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....

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

New York Trip Report - Day 8 (Inwood Hill Park)

Day 8 -  Thursday 28th May 2015

With Wednesday having been dedicated to sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty and several species being regularly reported at Inwood Hill Park that we hadn’t yet seen during our trip (Orchard Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbreak, Hairy Woodpecker and Veery in particular), we decided to head up to the northern most point of Manhattan for our penultimate full days birding in the hopes of cleaning up on a few extra birds. 
Statue of Liberty, New York
Having not seen any in either Central or Prospect Park, and with individuals seen frequently here according to e-bird, our main target here was Orchard Oriole - slightly smaller and duller than the brightly coloured Baltimore Orioles we had become accustomed to.
Baltimore Oriole - New York
One of the Central Park Baltimores - the only Oriole species we had managed to locate as of yet!
Arriving at Inwood Hill and walking the short stretch from the tube station, we were soon heading along the winding paths that made their way through the huge trees and up the hill the park is named after. With much denser tree coverage than at Central Park, it was interesting to see how this difference affected both the species and the number of birds that we found.

A calling White-breasted Nuthatch was the first notable bird of the day, creeping up the trunk of one of the large trees lining the path before stopping to feed on a small morsel it had discovered lodged inside a dead branch. Being at the very tail end of migration now meant that we only saw a handful of warblers – the usual American Redstarts and Common Yellowthroats were flitting amongst the leaves while a female Blackpoll was the only other warbler species of note. A very quick view of a male House Finch disappearing behind a branch was a good addition for the day, while only our second Great-crested Flycatcher of the trip was equally as brief.

Heading east along the trail, we heard an alarm call echoing loudly through the trees and moving slowly closer to the source of the noise eventually revealed a woodpecker. Calling Alex over, I was sure I’d found us one of our target missing species – the larger size and positively huge bill in relation to the head eliminating any thoughts of the more familiar Downy. With Hairy Woodpeckers not often recorded in Central or Prospect Park, it was a relief to finally catch up with this chunky woodpecker after seeing so many Downys during the week. 
Hairy Woodpecker - Inwood Hill Park, New York
Hairy Woodpecker - at last!
Hairy Woodpecker - Inwood Hill Park, New York
Calling continuously and with a male Baltimore Oriole flitting around the branches nearby, I did wonder if the Hairy had a nest somewhere nearby. We watched this charismatic woodpecker for a good while as it scrambled up and down the dead branches above us, providing fantastic views and showing off the dagger like bill.

Significantly larger than the Downy Woodpecker, size is the main thing to take note of when separating these two similar American Woodpeckers, but as is often the case with a lone individual on a trunk, a true idea of size can sometimes be hard to determine when there is nothing to compare it to.
Hairy Woodpecker - Inwood Hill Park, New York
The beak is therefore another key feature to look out for, and on the Hairy Woodpecker it is usually the same length as the head, as opposed to the small, stubby bill of a Downy. 
Hairy Woodpecker - Inwood Hill Park, New York
Note the huge bill with regards to the size of the head
The outer tail feathers will also separate the two, as Downy Woodpeckers will have black bars all along the outer tail feathers compared to the all-white ones of the Hairys.
Hairy Woodpecker - Inwood Hill Park, New York
The white outer tail feathers were also clearly noticeable
Leaving our woodpecker in peace, we headed further down the track, keeping our eyes peeled for any Orchard Orioles. A Tufted Titmouse nestled amongst the ivy in one of the trees at the side of the path was a great spot by Alex, and after getting extremely brief flight views of the two in Prospect Park I was glad to finally see this species through binoculars, having not seen the other two well enough to feel happy ticking them. This charismatic little woodland bird was one I had definitely wanted to catch up with on the trip, the small tuft on the top of the head and the large black eyes giving them a somewhat ‘cute’ appearance.

Whilst we had only previously seen one Eastern Towhee on the whole trip (which remained obscured in the foliage on our first full day at Central Park), Inwood Hill Park was a complete contrast, and we saw several pairs throughout the day, their “drink your teeeaaaaaa” calls echoing through the trees. Two showy individuals by the rocks gave particularly great views, perching on the branches right next to the path. 
Eastern Towhee - Inwood Hill Park, New York
The Eastern Towhee singing his heart out
Studying the male up close, these really were stunning birds, the long black and white tail feathers and bright red eyes a beautiful sight.
Eastern Towhee - Inwood Hill Park, New York
The beautiful white outer tail feathers
A pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds also provided the best views of the trip for this species, and having missed the male at Green-wood Cemetery earlier in the week it was great to see this silky sheened individual. Much glossier and brighter than the duller brown female, male Brown-headed Cowbirds have a gorgeous jet black plumage tinted with a slight blue iridescence in certain light, paired with a rich, chocolate brown head.
Brown-headed Cowbird - Inwood Hill Park, New York
Male Brown-headed Cowbird - much glossier than the female
Brown-headed Cowbird - Inwood Hill Park, New York
And the drabber female for comparison
We watched this pair happily foraging on the path in front of us, before the male flew to one of the nearby branches and proceeded to sing.
Brown-headed Cowbird - Inwood Hill Park, New York
Brown-headed Cowbird in silhouette
The usual Red-winged Blackbirds flew through the trees, the vermilion red flashes on the wings now a familiar sight as they moved from tree to tree, while the usual Warbling and Red-eyed Vireos crept through the leaves above. An Eastern Kingbird soaring from branch to branch proved to be a great distraction while we had lunch, while another brightly coloured male Baltimore Oriole took advantage of the rich glut of pollen and nectar in the blooms of the trees– but still no Orchards!
Red-winged Blackbird - New York
Female Red-winged Blackbird - much more dull in terms of colour than the males but still distinctive
With the heat now getting slightly overbearing, we left the park and headed to a nearby shop for some refreshing ice cold passionfruit juice – an absolute life saver in this weather! Relaxing on a bench outside the park, a very showy Blue Jay hoovered up the crumbs left behind by the bench’s last occupant and proceeded to call from a nearby conifer – a sound we would definitely miss on our return to the UK!
Blue Jay - Inwood Hill Park, New York
Blue Jay
Heading back in to the park - this time taking the lower path underneath the ridge we had previously walked along – I spotted another Wood Thrush, only our third of the trip. My favourite out of the American Thrushes with their bright bold black spots, photographing this species sadly eluded me yet again as it flew deeper in to the trees, the fluty call emanating from deep amongst the leaves now the only indication of its presence.

We stopped by a large fallen tree to watch a Red-bellied Woodpecker climbing silently up one of the huge trunks on the other side of the trail, and Alex immediately heard an unfamiliar song carrying from the top of the ridge. Listening closely and looking up, I noticed flashes of movement in the trees high above us - bingo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak! A fantastic male, the bright red chest stood out a mile, while the contrasting snow white belly and jet black head were equally as attractive – what an incredible bird!
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Inwood Hill Park, New York
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Inwood Hill Park, New York
A species we had both wanted to see but with no reliable sites at either Central or Prospect Park, we watched as the bird tumbled through the branches - finding a suitable perch and singing his heart out, before moving a few branches further each time. A great find and a bird that we thought we would miss out on!
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Inwood Hill Park, New York
Sadly though, our luck had run out on the Oriole front, and despite seeing another Baltimore, we just couldn’t find any of the smaller and duller Orchards hiding amongst the trees.

Walking back to the tube and crossing the street, our attention was drawn by several harsh alarm calls right above our heads and two figures silhouetted in the sky. The Red-tailed Hawk that we saw sat in a tree when we arrived was still here, but was being mobbed by a much smaller bird of prey – American Kestrel! Finally! After two very brief possibly sightings at Green-wood Cemetery it was a relief to finally get a nailed on individual, the underside barring, reddish tail and ‘kestrel like’ wings all reminiscent of our Kestrels back in the UK.  Flying off over the buildings and in to the town, we tried to follow in the direction it had gone, but sadly we were unable to relocate it. Mobbing the much larger Red-tailed Hawk and evidently driving it out of its territory, it was highly likely that the Kestrel was perhaps nesting somewhere in the vicinity.
Red-tailed Hawk - New York
Red-tailed Hawk
Now coming to the end of our trip and already having amassed a large number of birds, 3 new species for the day was a great result, with two of these being the only individuals that we managed to see during the whole of our time in America. Despite missing out on the Orchard Orioles, our visit to Inwood Hill was a great boost to our trip and the change in woodland structure provided a variety of species different from our other park locations. We headed back to the hotel happy, and completed the day with a stop at TGI Fridays and a night-time trip up the Empire State Building – perfect!
Empire State Building - New York

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