Coastal gull show (and weekend weather)

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.

- Nick


  1. You are right... the motivation is not there!! I did just fill the feeders yesterday so I have a bunch of guys to watch. Carolina wrens are checking out my straw covered nest (gourd-shape type) in the corner above my deck... gotta keep an eye on that so those dumb house sparrows don't take it. (Technically, I could take out the males, or all of the HOSP with a pellet gun and be totally within my legal rights, correct??)

    I was with Scott, Frank, Miley, and Charlie on 03/10, when Frank called us all to come see the (2nd winter, I think it was) Black-headed Gull.

    We were all unable to locate the BHGU, but we did have at least 6 Bonies (BHGU never joined them, according to Frank) and some decent looks at a Lesser Black-backed gull.

    I thought I saw a 1st winter Iceland, but wasn't sure, then I lost it so I didn't force the group to search for it. Good chance it was one that you had the next day.

    Off the jetty, on the Milford Point side, were several hundred (probably quad digits) Brant and various larids plankton feeding.

    I think Scott got a rough estimate of 10,000+ gulls!! It surely was an amazing sight. I just wish my boat ride with Larry was as gull-y!

    Actually, thanks to that one trip we took to the landfill, my larid skills have improved. Enough to have found my own adult Iceland and LBBG on one trip to Penfield reef. (And I found the Barrow's!!) Still awaiting my state-wide notarity bird... I think I'll just have to go and find an Ivory0billed when I'm down in Louisiana!! I got both refuges on my itinerary....

    BTW, if you're taking a ferry ride after/during this storm, I'll be able to afford it Monday or Tuesday. My Mom's b-day was the 8th and I'm still reeling from gifts and dinner ($30-40 for two at Rizzuto's my tail!!) As you know, 2010's goal is lifers, and I need a Razorbill!! Fulmar would be silly awesome! Got both Kittiwakes in AK, though. And after seeing your 220+ trip list from SoCal and AZ, I've bumped the goal from 400, to 450, with 500 not that out of the question. I've been stuck on 304 since the Hud God at Hammo!!

    Hope you aren't too tied down with work! I'd like to have a back and forth one day about what it is you do... sounds rewarding. For yourself and your wallet! My aunt is an RN, and my mom's BF/my step-father is a urologist quite differetn, I know!), and his son is an ortheopedic (let me know if I spelled that wrong) surgeon. The processes and intricicies of medicine really interest me. Well, everything interests me. I can see how you can do well in that field... your attention to detail in just birding is great, so that could only help as you climb the ladder, no?

    See ya around,


  2. I am at Saybrook Point right now and the weather is miserable. Pouring rain, high winds out of the east, etc.

  3. Matthew, thanks for that, miserable is good :) I'll try to sneak out tomorrow to see if anything has been blown in. I just checked the "MySound" site with buoy data, and the wind is currently E at 24mph gusting to 35 in the eastern sound, and ENE 31 gusting to 42 in the western sound. That's pretty impressive.

    Brian, glad you're getting into gull ID. It can be frustrating but rewarding at the same time. I can't do a ferry ride during the week (work), but it would be a good idea. I'd be happy to talk about the responsibilities of a PA sometime. Who's the ortho surgeon in your family? Is he local?


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