Birdspot. On the road. Drawing birds.

The top photo is a chipping sparrow. The bottom photo is a branch. Where the chipping sparrow was.

There are many pros and cons to an urban existence, there are many forms of entertainment to be sought in the park’s Ramble, and within one microcosm of life there are many different views on a proper birdwatching experience. There are often small irritations involved in identifying birds, especially in a public area. I am mostly bemused and tolerant of these, and generally find that there is a surprising amount of peace and quiet to be had. I love to think of myself as worldly and already-exposed to many subcultural quirks.

Yesterday, gentle readers, I was introduced to The Pisher of Central Park.

For a moment, let us revisit the art of the pish, just in case you have no idea what I am talking about. Pishing is a catchall term for the making of noises that attract birds to you, and is useful in some cases for drawing out a secretive individual or in bringing in a mob when you are in an area with widely-dispersed birds. It can involve pursing your lips and softly “spishing,” or can be a more aggressive, loud “Pshht!” Lip smacking, tongue clicking, or hand-kissing all fall into the same general idea. Taping is a cousin, but that involves electronic devices and prerecorded bird calls.

For a moment, let us avoid the obvious. Pishing is actively debated as to its merits and ethics. It is pretty straightforward that it has an effect on birds. All of the grey areas fall into how much, how loud, where (as in many cases, urban vs. rural), when (time of day, season), and for what purpose. Many people abhor it, many people use it with discrimination, and some people are just outta control.

There were a lot of birders skulking around the Ramble yesterday, and a Wednesday is a common day for group walks. Groups are pretty good at avoiding West Side Story encounters, for the most part. I was having a decent day, despite the numbers of people and the fact that it kept threatening to rain. The weather forecast had said a high of 68ºF. I had missed the part where someone tells you “not until 4pm; until then it will be 48ºF,” so I was a little cold, but I digress.

I was scouting some of the thicker tangles, chasing a shape that was probably a bird but that certainly had reminded me of an elusive Oporonis species of warbler. I was stock still, peripheral vision all electric and buzzing, with my eyes glued to a speck of movement in front of me, when I heard the LOUDEST pish I have ever heard. The effect on the understory was astonishing: robins flushed from everywhere, giving alarm calls, three blue jays swooped in and began scolding, and a flurry of smaller, more interesting birds flushed silently away into the realm of somewhere else. I jumped almost a mile, thinking someone was standing directly behind me. Within .75 seconds, all of my birds were gone.

Imagine my surprise when I realized the offender was, in fact, no where near me. Imagine my irritation when it became apparent that he did this incessantly. My jaw dropped open when I finally ran into him and realized he was leading a group and effectively teaching them that this was OK behavior. Now, finally, imagine my fury when this continued for about 4 hours. And yes, from an empirical standpoint, the birds outside of his periphery (namely, where I was, always trying to avoid him) flushed EVERY SINGLE TIME. Forget ethics, this is personal.

Of course, I don’t really mean to forget ethics. A nice rundown of codified behavior can be found at the American Bird Association site:

My bird list for the day, after the jump:

Location: Central Park
Observation date: 5/6/09
Notes: Partially with Starr Saphir & group.
Number of species: 68

Canada Goose
Wood Duck (one female at Lower Lobe)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron (3)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
LEAST FLYCATCHER (one seen and heard at the base of Strawberry Fields)
WHITE-EYED VIREO (one seen and heard above the Upper Lobe)
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
American Crow
Barn Swallow (3+ flying over Lake)
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
SWAINSON’S THRUSH (2 seen off Upper Lobe)
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Nashville Warbler (2+ singing and seen near Gill and Humming Tombstone)
Northern Parula (multiple)
Yellow Warbler (Point)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Humming Tombstone)
Magnolia Warbler (multiple)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (many males)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler (3 males seen from the point to Humming Tombstone)
Prairie Warbler (Point)
Palm Warbler (Oven, Cherry Hill)
Blackpoll Warbler (Cherry Hill)
Black-and-white Warbler (everywhere)
Ovenbird (everywhere)
Northern Waterthrush (multiple, Starr also had a late Louisiana before I joined group)
Common Yellowthroat
SUMMER TANAGER (1 male in a horse chestnut at the top of Strawberry Fields. Also
seen well by Starr & Lenore)
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow (Humming Tombstone)
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (1 in grass north of Humming Tombstone)
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (2 fem 3+ male)
INDIGO BUNTING (1 male Mugger’s Woods)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

3 Responses to “may 7”

  1. Wow, looks like you had an excellent day of birding in spite of the Pisher. So the first question that comes to mind is… how much of that list occurred BEFORE the Pisher, and which one or two were seen AFTER? And will he live to lead another group?

  2. That is a sweet day list, even for Central Park.

  3. I have run into birders like that. One time I was watching a Northern Waterthrush (possibly the first one I saw) wandering in and out of the brush at a migration spot. Another birder came up and asked what I was looking at. When I told him, he bent down and started pishing really loudly. Of course, this scared all the birds away, waterthrush included. The other birder just ran off after that.

    I’m not against pishing generally, and I do a bit myself. But one needs to pay attention to ethics (for birds) and manners (for other birders). In urban areas and hotspots, it ought to be used only very sparingly.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>