I made a very brief trip to Manhattan earlier this week. As I rambled between meetings, I found The Ramble, proper noun.
I thought the claim to being one of the “top bird-watching locations in the United States” was a little hubristic. Sure, there are tons of birders in the megalopolis, but could this little patch of woods in Central Park truly yield “top” numbers of birds? Despite the rain and my skepticism, I walked on.
Forty-five minutes later, I repented of my woodsy Tennessee haughtiness. I’ve never seen so many catbirds, ovenbirds, waterthrushes, and other migrant species crammed into so small a space. I saw thirty four species and many more must have lurked behind the veil of hazy drizzle. The full list is appended at the end of this post. (Three Northern Waterthrushes in the space of a few yards? Outrageous.)
No doubt the profusion of birds reflects the paucity of habitat all around (I spent several hours watching street trees away from the park and saw just one warbler). The Ramble is therefore a refuge for these migrants, an atoll of green in a sea of gray. Pity the insects, worms, and snails here. So many hungry birds must clean out the food supply pretty quickly. But for bird-watchers: a top place indeed. The health and diversity of the herbaceous and woody plants was also impressive.
The Ramble offers fine opportunities to observe the behavior of birders. Every walkway and prospect was enlivened by the movement of binocular-wielding bipeds. Some snuck, some sauntered, and not a few moved with great haste from place to place blasting iPod recordings into the bushes to draw out the birds. This latter group also pished and squeaked with great gusto. (These are vocalizations peculiar to birders, nominally uttered to attract birds, but whose psycho-spiritual origin is perhaps found in the atavistic impulse to appease the gods of the woods and simultaneously repel non-believers.)
All in all, a fine place to ramble.
On a similarly feathered topic, the second installment (of three) of the New-York Historical Society’s Audubon exhibit is open until later this month. I wrote about the first exhibit here. I also strongly recommend this current show. Getting close to his graphite and pigment is a stirring experience.
The Rambler’s list (via ebird.org):
Crazy-ass birders: lots
Canada Goose 2
Double-crested Cormorant 4
Green Heron 1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 12
Mourning Dove 5
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Red-eyed Vireo 1
American Crow 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
American Robin 8
Gray Catbird 16
European Starling 9
Cedar Waxwing 1
Worm-eating Warbler 1
Northern Waterthrush 3
Common Yellowthroat 3
American Redstart 2
Northern Parula 3
Magnolia Warbler 2
Blackburnian Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 2
White-throated Sparrow 2
Northern Cardinal 3
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Common Grackle 2
Baltimore Oriole 1
House Finch 1
House Sparrow 19
Oh, you need to read — if you haven’t already — John Kieran’s A Natural History of New York City. He made the point about the diversity of birds in Central Park back in the ’40s or ’50s, as did Edwin Way Teale. Both, but Kieran in particular, also appreciated Van Cortlandt Park in Da Bronx, where there is now a nature trail named after Kieran.
David, I’ll add this to my reading list. Sounds like a great book. Thank you.
There’s a charming documentary, “Birding: The Central Park Effect.”
Thank you — I’ll keep my eyes peeled for this.
Prospect Park in Brooklyn is also a part of the bird flyway through NYC. Many birders there, though much of the wilder areas are fenced off from pedestrians.
I’ll have to check this out if I’m in Brooklyn. Thank you for the recommendation.
There’s a blue, looseleaf notebook in the Central Park Boathouse, where the most avid birders record their Ramble sightings. Your list would have been welcomed in it.
Thanks Jim, good to know for the future.