Saturday, July 01, 2006

Central Park: 30-June-2006 Anhinga


Click image for a view of the notes

This afternoon I spotted an Anhinga over the reservoir in New York City's Central Park. This is a fairly rare bird to see in the northeast. It was circling very low when I first spotted it and was less than half the width of the reservoir from where I was standing.

This post contains:
• a facsimile of the field notes & transcription of text
copy of email sent to various lists
• a response from Angus Wilson - Chair of NYSARC
• the full details of sighting submitted to NYSARC
3 previous sightings of Anhinga reported to the NYC Rare Bird Alert

This observation was submitted to various Internet sites / email lists in order to get the word out so this rare New York State visitor may be seen again and hopefully photographed. My camera, unfortunately, was left at home due to the forecasted thunderstorm.

Here's a copy of my submission sent to various email lists:

Date: Friday, 30 June 2006 (3:25p-10:10p)
Location: Central Park - reservoir & Turtle Pond
Reported by: Ben Cacace

The Anhinga was seen between 4:20p-4:23p along the north edge of the reservoir. The Sun was at my back and the Anhinga was fairly low over the reservoir just east of me. It was gaining height - circling & flapping. The flapping came in bursts from 3 to 5 wingbeats. When the bird held its wings out to glide the wings were just about perfectly level. This effect was more hawk-like than cormorant-like.

From the neck to the bill there was a taper. The bill was thin and there were no bulges from the neck towards the bill. Very elegantly built. Much lighter and more aerodynamic than a cormorant.

The bird was all black. No white was noticed anywhere. No yellow was noticed anywhere.

After circling a few times it headed NE or 'Manhattan North'. Please keep an eye out for this bird. My camera, of course, was at home.

'Bull's Birds of New York State' has the status for Anhinga as 'Casual vagrant':
- Casual: 2 to 6 records
- Vagrant: a species that appears on an irregular basis and whose normal migratory and breeding range does not include New York State

The following was submitted to NYSBirds-L by Angus Wilson (Chair NYSARC) in reference to the Anhinga sighting:

From: Angus Wilson
Subject: [NYSBIRDS-L:3766] RE: NYC, Central Park, Fri. 30-Jun-2006: Anhinga
Date: Sat, 01 Jul 2006 17:46:25 -0400

To follow up on Ben Cacace's posting, only two NYS records of Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) have been accepted by NYSARC.

NYSARC#1992-40-A: one over Central Park, Manhattan, New York Co., 28 April (submitted by Joseph DiCostanzo). This is the first record of the species for New York.

NYSARC#1996-45-A: one at Cornell University Ponds, Unit 2, Town of Dryden, Tompkins Co., 10 June (submitted by Dennis Hasselquist). This is the second record for the state.

This has been a difficult species because most claims have involved birds seen in flight only. Several additional reports may well have been valid but suffered from minimal details and lack of photographic or multi-observer corroboration. I strongly encourage Ben to submit full details of his sighting and if there were any other observers, for them to do likewise. As with any rare bird report, it is imperative to carefully explain how other candidates species (in this case: cormorants, herons and so on) were ruled out.

Obviously, everyone in the metro area should keep a sharp lookout and perhaps check local bodies of fresh or brackish water, preferably with suitable trees and snags!

Cheers, Angus Wilson
New York City & Chair of NYSARC
Discovery details submitted to NYSARC for the Anhinga sighting from Central Park's reservoir in New York City on 30-June-2006 at ~4:20p EDST

Optics: 8.5x42 binoculars

Distance: Approximately 1,200 feet (0.22 miles) away. Distance determined by Google Earth's distance tool.

Height: when the bird was first seen it was rather low. Probably no more than the height of a 5 or 6 story building. It didn't climb very high before heading in a north-east direction. Only the ventral portion of the bird was clearly seen.

Color: the feathered parts of this bird appeared black from bill to tail. A Double-crested Cormorant always appears to me to be some variation of dark brown — never black. I was looking for patches of other colors on this bird but none were seen. No white was seen anywhere. No yellow patches, like a Double-crested Cormorant, were seen on the face.

Feather condition: since the bird was seen in flight & gliding at times the molt pattern was obvious. No feathers were missing from the trailing edge of the wings or from the tail.

Head & neck: there was a bend in the neck where the neck meets the body. Looking from the neck to the bill the neck became thinner until the bill was reached. I didn't note any color on the bill. Just that the bill appeared long & thin.

Flight: the bird was seen in flight only. It was circling up — flapping & gliding. When the bird set its wings after a short burst of flapping the wings were level like you would see on a Peregrine Falcon.

I stayed awhile after seeing the Anhinga to watch the Double-crested Cormorants in flight. The cormorants overall looked heavy and the cormorants never exhibited level wings when the cormorants occasionally glided. Whenever I've watched D-c Cormorants circling, after taking off from a body of water, the flapping was continous. I've never seen an easy gliding pattern in cormorants like I saw on the Anhinga.

The gliding in the Anhinga was easy and lasted longer than the flapping did. This flight pattern in the cormorants was completely reversed when viewing the cormorants after spotting the Anhinga.

The Anhinga's wingbeats came in bursts of 3—4 flaps with one lasting 5. I counted less than half a dozen flapping sequences. The Anhinga's gliding was effortless which is something I haven't noticed in a cormorant.

Tail: the tail was long. Probably as long as the length of the head & neck. A crude outline of the tail appears on my blog in the image of the field notes which were written down just after viewing the Anhinga.

Transcription of left hand page from 4th line down:

• Anhinga: very small head
• [Drawing of head & neck] bend in neck
• [Drawing of tail] longish tail
• [Drawing of wing] curve to trailing edge of wing
• Wing beats from 3-5 / then set very flat
• From NW edge of res[ervoir]
• After circling a # of times it headed N
• No white noticed anywhere; very long thin neck unlike [Double-crested Cormorant]
• Thin dark bill, no yellow noted anywhere
• Sun was at my back, I was looking SE
• [Drawing of wings] wings held very flat like a hawk

From the BIRDEAST archives — 3 Anhinga sightings reported to the NYC Rare Bird Alert:

NYC Area RBA: May 31, 2001: Mon. 28-May-2001, In Central Park [...] certainly the most unexpected report was of a female-type plumaged ANHINGA soaring over the park, going north on Monday.

NYC Area RBA: Sept. 22, 2000: Mon. 18-Sep-2000, Good hawk flights last Monday in the morning along the Westchester coast produced a nice surprise - a female-type ANHINGA, identified as it soared overhead for several minutes in a thermal with a BALD EAGLE and an OSPREY over Playland Park in Rye.

NYC Area RBA: Oct. 2, 1998: Mon. 28-Sep-1998, Certainly startling was the report of a bird believed to be an ANHINGA seen late Monday afternoon by a single observer as it circled over Prospect Park Lake, the bird eventually moving off in a northerly direction.


Bob Levy said...

Congratulations Ben. Most birders would have assumed it was a cormorant.

Ben C. said...

Thanks Bob. I wish you were there to see this bird. You would've picked up pretty quickly that it wasn't a cormorant.

See you around.


Donegal Browne said...

Excellent Ben, super eye and I know about those scrupulous notes of yours.

Ben C. said...

Donna, Thanks! and keep up the good work with the St. John the Divine fledglings.

Note taking these days is probably a bit more difficult with all the photos you're taking!

See you around.