total of 11 warbler species with the highlight being a Worm-eating that although nice for the park (and probably Catherine’s highlight), actually breeds in my yard (a subtle and much underrated warbler in my opinion). The place was also literally alive with Swainson’s Thrushes and Veeries as they skulked through the parks underbrush.

After a few heated discussions of Empid ID’s (ok not that heated, just using a little artistic license) and a rather unpleasant burger at The Boathouse (2 days of stomach aches later!) we stopped to discuss birding and blogging plans whilst soaking up some mud at the Maintenance Meadow. The day had turned into something of a city scorcher and it was nice to be surrounded by open space and take a while to catch our collective breath under the shady umbrella of a large oak. Amazing how far away you can feel from the hustle and bustle of the city once you lose yourself in the Ramble (not that we did get lost for a change).

Although I have been to the park many many times (in fact it was one of my regular forays birding when I first started as it was accessible by public transport and promises a much better days birding than most spots here – sorry to admit that CT birders) I always have at least a few moments in the park where I am just wondering in a vague direction and hoping to see some landmark I recognize again. None of that malarky with birdspot though, she knows where everything is (even if she’s useless at remembering the place names!!!) I have to admit that part of the romance of Central Park for me is those moments of aimless wandering – not so much lost, but rather it not mattering quite where you are (unless of course you are trying to rapidly make your way to where a good bird has been sighted in the park!)

Later I’ll actually get around to posting something useful about how to approach birding the park for those that don’t know I promise, but indulge my ramblings for now please. Anyway after a fulsome day in the park we headed down to the Lower East Side (where else could we go in mudsoaked birding clothes?) for a few beers and conversations that ranged from art, through places to go birding, to birdspots secret love of all things testosterone fueled metal – who knew (not sure my sticking the Smiths on the jukebox went down so well there then)? First port of call for me in the LES whenever I’m out with friends is Mars Bar. To my eye it’s about the only remaining dive bar still in existance in NYC (if you know others tell me) and has one of the best jukeboxes in the city. Just for a laugh I decided to look up the posting on the place and the first review started thus: “Where do you go when you just killed a guy and simply need some time to think – maybe even get some professional advice on how to live your life on the lamb? Mars Bar for sure.”  Now if that isn’t a glowing recommendation I don’t know what is?

Tiller family birding – without yours truly!

3 09 2009

Bluethroat in hand - Stephen Tiller

Bluethroat in hand - Stephen Tiller

It seems my birding passion has slowly rubbed off onto the rest of my family – next stop complete world domination?! I just got a very nice email from my mum and dad who are on holiday in France and found out that they spent two of their precious days hanging round in a marsh in Northern France watching a ringing (banding) crew doing a banding study on Aquatic Warbler (a rather pretty and cryptically colored old world warbler). Aquatic Warbler are few in number on the planet and seemingly were rapidly becoming fewer due to loss of habitat. They are also quite notable in that much of their breeding population was unknown until fairly recently and equally their wintering range has only just recently been uncovered (see story from 2007 here).

The pictures are of Olivier and his assistant Fabienne. My parents report that the team had caught 40 Aquatic Warblers over the month but that they weren’t lucky enough to get to see one themselves the days they were there. They did however get to see Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Willow Warbler, Wryneck, Blue Throat and Pied Flycatcher. It seems like the amazing Wryneck (a bizarre looking and amazing member of the woodpecker family which can turn it’s head almost 180 degrees) somewhat stole the show as far as they were concerned. Good to see the family out birding even without my pressurizing them! Even better, I note that my mum still manages to look chic (in her white coat) even whilst trudging round a marsh in France (note the same glamorous stylings in the photo that constitutes my banner).

In similar news my brother sent me a message on facebook asking to identify the cool birds that he is seeing down in Malaysia. At this rate birding is going to be turning into a family obsession – perhaps I need to start sharpening my skills so as to stay ahead of the Tiller pack!!!!

Sherwood Island Birding Talk By Tina Green

1 09 2009

Sunrise Birding regular participant and good friend Tina Green will be giving a talk on becoming a birder at Sherwood Island Nature Center on Thursday September 3 (details here). Of course many of you will know Tina from Sherwood Island and her famous find of the first Western Meadowlark for the state, and to think I remember her first walk with Sunrise – talk about rapid development. I’m sure her talk will reflect her great passion for birding and her fun personality and I look forward to seeing a few of you there. With things exceptionally busy since my return from the Bird Fair and my participation at the Greenwich Hawkwatch as well as organising more successful Sunrise trips (Cape Cod report soon) I haven’t had much time for the blog – more regular service soon though I promise.