Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last winter's gull review

Today's cooler, blustery conditions combined with the appearance of an Ivory Gull in Cape May got me thinking more about the upcoming gull season and reflecting on last year's. The 2008-09 gulling in the northeast was pretty damn good and included a few really exciting birds.

The season started out with a bang exactly one year ago today with CT's first Slaty-backed Gull. On 12/12 an adult Thayer's Gull put in a brief appearance at the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill, CT's premier gull hotspot, followed by a first-winter bird on 12/23. A Black-headed Gull spent the winter in New Haven Harbor.

Perhaps 'gull of the year' was a subadult Glaucous-winged Gull in Rochester, NH, found by Scott Young...a first record for New England.

Meanwhile Gloucester, MA was once again the gull capital of New England. I happened to already be up in Boston when news of an adult Ivory Gull broke on 1/17. I still get chills thinking about that weekend. Of course there were plenty of other gulls in the area, including multiple Thayer's, Lesser Black-backeds, Glaucs, and a staggering number of Icelands. Incredibly a second adult Ivory Gull turned up in MA, this one in Plymouth on 1/20 and spent a solid eleven days at this location.

Back in CT, the landfill had a couple of adult Glaucous Gulls and multiple sightings (or re-sightings) of first-winter Thayer's Gulls. Patrick Dugan and others then found another Slaty-backed Gull on 2/9 that stuck around for a couple days. I was busy with school and figured I had missed my chance at that bird...until James P. Smith relocated it up the Connecticut River valley at Barton Cove, MA on 2/20! This time I was free and able to go see the bird, which ended up sticking around for several days.

James wasn't done, finding an adult Thayer's Gull, also at Barton Cove. Then on 2/26 James turned up what just might have been a first-cycle Slaty-backed Gull at the landfill. Looks like a darn good candidate to me...

When the calendar turned to March, the gull focus in CT switched from the landfill to the coast, where the western Long Island Sound hosted an impressive congregation of gulls thanks to a now-annual bloom of barnacle [and other types of?] larvae. My good luck continued with an adult "Common" Mew Gull in West Haven, CT on 3/20. Milford Pt, not really known as a gull hotspot, delivered a couple of interesting birds a few days later. First, a possible Thayer's Gull on 3/22...I'm still not sure if this is a legit THGU or not. Then, a 1c HEGU showing some Old World-like features on 3/27. Another one I'm not sure about, and will probably never be identified, but I wonder if it's within range of argenteus. My last "good" gull of the season came on 4/5 in the form of an adult Little Gull in Southport, CT.

So that's about it! Obviously a CT-centric view, but I think I got most of the southern New England highlights. We had a solid 4+ months of fantastic gulling. If this winter is half as productive as last, we'll be in for some fun times...that is, if standing on a pile of shit surrounded by garbage trucks and bulldozers is your idea of fun:)

- Nick

Friday, November 27, 2009

Long Island Sound on Thanksgiving

Yesterday morning, before the family dinner, I took advantage of the dead-calm conditions and took the boat out of Norwalk for the last time this season. Fishing was slow thanks to a weak tide, but waterfowl are clearly increasing out there. Highlights in CT waters included a large flock of 1300 White-winged Scoter, 52 Long-tailed Duck, and several of each loon. NY waters held a westward adult Northern Gannet and 2 adult Bonaparte's Gulls. It was a spectacular morning out's going to be a long wait until the boat goes back in next spring.

WW Scoters

WW Scoter

part of the scoter flock

Long-tailed Ducks

On the other hand, now I can put my full focus back on birding, especially once I finish school next week!

- Nick

Thursday, November 19, 2009

11/17 Landfill & 11/18 Hammo

Home sweet home! My first visit to the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill of this gull season was uneventful as compared to last year's first visit. In fact, it really was last year's early Slaty-back that motivated me to make an earlier visit this year. However this time the only bird of note was an adult Lesser Black-backed. I can even say pretty confidently that there we no weird Herring Gulls that made me scratch my head. Still looking forward to that first white-winged gull of the season.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

The highlight of a 11/18 walk through the campground at Hammo was a flock of 3 Baltimore Orioles. Only one of the birds, an adult male, was in view for very long.

Baltimore Oriole

And here's a nice shot of Manhattan from Long Island Sound just behind the Norwalk Islands, taken at sunset after an afternoon of jigging bass and blues in the sound with Larry Flynn.

- NB

10 Nov - Hammo (Western Kingbird+)

A trip to Hammonasset Beach SP in Madison on 11/10 yielded the continuing Western Kingbird. This bird arrived at Hammo without a tail, but the bird quickly replaced its rectrices. By the time I saw it on this visit, its tail was really starting to take form.

Western Kingbird

American Bittern

Lapland Longspur

- NB

Monday, November 16, 2009

Support the Stratford-Milford CBC!

Perhaps my favorite Christmas Bird Count, the Stratford-Milford CBC is scheduled for Sunday December 27th. It is one of the younger CBCs in the state, and therefore it is not as well-birded as some of the other counts. This year it happens to fall on the same day as two hugely popular counts: Barkhampstead and Old Lyme, which means that it may well be underbirded.

This probably goes without saying, but Stratford and Milford (and parts of Bridgeport) are two of the best birding area in the state. If you follow the CT sightings, you've noticed that Frank Mantlik, Scott Kruitbosch, Charlie Barnard, Twan Leenders, Brian Webster etc etc regularly see some really good stuff around Stratford. Milford's track record is equally impressive. It's especially exciting during winter when waterfowl, raptors (incl. diurnal owls), and several uncommon species can be found.

Ok enough plugging. If this is something that would interest you, check out the contact info on the COA website. Steve will be glad to hear from you. Hope to see you there!

- Nick

Friday, November 13, 2009

Nasty storm, but don't stay inside!

A brutal nor'easter has been battering the SE and Mid-Atlantic coasts for a couple days now, and here in southern New England we are getting the northern edge of it. Rain and NE winds have been blowing for a day now and will continue through tomorrow. Peak rain and winds should come this evening according to the weathermen. Right now the LI Sound buoys are clocking winds out of the NE around 27mph with gusts to's been like that all day.

Today I saw a local weatherman on TV comparing this to the "Perfect Storm" of October 1991. Since we don't often get sustained winds this strong for this long, birders should take advantage and get out seawatching tomorrow morning. For those of us in Connecticut, this storm presents one of just a couple opportunities per year to actually feel somewhat hopeful about seeing a single seabird! Since we're into mid-November, we have a [very] outside shot at Black-legged Kittiwake, Pomarine Jaeger, or alcids.

Now I just hope to take my own advice and get out of bed early tomorrow.

- Nick

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Twitch and run

I was able to sneak away from school yesterday just in time to catch the Pacific Loon in the evening hours. Even then I could only stay for a few minutes. I had no time to really enjoy the bird, but at least it's on my list! Unfortunately no photos, as the light was too low for digiscoping.

Major kudos to Greg Hanisek, who has now found both CT records of Pacific Loon. The first one came on Long Island Sound, but this one came during his usual close monitoring of his local inland lakes/reservoirs.

(For those unaware, Greg Hanisek found CT's second PACIFIC LOON on Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury on 11/10...the bird continues as of 11/11.)

- NB

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pair of Gray-bellied Brant?

One of the nice things about my recent fishing is that I drive past Veterans Park in Norwalk to get to the docks. Each time I'm in the area, I make a swing through the park. Back on 10/21 I located an interesting Brant that, according to a couple of Brant experts, looked good for GRAY-BELLIED BRANT.

A recent return visit yielded an all-too-brief view of two similar adult Brant that may be a pair of GRAY-BELLIED BRANT. Unfortunately the flock was immediately flushed by a dog-walker. The theoretical difficulties of separating Gray-bellied from hybrid Atlantic x Black Brant are well documented and quite logical, but the presence of two such adults side-by-side I feel may be supportive of Gray-bellied as the correct ID. It certainly makes things that much more interesting.

probable pair of adult Gray-bellied Brant

If anyone is in the area and would like to check for these Brant, high tide may be the best time, as the geese seem to prefer the mudflats and exposed rocks at the lower tides. Nearby Calf Pasture Beach also has some lawns that may hold grazing geese.

Scroll down for other recent posts on these Brant.

- Nick

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More fishing than birding

I've become addicted to blackfishing lately, getting out a few times over the past couple weeks. That's more than I've been birding for sure. And during the rarity season...I must be crazy. I did have some spare time about noon today and walked the north end of East Shore Park in New Haven. Had 2 latish Blackpoll Warblers along with more expected passerines. No swallows yet.

East Shore Park is an exciting place at this time of year because the warm sewage pools (which are not visible themselves because they are raised) keep insects alive well into the late fall. This has allowed Cave Swallows to linger into December and Northern Rough-winged Swallows to survive into January in recent winters. Lingering warblers are also a specialty of the park. Really any insectivore would feel at home there. Birders have really started birding this place hard the last couple of autumns, but other than the swallows no real megas have been seen. Still, something like 10+ species of warbler were seen there last November...but nothing western. We'll see what this year brings.

- NB