After spending the first three days of the long Thanksgiving weekend in my hometown of Saugerties I decided I would spend Sunday morning in downtown Manhattan, specifically in City Hall Park searching for some recently reported rarities. Though I had seen four different Western Tanagers in New York and had seen one out west this year already I hadn’t seen one in New York this year. This thin justification was enough of a reason for me to get out and see the female that had been discovered at City Hall Park mid-week, a decision that was made especially easy considering that the park is easily accessible by subway. And, not only that, but an Ovenbird, a Common Yellowthroat, two Black-throated Blue Warblers, and a Yellow-breasted Chat had all been reported in the park in the last week as well. In November in New York that is quite a haul!


City Hall Park is a nice patch of green at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. Though the area immediately around the actual New York City Hall is off limits unless you have business of some kind there, the south end of the park and the path that runs between city hall and the Tweed Courthouse are both open to the public. And just so you know, the Yellow-breasted Chat in the picture at the top of the post wasn’t actually hanging out in the park proper, but in the tiny patch of vegetation surrounded by roads in the lower left corner of the above image. It’s been in that tiny patch of habitat for days!

Because I didn’t read previous email messages carefully I wasn’t really aware of exactly where the tanager had been seen. When I got off the train at shortly after seven in the morning I focused my efforts on the south end of the park in the largest area that is accessible to the public. Not surprisingly, seeing as it was the wrong location, I did not find the tanager. I did see a Fox Sparrow, a Swamp Sparrow, and the Common Yellowthroat.


Not a bad bird in November but a Common Yellowthroat is nowhere near as exciting as a Western Tanager.

Confused by my inability to find my sought after rarity I decided to make my way along the western edge of the park where more trees were getting hit by the early morning sunlight. As I did so I saw an American Kestrel buzz through a flock of sparrows and a Red-tailed Hawk perched high up. Then I found the transverse path that runs through the park and vaguely remembered reading something about the tanager being between city hall and a courthouse. Sure enough, I spotted the tanager taking advantage of some Yellow-bellied Sapsucker wells about a minute later. Score!


Now this is the bird I wanted to see!

Shortly after I spotted the bird I was pleased to see Anthony Collerton, who quickly pointed out an Ovenbird.


This Ovenbird wasn’t as confiding as some I’ve seen but it definitely wasn’t shy either.

After watching the tanager some more Anthony and I decided to go look for the Yellow-breasted Chat. Despite detouring briefly to see the Common Yellowthroat again, two minutes later we were looking at the chat in an absurdly tiny patch of habitat.


This bird wasn’t as easy to get good looks at as, say, the Ovenbird, but it wasn’t retiring either.


The chat was finding plenty to eat despite the limited range it had imposed upon itself.

Back to the tanager walked Anthony and I for another look. This time it chased a sapsucker and perched lower. Sweet!


All of my targets were checked off once Anthony spotted a male Black-throated Blue Warbler.


This bird was not cooperative at all. But I certainly wasn’t complaining. After all, wood-warblers in November in New York are awesome no matter how bad the looks!

I find it very amusing that within forty-five minutes of birding I saw more exciting birds within a tiny park than I did for three whole days in my hometown. Say what you will about big cities: they definitely concentrate the birds!

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.