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Team Sapsucker Finds 106 Species in Manhattan for Big Day 2022

By Hugh Powell
Watch this quick video recap with highlights and photos from the day.

Congratulations to Team Sapsucker for surpassing their 2022 Big Day goal of 100 species during the Cornell Lab’s biggest conservation fundraiser of the year! Birding from about 4 a.m. until just after sunset on May 14, 2022, the Cornell Lab team—Jessie Barry, Jenna Curtis, Andrew Farnsworth, Ian Owens, Heather Wolf, and Chris Wood—found an amazing 106 species in Manhattan. They completed the Big Day using only foot power (racking up more than 15 miles of walking), subway rides, and two end-of-day rideshares.

The day got started in the pre-dawn darkness at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park, as the team listened through a cacophony of American Robins to hear a flyover Swainson’s Thrush, along with waking Gray Catbirds and American and Fish Crows. As dawn broke, they added two Spotted Sandpipers and a Wood Duck.

five people wearing binoculars, watching birds in a park
Team Sapsucker birding in Central Park in the morning of Big Day. L to R: Heather Wolf, Chris Wood, Andrew Farnsworth, Jenna Curtis, Jessie Barry. (Ian Owens not pictured). Photo courtesy Team Sapsucker.

They spent the next 8 hours birding Central Park. Even though it was a rather quiet day for migrating songbirds (just 35,700 migrants had crossed Manhattan that night, according to BirdCast), the Sapsuckers still managed to pull 20 species of warblers out of the Central Park foliage, including lots of Northern Parulas, plus Cape May, Blackpoll, Prairie, Canada, Hooded, and Bay-breasted Warblers. They were also treated to a real park rarity, an accommodating Bicknell’s Thrush found earlier in the week. With hordes of other birders around the park, the team even got to join up with longtime Central Park local Christian Cooper to enjoy the warbler show together.

By noon they were riding the A train 7 miles north to Inwood Hill Park, where in a classic stroke of Sapsucker serendipity, the team spotted a distant Mississippi Kite wheeling against a dark cloud above the Palisades, several hundred miles outside of its typical range. They also scored a Pileated Woodpecker here—a common enough bird in the forested Northeast, but extremely scarce in Manhattan.

Late afternoon arrived with several intense downpours and steadier rain, seeing the team pick up a lingering Red-throated Loon at Randalls Island, just a short hop from the bustle of LaGuardia airport. Covering several miles on foot, they added a few other species including Laughing Gull, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and a large flock of Brant.

black-and-white photo of five birdwatchers standing on a waterfront looking over the water
Imagine picking out an Arctic Tern among Common Terns in a scene like this one! Team Sapsucker birds through the rain at the end of the day in Manhattan. Photo courtesy Team Sapsucker.

Generally soaked and sore-footed, the team decided to make a run for the southern tip of Manhattan and ended the day at the Battery, within sight of the Statue of Liberty. Despite some fog they had a spectacular view of the harbor as a Red-breasted Merganser flew past and a Whimbrel (rare for Manhattan ) whipped past Governor’s Island toward Liberty State Park. Common Terns from the colony at Governor’s Island were  foraging offshore, and in among them was a very similar, but longer-tailed, gray-bodied, and paler-winged Arctic Tern. This very rare sighting was part of an unprecedented movement of the species into the interior of the Northeast that had begun the previous day.

Andrew Farnsworth, a Team Sapsucker member who has lived in Manhattan for many years, noted, “Of all my days birding this city, this is absolutely in the top five of my craziest and most exciting [with] the juxtaposition of Bicknell’s Thrush, Arctic Tern, Mississippi Kite, Pileated Woodpecker, and Whimbrel” all on the same day.

The day ended at 106 species, 6 over the team’s goal and an impressive showing for a mostly foot-powered Big Day. The eBird checklists alone indicate the team walked a solid 15 miles (not counting distances in between checklists). And yet you can never see all the birds on any one day, can you? The next morning, several team members saw Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blackburnian Warbler, Least Flycatcher, and Brown Thrasher in just a couple of hours in Central Park—all birds they missed on Big Day.

You can review the final  checklist with all the sightings, locations, and notes from the day via the Team Sapsucker NYC trip report.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library