Monday, April 10, 2017

CT Bobcat!

While birding up near the MA border in Norfolk, CT yesterday I was surprised to see this BOBCAT running directly towards me on a paved road. The cat paused to check me out for a moment before scampering into the woods. Definitely an unexpected sighting, especially in the middle of the road at 10am!

subtle spotting on the legs

I think this is about my third New England Mountain Lion...err...I mean, Bobcat, in CT. They're generally secretive, and they must be more common in the northwest corner than where I usually hang out near the coast.

My first CT Black Bear still eludes me, however!

 - NB

Monday, April 3, 2017

Plankton & Gulls by Boat

For some time I've wanted to get on the water to experience the annual Long Island Sound gull-plankton phenomenon, but I never really had late winter access to a boat until 2016. Still, last year I was a bit late and didn't get in the water until mid-April, which ended up being a few days late for the event.

This year was looking no better with a late-season blizzard and marina construction, both out of my control. But we got lucky with a break in the weather on a weekday I was was too good an opportunity to pass up. So I trailered the boat to the Birdseye Street ramp in Stratford for some LIS gull searching on Thursday morning (March 30th).

Joining me were Virginia Parker, Larry Flynn, Frank Mantlik, and Tom Robben...the latter two representing the Connecticut Ornithological Association's Research Committee. Tom and Frank brought plankton collection equipment in hopes of finding a flock of birds in the act of feeding. We were hopeful despite the low numbers of birds seen in recent days.

The Housatonic River held many COMMON LOONS in various stages of molt, which seemed to be feeding on crabs. I've seen them feed on European Green Crabs at this time of year, and these seemed about that size. The waters off Stratford Point were home to many SURF SCOTER and LONG-TAILED DUCK. We turned the corner towards the mouth of Bridgeport Harbor and spotted exactly what we were looking for - a raft of gulls picking at the surface.

The flock consisted mainly of RING-BILLED GULLS with lesser numbers of HERRING and BONAPARTE'S. Our estimate of 60 "Bonies" was encouraging, as this has been a down year for these sprightly birds. Total gull numbers reached 2,000+. This is actually a modest number for the date in this area; peak numbers in past years have reached over ten thousand.

part of the gull flock between us and the Bridgeport (CT) -Port Jefferson (NY) ferry

part of the ever so scenic Bridgeport coast in the background

Bonaparte's Gull (photo by VP)

Bonaparte's Gull (photo by VP)

Bonaparte's Gull (photo by VP)

Bonaparte's Gull (photo by VP)

Tom and Frank broke out their nets and we did a 5-minute tow through the heart of the flock in hopes of picking up whatever they were eating.

Tom monitoring the net being towed (photo by FM)
Tom and Larry
Larry handling the transfer

Very pleased with our plankton success, we decided to make a quick run further west to see if we could turn up other, larger flocks. We made it as far as Penfield Reef off Fairfield, not seeing much of anything, before we turned around to head back to that flock off Stratford. We were able to relocate the birds, though less concentrated this time. An adult "Kumlien's" ICELAND GULL stood out among the crowd.

"Kumlien's" Iceland Gull

We headed for the dock, but not before a quick check of a Greater Scaup flock off the Milford coast. Note to self: scaup do not like boats.

Greater Scaup

Tom took the plankton samples to UConn for analysis - please check out Tom's blog entries for updates and photos. Long story short, we pulled in lots of barnacle larvae (cyprid stage), copepods, and diatoms. Given that these gulls are calmly sitting on the water and constantly plucking at its surface, is it obvious to me that this plankton is what they are feeding on. If they were going after something more active, such as bait fish feeding on the plankton, their feeding behavior would be drastically different (and they would be seen pulling up larger prey).

This was a lot of fun for all of us, and I am grateful for Tom and Frank bringing their research gear on board. Extra thanks to Tom for pursuing the lab results and sharing them with us. I'm looking forward to doing this again...if not again this year before the show is over, then certainly next year.

 - Nick

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Mar 28 - New Hampshire

Virginia and I went on a quest to find her life SNOWY OWL, and the closest reliable bird(s) seemed to be along the New Hampshire coast. We targeted the Hampton Harbor area, where 1-2 Snowies had been seen recently. After an hour or two or checking marsh, beach, and jetty on both sides of the harbor, we stumbled across one perched atop a telephone pole along the main road to the south. Seemingly oblivious to passers-by, the bird kept a casual yet authoritative watch over its territory.

Snowy Owl (photo by VP)

With our quest met with such success so early in the day, we figured we would target a few other birds in the area that we wanted to see. Also in the neighborhood was an adult GLAUCOUS GULL, a big bruiser of a male it would seem, that has been wintering here for several years now. Much like the Snowy Owl above, it seemed to lord over its favorite parking lot along the harbor front.

adult Glaucous Gull
Our next move was to briefly jump over the state line into Massachusetts and drive through the campground at Salisbury Beach State Park, where RED CROSSBILLS had been seen in recent weeks. Without much effort we spotted a vocal flock of 18 circling over the pine-laden campground; we followed them until they landed and began to feed.

Red Crossbill

They were quite vocal, and I did record them. They sounded most like Type 10 in the field, but I have not analyzed anything yet. I will post later, or just amend this one, once I have.

It was not yet noon at this point, and the approaching rainstorm had not yet arrived, so we decided to
make a run inland towards the GREAT GRAY OWL that has been seen in southern New Hampshire for the past few weeks. We made a few detours along the way to search for Bohemian Waxwings, but we were unable to find any between the coast and the town of Newport where the owl was being seen. We were met with quickly deteriorating weather conditions in Newport. Luckily upon arrival we ran across a local birder/photographer who showed us exactly where the owl had been seen the previous night, which was key because the bird had moved around the neighborhood quite a bit since its discovery. We decided that with the worsening weather we would do two "loops" through the neighborhood before heading out. Not long before leaving we crossed paths with a few birders from Long Island and exchanged contact info, all of us aware that it would take some work to find the bird and we seemed to be the only ones looking. No surprise there - it was really starting to rain. Virginia and I were stopped for gas on our way out of town when the phone rang...they had found the bird where it was last seen the night before(!). It was still there, sitting atop a fence post, when we arrived.

The owl seemed unfazed by the rain and was clearly in hunting mode. It was actively searching for prey from that post. Something caught its attention at one point, and it flew to the ground, only to reappear on the post a few moments later with a massive vole in its bill. A quick stab to the back of the neck before tossing it down in one quick shot. Very cool to see.

Great Gray Owl
We left the bird hunting happily in the rain.

Our afternoon search for Bohemians would be cut short by the heavy rain, but no matter. Have to leave something for next winter!