Monday, May 20, 2019

CT BIG DAY - May 16, 2019 - 189 species

What a strange spring we've had so far. It was quite cold and wet for a while there. The bird migration has come in a few distinct waves, with little movement between those waves. Some years, migration moves through at a steady pace, with birds seemingly trickling through on a daily bases. It was boom-or-bust for the first two weeks of May. We were hoping that we would hit one of these waves that would hold a mix of early and late migrants, but we clearly caught more early birds than late ones. Each year is different. Our 189 total seems to be about our average these days. As always, we had a blast being crazy for 24 hours; those few moments before midnight on "the day" are always exhilarating.

A bit burnt out for a full analysis this year, but we had our usual array of surprise hits and disappointing misses.

"Best" birds: Yellow Rail (continuing), Sandhill Crane, Wilson's Snipe, Evening Grosbeak, Common Goldeneye - all five of these are new for this team's CT Big Day efforts.

Biggest misses: Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder Flycatcher, Blackpoll Warbler - you can see what I mean about missing some of the later migrants/arrivals.

 - NB

Thursday, May 9, 2019

YELLOW RAIL in CT - May 9, 2019

This isn't how I expected to get my state Yellow Rail.

The few recent CT records of this species have fallen between mid-autumn and early winter and involved individuals at coastal saltmarshes. I just assumed that I had more November rope-dragging days in my future, as spring New England records are very sparse in modern times.

At 3:45 this morning I stepped out of my car at a brackish marsh in Old Saybrook to hear a YELLOW RAIL clicking away. That textbook Morse code-like call. Obviously first I used my iPhone SE (go ahead and snicker) to record the call, though it struggled to pick up the target sound. After a few minutes of standing there and just enjoying a call that I never thought I would hear in Connecticut, I texted (and surely woke up) several friends. Concerned for the local residents (this listening site is very small and located in a residential neighborhood), I called the town's police department and let them know the deal. They were fine with making the observation public. Unfortunately for others, the bird stopped calling at around 4:20am, before anyone could make it.

Here's hoping the bird sticks and is audible for whoever tries to listen tonight.

eBird checklist with sound:

 - NB

Saturday, May 4, 2019

May 2nd fallout at Lighthouse Point, New Haven, CT

The SW coast of Connecticut experienced an impressive fallout on May 2nd. 

I arrived at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven just before 2pm to find the place covered with neotropical migrants. This was truly a fallout - at times birds littered the forest floor and understory, as well as the canopy of course. I was joined by Julian Hough later in the day. We tallied 18 species of warbler in this small park (16 of those at eye level or lower!) plus your expected vireos, tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks and thrushes. It was probably the best single-site landbird fallout I have experienced in spring in Connecticut, as far as bird density goes. The composition was dominated by the species you'd expect for the date (i.e. Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, and BT Green Warblers etc). Highlights included a LINCOLN'S SPARROW and an early WILLOW FLYCATCHER.

The previous night's NEXRAD radar did reveal that, while very little seemed to leave CT, a concentration of birds arrived in SW CT during the early morning hours, presumably from the take-off in the mid-Atlantic. Dreary coastal weather conditions likely caused birds to concentrate there upon arrival.

Hammonasset seemed to be the approximate eastern boundary of the fallout. I birded Bluff Point in Groton and Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme before noon and had modest numbers of migrants at those locations, but nothing like what was happening to the west.

Blackburnian Warbler

 - NB

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Caspian Tern - West Haven, CT

Late this morning I found myself at Bradley Point in West Haven, CT, to see if the California Gull, which was last seen flying north a couple evenings ago, was still hanging around. I did not see it amongst a gull flock that was reduced in size from the preceding few days, but there was a single CASPIAN TERN roosting with the lingering immature Ring-bills. It seemed to adopt the lazy beach bum attitude of its companions and was quite approachable. Apparently it lingered for several hours, which is atypical of a Caspian Tern in Connecticut - they are notoriously difficult to chase.

Caspian Tern


Sunday, April 21, 2019

White-faced Ibis - Madison, CT

Yesterday afternoon Allison Black and I took a ride through Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, CT after the rains had cleared, partially in hope of downed birds in the numerous lawn pools. The pools were just about completely devoid of birds, but we did sort through a flock of Glossy Ibis long enough to pick out a WHITE-FACED. Scope study revealed the set of field marks you are looking for: complete white border of feathers around the facial skin and eye, pinkish-red facial skin, and a red iris. White-faced Ibis has become annual in the state in small numbers (now averaging more than one per year) and was just removed from the Review List by the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut.

Not even 'record photo' quality, but this phone-scoped pic gives an idea

 - NB

Friday, April 19, 2019


Another post-work coastal outing paid off this afternoon. Stepping out of the car at Milford Point I immediately heard the chips of a warbler I could not immediately place. Given the mid-April date, I considered Yellow-throated, which I vaguely recalled having a similar call note. Yellow-throated Warbler arrives very early to its breeding grounds not far to our south and is typically the earliest of the southern overshoots that we see in Connecticut. The bird showed itself quickly and was the hoped-for YTWA.

For the ensuing couple hours, the warbler made circuits around the coastal center building, sticking fairly tightly to the cedars but occasionally showing itself in the open. It called frequently, which made keeping tabs on it pretty easy most of the time. Several birders successfully observed and photographed it.

Of note, yesterday evening's California Gull was seen at the same location and time today, despite unsuccessful searches at different tides and times.

 - NB

Thursday, April 18, 2019


This spring's gull migration in Connecticut has been the worst in at least a decade, as far as I can remember...which made this evening's find of an adult CALIFORNIA GULL all the more surprising.

Showery weather conditions have set in for a few days, which can mean downed birds during migration. It's been a loooong week at work and I was itching to hit the coast for just an hour or two this evening. The Oyster River mouth had nothing, and nearby Bradley Point in West Haven had just its usual loafing flock of a couple hundred gulls. Scanning with bins from the car, and not expecting to see much, I noticed at least three adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS straight away and decided to take a close look at the flock. The initial count of 8 LBBGs would have been my personal high count in the state by a wide margin. Then I saw the Cal Gull, which was facing straight away into the wind for a while before finally getting a bit active and showing all salient field marks just in time for Julian Hough's arrival. We watched the bird for a bit before it flew offshore, likely to one of the breakwaters to roost.

This is the state's second record, the first being seen in spring 2016 and reappearing briefly in September of that year.

The final LBBG tally was fourteen.

CAGU bathing, at right

Open wing includes a p9 mirror, a typical pattern for this species and differentiates it from a CAGU seen earlier this season in MA and NJ.

Behind a few Ring-billed Gulls. A bit of a bruiser, this one was closer to Herring than to Ring-billed in size.

Right of a couple Herring Gulls. The bird's legs were not bright yellow as I would have expected at this time of year, instead appearing an interesting dull grayish yellow-green.

Nine of the 14 Lesser Black-backed Gulls

 - Nick

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Antarctica in Feb 2020 via Connecticut Audubon Society

Antarctica Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent

February 5 - 17, 2020             
13 Days!

Antarctica has been inspiring explorers for centuries and this expedition offers you the chance to discover why, with an unforgettable journey through the spectacular wilderness of the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula. You’ll encounter a world where nature creates the rules, her unpredictable temperament making each trip unique, exciting, and personal. Imagine cruising in a Zodiac through crackling sea ice like shattered glass, witnessing penguins building their nests, or navigating through a maze of icebergs, each one uniquely shaped by its journey through the sea. You’ll enjoy iconic Antarctic highlights, exhilarating adventures, and be rewarded with memories to last a lifetime.
Leader: Nick Bonomo 
Fee: Call or email for more information 1-860-767-0660;

Ecotravel Home Page:
Join us for the Ultimate Bucket List trip, and support a fantastic local non-profit while you're at it!

 - Nick

Friday, April 5, 2019

A pale Red-tail from late October in CT

Last Oct 30th (2018), I found myself at Lighthouse Pt in New Haven, CT during a healthy passage of buteos and eagles. These large raptor days are all too scarce at Lighthouse, where it takes a well-timed late Oct-early Nov cold front to produce a day like this along the Connecticut coast. One of the Red-tails that day, a juvenile bird, was strikingly pale below. The bird wasn't terribly low, was picked up when it was already just about overhead, and streamed westward across the harbor, never allowing for a topside view. I did manage a handful of poor ventral images, which show some features that suggest a Krider's intergrade.

In the photos below, note the overall ghostly underparts, in particular the faint patagial. A zoom-in on the face strongly indicates a whitish cheek that offsets a dark malar, which is another Krider's-like feature. As Red-tail expert Brian Sullivan notes, you can't say much without upperpart photos in this case. Wherever it came from, a unique bird for sure, and outside the norm for borealis.

 - NB

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Ring-necked Duck x Scaup hybrid

Another New Haven Harbor hybrid Aythya, amongst a wintering mixed scaup flock. I have seen this bird three times, initially on January 19th. Trying to figure out the scaup species involved is a bit of a headache. In the field I certainly found the bird to give more of a Greater Scaup-like vibe, based on body, head, and bill shape & size, for what it's worth. However it has been hypothesized that the mediocre open-wing photo is pro-Lesser, as the obvious white is restricted to the secondaries, but I'm not convinced that is anything more than suggestive. All criteria seem shaky.

Click for larger images:

Hybrid's head shot pasted between GRSC and LESC for comparison (identical lighting conditions). Not to scale (hybrid's head is magnified). Vibrance kicked up a few notches to accentuate head color.

Older pics, with Greaters, from back in January:

 - Nick

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Tufted Duck x Scaup hybrid

On March 20th, while scanning the scaup flock from the West Haven Boat Ramp, I noticed a hybrid Tufted Duck. Luckily there were no tense moments here - with the sun at my back, though the bird was distant, the dark gray (not black) back and short, blunt-ended tuft immediately declared this bird as a scaup hybrid and not a bona fide Tufted. While a pure TUDU would have been preferred, this is a life hybrid, and a cool one at that.

The bird was too far to document by handheld phone-scoping. I tried. As luck would have it, I put my boat in the water early this year, and it happened to be located in this very same harbor. I hopped on the boat and tried to approach the scaup flocks, a process that turned out more difficult than I had hoped. The flocks were flighty. I've gotten close to ducks in this boat before, but it usually takes finesse. These flocks, though, were especially spooky.

I eventually refound the bird among the scattered Greater Scaup flocks and got as close as I could (which was not very close at all). Still, record photos were obtained.

did look rather black-backed at certain angles

with Greater Scaup

with Greater Scaup

bottom right, as marked

Separating scaup from each other can be difficult enough, so confidently assigning the scaup parent to species is a whole other level of difficulty. Comments are welcome, as always.

 - Nick

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Australia - Nov-Dec 2017

I'm nearly finished with photo catch-up from a few big trips over the past couple years. I think it's a tad late for a trip summary, but I did want to share a few favorite images from the three-week journey that included Cairns, Melbourne, Sydney, Alice Springs, and Darwin. I was with Ian Davies for the first three cities, and on my own in the Northern Territory.

Splendid Fairywren

Hooded Parrot

Wedge-tailed Eagle (immature)

Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo

White-cheeked Honeyeater

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Red-capped Robin


Rufous Whistler

Short-tailed Shearwaters

White-capped Albatross

Spinifex Pigeon

Australian Owlet-nightjar

 - NB