Kirtland’s Warbler, Central Park, New York City, 12th May 2018

SY male Kirtland’s Warbler, Central Park, NYC (Julian Hough). Sharply demarcated earcoverts and throat with stout bill, white eye-crescents and blackish gorget all typical of Kirtland’s. (Click on images for Hi-Res versions)

It was one of those days when a spring surprise sends you into a flutter. A late afternoon text that a Kirtland’s Warbler was found in Central Park, NYC sent all birders in New England into a panic. Why? Because, of all the warblers occurring in North America, this is the rarest! It nests in only a small area of Jack Pines in Central Michigan and areas of Wisconsin. Parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds, its survival depends on continued conservation and habitat management.

Like Blackpoll Warblers, it is a long distance migrant, wintering in the Bahamas and is rarely seen on migration, seemingly making long jumps from the breeding grounds to Florida and then to the Bahamas. It has been seen sporadically in spring in Ohio and southern Canada. Needless to say, most birders, unless they have made the pilgrimage to Michigan, have never seen this species. I have been in the US since 1996 and this was one of only a couple of records in the east. A brief male in upstate NY a couple of springs ago wasn’t available to the masses, so, a chaseable bird in NYC was incredulous and only the 3rd state record. It was simply a bird that any self-respecting birder had to go for. But would it stay?

If the bird was seen the following morning, I would make a dash for it. Saturday dawned overcast and with steady rain in the forecast, it bode well for migrants not moving on. Checking my texts at 6:45a.m, the bird was still reported as still being there. Twitch on! I contacted Tina Green who offered to drive and I hastily left to meet her in Westport, only to be hampered by a crash closing down I-95. We diverted up to the Hutchinson Parkway to pick up Sara Zagorski. With me navigating, we opted to drive in and try and find somewhere to park rather than mess with the train. It was all a bit of a chaotic blur of excitement and on the fly logistics. Locating a nearby parking garage, we walked the block to the 90th street west entrance and within seconds had laid eyes on the bird feeding in the same area. It turned out it was that easy. This was a bird that had eluded me and many others for years – but the mystique had suddenly been laid to rest in an instant. But at least I didn’t have to drive to Michigan!

SY male Kirtland’s Warbler, Central Park, NYC (Julian Hough).

It was rather chaotic – many bikers, runners and police all in attendance as passers-by stopped to ask what everyone was looking at. The bird foraged high but would occasionally drop lower and lower until it fed at eye-level, only five feet away. Dayam!!

Part of what was actually a big crowd, annoying runners and cyclists ‘cos rare birds are more important than fat loss!

With overcast, leaden skies and no real direct light, photography was difficult. The bird performed well for all and occasionally belted out its short, but surprisingly loud and full song.

SY male Kirtland’s Warbler, Central Park, NYC (Julian Hough). Stocky-bodied and long-tailed it occasionally belted out its distinctive song.

Rather dull compared to an adult male, the brownish primary coverts and remiges indicated it was a second-year male. The distinctive throat patch, large size, long tail and yellow underparts with contrasting white undertail coverts were all as expected.

As rain set in, we retired to find some breakfast and headed home for a hassle-free afternoon!

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3 Responses to “Kirtland’s Warbler, Central Park, New York City, 12th May 2018”

  1. Debra Pachucki Says:

    Congratulations! I’m brand new to birding and it’s so exciting. The frenzy over sprngi migration is addicting! I loved your writing style- the way you covered the “news” and the “drama” was great!! Thank you… Happy birding!! Debra Pachucki

  2. Debra Pachucki Says:

    Congratulations! I’m brand new to birding and it’s so exciting. The frenzy over spring migration is addicting! I loved your writing style- the way you covered the “news” and the “drama” was great!! Thank you… Happy birding!! Debra

  3. Mike Kilburn Says:

    “rare birds are more important than fat loss” – there’s a quote for the ages!

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