Saturday, January 31, 2009

1/30 - adult Glaucous Gull (and ZERO Icelands)...

Took advantage of a rare free weekday afternoon and made a run to the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill on Friday, from about 12:45 to 3:30. Gull numbers were decent in the 2,000+ range. The best bird was an adult Glaucous Gull, clearly a different individual than this one from December at the same site. Yesterday's Glauc was clearly a larger, bulkier, and larger-billed bird with a blockier head. This is a rare age in CT, where nearly all birds are 1w. This has been a particularly good winter for this species around here...I've personally seen at least 9 of them (2 ad, 7+ first-winter).

I left the landfill shaking my head at the fact that I did not see a single Iceland Gull during my visit. Last January 16th I had 9 Icelands at the dump. This was actually my first-ever visit to the place without recording at least one!

Also present were a first-winter Glaucous and an adult Lesser Black-backed.

- NB

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thayer's Gull in Gloucester - Jan 19

While watching and waiting for the Ivory Gull early on Monday morning with a few other early risers, I spotted a Thayer's-like Gull roosting on the dogbar jetty at Eastern Pt in Gloucester, MA. It was quite distant and very content with sleeping, so it was impossible to ID with any certainty, but everything visible looked good for Thayer's, including an entirely juvenal set of scapulars. The bird briefly lifted its head a couple times, showing a rounded head and a dark bill with a pale base. The paleness of the bill made me feel a bit uneasy because most Thayer's seem to show a rather dark bill.

Digiscoping in such low early-morning light resulted in poor images, but this one gives an idea of what we were looking at.

Later in the morning Jeremiah Trimble relocated what looked to be the same bird right in the cove next to the parking lot where we had some great looks including a short flight. Jeremiah captured some nice images of the open wing.

Several classic Thayer's features on this bird: smaller than HEGU size (seen in the field), delicate head/bill combo, faintly masked face, entirely juvenal scapulars, solidly mid-brown tertials, and chocolate-brown primaries with thin frosty tips.

In speaking with Jeremiah and Rick Heil, plus doing some research, it appears that this amount of pale at the base of the bill is OK for Thayer's in mid-late Jan.

- NB

Monday, January 19, 2009

IVORY GULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

adult Ivory Gull, found by Jeremiah Trimble on 1/17 and still present on 1/19

One of (if not the most) stunning birds I have ever seen, period. It was worth every second of the wait.

I was lucky enough to find myself in Boston visiting my girlfriend for the long weekend when Andy Griswold left a message on Saturday about the gull. After composing myself (and waiting for Kim to 'get ready') we rushed up to Gloucester. Upon arrival at the small parking lot, the gull was flying (more like floating) around the small cove right next to us. Simply unbelievable. Despite the cold weather we spent the entire afternoon with the bird as it put on a show for us.

One day wasn't enough though. I spent all of today in Gloucester, though a good portion of that time was spent waiting for the Ivory Gull to reappear. Over the past two days it has begun spreading out around the harbor, spending less and less time near the lighthouse parking lot. No big deal...there were plenty of gulls coming and going, including a nice first-cycle THAYER'S GULL (pics to be posted soon). But when the bird was there, it put on a freakin show.

More pics and video to come.

Close views in nice light revealed the bill to be beautifully colored - a blue-green base and a yellow tip with a hint of orange.

On freshly fallen snow

Kim doing her best polar bear impression, to make the bird feel at home.

A view of the bird's favorite cove from this morning.

- Nick

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Watch out for Ivory Gulls

A bit of wishful thinking here, but I am getting downright desperate for an Ivory Gull. A few birding friends and I had plans to drive to Prince Edward Island for this stunning ADULT Ivory Gull that was coming within 5 feet of people! Everything was in place for a successful trip, but the bird disappeared mid-week.

Danny Williams, a great young birder from East Lyme, was one of the people set to come on the trip. We had previously dipped on two nearby Ivory Gulls, an adult on the Hudson River two years ago and an immature in Rhode Island last winter. This essentially makes us 0-for-3 on chasable Ivory Gulls. Needless to say we were both crushed when the latest bird took off.

But there is hope for an Ivory Gull yet...maybe even sooner than later. Over the past two days, an incursion of the species has taken place in Labrador and Newfoundland. At least some of the birds were observed to be flying south.

There is much worldwide concern for this species because their habitat, arctic sea ice, is quickly retreating. However from what I have been able to glean from the internet reports, about 2/3 of the current incursion in comprised of first-winter birds. So Ivory Gulls are still successfully breeding somewhere despite the Canadian breeding population reportedly plummeting.

Newfoundland and Labrador are both quite far from the US border, so who knows if another Ivory Gull will appear within driving distance. But if it does, I expect to chase it......and miss.

- NB

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Black-headed Gull, Razorbills - Jan 10

I met Glenn Williams and Phil Rusch at 6:30 this morning to take the 7am ferry to Fisher's Island in hopes of a rare alcid or seabird. While we did not luck out with any true rarities, we had 4 Razorbills (1 in CT waters, 2 in NY waters, 1 in both) and a Northern Gannet. One of the razorbills in particular flew right along the boat in great light after sunrise, providing all 3 of us with our best views of the species in the state.

From there I worked my way home, stopping at Hammo first. The only notables here were a Fox Sparrow and a 1w Iceland Gull. I checked the pines for crossbills a few times but struck out. I also checked out East Shore Park for the first time in a while, again hoping for crossbills in the pines...and again missing. But I did have the bird of the day here, a first-winter Black-headed Gull, which I believe was first reported by Turk Duddy on 12/28/08. Given that it's still there today, this bird could be wintering in the harbor.

first-winter Black-headed Gull

- NB

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 In Review

Going into 2008 I knew that my birding time would be reduced from prior years, but I was able to make the most of my time in the field. The intensity of school varied greatly from month to month; some months were completely devoid of birding while others allowed for several days in the field.

2008 began with great excitement as we were in the midst of a fantastic winter for irruptive passerines. Flocks of Pine Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls were already in place in northern CT when the year began. On January 3rd, Don Morgan allowed me to check out his backyard redpoll flock in Coventry where he had previously reported a few pale redpolls. Close examination of the flock on a brutally cold day revealed the presence of a Hoary Redpoll...the first documented in the state since the year I was born (1983.....yes, you're old)!

Hoary Redpoll at Don Morgan's house

Later that month, Greg Hanisek & co turned up a fine Western Tanager in the campground at Hammonasset State Park, which was another state bird for me.

Western Tanager at Hammo

School really turned up the heat on us for the rest of the winter, so my birding was restricted to the occasional chase. The next such bird was a first-spring male Bullock's Oriole at the residence of Ingrid & Tom Schaefer of Canaan, who were gracious enough to open up their yard to birders.

Bullock's Oriole

In mid-April shorebird migration kicked into high gear and Frank Mantlik found a nice young male Ruff at Grace Salmon Park in Westport.

The Ruff is the second bird from the left.

Definitely one of the highlights of the year came on May 22 while I was chasing a Eurasian Collared-Dove at Hammo. No luck with the dove, but Dori Sosensky and I stumbled upon this female Lark Bunting, the third state record. Most records of this species in the northeast are of autumn birds, so this spring sighting was especially surprising.

female Lark Bunting

Skipping ahead to early July, a quick stop at Milford Point yielded this Sandwich Tern on July 9:

The autumn migration was relatively uneventful as far as rarities go. I got into the field here and there, but clinical rotations began on Sept 15th so birding was really only possible on certain weekends. November was highlighted by a statewide flight of Snowy Owls and a cooperative Barnacle Goose in Wallingford.

long-staying Barnacle Goose in Wallingford

Snowy Owl @ Calf Pasture in Norwalk

My personal Bird of the Year came on the day after Thanksgiving in the form of the state's first Slaty-backed Gull at the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill.

Slaty-backed Gull

Finally I reached my research time, which allowed me to be on my own schedule for much of December. This allowed for 4 more trips to the landfill before the end of the year. The gulling was fantastic. Not one but two Thayer's Gulls put in appearances in December. In addition, multiple Glaucous Gulls, a handful of Lesser Black-backs, and a slew of Iceland Gulls were in attendance.

first-winter Thayer's Gull

adult Thayer's Gull

2008 was much more successful than I had anticipated going into the year. I just added up my CT year list and arrived at a total of 266 species...not terrible. I had several fairly easy misses, particularly species that pass through the state when school was at its most demanding. For example, I just got my first (and only) Fox Sparrow of the year on December 28th!

So what will 2009 bring? I can think of a few birds for the wish list!

A Happy and Healthy New Year to everyone.

- Nick