Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pre-, During, and Post-Irene photos/video

Here's a collection of a few random images from the peri-Irene period in Connecticut. Sorry, no particularly exciting or mega rare species included here. I kept my brand new camera setup safe and dry during the storm itself. Not all birds here are necessarily storm-related.


adult Pectoral Sandpiper

Forster's Terns

Laughing Gulls

juv Stilt Sandpiper

juv Black Skimmer

adult Little Blue Heron

adult (left) and juv (right) Red Knots with two Sanderlings between

juv Black Tern


plastic bag keeping the dash mostly dry...

watching from the car with Julian Hough

and Post:

Royal Tern (banded)

record shot of Black-necked Stilt

Black Tern

- NB

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene Update #4

Woke up today to clear skies and light west winds, making it difficult to believe a strong Tropical Storm had made landfall less than 24 hours earlier.

I started at dawn today with a low tide visit to Milford Pt at the mouth of the Housatonic River, which was quickly rewarded with a BLACK-NECKED STILT and a single Royal Tern. I watched the mouth of the Housatonic River for a brief time, without seeing anything interesting, before deciding that taking the boat out might be a great idea. Our boat, located in Norwalk, survived the storm without any damage. I headed out around 8am and had very little in a brief tour of the islands. I went back to the dock to pick up a few birders: Greg Hanisek, Tina Green, and John Oshlick.

Long Island Sound was back to its normal, quiet state. We didn't have anything interesting out there despite a few hours total spent near the middle of the sound. On our way back in we swung by Cockenoe Island in Westport for a second look and had a few goodies: Royal Tern, 4 Black Terns, and a Whimbrel among other more common stuff.

So that was about it. In stark contrast to yesterday, which was very exciting, today started out with a very nice bird (the stilt) but was overall quite slow. We were spoiled, I know.

Elsewhere there was a slow trickle of lingering pelagic rarities. Patrick Dugan had a juv Sooty Tern from Milford Pt in the afternoon, where 3 Hudsonian Godwits were also seen. Glenn Williams and Hank Golet had a BROWN PELICAN at Griswold Pt at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Scott Kruitbosch watched 2 juv Parasitic Jaegers move down the Housatonic River this afternoon as well.

Surrounding states had similar results, with a few pelagics seen here and there by a lucky few. I hear that First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod was productive today, as expected.

It's apparent that most of the fun is over at this point, but there should still be some exciting birds to come, NOT limited to pelagic birds. Keep your eyes and mind wide open.

- Nick

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene Update #3

Irene arrived this morning, with birds in tow.

What a hectic day, with great birds seen from Cape May to inland Massachusetts and probably beyond. The jackpot birds were the several (!) White-tailed Tropicbirds seen between NJ, NY, and MA. Connecticut had a ton of goodies as well despite no tropicbird reports.

Here are my highlights, seen along the coast between Stratford and West Haven with various other birders at times:

2 Wilson's Storm-Petrel
1 BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETREL (first state record if accepted)
3 Red-necked Phalaropes
1 phalarope sp. (almost certainly Red-necked)
10 SOOTY TERNS (all adults)
1 LONG-TAILED JAEGER (light-intermediate juv)
1 jaeger sp. (likely Parasitic)

What a &$%#ing day. Probably the best all-around pelagic birding day in CT's history.

It may not be over yet. There are still displaced birds to be found, albeit not in the concentrations they were found today. Good luck!

- NB

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Irene update #2

The early returns from the Carolinas and Virginia are in, which took the brunt of it today. Sooty and Bridled Terns were the main component. I'm sure not all reports have made it to the Internet yet. Not overwhelming sightings but at least we know that tropical terns have been entrained.

I spent most of the day along the eastern CT coast between Stonington Pt and Hammonasset. No storm rarities noted, as expected that far ahead of the storm. Black and Forster's Terns were around. There was an American Golden Plover at Hammo.

We should wake up to tropical storm force winds with a landfall on what looks like maybe the CT/NY line around midday? We shall see. Will be birding as the weather allows. Many coastal areas evacuated or blocked off, which will make things tougher than they should be for us.


Sent from my iPhone

Irene Update #1

Since my initial post on the storm, Irene has picked up some speed and should arrive sooner than we had thought. Rather than a Sunday into early Monday event, this looks like late Saturday through Sunday. We should see the first rain bands, but minimal winds, this afternoon. Things will really get cranking overnight and it seems certain that we'll be waking up to tropical storm-like conditions on Sunday morning. The center of circulation should reach our latitude around midday on Sunday, perhaps still a Cat 1 hurricane. This is not good timing for potential storm surge, as high tide is during the late morning in western Long Island Sound. During the worst of it, coastal birding does NOT look like an option at this point. Low-lying areas in particular should be 100% avoided as these will be the most deadly locations.

Exact track is still unknown, with CT remaining in the crosshairs. Since we're right in the projected path, the slightest shift in position would make a big impact on where I decide to look for birds. As long as landfall isn't east of CT, I know I'll spend my time at or east of the center of circulation.

There's a chance that the storm could be clearing out of here before dark on Sunday. If this is so, Sunday afternoon-evening (which also happens to be around low tide) may provide a window of opportunity to get out and look for birds that the brunt of the storm has dropped off. Look for such birds at inland bodies of water and, if a safe option, river mouths (Connecticut and Housatonic in particular). Or even clearing out of Long Island Sound, heading back east with a tailwind at that point.

As always, safety comes first.

- NB

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Birding Hurricane Irene

[Note: This is geared toward birding in CT, though some of it may apply to neighboring states]

Before I go into detail about birding this storm, a little perspective about these things. Hurricanes are serious storms, so I am told. In my adult life I’ve never sat through anything more than a tropical depression. For us here in southern New England, Hurricanes Bob (1991) and Gloria (1985) are probably distant memories for most people. I vaguely recall sitting on our enclosed porch in Bridgeport as a child, waiting out the wind and rain of Bob. We’ve seen via the media that poor preparation coupled with bad luck can cause disaster, so let’s all be as safe and smart as possible.

Switching gears to the birds, many displaced seabirds do presumably perish, especially those found on lakes hundreds of miles inland. Also, many migrant passerines and shorebirds are negatively affected by these systems. It is very unfortunate, but it is nature at work.

But as birders, we can’t help but let our attention shift partially to the silver-lining of tropical cyclones. Here are some quotes from folks who have summed up the situation quite well in recent years:

“…but then I reminded myself that no one has control over the weather, and that birders are simply taking meteorological lemons and making lemonade.” – Scott Weidensaul

“…there is no more radical or rapid change in bird status and distribution than during and after a tropical cyclone that makes landfall. We regularly scramble to locate birds after most other meteorological phenomena, whether warm front, cold front, fogbank, or snowstorm, so surely we would not ignore tropical weather systems, despite their awful costs. We are students of the here and now, after all.” – Edward S. Brinkley

Now, onto that silver lining.

If Hurricane Irene does indeed make landfall at or near Connecticut, this would be the first such local event of the internet, cell phone, and digital camera eras. Bob and Gloria passed through (or near) before we were all connected via smartphones, before the days of posting to listservs from the field, or even making phone calls from the field. Rarities could not be documented with photographs with ease like they are today. And I believe that back then, only 20-30 years ago, birders were not fully aware of the best storm-birding strategies. Those who have been birding locally for decades will probably attest to this.

After barreling through the heart of the Bahamas, Hurricane Irene will emerge into Gulf Stream waters. From here she is forecast to move NNE, possibly making landfill in eastern North Carolina before moving up the coast. The storm could hit west of us, east of us, or pass right overhead. With so much uncertainty left in the track, it is impossible to try to predict the best areas to go birding during (if safe enough) and after the storm.

The storm’s sheer size and track (originating in the Cape Verde region, organizing just east of the Caribbean, skirting the northeast Caribbean islands, then through the Bahamas and the Gulf Stream) certainly gives us potential for a variety of seabirds, shorebirds, and terns we would otherwise have little or no chance of seeing in Long Island Sound or inland. The track hasn’t gone over much deep ocean, with most of the recent track being over waters on the Continental Shelf, which may hurt us bird-wise. However this is a large storm, and its “right” side will have spent some time off the edge of the shelf.

It would appear, from reading accounts of recent storm passages, that there are no guarantees with these things. But, generally speaking, the “birdiest” quadrant is usually the ‘right-front’ quadrant, which not surprisingly is also usually the strongest part of the storm. So, if the storm was heading due north, the northeastern quadrant would be the ‘right-front’ quadrant. In general, the birdiest scenario would occur if the storm passes directly over us or just to our west (which would put us on the east side of the storm and give us some of that right-front quadrant). The sample size isn’t large enough to tell us exactly how significant this is, but one could argue that for greatest birdlife we would rather it hit 150 miles to our west than just 50 miles to our east, accepting more time over land and weakening in order for us to be on the east side of it. FYI those mileages are arbitrary numbers, just thrown in there to make a point.

Birders will no doubt be scattered throughout the state, probably both Sunday during the storm and early Monday after its passage. The key for us will be to KEEP IN TOUCH. Bring your cell phones (for safety if for nothing else). If you find a rarity or something you think might be rare, call someone on your typical rare bird phone tree to get word out. If you have a smartphone, post to CTBirds along with making phone calls. Storm-blown waifs sometimes do linger for hours on inland bodies of water. Coastal flybys are less likely to linger, but it is still worth getting word out with a direction of the bird’s flight. Remember the American White Pelicans from a couple autumns ago? We tracked those birds over dozens of miles in one day’s flight. A jaeger moving east from Stamford could very well pass Stratford Point later on, so a heads-up is always a good idea.

Also, if you can, take a photo. Distant seabirds can be very difficult to identify, especially if you’re not an experienced seabirder or if viewing conditions are poor. Snapping off a few photos for later analysis could be the difference between certain identification and frustration. Also, the ARCC would love as much documentation as possible for the official record. With a concentrated effort, we have the opportunity to add to the growing data regarding tropical cyclones and their redistribution of entrained birds. We have much to learn.

We will be faced with the decision of whether to hit the coast or check larger inland bodies of water. Which bodies? Rivers or lakes? If the coast, east or west? Point of land or river mouth? It really is a crapshoot in the end, though the exact storm track will help us. As the track becomes more certain, we’ll know more about important things such as duration, intensity, and direction of the winds including approximate times the winds will shift direction.

What birds can we expect? Again, there are no guarantees, but if landfall occurs in CT, some species are more likely than others.

The tropical terns first come to mind, Sooty and Bridled. Most storms record greater numbers of Sooty Tern than Bridled, though this isn’t always the case. Other terns, such as Royal, Sandwich, and Gull-billed are possible. Good numbers of Black Tern are likely, and Black Skimmer numbers may increase as well. Really any tern that occurs in our region is possible, whether truly moved by the storm or just knocked down by the inclement weather locally, including Roseate and Caspian too.

Tubenoses, always rare in CT waters except for maybe Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, may be represented by any of the following: Black-capped Petrel or rarer Pterodromas are possible, any of five shearwater species, and we’ll say 4 species of storm-petrel (I’ll include White-faced because CT’s 1976 record of this species came thanks to Hurricane Belle. It occurred at the mouth of the Housatonic River, exactly where the center of circulation made landfall).

If you’re exceedingly lucky, a tropicbird or frigatebird isn’t out of the question. And while boobies are usually not associated with these storms, the recent presence of three Brown Boobies between New Jersey and Maine raises this possibility.

More likely are jaegers…any of the three species are possible with Parasitic being the most likely by a wide margin. Normally I would say Pomarine is next in line, but given that we’re in the heart of Long-tailed migration and early for most migrant Poms, Long-tailed may be our second most likely jaeger. Either skua, while highly unlikely, is still possible.

As for gulls, we’re pretty much guaranteed (there, I said it!) an uptick in Laughing Gull numbers. More exciting would be a Sabine’s Gull, which, since they migrate overland in very small numbers, might be just as likely to be knocked down as genuinely displaced (This also goes for jaegers, phalaropes, and some terns.). A few Lesser Black-backed Gulls may be seen as well.

Then there’s the shorebirds. Good ol’ reliable shorebirds. If this storm largely misses us and only provides a breezy rain, we’ll still have more shorebirds downed by the weather. More of the common species, plus increased chances of Hudsonian Godwits, American Golden-Plovers, and Red & Red-necked Phalaropes (Red-necked more likely than Red).

And we may as well think outside the box. How about a rare swift, swallow, or martin from the Caribbean? Doug Gochfeld mentioned White-cheeked Pintail to me the other day…and why not? Keep an open mind, and try to document anything strange.

Any of these are possible, but even a direct hit would likely deliver only some of them.

As of right now, the timeline seems to indicate worsening conditions throughout Sunday with the worst weather during Sunday PM. There appears a decent chance that the nasty weather continues after dark on Sunday. If this is the case, Monday morning AFTER the storm may well yield the best birding. Birds dropped in CT during the storm and overnight will likely try to reorient toward the ocean, meaning they could be seen leaving LI Sound or exiting the major rivers. They could also awake to find only inland lakes or flooded parking lots below them. Which inland bodies of water? Again, if there’s landfall in CT, follow the track of the eye. If not, try to head wherever that right-front quadrant passed through. Alternatively, if the eye passes east of CT, I’d think that getting as far east as possible would be the way to go.

Well, now that I’ve gone through all that, I guess it pretty much means the storm will be a miss. You’re welcome :)

Be safe,



Armistead, G. L & Sullivan B. L. 2004. Birding Hurricane Isabel. Birding 36: 6, pages 616-624

Brinkley, E. S. 2011. The Changing Seasons: Bedfellows. North American Birds 65: 1, pages 17-20.

Zeranski, J. D. & Baptist T. R. 1990. Connecticut Birds, page 41.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bluff Point morning flight

This morning I joined Glenn Williams and Jerry Connolly at Bluff Point in Groton, CT, well-known locally for its morning flight of nocturnal migrants. As expected we had a nice flight today, dominated by American Redstarts. We tallied 13 species of warbler and counted about 400 individual warblers. Here are some numbers (mostly morning flight augmented with a walk on the trails):

Ruby-throated Hummingbird 12
Eastern Wood-Pewee 4
Least Flycatcher 1
Empidonax sp. 4
Eastern Phoebe 2
Eastern Kingbird 7
Warbling Vireo 3
Red-eyed Vireo 5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 50
Veery 1
Worm-eating Warbler 1
Blue-winged Warbler 3
Black-and-white Warbler 35
Common Yellowthroat 4
American Redstart 220
Northern Parula 2
Magnolia Warbler 12
Yellow Warbler 10
Chestnut-sided Warbler 4
Prairie Warbler 1
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Canada Warbler 2
Wilson's Warbler 1
warbler sp. 100
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Dickcissel 1
Bobolink 5
Baltimore Oriole 3

American Redstarts

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

underside of a Prairie Warbler

- NB

Aug 19-20 - Block Canyon Pelagic (and boobies after dark)

Last Friday night, just after 9pm, a full boat departed Point Judith for an overnight travel to Block Canyon in Rhode Island waters (waters also claimed by NY state for those of you keeping score at home).

We arrived at the tip of the canyon at dawn and were greeted by a slow but steady trickle of Wilson's Storm-Petrels and Great Shearwaters along with Finback Whales and Risso's Dolphins. Little did we know this was the most life we would see until we returned to the same area later in the day!

The plan was to steam out to deep water (5-6000 ft) where we had success last year in the form of Black-capped Petrel, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, and Long-tailed Jaeger. This year, however, we had nothing but a verrry slow trickle of WISP and GRSH. We ran east to the Massachusetts line at this depth, headed back north into 2500-3000 ft and ran back west to the canyon...again with slim pickings despite setting up a couple chum slicks.

Great Shearwaters

Wilson's Storm-Petrels

WISP with interesting symmetrical plumage abnormality

Upon arrival back at the canyon the birdlife picked up again and we had our two best birds of the day. First was an adult BRIDLED TERN that only a handful of people saw (poorly), but Doug Gochfeld was able to grab a few record shots to confirm the ID.

Just before we started our journey back to land we had a very cooperative AUDUBON'S SHEARWATER give us nice looks for a while.

Audubon's Shearwater

Here is the trip list as distributed by the trip organizer/leader:
CORY'S SHEARWATER- 1 (only one bird, seen at the canyon in the morning)
LEACH'S STORM-PETREL- 1 (seen by a few)
DICKCISSEL- 1 (heard by a few folks in the morning)

Other sea life included Fin Whales, Minke Whale, Risso's Dolphins, Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins, Common Dolphins, a possible Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (identified as probable Tiger Shark in the field but this may be incorrect), and Loggerhead Sea Turtle.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

possible Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

It's always fun to be out there, but we had a really slow day. We made the best of it, working hard for what we did get. The water wasn't terribly warm, and there were no sharp temperature breaks to be found. We had nice blue water, but only scattered tiny bits of sargassum weed. Here's a sea surface temperature map from the 19th:

our approximate area of focus at Block Canyon and east to the NY or RI pelagic boundary with MA

sunset over Block Island

We were back at the dock around 10pm, about to begin the drive home when...

John Oshlick called to let us know that the immature Brown Booby was back at Corporation Beach in Dennis, MA that afternoon after a couple days' absence. Bummer, only 2 hours away but we had things to do back home on Sunday. As we were packing up the car I joked that we could probably see the bird in the car's high beams, recalling that the bird's favorite jetty was right in front of the parking lot. Joking turned into "Can we really pull this off?" conversation once we realized it would be a life bird for three of the car's passengers (Glenn, Phil, and Charlie). I called John back to confirm that it might be possible to spotlight the bird, as he was just there a few days ago to see it so the layout of the place would be fresh in his mind. He also thought it was possible. We decided to go.

We arrived at Corporation Beach at 12:30am, now August 21st. Sure enough the jetty was well-lit by our headlights. But...no bird. Delirious at this point, we shook our heads after a few thorough scans of the jetty without success. Before we left I checked the Massbird listserv one last time and noted a post from our friend from CT, Alex Burdo, who saw the bird that evening. He noted that the booby was on a large rock behind the jetty in question, rather than on the jetty itself.

So we climbed around the jetty with 200-lumen flashlight in hand, located a group of large rocks, and there it was, Brown Booby sleeping soundly on a rock at 1:00am. Check!

After the others enjoyed their spotlit life Brown Booby, we left for the long drive home. Somehow Phil was able to get us back into CT without falling asleep at the wheel (though there was some lane-wandering at times) and we were all in bed well before dawn.

Definitely a chase we won't soon, or ever, forget.

- Nick