Friday, December 26, 2014

Yet another Rare Kingbird in New York City

Couch's Kingbird in Greenwich Village ...

I had a hangover this morning.  I think one is probably supposed to have a hangover the day after Christmas so I really hadn't planned to do very much today.   We woke up late and while we had breakfast I flicked through the posts and emails that had come in over night.  I saw that the Cassin's Kingbird was still being seen in Brooklyn, skipped over some other kingbird related titles, then stopped dead and did a re-wind.  One of the kingbird titles didn't say Cassin's at all but actually said Couch's/Tropical Kingbird in the West Village!  Well that was a surprise ....

The bird had apparently been first seen over six weeks ago and the finder, wondering if it might be a Western Kingbird, had reached out to more experienced birders for help.  They'd suggested he get a photo, thinking no doubt that a kingbird of any sort was pretty unlikely in the center of the heavily urban West Village.  Yesterday he did finally manage to get a photograph and forwarded it along to his birder friends - not a Western Kingbird, but something much better (although tough to ID from a photo).  So the word got out last night, and this morning New York's birding mob assembled on Washington Street in the Village eager for yet more kingbird action.

Before I could go birding I had to run some errands and drive over to Williamsburg to drop off Kelvin.  On the way we actually passed within a block of the bird's location but I resisted the urge to try to sneak in a quick stop and planned to retrace my steps a little later.  While I was in Brooklyn I got to check the list serves again though and learned that the bird had been re-found by Jacob Drucker, Doug Gochfeld, et al and definitely identified as a COUCH'S KINGBIRD - the first record for New York State and one of only a handful of records for this South Texas specialty anywhere in the NorthEast.  By 11:00am, chores done and I was free to come back and look for the bird so I came back to Manhattan, headed to the Village, found the gaggle of birders (bird clearly not in sight), parked the car, and took my place in the stakeout line with half the serious NYC and Long Island birders already on site.

I didn't have to wait long, and about ten minutes later, while I was chatting with Andrew Baksh, the bird flew over the building behind us and landed a strip of trees in front of an apartment building.

Couch's Kingbird, West Village, New York County, NY (December 2014)
Photo: Seth Wollney (used with permission)
The bird seemed to be in great health and seemed to have no problem finding things to eat.  Earlier in the morning it had apparently been seen collecting bluebottle flies from the apartment building terraces, but it also hawked and caught several insects on the wing while I watched it.

The presence of 40 or 50 strange people with binoculars, telescopes and giant camera lenses also drew more than a little interest from the locals, many of who stopped by to see the rare bird from Texas that was inexplicably hanging out on their city block.  It was also quite fun to see the different reactions from people - the people who were fascinated by the rare bird versus the people who were quiet disappointed that we weren't watching some celebrity or other.  The bird also made the press with several blogs (like this one, which seems trendy) and even the New York Post (our own Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid) giving it a mention.

So as of now, we have two super-rare Kingbirds in New York City - one a state second record, and this one a state first.  Wonder what will show up next?

Update 1/1/2015: both Kingbirds are (amazingly) still hanging on in New York.  Spend the morning looking for the Cassin's Kingbird in Brooklyn with no luck.  Again though, when I left to get lunch, the bird showed up at it's habitual spot (this time found by Rick Cech) and I was able to circle back and get it.  Perhaps it doesn't come to the garden until it gets warmer, but even then, I think the bird is looking weak, with drooping wings, not sure it'll make it much longer.

With the Cassin's under my belt, I decided to try for the Couch's and headed back to Manhattan.  Once I'd got there and found parking spot, I checked the list serves and saw that the bird was being seen at West 11th Street and West 4th, quite a way from the original spot, and where I'd parked.  I schlepped over there, all the way passing birders who had seen the birds and said that it had already left the area and flown to a private (and non-viewable) garden area.  Still, I pushed on, and arrived at the previous location, settled in for a wait, and after only a couple of minutes the bird flew back and started hunting from the trees and fire-escapes on nearby buildings.

While the Cassin's looked, well hungry, and I didn't see it eat this morning, the Couch's is clearly still finding food to eat.  It seemed to be picking insects (bluebottles?) off the white walls of the brownstone buildings at the intersection and seemed to be feeding successfully the whole time I watched.  I'm not optimistic for the Cassin's but I'm hopeful that the Couch's may make it through the Winter.