Saturday, September 13, 2014


Just back from a successful down-and-back run to Cape May for the adult WHISKERED TERN found there yesterday. Greg Hanisek, Phil Rusch, and Nick Block joined me for the chase. Weather was dreary but we made sure to arrive at 7am which allowed us to avoid the rain. Photography was difficult given the weather, but I got some stuff worth posting anyway. We enjoyed prolonged killer scope views while the bird was roosting on the beach and repeatedly watched it forage over the Bunker Pond, sometimes in company with a Black Tern. It spent the entire morning commuting back and forth between the beach and pond. We left Cape May very tired but happy!

Whiskered Tern (right) with Forster's Tern

During our only moment of sunlight all morning, the Whiskered Tern can be seen head-on in the middle of the frame, to give you an idea of what you're looking for among your typical autumn east coast flock.

coming in for a landing

left to right: Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Whiskered Tern

with juvenile Black Tern foraging over the pond

The bird was easily picked out in flight, as this photo indicates.

Amazingly, all three North American records are summer adults from Cape May, NJ (1993, 1998, 2014), although the 1993 bird later moved to Delaware.

 - Nick

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sandy Point (CT) shorebirds

Sandy Point in West Haven, CT is one of Connecticut's top shorebirding hotspots. Hey, stop your snickering! We do too get shorebirds here, I swear...

Jutting into the middle of New Haven Harbor from the west, Sandy Point is a small piece of sand and marsh that has a rather nice track record of rarities over the years. You'll never find loads of shorebirds here, but the quality can be surprising. Many of the point's best birds do not linger for very long, as one might expect for such a small parcel of land. Sandy Point has a reputation for being a great "drop-in" place for birds downed by weather or looking for a quick feed. The species composition here can vary greatly not only from day-to-day, but from tide-to-tide. Occasionally a goodie will hang around for a while, like the Snowy Plover found by Julian Hough that stuck for weeks in 2004!

Map of New Haven Harbor with three of the best known birding spots highlighted in red.

Last week Michelle Meyer and I took an evening walk out the point. A front had passed the night before with a healthy amount of rain in tow...excellent conditions for grounding shorebirds at a place like this. Sure enough at the tip of the point were two WILSON'S PHALAROPES and a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER. A quick phone call to Gina Nichol and Steve Bird had them wading waist-deep across the channel that separates the two sandspits. The four of us enjoyed fine views in falling light. In the few days since then, many birders have visited Sandy Point to check out these locally scarce species, which surprisingly lingered for several days.

Wilson's Phalaropes

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Other goodies have been turned up as well. An AMERICAN AVOCET spent two days, a second BUFF-BREASTED dropped in, and Mark Aronson had three HUDSONIAN GODWITS fly over but refuse to land. Also scattered were more regular species such as AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, RED KNOT, and PECTORAL SANDPIPER.

American Avocet

Red Knot (juvenile)

Taking a back seat to the shorebird diversity has been a spectacular concentration of Common Terns and Laughing Gulls in the harbor, which peaked at a combined 10,000+ birds over the weekend. I personally do not recall ever seeing a concentration quite so dense in CT before. Among the terns and gulls have been many FORSTER'S TERNS, a couple BLACK and ROSEATE TERNS, and a pair of CASPIAN TERNS that spent the better part of one day there. Alas, no jaegers nor Sabine's Gull...

 - Nick

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Giant Swallowtail

This morning I went to my parents' house in Orange, CT to help my father with yardwork. I must have scored some karma points with the nature gods because this GIANT SWALLOWTAIL was nectaring heavily in their garden, particularly on the Buddleia.

Giant Swallowtail
 - NB

Friday, August 29, 2014

Groton to Guilford, CT (Baird's Sandpipers +)

After seeing quite a bit of migration on the radar when I went to sleep last night, I got up early with expectations that Bluff Point in Groton, CT would produce a quality morning flight today. Boy was I wrong! Winds were essentially calm at Bluff at dawn, which resulted in a nearly non-existent flight. A flyby calling DICKCISSEL was the only highlight.

After bailing from Bluff I headed to Old Lyme for some low tide shorebirding. The mudflats at Watch Rock held a juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER and my first three WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS in CT for the season. Two GREEN-WINGED TEAL were also my first southbound of the fall, right about on time.

Down to Griswold Point, which upon arrival had some shorebirds working the flats, most notably a juvenile RED KNOT, a flyby calling WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, and an impressive flock (for the time of year) of 21 juvenile "Eastern" WILLETS. An immature PEREGRINE FALCON strafed the flats a few times, causing most of the birds to leave and not return, at least for the half hour or so I lingered after that point. As with my earlier visits this year, there was no roosting Common Tern flock. This location, when COTEs are present, is a reliable place to view post-breeding Roseate Terns up close. Not this year. There were a few LEAST TERNS hanging around, including two large chicks that have yet to fledge.

White-rumped Sandpiper

Peregrine Falcon

I took a spin through Hammonasset Beach State Park in search of grasspipers, hoping to run into a Buff-breasted. No luck with that, but there was another BAIRD'S SANDPIPER feeding in the "boulder pool" at Meig's Point. Otherwise there wasn't much except for the reliable LITTLE BLUE x TRICOLORED HERON hybrid.

Baird's Sandpiper

hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron - the lores are now yellow after being bright blue back in May

The last stop of the day was the freshwater marsh at Shell Beach Road in Guilford. There was no sign of the Wilson's Phalarope that had been around for several days, but there was yet another BAIRD'S SANDPIPER among the peep that soon took off by itself and headed west.

In all, fourteen shorebird species for the half-day...a very modest total for the date.

 - NB

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aug 27 - Fishing Block Canyon

Yesterday I was lucky enough to fish the tip of Block Canyon on a new friend's boat. It was beautifully calm in advance of Hurricane Cristobal passing well to the southeast with only very gentle 2-4 ft swells and no wind. We left the dock in Montauk by 2am and were at the canyon before sunrise. There was a fair amount of life to be seen, though not much bird-wise. The highlight of the day were the numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters, perhaps not surprising given that last weekend's BBC overnight pelagic to larger canyons further east produced Massachusetts state record high counts on consecutive days!

Cory's Shearwater  2
Cory's Shearwater (borealis)  1
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  20
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  71
Oceanodroma sp.  1

Common Dolphin 10
Risso's Dolphin 95
Pilot Whale sp. 15
shark sp. 1
Manta Ray 1
Portuguese Man o' War 6


Audubon's Shearwater

Audubon's Shearwater

Risso's Dolphins

Pilot Whales

Portuguese Man o' War

Portuguese Man o' War

shark sp. - If anyone has any idea what this could be based on just a dorsal fin, let me know!

Evening return to Montauk

  - NB