In the months of November and December we in Connecticut typically seen our long-legged wader populations dwindle to nothing more than a handful of birds from a few expected species. Great Blue Herons certainly stick around through the cold, ice, and snow. They are still found frequently across the state, mostly along the coast in warmer pockets or in unfrozen waters, wherever they can feed themselves. Similarly but to a lesser degree the Black-crowned Night-Heron stays huddled in quiet and remote wet areas concentrated on the Connecticut coastline. As we have had increasingly warm winters with snow-free and even unfrozen conditions persisting through much of the season we have hosted Great Egrets and even Snowy Egrets when they would otherwise be far to our south. These state-listed breeding species are now finding it possible to function by feeding in and hanging around our tidal marshes, and this is yet another year where it is possible for them as we near the end of December having the only remarkable period of snow and cold temperatures in early November.
However, one long-legged wader that is a very rare find in our state even in the middle of the summer is the White Ibis, and on December 13 expert birder and naturalist Frank Mantlik found a juvenile of the species in and around the Stratford Great Meadows marsh. It was first seen in flight on the "railroad trail", then resting on a fallen tree over the pond on Long Beach Boulevard, then at a small pond on the north side of the warehouses, then on a pond on Access Road, and so forth. It moved nearly nonstop and was quite skittish. I was able to catch up with it on the Access Road stop, taking some record shots from a distance. The best one ended up being this digiscope snap with my iPhone.
Note the very long pink bill that curves downward, brown wings and otherwise white body as it will be turning nearly completely white except for black wing tips soon enough. Those big pinkish gray legs helped hold it firmly on the branches along as it preened with at least 20 Black-crowned Night-Heron while I snapped some more photos from a few hundred feet away with tough sun angles.
The most common time the species has been seen in the state according to the handful of eBird records present seems to be late August, with July through September birds and one November record being everything listed until now. The most exciting part is that this bird is still present in the area and has now been officially recorded for the "Count Week" of the Stratford-Milford Christmas Bird Count. With that said, this would amazingly not be the first of the species for the state on a Christmas Bird Count! That title goes to a bird recorded on the 1979 New London CBC at Rocky Neck State Park as according to the memories and information from Frank Mantlik, Phil Rusch, and CAS Director of Conservation Services Anthony Zemba. That White Ibis was actually found in October and stayed all the way through January.
Nevertheless, the southern species is a tremendous rarity that everyone should take a look around the Stratford marshes for whenever there is a chance over this holiday season. I hope it will remain here for two more days so we can have it on count day as well. Good luck to everyone participating in a count this weekend!
Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission