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Biologist Leads Bat and Owl Tours in Central Park

Biologist Robert DeCandido, PhD, leads fun tours of wildlife in Central Park (along with Deb Allen). He’s let us publish his notes from the week and from NYC birding history.

We have added two Eastern Screech-owl walks in Central Park this week – details are below. And for those of you in the Bronx on Wednesday evening, 5 August, Bob will be doing a slide-talk on the 11 owl species that have been found in NYC (including the 6 species have bred here; overall 12 owl species occur in New York State) – at the Bartow-Pell Mansion in the Bronx (Pelham Bay Park) at 7:30pm. Following the talk there will be an owl walk on the grounds…all of this for $5 adults and $3 for kids. More details:

This week the Bird Walk announcements takes a summer foray to the cooler parts of our area – coastal Queens and Brooklyn to the far far east end of the Long Island Sound.

We feature historical notes about nesting Prairie Horned Larks (Queens); breeding Skylarks and September migrant Turkey Vultures (Brooklyn); and a wonderful tale of the Man-O’-War Bird on Gardiner’s Island (Suffolk County). These were made between 1857-1886.

Our feature (summer) bird photos this week also come from a cooler place: the south shore of Nassau County – next to the ocean: Black skimmer Common tern Pair of black skimmers
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Good! Here are the bird walks for this week ($5):

1. Thursday evening, August 6th: $5. Owls and Bats of Central Park (Ramble) – meet at The Boathouse at 7:45pm. (The Boathouse is approximately 73rd street and the East Drive, along the lake in Central Park – if you need better directions, just email me.)

2. Friday, August 7th: $5. Central Park – Meet at Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave.) at 9am.

x. Saturday, August 8th: No BIRD WALK
3. Sunday, August 9th: 9:00 amCentral Park – Meet at the usual location: the Dock on Turtle Pond at 9 am. $5.

4. Monday evening, August 10th: $5. Owls and Bats of Central Park (The North Woods) – meet at 5th Ave and 106th street at 7:45pm. (The meeting location is one block north of Conservatory Gardens – if you need better directions, just email me.)

Detailed Directions
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Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights) with some anecdotal notes and observations. Not all species we saw are reported here – we list the best:

Friday, July 31st (North End Central Park) – thanks to Art and Emily Driscoll, the 2-3 Northern Waterthrushes did not escape detection today despite the early rains. The deluge seems to have inspired a number of electric red Crayfish to take a walk along the paths of the Harlem Meer…These “crawdads” would be an epicurean delight in at least one southern city – here, we just watch and photograph them.

Sunday, August 2nd (Central Park, Ramble area) – The heavens work in strange ways. It rained today from about 8:30am until 9:30am – long enough to keep most everyone at home. However, there were some intrepid bird watchers about (including Art, David and Lou; though we did hear, but not see Sandra along with Tom and Jack), and we did find the first Black-and-white Warblers of the autumn migration (both a male and a female). And we also likely found an Eastern Screech-owl hiding location since several Blue Jays were quite upset – unfortunately the leaves of the tree above us were so thick we had no way of seeing into the green mansion. Other highlights today included a Green Heron…and the rain.
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Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) — Since making my previous record [Auk, 1886, Vol. III, p. 439] on this species I have secured several others through the kindness of Mr. Alfred Marshall, an Associate Member of the Union. The records were all made at the extreme southwestern portion of the Island, Mr. Marshall residing in Flatbush, Kings Co. The following is a copy of his notes: “September 5, 1877, Mr. Johnston says, ‘The flagman on the Manhattan Beach R. R., at the Parkville crossing, saw a large bird flying about six feet from the ground, and as it flew by succeeded in stunning it with a stone. He afterward saw it and found it to be a Turkey Vulture in splendid condition.’ June 9, 1885, Mr. Johnston also saw two flying over his residence at Parkville, and again on August 26th, of the same year, he saw another. July 9, 1886, he saw still another, being pursued by a Crow. The Vulture mounted to a great height, the Crow following. In May, 1885, I saw one, and May 16th, the following year, I saw another. It was sitting on the top of a dead tree near Ocean Avenue, Greenfield, Kings Co. Two or three wagons drove by while I was watching the bird, but it did not fly, so I crept under the tree to get a good view of it. After watching it for ten minutes, I threw a stone to start it, but it did not fly until I hit the limb it was sitting on; then it flew to another tree about fifty yards off and commenced cleaning its feathers. It was about 5 a.m. when I saw the bird first. I think it had been eating and had gorged itself. These are all the notes I can collect, and I believe they cover the visits of this Vulture in our locality for the past decade.” [Ed. note: Turkey Vultures have recently bred in New York City.]

Skylark (Alauda arvensis). — Late in June, 1857, I received a request from Dr, C. Hart Merriam to investigate a statement made in a New York paper, that “Skylarks are abundant on Long Island, at Flatbush and from that place down, easterly through a stretch of land extending to Flatlands, and thence around and about the town of Flatlands.” I referred the request to Mr. Alfred Marshall, who resides at Flatbush and is well acquainted with the locality. Within a few days (July 2) he wrote that he had secured two birds which
he supposed were Skylarks. They were forwarded to Dr. Merriam who pronounced them “unquestionably the true European Skylark (Alauda arvensis).” Subsequently, Mr. Marshall informed me that he found the Skylarks in the long-grass fields, and that they were quite plenty. Those secured were young birds. On the 12th of July he saw a great many, all adults, and singing. He also saw one carrying food in its mouth, and supposing it had young, he noted where it dropped into a piece of timothy grass. He was unable to find the nest then, but later, on the 14th, he was more successful, as he found it with five half-grown young. The nest was composed of grass and was placed in a depression in the ground, about two and one-half inches deep, and was hidden under a tuft of grass. The Skylarks remained until September 15th, on which date Mr. Marshall saw the last one. [Ed. note: Skylarks bred in Brooklyn until about 1913 – more than 50 years!]

Prairie Horned Lark (Otocoris alpestris praticola). — Mr. John Hendrickson, of Long Island City, Queens Co., has the honor of having secured the first specimen of this variety of the Horned Lark on Long Island. July 31st, 1886, he shot one near his home. His brother, Mr. W. F. Hendrickson, when writing to me about it, asked if it was not early in the season for a Shore Lark to be found, and also stated that the specimen was very small. Subsequently he sent it to me, but as I had no others to compare it with, I forwarded it to Dr. A. K. Fisher, at Washington, for comparison and identification. He replied to my inquiry as follows: “The specimen is Otocoris alpestris praticola. To make doubly sure, I had Mr. Ridgway examine it and he said there was no question but that it was praticola. I should not be surprised, if in a few years the bird would be a common breeder on Long Island.” September 14, 1887, the Messrs. Hendrickson sent to me in the flesh a Horned Lark which, from its immaturity, had evidently been bred on the Island, and consequently must be praticola.

Man-o’-War Bird (Fregata aquila). — The claim of this bird to be included in the fauna of Long Island has heretofore rested on the specimen captured by Capt. Brooks, in 1859, on Faulkner’s Island, Long Island Sound. After an interval of twenty-seven years (1886) another straggler from the tropics furnishes an additional record of extra-limital occurrence. In August, 1886, Messrs. Lucas and Brick wrote to me that they had just mounted a specimen of the Frigate Pelican for Mrs. John Lyon Gardiner, which had been shot on Gardiner’s Island. Subsequently I ascertained, on inquiry, that the bird was shot August 4, 1886, by Mr. Josiah P. Miller, the keeper of the lighthouse. His account of the capture of the specimen is as follows: “The Man-o’-War Bird which I shot a while ago, was, when I first discovered it, sitting on a piece of old wreck, about fifty rods distant from the lighthouse. I tried to get a shot at it, but it saw me before I was near enough, and flew off up the beach out of sight. It came back in about an hour and settled in the same place as before. This time I went on the opposite side of the beach and concealed myself in the grass. My daughter went toward the bird, when it flew directly over me, giving a splendid shot. It was alone, and is the only one of the kind that I ever saw in this part of the world. I have kept this light for twenty years.”

From: BIRD NOTES FROM LONG ISLAND, N.Y. by WILLIAM DUTCHER. (Read before the Linnaean Society of New York, 8 March 1888. [Ed. Note: The Great Snow Blizzard of New York City began three days after the reading of this paper.]

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