6 Woodpeckers and a Loon

The weatherfolk are saying that today starts a three-day Nor’easter, so I decided that I better get any birding I planned to do done yesterday. Thus I joined Starr Saphir’s Saturday walk in the Central Park North woods. We met at 103rd and Central Park West, and almost immediately got Downy Woodpecker and Red-bellied Woodpecker, as well as four great Blue Herons flying over and an Eastern Towhee that was singing up a storm, but really didn’t want to be seen.

Before we left the Great Hill area, we’d tallied all the other regular local woodpeckers including Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Hairy Woodpecker. Northern Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker are usually only seen during migration and Hairy Woodpecker can be hard to find unless you know where one is hiding or you can distinguish the call from the Downys (Starr can. I can’t.)

Any day you get all five woodpeckers is a good day, but usually that’s it. Even that’s good. The rampant European Starling population do their best to drive out any hardy urban woodpeckers so they can steal their holes. Most woodpeckers can’t even think about breeding here until the starlings have finished for the season. There just aren’t any other woodpeckers that are remotely likely to be seen in New York City, even during migration; but not yesterday.

We birded Central Park for the next three hours until 11:30 and then I walked over to the west side. I was very distressed to discover that my favorite Spanish coffee shop over there, La Rosita’s has been closed. I guess one now has to go to Brooklyn or New Orleans for a decent cup of coffee. But La Rosita’s was only my first destination. For the last several months a Red-headed Woodpecker has been hanging out in Riverside Park around 92nd Street. As far as I know this is unprecedented. Red-headed Woodpeckers pass through city parks briefly on migration. In the Spring and Fall they’re usually a handful of reports here and there, but they never stick around for more than day and they’re almost never relocated. For instance, last year there were only three reports of one in Central Park all year, all in the fall.

However, this one has apparently decided it like luxurious living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and has been regularly reported since late last year. It’s a young male, and when it first appeared in December, it didn’t look very red-headed at all. However its adult plumage has now come in, and it’s gorgeous. Yesterday, it couldn’t have been more cooperative. I was walking down from 108th Street along the park; and just as I got to 93rd street, the bird called loudly, flew in, and landed in a tree almost on top of me, thus completing my first ever six woodpecker day.

That’s probably the outer limit of what one can hope for in New York City (certainly in Manhattan). Still, I wonder. Pileated Woodpeckers breed just north of the city in Westchester county. They almost never venture into the city, but the Bronx has some huge parks that aren’t very heavily birded at all, and one of them had a Pileated a few years ago. Is a seven woodpecker day possible?

Anyway, yesterday I had to settle for six. However, I wasn’t done yet. Sandi Paci had told me that a Common Loon was hanging out on southwest end of the reservoir. Common Loon is regular along the coast, but a bit surprising in the middle of Manhattan. After the woodpecker flew off, I walked back east to the reservoir and found it fairly quickly. That was a new one for my New York county (Manhattan) list. All told I had 14 new species for my New York County list yesterday, though I haven’t been keeping separate county records for that long. My New York County list is now at 91 species, which puts it in fifth place behind Kings, Queens, Santa Clara, and Orleans. Doubtless they’re a few species I’ve seen in Central Park before I started using eBird to record observations, including individual county records. I know I have Prothonotary Warbler in Central Park, and probably quite a few other warblers too that aren’t yet in my list. However the same is true for most other counties in the database.

All told I finished yesterday with an even fifty species:

  • Canada Goose
  • Gadwall
  • Mallard
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Mourning Dove
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Herring Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Osprey
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Song Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Pine Warbler
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • European Starling
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • American Robin
  • Hermit Thrush
  • House Sparrow
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Common Grackle
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • American Crow
  • Blue Jay
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Northern Flicker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Great Egret
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Common Loon
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Bufflehead

Starr heard a few more I couldn’t make out including House Finch, American Goldfinch, and American Kestrel.

Not bad given the north winds that have more or less shut migration down over the last couple of weeks, especially for the smaller birds like warblers. In fact, I think that’s my best day in New York so far this year. Once the wind starts blowing from the south again, the parks should be inundated. Maybe Wednesday?

2 Responses to “6 Woodpeckers and a Loon”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    I’ve added the line “Any day you get all five woodpeckers is a good day” to my rotating signature file.

  2. Mike Says:

    Great report, Elliote. I spotted a Pileated in the Bronx once, but then again, I live in Riverdale.

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