Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"Type 2" and "Type 10" Red Crossbills in Connecticut

The Red Crossbill is a bird species that is often referred to as enigmatic; this is accurate in more ways than one. This is a rather nomadic species that sometimes wanders long distances in search of food. Unlike your typical boreal irruptive species that typically move more-or-less south during fall/winter when their local supply crashes, both Red and White-winged Crossbills may move in any direction at any time of year in response to changes in abundance of their preferred conifer seeds. Red Crossbills may even breed in any season of the year if they deem their current food supply and habitat to be sufficient. Thanks to that complex situation, the species' movements can be difficult to predict even with an intimate knowledge of their biology.

If you think that's interesting, there's more. They are just as enigmatic with regard to taxonomy as they are with their movements. Red Crossbill is a widespread Northern Hemisphere species that occurs in North America, Central America, across Eurasia, and even into extreme northern Africa. Here in North America, ten different "types" of Red Crossbill have been described in recent years. These types differ by flight call and often by bill and body size as well. What this means in terms of speciation is currently unclear. Do some or all of these call types represent distinct species? Perhaps. How plastic is the call type of an individual bird? How long ago did each type begin to diverge from another? What do the genetics tell us about their relationships? Where does each call type occur? How much breeding occurs between these types where they overlap?

Today's field birders have two options. One...you can go on recording your sightings as Red Crossbill and not worry about what type you are seeing. Identifying a bird to type takes extra time and work (= hassle, to most people), as you'll see below. And, at least right now, there is still officially only one species of Red Crossbill to worry about anyway! Two...you can contribute to the growing knowledge of Red Crossbill status and distribution by identifying birds to type and reporting them as such to eBird. Option two is way more fun!

I don't personally care whether or not any of these "types" are given full species status someday. It is fascinating enough to figure out which types I'm seeing and, in the case of Connecticut where Red Crossbill is not a resident species, from where they might have come. If you do some reading on the subject, you'll see that each call type has a core range, particular pattern of dispersal/wandering, and preferred conifer species.

Here in Connecticut I began to take an interest in Red Crossbill types during the winter of 2007-08, when a sizeable invasion took place. My recordings along the coast revealed mostly Type 10 with a couple Type 3 among them. Fast forward to late autumn 2012 during another major crossbill invasion. Again taking recordings on the coast, where crossbills were concentrated as they moved in search of food, I recorded solely Type 3 birds. Indeed, Types 3 and 10 are known to be highly irruptive and seem to occur here at a much higher rate than the others, at least since folks have been going to the trouble to ID these birds to type. Pretty interesting that Type 10 dominated the 2007-08 invasion, while Type 3 dominated the 2012-13 push. Again, these were large-scale movements noted throughout the northeast and beyond.

I was intrigued by the reports of Red Crossbills in the vicinity of Benedict Pond in Norfolk, CT that began on September 10th. This location is a stone's throw from the Massachusetts border in northwest CT. People were seeing up to a dozen Red Crossbills and a single juvenile White-winged Crossbill over the ensuing days. How long they had been there, who really knows, as this is not a heavily birded location. A couple things made me wonder whether these might actually be a different type of Red Crossbill. First, the time of year. September 10th is a bit early for Red Crossbills to appear during a typical invasion year. Second, the location...far northwest CT only. No sightings along the coast yet, which is where invading crossbills tend to concentrate when they hit CT. Third, I had not heard or read anything on the interwebs about a crossbill invasion beginning anywhere nearby. Connecticut is usually not ground zero for an invasion event; you can often "see" the birds coming, as eBird reports pop up to our north or west and the internet begins to chatter about those sightings. So, your classic crossbill appearances in CT (such as those in 2007-08 and 2012-13) tend to go something like this: reports trickle in from our north/west, birds arrive in CT in Oct-Dec, and they are mainly seen along the coast. Since the Benedict Pond birds did not fit that mold, my interest was piqued more than usual.

I managed to catch up with a few of these birds on September 20th. Views were poor, but they were very vocal as they made a few passes overhead in groups of 1-3 birds. I was able to record three of these flyby's using my iPhone. Spectrogram analysis of the first segment revealed TYPE 2 - indeed different than the highly irruptive Types 3 and 10 that are usually seen in southern New England during invasions.

Spectrogram of Type 2 RECR flight calls; Norfolk, CT on 20 Sep 2016

The Type 2 Red Crossbill, nicknamed the "Ponderosa Pine Crossbill", is a very widespread type. It could conceivably turn up pretty much anywhere in the country. The heart of its range lies in the western United States, and it appears to be uncommon in the east. Despite its nickname, this type is also a bit of a generalist when it comes to conifer preference, although it does particularly well with hard cones such as those of the Ponderosa Pine.

All current eBird reports of Type 2 Red Crossbills. While hardly comprehensive, this gives us an idea of their distribution. Common in the west, scarce in the east.

There are no eBird reports of Type 2 birds from Connecticut. I am unsure whether or not there are any previous records at all.

A few days later I resumed analysis, this time listening to the other two, lower-quality recordings. One of the segments held more TYPE 2 flight calls, while the other segment sounded higher pitched and sharper. Spectrogram analysis of this higher-pitched call left me at a complete loss! I had no idea what I was hearing or looking at. Definitely higher frequency, as confirmed by spectrogram, but not a classic match for any type I could find in my own research.

I emailed Matt Young, resident crossbill expert/researcher at Cornell, for assistance. Matt informed me that this call was a variant of TYPE 10. It is higher pitched, like your classic Type 10 call with which I became familiar in 2007-08, but a bit rougher sounding to the ear due to the sharply descending part at the end. Fascinating. Matt notes that Type 10 is a particularly variable call type. And it is apparently the most common type in the northeast.

Spectrogram of Type 10 RECR flight calls; Norfolk, CT on 20 Sep 2016

Spectrogram of Type 10 RECR flight calls; Norfolk, CT on 20 Sep 2016

All current eBird reports of Type 10 Red Crossbills. Again, with RECR type discovery and the eBird revolution both being recent events, this is just a snapshot.

So, at Benedict Pond in Norfolk, CT we have two types of Red Crossbill and a White-winged Crossbill; that's wonderful diversity especially since we aren't talking large numbers here. I think the highest one-time count has been of a dozen birds, though who knows how many are actually roaming this area. The pine crop sure seems abundant enough to hold many more than that.

The winter finch season is still plenty young. We'll see what else develops over the next few months. I'll update this space as needed.

For anyone interested in reading more about this ridiculously perplexing species, check out Matt Young's Red Crossbill primer.

You can record these birds in many ways, but the easiest (for me) was simply using my iPhone. No accessories needed. All you need is a recording app, one of which is included with the phone, though it is meant for voice memos. I use an older recording app called "Fire" which may no longer be available for download, and I produce spectrograms with Audacity. If you make a recording and would like to do the analysis yourself, feel free to email me with questions and I can describe my process in detail. But if you aren't inclined to go through all that work, you can send your recordings to Matt Young, and he will help you out as his time allows.

 - Nick

Monday, September 26, 2016

Orange-crowned Warbler, Wallingford

I spent a productive couple hours at the Wallingford Community Gardens this morning. Highlights included an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER and a few LINCOLN'S SPARROWS.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Lincoln's Sparrow


Nearby Mackenzie Reservoir had 240 Canada Geese (no idea how many of these are early migrants versus local breeders) plus my first RUDDY and RING-NECKED DUCKS of the season.

 - NB

Monday, September 19, 2016

SAY'S PHOEBE in CT, 18 Sept 2016

Yesterday morning Jeremy Nance found Connecticut's first "chaseable" SAY'S PHOEBE. The only prior two records were nearly a century apart: a specimen from 1916 and a single-observer record in 2012 (Anthony Zemba, private property). Jeremy found the bird in the orchard at Trout Brook Valley, a ridiculously birdy and apparently under-birded location in Fairfield County.

This was my first day using a new Canon 7D Mark II body (with the same 400/f5.6 lens).

Say's Phoebe
Say's Phoebe

 - NB

Monday, September 5, 2016

CT "Big Day", Sept 2, 2016

As last week's weather forecast was clarifying itself, Friday looked like the day with the best bet to witness diurnal migration. I was itching to get out but could not come up with much of a plan other than giving Bluff Point's morning flight a shot. I had done some local shorebirding with sub-par results over the preceding few weeks, so I wasn't too excited about trying that again. The winds during the day were forecast to be 5-15mph out of the north, which is great for hawk migration, but that season is just getting started and figured to not be terribly exciting on September 2nd. It's not late autumn rarity season yet either. So.....what to do?

Determined to spend the day in the field, I wondered about trying a casual Big Day. Despite doing annual May big days for several years now, I had never attempted one at any other time of year. I actually missed our dedicated attempt this past May because I was in China (I swear I'm going to post SOMETHING on that eventually...), so I hadn't felt the logistical big day juices flowing in quite some time. Greg Hanisek and Frank Gallo were up for joining me, so we decided to give it a shot. No scouting, not starting til dawn, and very little strategizing...not exactly what I'm used to!

Of course there was still strategy involved - you just can't help yourself no matter how "casual" the day is supposed to be. Big Days are all about logistics (honestly almost as fun as the birding itself), so we couldn't help but talk a bit about our plan the night before. It basically came down to this: morning flight for passerines, shorebird hotspots around midday high tide, a bit of hawkwatching to pad the list at some point, and kicking around for mixed flocks otherwise. We made a few brief detours for one or two birds here and there, but it we were essentially just "birding" at known hotspots all day. For those of you who are not familiar with May big days, thanks to scouting of territorial breeding birds, you usually aren't doing much looking around to see what's there. Rather, you are looking/listening for the individual bird that is supposed to be at that particular location at that particular time. You either see/hear it or you don't, and you move on the the next target. It is incredibly focused and disciplined. You stick to both the schedule and the route. If you start "birding" during a serious May big day, you're making a mistake. If someone gets distracted and says "let's give it a few more minutes" or "let's just detour down this side road for a second," it is up to someone else on the team to crack the whip and say NO, unless you happen to be ahead of schedule (which is about as rare as a tubenose in Long Island Sound!!). This is counter-intuitive to birders, as we love to explore by nature. It takes some getting used to.

There was not much whip-cracking on Friday. It was not too difficult to stick to our loose schedule, but you'd still be surprised at how you can fall behind schedule without even realizing it.

We started at 6am at Bluff Point in Groton for the morning flight at the so-called "hot corner," which isn't quite as hot as it used to be, it seems. There was a decent movement...certainly enough to keep us entertained for the first 90 minutes of daylight. We had nine species of warbler here, two empids including a YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, flyby DICKCISSEL and PURPLE FINCH, and two pre-sunrise COMMON NIGHTHAWKS.

From here we ran directly to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, where both BUFF-BREASTED and BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS had been seen the evening before. Lucky for us they stayed the night and were feeding side-by-side in one of the grassy parking lots. A stop at nearby Shell Beach in Guilford netted us a LITTLE BLUE HERON, BROAD-WINGED HAWK, and GREEN-WINGED TEAL among other commoners.

From here we ran west for our shorebird and tern high tide roosts. The Stratford loop, then Milford Pt, then Sandy Pt (if necessary) was the plan. Stratford started slowly and never really improved. We began by missing the Stilt Sandpipers that were there the day before (and, turns out, were also seen early Friday morning). The warehouse pond did deliver with both TEAL, both NIGHT-HERONS, MARSH WREN, and a flyby tail-less BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE.

Milford Point was totally dead at high tide, which must have been the result of some type of disturbance as nothing was roosting on the sandbars. We did end up walking out the short spit at Sandy Point in West Haven, where we picked up some remaining common shorebirds plus FORSTER'S, BLACK, and ROSEATE TERNS among the throngs of Commons.

From here we ran east to Ecology Park in Branford for a short hawk watch. There was a steady trickle of common migrants and local birds. New for us were AMERICAN KESTREL and SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, and we cleaned up COOPER'S HAWK which I had missed earlier.

By this time is was mid-afternoon and we decided to head inland a bit to check ponds for waterbirds and powerline cuts and woods for passerines. These were mostly quick hits. Slowly but surely we filled in some big gaps, as we had not seen several "easy" songbirds. We're talking things like woodpeckers, wrens, grosbeaks and tanagers, etc. Our stops included Lake Saltonstall, Konolds Pond, Downs Road in Bethany, and Durham Meadows. We didn't get anything unexpected, but the beauty of Big Day birding is that a House Wren counts just as much as a Mourning Warbler, so you're pretty excited to find that first Eastern Towhee at 3pm.

Our final stop, at dusk, was the Quinnipiac River in North Haven, where we got our last two birds of the day: Spotted Sandpiper and Bald Eagle. The sunset was pretty spectacular too. We finished at 8pm with 127 species for the day. The ABA-rules record CT Big Day for the month of September is 131, and we gave that a pretty good run. We actually had at least four species in play if we decided to bird after dark (Virginia Rail, Clapper Rail, Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl are all likely in the right habitat), but we decided to call it quits, pleased with our effort and results.

Every Big Day has missed birds, and we definitely left quite a few possibilities on the table.  I'd say our three biggest misses were Wood Thrush, Pine Warbler, and especially Chipping Sparrow.

I/we had a blast doing this. My favorite part was probably birding places I never would have thought of visiting in early September, such as random powerline cuts in Bethany or North Farms Reservoir in my hometown of Wallingford. Perhaps I'll do the occasional out-of-season Big Day from now on.

sunset on the Q River
  - Nick

Thursday, August 25, 2016

BBC Overnight Pelagic - August 20-21, 2016

I'm just back from one of my favorite annual birding events, the Brookline Bird Club's August overnight deep-water pelagic, sold out per usual. Before sunrise on Saturday, August 20th, a boat full of excited participants boarded the Helen H in Hyannis, MA with Capt. Joe Huckemeyer at the helm. We set out for the canyons at the edge of the continental shelf some 100+ miles from the mainland under clear skies and light winds from the east. The seas were more comfortable than usual: calm inshore and a 2-3 foot chop on top of a hardly noticeable swell offshore. There was more than enough wind to get seabirds into the air, but not enough to make the ride uncomfortable.

En route to the canyons we passed over the Nantucket Shoals, known for, among other things, intense upwelling of cold nutrient-rich water that can result in pockets of great fish and bird activity. The Shoals really delivered for us on Saturday morning. After a slow trickle of tubenoses along the northern shoals we eventually hit the motherlode of shearwaters, with no less than a thousand around us at one point. We had multiples of all four expected shearwaters: Cory's, Great, Sooty, and Manx.

Sooty Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

All three species of jaeger were observed with Long-tails making a particularly good showing. Both Red-necked and a few Red Phalaropes were cooperative. Terns were well-represented including loads of Roseates, a Black, and a Forster's. Those on board were not sure we remembered seeing the shoals quite so birdy and with such fantastic variety.

Long-tailed Jaeger (second summer)

Long-tailed Jaeger (same as above)

Parasitic Jaeger in pursuit of a Common Tern

We pulled ourselves away from the "inshore" pelagics as we knew we had bigger fish to fry. We made our move through the relatively birdless shelf waters that lie between the shoals and the canyons.

Before leaving the dock on Saturday morning we met with Capt. Joe and came up with a plan, based on sea surface temperatures from Thursday, to aim further east than our usual starting point of Hydrographer Canyon. The SST (Sea Surface Temp) maps on Thursday had shown that Hydro Canyon was full of cold water with no temperature break at all, and one of Joe's contacts confirmed that Hydro held cold, green water on Friday too. But as we were heading towards the canyons, Joe pointed out that the real-time SST data he was getting on board had shown a significant change - Hydrographer now held warmer water that had moved in from the east. So we changed back to our original [usual] plan of starting with Hydro. As we got into Hydro, the water did indeed warm up to 74-75 degrees and turn blueish. In this vicinity we had our first AUDUBON'S SHEARWATERS of the trip, and a pod of Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins decided to bow-ride for a few minutes.

Audubon's Shearwater

Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin

We worked southward through the canyon and turned east to slowly travel the shelf edge. The edge here held several hundred Wilson's Storm-Petrels plus a few Leach's and the first Band-rumped of the weekend. The wind increased to 10-15 knots, which gave plenty of carry to the scent of our chum slicks. The Wilson's were drawn like magnets to the chum, and each time we laid out a slick it didn't take long to accumulate dozens of them. We were, of course, on high alert for the target bird of the trip: White-faced Storm-Petrel. With so many Wilson's around we figured it was only a matter of time...yet we couldn't pull one out.

As we continued east, Joe mentioned that we would soon be getting into cold water. Welker and Oceanographer Canyons, which were warm just a day or two before, had been infiltrated with cooler water. We decided to continue east until we hit the cool stuff to see if there was any life at the temp break or beyond. The water temp soon dropped to 71-72, which is not necessarily a problem if the color/clarity is good. But its color turned an ugly green - not a shade usually associated with the edge of the continental shelf around here, and signifying that this was shelf water that was being pushed further south than usual. There was no life in the green water, and it quickly became apparent that continuing to the historically productive eastern canyons would not be our best move.

Joe pulled up his SST map and suggested that we head back west into warm water again, but angle further offshore into even deeper water this time. Once we hit bluer and warmer water in late afternoon, we again found life. A distant pod of cetaceans was spotted breaching, which turned out to be beaked whales! After some searching we were able to relocate the whales and get some really nice views and photos of the animals, a pod of Sowerby's Beaked Whales...a life mammal for most on board for sure (photos being sent to beaked whale experts to confirm ID).

Sowerby's Beaked Whale

Sowerby's Beaked Whale

Somewhat stunned by the beaked whale encounter, we found ourselves again surrounded by
dozens more Wilson's Storm-Petrels and our focus shifted back to birds. It was time for more chum. A rather confused-looking Tree Swallow appeared alongside the boat and even hung around the slick for a while. Then, a flock of large shorebirds passed off the bow and we were treated to brief views of Whimbrel and Hudsonian Godwits on their long southward journey over the North Atlantic. It's hard to believe some of the things you see in the middle of the ocean so far from land.

Whimbrel flock with a few Hudsonian Godwits

Finally, at 6:30pm, the shout of "WHITE-FACED" came from the stern. The bird was already close to the boat, seemingly appearing out of nowhere as is typical for them. Capt. Joe deftly maneuvered the boat in pursuit of the bird, and it was well-seen by all. Joe knows the behavior of these birds so well that he nearly always gets us point-blank views of this species.

White-faced Storm-Petrel

With the first White-faced now in the bag, the leaders breathed a sigh of relief...but the birds kept on coming. With so much life around us, we decided to set up a chum slick here until dark. We had our only really nice views of Band-rumped Storm-Petrel at this spot.

As the sun was about to set, Kate Sutherland spotted a BLACK-CAPPED PETREL that made a pass down the port side of the boat. Amazing. Unfortunately the bird was in harsh light and not super close, thus was not seen by many on board.

We all enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets I can recall ever seeing on the water. But the action kept coming even after the sun went down. A massive WHALE SHARK approached the boat and put on a show for us, repeatedly coming right up to the starboard side. This was my third encounter with this species in these waters and each has been unforgettable. This one was particularly curious, almost playful. It seemed like it wanted to actually come on board to check us out. It was also larger than the others I had seen, this one probably somewhere in the 30-foot range.

Can you see the outline of this beast of a fish underwater?

Even in the dark we had a few surprises. Several large squid were came to the surface, and a few were caught by the crew to use as fishing bait. We netted a few tiny juvenile Mahi Mahi to study briefly before returning these ridiculously fast-growing fish to the ocean. We picked up a chain of Salps to hold in our hands while participant Sea McKeon educated us on these fascinating tunicates. A Wilson's Storm-Petrel actually flew onto the boat, disoriented by the lights, and was soon safely released by Kate Shulgina.

Kate and her new friend share a moment

Eventually, though, everyone went to sleep, with smiles on their faces, I'd like to think...(except for the crew, which fished very unsuccessfully through the night!). The rise of a near-full moon soon after dark was a stunning way to end the day in a truly incredible place.

We awoke Sunday morning to more storm-petrels around the boat, thanks to the chum slick laid out all night by the fishing crew. We had drifted 10 miles WNW overnight, which put us barely back onto the shelf just east of Hydro Canyon. Other than a quick glimpse of another Band-rumped and a few Leach's, species diversity was low, so we moved on. Joe angled us a bit further offshore again before continuing along the shelf edge to the west. We were still in warm (~74-76 deg) blueish water, but not as pretty blue as we sometimes see.

We were treated along this stretch to a few more WHITE-FACED STORM-PETRELS doing their pogo stick thing in pretty morning light. One bird was even spotted on the water next to a raft of Wilson's, which is rarely how we find them.

White-faced Storm-Petrel

Later in the morning we turned north, starting our ride home by passing through Veatch Canyon. Here we encountered another Audubon's Shearwater or two and a cooperative pod of Common Dolphins.

Common Dolphin

The ride back between the canyons and the Nantucket Shoals was predictably quiet, but the Shoals again produced jaegers for us. A couple more immature LONG-TAILS stole the show, and we had more encounters with the same four cool-water shearwaters that we had seen the previous morning.

Long-tailed Jaegers

We disembarked the Helen H a very happy group on Sunday afternoon. This annual August overnighter always seems to deliver something spectacular. If you're interested in getting out there later this season, you have not yet missed the boat - this same exact trip is being run on September 24-25. Check out the Brookline Bird Club web page for details and sign-up instructions.

trip route

Also, for the fishermen reading this, I would be remiss not to plug the Helen H for its fishing prowess. This boat is known for killer Fluke fishing (many people catch their personal best fluke from this boat), and offers fantastic access to the canyons for tuna (Yellow-fin) fishing from late August into October. If you're looking to fish these waters, there's no one better than the Helen H to put you on the fish.

 - Nick

Monday, August 15, 2016

A week on the Vineyard

Just back from a week on Martha's Vineyard with the family. Birding was sporadic at best, but I did get out a couple times. On Monday, August 8th, I birded the Gay Head cliffs first thing for morning flight. Things were dreadfully slow, and warblers were almost nonexistent. Highlights were five species of swallow/martin including Cliff Swallow and Purple Martin, which interestingly the first reports from MV this year for either species...though I have no idea about the level of eBird participation on that island. A few Red-breasted Nuthatches were presumably migrants, but again I am unaware of their breeding status on the island.

On August 11th I kayaked across Tisbury Great Pond to the flats on the south side of the pond, along the north side of the barrier beach. I was really impressed by the numbers, as ~1700 shorebirds covered the limited mudflats available there. Nothing unusual was seen, but a Red Knot, a solid count of 30 White-rumps, and four flyby Pec Sands were nice to see. Tern numbers and diversity were low, but I eventually turned up two Forster's Terns. Ten immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls were tallied among the more common species, a number that was flagged by eBird.

Other than that, there really was no birding. I did have incidental sightings of Black Skimmers and a juv Yellow-crowned Night-Heron during the week. And on the 10th we took the boat to Bonito Bar at Nantucket/Tuckernuck where several hundred terns were actively feeding. Diversity was better here, with five species including a single-scan count of 55 Black Terns.

Overall I wish I could have tapped into the island's birding a bit more, but that will have to wait for another visit. It's a great place for a outdoorsy person to spend a week with all that open space and some great fall migration potential.

 - NB

Friday, July 8, 2016

Migration heating up

This afternoon I kicked around Stratford and Milford Point for a few hours in search of migrant shorebirds and terns. Results were pretty solid for the date, as I had a dozen species of shorebird and four terns. The shorebirds were all common migrants and breeders except for the continuing RUFF in Stratford. More than a few peep and dowitchers were present to look at, indicating that migration is really kicking into gear.

Terns were highlighted by single CASPIAN and ROYAL TERNS at Milford Point. The Caspian was a quick fly-by, while the Royal was roosting on one of the distant sandbars. Also loafing on the bars was a first summer LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL among a mixed flock of young gulls.

Record shot of the Caspian Tern as it passed by Milford Point
So far this has been one of the birdier early July's in my area that I can recall. In just a few brief outings this month I have chased a Ruff, seen four Royal Terns and a Caspian, have seen good numbers of migrants for the date, and stumbled across a Snowy Egret with Little Egret-like head plumes (more on that cool bird in a future post). Here's hoping the activity continues and includes something like, say, a stint??

 - NB

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fall migration underway (incl. RUFF)

Well this must be as long as I've ever gone between blog posts!

Work, travel, work, travel...my last few months. Essentially zero local birding, and no Big Day either. But I have been birding while traveling - this includes over two weeks in China and a road trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I plan on catching up with blog posts on those trips, hopefully sooner than later.

But now I am back to a much more normal schedule. No big trips on the horizon for a while. This should mean more local birding and a return to a more relaxed summertime.

Speaking of local birding, the "fall" (AKA southbound) migration of shorebirds is off to a solid start. A few adults of the early-arriving species had already returned by the end of June. Short-billed Dowitcher, Least Sandpiper, and both yellowlegs were predictably first to arrive in any numbers at several east coast hotspots. Other highlights included a few different adult male Ruffs plus the first Whimbrel and Western Sandpipers of the summer. This seems a touch earlier than most years, but perhaps not.

Here in CT, Stefan Martin began the season with a bang by finding a RUFF in Stratford yesterday. Already in the area, I managed a quick detour to see the bird. This is the third Ruff in the state already this year, which has been a fantastic one for this species up and down the east coast.

record shot of the Ruff in Stratford, CT on July 1

The start of the "fall" migration always sneaks up on me. It's hard to believe that birds start moving south so early in summer, but the days are already starting to get a bit shorter :) No worries though...summer has just arrived and we have a few months of warm weather ahead.

 - NB