This past weekend I traveled up the CT coast and back, from Norwalk to where Long Island Sound meets a more open version of the Atlantic Ocean. The motivation for the journey was to take some friends searching for the shearwaters that I and many other birders had seen by ferry earlier in the week. Though the weather pattern had changed, we figured we would still be able to find some birds in NY waters if CT waters failed us.
Leaving the dock after 1pm on Saturday left me not much time to bird, but made the most of it. I picked up Stefan Martin in Stratford for a quick check of the breakwater and sandbars at the mouth of the Housatonic River. Highlights included a ROYAL TERN and a FORSTER'S TERN.
A Royal Tern flies over the sandbar while Steve Spector watches
I continued east after returning Stefan to shore. Next stop was Falkner Island off Guilford, the site of last year's Bridled Tern. Tern numbers seemed down compared to last year at this time, though a handful of ROSEATES were evident. Most surprising to me were some 20 GRAY SEALS hauled out on the tiny, rocky Goose Island immediately to the west of Falkner. Before seeing them, I heard one wail a few times - a sound I had never heard before and had me thoroughly confused for a few minutes!
I continued to poke along various breakwaters, jetties, and islands as I moved east. Three COMMON EIDER at the Clinton Breakwater were a surprise that far west. This species' stronghold in CT is the coast of New London County, but they have yet to move west of the Connecticut River with any regularity. Other than a few scattered ROSEATE TERNS, the only other highlight along that stretch of coast was two fledged juvenile LITTLE BLUE HERONS on Duck Island in Westbrook.
About 7 miles out of my destination marina in Groton a bank of fog suddenly rolled in. Fighting through that without radar was no fun, but I made it back safely before dark...and before a strong storm rolled through.
The cold front that brought those evening storms had passed overnight, and we were greeted with a moderate NW breeze when we met at the dock Sunday morning. This was not a wind conducive to pushing shearwaters a few miles into CT waters, so hopes of a repeat three-shearwater day were slim. Still, we drove out to the ferry lanes and waited. Frank Gallo, Phil Rusch, and Dave Provencher were just back from Arizona the night before and wanted to make up for missing the Long Island Sound shearwater incursion from earlier in the week. Glenn Williams had gotten his CT shearwaters on Wednesday, but was hoping for more. Upon our arrival a subadult PARASITIC JAEGER robbed a fresh juvenile Common Tern of its food. A harsh lesson for such a young bird.
Parasitic Jaeger swooping down to catch the fish dropped by the terrified tern
A slick of fish oil did not attract a single bird, though we did have two Cory's Shearwaters on the CT side.
One of the Cross Sound ferries, being birded by Paul Wolter (I'm pretty sure!). Hey Paul, the Cory's is over here!
Looking for a break, we figured we would do a loop through NY waters and return a bit later to try to boost our Connecticut lists. The waters to which we were headed are where Long Island Sound meets a more oceanic body of water: Block Island Sound.
First, at The Race (the narrow eastern opening of Long Island Sound between Fishers Island and Little Gull Island), we found just a few more CORY'S SHEARWATERS and not much else. We moved southwest towards Great Gull and Little Gull Islands. We spotted a distant feeding frenzy southeast of Great Gull and headed there. What seemed like a smattering of distant shearwaters we soon realized was a large mass. The birds were concentrated along a line of bait that was being blitzed by larger fish (species not identified). It was mayhem for a few minutes there. The sound of the blitzing fish and mewing shearwaters was impressively loud. You couldn't hear the boat running.
At its peak, we had about 1800 shearwaters in sight in all directions. GREAT SHEARWATER dominated, with lesser numbers of CORY'S followed by SOOTY. A handful of MANX SHEARWATERS really made my day. I rarely get to see that species so close. The advantage of viewing these birds from a small boat is that you're almost down to their level, which makes for intimate views and quality photo ops.
We could have stayed out there for much longer. With so many birds around, you feel like there's something you're missing. We were not able to pick out any rare terns among the thousands of Commons and many Roseates from the Great Gull colony. Four more PARASITIC JAEGERS were having a blast, though. I took several photos between running the boat and scanning for new birds.
In hopes of getting a Great or Sooty in CT waters, we returned to the ferry lanes and spent the next hour or so running the state line in the middle of the sound. One more CORY'S was all we could muster on the tubenose front.
This was quite a day. Probably my second best shearwater experience behind last year's nutso event at Race Point in Provincetown, MA. To be able to do this easily out of a CT port, just a few miles from state waters, made it that much sweeter. Interestingly, we did not see a Wilson's Storm-Petrel all day. And amazingly, we had been to these exact same waters four weeks prior and did not have a single tubenose in sight. The unpredictability of seabirds is part of what makes them so alluring.
I dropped the guys back in Groton and headed back towards Norwalk. A choppy afternoon made for a slow ride back. The only bird of note along the way was an adult BONAPARTE'S GULL still looking quite nice, probably just off the breeding grounds.
For the past couple months, Ian Davies and I had been eyeing this week for a little summer Cape Cod birding adventure. The feasibility of this plan would depend largely on the weather, as I wanted to trailer the boat to the Cape for access to pelagic waters and Monomoy NWR. After a rather uncertain and oft-changing forecast thanks to a stationary front passage, a brief weather window opened for the second half of the week. Julian Hough was free to join me for the mini vacation, so we left CT on Tuesday evening. Wednesday was spent shorebirding; Ian had to work that day, but Pete Trimble and Phil Rusch filled out the boat. Thursday found us rained out, but we regrouped for a full Friday on the water. At sunrise on Friday the 12th, Ian, Julian, and Pete & Jeremiah Trimble and I left the harbor and headed around the tip of Monomoy to the productive waters east of Chatham. I had been out there a handful of times prior between my boat and a friend's, and there has always been at lea
Today's cooler, blustery conditions combined with the appearance of an Ivory Gull in Cape May got me thinking more about the upcoming gull season and reflecting on last year's. The 2008-09 gulling in the northeast was pretty damn good and included a few really exciting birds. The season started out with a bang exactly one year ago today with CT's first Slaty-backed Gull . On 12/12 an adult Thayer's Gull put in a brief appearance at the Windsor-Bloomfield Landfill, CT's premier gull hotspot, followed by a first-winter bird on 12/23. A Black-headed Gull spent the winter in New Haven Harbor. Perhaps 'gull of the year' was a subadult Glaucous-winged Gull in Rochester, NH, found by Scott Young...a first record for New England. Meanwhile Gloucester, MA was once again the gull capital of New England. I happened to already be up in Boston when news of an adult Ivory Gull broke on 1/17. I still get chills thinking about that weekend. Of course there were plenty
Frank Mantlik struck again yesterday by finding a bright adult CURLEW SANDPIPER in a small golf course pond along the Stratford, CT coast. This was the first chaseable Curlew Sand in the state in over 20 years, thus unblocking this species for an entire generation of birders. Out of town and unable to partake in the twitch, I was hoping the bird would stick another day. This morning's negative reports were discouraging. The only reasonable play was to wait for the afternoon high tide and hit the local roosts. I started on the rising tide at Milford Point, where some 150 birds came to roost but could not settle thanks to foot traffic. Even with more tide to come, this felt like a lost cause, so I drove across the estuary to Stratford Point. The roost here held ~500 birds, and the Curlew Sand was smack in the middle. Better late than never! Thanks, Frank! (click image for higher res viewing) - NB
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