A Wild Barred Owl Is Not A Celebrity

On November 17th, The New York Times published a poorly researched article by Lisa M. Collins, where David Barrett and Bob DeCandido proclaimed a Barred Owl currently in Central Park, the next Mandarin Duck.  The Manhattan birding community was appalled at the exploitation of a nocturnal owl, which will now be disturbed daily by crowds of individuals and exploited during the night by tours using a search light and recordings.

(A few years ago, I expressed my displeasure with David and Bob, when a Great Horned Owl was harassed.  My opinions are still the same.)

The general consensus about owls is not to talk about their locations.  This rule sensibly puts the welfare of the owl before the desire of the general public to see a bird.  The reason is simple.  Owls are nocturnal and need their rest but are also irresistible to humans, who without any regard for their welfare, will flock to their roosts to see them.

One messaging group I belong to has a sensible rule, you can’t share a location of an owl to the group, but you can share the park where the owl is located and then communicate one-on-one via private messaging to discuss the specifics.  This way, the person reporting the owl takes responsibility for the welfare of the owl they found, and in many cases actually monitors the behavior of the people he/she shared the owl location with.

On the surface this may seem elitist, but it isn't.  It is simply the only way to put the welfare of the owl before the public's desire to see one in the wild.

(By the way, I’m not perfect on this subject.  I don’t publish pictures of owls whose locations aren’t common knowledge until after they leave the area or until their young are safely off a nest.  But I do publish photos and video of owls whose locations are commonly known, which I did with this now highly publicized Barred Owl, and may have contributed to its getting celebrity status.)

The New York Times article was basically an ad for Bob DeCandido's walks and David Barrett's Twitter feed, without much fact checking.  Dennis Hrehowsik's counter arguments were on target, but Ms. Collins presented dishonest rebuttals.  Ms. Collins should also have also contacted either the Audubon Society, the American Birding Association or a Cornell Ornithologist to see if the exploitation of owls for fame or income was appropriate.  Birding responsibly requires following ethical guidelines, with the gold standard being the American Biding Association's Code of Birding Ethics.

Circular logic was used in the article and it needs to be challenged.  One of the quotes was "...Mr. DeCandido said. “Now there is E-Bird and Manhattan Bird Alert, where bird sightings are reported almost immediately.”  But this distorts reality. 

Ethical birders who post their owl sightings on eBird (not E-Bird, another typo which shows the sloppy fact checking of Ms. Collins), go to great pains to obfuscate the location of the owl they are reporting. For example, with two of the three Northern Saw-whet Owl seen in the park this month, the birders in both cases delayed reporting them, to protect the owl from stress.  They wisely puts the welfare of the owls over people's desire to see it.

And the Manhattan Bird Alert, which is managed and fully curated by David Barrett, and is not endorsed by any NYC birding organization, is the direct cause of the Barred Owl's location being reported and then harassed daily.  For Bob DeCandido and David Barrett to proclaim its OK to watch this owl because it is reported so quickly, while knowing full well that the reports are so quick only because of a Twitter system Mr. Barrett designed (where he adds owl location maps) is outrageous.  I know of no other bird alert system in the US, that allows the reporting of owl locations.

When David Barrett designed his alert system, most NYC birding organizations refused to participate.  Mr. Barrett advocated reporting all birds without regard to the impact that might cause.  Without assurances that he would protect sensitive species as required by the ABA's Code of Birding Ethics, they did not want to participate.  The impact of humans on owls is well documented in Brooklyn and Queens. Green-Wood Cemetery had a pair of Great Horned Owls abandon a nest due to human disturbance.  And Snowy Owls are regularly woken up and chased by photographers wanting flight shots on the beaches and grasslands of Brooklyn and Queens during the winter.

In the article, Mr. Barrett said "'This is the information age. People can report what they see,' Mr. Barrett said. 'You don’t get owls every day in Manhattan. In the middle of a city like this, it’s a reminder that there is mystery and beauty in nature, and we need to go see it.'"  On the surface this sounds logical but puts people before the welfare of the birds they watch. But it is Mr. Barrett who is allowing owls to be reported.  Mr. Barrett has chosen to encourage owl reporting, and permits it.  He edits and monitors all relayed posts, so he could filter them if he wanted to.  Anyone who believes he's doing for people's well being is a fool.  Most folks who know David Barrett, know that he's really more interested in getting Twitter followers, than helping folks explore nature.  There are plenty of beautiful birds he could be promoting, that won't be disturbed by humans watching them. And without the system David built, if someone sharing information about an owl it would go to at most a hundred people.  With the Manhattan Bird Alert it goes to now over 25,000. 

Also, his statement, "...You don’t get owls every day in Manhattan..." fails to address why they might be in the city.  The owls we see in Central Park are usually young birds or migrating birds.  Both are already under a great deal of stress, and have randomly ended up in a noisy park.  This may be the hardest time in their lives and we should be extra careful to protect them.

Both David Barrett and Bob DeCandido are quick to say, prove that having folks go see these birds is harmful.  I believe the on onus is on them to prove it doesn't harm the owl, as both of them are going against the long term ethical rules of birding. 

David Barrett is a competitive lister, who holds the record for the most birds seen in Manhattan for the last few years.  He built an alert system that puts him at the center of Manhattan bird reporting and has carefully mixed soft news, photographs from photographers happy to have an audience, and rare bird alerts.  It's a mix of the birding equivalent of "cat pictures" with some real news mixed in.  He carefully filters out any critical comments about his ethics, actively promotes "a report everything" philosophy, and makes it seem that reporting owls is the right thing to do with new birders. 

On social media, you can pretend to be one thing but when you look behind the curtain you find something else.  What looks like an official reporting system for birds in NYC is really just a honeypot to get David Barrett onto more birds.

If David Barrett cared about the Barred Owl, and wasn't using it to just to increase his subscribers, he would have at least published guidelines about how to watch it.  Watching an owl wake up from a safe distance at dusk can be a great experience and something David Barrett could have promoted rather than having people watch it all day long.  Rather than publishing the current location of the owl in the morning, David Barrett could wait until the late afternoon, so it could get some sleep before fly out.  He could remind people to not get closer than about 50 feet, ask people not to bring their dogs, talk to their children about the need to be quiet, have folks actually bring binoculars, etc.  That he hasn't, clearly telegraphs that this is about gaining followers and not about sharing a beautiful bird, while still promoting ethical birding.

If you think David Barrett is really providing a service for birds in New York, ask yourself why he doesn't use his Twitter following to raise funds for NYC birding organizations?  Seems really odd to me that he's doesn't use his following of more than 25,000 subscribers to raise some real money for the birds of New York.

The article continues, "Mr. DeCandido said the Brooklyn Bird Club [BBC] is wonderful in the work it does, but it guards the location of birds jealously. 'They’re like the Mafia,' he said. 'They keep things really secret.'"  To me, it sounds like the BBC is doing its job of limiting the impact people have on owls. And for those thinking the BBC is an exclusive "mafia" club, membership is $25/year, everyone is welcome to join, and their trips are open to the public. It just sounds like Birding Bob is just unhappy he can't make $10/head shinning flashlights at owls in Brooklyn. 

Bob DeCandido (who has a Ph.D. in botany, not ornithology, and for some reason was referred to as Mr. DeCandido by Ms. Collins), is to my knowledge the only professional bird tour leader operating in Manhattan, who operates independently. He is a great bird leader but unlike other tour leaders in the city, who are volunteers or work for organizations like the American Museum of Nature History or NYC Audubon, he isn't sponsored by any naturalist organization. Unsupervised, he tends to cut corners and flaunt the rules of the city parks in which he gives walks.  He collects cash on park property, often has groups larger than 20 (which requires a permit), and plays audio recording, all in violation of park rules.  He puts on great walks, but does so flaunting birding ethics.  His use of almost constant playback infuriates birders who are not on his walk.  Good birders use sound as well as sight to locate birds.  On days Dr. DeCandido plays tapes in Central Park's Ramble, no expert birder can effectively bird until his group leaves.

The article promoted Dr. DeCandido's owls walks.  These walks use audio playback for over 60 minutes to lure the owl in and then Dr. DeCandido shines a bright searchlight on the owl.  The calls that are played are territorial calls, and cause the bird to engage in aggressive behavior.  I don't understand why, given how easy it is to watch an owl fly out at dusk, anyone would pay to go on a tour in the dark for an hour, to see an agitated owl lit up with a high powered beam of light.

So, there were lots of flaws in the article, which skirted all ethical considerations with a "data must be free" and a "people must be allowed to see this owl" argument. This owl isn't a celebrity, should be respected, and doesn't need a crazy "Beatlemania" type fan base.  I would have expected more from The New York Times.

If you're interested in seeing owls in Manhattan, proceed with caution.  If you truly love owls and must see one, I'm sure you won't want to cause one stress or harm. You might want to skip this Barred Owl for now and let it have some rest.  But if you must see it, be careful and respectful.  Find an experienced Central Park birder for advice on how to watch an owl.  And if you do decide you have to go, wait until just before dusk as any owl doesn't need to be bothered all day.  And when it moves to a new roost, give the owl a break and keep the location to yourself.

And remember, anytime someone names a wild animal, question the motivation of whomever is naming it!

I’ve been thinking about a solution to this ongoing problem for some time.  Especially, now that social media and the eBird reporting system do make it so easy to report birds. How do we protect sensitive species from being disturbed and exploited?  The rules for protecting owls from exploitation work in suburban or rural areas, but how can they work in Manhattan, now that we have Twitter, and in Manhattan a weaponized form of Twitter, David Barrett’s Manhattan Bird Alert?

I have some thoughts… 

Mentorship   We need to acknowledge that the Manhattan birding community is partially to blame for this problem.  There are very few opportunities for a new birder to learn the basics of birding, including birding ethics in Manhattan.  Mentoring beginners has never been part of the core mission of any Manhattan birding organization.  There are a few programs for beginners, but they are generally oversubscribed.  By not creating these programs, we have created a vacuum which David Barrett and Bob DeCandido have exploited.  We need to stop being just frustrated and angry with these two individuals, but also work to remove the void they exploit.

(The issue of mentoring new birders, not only applies to this situation, but to solving the lack of diversity in birding.  We will only have a more diverse birding community, if we provide programing targeted at helping diverse communities discover the joys of birding.)

New birders and bird photographers can evolve into experienced birders, who bird ethically (and also support conservation issues, such as bird safe glass, habitat conservation, native plant gardens, etc., as well as providing support for local birding organizations, including rehabilitators) or into birders who don’t worry about their impact on the birds they watch.  It is the birding community’s responsibility to make sure this happens and is done wonderfully by many local bird clubs (great examples are the Brooklyn Bird Club (BBC), and most local Audubon chapters across the country) but isn’t being done well in Manhattan.

When discussing owl ethics, we often use sections of the American Birding Associations’ Code of Birding Ethics.  We quote sections 1b, “Avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger. Be particularly cautious around active nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display sites, and feeding sites. Limit the use of recordings and other audio methods of attracting birds, particularly in heavily birded areas, for species that are rare in the area, and for species that are threatened or endangered. Always exercise caution and restraint when photographing, recording, or otherwise approaching birds.” and 2c, “Share bird observations freely, provided such reporting would not violate other sections of this Code, as birders, ornithologists, and conservationists derive considerable benefit from publicly available bird sightings.

But there are other sections of the code, we don’t usually discuss, 2b “…Freely share your knowledge and experience and be especially helpful to beginning birders.”, 2d “Approach instances of perceived unethical birding behavior with sensitivity and respect; try to resolve the matter in a positive manner, keeping in mind that perspectives vary. Use the situation as an opportunity to teach by example and to introduce more people to this Code.” and 2e “In group birding situations, promote knowledge by everyone in the group of the practices in this Code and ensure that the group does not unduly interfere with others using the same area.”

So, it’s clear that the American Birding Associations’ Code of Birding Ethics requires us to nurture new birders and discuss ethics, but are we?  The answer is poorly in Manhattan.  This vacuum allows innocent neophytes to become disciples of David Barrett and Bob DeCandido, who both flaunt standard birding ethics.

The Manhattan birding community is responsible for this problem and we should face up to it rather than being sanctimonious.  We need to have better outreach to new birders.  This don't have to be anything fancy.  Just having more walks for beginners, in more locations, including informal "leaderless" walks along with a few Zoom lectures about binoculars, ethics, field guides, how to use eBird, Manhattan birding locations, etc. could help get hundreds of folks introduced to birding in the right way.  Even if we all we did was just introduced ourselves to new birders, we could make a huge difference.   In Manhattan, maybe because we have so many birders who came to the city already knowing how to bird, we've forgotten our need to mentor new birders.

If you need proof that this is a problem, just look at the differences between Manhattan and Brooklyn.  In Brooklyn, due to the numerous walks of the BBC, birders have been nurtured and mentored, and the reporting of owls is rare.  So, lets follow their example in Manhattan.

Birding by Twitter   Social Media has changed birding.  In the past, you had to do lots of legwork and do your homework to find rare birds.  Now you can follow a few twitter accounts, run after birds, and have a great year list, but not really know anything about birds or have worked too hard.  This causes odd things to happen.  I can be quietly watching a bird, have an new birder come up to me who I help get on the bird, have them share the sighting on Twitter, and then 8 to 20 birders show up.  On a recent walk, we found an owl (via crows, jays and a Cooper's Hawk) and a new birder without asking tweeted the location.  In five minutes, 10 birders showed up and what had been a peaceful encounter became a scrum.

As with politics and other walks of life, Twitter has become a difficult place to have a discussion.  In response, many birders including myself communicate on more private forums.  In Manhattan, this has left Twitter and Instagram without many senior birders to keep up the discussion about ethics, etiquette and the finer points of I.D., so the divide between the beginners and experienced birders has grown wider. 

I'm not sure how we regain control of Twitter, or if we can, but we should not just abandon it. And we need to be careful.  It's very easy to just fall into a pattern of just shaming folks, rather than patiently explaining how to do better.  Having civil discourse on social media takes a lot of effort!

I'm nostalgic for the long discussion that used to go on, message after message, on the old listservs about the finer details of identifying a specific flycatcher or gull.

Photographers Photographers have had an odd relationship with birders.  Bird photographers range from beginners to experts, and can be respectful birders or arrogant jerks with expensive toys.  I saw a lot of the later up with Barred Owl over the last few weeks.  But I also saw lots of respectful photographers. 

Taking excellent photographs can be difficult.  It requires the technical knowledge of how to use a camera, artistic skills, post processing skills with tools like Adobe Photoshop and then internet skills to publish one's work.  Photographing birds adds the need to know bird behavior, locations and I.D., so it gets even tougher.

I would love to see a mentoring program that helps turn novice bird photographer into great photographers who are also respectful birders. I don't think you can be a excellent bird photographer without being an excellent birder. 

In addition, birders need to give up their bias against photographers.  They see the awful behavior of a few photographers (flash, using bait, destroying habitat, etc.) and classify them as not worthy of mentoring.  That bias prevents many experienced birders from taking the time to mentor photographers.

The Barred Owl is a great example.  I saw lots of folks, taking lots of what I call yearbook portrait shots of the owl for a full afternoon.  While you can patiently wait for hours for the right light, and get the perfect shot, it doesn't tell a story.  To tell a real story about a bird, you need to study the bird and then capture the field marks, behavior and its environment.  For a Barred Owl, I love to photograph the wonderful "eyelashes", the cat paw like talons covered in warming feathers (unlike a hawk), catch a pellet being cast, capture it preening, get pictures of the owl stretching, take video of it triangulating on prey, etc.  You need to know your subject well to express it well in an image.

It's a fun time for birding photography.  With less expensive telephone bridge cameras (semi-professional fixed lens cameras) and new mirrorless cameras matched with lighter telephoto lenses, we're now seeing what used to be an "expensive boy with toys club", become a diverse group of individuals producing great work.

Most photographers are amateurs.  It would be great if rather than competing with each other on Twitter and Instagram, we helped document rare bird sightings, document bird behavior and helped advance conservation.  And if photographers could police each other's behavior, they wouldn't have such a bad name!

Government  We've got to get the Urban Park Rangers and the Park Enforcement Patrol to enforce regulations and we've got to get them to have an action plan for each time the Manhattan Bird Alerts turns an owl into a celebrity.  It would be easy to just tape of a 25 foot area around an owl each day, and then provide educational programs onsite. (For those counting, there was a Saw-whet Owl, then a Great Horned Owl and now a Barred Owl promoted on the Manhattan Bird Alert.)

These are just some initial thoughts.  I'm happy to have a civil discussion about this with anyone.

One last thing.  We're in the middle of a pandemic with a rapidly rising infection rate.  We have two or three owls species in the Central Park and at two roost location, I saw folks crowding together for hours.  Even with masks, this is risky behavior.  An owl isn't worth dying for.  Using social distancing, along with masks is a much better way to stay healthy.


Red Phalarope

A Phalarope was found in Stuyvesant Cove Park this morning and after much discussion was identified as a Red Phalarope.  It was an amazingly cooperative bird, staying close to the shoreline.  It as a life bird for me.

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Bryant Park Sora

One of the joys of New York City birding is its great network of birders who freely share their discoveries.  Another joy is the pocket parks of Manhattan that due to light pollution end up with an interesting number of rarities.  Yesterday and today, these intersected with a Sora in Bryant Park.

It was a tough bird to find, as it kept hiding in the undercover but if you were patient, you could get some good looks at the bird.  It was in the western section of the plantings just north of lawn.  It worked east and west before climbing up into a small conifer, after dusk, and may have ended up roosting there.

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Riverside Park Blue Jay Nest

I went over to Riverside Park this afternoon, to look for the Red-tailed Hawk fledglings.  I've been sent pictures of one of them who has been spending time on a set of terraces in the 70's.  But the fledglings can't be seen from the street.

So, after hearing some noise from two Blue Jays, I found their nest just inside the 72nd and Riverside Drive entrance to the park.

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A Yellow-breasted Chat Isn't Worth Dying Over

The "regular birders" have been very good about social distancing in the Ramble.  Many of us live around the park, and we use the park to get our daily exercise while also bird watching. We keep our distance from one another and find areas of the park that are sparsely used to explore.

However, today a Yellow-breasted Chat created a large crowd with many photographers and birders, jockeying for position to get a look and possibly a shot of the bird.  Social Distancing went out the window for an attractive but not all that rare a bird.  A park employee reminded everyone to practice social distancing, but the crowd quickly regathered.

I didn't know most of the people in the crowd.  Early May attracts birders who don't normally bird Central Park.  They come with the migrants.

Even with masks and staying six feet apart, a crowd of twenty to thirty people is a perfect place, even outdoors for the COVID-19 virus to disperse.  But many of the observers were right on top of each other.  It was like a paparazzi scrum, fighting to get a shot of a member of the royal family.  Folks, it was just a Chat!

As birders, we should believe in science and follow social distancing guidelines.  No bird is worth risking your health or your families.   Please don't do this.

 


Two NYC Parks Wildlife Unit Programs

The NYC Parks Wildlife Unit asked me to help get the word out about two programs of interest to NYC Raptor enthusiasts in NYC...

Citizen Science: Raptor Monitoring with NYC Parks Wildlife Unit

2020 Raptor Nest Monitoring Project

The NYC Parks’ Wildlife Unit is reaching out to outdoor, park-caring enthusiasts for help scouting for raptor nests during the 2020 breeding season. NYC Parks records data on raptor nests, such as red-tailed hawks, cooper’s hawks, American kestrels, and others, found in or adjacent to park property. We are looking to recruit some additional eyes to scout throughout the city, especially in the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island (Northern Manhattan and Prospect Park, Brooklyn are already very well covered). Your assistance will be useful in creating a vivid picture of where birds of prey are nesting in NYC. This information will also be helpful for future conservation and education efforts conducted by NYC Parks and our partner agencies and organizations. We know you are already outside enjoying the outdoors and caring for Parks, we would love to put some of your observations to good use.

Scouts will be asked to:

  • commit to exploring an area of their choice to scout for nesting raptors, February through June 2020
  • participate in an online training session to learn more about the project
  • if a nest is found, scouts can commit to monitor the nest and send in weekly observations
  • strictly follow wildlife viewing ethics, to be discussed during training session

If interested in participating, please email or call. Also contact us with any additional questions.

Sunny Corrao Public Engagement Associate
NYC Parks’ Wildlife Unit
212-360-1447
[email protected]



Also note an upcoming raptor scouting session:

Citizen Science Raptor Nest Scouting Day
When: Saturday, March 14; 11:00 a.m.

Meet at the Greenbelt Nature Center; 700 Rockland Avenue; Staten Island

NYC Parks’ Wildlife Unit collects information regarding location and success of nesting birds of prey throughout NYC. Participate in our citizen science project and scout areas to find active nests around the Greenbelt in Staten Island. NYC Parks’ staff will provide basic training and binoculars to borrow, for those that need it. Pre-registration is preferred. To register or for more information please contact Public Engagement Associate Sunny Corrao by email or phone: [email protected] or 212-360-1447.


Bryant Park American Woodcock

There is an American Woodcock who appears to be over wintering in Bryant Park.  Today it was just north of the Bryant Park Grill, in a small garden.  Nearby was a Song Sparrow.

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Congradulations NYC Audubon

After years of research and lobbying, NYC Audubon, along with a consortium of partners has gotten Initiative 1482B, the Bird Safe Glass Bill passed and sent off to the mayor, who is expected to sign the bill into law.  NYC Audubon's press release is here.

I'm so proud of the staff, board and members of NYC Audubon.  This has been years in the making and included the extensive documentation of bird fatalities by scores of volunteers of Project Safe Flight who created the D-bird database.  The hard work has paid off.

 


Inwood Hill Seal

At the north end of Manhattan, Inwood Hill Park has been the host of a Harbor Seal this summer.  Seals have used the same location in the past, and this may be the same seal that was at the park last year.  This seal is tagged on the right hind flipper and the number is 205 on a yellow tag with black letters.  The number is a bit worn and could be 295, but it's unlikely. 

This year's seal likes to come ashore near people, which makes it difficult at times to stay 50 yards away from the animal, as recommended by NOAA Fisheries guidelines.  I kept having to move farther back has it came closer to shore.

On Facebook's Inwood Times page, Donnalyn Carfi posted the following information.

For anyone that is interested in the Inwood seal, I heard from Mystic Aquarium see below:

I just received some photos today that are nice and clear images of the tag. So it is confirmed to be #205. This is indeed a seal that our Animal Rescue Program has rehabilitated. He was originally rescued in May 2017 in Scarborough, ME by an organization called the Marine Mammals of Maine. He was considered to be an abandoned pup and about one week old when he was admitted. He did well in rehab and we were able to release him in Charlestown, RI in October 2017. His name while in rehab was Bluebell.

I forwarded a link to my photos to Marine Mammals of Maine, and got a nice note back from their Executive Director, Lynda Doughty.  She shared that the seal was reported to them on 5/25/2017 and that he was rescued on 5/26/2017. He was stabilized and triaged at their center and transported to Mystic on 5/28/2017.

If you're enjoying Bluebell, I'm sure Marine Mammals of Maine or Mystic Aquarium would love a donation to thank them for their rehabilitation efforts!

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Hatch Watch

I've been looking at nests near Central Park and haven't seen any sign of hatches.  I've looked at 927 Fifth Avenue, 350 Central Park West, St. John the Divine, and 100th Street and Third Avenue.  (Since early feedings are about two hours apart and the parents still sit on top of the new hatched eyasses, there is a possibility any of these nests has hatched without me knowing.)

I look forward to taking another look this weekend at these nests.  Below are two pictures of the 350 Central Park West nest and two pictures of the 100th Street and Third Avenue nest.

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Enjoying Pale Male

The week of Valentine's Day is the unofficial start of hawk watching season in New York City.  Hawks who have been doing minor nest refurbishment since January, now start to copulate and getting ready for egg laying in mid to late late March.  I gave a talk on Pale Male last year and thought it might be helpful to share some of the slides as a primer on what is going to happen over the next six months.

I encourage anyone who hasn't watched a Red-tailed Hawk nest to do so this year.  It's incredibly enjoyable.  The "hawk bench", were the best viewing is from, is just next to the Hans Christian Andersen statue on the west side of the Model Boat Pond. And if you aren't near the Fifth Avenue nest, there are many alternative nests to choose from in New York, as well as may other locations throughout the country.

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Pocket Parks

New York City has lots of smaller parks.  The smallest are called Pocket Parks and are small areas next to large buildings which got a zoning variance in exchange for the park.  At any time in the year, these parks can contain an unusual bird or two.  They often have lingering birds staying over the winter.  They're always worth checking, if you are by one.  Today, I got to see a pair of Brown Thrashers in a pocket park just east of Sixth Avenue between 46th and 47th.

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Riverside Park Evening Grosbeak

I went up to Riverside Park today and had a very enjoyable time watching a sometimes cooperative and sometimes not so cooperative male Evening Grosbeak.  Common further upstate, this is a rare bird for Manhattan, but one I got to see a few weeks ago in Central Park.  I love watching any grosbeak eat.  They separate the food from the seeds or with grains the chafe. 

I'd also like to thank the many birders who came up to me and thanked me for bring up some of the ethical issues we're having in Manhattan.  It made me feel reassured that as a community we can minimize the impact we have on birds, and keep our generous sharing of information and images from being co-opted for the personal gain of others.  Birding is a lot of fun, and no one should get in the way of that joy.

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#nobirdcp

In most counties and states across America there is a bird alert system, generally based on an email listserv or yahoo group.  They're generally sponsored and monitored by a local birding group or the local Audubon Society. 

In New York City, there were and still are a variety of services which are a little difficult to use.  So, David Barrett, as an individual set up a wonderful Twitter based Manhattan Bird Alert as an alternative to some older systems.  David's Manhattan Bird Alert filled a void and was adopted by most Manhattan birders. I also enjoyed David re-posting some of my photos and videos.

But as David gained many followers on Twitter due to the notoriety of the vagrant escaped Mandarin Duck, something changed.  What had been great, over the last month has diverged from its original mission and

1) Started advertising T-Shirts.

2) Promoted commercial Owl Walks that point flashlights at owls and use excessive audio playback.  Owls are very easy to watch in New York City, so there is absolutely no need to resort to invasive methods of observation.

3) Reported owls with exact locations, which resulted in the over birding of some owls, especially a specific Northern Saw-whet Owl.  David's guidelines say post about any bird including all owls.  There needs to be some limits, just as there are on most alert systems.  At a minimum some rules on reporting exact locations of nesting birds, smaller owls and Snowy Owls.

4) Promoted the feeding of ducks on The Pond, which is against Park regulations, is unhealthy for the ducks and ends up supporting the rodent population.  If any duck on The Pond really needs to get fed, it is not a wild bird. It should be captured and put in an appropriate bird sanctuary.

So, for 2019 I think it is time to return to an alert systems that simply provides alerts, without any advertising or promotions, and which has a well thought out set of guidelines on what is appropriate to post. Ideally, the system should also require an opt-in to the posting guidelines before allowing users to post sightings.

Since it doesn't look like David is interested in going back to a simple alert system with some reasonable posting guidelines, I've stopped following the Manhattan Bird Alert and will no longer post using the #birdcp tag.

I'm sure the system will live on without me, but at least I won't feel like I'm participating in a site that uses my sightings or photography to promotes commercial products or unethical activity.  eBird already offers hourly email alerts, so I see no need to continue using David's system.

I know at least two folks who are talking about building alternative notification systems.   Please let me know when they're ready.  If possible, try to get your systems sponsored by NYC Audubon or any other birding group!  It would be really great if an organization with a long history of supporting conservation, could assist in setting posting standards.


Evening Grosbeak

Capping off what has been a wonderful fall birding season for me was a male Evening Grosbeak, found by Terence Zahner.  The bird was just south of the Green Bench in the north of Central Park when I arrived.  Nice to have a life bird in December!

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