Saturday, April 21, 2012

Interesting weather now through Monday/Tuesday

Not sure what to make of it. Go birding if you can. Should spice things up a bit.

How's that for analysis?

 - NB

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The next 10 days in weather

Just took a glance at the 10-day forecast and felt like commenting on it. No, nothing really unusual is forecast  to happen (highs of 70 degrees have become ho-hum this month). But we're approaching the heart of migration and watching the weather is just so important if you want to maximize your birding at this time of year.

Thursday through Saturday we'll see winds of a southerly flavor with mostly sunny skies and above average temperatures. This is prime weather for early arrivals and overshoots from the south. Think Swallow-tailed Kite (one of the classic April overshoots) and an assortment of warblers including Yellow-throated and Prothonotary.

Clouds build in on Saturday and rain will break out Sat nite or early Sunday and continue for a couple of days, quite possibly into early Tuesday. This one might not be the soaker we were hoping for, as we are in a legit drought with high fire concern, but we'll take what we can get! Despite the weather, don't necessarily cancel your birding plans. Hit the coast and inland waterways for shorebirds and waterfowl. Check yellowlegs flocks for Ruff. Go through ibis flocks for the now annual White-faced. It's not too early for a Caspian Tern to drop in. And it's not too late to dig up a Little Gull if you can find some Bonaparte's to sort through. Waterfowl may be found on inland reservoirs after being knocked down by the poor weather. Rainy conditions can be awfully exciting during migration. I've listed only a few of the possibilities.

After the rain pulls out it looks like we will see rebounding temps and again a switch to SW winds. Then we'll be back to seeing migration in full swing, and the more typical migrant traps, such as East Rock Park in New Haven, should be productive. Yes, it's early for a great variety of warblers, but prime time to see some of the rarer species mentioned above. Hey, one of these years a Swainson's Warbler will grace Connecticut with its presence. Why not this year?

 - NB

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Early spring birds

This past weekend I was able to get out a bit to enjoy a few species typical of mid-April in southern New England. On Saturday we put the family boat in the water for the summer - always a notable event. The first ride of the year went about as well as one could hope - she ran beautifully. A ride around the Norwalk Islands produced a handful of fishing NORTHERN GANNETS and some lingering/migrant waterfowl including LONG-TAILED DUCKS and SURF & WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS.

Northern Gannet
A rather tame AMERICAN COOT was waiting for us back at the dock.

American Coot
 Sunday was notable for its warmer temps reaching well into the 70s inland. I was able to sneak out for just an hour to nearby Brooksvale Park in Hamden to look for a Little Blue Heron that was seen the day before. No heron, but I was pleased to find a WHITE-EYED VIREO among a mixed flock along the pond edge. It's my personal earliest WEVI but about in-line with their typical arrival date. A few PALM and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS were also in the mix.

White-eyed Vireo
Palm Warbler

In just about 10 days the passerine migration will be getting hot and heavy with many neotropical migrants due to arrive in the area. Unfortunately I will be out of town for much of May, but the good news is that I will be birding elsewhere, namely Florida, Alaska, and the Gulf Stream off North Carolina (in that order!). So stay tuned for updates and highlights from those trips. I may even post a bit from the road if I am motivated enough to do so! It will be slightly disappointing to miss the bulk of the spring warbler push, but they'll be back next year...

 - NB

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A large Thayer's-like Gull in Connecticut?

Back on March 13th I photographed a large first-cycle Thayer's-like Gull in Stratford, CT. I wasn't sure what to call it at the time, and I still can't put a name to it. Over the past few weeks I've contemplated the bird a bit and sent photos to just a couple folks for input, but otherwise I've hidden the photos away for future headache-inducing analysis. On ID-Frontiers, the current lengthy discussion on vagrant Thayer's Gull ID has shifted a bit to include questions about large Thayer's-like birds seen in eastern North America. Hence the bird below.

Thayer's Gull? Hybrid (if so, what)? Something else? I don't know. (Thoughts from the few experienced folks who commented included unknown hybrid, Thayer's, Herring, 'I don't know' and even Slaty-back. No two people gave the same answer. Love it.)

What exactly we do with birds like this in the east? Other than curse aloud? I think we just try to document them as best we can with hope that we might be able to put a name to them someday (but probably not).

Click to enlarge photos. My field impressions were first of a Thayer's-like plumage pattern, at least superficially, but was struck by the bird's size & structure which I thought was rather HERG-like. Size was similar to the larger Herring Gulls with which it was feeding. Complicating matters is the fact that March isn't the best time to study feather detail thanks to wear & fading.

unidentified gull, Stratford, CT, 13 Mar 2012

- NB

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Apr 1 - Little Gull @ Southport Beach

On this past Sunday Jake Musser and I hit the coast mainly in search of gulls, particularly Bonaparte's Gulls. This year's barnacle larvae phenomenon has resulted in some impressive gull numbers, with Ring-billed and Herring Gulls dominating up to this point. But over the past week Bonaparte's Gulls have arrived in very good numbers - flocks that used to be typical of March-April in past decades. In recent years, the numbers of spring migrant Bonaparte's Gulls in CT have significantly waned, and so have the frequency of Little and Black-headed Gull sightings.

Jake and I arrived mid-morning at Southport Beach in Fairfield, CT, where a flock of 3000+ BOGU and one Black-headed Gull had been seen earlier in the week. We joined Mark Szantyr and Hayden Hall who were busy photographing the gulls. The BOGU numbers were climbing towards 1,000 as more and more flew in from Long Island Sound to bathe, preen, and roost. After a bit of searching an adult LITTLE GULL flew into the fray, picked out in flight by its strikingly dark gray underwings. The bird dropped into the flock before being flushed and not seen again despite intense searching. It was a brief stay but we enjoyed the views we had of this stunner.

adult Little Gull, in prealternate molt, as it drops into the BOGU flock

Also at this location was a third cycle LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL and a continuing drake EURASIAN WIGEON.

We headed west from there and encountered another impressive gull flock in Stratford, this one larger and containing many more medium-large gulls in addition to 1500+ Bonaparte's. We couldn't turn up any rare small gulls, but we did add two ICELAND GULLS and another LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL to the list, giving us 7 gull species on the day.

There's no telling how much longer this barnacle phenomenon will continue, but we should be well past the peak at this point. Gull numbers and diversity should dwindle through the month, but there appears to still be time to enjoy the show and perhaps find some rarities hidden among the flocks. Little Gull, in particular, is still very possible over the next two weeks if history is any indication.

- NB