Sunrise Birding Walk – Sept 12 2009

13 09 2009
Avifemmes plus - Luke Tiller

Spent a somewhat drizzly morning out in the field in Westport. It seems like warblers feel pretty much the same way I do about dreary September mornings and thought better of heading out. Anyway it was nice after all the travels to be out with the gang again for some birding locally even if the hoped for migration madness had not yet arrived. It was also nice to have my boss (Gina) out with us on one of her rare US appearances. Although the birds were a little disappointing, the company was most certainly not. Lots of laughs were to be had and in between the jokes we did a little ‘workshopping’ on aging and identifying Yellowlegs. At Grace Salmon we also had a nice Solitary Sandpiper which gave us an object lesson on how to look carefully at the structure of shorebirds, as there are often more important clues to the birds identification there than you might find in the plumage.

With Westport somewhat quiet we decided to take a trip over to see the Northern Wheater in Stratford as a number of the group still hadn’t managed to get to see the bird yet. After a little hard work tracking the bird down, we managed to enjoy fantastic looks at the adult male (see Julian Hough’s article on aging/sexing Wheatears here). I managed to get some lousy digiscoped shots (see previous post) after which we headed to Sandy Point for the tour extension.

Whatever has happened at Sandy Point this year is a mystery to me and a pretty depressing one. This site was probably my favorite site in Connecticut for shorebirds, and though far away always well worth the trip up there (I have always had more of a love/hate relationship with Milford Point). This year, after whatever engineering work went on at the point, it seems to have become devoid of both migratory and breeding birds. Very sad! So things were again quiet there although a first returning Green-winged Teal was nice and a couple of Merlin flybys on I95 were cool. With things a little quiet we took a hop over to Lighthouse Point and soon found ourselves lost in the delights of the hummingbird/butterfly garden there. Butterfly highlights (ie ones we could identify – i think) were: Black Swallowtail, Broad-winged Skipper, Gray Hairstreak, Monarch, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, American Lady and a cool hummingbird moth I’ll tentatively ID as a Snowberry Clearwing.

Although the birds weren’t co-operating as hoped it was a fun morning and great to just be out enjoying a day that cleared up nicely after all the predicted bad weather. Maybe the birds will be more co-operative next week?

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 😉