New York, June 2019

New York, June 2019

Visitors fly in from far and wide to soak up spring in NYC, but humans aren’t the only ones eager for a bite of the Big Apple, dozens of species of birds flock to Central Park in Spring, making it one of the best places for observation in North America. Approximately 230 different species of birds can be found in Central Park during the year with some birds living in the park year round and several species making an important stopover to rest and feed during spring and fall migrations.

Late Spring may not be the best time of year to visit NYC as many birds in Central Park build their nests, lay eggs and raise their young at this time of year and migration halts, still with the help from some new friends I made the most of our short time in New York and cleaned up!

Dawn and I flew with Thomas Cook direct from Manchester, this was around a seven hour flight flying direct to JFK. We stayed at Hotel Metro off 35th street, this was a great hotel, clean, well presented and offers a roof top bar, is close to Time Square and all that NYC has to offer. The hotel was only two blocks away from the wonderful Bryant Park, a small gem of a place opposite New York Public Library (the same one Carrie Bardshaw and Mr. Big would get married in, before he stands her up).

New York is an amazing city and we split our time birding and sight seeing. So in this trip report
I have concentrated on the main birding areas I visited.

Bryant Park

Bryant Park quickly became one of my favourite places within the city,  located between 5th and 6th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan. It is a privately managed public park spread across 39, 000m² above the subterranean New York Public Library Archives.
An example of the ideal park; there is free Wi-Fi, lush green lawns, an area for chess and other games, a cafe, restaurant, sandwich kiosks, custom made carousel, an open air reading room and several statues.

You might not expect a small and busy park surrounded by skyscrapers in the middle of midtown Manhattan to be a productive birding spot. But like many green spots in New York City, Bryant Park draws an eye-opening variety of bird species during migration.

During summer Bryant Park is very much quieter on the birding front, as only a trickle of ubiquitous non-native urban birds nest here: rock pigeons, European starlings, and house sparrows. A pair of Peregrine Falcons nest on a nearby skyscraper, and every year a few native birds find their way to the park and spend part of the winter here, joining flocks of wintering white-throated sparrows and offering close-up views.

Mourning Warbler: As soon as we landed we got the air train and metro to the hotel, dropped off our luggage, and headed straight over to Bryant Park hoping to see the long staying female Mourning warbler.
I was surprised at how small this park actually was and how busy it was, it was rammed with New Yorkers having coffee and attending a free music event. But still the bird remained.
I  noticed three birders pointing their long lenses in to the bushes. Bingo.

The small typically shy, skulking bird moved quickly through the foliage looking for food, seemingly oblivious to the city noise, the crowds of people and the music from the band in the park.
Common Yellow-throat:  Another skulking little brown and yellow bird I spotted was this female common yellow-throat.
With a more contrasting brighter yellow throat, lacking the pale grey hood and extended yellow belly, it was still pretty hard to pick out from the mourning in the dappled light of the park.
These two little brown birds were a real birders task, tricky to find, even harder to photograph and then ID.
White-throated Sparrow: As part of my planning and preparation for this birding trip I reached out to some local New York birders for help and advice regarding species and where to look.
One of the three birders was Loutus Winnie Lee, one of my new twitter friends who was very helpful prior to my arrival. It was lovely to have met her in person.
The Mourning Warbler gets its species name, Philadelphia, from the city where Alexander Wilson discovered the bird in 1810. It is actually less common in Philadelphia than in many other places.
Dawn and I visited this park at least once a day, each time we spotted the Mourning Warbler and also found a pair of white-throated sparrow.

White-throated sparrows are one of the continent's best-studied and most familiar songbirds.

These birds weren't shy and were feeding between the park chairs and tables and in the flower beds.
The park also had grey-catbirds, American robins, common yellowthroat, house sparrows and a hermit thrush, which unfortunately I dipped. It was spotted first thing in the morning and I didn't get news until late afternoon.

Central Park 

One does not necessarily associate New York City with wildlife; there is so much to see and do in this amazing city that birding is probably quite far down most people’s NYC bucket list. But for this “Englishman in New York” (to borrow Sting’s lyrics), spending a few hours with the wildlife of Central Park was deeply rewarding.

Central Park is like a great slab of green in the heart of Manhattan and is home to hundreds of birds, perhaps best in April and May or autumn when bird migration is in full swing across the state. In mid June it is really quiet as only breeding birds remain in the park and many are on eggs so are less active and obvious.

American Robin: Central Park was one of the locations I was most excited to visit.
Central Park is an urban oasis with an 843-acre green space that features rolling meadows, peaceful water bodies and stunning vistas, bringing a sense of calm to the otherwise busy City.
Blue Jay: And it is massively huge! We spent more time than we anticipated here and walked miles covering almost all of the park and there were still areas unexplored!
My favourite area was the 'Ramble' an area of  dense vegetation, serpentine paths, giant boulders and meandering streams. This is also the place where the bird feeders are, although at this time of year they are not regularly topped up.
Baltimore Oriole: Another area I found was near the 'Loch' an area that contains a flowing stream and bridges. Looking down from one particular bridge I found a spot where several birds were bathing.
I stood and watched dozens of American robins, house sparrows and catbirds come to bathe when I was blown away by a smart looking bird, a blaze of colour it couldn't be first Baltimore oriole.
Northern Cardinal: More birds came in for some relief from the city's summer sun such as common grackles and red cardinals.
American Robin:  The parks lawns were swamped with robins. At this time of year the main bird you see, literally everywhere were American robin. I found several robin nests and saw dozens of juvenile birds across the park.

Common Grackle: This bird is not just a black bird, see it in the correct light and it turns in to a iridescent bird of blues, purples, browns and greens.
Typically noisy but not a great singer I often saw them chasing each other about in the undergrowth or high up in the trees.
Gadwall: There are several ponds dotted across the park, from the large 'main lake' in the centre, the 'boating lake' to 'turtle pond' and 'harlem meer' at the north end of the park.

It was turtle pond that seemed to be the most productive, although I saw several double breasted cormorant on the main lake.
There was also a female mallard with a huge brood of young on the same pond, she had an amazing amount of chicks with her and pulled in the crowds of spectators as she lay in the shade on the bank.
Tree Swallow: Widespread and common, and population apparently increasing in many areas, these blue swallows are even breeding in Central Park.
Mourning Dove: This graceful, slender-tailed, small-headed dove is by far the most common across New York.
Often found foraging alongside pathways and in the undergrowth, these understated little doves were everywhere.
Great Egret: Out of the blue this huge white egret came gliding in to Turtle Pond and landed right besides the near bank.
Great egret was the first bird I saw after I landed in New York, there was one in the marsh area near the air train that takes you from the airport to the metro.

Although this individual was much closer!
The bird stalked the near bank looking for prey, with its long neck poised to pounce, eventually a small crowd of onlookers appeared behind me as the bird came closer.
 An impressive bird, common to the park.
At the back of the pond I spotted a kingbird fly catching from a low branch.
The day before a drake wood duck was spotted at Turtle Pond, although when we looked Dawn and I were unable to find it.
Common Grackle: We ended up spending a lot of time around Turtle Pond, not only was the pond itself good for birds but there was a huge fruiting mulberry tree right near the view area.
This tree attracted tonnes of birds, from grackles, to starlings, sparrows, house finches. I even saw a Baltimore oriole high up in the canopy feeding on the berries.
Northern Cardinal: Plenty of cardinals also came in to enjoy the bounty.
Black-crowned Night Heron: Walking over  the north bridge across the north lobe area of the lake, a picturesque little bridge with stunning views of the city's skyline over the park and lake,
I spotted a heron flying around the rowing boats that quickly headed towards the bridge and landed in a nearby tree.

I was thrilled, another new bird for the trip list.
The bird eventually flew from the tree and landed under the bridge giving a small crowd of onlookers a chance to see this bird up close and personal.
Red Cardinal (female): Another walk through the Ramble gave me even better views of cardinals and catbirds.

Blue Jay: I also spent some time watching a blue jay feeding its young.
Red-bellied Woodpecker: These woodpeckers are pale, medium-sized woodpeckers common in forests of the East. Their strikingly barred backs and gleaming red caps make them an unforgettable sight.
I loved Central Park, a real oasis, a wildlife haven sandwiched between the busiest city I've ever visited.

Stony Point - Jacob Riss Park 

Located just to the west of the Rockaways and south of Long Beach this slightly hidden park is one of the least crowded in the city. The beach is run and maintained by the National Park Service who look after the nesting breeding birds by putting up signs and barriers. While technically on the same stretch of land as the Rockaways, Jacob Riis Beach is an entirely separate destination that shares a border with Fort Tilden, a secret beach hidden behind a summer recreation park and an abandoned military fort.

During late spring and summer, piping plover, American oystercatcher, common tern, Least tern, and black skimmer nest on this white sandy barrier beach. The National Park Service fences off the nesting areas in a valiant attempt to ward off dogs, feral cats, and humans. The common tern colony has exploded at the expense of the Least tern colony. In the early 1990s, the skimmers, which have not been here for years, returned. Piping Plover are holding their own with usually 8-10 nesting pairs. American oystercatchers with their young are commonly sighted in the dunes and on the beach west of the entrance road.

American oystercatcher: The one thing I will take away from my trip to New York is how friendly and welcoming the other birders are.
While planning my trip I reached out to the wonderful folk who run Brooklyn Birding Group and got a positive response.
Janet Zin and Alan Baratz, agreed to take me out and show me the sights that Jamaica Bay and Jacob Riis Park had to offer. Not only were they kind enough to take me out but they shared so much information with me and got me up to speed on what birds were in the area.
Spending the day with Janet and Alan was one of the highlights of the trip, both were engaging, knowledgeable and very kind.

I can't thank you enough for your kind help.
Piping Plover: One of my main target birds. Janet was keen to make sure I saw one, all three of us spent some time scanning the dunes and the shoreline. These tiny bird are well camouflaged.
It was very windy on this day and it almost appeared like these tiny balls of feathers were getting blown across the sand dunes. 
American Herring Gull: Common terns could be seen feeding off shore while ringed billed and herring gulls roosted on the beach.
Greater Black-backed Gull: Amongst the herring and ringed billed gulls was this goliath - a Western gull.

Killdeer: A shorebird you can see without going to the beach, Killdeer are graceful plovers common to lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and parking lots, we saw this bird on the adjacent golf course to the park.
Killdeer Chick: I've read that after egg-laying begins, Killdeer often add rocks, bits of shell, sticks, and trash to the nest. Curiously, these items tend to be light coloured, and this tendency was confirmed in one experiment that gave Killdeer the choice between light and dark sticks.
Northern Mockingbird: This was a great little park, I was told by Janet and Alan that it is particularly good during migration.

Jamaica Bay 

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of Gateway National Recreation Area in Queens, is a true urban gem. It’s home to an impressive array of birds and offers an essential connection to nature for people in New York City. With more than 325 species of birds on the premises, plus a saltwater marsh, woods and freshwater ponds takes up 9,155 breathtaking acres. This is a critical saltwater wetland habitat supporting a renowned abundance and diversity of shorebirds, waterfowl, gulls, terns, and other species.

Yellow Warbler: This place was dripping in yellow warblers, every bush and tree had a calling male or a pair of feeding young.
Adequately named, the dazzling yellow warblers are uniformly yellow birds. Males are a bright, egg-yolk yellow with reddish streaks on the underparts. Both sexes flash yellow patches in the tail. The face is unmarked, accentuating the large black eye.
Cedar Waxwing: In the warm weather mosquitoes are pervasive, the areas closest to the marsh and pools were especially troublesome and small biting flies are problematic near the beach.
Fish Crow: Striped mosquitoes thrive in the marsh and Dog ticks are found in the grassy and bushy areas. Fortunately I had no issues with ticks but these mosquitoes were relentless - I was eaten alive!
House Wren: The reserve maintains house wren nest boxes that are good places to hear the bird's melodious song and if you are lucky catch a glimpse of the bird.
Brown-headed Cowbird: Janet and Alan's knowledge of the site was brilliant, they knew each habitat and what bird could be found where. this was invaluable.

Osprey: This nesting pair had three young chicks they were actively feeding.
Carolina Wren: This shy bird can be hard to see, but it delivers an amazing number of decibels for its size, with its distinct song they are easy to hear, but not easy to see.
Mourning Dove: Mourning Doves often match their open-country surroundings. They’re delicate brown to buffy-tan overall, with black spots on the wings and black-bordered white tips to the tail feathers.
Red-winged Blackbird: Male Red-winged Blackbirds spend much of the breeding season sitting on a high perch over their territories and singing their hearts out and this chap was no exception.
Song Sparrow: The main bird we could hear from across the reserve was song sparrow, but we actually saw very few as they were well hidden in the long grass and thick bushes.
Black Skimmer: Out of nowhere a small flock of skimmers came whizzing past us. They almost took us by surprise as they came right past us, maybe down to 50 feet or so but were too fast for me to focus on them.
This was maybe at the top of my list of birds I wanted to see and to see them feeding close in was great.

A real treat!
Black Skimmers are notable for their unique features, appearance and behaviour, including their colourful asymmetrical bill and distinctive habit of flying low across the water's surface with their mouth agape.
Their elongated wings and graceful flight pattern are captivating: the bird appears to almost flutter, languidly, yet is simultaneously agile and efficient.
Tree Swallow: The popularity of the bluebird has been a boon to the Tree Swallow, which nests in holes of exactly the same size, and has taken advantage of bluebird houses over much of North America.
In regions with no such ready supply of artificial nest sites, the swallows must compete with other cavity-nesting birds, arriving early in spring to stake out territories. Unlike other swallows, Tree Swallows eat many berries (especially bayberries), allowing them to survive through wintry spells when other insect-eaters might starve.
Northern Mockingbird: One of the birds Jamaica Bay is famous for is the brown thrasher and although Janet caught a rare glimpse of one I missed it.
Common Yellowthroat: Another bird I was happy to connect with was this stonking male yellowthroat.
House Finch: Close to the visitor centre there were some bird feeders that attracted a flock of house finch.
The House Finch is a recent introduction from western into eastern North America (and Hawaii), but it has received a warmer reception than other arrivals like the European Starling and House Sparrow.
That’s partly due to the cheerful red head and breast of males, and to the bird’s long, twittering song, which can now be heard in most of the neighbourhoods of the continent.
Males are red and females all brownish; the yellow bird is a color morph that relates to different levels of carotenoids in  their diet.
Eastern Towhee: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a remarkable place and located so close to such a big and busy city, it feels a world away from Manhattan.
If anyone is planning a trip to New York I would highly recommend a trip out to this gem of a place.

Doodletown,  Bear mountain State National Park 

Doodletown is an isolated hamlet situated in a valley tucked into a rugged crescent of land that curves to the southeast from Bear Mountain to the Hudson River across from Peekskill. Bear Mountain State Park is about 45 miles north of New York City.

The whole town is 5 miles of hiking where the trail leads into a pond that offers a lot of opportunities to look at the crumbling ruins of Doodletown settlement, and gives hints of the lives lived here. The strange paved road in the middle of the woods feels a bit like the Wizard of Oz. The sites are marked with black and white pictures and a bit of history about each place. Some of the houses and even a small grave yard even have artifacts left behind, making the scene even more haunting.

Worm-eating Warbler: Bear Mountain State Park is home to rattle snakes, it is not common to see them, but it does make you want to stick to the designated trails!

We started at a small stream where we could hear the song of a Louisiana water thrush, we waited and hoped it would show itself but only got a couple of fleeting views.
From here we walked up a steep hill surrounded by thick woodland dripping in birds.

Yellow-throated vireo, American redstarts, titmouse and a whole range of warblers were calling all around us.

Cerulean Warbler: Named for the male’s unique blue colour, the cerulean warbler was my number one warbler I was hoping to see.
The brightly coloured male looks quite different from the female. It is bright cerulean blue above and white below, with white wing bars, white tail spots, a narrow black necklace and black streaks along the sides and back. The female is dull turquoise above and yellowish-white below, with a pale blue crown and a white or yellowish line over the eye.
There was one point where Gail, Tom and I were surrounded by multiple worm eating warbler and sky blue cerulean warblers.

We didn't know where to look!
What was even more special was just how well these birds were showing, both species are supposed to be high canopy birds, hard to see.

Yet, we had them almost at head height, some even lower!
Eastern Kingbird: Walking up the hill we arrived at an open area, a clearing that contained a large lake surrounded open woodland.
On the banks of the lake we had a very showy kingbird, great to see one up close and in great detail.
We also had a yellow-billed cuckoo singing from a tree on the banks above us and could hear  pileated woodpeckers calling from the opposite side.
Hooded Warbler: A really great looking bird the hooded warbler sports a jet black hood with a yellow mask.
Indigo Bunting: Every bird here in America is sexy! Even their bunting are stunning, juts take a look at this bright purple indigo bunting.
Chipping Sparrow: A small, slender sparrow with short bill and long, narrow tail. Plain grayish breast with rusty cap in breeding season. These birds are common in open woodland edge and can even be found in suburban areas.
This little chap was foraging on the ground, not fazed by our presence.

It was in this area Tom pointed out a white-breasted nuthatch calling.
Pileated Woodpecker: We eventually made it across the other side of the lake where the woodland opened out and became more mature.
We stood with our necks craned and faces raised looking up in to the trees, we waited, and waited....

Then right  next to us two giant black woodpeckers appeared, then immediately flew off on to a more distant tree.
We counted three birds in total all chasing each other through the trees.  Tom also pointed out this, a pileated woodpeckers feeding site with its distinct cylindrical holes and associated chippings.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher: A nest of lichens and spiders silk, this tiny cupped shaped nest
Eastern Phoebe: A flycatcher species that's given his name due to the sound it makes  "FEE-bee! or FEE-bree" They also utter a soft, sweet-sounding chip note.
American Redstart: Plenty of these bright, noisy birds all over the area.
Red-bellied Woodpecker: Not only did we see the giant pileated we also got good views of downy and red-bellied woodpecker and a brief view of a yellow-bellied sapsucker.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: All day we had the threat of heavy rain, the clouds were darkening but our luck had held on as we had only spits and spots of rain until we ended up back at the car when the heavens opened and it poured down.

This didn't last long and by the time we arrive at Sterling Forest it had stopped.

Sterling Forest 

Sterling Forest State Park comprises nearly 22,000 acres of nearly pristine natural forest amidst one of the nation's most densely populated areas and is famous for its walking and outdoor activities, the park has over sixty miles of hiking trails to explore. Tom and Gial took me to a wonderful little place that offers both golden-winged and blue-winged warblers with such assurance and abundance. This area consisted of a small secluded area that crossed a long stretch of power lines that cuts through oak forest, mountain laurel, and rock outcroppings before reaching Sterling Mountain, where there is a view of the distant Schunnemunk Mountain to the north.

This power line clearing stretched over the hills and through the forest  opening up the woodland and creating large areas of scrub land with instead of tall dense trees there was bushes and shrubs and young trees creating perfect habitats for woodland edge species like sparrows and warblers.

Prairie Warbler: This is a very poorly named bird, as they are primarily found in shrubby dense vegetation.
And this bird was no exception, we were wading up to our waist in bushes and vines as we accessed a small secluded track.
A stunning birds, the adults have a brownish-green back with chestnut streaks, bright yellow underparts, black streaking on the sides, faint wingbars, a yellow eyebrow and dark line through the eye, and a yellow cheek patch. Immatures are much plainer.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Whilst scrambling up a narrow track we stumbled across a male ruby-throated hummingbird.

It stopped me in my tracks, such stunning little, tiny birds.
It had been feeding in the nearby honeysuckle and perched upon an exposed branch beside us. This gave us a great opportunity to see it's shimmering throat patch as it caught the light and turned ruby red.
Common Yellow-throat: Once again Tom was invaluable, he knew where to look even down to what specific bushes and areas would hold certain species. And he was always right.
An expert in warblers and a professional musician he had an ear for bird calls and songs and was pointing out the differences between golden winged and blue winged warblers and even the differences between hybrids.
Baltimore Oriole: In many ways, golden-winged warblers and blue-winged warblers appear to be completely distinct species - they look different, they even sing different songs.

Blue-winged warbler: But these differences are only superficial as they are almost genetically identical and have the ability to hybridise.
It appears that the blue-winged warbler is having a negative impact on the golden-winged population - is this down to habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human activities forcing these two birds to interact more with each other? Or is it a natural occurrence? Either way its a fascinating and rather worrying trend.
Eastern Bluebird: Wild bluebird numbers have been in decline in recent years due to the destruction of their habitat and competition with invasive species like house sparrows and starlings, so to see a pair here was fantastic.
Electric blue thrush didn't hang around long before melting in to the trees and out of view.

One of the birds Tom was most excited about was a calling Arcadian flycatcher, not seen, but singing and a very god record for the time of year at this site.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: A bird I dipped back in the UK, a huge dip too as I travelled down to Cornwall for it, so I was thrilled to finally catch up with one, albeit in America.
Yellow-billed cuckoos are Neotropical migrants. Most populations winter in South America. They generally migrate late autumn and spring, and western populations generally migrate later than populations in eastern North America.
Populations of yellow-billed cuckoos have severely declined throughout their range, especially in western states. So its always a red letter day when you see one, but on this day I saw at least three!!!
Scarlett Tanager: Before heading back home and before we hit tons of traffic heading in to Manhattan, we stopped off to listen to the ovenbird that was calling.
Silver-spotted Skipper: I can't express my gratitude and thanks to Janet, Alan, Gail and especially Tom for their help and guidance during my stay. One of the main highlights of my entire trip was spending time with you all. From having lunch in a real American diner with Janet and Alan to listening to Tom and Gail talk about art, music and dancing.

Great-crested Flycatcher: And not forgetting all the fantastic birds we saw together. You guys made my trip.

 Thank you so much x
Ruby-throated Hummingbird: New York is amazing, the city, the people and the birds this will definitely not be my last visit.

I ended on 77 species for the trip - not too bad considering I arrived out of migration and only had three days birding during my time.

Twitter - @BirdCentralPark