Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Parasitic Jaeger off the CT coast

Hurricane Dorian ever so slightly (and quickly!) brushed southern New England on Sep 6-7. Not surprisingly, it didn't pack much rarity punch here. Still, some southern terns were deposited to Atlantic Canada and could conceivably pass through as they reorient. This possibility added a bit of extra motivation to bird the CT coast by boat sometime this week. Today was my first chance to do so, as I've been busy at work.

I left New Haven Harbor around 8:30am and headed east. The forecast was iffy in that there was a chance a swell could kick up from the east, in which case I would have to abort. Luckily that never happened, and I was able to cover way more ground that I had expected...all the way to the Rhode Island line and back.

Immediately evident was the departure of terns from New Haven Harbor. The theme continued to Falkner Island, where five early GREAT CORMORANTS were roosting. In fact, I didn't see a tern until I hit Madison on the outbound leg of the journey. I ran the middle of the sound, staying on the CT side, all the way to the "ferry lanes" near The Race. It was dead.

three of the five Great Cormorants off Guilford, CT

From there I angled back inshore, entered Fishers Island Sound, and went east all the way to Stonington and the RI line. There wasn't much happening here, either.

On the return leg I ran inshore, sticking pretty close to the coast, checking harbors, breakwaters, islands and jetties. Terns began to show off East Lyme, and they were present on and off westward to Clinton. The greatest concentration was between Old Saybrook and Clinton. COMMON TERNS were dominant except at the mouth of the Connecticut River, where a count of 74 FORSTER'S TERNS was notable. The lower CT River definitely holds the state's highest density of Forster's.

Just west of Cornfield Point I spotted a jaeger pursuing a Laughing Gull in the vicinity of a feeding tern flock. Speeding closer, binocular views revealed it to be a PARASITIC JAEGER, by far the least rare jaeger species in CT. It was a crisp juvenile with warm buff fringes to dark chocolate-brown feathers. I watched this bird terrorize terns and gulls for a little while before it settled on the water.

Parasitic Jaeger

Later this afternoon, Old Saybrook residents and old friends John & Anders Ogren were able to successfully chase the bird from their boat.

Any encounter with a jaeger in CT waters is an exciting event, but being able to get up close and personal via boat is a rare treat.

 - NB

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Quick hit Hudwit and Stilt Sand

I spent the majority of the 5th and 6th in the field with still a pretty heavy focus on shorebirds. We're getting to the point in the season when birders understandably shift their interest from shorebirds and terns to passerines and hawks. There will still be quality shorebirding for a bit longer, though numbers will really drop off (and have already begun to).

An early morning visit to Hammonasset Beach SP on the 5th found hardly any shorebirds on the lawns, but a decent landbird movement overhead. BOBOLINKS dominated, passing in singles and small flocks. The highlight came in the form of my first DICKCISSEL of the year, giving its flight call as it flew westward down the coast.

Some dedicated landbirding in Guilford found a few feeding flocks of common species. AMERICAN REDSTARTS are still dominating the warbler mix, which is typical for the date.

For the midday period I walked out Sandy Point in West Haven. Shorebird numbers never really got very high there this year, and they have trailed off to rather modest numbers at best. Still, there's been a bit of diversity. While I was watching a juvenile LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL on the water, I heard a nasal bark-like call that I couldn't immediately place. I looked up to see a HUDSONIAN GODWIT flying in from the north. It didn't seem very interested in landing, banked left, and continued out of sight to the east. A juvenile RED KNOT, oddly uncommon in Connecticut, was also present, settled in with the BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER flock.

Hudsonian Godwit (molting adult)

Red Knot with Black-bellied Plovers

Also of note, while my butterfly knowledge is severely lacking, I noticed a CLOUDLESS SULPHUR flying northeastward down the beach and out over the harbor. And then another. And another. I ended up noting five of them on my walk back, which seemed like a lot to me.

Cloudless Sulphur

I began the next day at Milford Point. Hurricane Dorian was due to brush us every so slightly later that day, passing well to our southeast. While the chances of something getting blown into Long Island Sound were slim, the possibility of knock-downs was there. There were no surprises here, but I was happy to see the three continuing AMERICAN AVOCETS once again. Two each "Eastern" and "Western" WILLETS were cool side-by-side.

The outermost fringes of Hurricane Dorian slowly approach

Heading east, Hammonasset was dead quiet. As the outermost rain bands from the hurricane inched closer, I checked Griswold Point in Old Lyme. This used to be a prime shorebird spot, but recent storms have battered and eroded the point to a shell of its former self. Sadly, not even any Piping Plovers or Least Terns bred successfully this year, which is a first as far as I can remember. Anyway, birds were predictably scarce, but a single Tringa-like shorebird flew in by itself, which I had initially assumed would be a Lesser Yellowlegs. Better views revealed it to be a juvenile STILT SANDPIPER, once of those shorebird species that is far more regular in neighboring coastal states than it is in Connecticut. It never really got settled and flew off in a just a couple minutes. Bird of the day, for sure.

Stilt Sandpiper

The wind picked up a bit from the east, and showers began. I spent the next couple hours "sound-watching" from Cornfield Point in Old Saybrook. There were enough terns moving around to keep me occupied, some 600 total of four species (566 Common, 25 Forster's, 14 Roseate, 4 Black).

I stopped back into Hammonasset on my way home, as it was really raining at that point and I expected shorebirds to be downed on the lawns, but again, no dice.

 - Nick