Snow Goose…in May?

16 05 2010

Nothing says mid-May birding less to me than a Snow Goose, but that’s what we got on our weekend Sunrise Birding extravaganza to New York State. One of many highlights – some a little more expected including: 25 species of Warbler including 2x Mourning, Bay-breasted, Tennessee, killer Blackburnian views, more Hoodeds than you could shake a stick at, Golden-wingeds and ‘Brewsters’ as well as 2x American Bittern, Virginia Rail, 3x Upland Sandpiper, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Orchard Orioles aplenty, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 6 White-crowned Sparrow all on the same square yard of road, Lincoln’s Sparrow etc – oh and obviously Snow Goose. Trip report and species list to come.

‘Booming’ Bittern!

16 05 2010

Just one of the highlights from a wonderful weekends birding in NY State with Sunrise Birding. Is there anything more magical than a calling American Bittern at dusk? One of two seen exceptionally well on the trip. A little shaky hand held to the scope – still could be worse. More to follow from the trip soon!

Sunrise Birding Walk – April 11th 2010

12 04 2010

Yellow-throated Warbler - Cynthia Cage

A rather quiet day early in spring passerine migration was definitely highlighted by the discovery of a Yellow-throated Warbler at Sherwood Island State Park on Sunday. After a few stops that had produced a smattering of new migrants: Pine Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Yellow-rumped Warbler, we decided to wing it over to SISP for a quick check of the park.

Upon leaving the cars at the Pavilion Parking lot both Katie Rice and I picked up a weird song coming from one of the pines. At first the impression was something almost akin to Black and White Warbler, but it definitely was not that and after a minute or two scanning I found myself looking slap bang at a Yellow-throated Warbler. The song was not quite as usual, with no real sign of the sliding descend to the song more just a flat series of notes (but without the wheeziness of B&W) – here’s the typical song from Cornell:Yellow-throated Warbler

As Yellow-throated is probably the rarest of our regularly occurring warblers, by regular I mean I think there were two reports last year and weirdly enough one of them was found by myself and Joe Bear on a Sunrise Birding Walk which Katie was on (blast from the past report here). This was a  fantastic find for Connecticut and for Sherwood Island State Park in particular, as I think it represents the first ever park record, which is pretty amazing when you consider how many species have shown up in the park over the years (see online park checklist here).

Everyone got good looks, including a couple of teenage girls who came over to see what all the excitement was about. The two girls were disappointed  they had left their bins at home but the group were happy to loan them a pair or two and probably enjoyed sharing this moment with them as much as they did seeing the bird itself – the world needs more young birders after all and dare I say female ones particularly! Cynthia captured a few decent record shots of the bird that likely indicate that it was of the dominica subspecies thanks to the yellow lores (it was also hanging around a pine after all) that you can see in the link to her blog here

After a few minutes with the bird sallying out to flycatch and singing constantly it clammed up and seemed to disappear, so we wandered into the park trying to both relocate it and see what else was around. Although we added Chipping and Swamp Sparrows and a couple of Great Egrets, the show had definitely been stolen by that wandering warbler. You can find out more about the bird and its general range on the Cornell website.

Trip species list (heard and seen):

Mute Swan, Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Tree Swallow, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, Chipping Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, House Finch, House Sparrow.

Sunrise Bird Walk – November 29th

30 11 2009

American Robin - Luke Tiller

After the howling winds of Saturday it was nice to get out and do some birding with a number of Sunrise Birding regulars and a new face or two. It was a beautiful day to be out with sun shining and temperatures rapidly climbing into the high 50’s. It appears to have been an odd November and fall thus far with no real sign of a big frost at all. At the hawkwatch we were wondering whether the lack of big movement of  some raptors was down to this balmy weather, and lack of big fronts, causing some lack of impetus for the big flight. Although I have been tied up enough to have missed out on a daily sojourn to Allen’s Meadows it seems to have been a fairly quiet fall all around for even relatively common migrants (I still haven’t seen an Orange-crowned this year!!!!) apart from Greg’s notable loon find. Perhaps the influence of some heavy northeasterly winds driving migrants off the coast early in the season?

Everything somehow seems to be either behind, to have slipped past or perhaps not to have arrived yet. With warm temperatures and open water to our north there doesn’t seem to have been the big push of waterfowl as of yet and so things are all seemingly in that rather quiet transition period. It’s also worth noting that their appears to have been an abundant wild food crop this year and so it seems unlikely that any irruptive species will be making the kind of huge forays into our territory that we have seen in recent years such as White-winged Crossbills, Red Crossbills and particularly Pine Siskins. This abundant food crop probably means that the prey species of many raptors is fairly bountiful so there hasn’t been any notable movement of some of these other hoped for species.

Still after a wonderful Thanksgiving with friend and Sunrise Birding leader Joe Bear and his family, it was nice to get out and walk off a few pounds of turkey and Fran’s amazing apple cake! Joe joined us for the walk as well- you can tell it’s warm if he’s out in November – usually he’s hibernating by this time of year and waiting for the warblers to reappear in April 😉   The birding was not the most thrilling of all time but there was much catching up to do with friends who had just returned from the Sunrise Birding tour of Brazil’s Atlantic rain forests, and so good conversation filled in the moments between birds.

A sprinkling of sparrow species at Cove Island turned up a Field and an American Tree Sparrow and a latish Ruby-crowned Kinglet was of some note. Things were pretty quiet though and highlight was a pair of Peregrine Falcons streaking across the sky together as they headed westwards.  We got a nice little workshop on Accipiter identification with both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks providing decent perched and in-flight views. No sign of the eagle flight that Tina Green had noted the previous day – perhaps they just like it that windy?

We then decided to take a quick run to Greenwich Point Park. Again things were a little quiet but we were starting to amass a decent collection of waterfowl on the day – especially after we had a little flock of 25+ Snow Geese somewhere out midsound – perhaps on their way to Jamaica Bay. Also slightly unexpected on the sound were a little pod of Ruddy Ducks that were huddled together in a tightly massed formation. Long-tailed Ducks seemed to be around in decent numbers and a few mergansers of both the Hooded and Red-breasted varietals put in an appearance. A nice day to be out, even if not mind-blowing birding wise. It was all rounded out with a rather fantastic slap-up meal at the City Limits Diner in Stamford where we retired for essential coffee and more catching up on news and tales of Thanksgiving exploits.

Trip species list:

Red-Throated Loon – Common Loon – Great Cormorant – Double-crested Cormorant – Mute Swan – SNOW GOOSE – Canada Goose – Brant – Mallard – American Black  Duck – Long-Tailed Duck – Bufflehead – Red-breasted Merganser – Hooded Merganser – Ruddy Duck – Turkey Vulture – Sharp-Shinned Hawk – Coopers Hawk – PEREGRINE FALCON – Ring-Billed Gull – Herring Gull – Great black-backed Gull – Rock Pigeon – Mourning Dove – Monk Parakeet – Belted Kingfisher – Red-Bellied Woodpecker – Northern Flicker – Downy Woodpecker – Hairy Woodpecker – Blue Jay – American Crow – Tufted Titmouse – Black-capped Chickadee – White-breasted Nuthatch – Carolina Wren – Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Hermit Thrush – American Robin – Northern Mockingbird – European Starling – Cedar Waxwing – American Tree Sparrow – Field Sparrow – Song Sparrow – Swamp Sparrow – White-throated Sparrow – Dark-eyed Junco – Northern Cardinal – House Finch – American Goldfinch – House Sparrow


Sunrise Birding Walk – October 17

21 10 2009
Great Meadows - Catherine Hamilton

Great Meadows - Catherine Hamilton

After a little change of the planned route, we met up for a tour of Stratford and Milford on Saturday. We started off at the railroad tracks on Long Beach Boulevard and took the rather beautiful hike out to the viewing platform there. It’s amazing when you get out into the marshes at Great Meadows to think that you are just a stones throw from an industrial park and I95. Personally I love it when you can find that little secluded area of peace, beauty and serenity within the shadows of concrete and steel.

The forecast had been awful all week however we were greeted by a stunning blue sky and a brisk and invigorating northerly wind. As we tracked along, Yellow-rumps (the hangers on from the summer warbler party) chipped to our right and left and sparrows skulked in bushes paralleling the trail. We were joined on the walk by renowned, New York based, bird artist Catherine Hamilton (blog and artwork here) and it was her sharp eyes that spotted the first ‘goody’ of the day, a small group of Wilson’s Snipe weaving their way high over the marsh. The scenery was stunning, especially in that somewhat hazy morning light and we were soon on the platform overlooking the marsh and soaking up the beautiful surrounds. As we enjoyed the view, an adult Peregrine Falcon slid by us ,sending a shockwave through the surrounding birds and small groups of Tree Swallows floated past us – almost close enough to reach out and touch.

Returning back to the cars we soon discovered a small flock of sparrows hanging out in the lot (and perhaps using the cars as a little wind break). In amongst the group was a rather nice White-crowned Sparrow that had decided that feeding under the cars was the best way to stay out of the wind. There must be something about White-crowneds and cars because we found one doing the exact same thing at Silver Sands!? Mike noted many sparrows proclivity for perching on industrial steel fencing and pondered whether it might be worth installing a few stands of the stuff  in his yard 😉 After discussing the possible reaction of neighbors and spouses I think the group decided the fencing might just fit in that much better in an industrial estate in Stratford.

After a quick caffeine stop it was on to Stratford Point for a quick mosey around. Here we managed to flush up a nice small flock of Eastern Meadowlarks and had rewarding looks at a hovering Kestrel. We were somewhat battling the elements, and although there appeared to be plenty of sparrow activity around the birds seemed to be fastidiously staying out of the wind and in deep cover. It was much the same story at Silver Sands, with most birds resolutely staying buried in the bushes. A rather elongated looking and back lit Eastern Phoebe perched on a wire caused a frisson of excitement as we entered the site and an all to brief Lincoln’s Sparrow that avoided most of the group were about all we had to show for a little hike around. Still it was a beautiful day to be out in the field and all the more a pleasant bonus considering the dire weather reports that had been predicted for the whole weekend.

Trip Species List: Mallard, American Black Duck, Green-winged Teal, Canada Goose, Ring-billed Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-Backed Gull, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, Black Crowned Night-heron, Wild Turkey, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Coopers Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, PEREGRINE FALCON, Greater Yellowlegs, WILSON’S SNIPE, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, Downey Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Black-capped Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwing, European Starling, American Crown, EASTERN MEADOWLARK, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Savannah Sparrow, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, House Sparrow.

Dickcissels at Sherwood

4 10 2009
Dickcissel - Mike Ferrari

Dickcissel - Mike Ferrari

OK, so here are the Dickcissels from Sherwood Island today. From looking at my field guides here is my best guess on age and sex. The brighter bird is an adult female (weak brown malar, brownish nape etc) the immature i’m not sold on either way. My guess would be immature female but would be interested in other thoughts on either bird.

Sunrise Birding Walk – Sept 26th

29 09 2009

Dawn - Luke Tiller

Dawn - Luke Tiller

As I am currently spending most of the week staying in Greenwich at the Hawk Watch (in order to avoid horror story commute on the Merritt post work) I haven’t had spare moment to do any birding at Allen’s Meadows. It’s almost been painful having to miss out on hitting the spot every morning as I have become accustomed to in fall. Anyway, I always look forward to taking groups to Allen’s and of course one always hopes that it is going to hit the heights of expectation.

We had a couple of new attendees on the walk this week who were new to the world of Wilton’s greatest birding hotspot so I was hoping that it would impress. Although the walk wasn’t kicking off until 7:30am I was too excited to wait until then to go birding so I arrived just before dawn to give the place a quick once over. Nothing jumped out at me in the early morning light apart from a Wilson’s Snipe that skittered away from some short grass screeching – I imagine as a defense mechanism this works pretty well as it certainly flustered me somewhat.

As the group arrived we were soon into the birding action as Cedar Waxwings fluttered overhead feeding heavily on the, what I’ve always assumed were, black cherry trees (perhaps time to shell out on the new Sibley Tree Guide). Joining the throngs were a couple of Red-eyed Vireos and a Black-and-White Warbler that was certainly drawn in more by the activity than the fruit. Yellow-rumped Warblers chipped and a roving flock of Palm Warblers put on a little show as they picked through the paper birches. We also discussed the edibleness of Autumn Olive (who knew!) and I even went as far as digging up from another blog a jam recipe for this slightly tart but quite tasty fruit (here).

As we wandered along the back line of the ball fields we peered into the dense foliage that surrounds the Goetzen Brook and stumbled upon a little feeding frenzy of migrants. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker scooted up a dying tree, and a cinnamon backed Veery showed briefly in the dense tangles of Virginia Creeper that bedecked the trunk along with  its subtler companion, a Swainson’s Thrush. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak with just a mere slash of brilliant pink on it’s breast sat to accommodate scope views and a scattering of warblers were picked off.

Probable highlight of the walk in terms of rarity was a subtle but beautiful Philadelphia Vireo. I think I have had one Philadelphia at Allen’s in the past but I need to double check my records. The vireo had managed to find an exceedingly large and juicy caterpillar and was proceeding to beat its brains out on one of the branches of the tree. Great fun to watch and providing the opportunity to get the bird in the scope for people – a rare treat for a mobile little migrant such as this. We checked the burgeoning sparrow flocks for something apart from the typical Savannah and Song Sparrows but apart from a Field and a couple of Chippings there wasn’t a whole host apart from a couple of drab Indigo Buntings.

Although no spectacular rarities a very nice morning all in all at my favorite site for fall birding anywhere on the globe (how provincial!) The trip was nicely rounded off with a quick flash of a migrating Peregrine as it muscled its way south on less than supportive winds.

Trip species list:

Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Carolina Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, American Crow, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Warblers: Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, Palm, Yellow, Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-White, Black-throated Blue, American Redstart, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, American Goldfinch, House Finch,Sparrows: Field, Chipping, Song, Savannah, Swamp, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, European Starling and House Sparrow.

Sunrise Bird Walk – Saturday Sept 19

21 09 2009
Nashville Warbler - Luke Tiller

Nashville Warbler - Luke Tiller

A wonderful mornings warblering at Greenwich Audubon’s Quaker Ridge site as part of the early festivities for their Hawkwatch Festival weekend. I have been on site for a month now and Saturday was by far and away the most productive morning bird wise. As I chatted to Brian O’Toole in the car park as the sun slowly rose there was an abundance of activity and I started to get that buzz of excitement one feels when you know that a good morning of birding lies ahead.

As I picked up my group, Brian called ahead and said that he had already found an abundance of activity in the orchard area and we hot-footed it in his direction. Along the way though we were soon waylaid as we started to trip over warbler activity. We soon had a Black-and-white Warbler working the trunk of a nearby apple tree and more birds were flitting through the early morning light towards us: brilliantly green (and super cute) Chestnut-sided Warblers flitted, Redstarts – all flashing tails and tumbling aerobatics as well as Black-throated Greens aplenty bedecked the trees.

Then our first ID challenge, a very muted Blackburnian Warbler – no garish orange throat on this bird, but rather a subtle wash the distinctive face pattern the giveaway clue. More birds to be seen and more Blackburnians, a surprising number in fact from fairly brilliant males to the more delicately patterned birds mentioned above. In total we guesstimated that there were probably a half dozen Blackburnians there – probably a high count for me in a days migrant birding anywhere!  There were more ID challenges ahead: a drab first winter female Pine Warbler, almost a colorless dingy brown and then a much sought after Philadelphia Vireo (photographed by Benjamin Van Doren here) along with a closely related but much more pedestrian (in the rareness stakes) Warbling. Here we had a little time to dissect the difference in both structure and plumage. The Philadelphia’s dark lores and distinctly yellow throat both tell tell signs as well as it’s more compact frame (a good article on Vireo ID here).

More birds streamed through: Nashville Warbler, Scarlet Tanagers, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-pewee. The leaders marveling at the amazing abundance of birds as much as the participants. As time rolled on the birds slowly dispersed and by 9:30am just a few individuals lingered – I guess that’s why Gina called the company Sunrise Birding – it’s birding at it’s best!

Bird Species from the Day:

15 Warbler Species comprising 200+ individuals: Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Black-Throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-Throated Green Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart.

Other Highlights: Philadelphia Vireo and Red-breasted Nuthatch as well as common neotropical migrants like Scarlet Tanager and Red-eyed Vireo.

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?

Sunrise Birding Walk – July 12

14 07 2009

Snapping Turtle - Luke Tiller

Snapping Turtle - Luke Tiller

It was billed as a return of the shorebirds trip but they were disappointingly not on time to make the trip. Apart from one Greater Yellowlegs. Anyway it was nice to be out with a large group of birders and to catch up with some regulars and a few faces that I hadn’t seen in a little while and a few newbies to the group.

Birds were a little few and far between but it was nice to make the most of one of the first nice days we seem to have had this summer. Best of all the humidity still doesn’t seem to have kicked in as of yet this summer! Still no need for air-con in mid-July – amazing! Highlights bird wise were a couple of Yellow-crowned Night Herons that were looking for crabs out on the far side of the river and a couple of Marsh Wrens that always amaze me by breeding right don smack bang in the middle of downtown Westport – talk about prime real estate! Other than that it was fairly quiet although it was good to see some Glossy Ibis that have loitered over the summer at Sherwood Island – have they nested there?

Highlight for me of the trip was Tom Walker finding a baby Common Snapping Turtle (see picture above – hand-modeling by Tom ). Now that is the size of snapping turtle that I like. In general it just worries me that eventually he/she will turn into one of those dustbin lid sized ones. That alone is enough to keep my squeamish self from swimming in lakes and rivers in New England – it makes my skin crawl imagining sharing space with these prehistoric looking beasts. You can read more about them here.

Trip List:

Mallard, American Black Duck, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Glossy Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Monk Parakeet, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Eastern Kingbird, American Robin, Grey Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, House Finch, Northern Cardinal