Wednesday, May 27, 2009

June rarities

The following is a slightly edited re-post from the Comment section of a March 2009 post entitled "My least favorite time of year":

June is dreadfully slow when compared to the madness that is May, so most people take a break from birding during that month. But the track record for rarities in June is quite impressive.

Sandwich and Gull-billed Terns, each with only a handful of accepted records in CT, may appear in June. Wilson's Plover is another target, along with Black-necked Stilt. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck has shown a recent June pattern in the northeast. Arctic Terns, particularly first-summer birds, seem to 'peak' in the region in June. Mississippi Kite's best time is early June, although we may now have a breeding population in New England! Old World shorebirds are certainly possible, particularly Curlew Sand and Ruff. Fork-tailed Flycatcher seems possible anytime, June included.

Also throw into the mix the presumably failed breeders that sometimes wander their way to our area. Chestnut-collared Longspur is a fine example of this. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Yellow-headed Blackbird too.

The southern breeders on that list are undoubtedly more common just across the sound on LI, some much more so (for example, Gull-billed Tern breeds on Long Island).

I'm probably forgetting a few species, but those are the ones that come to mind.

June is definitely an underrated birding month. It can be very productive, especially along the coast. Most people are just so exhausted from their full-tilt May birding that they don't get out much in June.

If anybody else can think of other June rarities, go ahead and post a comment.

- NB

24 May 2009 - CT Big Day; 177 species

Team: Dave Tripp, Fran Zygmont, Frank Gallo, Patrick Dugan, and myself

Preparation: We had set our date a week in advance as it was the only day all of us were available. Fran and Dave were able to do a fair bit of scouting the inland portion of the route. Frank, Patrick, and I were exceedingly busy and could only spare a few hours here and there for scouting coastally.

Summary: We met at 11pm at a Dunkin Donuts in Cromwell, all geared up for 24 hours of birding. Few things in life get my adrenaline going more than the few hours before the start of a big day. Our nighttime route included inland marshes and grasslands, where we were able to pick up some common rails, owls, and grassland breeders (including Upland Sandpiper and Grasshopper Sparrow singing at night!).

From here we were at the mercy of Fran and Dave, who strung together a fantastic inland route. While we missed some birds, we did pretty darn well. Before we knew it we were headed for the coast with 130 species.

I had crunched some numbers the week before and figured that if we left the NW with 137 species, we had a really good shot at the record. When we left with 130 I took a quick scan through the list and realized that the record was still a possibility, but we were going to have to get nearly everything on the coast. Still, this was very exciting for me, as I had never before reached the coast with the record in sight.

I was actually dozing off as we travelled down Route 8 when I was suddenly jolted by the sound of "POP....thudthudthudthud thud thud thud thud thud thud." Flat tire. Are you kidding me.


Gallo, back away from the cooler for two minutes and give us some help please!

Forty-five minutes later we were back on the road and all-of-a-sudden in panic mode. We knew we lost valuable time (something that wouldn't be fully realized until later on); we reached Bridgeport and quickly got the nesting Peregrines. Hey, maybe we didn't need that 45 minutes after all!

Then we went to Stratford... Stratford was, in a word, slow. Even the birds we did get in Stratford, like the lingering Glaucous Gull, took a while. Milford Pt was also disappointing, mainly due to the tide being much lower than anticipated. The heat haze was so brutal that we had trouble scoping the sandbars. Still, we got the expected stuff.

Once we got further east, things picked up a bit. Guilford and Hammo netted us some new birds including wonderful lingering waterfowl. We got Brown Thrasher at Willard's Island before the skies opened up. It rained steadily for a good hour, costing us more precious time. We could have gotten away with showers, but this was a steady (often heavy) rain with a good deal of thunder and lightning.

The day ended without us adding any new birds, despite trying for a few we really needed. Night session #2 got us a migrating Gray-cheeked Thrush but nothing more. Final tally: 177.

Analysis: There is obviously much room for improvement here. First and foremost, improved scouting, especially coastally, would have served us well. Also, ideally I would like to go on the 21st or 22nd of the month...a few days can make quite a difference at this time of year. The flat tire and thunderstorms also cost us precious daytime birding. If we had an additional 1:45 at the end of the day I know of at least 3 species we could have easily gotten in the southeastern part of the state, which would have brought us to the 180 mark. Also, if we had arrived at the coast at or before high tide, we would have had a better chance at shore/marsh birds. We could have birded Stratford more efficiently (and we would have, if we had been able to appropriately scout it).

Overall I can't help but walk away feeling disappointed. We certainly could have hit 180, which would have made me very happy. But we didn't, and we fell 9 short of tying the record. Maybe next year.

But of course I had a great time. This is a very knowledgable and dedicated Big Day team that should challenge the record of 186 in the coming years as long as we keep trying (and we have every intention of doing so).

Best bird: King Eider
Biggest miss: Hairy Woodpecker

- Nick

Monday, May 25, 2009

recount yields 177

Full report coming soon

- NB

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Final update

Tired and wet, we're done with 176 (pending recount after sleep).

Nick

Sent from my iPhone

1445 update

Fixed the tire, but set back. Slowly picking up common shore stuff.

160.

Sent from my iPhone

Flat tire update

Stuck on rte 8. Shit.

Sent from my iPhone

1045 update

Heading to the coast with 130. Target was about 137. The record of 186
should be safe unless we run nearly perfect at the coast. We shall see.

Nick

Sent from my iPhone

0800 update

Slow the Past hour. Some big misses like Nashville, winter wren.

110 or so

Sent from my iPhone

0245 update

Decent start, highlighted by horned lark, uppie, grasshopper, great
horned, bb cuckoo, swainsons thrush, whip.

17 species

Nick

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It's go time

Just arrived with the team in Cromwell for the start of our CT Big
Day. Hoping the rain holds off, at least heavy stuff. Inclement
weather could ground migrants for us, so I'm liking The forecast. I'll
try to update from the field as the day goes on!

Nick

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, May 7, 2009

upcoming Big Day

For the past few years I've done a May BIG DAY in Connecticut with various folks. It has always been a blast no matter what our total. Here's a quick summary:

25 May 2006 - 157 species (with Danny Williams)
20 May 2007 - 173 species (with Danny Williams, EJ Raynor, Elliott Ashe)
26 May 2008 - 169 species (with Frank Gallo, Roy Harvey, Jerry Connolly, Randy Domina)

None of these days were "world series"-like efforts. Scouting was minimal. This year Frank Gallo, Patrick Dugan, Dave Tripp, and Fran Zygmont were kind enough to invite me to join them for a run at the record. What is the CT record you ask? 186, set on May 20, 1994 by E.Hagen, B.Devine, B.Root, M.Szantyr, C.Wood, G.Hanisek.

This year's effort will be greater than any I have been a part of. Tripp and Zygmont know the northwest corner like the back of their hands, which is key for picking up scarce breeding species. Frank, Patrick, and I will add our knowledge of the coastline.

We will have one big drawback however: scouting. Only one of us will have enough free time to do a significant amount of birding in the two weeks before the day. We're going to rely heavily on reports to CTBirds to nail down those hard-to-get species.

Our day will be over Memorial Day weekend, depending on weather and other variables. Maybe a touch late...I would prefer, say, May 22nd or so. But that's all we can do with our schedules. Wish us luck.

- Nick