A now-annual event is currently in full swing in Connecticut: the early spring gull concentration caused by a large plankton bloom in Long Island Sound. To check out the posts from last year, click the label below.
Each year around this time, there is a bloom of some type(s) of plankton along the coast of Fairfield and New Haven Counties, mainly between Norwalk and West Haven. A fantastic concentration of gulls and waterfowl feeds on these minuscule creatures. The gulls, in particular, are impressive. Numbers at single locations have peaked at 10,000 birds!
Last year this event began around March 10 and lasted into April with a peak in the second half of March. This year it began earlier and is already peaking (one would assume, as it is hard to imagine a concentration much larger than the current one).
Yesterday afternoon I went to check things out. I made it down to Short Beach around 2:40pm, not long after low tide. The raw east winds probably contributed to the tide not being very low. The portions of the sandbars that were exposed near themouth of the Housatonic River, particularly on the Stratford side, were covered in about 4,000 gulls. Well in the distance offshore, about 2,000 more were likely feeding on plankton. Unfortunately the birds were too far for close scrutiny, but obvious species such as white-winged gulls could still be IDed. Highlights were 2 ICELAND GULLS (first-cycles) and a GLAUCOUS GULL (first-cycle...not the Long Beach bird). As the tide came in, more birds flew offshore.
This gull event is spectacular and, at the risk of getting a bit too excited, any gull species that has ever occurred in our region is possible right now. As far as reasonable expectations, I have California Gull at the top of my wish list...perhaps surprisingly this species has not yet been recorded in CT. Maybe it's not much of a surprise though...this species is very rare in the coastal northeast.
On another note, coastal New England will apparently feel the brunt of a prolonged storm this weekend. If you're into seawatching, the next few days will provide ample opportunity to view alcids and, depending on where you live, kittiwakes and fulmars. Here in CT we struggle to see even the most common pelagic species. Alcids should be starting to head back north right now, so I think we have a real shot at some alcids in CT waters this weekend.
If you combine both the gull show and the strong east winds, there's a good chance a rarity or two are found in CT this weekend. Of course, it will be difficult for birders to get motivated to leave the house if it's going to rain as much as they're saying.