As I was on my way to Stratford Point today after a morning of field work, I saw a Gray Catbird feeding in the bushes along Oak Bluff Avenue. I discovered it after spotting a bunch of more typical birds in the area (House Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, White-throated Sparrows, Northern Mockingbird) while slowly driving by, stopping for a moment to see if anything else was lurking in this warm patch. This is the road that borders Stratford's Great Meadows Marsh on the east side, and the one many birders and beach goers are familiar with as it leads to Long Beach and Pleasure Beach.
It was cooperative for only a moment before dashing back into brush far from the road and my camera. There's always something awesome about finding a very common bird out of season like this one. This particular Gray Catbird has been living the good life in Connecticut as the winter of 2011-2012 has consisted of one moderate snowfall that melted with temperatures in the 50s mere days after. From what I have read and heard, it is not alone.
Look at this eBird map of Gray Catbird sightings in only January 2012 across the northeast and nearby regions, whoa! The birds are definitely concentrated on the Atlantic coast, though that is also where the most birders are.
Connecticut has had plenty, and our friend and excellent birder John Marshall told me he has actually seen one in each county already! There are certainly some Gray Catbirds that spend the winter here each year, but this is an abnormally high total. It seems obvious that they and other species, from a variety of warblers to even some Northern Rough-winged Swallows, are able to survive because of the little snow and very warm temperatures. If this were last winter - well, even if approximately the same number attempted to remain here, few would have survived all the way to spring with feet of snow and frigid temperatures being commonplace.
We have had two extreme winter seasons in a row, exactly what climate change should be bringing more of. The birds will have to adapt as best as they can. Overall, we can expect more and more attempting to remain here through the colder months as long-term temperatures will be on the rise, and monitoring weather and climate conditions will become even more important. This rapidly changing reality also means the survey work we complete on a daily basis is even more critical to the application of our best management practices in a variety of habitats across the state.
Photos © Scott Kruitbosch; map courtesy of eBird.org