Ramble On

New York Birding

The Bird Nerds have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks birding around the tri-state area.  From Brooklyn to Queens, Westchester to New Jersey, we try to take advantage of any natural areas we can find in the region (just like the birds do.)  However, this weekend we spent our time in what many consider the epicenter of New York City birding, the Ramble in Central Park.

But before we got to the Ramble, we went to the New York Historical Society to see “Audubon’s Aviary: Parts Unknown”.  This is part II of a three-year exhibition showcasing the museum’s entire collection of original Audubon watercolors.  In 1863, John James Audubon’s wife, Lucy, sold over 400 of his paintings to the museum, resulting in the remarkable fact that so many exist today.  If you can make it, the show will be open through May 26th, 2014.  Any fan of birding, history or art will not be disappointed.

This part of the show covered Audubon’s journeys to Labrador and Florida, so many of the birds featured are water birds and waders.  He painted birds life-sized for the double-elephant-folio edition of his famous “Birds of America”, but even a book that size can’t contain a Great blue heron, who had to be depicted doubled over.  

Audubon's Great blue heron

Audubon’s Great blue heron

The amount of detail in these watercolors is stunning, and must be appreciated in person.  The museum has magnifying glasses handy, and when you hold them up to a painting you discover a seemingly endless amount of detail, right down to the vein of a feather.  There is so much information I could share on Audubon, but I would need a whole separate blog.  (Plus I am glossing over the ethical implications of killing 10,000 birds in an effort to paint them.)  If you would like to know more about this very interesting man, pick up John James Audubon: The Making of an American by Richard Rhodes, a wonderfully written biography.

But enough rambling about Audubon, on to the Ramble!  After the museum Sarah and her parents Carol and Jerry walked into Central Park, and picnicked by the lake.  We looked up and saw a pair of Robins, diligently bringing worms back to their nest.  Suddenly, a Scarlet Tanager appeared in a bush next to the water, and seconds later flew off in a blur of bright red.  As we walked north along the lake, we saw a beautiful slate-blue warbler, with a yellow stomach and a black spotted necklace.  It was a Canada Warbler, who gave us a great look.

I didn’t have the camera with me today, so I will just provide you with the highlights.  We crossed a bridge over “Bank Rock Bay”, on the north end of the Ramble.  Here we saw a Wood Duck, and found a small path that led to up to a magical tree- at least 4 species were in this tree at once, including a Common Yellowthroat, a Black and White Warbler, a Northern Parula and Cardinals.

As we continued Southwest into the Ramble, we found a Northern Waterthrush, and a group of very young birders, who ran up to us and enthusiastically asked what we had seen.  There were 4-5 boys probably around 10 years old, one with a surprisingly nice camera.  They were very excited about all of the Grackles thrashing around us. It reminded me of myself when I was an excited new Bird Nerd, all two years ago.

A little later, Tim joined us and Sarah’s parents headed out.  It was getting late, but there were still a lot of Warblers around, including a Wilson’s Warbler. We got a hot tip from a birder on the peninsula near the Boathouse (the best spot we’ve found in the Ramble!) that there might be a cool sparrow around. She actually said to us, “There is a Lincoln’s Sparrow around if you care about that kind of thing.”  Boy had she found the right people- we never ignore the Sparrow.  Tim rattled off a full description of what he thought the bird looked like from his guide books, and she confirmed that was our bird. We stopped by the Boathouse for a beer (a major advantage over other birding spots) then headed to the area she described.  After about 10 minutes of searching there he was- the Lincoln’s Sparrow LL, hopping around under the bushes.  To bring the day full circle, it turns out that Audubon named this bird after his friend Thomas Lincoln, on that same trip to Labrador.

We returned to Central Park early the next morning, with camera in hand. That post is next, but for now I will leave you with the list:

The Ramble in Central Park, NY- May 17th 2pm-7pm
Scarlet Tanager
Canada Warbler 1
American Redstart 8
Robins 30
House sparrows
Canada geese 6
Wood duck 1
Common yellowthroat 3
Cardinal 10
Black and white 2
Magnolia 3
Northern Waterthrush 1
Blue Jays 3
Red wing black bird 
Downy woodpecker 2
Mourning dove 12
House finch 2
Catbird 4
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Mallard 2
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Lincoln’s Sparrow 1 LL
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Chimney Swift 2

Yellowrump Warbler 



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