Sunday, 12 April 2015

New York, New York

My wife recently turned a significant number and as such she decided we were to head to the States and specifically Manhattan for her birthday treat over Easter. The kids were duly dispatched to friends and relatives for the duration and we were away. I had been looking forward to my initiation in American birding in Central Park for ages and could barely contain my excitement (sort of. I contained it but did manage to smuggle my bins and a copy of Sibley in my hand luggage).

Interest of a birdy bent was limited as we caught our early morning flight from Manchester to Heathrow but a long delay at Heathrow did allow one of the local Peregrines to snatch a Starling near the gate. We eventually got to Newark in New Jersey late afternoon and got the train into Manhattan across some huge areas of marsh where the first few lifers appeared. Red-winged Blackbird seemed ubiquitous and whilst Feral Pigeon, Mallard and House Sparrow were added quickly more interest stemmed from the Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egrets and American Herring Gulls cruising over New Jersey. A fire on the New York subway meant that it was a slow journey but we got into our Hotel and collapsed. I was awake at 5.30am and that meant one thing - birding.

The sounds of an American dawn were foreign to me and I had few handles on what was singing but the Jay-like screams? Well they were Blue Jays naturally. White-throated Sparrows came in white and tan morphs and all states inbetween. Spring was late and it was chilly so piled snow was no surprise. Hundreds of American Robins moved north through the park joined by endless Northern Flickers. A simple song gave away the first of the parks many Dark-eyed Juncos in the early gloom. My first warblers soon flitted about as the light started to rise as a pair of Pine Warblers were on the south shore of the lake as was a Raccoon which was a pleasant surprise.

Out on the lake I spied my first proper Canada Geese and a Shoveler plus a female Black Duck and its hybrid hubby. I was soon in the Ramble - the holy grail of Central Park birding and ticks were raining down with Fox Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, Lincoln's Sparrow, Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-tailed Hawk, American Goldfinch, Common Grackle, Hermit Thrush, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mourning Dove, Chipping Sparrow, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse and Black-crowned Chickadee fell to my tick cannon.

A trip up to the Belvedere Castle revealed Eastern Phoebe and Pied-billed Grebe on Turtle Pond. I started to run short on time but a trip up to the reservoir gave up Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead, Ring-billed Gull, Red-breasted Merganser and a summer plumage Common Loon. Which was nice.

A trip to Staton Island turned up Laughing Gull on the Saturday but a sprained foot put me off much more walking. On the Sunday I was back in action with up to 10 Black-crowned Night Herons in two locations in the park. In the ramble I managed to turn up Brown Thrasher, Swamp Sparrow and Rusty Blackbird before bumping into 'Birding Bob' aka Robert DeCandido who runs regular birding walks of the park. I decided my $10 would benefit him more than me and the local knowledge would help me find a few more bits and pieces. Straight away on the walk Bob had a big group of Juncos feeding on the deck with four Pine Warblers, 2 Golden-crowned Kinglets and three Palm Warblers. Smart! A diverse group was then treated to a Towhee, some Night Herons and I managed to weedle out a few bits for them including a Field Sparrow.

A Cooper's Hawk was found roosting whilst pale male paid us a visit. A slightly frosty Brown Creeper gave thoughts of Northern Treecreepers in Europe. As the walk ended a Turkey Vulture soared overhead.

A further walk on the Monday before we flew yielded nothing new but some excellent views of Ruby-crowned Kinglet and an arrival of Fox Sparrows. The only new addition was a pair of Mute Swans seen as we crossed to Jersey late afternoon. Central Park is magic and I fully recommend going. Queue photo dump.

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