Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Varied Thrush in Central Park

Since late November a Varied Thrush has been wintering in Central Park's Ramble. As other urban rarities seem to do, it picked a rather odd location. The most reliable place to see the vagrant thrush is a small brushy area wedged in between a bustling transverse road and the men's bathroom in a maintenance building. The choice seems all the stranger if you consider its native habitat. Varied Thrushes are rare in the eastern United States. Their breeding range extends from the Pacific Northwest north to Alaska; they winter south to California. These are somewhat secretive birds, preferring to dwell in dense, wet forests.

By this point, most birders in the New York metro area have probably already seen it if they wanted to, but I just saw it for the first time yesterday. As I arrived at its regular location, I met another birder who had seen it briefly before a Blue Jay's alarm call sent the thrush and other birds flying. After I had waited about 10-15 minutes, the Varied Thrush reappeared, staying long enough for me to get a good look but not long enough for me to take photos of it. So I waited another 15 minutes or so, as a snowplow passed by going one direction along the path, and then a garbage truck and two snowplows drove in the other direction, and finally a police golf cart drove past and parked in front of the maintenance building. After all that, the thrush reappeared, and I took the photos you see above.

As the thrush disappeared away for the second time, I became aware of someone approaching along the path. It turned out to be a familiar figure – Corey of 10,000 Birds pushing his son, Desi, in a stroller. I stood with him for a while and waited for the Varied Thrush to come back. When it did not appear for a while, I decided to move on and look for another unusual bird for the park, an immature Red-headed Woodpecker that has been using the trees on the south end of the Sheep Meadow. The woodpecker was easier to find than I expected; I was only waiting about five minutes when it flew into view, and I had a good look at it. Unlike the Varied Thrush, the woodpecker was not a life bird, just an interesting one.

I stopped briefly at the Ramble feeders while walking to and from the Varied Thrush's location. There were not unusual finches like Pine Siskins or Common Redpolls, but there were plenty of other birds around. Here are a few images of the those birds.