Sunday, October 4, 2015

3 Oct 2015 - Sandy Point

Yesterday I sneaked a late afternoon walk out a raw, windy, dreary Sandy Point in West Haven, CT. Not expecting much honestly, I was surprised to kick up several sparrows as I began walking out the base of the point. Among them was a nice-looking NELSON'S SPARROW. Getting the sparrows to tee up for more than a few seconds was a challenge, as they were driven into the vegetation by the strong winds.

Nelson's Sparrow

Further out towards the point a MERLIN strafed a flock of about 20 HORNED LARKS, among which were two LAPLAND LONGSPURS. The birds were surprisingly approachable once they landed, preferring to hunker down rather than take flight. I was about to photograph the longspurs when I ran into Tony Amato, who reported seeing BAIRD'S and WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS at the tip of the point. So I abandoned the grassland birds in favor of the shorebirds. We refound the sandpipers without much difficulty. The shorebird flock consisted of about 35 Sandering, 2 Least Sandpipers, 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers, a White-rumped and a Baird's. Not bad diversity there! Both the White-rump and the Baird's were juveniles and were also quite approachable. Nearly all of the Baird's Sandpipers we see in New England are juveniles, from mid-Aug to early Oct. Occasionally a late July adult is seen, but most of the adults migrate down the center of the continent. In contrast, most of the White-rumps I see here during fall migration are adults, so this juvie was great to see. Juvenile 'rumps are late arrivals at our latitude...typically appearing right about now.

juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper

juvenile Baird's Sandpiper

juvenile Baird's Sandpiper

Baird's Sandpiper in flight with Sanderlings

 - NB

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

East Winds for the next week

As of right now, the weather forecast is calling for winds with an easterly component for up to a week or more. East winds are generally frowned upon along the Atlantic coast during peak migration periods because they cause migrants to drift further west (*away* from the coast) as they fly.

But there can be a silver lining to these conditions. The first species that comes to mind is Northern Wheatear, a rarity that tends to appear in New England during mid-September. While we are getting towards the end of the "Wheatear Window," there is still time to bag one of these goodies. The current-and-upcoming easterly winds could make this more likely, as most/all of these autumn birds are probably coming from the Greenland-breeding population that migrates over the open Atlantic to points southeast.

We should also be considering European vagrants, particularly juvenile shorebirds (Little Stint? Common Ringed Plover? Curlew Sandpiper?). Wouldn't hurt to keep an open mind!

More likely, here in Connecticut, we can expect perhaps more Lesser Black-backed Gulls than usual (this is prime migration time for them), and should keep an eye along the coastline for seabirds that may be more likely to wander into Long Island Sound under these conditions.

It could also set up prime seawatching conditions on Cape Cod...

Let's hope for something exciting to pop up, because this easterly flow can put a real damper on the local migration.

*Addendum: Totally forgot about the most obvious shorebird in these conditions...Hudsonian Godwit!

 - Nick

Sunday, September 20, 2015

ZONE-TAILED HAWK at Lighthouse Point, CT

Last year, the adult Zone-tailed Hawk(s) that summered in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia almost certainly passed through Connecticut without being noticed, only to be seen on September 27th at the Cape May (NJ) and Cape Henlopen (DE) hawkwatches. At least a few CT birders were aware and ready last year, but came up empty regardless and were disappointed that we had missed it.

Fast forward to this past summer, when birders in Rhode Island had an adult Zone-tailed Hawk on August 15th. The sighting was a one-off, and the bird was not seen again. Still, it put local birders on alert to the bird's presence. We were ready again this year...particularly Julian Hough, who went through the trouble to personally alert the state's hawkwatchers to the possibility that it would come through again this year. Julian had missed the bird in Cape May last year by just eight minutes...

At 10:47 this morning, Liz Hill spotted a Turkey Vulture than ended up not being a Turkey Vulture. It was the ZONE-TAILED HAWK. Hysteria ensued as word spread throughout the park, which was full of birders of all types as today was the annual Migration Festival at the park.

Zone-tailed Hawk!!

In case you're, Julian did not see the bird. He was in his car less than 15 minutes away, on his way to Lighthouse Point.

 - NB

Friday, September 18, 2015

Unexpected photo finds

Every now and then while reviewing photos I will find something that I did not see in the field. This doesn't happen often, which is why I was surprised when I saw things in my photos that I missed in the field on consecutive days this week.

I spent a few hours on 9/14 at Lighthouse Point in New Haven to enjoy some hawk migration. I always keep my camera on my shoulder or at my side in case something interesting flies by or if a hawk makes a close pass. On this day there were many Merlins zipping around, one of which made a pass fairly low over our heads. I reached straight for the camera and fired off a few shots. It was easy to see, after the fact, that the Merlin was carrying a snack in the form of a small bird. Blown up, it looks to me like it's probably a hummingbird. I sent the photos to a few friends for their thoughts. One or two folks suggested that it might be something larger than a hummingbird, though I am not sure. Barn Swallow was suggested by someone who was thinking it may be something larger. Thoughts?

The following morning found me at Bluff Point in Groton, CT with a few friends observing a rather lackluster morning flight (~175 total warblers only). This is a difficult place to watch morning flight because you are planted right in front of the "hot corner" where the birds fly out. They are almost immediately over your head before flying away. (Note: there are other places to stand at this location, which I actually prefer to the place we were standing on this day. I'll save that for another post). You can't watch a bird coming in, think it looks interesting, and have enough time to effectively photograph the bird. Instead, you almost have to decide on binoculars or camera immediately. I knew that I fired off a few shots on some birds in flight without "chimping" them (AKA viewing the image on your LCD to identify the bird) because I was distracted by another bird. So when I got home to review images, I knew there was the possibility of a surprise or two. I was pleased to find two photos of a CONNECTICUT WARBLER, though annoyed that I didn't appreciate the bird in the field.

Connecticut Warbler in flight from below. Note the faint hood, long body, short tail, and long paddle-shaped wings

 - NB

Monday, September 7, 2015

More Willets!

I love this [sub]species pair. This morning I spent some time with these juvenile Willets, one "Eastern" and one "Western," at Sandy Point in West Haven, CT.

juvenile "Western" Willet

Stitched side-by-side comparison of juvenile Eastern (left) and Western Willets. The subtle plumage and structural differences are shown well by these two.
 - NB

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Norwalk Black Terns

I spent yesterday afternoon boating off the Norwalk (CT) Islands. It was birdy...terns and gulls were feeding in small flocks just offshore. Black Terns were very well represented, with at least 10 individuals among the more common species.

There is currently an unprecedented incursion of Cory's Shearwaters into far eastern Long Island Sound. Though I was well west of there, I spent over an hour setting up a fish oil slick in the middle of the sound in hopes of attracting one of these birds. No luck with that, nor with finding the Humpback Whale (!) that was seen off the Milford coast the afternoon before.

 - NB

CTYBC Shorebird Outing

On Sunday, August 30, I spent the day shorebirding along the CT coast with seven members of the Connecticut Young Birders Club. Everyone had a blast, and most of the boys picked up at least one life bird during the day. Shorebird numbers and variety were on the low side for the date, but we still saw some cool stuff. The continuing Marbled Godwit in Guilford was a nice get, and we had several juvenile Western Sandpipers too. But the highlight of the day came just as we were wrapping things up at Sandy Point in the evening, when Jory Teltser spotted a Buff-breasted Sandpiper arrive and land on the flats. Great scope views were enjoyed by all.

young CT birders at Sandy Point in West Haven, not long before a Buff-breasted Sandpiper made their day

I'm looking forward to the next field trip I take with this group!

 - NB

Monday, August 31, 2015

Aug 22-23 - BBC Pelagic Insanity

I guess we should be used to this by now.

The BBC August overnight pelagic trip never really fails to produce. With a couple of epic trips in recent years, expectations were high for last weekend's excursion. Somehow we managed to exceed those expectations on many levels.

I will leave the full-blown summary to trip leader Jeremiah Trimble, but here are some numbers for you in the meantime:

2 Black-capped Petrel (white-faced type)
28 White-faced Storm-Petrel (nope, not a typo)
23 Band-rumped Storm-Petrel
4 White-tailed Tropicbird (including two immatures over the boat at the same time...a rare age class off the east coast!)
1 Red-billed Tropicbird
17 Pomarine Jaeger (including up to five adults around the boat at one time)
1 Long-tailed Jaeger
1 South Polar Skua
1 Bridled Tern

And those are only the highlight species. Many of the more common storm-petrels, shearwaters, and phalaropes were also tallied.

I am working on getting out the eBird checklists, so I will be brief here. Below are some photos from the trip.

our track

WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS: (An adult on day 1, two immatures together and one adult on day 2, all of which came right into the boat)

Adults -

Immatures -









BLACK-CAPPED PETREL (white-faced type):




And a few misc iPhone pics!
leaving behind the gloomy Nantucket Shoals on Saturday morning

dramatic skies ahead of us to the south

co-leader Julian Hough is all smiles after his long-overdue life WTTR.

Saturday night sunset as storm-petrels, shearwaters, and jaegers feed off the stern

Saturday evening sky

Peter and Jeremiah admiring their work

Luke scanning the stormies

one happy group of leaders on the ride home Sunday

What's worth more...Doug himself, or the camera gear around his neck? Something rare better not fly by right now!!

Huge thanks are due to our trip organizers, participants, and boat captain & crew...we're not going to forget this one!

- Nick