I spent a fun Saturday out in Stratford and Milford with a group of birders from Audubon Greenwich. Obviously the key draw for many was the White-tailed Kite that had been hanging around for about a week in the area. This was only the second ever northeastern record of the bird and the first one since May 1910 (Martha’s Vineyard).
The days birding started off with our first migrant Bobolink at the Audubon Center in Greenwich, its distinctive flight call announcing its presence to us. Bobolinks (along with many blackbirds) are a regular diurnal migrant so its one of the first flight calls that many birders learn (scroll down this linked page for flight calls). Flight calls, whether diurnal or nocturnal, are an increasing part of the birders armory and a great way of extending ones birding skills and the enjoyment of being out in the field.
As well as my regular hawkwatch gig this fall, I’ll be working on a morning flight project along with Benjamin Van Doren (Warblings Blog) at Greenwich Audubon over the fall where flight calls will play an important role in the identification process. I am looking forward to doing a presentation with him that will look at nocturnal migration, so come join us on Wed., September 22 (7:30-9:30pm). The event will look at this amazing phenomenon, detectable by sight, sound, and even radar, and we’ll also head out on the property as we listen for migrants’ calls and look for their silhouettes against the moon as they cross the night sky.
After picking up the rest of our group we made our way to Short Beach in Stratford to look for the kite. Unfortunately by the time we arrived the bird seemed to have gone missing in action for an hour or so and we wondered whether the bird might have decided to up and leave back to wherever it had come from.
Searching without much luck the bird suddenly appeared to have been relocated in one of the cedar trees that it had been hanging out in the day before over at Milford Point (viewable from Short Beach). An all too brief perusal of a white blob in a tree and I was soon gathering the group to come and see the White-tailed Kite. It though wasn’t the kite at all but in a rather bizarrely perched Osprey. An important lesson about making quick calls and also the role expectation can play when looking for birds. Anyway thanks to Brian O’Tooles more discerning eye we realized we were yet to find it.
On the beach at Short Beach we had managed to see a couple of the local Piping Plovers which is always a bonus as they are not only cute but within the grand scheme of things much rarer than the kite is. Rarity in birds tends to be all relative, for instance my girlfriend gets to see White-tailed Kite along the highway near her old home in California whereas Piping Plovers are a globally rare bird.
The view from Short Beach gave us a nice view of the bars at the tip of Milford Point and after I decided to scan across them and look to see what else was out there I redeemed myself by actually finding the kite. Although somewhat distant, the views were pretty decent of this distinctive bird and we all left for our next stop satisfied that we could now safely tick off this rarity. Before we left there was just enough time to pull out four flyby Whimbrels, a large and fairly uniquely(at least on the east coast) curve-billed shorebird and a somewhat uncommon bird in the state. For me this was almost as pleasing as the kite.
I have to say I am a very unenthusiastic twitcher of birds. I have found over the last few years that it just doesn’t appeal to me that much to chase down a bird that someone has already found. For me personally the excitement of birding is the element of the unknown. Heading out pre-dawn into the field during migration and just seeing what you stumble upon is what really grabs me and fills me with exhilaration. Spending time driving around (which could be better spent just birding) just doesn’t do that much for me and to be honest I’ve always thought there was something a little incongruous about using gallons of fuel chasing around the state/country when you are involved in a pastime in which conservation issues are so relevant.
Anyway with the kite safely under our belts we were back to the main task of the day looking for some of the migrant shorebirds that are passing through the area in August. First post-kite stop was at the RE Michel pond in Stratford, a spot which often turns up something interesting and generally provides a fair mix of birds. Highlight of the stop here were the three Glossy Ibis that were loitering at the small pool along with a couple of Black Ducks and some Green-winged Teal. Shorebirds were also well represented and we had nice views of a Green Heron as it flew over us.
Next stop was Milford Point. Here it was nice to catch up with some friends who were down to see the kite (one of the plus sides of twitching is that you do get to catch up with birders that you rarely see otherwise). The sandy beaches of Milford Point provided for a few shorebird species that prefer this habitat to the muddy pools we had already explored in Stratford and we quickly added Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, American Oysterctcher and Black-bellied Plover to or day list. All in all a fun day out with a large and fun group of birders, one major rarity seen and a few nice uncommon species thrown in to boot (see capitalized species in checklist below). A nice reminder of the relative appeal of rarities was that at least a couple of the birders on the trip picked out the Ibis as their favorite bird of the day– when one becomes so focused on rarity in birding it is easy to forget the simple pleasures of just seeing great looking birds.
Trip Species List:
Mallard, Black Duck, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, WHTE-TAILED KITE, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Green Heron, Killdeer, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, American Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, WHIMBREL, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, PURPLE MARTIN, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Blue Jay, European Starling, BOBOLINK, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sparrow,