On October 31st Eric Miller, reported a Virginia's Warbler (Oreothlypis virginiae) at Alley Pond Park Queens. The moment the word got out, I was on the phone with Eric. From his description, it sounded solid, but I made sure I asked him questions on what the bird looked like, how it behaved etc. Not that I was questioning the ID, I was trying to visualize what I needed to look for when I went looking for it. This was an excellent find by Eric, with only one issue. It was a single observer sighting with no photos.
The next day, many birders converged on the area and searched, I ended up spending 10 + hours looking, to no avail. But I was not giving up. Unfortunately, the gas shortage from Hurricane Sandy put a cramp in my plans and so I had to hold off on another search until I could get gas and make the time. Then came the Nor'easter dumping several inches of snow and creating even more damage. Finally, today I decided I was putting everything on hold and I was going out to look for the elusive Virginia's Warbler (Oreothlypis virginiae).
7 hours in the park with nothing much to show for it, but I kept on plugging away. I had just made it up to the green shipping containers an area near the challenge course and began up a trail when I heard a soft chip note to my right. It sounded warbler like and so I began to look for the source. It was quiet and nothing was moving and so I stood in silence and waited. After a bit, I heard the soft chip again and this time I picked up that it was coming from a clump of bushes a few feet off the trail. I was tempted to walk toward the shrub, but instead I stood still listening; after a few minutes or so, a warbler hopped out. At first, I thought Nashville, since it was in the shadows of the bush, but as it ventured out of the shadows, I saw how GRAY this bird looked.
Eric's bird, I thought. I quickly ran through my head the things my friend Tom Burke, had cautioned me about when trying to separate a Virginia's Warbler from the Western race of Nashville. The wings, I kept remembering...what did he say? No green or green tinge. I carefully checked the wings; no green, the wings on this bird was gray. I slowly lifted my camera in a manner so as not to alarm the bird and fired off a few shots. All of them missed!! The bird had moved. Swearing, I now had to find it since it was no longer in view. I stood quietly and waited, if it did not fly off, it had to be nearby.
Suddenly there was movement and the bird was closer but hidden. I waited patiently until it came out in the open, but instead of the camera I took another look drilling into my head what I was observing. Pumping of the tail (check), yellow rump (check), yellow undertail coverts (check), bold eyering (check), the wings, the wings...no hint of green. Time again for photos, this time I managed a few shots before the bird moved again.
I took several shots of the bird trying to get it from different angles. It was a busy bird and just like that it was going back into the far bushes. I reached for my notebook and jotted down some field notes, then I looked at my photos. I was convinced, this was the Virgina's Warbler (Oreothlypis virginiae) from October 31st. In my excitement, I called Eric Miller, then I as was speaking with Eric, I realized I should get some other opinions. From folks who had not seen the bird. Tom Burke and Shai Mitra were both contacted; after giving them some description and getting to them images of the bird, they both agreed, this was the real deal. I hope it sticks around for others to get it. This has been one elusive little fella, but now we have images and it will no doubt enter the records; an awesome bird for QUEENS COUNTY. Thank you again Eric for a great find! Here are some photos.
Virginia's Warbler, Queens, Alley Pond Park