Blue Jay Wahay!!! – Weekend Bigbying

11 01 2009

Ice Storm - Luke Tiller

Ice Storm - Luke Tiller

My Bigby list had majorly stalled since last weekend and wasn’t being helped by the ice storm which left me feeling like  just hibernating for the next couple of months. I just couldn’t come up with anything new the handful of times I popped out anyway. Most amazingly 10 days in I still hadn’t managed to track down a lousy Blue Jay. The last time my dad was here he was amazed by the beautiful birds we had in the yard like Blue Jay and Cardinal. Sadly it usually takes an outsiders eyes to remind you how special those common or garden birds are, however 10 days into my BGBY and my first pair of Blue Jays was a real right for sore eyes. Pre-storm (although this one was a bit of a non-event 8 inches of predicted snow rapidly turning into about 1 and 1/2) on the Saturday the yard was pretty hopping and I also added American Tree Sparrow as a new species, Pine Siskins were flitting around in the birches (one was even picking up grit from the road) and there were about 15-20 Eastern Bluebirds in one giant flock picking at the Multiflora Rose and Cedar berries.

Today I took a stroll out to Meadow Ridge, a nice healthy walk with lots of pulse quickening hills gave me some decent exercise. Between here and Meadow Ridge I managed to find a total of 3 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers which I thought was pretty good (although they seem to be generally increasing in regularity here in winter). I was impressed by how well their mottled black, brown and white backs mimicked the craggy barked trees and nicely broke up their silhouettes as they foraged. A nice addition to my BGBY list. Onwards towards 40 species!!!

New Bigby Species: AMERICAN TREE SPARROW, BLUE JAY!, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER for a total of 36 species.

Sunrise Bird Walk – January 10

11 01 2009

GH Owl - Steve Ballentine

Spent a cold but entertaining morning at a few spots in Westport. Highlight of the walk was the sheer number and variety of waterfowl out on Long Island Sound (no need for the early season worries on CT Birds).  Nothing rare in and of itself and the most uncommon ducks (the WW Scoter) were not very cooperative but plenty of great looks at the common stuff and I was quite surprised to see a couple of ‘flocks’ of Red-throated Loons out on the sound, something I have noted a couple of times in migration but not knowingly in mid-winter before (perhaps the impending storm was pushing birds into the sound?)

The bird of the day was a Great Horned Owl (no locations being given on nocturnal owls I’m afraid – in keeping with CTBirds policy), which although sat quite some way up a tree did provide for a good photo opportunity (thanks for letting me use one Steve). Probably the other real highlight was a stunning first cycle Iceland Gull that was loafing round the point at the 9-11 memorial.

A good friend of mine was asking the other day why 1st cycle had replaced 1st winter etc as a favored terminology with gull identification? The Howell and Dunn book has a useful explanation (see online copy here – explanation on page31) which seems to mainly revolve around creating a neutral system to describe birds that either straddle the two hemispheres or are predominantly southern hemisphere breeding birds. The book is a great place to start with Gull identification, although I must admit to finding some of it a bit long-winded. But then again I guess that’s gulls for you!

A couple of other nice finds on the day were some Pine Siskins (almost ubiquitous this year) at Long Shore and a couple of lingering Snow Buntings which were hanging out with a Horned Lark Flock at Compo.

Trip Species List

Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, White-winged Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser,  Red-tailed hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, ICELAND GULL, GREAT HORNED OWL, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Horned Lark, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, PINE SISKIN, House Finch, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow,  Savannah Sparrow, DE Junco, SNOW BUNTING, European Starling, House Sparrow

Sunrise Bird Walk – Jan 4, Stratford

6 01 2009
Long-beach Sunset

Long-beach Sunset

Although we were scheduled to head to Milford for the morning, with the current crop of great sightings in Stratford I rerouted the tour for the day to hit a few likely spots there. In the end there was plenty to keep us occupied although I had hoped to manage to get to Silver Sands before the end of the walk and didn’t.

It is always a risk going to somewhere that you know there are  good birds around as there is always a chance of missing something and coming away a little disappointed. Well we did miss a few of the hoped for species on the morning but I think the birds we did find were a nice compensation.

Lapland Longspur - Michael Ferrari

Lapland Longspur - Michael Ferrari

Highlight spectacle wise were the massive flock of Greater Scaup (4-5000?) that were flying up the sound eastwards. I was using their primary pattern to identify them (note in this comparrison illustration the way the white extends through the primaries on Greater Scaup) but as a general rule most scaup on the sound would tend to be Greater and birds on a pond or in a harbor would be Lesser (of course there are exceptions).

Bird wise the three LAPLAND LONGSPURS (or Lapland Buntings as they are known back in the old country) were my favorites. I love Longspurs and Snow Buntings, they just seem so tough the way they stick it out in the most inhospitable spots at the most inhospitable time of the year. Plus I must say I am more of a passerine fan than anything else, so these birds keep me going through the winter when there are few passerines gracing the state. Added to that we had 5 fairly uncooperative AMERICAN PIPITS (although one did provide better views when we went to retrieve cars from Long Beach) a flock of HORNED LARKS and 5 SNOW BUNTINGS to round off the regularly occurring pipits, larks, longspurs and buntings for the season.

Probably the rarest bird of the trip and a State or life bird for many was the CLAY-COLORED SPARROW. Of course I am avowed sparrowphile, so it was nice to see this bird again (my lousy digiscoped pictures of this same bird in November here). A great looking bird and it performed fairly well, which was useful as it was accompanied by both Fields and Trees for a Spizella trifecta making picking it out from the group somewhat difficult. Added to the nice assortment of sparrows on the day was an Ipswich Savannah Sparrow. A great looking sparrow which made a nice comparison to the common or garden Savannah that we had over at the Gun Club.

Clay-colored Sparrow - Michael Ferrari

Clay-colored Sparrow - Michael Ferrari

I was also talking on the trip about this great little part of the Birdlife International website (which is worth an explore in and of itself) which has species fact sheets for all of the birds in the world (here). Out of interest I looked up the rarest bird I have ever seen – Black-breasted Puffleg (see awful picture from last July in Ecuador below) and here is the species sheet for that bird. I am currently trying to arrange a trip to Ecuador to go back and see this beautiful and rare bird (details to come soon on my trips and tours section).

Black-breasted Puffleg - Luke Tiller

Black-breasted Puffleg - Luke Tiller

Trip List- 50 Species

Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Canvasback, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser,  Red-tailed hawk, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Horned Lark,  AMERICAN PIPIT, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, House Finch, CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, Field Sparrow,  American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow,  ‘Ipswich’ Savannah Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, DE Junco, LAPLAND LONGSPUR, SNOW BUNTING, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, House Sparrow

Birding Bridgeport & Afternoon BGBY

3 01 2009
Bonaparte's Gull - Captains Cove

Bonaparte's Gull - Captains Cove


Popped out this morning to do some birding with Tina Green, Penny Solum and Sara Zagorski in Fairfield and Bridgeport. Results on the day were kind of mixed with no luck on the Snowy Owl or the gull flocks at Seaside Park but we did do nicely at the  Captains Cove in Bridgeport. Highlights there included a pair of fantastic NORTHERN PINTAIL (the hen is really just exquisite in my opinion and the drake is no slouch in the looks department either). We also managed to locate  a few LESSER SCAUP, PEREGRINE FALCON and a couple of BONAPARTE”S GULLS (which are named for Charles Lucien Bonaparte not his slightly more famous uncle Napolean).The only other real birds of note were a couple of AMERICAN PIPITS at Ash Creek.

Also a little note to people searching for Rough-legged Hawks, just because you have a hawk hanging in one spot don’t immediately assume it’s a Rough-legged, we had at least two Red-tails ‘kiting’ on the day which gave a very good impression of being ‘hovering’ Rough-leggeds. Hovering is a good clue to picking up Rough-leggeds, as is their propensity to sit right on the tippy-top of trees (they use these slender branches due to a small talon size and always look slightly humorous to me precariously perched on these thin branches) but confirm some field marks to be sure.


After getting home and making a couple of essential phone calls I popped out for a bit of ‘bigbying’. Perhaps one shouldn’t be allowed to bigby on the same day that one has been out in the car (a moral conundrum for me to contemplate)?

I tried a little secret area just up my road and was thrilled to have it pay off in a big way. First I picked up on the little two noted chip of a WINTER WREN and it greeted me with some jaunty scolding. After that I picked up a scolding Titmouse and as I hiked up the slope to investigate the cause of its ire, a BARRED OWL, flopped out of the Hemlock stand that the Titmouse was in. The Owl sat out on the branch of a deciduous tree for a good 15 minutes and soon became oblivious to my presence – what a treat! To round off the brief bigby walk I also added a Hairy Woodpecker. Three new species for the list – not bad for a quick stroll.  Add that to the PINE SISKINS  in the birches in the yard at about 6:45am and it was another fine bigby days work. Still no Blue Jays though!

BGBY – Day 2 and amusing newspaper error

2 01 2009


The early morning BGBY walk managed to net me a few nice additional species, although my feeders were devoid of birds today it seemed (I am losing the feeder war with my neighbor!) Highlight for the day were a couple of beautiful Red-shouldered Hawks – one of which was still asleep it seemed sitting on the cable wires right over Route 57. I walked right underneath the hawk and it never moved a muscle (no camera on the walk though – typical!). The Northern Flicker was a refreshing burst of bright color on an otherwise dull gray morning and the Hermit Thrush a nice surprise in with a load of Bluebirds up on the corner of Indian Hill. It seems like a bumper year for Bluebirds this year – which is never a bad thing.

BGBY additions for the day:

Red-shouldered Hawk, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Northern Flicker, Cedar Waxwing, Hermit Thrush, House Sparrow

30 Species total and still no Blue Jay!!!!!!

Newspaper Story

A great news story in the English Daily Mail newspaper about how a woman went all the way to Norway to see Snow Buntings and didn’t see them and then found one at her feeder back home in England. A great story apart from the obvious error – as many of you here know Snow Buntings don’t come to feeders – the bird in the picture is a leucistic Chaffinch (a common yard bird) – oops! Out of interest Snow Buntings do occur every year in the UK but usually, as they do here, on windswept beaches – particulalrly in Norfolk!

BGBY – Let Battle Commence!

1 01 2009
Digi-binning - easier at feeders

Digibinning - easier at feeders!

So I started my Big Green Big Year, or BGBY as it shall henceforth be known, less than bright and early today. First bird of the year was a somewhat prosaic Dark-eyed Junco (digibinned above). My dad thought the name sounded cool – the bird itself is probably a bit of a letdown considering the rather flamboyant name.

I then took a quick break after amassing a sad 9 species in the yard to go meet good birding friends Penny Solum, Joe Bear, AJ Hand and respective families for some brunch. Post brunch we went for some ‘dirty brown’ birding 😉 but I quickly called it a day with frostbitten toes after the 1st stop at Stratford – leaving the rest of the boys to complete their days birding. In the 20-30 mins at Long Beach though I managed to see a couple of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS, a 1st cycle GLAUCOUS GULL and a similarly aged ICELAND GULL.

Already home by early afternoon I decided to renew by BGBY by going on a short walk down to the local pond which will be my waterbird mainstay for the year. It was frozen solid but I did manage to collect a few nice birds along the route including a highlight of 2 BLACK VULTURES before I even left the yard and then a lingering Great Blue – which we missed off of the Wilton Xmas Bird Count the other week! Best sighting of the day though were two super cute Red Squirrels which were hanging out near the back of the school – it was there that I discovered how tough digibinning (taking pictures through your binoculars) is without the aid of a feeder to draw in your subject matter – especially with shaky cold hands.

I have already discovered what I love about the BGBY, and that is that it a) makes you start to get inventive about where you might find birds and b) that it brings a whole new level of unexpectedness into your birding world. That’s the same thing I love about the Christmas Bird Count – it makes you start to think of where you might find birds in places that you might never look at any other part of the year. Going off the beaten track like this can produce the most unexpected gems and rarities and if it wasn’t for that little nudge to try something different those birds might never be discovered. OK it’s not like I have ever found anything super rare that way, but at the same time who would have expected to find a Yellow-breasted Chat at a feeder behind the 7th Day Adventist Church in Wilton like we did last year on the Christmas count. Those little out of the ordinary finds though to me are as exciting as chasing a rare bird that is staked out  somewhere across the state.

23 BGBY Species in all for the day – more tomorrow I hope. I think I will knock together a Google Map for my BGBY just to see where I get stuff over the year.

BGBY List:

Great Blue Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Coopers Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, House Finch, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, European Starling