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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Brooklyn's Latest Rare Bird

Over the weekend Brooklyn's Prospect Park hosted another very rare bird with a bad sense of direction.

I was just finishing up my tour in Green-Wood Cemetery when I received a tweet from Mike Yuan, who was birding in Prospect Park. He was with a group that was watching an unidentified flycatcher. At this time of year there are only a few flycatchers migrating through Brooklyn that one would expect to see. They are Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird. All four of these birds are very distinctive, plus Mike is a very experienced birder who could easily figure out the most likely candidates. I was intrigued and called Heydi, who was also birding in Prospect Park.

A careful and skilled birder, Heydi quietly described to me a medium-sized flycatcher with a salmony-colored belly and undertail coverts. She was fairly confident that it was a Say's Phoebe. I don't think I've ever heard Heydi raise her voice, but in my head the words sounded more like SAY'S PHOEBE! This is a species normally found West of the Mississippi River, although I did see one back in 2006 that showed up during Fall migration on Long Island at Robert Moses State Park. Below is the normal range map for this bird:

I told the people on my trip about the bird, explained the significance (it had never been recorded in Brooklyn before) and gave them directions to the Peninsula Meadow in Prospect Park. The bird was hawking for insects from a small weedy section of sumacs at the Western edge of the meadow. Folks were able to exit Green-Wood Cemetery from 20th Street, which is a short walk to the park. I had to walk the nearly 3/4 mile back to the main entrance, where my bike was locked up, then pedal back to Prospect Park (all uphill, mind you). Fortunately, when I arrived, the Say's Phoebe was still present, as were about 15 lucky birders. I watched the bird making short sallies, snatching insects out of the air and returning to perches in the leafless sumacs. After about 5 minutes it flew high up into a gingko tree and disappeared somewhere to the East. The word had been sent out over Twitter, text messages and emails, so lots of excited birders were on their way to Brooklyn hoping to set their bins on this rare bird. A group of us decided to try and relocate it before they arrived. We were ultimately unsuccessful, but nearly 3 hours later the flycatcher had returned to the sumacs.

Like most of the previous wayward Say's Phoebes that had ended up in New York State, Saturday's bird was a one-day-wonder. I'm really glad I was in the neighborhood and able to briefly enjoy it.

I searched Cornell's eBird website for previous New York State records and this is what I found:

11/27/81 (Baltimore Woods, Onondaga Ct.)
12/23/88 (Montgomery, Orange Ct.)
12/23/95 (Albany Co., NY WWTP at Menands, Albany Ct.)
02/24/02 (Camp Dudley Road, Essex Ct.)
09/24/06 (Robert Moses SP, Suffolk Ct.)
09/25/06 (Robert Moses SP, Suffolk Ct.)
10/22/08 (Batavia Wastewater Plant--West, Genesee Ct.)
10/04/11 (Caumsett SP, Suffolk Ct.)
10/05/11 (Caumsett SP, Suffolk Ct.)
10/07/11 (Robert Moses SP, Suffolk Ct.)
11/19/11 (Greene Co. IDA Grasslands, Greene Ct.)
10/26/12 (PI--Route 6, Suffolk Ct.)
04/27/13 (Prospect Park, Kings Ct.)

In addition to this individual being the first New York City record for Say's Phoebe, it appears to be the first Spring record.

Here's a photo of Saturday's pioneer. Notice the fly in the air next to the phoebe. I'm guessing that it was devoured moments later.

Photo courtesy of Heydi Lopes

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