Sunrise Bird Walk – Norwalk Feb 28

28 02 2009
Saw-whet Owl - AJ Hand

Saw-whet Owl - AJ Hand

An enjoyable mornings ‘work’ in Norwalk with some of the regular gang. Nothing majorly exciting  on the day but it always seems to be a fun morning out. Amongst a wealth of ducks, a couple of LESSER SCAUP were a bonus in Norwalk Harbor.

We had a few more cool ducks on the day and I assume there must be some staging up going on pre-migration, as the harbor in Norwalk was packed with Bufflehead.  Over on 14 Acre Pond we had great looks at a few Green-winged Teal and a rather novel (for the site) Common Merganser sitting on this shallow little pool.

Probably the highlight of the walk though was a Pileated Woodpecker over in Weston that put on quite the show for us as it flew in and proceeded to drum on an obviously favored dead branch for some minutes in absolutely perfect light, just a few feet away from us (see Mike’s photo below). It was either that or the glimpses we had of a nesting Great Horned Owl that we came upon.

To round off the walk we stopped for lunch at the rather fantastic SoNo Bakery for sandwiches, soups and cakes. It’s always a nightmare to get a seat in there but the food is well worth the wait.

Pileated Woodpecker - Michael Ferrari

Pileated Woodpecker - Michael Ferrari

Post walk I took Tina’s offer of a ride up to Watertown to see the Northern Shrike that Greg Hanisek found. This was a particularly handsome adult bird and although we had to wait a while for the bird to put in an appearance, there was plenty to enjoy while we waited including an adult Bald Eagle, a few calling Pheasant and some newly arrived? Killdeer.

I have to say shrikes in general are high up on my list of favorite bird species. I also love those northern boreal birds  as they just seem so romantic, so it’s always cool to see a Northern Shrike as it combines both elements. It was a life bird for Tina and a year bird for me so there were high fives all around. It seems like they have been particularly thin on the ground this season after last winters irruption so it was cool to get one in the bag.

After the Northern Shrike, we were all set to head home when we decided on a whim to swing by Westport and just see what was around. We managed to find one of the Eurasian Wigeons down on the Sherwood Island Mill Pond, (Frank Mantlik had reported two earlier in the week) in amongst a raft of 100 or so Gadwall and American Wigeon. Another quick stop produced probably the highlight bird of the day and a most unexpected surprise, a Saw-whet Owl!

Last year I had convinced myself that I had become gods gift at finding these super cool little owls but this winter I had completely struck out thus far. Owl finding is a great leveler in that no matter how good you think you are getting at finding them, it is never easy and always seems to need a little luck. This one was a case of looking in just the right spot,  following the white-wash trail and there it was. A quick call to my friend AJ Hand produced the stunning photo above.

A neat bird and a real thrill to find. Plenty of discussion on owls on the CTBirding list but in keeping with the current rules there are no details on the location. Today though was proof positive though that there is nothing better than the thrill of stumbling on your own owl discovery, spinetingling!

Trip Species List: Horned Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, LESSER SCAUP, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, GREAT-HORNED OWL, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, PILEATED WOODPECKER, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Common  Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, House Sparrow

No More Sharp-taileds…

26 02 2009

At least in the name. It seems like the American Ornithologists’ Union has decided to remove the Sharp-tailed portion of both the Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows names. The plus side is that when you are drawing someones attention to a sparrow hopping around in some coastal grasses it doesn’t take 5 minutes to get the name out of your mouth. The downside: the ability to call out  Sharp-tailed Sparrow and give yourself the extra few seconds to clinch the ID of the bird before having to plump for Saltmarsh or Nelson’s.

In the same committee vote, those hoping to get a few ‘armchair ticks’ from the possible split of Savannah Sparrow into four separate species are going to be disappointed. It seems likely that we are going to see a few new species come out of the split of Savannah Sparrow, but I guess there is still some work to be done yet. More details on the proposal committee votes ( here)

There is an interesting thread on this topic right now on birdforum pointing out the particularly amusing situation whereby we have the AOU deciding to use the name Little Plover (instead of Little Ringed Plover) for Charadrius dubius apparently to keep in line with ‘the Brits’ (see comments) especially as the British Ornithologists’ Union decided to drop that name change and return to Little RingedPlover! Confusing these bird names! More stuff for Greg to discuss at the COA Annual General Meeting in March I guess! (details here).

More interesting bird pictures – Greylag Goose

25 02 2009

Just thought I’d stick up the pictures of the Greylag Goose as found by Greg Hanisek that Bill Banks kindly sent me so that people can have a look at the bird in question. You can read some discussion on the bird (here). Obviously not going to comment much on the bird itself (not my place) apart from to say that it’s all intact and not showing the revoltingly bloated look of your average farmyard domestic Greylag.

Waterfowl are a real quandary which is the reason I guess the ARCC (latest report here – which includes a couple of birds I had a hand in finding) came up with the ‘origin uncertain’ tag on their recent reports (back in the UK they generally tend to reject rare waterfowl reports unless there is some really strong evidence otherwise to assume the bird is of wild origin). You should have a look how long it took to get Hooded Merganser accepted onto the British List (here) it might help when reading the article to have some idea of how the category system work in the UK (here).

Possible Thayer’s Gull @ Windsor Landfill – Patrick Comins

23 02 2009

Patrick Comins found this possible Thayer’s Gull up at Windsor Landfill. Just putting these photos up for him for so that CTbirding listserve members can have a perusal of them. The pictures look pretty promising for Thayer’s to me, but I am basing this more on booksmarts than field experience with this particular species. I’m sure Patrick would be happy to see any informed feedback. Below are Patrick’s initial postings on the bird from the Connecticut Listserve:

Feb 20

I have some decent photos if anyone would like to have a look. I’d say Iceland
is pretty much ruled out but there is thoughts that it might be a recessive
form of a hybrid HerringXGlaucous since the bird isn’t especially small. It
appeared to be smaller than the surrounding Herring Gulls in the field, but
certainly not appreciably smaller. Some features that aren’t typical of
HerringXGlaucous include a nearly all black bill and a smudgy hooded appearance
around the eye, much like a Thayer’s. I have had some funky Thayer’s-like Gulls
in the past so I am always a little hesitant to make that call. In any case,
maybe I can get the shots posted online somewhere or I’d be happy to email a
bunch if anyone wants to venture an opinion.

I also caught a brief look at an adult or near adult black-backed gull with
marked head streaking, and pink legs, but it was a very brief look and I’d only
put it in the ‘something to keep your eyes open for’ category.

Feb 23

For anyone who might be considering going up to the Windsor Landfill trying to
add Thayer’s to their CT list, the ID pendulum seems to be swinging back
towards Thayer’s for the bird found on Friday. A hybrid HerringXGlaucous just
doesn’t make sense to me for a bird with a bill that is blacker and with more
extensive black than a typical smithsonianus at this time of year. There is
some fading at the base of the lower mandible, but otherwise very black. In
addition, while the bird is larger than the Thayer’s that have been
photographed in CT, it is still smaller than your average Herring Gull and well
within the range of variation I think (there is overlap in size between the two
species). Bill structure also looks better for Thayer’s than Herring or
Glaucous or in between the two. The open wing pattern looks pretty good to me
for Thayer’s and atypical of ‘Nelson’s’. If anything, perhaps the bird is a
hybrid HerringXThayer’s, but that combination is unrecorded as far as I know.

Another Thayer’s feature is the uniform color and lack of blotchiness on the
breast and back, those diffuse streaks on the neck and fine pattern of
streaking on the crown, all of which say Thayer’s to me. The black face mask is
also good for Thayer’s, but not Glaucous nor Herring and the retained juv Scaps
would also fit Thayer’s. Legs are also deeper pink than most smith, another
Thayer’s feature. One feature that was troubling me was the relatively short
primary projection, but after looking at many photos of Thayer’s Gulls I think
it is fine. Birds with longer primaries are sometimes thrown into the dark
Iceland Gull bucket, so maybe it is even good. At least we know this bird isn’t
an Iceland Gull.

I am hoping to find a way to post some of the photos so we can get some input
from the west coast, but for now the bird is still worth chasing down if you
want a Thayer’s for CT. While I wouldn’t be totally stunned if this bird isn’t
a Thayer’s and I am still open to good arguments as to why it might not be, I
would be surprised. It is certainly an interesting bird in any case.

Save The Albatross – good news coming?

22 02 2009
Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

I note that the Independent Newspaper in the UK is saying that the Birdlife International Albatross Task Force seems to have had some considerable success with the methods that they have been piloting in the southern hemisphere to prevent albatross ‘bycatch’ during longline fishing. It seems like full findings will be presented at an event this evening. For details of the story visit the newspaper (here) or check the Save the Albatross Campaign website (here).

What’s new in Connecticut?

22 02 2009

Annette Cunniffe - LE Owl

Annette Cunniffe - LE Owl

With spring migration noticeably underway for blackbirds (a half million plus of them being noted in the center of the state this week in one giant flock) I thought I might start to make some weekly notes on what might be showing up locally in the form of either migrants or rarities during spring migration. The last week of February and leading into March spring migration is only just underway so the only real signs of northbound movement tends to be blackbirds in the shape of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds. As the month draws to a close we might even get to see the first few Tree Swallows winging their way north but it’s still very slow on the migration front although of course there is still the chance of something being found heading in the other direction with Bohemian Waxwings seemingly often arriving in the state in February (on the odd occassion that they do arrive!)

On the topic of rarities here are some possibilities of rarities that have a history of showing late in February in Connecticut: Tufted Duck, American White Pelican, Thayers Gull (as evidenced this year up in Windsor), Tundra Swan and Western Tanager. Extralimital sightings over the last couple of years locally have included such goodies as Ivory Gull (Piermont Pier NY), Scott’s Oriole (PA) and Smith’s Longspur (Jones Beach NY). So like the owl in the above picture my friend Annette sent me keep your eyes peeled for interesting late February birds.

Warmer winters = more birds

22 02 2009

National Audubon has released a report saying that almost 60% of 305 species that overwinter in North America have shown a significant shift northwards in their use of wintering sites.  This seems to show a fairly direct correlation to long-term winter temperature increases. Have a look at the report (here) Must say that I wish this winter could have been a little warmer!!!!

This ones for all the ladies out there…

18 02 2009

Leucistic Northern Cardinal - James Van Acker

After the interesting gynandromorph and leucistic Cardinal pictures (see above) on my blog recently and my mention that both male and female Northern Cardinals sing, my wife got in on the act and sent me this interesting article about Cardinal vocalizations (here). Appears that the old male Cardinals aren’t the quickest on the uptake when it comes to learning songs. In fact they lag rather noticeably behind their female counterparts in learning smarts. I have the feeling that my wife was trying to hint at some general inference here! Anyway an interesting piece of research about a common backyard bird.  The Science Daily Website also has a host of other interesting articles about bird song, animal intelligence etc and is well worth a perusal.

Sunrise Birding Walk – Feb 15

18 02 2009

Another fun day out on the local walk. I arrived at Sherwood Island to hear the group declaring that there was a hawk stuck in the tree in the parking lot and asking whether we should get on the phone to a rehab specialist that I know. I could see the hawk was flapping around, but as I swung my scope into action to see what exactly the hawk was caught on, I realized it wasn’t caught on anything but rather was trying to get at something in a hole in the tree.

The Red-shouldered Hawk was flapping around the hole trying to get into it with his talons and then stopping every now and then to appraise the situation. It was amazing to watch and as the bird peered into the darkness, moving it’s head side to side to better appraise how to deal with the problem, it’s easy to see how they mold the actions of dinosaurs in movies like Jurassic Park when you see that kind of behavior. Eventually the bird lunged in and for a while it had the squirrels tail and was trying to yank him out using it’s beak ,but without much luck. As with most raptors the real strength lies in their talons and it eventually gave up on the meal and departed.

When I told my wife the story when I got home she said that she felt happy for the squirrel but kind of sad for the hawk as it was going hungry. I knew how she felt even though I am not a huge squirrel fan (especially when they wreck my feeders). It was an amazing episode to watch though and one of those incidents that you just feel lucky to stumble on.

It made me think of an incident a few years back at Sherwood when I had hiked in early to to be there at dawn and had seen a skunk scuttling back towards its daytime den. Spotting the mammal crossing open ground, one of the young resident Red-tails had noticed the seemingly easy meal and was swooping in for the kill. As I watched it close in on the skunk the skunk turned and gave it an almighty spray from its scent glands and the hawk visibly stalled in its attack path. The hawk recovered fairly quickly and renewed it’s attack but was met with another accurate burst and again it reeled backwards, after a third squirt the hawk quite obviously realized it had bitten off more than it could chew and decided to go look for a slightly more defenseless meal, at which point the skunk headed on it’s merry way home.  Apparently Great Horned Owls and Red-tails are the skunks most common predators. I would guess that the irritant factor (which can even cause temporary blindness) of the well directed spray was enough to deter this hawk. It’s these kind of fascinating things that you feel blessed to see when you are out in nature.

The rest of the walk was fun but with nothing Earth shattering in the way of birds. We had a couple of chipping Yellow-rumped Warblers that were new arrivals at Sherwood but probably weren’t early migrants but lingering fall birds that had wandered in from somewhere. The blackbirds however were migrating and those first flocks of Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are to me the first real gauge of the beginning of spring. It’s a great moment when you get those first flocks winging their way north and as they move during the day, unlike many of their passerine brethren, they are a real visual sign of an exciting spring to come. Other highlights on the day were an adult Bald Eagle that I think Mike and Katie spotted first at Southport Beach and the regular (but still uncommon in North America) Lesser Black-backed Gull at Burying Hill Beach.

Post walk I stumbled upon a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a somewhat unexpected sound on a still cold February Day (listen here) and an adult Kumlien’s (Iceland) Gull at Compo Beach in Westport (see dreadful pictures below). It was cool to see this adult as I haven’t seen that many previously. Obviously with gulls structure plays a key element in IDing the birds and this one has the typical dove like rounded head, cute expression as well as the small bill and longish primary projection.

Trip List

Horned Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Goldfinch, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, DE Junco, Common  Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, House Sparrow

Latest Sunrise News

13 02 2009

Fiery Throated Hummingbird - Gina Nichol

Fiery Throated Hummingbird - Gina Nichol

You can now read all the latest news from Sunrise Birding on the website (here).This includes Gina’s latest trip notes from Costa Rica (look out for the 2010 trips – one of which includes yours truly as co-leader), new trip reports, upcoming tours (including a couple with late availability) and details of Gina’s talk on hummingbirds at the COA General Meeting (sign up here).