Edward's Birding Diary
|1 June 2006|
In mid-May my wife and I went to New York for a week's holiday, a city break rather than a birding trip but since I never go anywhere without binoculars and since it was also mid-May (I cunningly contrived the timing of the trip to coincide with warbler migration) I was looking forward to some good birding. It was my first trip to North America but like many European birders I have a "good superficial knowledge" of the birds of eastern North America, by which I mean I've read Sibley's field guide from cover to cover, generally know what birds are there and have seen plenty of Nearctic ducks, gulls and waders as well as 13 species of American passerines here in Iceland.
However, seeing them on the page is one thing but getting a feel for them in the field is something quite different and I was very excited at the prospect. My first life bird just after landing at JFK could hardly have been any duller, it was a crow, it cawed, and it was in America, which made it an American Crow. I picked up five lifers during a pre-breakfast stroll in Washington Square Park on my first morning, Gray Catbird, American Robin, White-throated Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat and Ovenbird, but it wasn't until the next day that I did any birding in earnest, a very early morning stroll in Central Park. What an urban birding spot CP is in May and I visited it four times during the week. It's crammed with birders and, more importantly, birds. Other birders would approach me and ask if I had seen anything interesting and I quickly had to tell them that I was visiting from Iceland and even the Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds were thrilling for me (at first).
The next hour or two were filled with new sightings, Warbling Vireo, Song Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, Veery, all new to me plus a couple of birds I'd seen before in Iceland such as Swainson's Thrush and Baltimore Oriole, which in spring plumage was like seeing a new bird. But the star attraction for me, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, was the stunning array of warblers and over the day I saw 19 species: Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Canada Warbler and Wilson's Warbler - phew! Cape May and Blackburnian were top of my wanted list before I came so I was delighted to see males of both species so well, especially Cape May Warbler, which I hadn't really expected to see. They were so good that I'm gratuitously posting photos of each: Neither were taken by me, nor in New York, nor even this year but who cares? Many of these birds were found after meeting local birders who knew the birds' calls and songs, and taking advantage of friendly New York birders' knowledge was invaluable. By amazing coincidence one of the birders I ran into one morning, Chris Cooper, was a birder I had met in Nairobi in January. A visit to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (a 45 minute journey by subway from Manhattan) brought me five new species of heron, attractive waders such as Willet and Greater Yellowlegs and delightful passerines such as White-eyed Vireo and Carolina Wren. In all I managed to see 111 species over the week, of which 71 were new birds, from the ubiquitous Northern Cardinal to locally scarce birds such as Summer Tanager and Philadelphia Vireo. In short, it was a great non-birding holiday and I highly recommend urban birding in New York - there are one or two things to do there when not birding! More Iceland news next time.