Sunrise Bird Walk and lingering birds

30 11 2008

Cedar waxwings

Cedar Waxwings

Saturday morning I struggled with my general antipathy towards twitching and carried on with the scheduled bird walk instead of hot-footing it up to Windsor to see the gull.  We hit Cove Island in Stamford and then had a quick wander around Greenwich Point. Things were a little quiet as they were last week and we had to work for the birds.

Apart from a couple of near misses (I picked up a probable WW Crossbill flyover but it only called once and couldn’t see the bird fly over so am not 100% on the ID – needed a second call to confirm it in my mind and a chunky yellowy-orange bird that I flushed from some multiflora rose that was almost certainly a chat that I couldn’t relocate despite pishing and a good deal of searching) probably the highlight of the day were a group of a dozen or so American Pipits that I picked up calling in flight and then came in and contemplated landing at Cove Island only to decide it looked a little too busy with the group milling around, so they simply flirted around us almost like leaves swirling around our heads before heading on to places west. Over in Greenwich we picked up 3 Snow Buntings in the Clam Bake area. I’d hoped to maybe find an owl in the Holly Grove down at the point but although there was whitewash it looked old and no sign of pellets or owls. The only other real bird of note was a Chipping Sparrow lingering at the park.

This year has been simply amazing for late birds. It’s almost like you can throw the late date information out of the window this year. It was apparent things were generally moving late when we had an amazing walk on October 4 with Sunrise that yielded 12! Warbler species on this late date (see post here). Since then late birds have been turning up in quantities with amazing variety.  This week a Tennessee Warbler showed up in New Haven and was accompanied by a Black & White Warbler (ID clinching pics here). The Tennessee’s I had at Allen’s in late September and early October were already uncommon at that time of year, late November is bordering on the ridiculous (although not totally unprecedented we have at least one previous report from late November in the state).

Even in my own recent travels I have picked up a good number of late-ish birds. Over the last 3 days I have had 5 Chipping Sparrows (not unprecedented again at this date but 5 seems like a lot of lingering birds). I also had a Palm Warbler hanging out in Wilton 2 weeks later in date than I have had them in previous years and yesterday I found a Blue-headed Vireo which is almost 3 weeks later than I have previously recorded them in Wilton. Not sure what the exact November tally of warblers is in Connecticut this year but I’m pretty certain it is over a dozen species by now – pretty amazing. Can I hear you say global warming? Personally I’m not totally sure what the answer is but it certainly feels like there are some strange birds out there in the wilds of Connecticut right now.

Trip List – Saturday Nov. 29

Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, A. Black Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Coopers Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Killdeer, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, MODO, Rock Pigeon, Monk Parakeet, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, American Pipit, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carloina Wren, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee, American Goldfinch, House Finch, White-throated Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, DE Junco, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, European Starling, House Sparrow.

Birds of Britain

28 11 2008

My brother sent me this great spoof video of British nature shows from the 1970’s. It made me laugh anyway.

Gang of Four

28 11 2008

Unfortunately I had already made plans for the day today so turned down the opportunity to join Nick Bonomo over at Windsor landfill for the morning. I am still trying not to feel too sick after he turned up this amazing Slaty-Backed Gull. A first for Connecticut. Congrats to Nick; a just reward for wading through the gulls (and trash) up in Windsor over the last few years.

Instead of joining him for the day I had a lazy morning lie in bed after a fun but late Thanksgiving Evening before heading out to Stratford for a wander with Tina Green. Nothing majorly exciting most spots but there was a load of sparrow activity down at the Old Gun Club on Stratford Point. I managed to relocate the Clay-colored Sparrow as reported by Frank Mantilk and snapped some rudimentary digiscoped pictures (these perfectly illustrate why there won’t be many of my pictures on the blog). Added to that were a couple of Field Sparrows, three or so Chippings and a couple more American Tree Sparrows.  There was another  lingering Chipping at Short Beach earlier in the day. Not a bad haul getting your four regularly occurring spizella sparrows all in one spot in late Novemeber.

I have to say that sparrows really are my favorite family of birds. For me they are just that little bit challenging at times which makes them an interesting group to identify and I also love the cryptic, subtle and intricate patterns that most of them possess. The Clay-colored is one of the more difficult species to identify, often books refer you to the definitive pale loral area which can be very difficult to see without scope views or very close approaches ( this bird actually bathed in a puddle a few feet from us – while my camera was back in the car!!!!). Other features to look out for with the Clay-colored are the softer warmer brown tones, brown rump (as opposed to gray in Chipping), solid gray nape and dark ‘mustache’ which makes the white malar really jump out at you.

As a side note I’m not sure what the current deal is with the Old Gun Club, this is an outstanding property and I have previously found Red-headed Woodpecker there with Penny Solum and have found it a good place for SEO in previous winters and it holds great sparrow potential. The problem? It never seems to be open to the public. Anyone who has any idea when and if it is open to the public generally I’d love to know.

(edit) Thanks to a note from Charlie Barnard I discovered that the Gun Club will be open to the public in Mid-December this year – great news.

Forthcoming Sunrise Birding Walks and reflections on the year

26 11 2008
Searching for warblers in warmer times!

Searching for warblers in warmer times!

Gina just posted my forthcoming Sunrise walks for the end of this year and the schedule for the beginning of next year. I am particularly looking forward to the trips over to New York in February. Last year these two trips were both simply phenomenal. The Eagles trip was amazing with particular highlights being the 4 Long-eared Owls seen roosting and then hunting at twilight as well as the eagle roost that afforded amazing views of over a dozen eagles all perched in the same field of view. An additional  bonus was a probably hacked but untagged Trumpeter Swan in with a second tagged Trumpeter. The Raptor Trip was one of the highlights of the year, with amazing sightings including a highly prized Hoary Redpoll, Common Redpoll, Short-eared Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker and an abundance of beautiful Rough-legged Hawks (conservative guess would be of over a dozen individuals). Hopefully these trips will be just as successful this year.

It got me thinking about the year in local trips thus far. There have been a load of great birds seen and loads of fun moments. Highlights of the year in Connecticut have been: American Pelican, Harlequin Duck, Ruff, Snowy Owl, Cave Swallow, 28 species of Warbler including Cape May, Bay-breast, Yellow-breasted Chat, Orange-crowned and Tennessee as well as Dickcissel. Quite a few life and state birds in there for many participants and all found in just this little corner of Fairfield County. Thanks to all those that came and made the trips such memorable and fun mornings out.

Multiplying Snowies

25 11 2008
Stratford Snowy Owl - Charlie Barnard

Stratford Snowy Owl - Charlie Barnard

Another couple of birders and I were wondering whether the Snowy Owl reported in Stratford at the same time as the Norwalk Snowy Owl might have possibly been the one that arrived in Westport (as found by Tina Green). Well thanks to Charlie Barnard reading the post and sending me a great snap of the Stratford Owl I think we can safely rule out the Westport bird being the relocated Stratford bird. That means we can now tally 3 seperate Snowies in Fairfield County over the last couple of weeks. I note that a Snowy Owl was reported from Bridgeport today by Charlie (the same bird that disappeared from Stratford 10 or so days ago?) It is certainly turning into a banner year for these beautiful and much sought after owls down on the Fairfield County coast!

2 Snowy Owls in Westport/Norwalk

23 11 2008

Thanks to Tina & Peter Green for supplying the great digiscoped photo’s (above). Pretty conclusive proof that they are 2 different Snowy Owls and pehaps both are still in the locality (Mardi Dickinson reported a similar looking Snowy to the first bird on the 21st back at Calf Pasture). The first bird was reported on November 3rd from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk and became an overnight celebrity with TV and press coverage, the second bird was found by Tina Green at Compo Beach in Westport on Nov 21st.

Penguins – Smarter than they look

22 11 2008

My wife just sent me this awesome link to a video of a Gentoo Penguin (if my ID skills are right) evading capture by ‘evil’ Killer Whales! So cool!

Fishing for owls!

20 11 2008
Canned Owl - Chrissy Guarino

Canned Owl - Chrissy Guarino

Last Friday my friend Chrissy Guarino invited me over to New York to help her and her friend Glenn Proudfoot band Saw Whet Owls. Those of you traveled up to New York last February for the amazing Hoary Redpoll/Rough-legged Hawk/Short-eared Owl/Red-headed Woodpecker extravaganza will remember Chrissy being the local birder extraordinaire who helped us track down most of the great birds on the day (a trip hopefully to be repeated again later this winter).

Regrettably the weather was absolutely stinking on Friday evening and unfortunately the banding was cancelled. Double unfortunately is was also the last weekend that they were putting up the nets for the season. To make me feel better about missing out (or perhaps to rub it in) she sent me a video from earlier in the season of her untangling one of the little cuties from the net they use to catch them in.

Banding of migrant birds allows us to gain insight into their migratory movements, population size and trend, geographical distribution, annual breeding effort, the condition of their breeding and wintering habitats. Catching these migrant owls is an interesting process which requires setting up mist nets and then audio-luring them in with their monotonous territorial calls (basically playing a looped tape of their calls loudly and constantly with a portable stereo). Chrissy goes on to describe the process thus:

“Every 45-60 minutes the nets must be checked so the birds don’t get too tangled or too cold, and also to prevent the Barred Owls from finding them and, uh, I’d rather not say what would happen then. The tiny owls, which are SMALLER than an American Robin, are carefully untangled from the netting while keeping a firm grip on their little feet, which pack quite a formidable set of talons. The little owls are then unceremoniously stuck head first into a tube constructed of two 6-ounce tomato paste cans taped end-to-end. The cans are taped together into a pyramid with the 12 cans forming a 6-pack, with a handy carrying loop (see picture above). “What if you catch more than six,” I asked Glenn. “I stick the rest in your pockets,” replied my new best friend.

The nets are cleared of any debris and the owls are whisked into the little shed where they are measured, weighed, and basically treated as humans are when they are abducted by aliens, minus the probe. Well, except usually there is a DNA swab taken of the inside of their mouth. The birds’ molt pattern of the flight feathers is recorded, a few wing measurements are taken, a few feathers are donated to science, and the owls are again unceremoniously stuck head first into a tomato paste can to be weighed. The little owls patiently put up with this somewhat inconvenient treatment, occasionally snapping their bills to remind you who is boss, receive their new metal leg bands with dignity, and are ready to be released.”

Hopefully next year I’ll finally get over to see this process for myself. I guess it’s always good to have something to look forward to although I must admit I am not very good with delayed gratification. Oh well patience is a virtue as they say. You can find out more about Saw-whet and other US owls at this fantastic website.

Starling Ballet

18 11 2008

On Sundays walk we were ‘treated’ to the sight of a number of European Starling flocks over I95 and along the coast in Westport. As an invasive species Starlings are not much loved in the US, however their formation flying is really something to behold. Here is a link to video of Starlings back on their home turf, so you can enjoy them without ‘political’ considerations. Just amazing.

Next Walk – Correction

17 11 2008

Hi All,

The next Sunrise Bird Walk will be on SUNDAY 23rd NOVEMBER not Saturday as it says on the website. Unfortunately with Gina away on tour I can’t access the Sunrise Website to correct this. Thanks to everyone who spotted the error.