A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Sunday, 13 December 2015

New York Trip Report - Day 3 (Prospect Park)

Day 3 -  Saturday 23rd May 2015

We arose bright and early the next morning ready for our first day at a new location – Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Taking the tube and arriving at around half 8, it was obvious that despite not being there at the crack of dawn, the day would provide a wealth of birds – there had evidently been a huge fall in the night. Taking just a few steps down the path, I immediately heard a call that was now engraved in my memory – the high pitched chiming trill of a Blackburnian Warbler high at the tops of the trees. With decent views the day before but no photos, I was keen to try and catch up with what would be our second individual of the trip, and we headed in the direction the call was coming from to try and track down this fantastic warbler.
Blackburnian Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
My favourite bird of the entire trip - Blackburnian Warbler!
The perfect overnight conditions had obviously brought down a large number of birds in the park, and the trees were alive with brilliantly coloured warblers in every direction we looked. Craning our necks to see right to the tips of the branches, the bright yellow of a male Canada Warbler caught our eye in the leaves above while several Magnolia Warblers flitted from branch to branch. Red-eyed Vireos called from the very tops of the trees, while American Redstarts and Northern Parulas flashed their lively colours in abundance.
American Redstart - Prospect Park, New York
American Redstart
And then we had it. A beautiful male Blackburnian Warbler foraging at the tips of one of the branches high above our head, the vibrant tropical orange throat unmistakeable as it peered through the leaves. Grabbing my camera, I was finally able to get some record shots of what was for me, the star species of the trip.
Blackburnian Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
Blackburnian Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
The bright orange throat was clear even at a height
With the Blackburnian Warbler disappearing high in to the very tops of the trees, we continued exploring the rest of Mid-Wood to see what other goodies we could find. A quick, mouse-like movement up the trunk of a tree at the side of the path turned out to be our first House Wren of the trip, providing brief views as it crept up the bark. Much more elongated than our Wrens back in the UK, the difference was clear to see, and we watched as it scurried high up the tree and disappeared out of sight around the back of the trunk.

Heading further in to the trees, an extremely showy Ovenbird provided great views as it perched on an open branch right in front of us, while numerous American Robins and Swainson’s Thrushes turned over the leaves almost everywhere we looked in the search for insect prey. 
Ovenbird - Prospect Park, New York
Ovenbird - showed so well but the light was terrible!
Swainson's Thrush - New York
Swainson's Thrush
A great spot by Alex of a pale coloured warbler above the undergrowth resulted in a female Bay-breasted Warbler, our first new warbler species of the day and a bird which we hadn’t managed to locate in Central Park. Quite a large bulky warbler, the females are readily identifiable by an overall peachy wash to the belly and two thick distinctive white wing-bars that can be seen even at a distance. A great bird to catch up with and one of our main targets for the day crossed off our list.

Following the twisting trails around Mid-Wood, the birds kept coming thick and fast. A female Black and White Warbler gave the best views yet as it foraged right in front of us on the wooden sides of the path, this time completely unobscured from any branches and providing the perfect opportunity to get some photos.
Black and White Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
The Black and Warblers moved more like a Nuthatch!
Black and White Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
Black and White Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
A large grey and yellow bird perched in the top of one of the trees turned out to be our first Great Crested Flycatcher of the holiday. One of the largest flycatchers and much bigger than the nightmarishly tricky to ID Empidonax species, there was no mistaking this individual, our third species of flycatcher so far on the trip.
Great Crested Flycatcher - Prospect Park, New York
Great Crested Flycatcher
Hearing a distinctive song further down the path and looking through a gap in the trees, we also managed to catch up with a stunning male Black-throated Blue Warbler – a bird I had unquestionably wanted to see (especially as Alex had seen one in Central Park) and definitely in my top 5 of most hoped for warblers. Despite seeing a female the day before, it was no comparison to the spectacular iridescent deep marine blue and pure white of the male – a great find and my only male of the trip.
Black-throated Blue Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
Awkward angle record shot of the male Black-throated Blue Warbler
Heading back on to the path, Alex was certain that he had just spotted a Lincoln’s Sparrow flying in to the dense foliage in front of us and unfortunately out of sight. Quite a rare visitor to Prospect Park in May, there had been recent reports of one in the area, and despite Alex saying we were bound to catch up with another one later on that day, I was keen to stick it out and refind it. With no sign in the bushes that it had flown in to, eventually we tracked it down a little further down the trail, feeding on the path amongst the many House Sparrows taking advantage of a clear glut of seeds and crumbs left by visitors. Slightly smaller and browner in colouration, the Lincoln’s was immediately obvious by the grey markings on the head, reminiscent almost of our Dunnocks back in the UK. Similar to a Song Sparrow, the streaking on the chest was much finer and thinner, and we watched as it disappeared through the fence and off in to the undergrowth.
Lincoln's Sparrow - Prospect Park, New York
Lincoln's Sparrow
As we carried on along Mid-Wood, the birds seemed to be everywhere – Northern Cardinals flashed bright red through the leaves, while Magnolia and Blackpoll Warblers were on almost every tree. Finding a sheltered spot where the trees lined a small stream, we just stood and watched amazed as the birds filtered through in their droves.
Northern Cardinal - New York
Male Northern Cardinal
American Redstarts and Northern Parulas constantly moved through, their bright tropical colours making them easy to pick out, while the chattering high pitched calls of 5 Cedar Waxwings darted across the tree tops in front of us. A second male Chestnut-sided Warbler appeared in the branches before us, while a female Black-throated Blue Warbler foraged inconspicuously lower down in the canopy. Several Red-eyed Vireos passed through in a matter of minutes, before our first male Bay-breasted Warbler came out of nowhere and provided great views straight ahead of us, the peachy red flanks and belly distinctive. Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted Warblers were two species we had wondered whether we would struggle to see in New York, so it was great to find males of both species.

Black-throated Green was the main warbler species that we had missed so far on our trip, so we were on high alert to try and pick out this stunning species amongst the passage of warblers making their way through the area. Standing and waiting at this warbler hotspot, we eventually had our prize – a cracking male Black-throated Green in the trees opposite, slowly making its way through the branches and feeding amongst the leaves. With a delicate pattern of olive-green and yellow with a stunning jet black throat, this is another species where the name directly represents the looks! We eventually had several of these bright coloured birds, with around 3 in a 30 minute period moving through the same patch of trees.
Black-throated Green Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
One of our main targets of the day - Black-throated Green Warbler!
Suddenly, Alex spotted something bright scarlet at the top of the trees – a male Scarlet Tanager. This fantastic species was a bird we had both hoped to see on the trip, the vibrant scarlet reminiscent of a true tropical bird more at home in a rainforest – a far cry from the woodland birds we get back in the UK! Keeping high in the tops of the trees, we managed a few record shots as it foraged, and like the majority of other birds, it only stopped for a matter of minutes before carrying on through the woods. A fantastic bird to see and remarkably our only individual of the trip.
Scarlet Tanager - Prospect Park, New York
Scarlet Tanager - Prospect Park, New York
Extremely tropical looking - our only Scarlet Tanager of the trip
Looking further down the canopy, we immediately picked up a warbler we hadn’t come across so far. Brown in colouration, with a prominent supercilium and needle thin bill, this was our first Tennessee Warbler, which despite the lack of vibrant colours like many of the other species, was still distinctive. Gradually moving through the bush with several Magnolias, Blackpolls and Black-throated Greens, this was our only Tennessee Warbler during our stay in New York, so a fantastic find.

A Northern Flicker soon appeared on the trunk opposite us, giving our best view yet of a species that up to now had either been a flash of olive wings flying away or a brief glimpse as the bird crept around to the other side of the trunk. Alex also had two brief Tufted Titmice chasing each other through the trees that unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the binoculars on.
Northern Flicker - Prospect Park, New York
Northern Flicker - Prospect Park, New York
Northern Flicker - Prospect Park, New York
This Northern Flicker provided great views
With the birds still streaming through, I picked up a grey and yellow warbler at the tops of the trees, the prominent white eye-ring still standing out even at a distance. Remembering the differences between the very similar Connecticut, Mourning and Nashville Warblers, the yellow throat could only mean one thing – Nashville (Connecticut and Mourning have grey throats). Within a matter of seconds it had melted back in to the leaves (Alex hadn’t seen it) and despite a thorough search, it proved impossible to relocate.

The running water behind the trees was probably the reason this small clearing was so productive, with the majority of birds stopping off for a much needed drink and bath. We saw a number of species take advantage of this water supply, and we watched as Downy Woodpeckers, American Redstarts and Magnolia Warblers all stopped to a drink and bathe.
American Redstart - Prospect Park, New York
American Redstart - the trees were alive with warblers!
With the Tennessee Warbler from earlier sat preening on a branch close to the water after taking a bath, a second bird popped up to its left. With the grey head, yellow throat and belly and startling white eye-ring, there was no missing it this time – Nashville Warbler. Just a few metres away and only on view for a moment, this was a great bird to get on our trip list, only very rarely reported in Prospect and Central Park, and a species we really didn’t expect to see. Despite the brief appearance, we both got excellent views as it perched in full view – phew!

Having been stood at this fantastically productive spot for nearly an hour, we had amassed a huge number of species in what had been the most incredible mornings birding. Words really can’t describe just how magical it is to be right there in the middle of the action when a fall has happened overnight. Everywhere we looked it seemed these brightly coloured jewels appeared from nowhere amongst the leaves, and warblers in a rainbow of colours were positively dripping from the trees. An absolutely incredible experience, and without doubt the highlight of our entire trip.

With the warbler movement quietening down and lunch approaching, we decided to move off towards the lake in the hopes of catching up with the female Ruby-throated Hummingbird that had built a nest in one of the surrounding bays at Lullwater Cove.

A quiet tapping on one of the large trees lining the path caught my attention, and after a ten minute wait craning our necks up to the top of the trunk, a White-breasted Nuthatch revealed itself to be the culprit, darting quickly to the adjoining woodland opposite the road. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get on it as it flew, lost in the canopy, and frustratingly after a thorough search of the surrounding trees we just weren’t able to relocate it. White-breasted Nuthatch was a species I had really been looking forward to seeing, so it was incredibly disappointing to have missed it.

However, a great consolation whilst searching was managing to find my own male Blackburnian Warbler. With Alex having found the first two, it was fantastic to finally get my own of what is my favourite bird over in America. Hearing the high pitched call, I instantly knew one must have been around, and sure enough, this flame coloured delight popped in to view on the branch above. Showing much closer than the previous two, this was our best view all trip, and we watched as it fed happily along the branch, the fiery orange throat clear to see as it passed over our heads. Amazing!
Blackburnian Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
All I could manage in terms of photographing this particular Blackburnian!
A quick stop at the Audubon Centre resulted in a nice Green Heron across from Lullwater Bridge, the beautifully marked chestnut and green colour feathers glinting in the sun.
Green Heron - Prospect Park, New York
Our first Green Heron
Sadly, and despite a fair bit of searching, we couldn’t locate the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, so headed to the lake for a spot of lunch. Several Sand Martins (Bank Swallows in America) darted across the surface along with a number of chattering Chimney Swifts, and we kept our eyes peeled for our first Tree Swallows. Eventually we picked one up, the fluttering flight style standing out from the Sand Martins despite the distance, the shimmering marine blue and green hues glinting in the sun. 
Tree Swallow - Prospect Park, New York
The blue marine coloured back of the Tree Swallow was gorgeous
Remarkably, it later landed in the tree right next to us, providing great views before taking off over the lake again. With Tree Swallows recorded in Scilly and on Shetland, this was great practice if these American Hirundines ever make it over to Britain again in the future.
Tree Swallow - Prospect Park, New York
Finishing lunch, we decided to spend the afternoon searching for the Wood Ducks that are regularly reported on Upper Pool. An Eastern Kingbird fluttering between the branches on Wellhouse Drive was another new bird for the trip, and we watched as this large flycatcher floated through the air with its characteristic glide.
Eastern Kingbird - Prospect Park, New York
Our first Eastern Kingbird showed amazingly well
Eastern Kingbird - Prospect Park, New York
Eastern Kingbird - Prospect Park, New York
Reaching Upper Pool, it soon became clear that this was not the quietest of watery refuges, as a whole section was cornered off especially as a “Dog Beach”. A Green Heron flew to a quieter corner to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Bank Holiday crowd, while numerous Red-winged Blackbirds called and bathed in the shallows. Walking around the entire perimeter, it was clear there was still some warbler activity taking place - American Redstarts and Magnolia Warblers flitted around the edges, while a close Northern Waterthrush gave us our best views yet. 
Northern Waterthrush - Prospect Park, New York
Northern Waterthrush - Prospect Park, New York
Northern Waterthrush - Prospect Park, New York
The typical habitat of the Northern Waterthrush - muddy watery edges
A nearby waterfall also proved to be an excellent draw for a number of species - Northern Parulas constantly stopped to drink, a second Northern Waterthrush quietly crept around the edges, while a tricky female Blackpoll Warbler was a test of our ID skills. Alex also spotted our first Yellow Warbler of the trip, this bright canary coloured warbler taking a bath in a small stream just a few feet away on the bank and providing us with amazing views.
Yellow Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
Yellow Warbler - Prospect Park, New York
Yellow Warbler - our first of the trip
Prospect Park, New York
The waterfall area - a hive of bird activity
Having walked the edges of the pool several times and with no sign of any Wood Ducks, I took one last look through the trees to see if I could spot them – and was staggered to see 2 males and a female swimming swiftly across to the edge of the pool! Knowing there was just a matter of seconds before they would retreat in to the marshy vegetation and become lost from view, I hurriedly dragged Alex down the path to a gap in the trees to get him on them – and sure enough seconds later they vanished completely! 
Wood Duck - Prospect Park, New York
The female Wood Duck
We eventually managed to track them down again on a rock under the trees (I suspect this is a favourite spot as they were there again later in the week) and peering through the tangle of branches we could stop to admire their bright and gaudy colours.
Wood Duck - Prospect Park, New York
Wood Duck - Prospect Park, New York
And the brightly coloured males!
Deciding to head back to where Alex had the White-breasted Nuthatch so we could have another crack at locating it, we scoured the trunks and branches for any movement. Sitting down on a log at the side of the path, we could hear the distinctive call - it was definitely still here. Finally it showed – beak laden with juicy caterpillars and landing on a dead branch just a metre above our heads. We got absolutely fantastic views as it investigated us and I was incredibly glad to have got a second chance at seeing one!
White-breasted Nuthatch - Prospect Park, New York
White-breasted Nuthatch - Prospect Park, New York
Relief! White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch - Prospect Park, New York
Exploring Mid-wood some more, we came across our second Wood Thrush of the trip, while several Empidonax Flycatchers remained frustratingly unIDable yet again. We also spotted another Ovenbird creeping amongst the leaves in that now familiar chicken-like fashion. Upon hearing from a local birder that a Mourning Warbler had been seen at the Vale of Cashmere a little further up the road, we headed to this secluded feature to try our luck.
Empidonax Species - Prospect Park, New York
Unidentified Empids
Empidonax Species - Prospect Park, New York
Ovenbird - Prospect Park, New York
Ovenbird doing the characteristic chicken-like walk
Upon arriving, a third Olive-sided Flycatcher in the tops of the trees was a nice bonus, while a second Swamp Sparrow picked its way along the muddy bottom of one of the small dried up ponds, giving much better views than our Central Park individual. We had apparently just missed a Wilson’s Warbler seen by one of the assembled American birders just before we arrived, and there had sadly been no sign of the Mourning Warbler for some time.
Swamp Sparrow - Prospect Park, New York
Our second Swamp Sparrow!
With the afternoon pressing on and no sign of either of our two target warblers, it looked as though we were going to end the day with a blank. Then, suddenly, a flash of bright yellow caught my eye as a bird flew in and landed on one of the rose bushes opposite. Raising my binoculars, I was met by an unfamiliar bright lemon yellow bird, thick billed and House Sparrow like in structure. What on earth? “Ah, American Goldfinch” – the American birders had clearly got on it too. Of course! Trying to get Alex on the bird proved tricky, and it had frustratingly moved out of sight further behind the bush. Dragging him round to the other side of the pond, I was determined to relocate it – this could be our only opportunity all trip to see this species as they weren’t easy to find at any of our sites.

Thankfully our luck was in. Flying out from the rose bush and in to the adjacent tree, we got good views as it remained perched in full view. Sadly, we didn’t get any photos, but this was an excellent bird for the trip and did indeed turn out to be the only one we saw. The gathered Americans must have thought we were mad getting so excited and anxious over what for was for them, a common bird. 

Approaching 6, we decided to call it a day and head back to the tube station ready for our journey back to Manhattan. Prospect Park had brought us some fantastic birds, and had provided one of the best days birding we had both experienced in our lifetime. Nothing compared to seeing these bright coloured American migrants materialising from the trees everywhere we looked, and it was a day that would most definitely stick in the memory for years to come. 
New York City

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