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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Flashback ... um, Wednesday

A friend of mine was birding in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, this morning and caught a fleeting glimpse of what he perceived to be an unusual looking wren. A few folks responded, including myself, with, in retrospect, were probably subconscious "God I hope it's a rarity" suggestions. Ultimately, he was unable to relocate the bird and it will have to be noted as a "wren sp.". This not-entirely-uncommon fingers crossed moment happens sometimes in birding. Usually it's just a common bird, but sometimes it turns out to be something really cool. It reminded me of a bird from 19 years ago that showed up in the exact spot where my friend reported his brown plumaged, fleeting specter.

The date was October 9, 1999. A group of us had just returned from a less than productive trip to Overpeck Park in Bergen County, New Jersey. The best bird of the day was a Vesper Sparrow. In addition, reviewing my report 19 years later I just focused in on this, at the time seemingly inconsequential entry:

"Blue-headed Vireo (singing!?)"

With almost two decades more experience under my belt now, I'm going to assume this "vireo" was only heard and not seen. That said, on a date in October it was more likely a Purple Finch. DOH! Anyway, returning to Brooklyn a little disappointed from our measly day list, some of us headed into Prospect Park to continue birding. Here's my original report from later that afternoon:

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SUBJECT: NYC Rarity in Prospect Park
DATE: Saturday, October 9, 1999
OBSERVERS: DALE DYER, Dave Mazzio, Daniel Barkley, Peter Dorosh, Rob Jett, Karen Keith, Jerry Layton, Steve Nanz, Inara Schwartz
REPORTER: Rob Jett

I know this is starting to sound a bit odd, but I have another rarity to report in Prospect Park. It is perhaps a rarity for New York City and Steve Nanz photographed it for the record.

Dale Dyer, a longtime Prospect birder, ran into Jerry Layton returning from our Overpeck Park trip (report to follow) and dragged him into Prospect Park to show him a bird. While looking at sparrows in the "Sparrow Bowl" next to the tennis house he spotted a very vocal SEDGE WREN. Steve Nanz happened along and they both got good looks at the bird. He then took off on his bike to grab every birder he could find in the park.

When most of us arrived the bird had stopped its incessant, slow "chit, chit, chit" that Steve described to us, so locating it was impossible. We sat and waited, and waited; we stayed there for an hour and a half. I got frustrated and broke the cardinal rule of birding and walked behind the brush to flush the bird. When I didn't see anything I figured the bird was gone and was about to leave when Peter shouted "he's out in the open!" The bird was sitting about a foot off the ground on some stalks of dried Burdock and afforded us great looks.

It's a very little wren. It appears considerably smaller that a Marsh. The dark crown is finely streak with white, the eyebrow is not as bold and distinct as a Marsh and is off-white or buffy. It also appeared to have a thin dark line through the eye. The streaking on the back is much finer that that of a Marsh and there is more of it. The undersides are mostly off-white with a beautiful buffy color on the breast sides and flanks. There was also light streaking on the wings that was more buffy colored compared to the back streaks. I'm not sure if it's diagnostic, but I noticed that when it was perched it occasionally bobbed up and down like a Winter Wren.

Here is how to get to where the bird was found. If you enter Prospect Park from the 9th Street entrance walk straight ahead past the Bandshell on your right. Cross the road. At the first sidewalk make a left. You will pass the Tennis House on your right. At the first intersection in the walkway make a right turn. The walkway starts to go downhill towards the Swanboat Ponds. Don't go down the hill to the ponds, instead make a left and walk on the grassy area on top of the hill (you'll see a bunch of saplings with red slat fencing around them). As you walk across the hill you'll see the grassy "bowl" in front of you. There is a very large Elm Tree at the apex of the bowl that shades the weedy area where the wren was seen today. For people coming from other directions, it's the only grassy bowl between the Tennis House and Picnic House (across from the ponds). The plants are primarily Burdock, Mugwort, Pokeweed, Smartweed and other grasses. If the bird isn't visible right away be patient it tends to dig in deep.



Photo courtesy of Steve Nanz

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