Sunday, August 31, 2014

Giant Swallowtail

This morning I went to my parents' house in Orange, CT to help my father with yardwork. I must have scored some karma points with the nature gods because this GIANT SWALLOWTAIL was nectaring heavily in their garden, particularly on the Buddleia.

Giant Swallowtail
 - NB

Friday, August 29, 2014

Groton to Guilford, CT (Baird's Sandpipers +)

After seeing quite a bit of migration on the radar when I went to sleep last night, I got up early with expectations that Bluff Point in Groton, CT would produce a quality morning flight today. Boy was I wrong! Winds were essentially calm at Bluff at dawn, which resulted in a nearly non-existent flight. A flyby calling DICKCISSEL was the only highlight.

After bailing from Bluff I headed to Old Lyme for some low tide shorebirding. The mudflats at Watch Rock held a juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPER and my first three WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS in CT for the season. Two GREEN-WINGED TEAL were also my first southbound of the fall, right about on time.

Down to Griswold Point, which upon arrival had some shorebirds working the flats, most notably a juvenile RED KNOT, a flyby calling WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER, and an impressive flock (for the time of year) of 21 juvenile "Eastern" WILLETS. An immature PEREGRINE FALCON strafed the flats a few times, causing most of the birds to leave and not return, at least for the half hour or so I lingered after that point. As with my earlier visits this year, there was no roosting Common Tern flock. This location, when COTEs are present, is a reliable place to view post-breeding Roseate Terns up close. Not this year. There were a few LEAST TERNS hanging around, including two large chicks that have yet to fledge.

White-rumped Sandpiper

Peregrine Falcon

I took a spin through Hammonasset Beach State Park in search of grasspipers, hoping to run into a Buff-breasted. No luck with that, but there was another BAIRD'S SANDPIPER feeding in the "boulder pool" at Meig's Point. Otherwise there wasn't much except for the reliable LITTLE BLUE x TRICOLORED HERON hybrid.

Baird's Sandpiper

hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron - the lores are now yellow after being bright blue back in May

The last stop of the day was the freshwater marsh at Shell Beach Road in Guilford. There was no sign of the Wilson's Phalarope that had been around for several days, but there was yet another BAIRD'S SANDPIPER among the peep that soon took off by itself and headed west.

In all, fourteen shorebird species for the half-day...a very modest total for the date.

 - NB

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Aug 27 - Fishing Block Canyon

Yesterday I was lucky enough to fish the tip of Block Canyon on a new friend's boat. It was beautifully calm in advance of Hurricane Cristobal passing well to the southeast with only very gentle 2-4 ft swells and no wind. We left the dock in Montauk by 2am and were at the canyon before sunrise. There was a fair amount of life to be seen, though not much bird-wise. The highlight of the day were the numbers of Audubon's Shearwaters, perhaps not surprising given that last weekend's BBC overnight pelagic to larger canyons further east produced Massachusetts state record high counts on consecutive days!

Cory's Shearwater  2
Cory's Shearwater (borealis)  1
Sooty Shearwater  1
Audubon's Shearwater  20
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  71
Oceanodroma sp.  1

Common Dolphin 10
Risso's Dolphin 95
Pilot Whale sp. 15
shark sp. 1
Manta Ray 1
Portuguese Man o' War 6


Audubon's Shearwater

Audubon's Shearwater

Risso's Dolphins

Pilot Whales

Portuguese Man o' War

Portuguese Man o' War

shark sp. - If anyone has any idea what this could be based on just a dorsal fin, let me know!

Evening return to Montauk

  - NB

Monday, August 25, 2014

Just Announced! Sept 27 & 28 Overnight Pelagic out of Cape Cod!

This trip was just announced by the Brookline Bird Club, right on the heels of another fantastic overnight August pelagic:

The same overnight trip that has become so reliable for White-faced Storm-Petrel and has produced so many rarities including Barolo Shearwater is being offered for a second time this year...on the weekend of Sept 27 & 28.

See the below message from organizer Ida Giriunas. Note that the date to reach our minimum signup number is Sept 6th. Usually the annual August overnighter sells out faster than a Britney Spears concert circa 2001, with a long waiting list, but this might be a different story since it is being announced relatively last-minute as far as these things go.


We have an opportunity to rerun the recent very successful Extreme August Pelagic trip at the end of September. The birds seen in August were the White-faced Storm-petrel, Black-capped Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, dozens of Audubon's shearwaters, a few Band-rumped storm-petrels, a few Leach's Storm-petrels and a SOUTH POLAR SKUA as well as our common shearwaters, jaegers and phalaropes. Also seen was a WHALE SHARK and a TIGER SHARK.. We have Master birders such as Jeremiah Trimble, Marshall Iliff, Nicholas Bonomo, Mark Faherty, Luke Seitz, etc. leading our trips.
Our boat, the HELEN H, is a very comfortable, fast, 100 foot fishing boat with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic Captain and crew. We use gallons of chum to attract the birds.. There are 38 bunks aboard which will be available to the first 38 who sign up. There is a full galley with excellent food at reasonable prices.
Parking is free.

Please let us know if you would be interested. We need enough people registered by 9/6 to plan to do so. So, if you want to join us, contact Ida Giriunas at
(781-929-8772) for further information and waiver forms.

September 27,28, 2014 Hyannis to Hydrographer, Veaches, Atlantis Canyon area:

5:30 AM Saturday - 6PM Sunday

for WHITE-FACED STORM PETREL, Band-Rumped and Leach's Storm-Petrel, 5 Shearwater species (including possible BAROLO), 3 Jaeger species, terns, gulls and sea ducks, possible Tropicbird, bridled tern, other rarities.

Cost: $295 BBC Members, $310 non-members.

Ida Giriunas

For the Brookline Bird Club"

 - NB

Aug 23 & 24 - BBC Extreme Pelagic (WFSP, RBTR, BCPEs, SPSK, Whale Shark)

A borderline weather forecast almost kept us from leaving the dock this weekend, but the end result was another spectacularly successful Brookline Bird Club overnight pelagic. We've been waiting two years for another overnight trip. Our most recent overnighter (in 2012) was amazing, and last year's trip was canceled due to high seas. So we were really itching to get back out there!

Here are some highlights from the weekend with a few pics. I know that several folks got some killer photos, so keep an eye out for those. Marshall Iliff and Jeremiah Trimble are preparing the full trip report and eBird checklists.

In short, we had (among other things!) three BLACK-CAPPED PETRELS (the two seen well enough were white-faced types), five shearwater species, four storm-petrel species including WHITE-FACED and BAND-RUMPED, an immature RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, SOUTH POLAR SKUA, all three jaegers...and a WHALE SHARK right next to the boat.

Our route, with a few of the many highlights marked
Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-billed Tropicbird being pursued by a Pomarine Jaeger

Red-billed Tropicbird

White-faced Storm-Petrel

White-faced Storm-Petrel

Black-capped Petrel (the second of three seen)

Black-capped Petrel (the second of three seen)

Black-capped Petrel (the first of three seen)

Black-capped Petrel (the first of three seen)

Whale Shark

Parasitic Jaeger

Audubon's Shearwater

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Sooty Shearwater in a raft of Great Shearwaters

juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger

juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger

Another amazing overnight trip is in the books. It's no wonder this annual event sells out months in advance. The biggest thanks go to Ida Giriunas and Naeem Yusuff for their hard work to make these trips possible. Here's hoping to another opportunity to get out there, sooner than later.

 - Nick

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Milford Point (Golden-Plover, Western Willet, Red Knots)

Shorebird diversity is beginning to pick up at Milford Point (CT) as the season rolls on. Among the regulars today we had an adult AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, a juvenile "WESTERN" WILLET, and three adult RED KNOTS. Among the flocks today were my first juvenile Semipalmated Sandpipers (a handful) and Semipalmated Plovers (two) of the fall among the throngs of adults.

After going a while without a point-and-shoot camera for digiscoping (after my Canon A590 finally crapped out), I picked up a cheap used one from eBay (same model). There are just too many situations in which digiscoping still yields better results than my 400mm dSLR lens when I'm dealing with distant birds. So lucky you, blog reader, as you'll again be seeing more crummy digiscoped photos here, just like the old days!

American Golden-Plover (adult, center of image). From a distance with Black-bellied Plovers, note the smaller size especially head/bill, white supercilium set off by a dark cap, and rich brown back.

American Golden-Plover (adult, second from right)

"Western" Willet (juvenile, center of image with bill tucked). Also note the fading alternate plumaged Red Knot along the shore to the right.

 - NB

Monday, August 11, 2014

July road trip

One of the reasons why I can't help but love my current job is the schedule attached to it. Without getting into too much detail, every five weeks or so I work for a long stretch that is followed by extended time off. After working a lot in early-mid July I had quite a bit of time off towards the end of the month. I participated in pelagic trips on consecutive weekends, off Massachusetts on July 19th and off North Carolina on July 25th & 26th, with no work commitments in between. Also on both sets of pelagic trips were friends (and killer birders!) Tom Johnson and Doug Gochfeld. The three of us decided to take a road trip from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras (and back north to our homes) to pass the time between pelagics. Along the way we hit lots of good habitat and saw many, many birds. Yep, we had a blast. Here are some highlights from the week on the road...

As we were still aboard the "Helen H," approaching Hyannis after a super successful pelagic on July 19th, our cell phones lit up with email and text alerts that had stacked up throughout the day while we were at sea. Among those emails was one from New Jersey with news of a European Golden Plover that had been identified just that day. Doug had prior family obligations in Massachusetts for the 20th, so he was unable to chase the bird. But Tom and I were ready to drop everything and run. The only problem was...we were so wrecked and sleep deprived that there was no way we could safely reach anywhere near New Jersey without first catching some sleep. As Tom suggested, "We ride at dawn."

And that's what we did...or maybe a bit after dawn. Either way, we heard that the bird was still there on the 20th but had flown around 9am. Still, our hopes were cautiously high that it could be relocated, especially since it had flown in the same direction the day before only to reappear at the original location early this morning. And yet we arrived to a line of birders looking at an empty field. We spent a good few hours branching out in all directions, hoping to refind the bird in a different field. We searched long and hard til dark, intermittently returning to the group of birders at the original location, without luck. Our only consolation prize was this large Imperial Moth.

Imperial Moth

We thought it was worth another shot on the morning of the 21st, so we arrived at the field pretty darn early and waited for a couple more hours. After nearly 24 hours since the last sighting we chose to throw in the towel and return to Connecticut to reconvene with Doug and officially start our trip south. (FYI, the plover was never seen again).

Later that day the three of us met Julian Hough at Milford Point in Milford, CT, where Semipalmated Sandpipers had arrived in force. Here we had a conservative count of 2,500 birds and were able to scour most of them unsuccessfully for any Old World relatives. This site has three accepted records of Red-necked Stint, last in 2006, so I figured the place was due for another...but not on this day.

We crashed in Brooklyn that night and planned on shorebirding Long Island on the 22nd. We focused our efforts during the first part of the day on Cupsogue Beach County Park & vicinity, where we tallied a nice list of shorebirds including a few "Western" Willets, a Whimbrel, and a sweet adult Western Sandpiper. Terns were a bit less diverse than they often are here, but still included a Royal Tern despite the complete lack of Roseates.

Short-billed Dowitchers in flight, including a presumed first-summer individual at right

Black Skimmer

We ended the day with a visit to the East Pond at Jamaica Bay, a shorebird mecca with a fantastic track record of rarities. However, the water levels were just beginning to drop and very little mud likely kept shorebirds from settling at that location. We had nothing of note and very few individuals to look at. It pretty much sucked. Doug was devastated. Night in Brooklyn.

Our plan for the 23rd was to drive to Bombay Hook in Delaware and continue birding the refuges southward from there with no firm schedule. I had only birded Bombay Hook once before, and never during peak shorebird season, so I was looking forward to this place. It did not disappoint. The muddy pools were covered in migrant shorebirds. Some of our counts included 290 American Avocet, 22 Stilt Sandpiper, over 3000 Short-billed Dowitchers and four Long-billed Dowitchers.

Prime Hook was slow so we didn't spend much time here and proceeded south to Figgs Landing in Maryland. Here were two roadside pools with lots of potential for drawing in migrant shorebirds, waders, and terns. A flyby flock of 9 Whimbrel was a highlight here.

For our last stop of the day we set up an evening watch at nearby Truitts Landing, also in Maryland. We spent two hours standing around and counting birds migrating and heading to roost. Among other things we had our first Solitary and Pectoral Sandpipers of the week, a flyby calling Long-billed Dowitcher, 1,090 Laughing Gulls, and 14 Seaside Sparrows. Night somewhere nearby.

Tom scans for birds at Truitts Landing while Doug checks his phone for nearby Tinder matches...

The only thing we had to worry about on the 24th was arriving in Hatteras, NC at a reasonable time in the evening. So we planned on hitting Chincoteague NWR and Pea Island NWR en route.

We ended up running into some dodgy weather at Chincoteague so our birding here was cut short a bit, but we still managed to sample the best spots. Here we enjoyed six heron/egret species, many Marbled Godwits and "Western" Willets, and eight species of tern/skimmer. Check out our eBird checklist if you'd like.

Before we reached the Outer Banks, Tom had keyed into a very cool nesting event that we were interested in checking out - breeding Anhingas in Chesapeake County, Virginia. Not far off our track, we found the spot quite easily and immediately got on the birds. There is one known active nest, but the presence of a second female bird raises the possibility there may be other nests there or nearby.

female Anhinga on the nest (we saw one small chick poking its head around for a short time)

a different female Anhinga

The numbers and variety at Pea Island were not exceptional, and we arrived in the Hatteras area earlier than expected for a good night's sleep.

Doug scans the ocean from an OBX dune

The 25th and 26th were spent offshore with great success - see the blog post for details and photos!

When we woke up in Hatteras on the 27th our road trip was just about over, but we still had the drive back home! Actually, Brian had hoped to run a third consecutive pelagic on the 27th, but lack of subscription kept us from going out. Since we had an extra day on land to play with, we split our return drive into two days, retracing our steps.

As we headed back up the Outer Banks we ticked Eurasian Collared Dove. Pea Island was again underwhelming so we continued to Chincoteague, where we finally found something rare on land! A solitary WHITE-FACED IBIS was the only Plegadis ibis in sight.

White-faced Ibis

White-faced Ibis

Retracing our steps, we stopped again at Figgs Landing and again were impressed with the place, where we tallied 31 Stilt Sandpipers. We ended the day at a spot we had not yet visited - Ocean City, Maryland where we scoped a Skimmer Island from Route 50 at sunset. The volume of birds at this tiny piece of habitat was impressive! See our eBird checklist for details. Night near Rehoboth Beach, Delaware after a cold beer at Dogfish Head Brewery.

Our last day, the 28th, was spent revisiting the Delaware hotspots. Our highlight at Prime Hook was a photo session with several Seaside Sparrows, mostly juvs.

juvenile Seaside Sparrow

juvenile Seaside Sparrow

Bombay Hook again impressed with sheer numbers alone. For example, 339 Avocet, 525 Semipalmated Plover, 350 Lesser Yellowlegs, 70 Stilt Sandpiper, 8,000 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 4,000 Short-billed Dowitcher, and a few less common species such as four more Long-billed Dowitchers and a Pectoral Sandpiper.

From there we all went our separate ways, concluding a great week of birding. This was exactly what I needed to get back into the local birding scene, from which I had been slowly drifting away for the past couple of years. It felt great to shake off some rust and spend a week birding the East Coast with these awesome guys and birders!

 - NB