Tuesday 23 October 2018

Birding Central Park New York City May 2018

In May 2017 my Mrs (Julia) and I visited New York City with Paul (@PaulHawky) and Lisa Hawkins. Neither Julia or Lisa had any interest in birding so we played ball and birded the mornings and done site seeing afternoons etc. We has a great time seeing over 100 species in Central Park including many of our main target warblers (19). We missed out on some key targets though, including for me, my number one target, Blackburnian Warbler. 

So it was a great surprise on my 50th birthday when Julia said as a treat we could go back to NYC in May for a long weekend, and we'd take our grown up son (17) with us and they would go site seeing and I could go birding! Best Wife Award well and truly won!

We booked a 4 night weekend break, Thurs May 10th - 15th, staying in the same Manhattan hotel as the previous year (just 10 minutes walk from the south end of Central Park) for c£750pp including return BA flights from Heathrow.

I was up and out in the twilight on Friday 11th May, and little did I know at the time but one of my best ever day's birding lay ahead of me.

It began relatively slowly at Strawberry Fields with a few bits here and there, nothing particularly amazing so I made my way into The Ramble. I was surprised to find few birders out at dawn but soon began talking to a local who I hung out with for about an hour. Things started to improve with a few new birds for me, Cape May, Chestnut Sided and Yellow Warblers.

I decided to carry on alone, but it wasn't long before I bumped into another birder, this time a Brit, Peter from Manchester. It was Peter's first time birding in Central Park so having been previously I suggested we head up to another well known birdy section called Summit Rock. It was on route but close to Summit Rock where we met local American birder, Chuck. We immediately got on well as we chatted about birds etc. As we chatted a local female birder came up and said "Do you know about the hatch out?" I wasn't exactly sure what she meant, but she quickly explained and advised us to get our butts 200c yards up the road as there "are birds everywhere". She wasn't wrong.

The following 2 hours was possibly the best 2 hours birding I have has anywhere. In small area, possibly the size of a couple of tennis courts, thousands of insects were hatching, and dozens of birds had arrived to feast on them. The pics below do no justice the birds I saw over the next 2 hours. Birds popped up everywhere, leaving me not knowing where to look at times.  I had 3 Blackburnians, 5 or 6 Cape Mays and Yellows, Canadian, Bay Breasted, Chestnut Sided, it just went on and on. (see full list at bottom of the post).         

 Cape May Warbler

Baltimore Oriole

Another Cape May

 Bay Breasted Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler!

Yellow Warbler

 Chuck and I really hit it off and we swapped numbers and agreed to meet up and go birding on the Sunday. I couldn't imagine Central Park getting an better so Chuck suggested we visit Bear Mountain State Park. A plan was hatched for Chuck to pick me up at 6.30am at my hotel to head the 1 hr 15 mins up state. 

We walked Doodletown Road through mature woodland with a main targets, Blue Winged and Cerulean Warblers, neither of which I had seen in Central Park. The Blue Winged were very vocal but a bugger to see for a while, but eventually we had cracking views. On route as we climbed up  Doodletown Road we found a smart Worm Eating Warbler that mostly scurried about the undergrowth.             

As we climbed we had great views of Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanager and Indigo bunting, before eventually, boom, a smart Blue Winged Warbler gave itself up. Next on the agenda, Cerulean Warbler. We began hearing them as we climbed a little higher and Chuck had a brief arse-end view of one that I couldn't get on to.  Wanting to head to another site for Golden Winged Warbler we couldn't give it too long. On the way back down we again had cracking views of Hooded, Blue Winged and Canada Warblers.

A short drive, 30 mins, later we were at the Golden Winged Warbler site, after a brief stop for Eastern Bluebird which showed well after 5 minutes. The GWW gave us the run around. As we pulled up we were told a pair were showing around 50 metres down the track, however, we gave it almost an hour and a half and no sign. Unfortunately, it was then time to head back to Manhattan.   

It was  a fantastic day, with fantastic birds and superb company. Chuck and I are in touch and I hope to see him in 2019 for some UK birding, and of course, at some stage, get back to NYC and see Cerulean and Golden Winged Warblers.

Anyone who has not been for a weekend's birding in NYC I would highly recommend it. The birding in Central Park in early/mid May is awesome. The previous year when there were less birds I still racked up over 100 sp of which 19 were warblers (with Paul Hawkins) and this year over 2 days, of which only one was in Central Park I totalled fewer species, 86, but 22 were warbler species, and most of them were multiples: (of note)

Yellow Warbler 5
Tennessee Warbler 2
Chestnut Sided 10+
Magnolia 40+
Cape May 20+
Blackburnian 3
Blackpoll 20+
Bay Breasted 20+
Wilsom's 10+
Ovenbird 6
Canada 6
Worm Eating 1
Black Throated Blue 10+
Black Throated Green 10+
Black and White 10+         
Northern Parula 10+
Yellow Rumped 10+
American Redstart 30+
Common Yellowthroat 10+
Northern Waterthrush 1
Blue Winged 6+
Hooded 2     

Saturday 11 August 2018

Lion cubs

One of many highlights of our trip was finding two female lions with six, three month old cubs.

Tangala Lodge, Thornybush Reserve

We moved on to Thornybush Reserve, staying at Tangala Lodge. This is a much larger reserve with a number of lodges, which means more vehicles (but not too many) and as they are all in touch with each other via radio, more sightings.

Over the three days we had many fantastic sightings.
Our 2nd leopard of the trip 


Brown Headed Parrott




African Elephant 

White Crested Helmet Shrike

Helmeted Guineafowl

African Pipit

African Hoopoe

White Backed Vulture  

Cape Glossy Starling

Fork Tailed Drongo

Hippo at the watering hole at the lodge 

A few more pics

Slender Mongoose

Marshall Eagle]

Dark Chanting Goshawk 

Another exhilarating encounter with lions.   

Burchell's Coucal

Sunday 5 August 2018

Face to face with an angry Black Rhino

We moved on to Rukiya Camp, located on the banks of the Blyde River. Here we had luxury tented accommodation which was fine, but cold at night, being winter in South Africa. The river and lawn area provided a number of birds sightings including the monster Giant Kingfisher (44cms).

Wild Rivers is not a big 5 reserve and we had to drive around 30 minutes each morning to the Excellence big 5 reserve. The evening drive was at Wild Rivers, however, these were pretty quiet in comparison.   
Giant Kingfisher - one of 3 kingfisher species seen


Hadeda Ibis

We were advised to take gloves and hats for the early morning drives and we never needed them more than on the transfer along a motor way for the morning game drives, it was freezing! Only 2 vehicles, both from Rukiya Camp, have access to the private site, and on our first morning safari we were notified within 5 minutes of entering the reserve, that the other vehicle had located a rare Black Rhino. Our ranger advised us that there are only 2 Black Rhino in the reserve and they had not been seen for a few weeks since they had a fight, which left one, with serious injuries. The animal that had been sited was the victor who were told was quite aggressive and had previously attacked and damaged vehicles....gulp.            

At first the rhino was very wary and just ran when we got anywhere near it. We eventually tracked it down to a more open space where we could view and photograph it from a safe distance, however, I think it had other ideas. 

It became a quite scary experience as the rhino stopped, turned and ran at us. It done this a number of times until it was literally 20 feet away. Our hearts were racing as it snorted and kicked up dust, but luckily it didn't attack, turned and ran off. This was our cue to leave it alone and carry on with our drive. 

Despite our best efforts we couldn't find any big cats, but I was happy as the site was good for birding.  

White Fronted Bee Eaters 

Record shot of 1 of only 2 Purple Rollers seen all trip

Southern Yellow Billed Hornbill - very common

Black Collared Barbet

It was then back to the camp where I spent the afternoon birding from the bar, adding a few new species.

White Browed Scrub Robin 

A very dapper African Pied Wagtail

Southern White Crowned Shrike

Saturday 4 August 2018

Our last safari at Nzumba Lodge, Klaserie Reserve, South Africa - looking for Lions

On our final morning we had one last safari at Nzuma before we transferred to our next lodge. We had not seen lion on the previous four safaris or any further Leopard sightings.

Over an early coffee at 5.30am our wonderful guide Stefan informed us that lions had been heard during the night and we were off to try and find them. Both Stefan and our wonderful tracker Vusi carefully studied the dirt tracks for prints but after an hour there was still no sign. Then out of the blue Vusi spots two males around 100 metres away behind some trees and it was all systems go, to go see them at closer range.

We had brief but good close views of both lions before they hot pawed it into the bush and could not be located. We spent the next couple of hours looking for the rest of the pride. Stefan and Vusi, went on foot and found another male near a kill but it ran as soon as it saw them and could not be relocated.     

It was time to get back to the lodge, finish packing and make our way to our  next destination. 

About Nzumba:
  • 60 species of birds seen
  • White Rhino, (1) seen briefly by torch light on way back to camp, lions, leopard, wild dogs, hippo, crocodile, giraffe (many), zebra (very few), warthog, hyena, jackal, kudu, impala and waterbuck
Nzuma was a great location for our first stop. We saw 4 of the Big 5 (not Buffalo) but we had to work for it. The lodge itself is superb. The accommodation was very comfortable, and the food just could not have been better. 
High tea

Each day we got a 5.30am knock for our 6am safari. Hot drinks, muffins and breakfast was provided. It is winter in South Africa now so at 6am it was cold. For the first couple of hours we needed layers,  hats and gloves. During the day it got up to a a nice 25/26c. During our morning safari we would usually find a safe spot to stop for more drinks and snacks, before getting back around 10.15am, just in time for a lovely and massive breakfast. We then had a few hours to ourselves, before high tea was served at 3.30pm. Stuffed we then headed out on our afternoon safari. As the sun disappeared over the horizon we'd stop for a hot drink or cold beer etc, if you prefer, getting back at 7ish, for a quick shower before a sumptuous evening meal, served communally with other guests if there are any. The lodge has three rooms so it is never crowded.  

This lodge really was fantastic and could not be faulted. 5/5!