Wednesday, November 18, 2020

November in New Haven

Cold fronts in November are no joke. When I stepped out of the car this morning at Lighthouse Point in New Haven, with the temperature near freezing and the wind howling at 15mph, my enthusiasm was punched square in the mouth. 

"$%&# it's cold" is a thing I said a few times this morning.

Once the shock had worn off, I angled the car perpendicular to the wind and parked myself in its lee. Forgetting my wind pants at home did not help matters, but there was nothing to do about it now.

November cold fronts usually mean a viz-mig watch along the coast. Today I chose Lighthouse Point for its ability to deliver a combination of finches, swallows, and raptors. And because I would be able to keep my car right next to me for periodic warm-ups.

As expected, birds were moving. Below average temps and a harsh northwest wind tend to do that. The volume of finches was actually somewhat low compared to the numbers that had been pouring through on less windy days. Still, AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES were moving pretty steadily throughout the morning, with a few PINE SISKIN, PURPLE FINCH, and HOUSE FINCH. Two each of EVENING GROSBEAK and RED CROSSBILL also passed through.

To put this in perspective, we are in the midst of a rather fantastic finch flight. Boreal breeding species, some of which we can go several years without seeing in Connecticut, are moving south in numbers we haven't seen in some time. Most of the RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, PURPLE FINCHES, and PINE SISKINS are already through, having moved to points south. EVENING GROSBEAKS and RED CROSSBILLS have really kicked into gear now. COMMON REDPOLLS, WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, and PINE GROSBEAKS are just getting started. We are even expecting HOARY REDPOLL and BOHEMIAN WAXWING at some point. This should make for a fun winter around here.

Back to the task at hand, just before 8am a CAVE SWALLOW popped up by the lighthouse and disappeared as it moved westward. This species' story in New England is a fascinating (and recent) one. Unheard of some 25 years ago, Cave Swallows are now expected annual vagrants ("migrants", really) from their expanding breeding range in the Texas/Oklahoma region. Southwest winds in November bring these birds to our region, and when the winds shift to come out of the northwest, they get pushed to the coast where they can be seen migrating back southward in an attempt to flee the cold. We have had quite a bit of southwest wind over the past week and a half, so their appearance along the coast had been anticipated. It is a predictable pattern.

The landbird flight at Lighthouse died down mid-morning, which sent me on my way. As I was driving about a quarter mile up the road from the park, I spotted a fairly low GOLDEN EAGLE naked eye over one of the side streets. It was headed right for the park. I called to give the hawk watch crew a heads-up, and I went back to join them. Eventually the eagle did pop above the horizon to the north for everyone to see.

Soon I was back on the road towards my next stop, East Shore Park, just up the harbor a bit. Sure enough the eagle was headed the same way, so I got ahead of it again and planted myself for some photos as it passed overhead.

Golden Eagle

At East Shore itself a few minutes later, further up the road, I saw Frank Mantlik and let him know that a Golden Eagle was about to grace us with its presence. This time the bird had gained altitude, but we still enjoyed prolonged views as the bird climbed higher and higher before continuing its journey around the harbor, seemingly unwilling to cross the body of water.

East Shore Park is known to hold lingering warblers into November thanks to the insect-producing abilities of the sewage plant immediately adjacent to the park. Frank, Gina Nichol and I tallied seven species of warbler, darn good for November 18th. We had TENNESSEE, ORANGE-CROWNED, NASHVILLE, YELLOW, PALM, PINE, and YELLOW-RUMPED.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Pine Warbler

Red-tailed Hawk


This was a quality day in the field. I didn't luck into anything mega rare, but the front delivered some good birds and shook up the local birding scene by delivering fresh migrants!

 - NB

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