Tuesday, May 11, 2010

187 species in one day? Birding for conservation -- the CT Big Day!

On Sunday May 23 (rain date May 24) Connecticut Audubon Society's team of expert birders, the Raven Luna-ticks (Nick Bonomo, Patrick Dugan, Frank Gallo, Dave Tripp, Fran Zygmont), will again attempt to break the CT Big Day birding record of 186 species, to raise money for the Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center at Milford Point.

Our total last year of 177 species (despite a flat tire!) is now the 2nd highest Big Day count for CT! We invite you to help us achieve our ambitious goal of raising $10,000 this year. Every dollar you pledge will go directly to support conservation and education programs at CAS's Coastal Center at Milford Point – truly one of the best birding destinations in the Northeast. We can’t do it without you, and we thank you for your generosity! Click here for the Pledge Form or contact Frank Gallo at 203-878-7440 ext. 501.

No matter where birds hide, the Raven Luna-ticks will find them!

CAS’s Raven Luna-ticks team would like to thank everyone who supported our Big Day birding run on May 24, 2009. We made an all-out effort to break the state’s 1-day bird-finding record of 186 species and raise funds for Connecticut Audubon’s conservation and education initiatives. Despite a flat tire that cost us an hour -- and the need to dodge tornados late in the day -- we managed to spot 177 species, surpassing the state’s old second place total of 176! We were very encouraged by the results and are already planning for next year. We’re also very proud that our efforts earned nearly $3,000 in pledged donations.

In case you have any doubts about the intensity of a Big Day effort, read this summary of last year's adventures in birding:

Our 2009 Big Day started at midnight in Dead Man’s swamp in Cromwell listening to Virginia Rails, a Black-billed Cuckoo and migrating Swainon’s Thrushes passing overhead. But the American Woodcock that called until 11:55 p.m. took the rest of the night off and went uncounted. Fortunately, we heard a few of his buddies later in the day. A quick dash upstate brought us to Rentschler Field in East Hartford where Grasshopper Sparrow, Spotted and Upland Sandpipers chimed in right on schedule. Station 43 did not produce Least Bittern or Sora but did have a screaming Great Horned Owl and Bobolinks. Dave's staked-out Horned Larks and Bank Swallows at the airport performed beautifully around 2:30 a.m. We were in the northwest corner before first light, and picked up quite a few species, including Whip-poor-will and a singing Acadian Flycatcher at Rattlesnake Swamp.

Highlights of our Northwest corner tour included Golden-winged, Hooded, Cerulean and about 22 other warbler species, Ruffed Grouse, Common Raven, Black Vulture, Cooper’s Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Pileated Woodpecker. We left the north around 10:30 a.m., right on schedule and with 130 species -- minus Hairy Woodpecker. Our goal was to be to the coast by 11:30 a.m. for high tide. But just before we reached the coast we blew a back tire, setting us back an hour, throwing us off the tide and making it real work to find the afternoon’s targets.

Extensive scouting in the weeks preceding a Big Day help locate tough-to-find species,
such as Peregrine Falcon, on schedule. Time is of the essence!

We picked up Peregrine Falcon in Bridgeport and all the essential targets in Stratford: Boat-tailed Grackle, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Common Loon, Piping Plover and Glaucous Gull (thank you Nick!) at Long Beach. But the staked-out Stilt Sandpiper had left, as had the Red Knot and Red-breasted Merganser. Sadly, harriers did not breed along the railroad trail this year. Milford Point produced Orchard Oriole, two Red-throated Loons and White-rumped Sandpiper. Things picked up as we headed east. Middle Beach in Madison produced two Purple Sandpipers that had been scouted earlier in the week, and Hammonesset Beach State Park still held King Eider, Black and Surf Scoters, Seaside Sparrow and Little Blue Heron.

We reached the Essex Docks with plenty of light but the thunderstorms caught us, and the Bald Eagles took shelter, and were not out in the open. We headed to Griswold Point for a beautiful sunset but there were no new birds to be seen. After dark we tried for Least Bittern, Sora and King Rails at several places, and ended our day back at Dead Man's Swamp listening again to Virginia Rails, Black-billed Cuckoo and the quite active American Woodcock. Our last bird of the day was a Gray-cheeked Thrush calling as it flew overhead.

Clearly this is not birding for the faint of heart! Keep an eye out for updates on this year's Big Day on this blog and please consider supporting our team's efforts by pledging here. Thank you!

Photos (Clapper Rail and juvenile Peregrine Falcon) © Twan Leenders

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