03-06/05 : New York (USA)

'New York, New York, it's a wonderful town,' so goes the song but amongst its many wonders, some of sad memory, is Central Park but it does not mention that the spring migration in that park as one of them and that the first weekend in May is usually the best. If you check out the following link www.youtube.com/watch?/v=VkmXQGHalk  you can see why and it also explains well what the effect is of this huge green oasis in the jungle of skyscrapers, thousands of pedestrians and traffic which is a nightmare.
I have known about the spring migration through there for many years but not until this spring did I have chance to go. Not that all went well as the chap who was to guide me Saturday and Sunday was ill, which ruled out the visit to Jamaica Bay, plus it was the worst spring migration for at least two decades according to local birders as prolonged easterlies had driven the passerines, warblers in the main, further west and instead of anywhere between 15 and 25 of them per day, there were 5 to 7, which is not a lot. Neverthless, I was not unhappy, enjoyed myself and saw some good birds as you will see.
I flew both ways with an Iberia (big bird Airbus 340, all flights on time!) on 2 May and arrived in New York the same evening after a very long day, it always is going west which is infinitely preferable to the easterly return flight which always has a more shattering effect on the system for me, especially as I had to stage through Boston. For convenience, I had arranged to stay in an hotel on West 72nd right by the park, not cheap (it cost more than the flight for the four nights!) but comfortable and I slept well every night, got up early, breakfasted and was in the park by 07.30 each morning, including the last.
So, I spent all three days and a couple of hours the final morning in the park, with a side visit to the American Museum of Natural History on the West Side by the park to see a special and very good exhibition on whales, with all written information in English and Maori (not on my list of languages) as it was in cooperation with the New Zealanders and Pacific islands.
Strawberry Fields for ever
The park itself is very clean, in spite of the numbers of dogs walked and run there, with all dog droppings picked up by their owners (except for one old hag who studiously ignored a fellow walker's call for her to pick up the mess). It is well cared for and policed and daylight crime is virtually inexistent according to my information, and I believe it. Runners and cyclists are a hazard and the latter do not stop even when they should at pedestrian crossings. The New Yorkers care for their park and it is wall to wall people at the weekends, especially Sundays, if the weather is fine, with attractions such as these admirers of The Beatles (a pop group) who meet virtually every Sunday afternoon in Strawberry Fields (for ever) just in from the 72nd W entrance to comemorate the lads from Liverpool, especially John Lennon. This is also a good birding spot and where I saw my first ever Hooded Warbler, a superb little male, although I was to get even better views (but no photos) of another bird later.
Cherry blossom
Azalea Pond area in The Ramble
The great joy of it in the spring is the huge number of trees, one birder told me 25.000, with flowering shrubs and American oaks - these latter very atttractive to warblers if they are there.  There are some areas which are particularly good and which repay patience and sharp ears and eyes for sound and movement in the high layers where birds often feed on the catkin flowers of the American oaks. Particularly notable spots are the shrubs and trees around Strawberry Fields and in the North Meadow, Great Hill and, in particular I found The Ramble area very productive. A very useful, small, plasticised map of the park is available through Amazon. 
in The Ramble
This foliage attraction in turn means that one comes across groups of birders, several hundred who visit the park on a weekly basis and one often finds groups staring in to the foliage for high feeding species and results in stiff necks and some lumbar pain. The group below were trying to locate a Prairie Warbler .... and succeeded.
searching for a Prairie Warbler
European Starling
House Sparrow at nest
 There are obviously some species which are more common than others, although some of these are very flighty and difficult to photograph, whilst others will be totally familiar to those from Europe, as our forebears imported birds which reminded them of home and for which the Americans have been cursing us ever since, notably the European Starling and House Sparrow, these latter actually building nests (although not very well) in trees rather than in building. In fact, they have so many House Sparrows they could export a quantity back to the UK for repopulation purposes!
House Sparrows dust bathing
American Robin
Blue Jay
Brown Cowbird
There are American Robins all over the place and these often nest in apparently stupid places but nobody appears to molest them, although there will always be both Brown Cowbirds high up in the tree tops and Blue Jays are common but quite wary at the lower levels, both on the look out for unattended eggs.

Reasonably common, at times quite shy but at others incredibly tame, particularly early in the morning, are the bright red Cardinals.
One of the species that I particularly liked was the White-throated Sparrow, an unassuming little bird which at times stood out incredibly well in dark shadow while they scratted around in the undergrowth.

three White-throated Sparrows
 Chipping Sparrows are much more localised, difficult to locate and even more difficult to photograph as they are rather shy, as are the Black-capped Chickadees while are nigh impossible as they are higher up and in constant movement, as are Tufted Titmice which inhabit the higher levels.
Also quite numerous and certainly the most frequent are the Red-bellied Woodpeckers and I saw several pairs and saw 2 pairs excavating holes in old tree trunks. There are other woodpecker species in the park, all rather scarcer, notably Hairy, Downy and Flicker, each of which I saw on less than four occasions.

three Red-bellied Woodpeckers
Hairy Woodpecker, male
And so to the main objective of the trip, the warblers and vireos and the failure to see many species which should have been present. I have already mentioned the two superb male Hooded Warblers and to them can be added several Black and White Warblers, two or three Yellow Warblers and a similar number of Parulas, many of which refused to show, and singles of Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped (which showed very well) and a Prairie Warbler. Only seven species instead of the minimum of 15 expected, but that's birding!
Northern Parula
2 Yellow-rumped Warblers
The situation was rather similar with the viereos, the commonest being the Warbling Vireo, with sightings of White-eyed and Red-eyed (where the eye looks black unless in the hand and seen at a ceartain light angle, rather like the red-eye effect with a camera flash).
Warbling Vireo
Common Grackles are common, as the name implies, and the males show incredible irridescence if seen in sunshine but are very shy and seldom still. In the same family the Brown-headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds are much less common, whilst Baltimore Orioles were just starting to arrive and we had the luck to see a full plumaged adult male which refused to be photographed. 
male Common Grackle

(l-r) male Red-winged Blackbird, male Common Grackle, American Robin (too close), stern of a female Grackle
female/young male Baltimore Oriole
Similarly the House Finch (an introduction from the West Coast when there was eye infection there which wiped out 90% of the population and done to save the species which is now all over the east coast) and the lovely male American Goldfinches refused to play ball. A single Blue-grey Gnatcatcher played hide and seek with us and gave only fleeting views, as did a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
I renewed acquaintance with American Crow, Grey Catbird and a single Northern Mockingbird, felt as though I was back in Europe with Canada Geese on the water along with the ubiquitous Mallards, saw up to 4 Double-crested Cormorants and in the gull line Ring-billed, American Herring and Great Black-backed
Great Northern Diver / Common Loon
The surprises here were finding a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver (a.k.a. Common Loon to the Americans), Black-crowned Nightheron and a Great White Egret/Heron (call it what you will) which flew in every afternoon. 
Great White Heron/Egret or White Egret (USA)
There were very few Barn Swallows feeding over the water and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow made fly past, but not with the speed of 2 Chimney Swifts.
I have said nothing about the many Grey Squirrels which are all over the place at all hours and which get fed, even though this is forbidden. Nor have I mentioned the single Raccoon asleep high up in the fork of a trunk and from which the Tufted Titmice pluck fur for their nests.

2 Grey Squirrels

Dog Rose
And finally, before the trip list at the very end, my thanks to 'Birding' Bob DeCandido (see at www.birdingbob.com ) who leads 3 hour trips around for a small fee many weekends and daily in the migration period, (Friday morning in the park with him) and especially to Joe Giunta of the New York Audubon Society, one of the sharpest birders on calls that I have ever been out with, for taking pity on me and inviting me to join him and his group on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Trip list (blue means new species)
Great Northern Diver, Double-crested Cormorant, Great White Heron, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Nightheron, Canada Goose, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, American Herring Gull, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Barn Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, House Wren, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Veery, American Robin, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, American Crow, European Starling, White-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow,.
T = 49 species (12 new)  
Not bad, is it, and all in one lovely, lovely park to then return to the reality of life on night 6-7 May, jet-lagged out of my mind (not difficult) and to find a Broad-billed Sandpiper first found by Blas López at the Guadalhorce! It's a hard life being a birder .......  

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