Monday, May 25, 2009

Twitter Birding in Central Park

One of the great aspects of the blogosphere is that it can connect people who have similar interests but are separated by many miles. So it is in the world of nature blogging, where I can regularly read posts from people scattered all over the country, and some even as far away as the Arctic or Australia. The same is true for real-time applications like Twitter. Much as I enjoy reading all these blogs, tweets, and chirps, sometimes it is nice to put together some names and faces. So it was that yesterday I took a train into New York to meet two other Twittering birders, Dawn (@DawnFine) and Matt (@mattbango), and their partners and family members. Matt is the founder and designer, along with his brother, of Chirptracker, a Twitter-like web application built specifically for birders. That site is still in beta, but invitations are available for any birders who want to join. Dawn happened to be staying in Jersey City this week in the course of her peregrinations around the country (chronicled at her blog), so it seemed like a good opportunity for a meet-up.

The seven of us met near Strawberry Fields and proceeded to work our way north around the Lake and through the Ramble. From the start of the walk, it was clear that we were watching the late stages of spring migration. Everywhere we went there were Blackpoll Warblers of various ages and sexes, some noticeable only as a faint high-pitched tink-tink-tink-tink, others visible right in front of us. Blackpolls are among the last warblers to migrate and peak in late May, after many other species have already moved on. Another sign that migration is winding down is that many birds were building or tending nests. We saw at least three probable robin nests, orioles carrying nesting materials, and a Wood Thrush nest. The latter was only a yard or two away from the path in a well-trafficked location. (Given all of the problems that urban birds face, I have to wonder how likely this nest is to be successful. Even if the foot traffic does not bother this pair, the nest seems like a good candidate to be parasitized by cowbirds or robbed by Blue Jays.) Aside from the visible nests, we could hear Warbling Vireos singing all around any body of water; at least some of these must be on territory.

Of course, plenty of migrants are still on the move. Shortly after arriving, we watched a Swainson's Thrush and a White-throated Sparrow bathing in the shallows of the Lake's Lower Lobe. Moving into the Ramble, we began to find more species. Our best luck was in the area around the Azalea Pond, where many birds come down from the canopy to drink or bathe. There we had a long look at a Northern Waterthrush, as well as glimpses of a handful of Northern Parulas, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and the aforementioned Blackpolls. A kind passerby pointed out a bathing Black-throated Green Warbler; though not a birder, she recognized it as something unusual and was delighted to see it. In addition, many Magnolia Warblers, American Redstarts, and Red-eyed Vireos were scattered around the park.

Occasionally we got reminders of the urbanness of our birding location. There were a few large troops of tourists – and at least one large troop of birders – making their way around the park, in addition to the normal weekend crowds. Resident birds, used to the bustle, acted quite tame. Some Gray Catbirds approached to check us out, and female Northern Cardinals came even closer. The cardinals looked like they might have been expecting us to give them food. Some birders will hand-feed wild birds in the park. (One breeding season featuring hand-feeding is chronicled in Bob Levy's Club George.)

The best sighting of the day came near the end of our walk. We stopped at Tanner's Spring, a small pond (barely more than a puddle) close to the Delacorte Theater that can often attract birds to drink and bathe. At first we just saw more of the same species we saw in the Ramble, along with House Sparrows, Common Grackles, and an Eastern Wood-Pewee. Then a couple of us briefly spotted a Canada Warbler in the understory near the spring. Unfortunately not everyone got a good look at this bird, which of course did not make a second appearance while we were waiting for it. At least the sighting gave Dawn a new life bird.

We wandered a bit farther north from there, finding a Yellow Warbler along the way, before we decided to end our birding for the day. By my count we had seen 38 species in a few hours of birding. I greatly enjoyed seeing those birds and meeting two of my Twitter and Chirptracker friends, Dawn and Matt. In the recent past I have also had the chance to meet blogging friends, through the Four Bloggers adventure in March and the Cape May meetup last October. I hope to meet some more blogging or twittering birders in the future.