Saturday, May 29, 2010

Spring roundup, looking ahead to Summer

The spring shorebird migration is currently in full swing in the northeast. Thusfar in CT the highlights have been a few Red Knot and Whimbrel, which are uncommon but expected at this season. Things have been quiet on the rarity front across this state. Neighboring states have enjoyed a few nice surprises, with the highlight probably being a lapponica Bar-tailed Godwit at Brigantine in New Jersey. A smattering of Wilson's Plovers in the northeast included one bird in Maine. Otherwise things have been quiet.

The spring migration so far seems to have been about average from my point of view, which is based on no actual evidence but rather an observation of the regional reports :) There seems to have been several good migration days with no real big fallouts nor any periods of drought. We never had any extensive blocking weather in CT, nor prolonged periods of perfect migration weather, so the migration was able to proceed pretty much on schedule with a nice pulse of arrivals every few days or so.

Now the passerines are winding down, the shorebirds are just about peaking, and we're into the heat of the breeding season. June still has migrant/vagrant potential though. And this is a fine time of year to get on a pelagic trip...I'll be on one going out of Rhode Island next Saturday.

I've made two visits to Sandy Point in West Haven, CT this past week. Highlights included a few species we missed on our Big Day this year: Whimbrel, Red-breasted Merganser, and Laughing Gull. Last summer's major surprise was the abandonment of the nesting colony by Least and Common Terns at Sandy Pt. Earlier this month there were many pairs of Leasties and a few Commons apparently setting up at the colony for a summer of nesting, but reports from the last couple days indicate that the terns have again abandoned the colony. Hopefully they will breed here when all is said and done.


Red-breasted Merganser

- NB

Friday, May 28, 2010

Scope decision...Kowa it is!

Over the past couple months I've been researching today's top-of-the-line spotting scopes, in search of the one that fits my needs the best. I narrowed my choices down to the latest Kowa and Swarovski (Leica out of the question only because of it's ridiculous price tag of $4k).

Thanks to Jim Zipp of The Fat Robin in Hamden, CT I was able to compare these two heavyweights side-by-side under various conditions. Overall, the Kowa wins in nearly all categories except field of view, thanks to Swarovski's fantastic 25-50x Wide Angle zoom eyepiece. This extra FOV may actually make the Swarovski the better digiscoping option, though the Kowa's brighter image is also an advantage.

In low light, the Kowa's extra light-gathering ability is apparent in the bright image. Also, while studying distant shorebirds at Sandy Pt, the extra 50-60x power of the Kowa zoom eyepiece was an absolute necessity. Long gone are the days when the image at 60x is dark and borderline useless! Another nice feature of the Kowa is it's dual-focusing knob...I found myself bringing birds into focus much more quickly with the Kowa knob than the Swarovski single barrel focusing wheel.

I think those are the most important points, so I'll keep it brief. In short, both are excellent scopes but I think the Kowa 883 is a bit better and comes at a slightly cheaper price too. Perhaps most importantly, when field testing the two scopes, the Kowa felt more natural in my hands and by the end of the testing it was the one I just felt better about!

The scope produces a stunning image and I'm really looking forward to mid-summer shorebirding with my new toy!

The next step is to figure out a cheap digiscoping setup. I currently use the Canon A590, so I'll see if I can devise a homemade adapter to help with that. I'd rather not spend the extra bucks on a new camera and adapter, but I am really tempted by the capabilities of this scope. Maybe someday soon I will take real stab at digiscoping, rather than settling for record shots from hand-holding.

- NB

BIG DAY Results - 185 species!

Date: May 23, 2010

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

Preparation: Scouting was limited again this year, but we were still able to improve upon our route from last year. Just a few weeks ago we nearly decided to scrap the whole thing, thinking it might be a waste of time. Also, we were pigeonholed into the date of May 23, which may be a couple days later than is optimal.

Summary: For a great summary of the day, including our highlights and misses, see Frank Gallo's summary.

Final Tally: 185 (just one short of the state record of 186 and six short of the New England record of 191 set in Massachusetts)...a great improvement over last year's total of 177.

Analysis: We were able to tweak last year's route with this year's scouting, which was surprising given the small amount of time we had to scout between the 5 of us. We devoted most of our free time to scouting the inland areas, which really paid off with a fine tally of inland species. However our lack of coastal intel really showed as we missed a few birds such as Red-breasted Merganser and required blind luck to run into a few more!

We're already looking ahead to next year, when our collective lives should be a bit more stable, hopefully allowing for more scouting time and date flexibility. There's no doubt our expectations will be raised. We will certainly be disappointed without the state record come May 2011.

Best bird: Long-eared Owl
Biggest miss: Red-breasted Merganser

- Nick

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Big Day approaches

The weather is looking fine for our CT Big Day run on Sunday. Right now they're calling for mostly cloudy skies, light winds, low 70s, and a chance of a shower. That's actually quite nice conditions for a big day...too windy kills landbirding, too warm leads to heat-haze on the coast, and too rainy obviously sucks too. Hopefully the forecast doesn't change much.

I've been squeezing in a bit of scouting here and there over the past week. I haven't come up with anything great...Mourning Warbler today being the highlight. When scouting for a Big Day, it's funny how finding a territorial Yellow-rumped Warbler right along your proposed route can make your day!

As a team, our scouting has been better than expected. I actually have hopes we can meet or exceed our total of 177 from last year when we had more extensive scouting. It looks like we're going to suffer from a lack of rarities. CT hasn't seen a truly rare bird in a long time...we're in a bit of a dry spell. That makes things like local breeders and lingering waterfowl that much more important to nail down.

After putting in an 85+ hour week at work, I'll be rewarded with 10 days off, during which I'll be doing the Big Day and hopefully a good deal of you can expect more interesting posts to come for the end of the migration push. Hopefully we can put an end to the rarity drought during that period!

- NB

Monday, May 10, 2010

Big Day 2010

For the past handful of years I've made a habit of doing a statewide Big Day in Connecticut. The intensity of each effort has varied from year-to-year, as have my teammates. Team size has varied from 2 to 5. Here's what we've had:

2006 - May 25 - 157 species (team of 2)
2007 - May 20 - 173 species (team of 4)
2008 - May 26 - 169 species (team of 5)
2009 - May 24 - 177 species (team of 5)

The CT record is 186, if you're wondering.

So far we haven't been able to scout as much as we want to. This year might be worse than usual...everyone seems to be extra busy with work and/or family. Still, we're going, if only because it's just so damn fun to spend 24 hours birding at a staggering pace. We're shooting for May 23-24, which is later than desired, but that is dictated by our personal lives.

I just started a stretch of 12 consecutive days at work, which means my scouting contributions will be small (and blog posts infrequent). I'll try to get out before/after work on occasion.

- NB

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Grasshopper Sparrow, Westport CT

A quick stop at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT yielded a cooperative GRASSHOPPER SPARROW. With about an hour to kill this afternoon I was going to walk the woods at the park to see if any warblers were around. I took just a few steps onto the lawn next to the pavilion parking lot when the bird flushed out of the grass. Tina Green came by a little while later to view the bird, which again afforded fine looks. According to the park checklist, Grasshopper Sparrow had never been recorded here, which is surprising given how much coverage the park has gotten over the years. The species is very uncommon in migration but is seen annually away from breeding sites.

- NB

Saturday, May 1, 2010

5/1 - East Rock Park

Had a very nice morning birding with Alex Burdo, James Orrico, Brian Webster, and John Oshlick at East Rock Park today. We started at the Giant Steps around 6:15am and were greeted by a couple waves of migrants. Male Yellow-rumps dominated, as expected this early in the month. Highlights here included a heard-only (damn) HOODED WARBLER, WORM-EATING WARBLER, and a splendid MAGNOLIA WARBLER. We had 9 of our 11 warbler species at this spot.

We then moved onto the River Trail where things were pretty slow, but we added Yellow Warbler and an adult male ORCHARD ORIOLE to the tally, among a few others. Then we walked Trowbridge Drive, which was also quiet, but held our FOY AMERICAN REDSTART. We ended up at the monument where we picked out a single BLACK VULTURE among the TVs and had a few migrating swallows including a male PURPLE MARTIN.

Other birders throughout the park added 3 more warblers to bring the species count to 14, but no southern overshoots were found today. Just the expected stuff, with the possible exception being Hooded which is quite uncommon away from breeding sites. I actually added two personal East Rock birds today: Black Vulture and Purple Martin.

Here's the full list (61 species, though I may be leaving out a few birds I didn't personally see):
Wood Duck
Common Loon (flyby)
5 DC Cormorant (flyby)
Great Blue Heron (flyby)
7 Turkey Vultures
Black Vulture
2 Red-tailed Hawk
15 Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
2 Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
2 Hairy Woodpeckers
2 Northern Flicker
2 Great Crested Flycatcher
Blue-headed Vireo
6 Warbling Vireos
5 Blue Jay
3 Fish Crow
Purple Martin
2 Barn Swallow
2 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
4 swallow sp.
Black-capped Chickadee
3 Tufted Titmice
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
Wood Thrush
30 American Robin
13 Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
20 European Starling
5 Nashville Warbler
6 Northern Parula
4 Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
40 Yellow-rumped Warbler
4 Black-throated Green Warblers
8 Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Hooded Warbler
2 Scarlet Tanager
4 Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
2 White-throated Sparrow
5 Northern Cardinal
4 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
8 Red-winged Blackbird
10 Common Grackle
3 Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
3 Baltimore Orioles
4 American Goldfinch

- NB