17 08 2009
Cicada Escape - Luke Tiller

Cicada Escape - Luke Tiller

Cicadas sure are weird looking! Strange to think that this little thing has been hanging round in its nymphal stage for a couple of years before hatching out of its shell to annoy me with its constant droning through the hot and humid days of August. Pretty cool to see the thing popping out of its shell though. Anyway I found this rather cool time series animated gif on Wiki of one bursting out of it’s shell (here). Anyone have any idea which species it is? I am assuming it’s one of the Tibicens?

Birdspotting with Birdspot

16 08 2009
Shadow Birding - Luke Tiller

Shadow Birding - Luke Tiller

After meeting on the BwBTC meetup in July I cajoled artist extraordinaire, avian fiend, blog star and all around birding world cutie Birdspot (Catherine) to join me for a days birding at Jamaica Bay the other week. Surprisingly for someone based in hipster central Williamsburg BK she hadn’t quite made it out to Jamaica Bays renowned East Beach shorebird Mecca (some mumbled excuse about allergies). Anyway after a good but somewhat species poor trip a couple of weeks back (see her much better description of the day out there than I could ever manage) we decided to meet back up for another stroll through the filth and the fury that is a scorching hot summers day at Jamaica Bay.

Keys to birding Jamaica Bay are: 1) to have worked out the tide times and be there for high tide in the bay (which pushes shorebirds into the confines of the East Pond), 2) to not be at completely the wrong place at the wrong time. Well we managed to mess up on both counts Saturday, arriving just after low tide and happily wandering the birdless shores of West Beach whilst everyone else was enjoying killer views of Wilson’s Phalarope (my professional tours run much more smoothly than this, I swear!). No big loss for me having seen hundreds of the beggars in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana this year (trip reports online here and here) but I think Catherine might have missed out on a target bird for her aborted New York Big Year list – oops.

Jamaica Bay is really one of the best sites for shorebirds on the Northeast coast, only really being threatened for the title by the incomprable South Beach in MA (want to go?  Sunrise is going there in under two weeks!). The bonus though is that Jamaica Bay is easily doable in a day from Southern CT and South Beach most definitely isn’t! As much as reading books can help you prepare to identify birds there is nothing like spending time in the field with them. Whether it’s CT’s lack of oceanside shoreline or it’s weird east/west running coast (both regular excuses) it is hard to find the variety and numbers of shorebirds even at our best known hotspots to quickly become proficient at these tough little group of birds. Milford Point can be good, but views are often distant which doesn’t help close study and what has happened to Sandy Point is currently a mystery – there is simply nothing there this year!!!

Jamaica Bay on the other hand is the perfect spot to earn ones shorebird spurs. American Golden Plovers mix with Black-bellied, Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers can be seen and compared and peeps of all shapes and sizes are possible. The variety is fantastic and species that are considered uncommon in Connecticut are all to be found readily by those with a discerning eye. The species list was pretty impressive with all of the usual suspects putting on a show. Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpipers aplenty, White-rumped, Western and Pectoral were all on show and somewhat to be expected. Compare that to my own fair state and it would have been a killer day in the field. Add to that Gull-billed and Forster’s Tern and you have a host of species that it would be tough to get on a days shoreline scouring in the Nutmeg State.

Anyway after running into some of the glitterati of NY birding and completely baking our brains in the hot sun for six or seven hours without any form of sustenance we decided to go wash off some of the funk at the visitors center and escape to New York. Another top tip for Jamaica Bay birding, is making sure you wash the stinking black sludge off of your clothes and shoes at the end of the day using the conveniently placed hose at the  left of Visitors Center building – otherwise you’re gonna be stinking like Swamp Thing for the rest of the day.

Post birding we decided to head over to Williamsburg for a quick bite, a couple of beers and some interesting conversations about life, the universe and the finer points of dowitcher identification. Strangely we seemed to know all of the same bars and restaurants in the greater New York area, which is weird! A great days birding followed by a couple of fine ales and Jameson’s (pick your poison), who can ask for anything more – although we did find the Karaoke Bar a little too late for the day to be completely perfect – maybe next time 😉

Sunrise Bird Walk – Aug 8th

11 08 2009

Possible Long-billed Dowitcher - Luke Tiller

Possible Long-billed Dowitcher - Luke Tiller

Spent a delightful day out in Westport on Saturday searching for shorebirds with a nice group of folks who came from as far away as Florida, not specifically for my walk I might add – my reputation hasn’t reached that far…yet. First bird of the day was almost certainly the highlight as we picked up a Wilson’s Snipe sat out on the model airplane field at Sherwood, a somewhat surprising out of place bird that is quite rare at this time of year in Connecticut.

Although there was plenty to enjoy there wasn’t much in the way of rarities and when we got to Grace Salmon it appeared that the birds this year are concentrating much of their time up near Gorham’s Island (see my birding map), which isn’t the best site for viewing the birds if they are just roosting in or around the marsh there. It also seems to be that the reported late summer in much of the arctic has lead to a somewhat delayed return migration for a lot of these birds although I did finally see a juvenile Least Sandpiper on Saturday (a first for the year).

After the walk we popped up to Milford via Stratford Marina where I took the snap of this probable Long-billed Dowitcher (noted upright stance at rest, long legged look as well as plumage). Things seemed to be heating up a little there with nice numbers of peeps and a good mix of other more common species. Highlight were three stunning Red Knots in worn breeding plumage and a couple of White-rumped Sandpipers I was pleased to pick out of the throngs. One of the Knots was banded and had a couple of colored flags on its legs. At such distance the letters on the flags weren’t visible (in fact it was hard to even decide what the colors were in the harsh light).

I’ve stumbled on a few banded shorebirds before and they have always been from the Delaware Bay, less glamorous than one might hope. Anyway if you send in a report they generally get back to you with a nice thank you email and sometimes even a spiffy little certificate. Reports can be sent here.

EDIT: Just thought I’d throw up this interesting article on Dowitcher ID. It has some helpful pointers. From a few offline comments it seems that the majority are coming down on the side of Long-billed.

Sunrise Bird Walk – TBV – Aug 1st

2 08 2009

Red Admiral - Juliet Balian

Red Admiral - Juliet Balian

Trout Brook Valley is really one of my favorite birding sites in Fairfield County. The site was saved from development 10 or so years ago now, and it really offers a fantastic opportunity to birders from spring through fall. A mix of habitats provides great birding with good migrant action in both directions and I have had a few memorable days and birds at the site.

Summer at the site can also be interesting with a good mix of interesting breeding birds including both cuckoos and Acadian Flycatchers and a nice variety of warblers. Summer highlights can also include rarities and my personal tallies have included singing Dickcissel and Mississippi Kite. Of course this year there famously was a very elusive Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

One of the highlights at Trout Brook during the year is when the blueberries are ripe in the orchard. It seems as if the blueberry patch suddenly becomes alive with a wealth of birds as they tuck into the veritable feast. The bounty draws in large numbers of orioles, woodpeckers, waxwings, flycatchers and others looking for an easy meal.

Saturday was no exception with Baltimore Orioles of all shades hitting the berries as well as at least four Orchard Orioles, a number of Cedar Waxwings, Scarlet Tanager, Great-crested Flycatcher and five Eastern Bluebirds all perched on the same crook to name a few. Other neat sightings included a number of brilliant blue Indigo Buntings, many Field Sparrows with young, Eastern Towhees and other scrub/edge specialists such as Blue-winged Warbler and House Wren.

It was nice to see a pair of American Kestrels on site but although I hopes they bred they might just have been wandering? Another possible wanderer was a female American Redstart that just seemed to give the feel of being a migrant. Down by the farmhouse there were two young Red-shouldered Hawks showing their distinctive primary crescents in flight and we also found a Solitary Sandpiper in one of the many puddles from the recent heavy rains to add to the two flyovers early in the day. A lovely warm day and although nothing incredibly rare to be seen it’s always a heartwarming trip out there to see these birds scoffing down blueberries, we even nabbed a few ourselves!

ps – The picture is of a Red Admiral using my arm as a salt lick – never had that happen before!

Trip List Birds:

Double-crested Cormorant, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Kestrel, Wild Turkey, Killdeer, Solitary Sandpiper (3), Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Chimney Swift,  Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Black-capped Cickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Cedar Waxwing, Red-eyed Vireo, American Redstart, Blue-winged Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Orchard Oriole (4+), Baltimore Oriole, Brown-headed Cowbird, European Starling.

Some Butterflies: Monarch, Common Wood Nymph, Pearl Crescent, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red Admiral, Cabbage White,