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Sunday, December 05, 2004

And Then There Were Two Flycatchers

Today was Marty's birthday. He lives in Brooklyn close to Prospect Park but he almost always spends his days birding with friends in Central Park. He called me to ask if the Ash-throated Flycatcher was still around so I decided to take a walk today and help him track it down. I thought the flycatcher would make a nice birthday present as he has never seen this rare bird in the park.

Near the Nethermead Arches, on Center Drive, a cluster of Sweetgum trees are still full of ripe fruit. A number of goldfinches worked the tops of the trees while a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos picked up the spillage from the sidewalk below. White-throated Sparrows scratched the leaf litter in the woods for the billions of sand grain-sized seeds.

I ran into my friend Jerry at about 10am near the Maryland Monument. As we were talking, we spotted Marty and Shale walking down the steps behind the battalion tribute. He said that the flycatcher had already been seen by a number of people earlier in the morning near lamppost J249. It's only a short walk to that area at the start of Wellhouse Drive. We met Pat and Emily there who had just been watching it, as well as, the brilliant yellow Wilson's Warbler that's been hanging around. Unfortunately both birds had just flown off in a northerly direction. After scanning the area for a few minutes we decided to take a slow walk towards the Wellhouse.

The Ash-throated Flycatcher had been observed frequently feeding in gingko trees. I presume that numerous insects have been attracted to the pungent, rotting yellow fruits. Standing around at the base of a gingko tree at this time of year is not the most pleasant olfactory experience, but to observe an interesting bird most birders seem to tolerate it. There are a few gingkos next to the Wellhouse and, once there, we noticed some birds feeding near the ground. With most of the group standing behind me, I walked around the south side of the building. Jerry decided to walk around the north side. As soon as we got to the weedy, unkempt area at the back of the Wellhouse we spotted the flycatcher perched at about roof level. I called the rest of the group over. Seconds later Jerry and I noticed another bird flying over to the flycatcher's perch. A lightbulb seemed to go off in our heads and we yelled in unison, "There's two of them!"

The unusual has now become the unbelievable. There are two, rare western flycatchers in Prospect Park. Moments after bird number two perched near bird number one, the first flycatcher made a soft, buzzy "brrrrr" sound and chased it away. Other birders joined us and we spent the morning tracking them down. I eventually refound them higher up Lookout Hill where some folks took photographs. One bird returned to the low brush on the south side of the Wellhouse while the second was observed flycatching along the edge of the grass near the Maryland Monument.

Flycatcher #1, near the Wellhouse

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Flycatcher #2, near the Maryland Monument

(Photo credit - Rob J)

My friend Shane has been missing all the excitement as he has had to work late. He called me late this afternoon hoping to find the flycatcher before sunset. I hopped on my bicycle, road back into the park and met him near the Wellhouse. We didn't find it right away. At the grass bowl in front of the Maryland Monument we spotted a Red Bat fluttering about feeding on insects so presumably there are still plenty of flying things to eat. Finally, with less that a half hour of light left we located one of the Ash-throated Flycatchers in a gingko tree across the road from the Wellhouse.

Happy Birthday Marty!

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-click to learn more about Ash-throated Flycatcher-

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Prospect Park, 12/5/2004
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake, off the end of Peninsula.)
Wood Duck (2 males, Lullwater.)
Northern Shoveler (Abundant.)
Ruddy Duck (Fairly common.)
Cooper's Hawk (Juvenile, Lookout Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 or 3.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Breeze Hill.)
Ash-throated Flycatcher (2.)
Winter Wren (Peninsula.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper (2.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (3, near Cleftridge Span.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Lamppost J249.)
Hermit Thrush (Peninsula.)
Nashville Warbler (Behind Wellhouse.)
Swamp Sparrow (Heard near Peninsula "Thumb".)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Small flock near Nethermead Arches.)
American Goldfinch (Several.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse (Fairly common.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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