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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Varied Thrush in NYC

I don't usually do any birdwatching in Central Park. It's not like I have anything against the park, I just like Brooklyn more. Unless a rare bird is reported in this world famous park in the center of Manhattan, I hardly ever set foot in the place with my bins. Monday was one of those rare exceptions.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Central Park and, in fact, the list of great birds found there is legendary. There's just something about all those people. It should be evident from my blog postings that meaningful nature experiences are possible in pretty much any urban environment, but I find that the density of people and other birders in Central Park is very distracting. On Sunday afternoon Heydi and I began feverishly texting back and forth after we got word that a Varied Thrush was spotted in Central Park. Should we go? Won't it be dark by the time we get there? Will it still be there on Monday?

The first and only time I'd seen this western cousin to the robin was in Upstate New York on the last weekend of 2006. Since I would be in the city on Monday anyway, I decided to take a shot at finding the bird during lunchtime. Heydi wasn't too sure she'd have time to run up to the park at lunch, find the bird, then get back to work on time. I assured her that "when" I found the bird, I'd call.

Never having spent much time birding in Central Park, I hadn't a clue how to find my way around. I checked the NYS birding list to find out the bird's latest location, then looked at Google Maps, to orient myself. I also figured if I managed to get close to the right spot, it would just be a matter of looking for people wandering around with binoculars hanging around their necks.

According to the most recent postings, the thrush was last spotted near the "Maintenance Field" at the northeast edge of "The Ramble". I entered the park from the east side, at the 79th Street transverse, then followed the footpath that runs parallel to the south side of the roadway. As I approached what I assumed was the field, I spotted Alan Messer walking with Pete Shen. Ahead of them were about 20 more birders in various groups clustered around the field and a stone building labeled the "Ramble Shed". I was in the correct location. Alan explained that the bird had been in the area adjacent to the building when an unleashed dog chased it off towards the roadway and out of sight. I decided to walk a loop around the north side of the transverse, towards the Belvedere Castle, then back around to the Ramble and Maintenance Field. I ran into Michael Z., one of Green-Wood Cemetery's regular birders, who I hadn't seen in about a year. He immediately razzed me about the newly acquired "squirrel tail" hanging off the back of my head.

At the Maintenance Field a few people remained stationed along the sidewalk at the eastern side of the Ramble Shed. The habitat at that spot is a narrow rise dominated by a large glacial erratic at the east side. Plant-wise, there are a few privet and several other shrubs, plus two or three large deciduous tree above. The top of the rise is bordered by a black, steel fence above the sunken roadway. A worn path through the center of the patch indicates that people regularly walk up and down the hillside, however, there were still some small areas of leaf litter where squirrels, a lone cardinal and a few White-throated Sparrows were foraging for food. I was also struck by the large number of rare, Brooklyn birders present in this Manhattan park - In addition to Michael Z., I spotted Eddie D., Keir R., John A., Paul S., Pete S. and Rob B. Now all we needed was the Varied Thrush.

I had started walking back up the path towards the roadway when I noticed a rush of birders towards the Ramble Shed. Eddie D. waved me over. The Varied Thrush had returned and was foraging below the shrubs. I watched as it carried an acorn to an open patch of ground and began hammering into it like a woodpecker. I called Heydi and told her that she needed to leave work ASAP if she wanted to see the bird. I told her that I'd keep an eye on the bird until she arrived.

Fortunately, no unleashed dogs chased it this time and the bird was still cooperatively eating out in the open when Heydi arrived. I watched the bird for a little longer before heading back to the subway on the east side. There were approximately 30 people observing the bird when I left; many in professional office garb and taking a break from their cubicles to see a rare western bird in the middle of the country's most famous urban park. Maybe next year I'll start to spend more time birding in Central Park ... nah.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

My sentiments exactly.

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