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Central Park

The Daily Plant : Thursday, December 21, 2000


Starling photograph procured by Jeremy (Snowball) Peterson

Sara (Ovenbird) Elliot, an avid birder and 32 time attendee at the Central Park Christmas Bird Count described the count last Sunday December 17th as follows: “the strangest count, the weirdest birds, the worst weather and the most stalwart birders.” And she should know. 16 of her 32 years, she’s organized the count, overseeing a community of experts and novices. Her job, she says, is to welcome everyone who wishes to participate and find a role for them. Last Sunday that role involved turning up at Central Park at 8 a.m. with a pad, pencil, Geiger counter, telescope, tally chart and, in this case, heavy duty rain gear. In a torrential downpour, 37 volunteers scouted behind branches and in the bushes for White-throated Sparrows and Ruddy Ducks, and the 56 other species on their charts.

Central Park was split into 7 regions for the count: NE, NW, the Reservoir, the Great Lawn, the Ramble, SE, and SW. Counters were assigned to each region, with Urban Park Rangers helping them navigate the park and accurately identify species. In all, 6,649 birds were counted and 54 species identified. That’s two more species and many more birds than any previous year. A few species made headlines. 771 Herring Gulls were spotted, far more than in any previous year. Two Tree Sparrows were spotted but could not be confirmed. Bird Count regular, David Krauss and his partner sighted an Iceland Gull that unfortunately disappeared before the rest of the interested crowd could have a look. Cormorants were on the tally sheet for the first time ever this year, but in spite of frequent sightings in the last few weeks, none made a show on Sunday.

Of particular interest to Sunday’s counters were New York’s resident birds. Typically, Pigeons, Sparrows, and Starlings make up at least 40% of the count. With their food sources scarce after spraying for the West Nile Virus it was unclear whether these birds would have diminished in number. Counters waited in suspense for the tallies to come in.

The Starling count decreased radically from last year. Several birders, despite their love of winged things, quietly applaud the drop in numbers. Apparently, Starlings have a foul reputation among experts. Also known as the Mafia of the bird world, Starlings drive woodpeckers from their homes, resorting to violent tactics to wrest the holes from them. Members of Commissioner Henry J. (StarQuest) Stern’s staff, Jeremy (Snowball) Peterson, Johnny (Wagster) Swagerty, Tyler (Twister) Thorn, and Emily (Dancer) Tucker, affectionately referred to as the Starlings, were displeased to learn the brutal truth that Starlings, with bills too weak to make their own nests, use their bills instead to tap woodpeckers at the base of their skull repeatedly until the woodpeckers relinquish their holes.

Starlings were first introduced to North America in Central Park by a wealthy New York socialite, Eugene Schieffelin. He believed that because a line from Shakespeare references the bird, Central Park would benefit from their elevated presence. Theirs and the presence of every single bird mentioned by the Bard. At first it seemed the introduction of Starlings would fail. Schieffelin tried twice in 1890 and the Starlings never took hold. When for the third time, he released 80 Starlings into the Shakespeare Garden, they spread out to Long Island, up and down the Eastern coast, across the country to California, and down into Mexico. Today, as a result of that release, one third of the world’s Starling population resides in North America.

After the wet count, Commissioner Stern welcomed bedraggled counters to the Arsenal. for the final tally reception, organized by Jill (Mainsail) Mainelli and Kate (Kifaru) Mini. Rangers Richard (Lionheart) Simon, Gary Rozman, Linda Miller, Trish (Jewelweed) Auro, Perry (Kestral) Wargo, Julie Berman, and Kate (Kifaru) Mini and Americorps Members Jonah Misterka, Katiria Irvera, Nick Molinari, Adrian Romanski, and Erin Copeland were a great help for the counters in the park, as well as serving food at the reception.

Thankfully, Sunday’s tallies proved informative and the marks un-dimpled.

THIRTEEN YEARS AGO IN THE PLANT (Thursday, December 24, 1987)


Calendar year 1987 was a year in which many new and innovative programs were added to an already long line of successful Maintenance and Operations (M&O) initiatives, reports Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Robert Russo. Three new kinds of special maintenance projects were begun to increase the productivity of Parkies out in the field: the “5x5” Clean-up and Repair Projects. “1x1” Winter Work Days and Inclement Weather Day work plans.


“The palm at the end of the mind, Beyond the last thought, rises... A gold-feathered bird Sings in the palm.”

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

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