Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rescued Osprey Update

This morning I stopped at Wildlife in Crisis in Weston after a trip to conduct a point count survey at Weir Farm in Wilton. I wanted to check in on the flightless Osprey that Twan and I rescued from Pleasure Beach in Bridgeport since I was in the area. WiC is a very busy and impressive facility. They clearly have their hands full caring for many birds and mammals. Our Osprey, a female - we did not even take the time to identify the sex of the bird while it was in our custody - is currently doing a bit better. The mere fact it is alive 48 hours later is a very promising sign.

While the doctor who had examined her was not in, I was told she had been drooping both of her wings. She was not favoring one. Twan and I observed it unable to fly seemingly because of the right wing, though there was no obvious sign of trauma. That combined with the fact the tornadic thunderstorm had destroyed nearly every Osprey nest on Pleasure Beach and Long Beach a couple days before lead us to believe it was injured. Twan suggested yesterday that the storm could merely be a very strange coincidence. The bird may have ingested a toxin. The people at WiC feel the same. Further analysis is pending.

I was told the Osprey would be going for x-rays soon. Whether it was injury or toxin she is doing relatively well. The healthy meals she is being fed now while being watched over by experts in a safe and secure facility are clearly helping. She is far from out of the woods, but what I saw today combined with the fact she is even alive suggest a decent chance at living and returning to the wild. If she is rehabilitated and eligible for release we hope to be able to transport her back to the Pleasure Beach area. If we can do that, we will certainly publicize where and when so that all of you can witness the event. I very much hope that this can all come together. Once again, we will put out another update as soon as we get one.

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch

Monday, June 28, 2010

Osprey Rescue

Today Twan and I had a bit of an unfortunate adventure with a hopefully happy ending. Miley received a call that an Osprey was injured, rendered flightless, on Pleasure Beach in Bridgeport. This bird would die without help, and considering the temperature and the fact it had been seen in this state for more than a day, it likely had very little time left. Twan and I were at Stratford Point where we gathered what equipment we had – insect nets, gloves, a box, a towel, and tape – and headed to Long Beach. There is no way we would be able walk all the way down Long Beach, past the cottage area, and over to Pleasure Beach, capture then carry this Osprey all the way back to the parking lot. We needed to use the U.S. Fish and Wildlife temporary road, put in place to facilitate the removal of the decaying cottages on Long Beach West. I called the Stratford Police Department to ask them to open the gate to the road for us. They were very helpful and prompt, quickly allowing us access to the road. After receiving explicit permission from Stratford’s Conservation Administrator, Brian Carey, to traverse the beach to rescue the Osprey we were off.

Please understand that we, of all people, do not want to use this road. It is a danger and a hazard to the threatened nesting species Piping Plover and Least Tern, among other birds. As mentioned in a previous posting, Diamondback Terrapins also nest here. They can often be found on this road. However, saving this Osprey would not be possible otherwise. We drove down to the end of Long Beach very slowly and cautiously. Nothing was harmed or impacted in any way during this entire trip. What had been harmed by last week’s tornadic supercell thunderstorm were the many, possibly 8 or 12, active Osprey nests on the beach.

Half-destroyed nest.

Poles that used to have nests, one of which likely held this individual's.

Winds exceeding hurricane force strength had damaged or destroyed every nest, most of which are perched on old telephone poles. I discussed this in end of last week’s entry about the storm. It seems likely that this bird, an adult, was injured during this storm.

Downed and damaged trees.

Once we reached the end of Long Beach, we got out of the car and walked down the shore facing Lewis Gut and found the Osprey in relatively short order. It was absolutely sweltering on the beach. This poor bird had suffered enough. I took the following photo and video while watching over the bird as Twan went to get the car and our needed supplies. We were definitely not wasting any time getting it to relative safety. The distant photo shows it attempting to fly - unsuccessfully.

Covering our eyes for protection and to help confuse the bird to our intentions, we suited up and each took a net. We came at it from both sides to pin the Osprey between our nets, ensuring it stayed out of the water while unable to strike at us with its sharp talons. This picture is of me about to head towards it while Twan did the same.

It offered little resistance, flapping in the water while we closed in on it. I put my net under it to keep it from drowning while Twan held his on top. The talons became intertwined in the net, enabling Twan to take it by the legs.

We untangled it from the net and wrapped it up in a towel. We placed the bird in a box and taped it shut. This was almost unnecessary; it did not fight in the towel or the box, almost happy to be off the beach and knowing help was on the way.

Below you can see me on the phone trying to find a rehab center that could take the Osprey. Shortly after, we loaded the box in the car and headed back to Stratford Point.

We brought the bird inside to cool down a bit while still trying to find someone who could take in an injured raptor. Miley checked on the Osprey once it was inside.

Our friends at Wildlife in Crisis in Weston were able to receive it. We do not have the official condition of the individual yet. We will post it once we get word. The bird seemed to recover nicely while in the dark, safe box, out of the intense sun and heat. It was quite perky and bright-eyed only a couple hours later when it arrived in Weston. Keep your fingers crossed that it will be able to make a full recovery.

Photos 5, 6, and 11 © Twan Leenders; all other photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stratford Point 6/20-26

All of the reconstruction work on the wall surrounding Stratford Point has been completed. Things are now back to business as usual, and we will update everyone of what is being seen there on a regular basis once again. Perhaps "business as usual" is not a particularly accurate phrase to use during a week where it endured hurricane-force winds. Nevertheless, things should be peaceful here for the rest of the summer.

June is one of the quietest times of year at Stratford Point. It is the time between spring and fall migration, with nearly every species present in Connecticut breeding. The birds are often out of sight in the nearby water and shoreline as boats, kayaks, and fishermen frequent the area on hot summer days. The upland areas are not filled with migrants quite yet. On the left, you can see a few of the fishermen who frequent the beach and east side of the point. In the far distance is Short Beach, filled with people on a hot day last week. One of the most engrossing aspects of the month is the various terns flying around Long Island Sound. While there were hardly any to be seen for nearly two weeks, a large group of Common Tern showed up between Milford Point and Stratford Point in the middle of the week. It was likely a nesting colony that had been destroyed since all of the birds were adults. We do not know what colony it may have been, though if you have any thought on the matter please leave a comment or send us an email.

I had a Roseate Tern in this group of Common Tern as well. On Thursday, a couple hours before the now infamous Bridgeport tornado, I heard a Forster's Tern calling close to shore. One can often get lucky enough to see a Caspian Tern here. Last July our friend Charlie Barnard spotted a Black Tern that Miley and I got to enjoy close views of, too. If you can endure some heat and humidity, come walk the perimeter of the sight to see if you can find one of these elusive terns or something rarer. While I said the fall migration has yet to begin, this juvenile Tree Swallow seems to be the start. It behaved exactly as the many migrant swallows do at Stratford Point - sat on the wires between the two main buildings, leaving only for a bit of feeding. This may simply be an example of natal dispersal, a young bird leaving the breeding grounds of its parents, and not true long-distance migration. Dispersal may also be the reason Twan and I enjoyed seeing an American Kestrel about 10 days ago. We know of no breeding pairs in the immediate area, and had not seen one for quite some time. Either way fall migration will be coming very soon - perhaps earlier this year. I will discuss this exceptionally early breeding year in another post this week.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bridgeport/Stratford Storm June 24, 2010

Update at 2:24PM: Tornado confirmed in Bridgeport - see more at the end of this post

I am on record for having said our area would be walloped with thunderstorms yesterday, though I did not think it would be quite to this magnitude. Yesterday, I went outside for a while and measured the temperature, wind, humidity, dew point, etc. This was in the one o'clock hour, the hottest part of the day and just ahead of the storms. I used a handheld anemometer. I was able to get a high of 97.5 degrees F when the wind was not blowing and cooling things down. High humidity made the heat index 110.3F. The atmosphere was full of fuel for ferocious weather. It would be hard to get it much more potent.

Around 2:15-2:30PM those of us in Stratford, Bridgeport, and Trumbull were taking the brunt of a powerful storm cell racing to the east southeast at around 55 miles per hour. I had watched it coming towards us for a half hour. I saw it intensify from a bad storm, to a severe storm, and then watched with a bit of trepidation as it morphed into what appeared to be a tornadic cell on radar at about 2:10. When I heard my NOAA radio alarm go off I knew it was for a tornado warning, and it was going to be on top of those three localities, as well as nearby areas. What I did not have time to see, as the power flickered on and off before it even reached Stratford, was where exactly the path of the potential tornado would be. As it ended up the strongest winds and possible tornado tore through the heart of Bridgeport, especially hammering some eastern areas.

I took a tour of Stratford to survey damage this morning, out primarily to check on the CAS offices at Stratford Point. It turns out Stratford Point was just to the south of the most powerful winds. The Stratford Great Meadows Important Bird Area was directly in the path. It sustained a good deal of damage. It seems clear to me that Stratford took straight-line wind damage, hurricane-force in power, but not wind damage as a result of a tornado. The airport measured wind gusts of 75-80MPH, consistent with hurricane intensity (75+), and the damage backs this measurement. As you will see in the pictures that follow, the damage to trees, signs, and more all came from one direction - the west. Anything exposed to the west
and positioned perpendicular to the wind direction was ravaged, and it was bent, broken, or pushed over to the east. For example, a line of trees going from west to east fared much better than a line going north to south.

Below are many pictures of possibly familiar areas altered by this historical storm. First, Great Meadows, the McKinney Refuge on Long Beach Blvd. and surrounding areas:

Driving up Long Beach Blvd. - ornamental trees removed already!

Trees in the refuge took a beating.

More damage to that tree line.

Shocking view - pulling into the parking area where they used to be numerous trees and a lot of shade. Warblers and other migrants hung over visitors all along this spot. You can almost see the dead tree in the back where we had an Olive-sided Flycatcher this year.

Turning to the right from the previous photo, more of the parking area - most trees along the trail are in good shape. Note the light on the left where the large hole is and the trees from around the pond leaning over on the right.

Tree damage around the pond - seems much more open, huh?

More damage along the road, just west of the pond - again, notice in all of these pictures how the trees are downed from the west going to the east.

This wooded area just after the pond, on the way to the warehouse pools, had multiple downed or snapped trees.

Finally, one more wider view facing the much more open refuge - wow! Almost seems like winter.

A couple shots from the Stratford Airport, where signs were ripped out or bent over. Planes were tossed around, too, though they took care of those already. Note the sign
bent to the east.

Here is the devastation of Oak Bluff Avenue, the road that goes along Great Meadows on the east. These trees were exposed on the west side and took a brutal hit. Several families of migrants, from warblers to vireos to flycatchers, do use these trees in the spring in small numbers. Resident and breeding birds, from woodpeckers to orioles, do as well. Any that were downed or damaged are a significant loss.

Stratford Point had minor damage. It is a battle-tested location:

Debris from trees by the entrance.

These trees.

We lost a few shingles on the buildings.

There they are!

Our new Purple Martin gourd tree! Not quite right.

This would be why!

A few more shots of damage in area between Stratford Great Meadows IBA and Stratford Point:

Finally, a quick stop in the north end of Stratford at Boothe Park, the location of our hawk watch site, showed it took damage, too. One of the trees that we often lost sight of migrant hawks behind last fall got trimmed. I will write
much more about this site as we near the fall raptor migration.

The hill we use to count migrant hawks.

The sometimes-in-the-way tree that had a first-year female Cape May Warbler last year and now lost a bit off the top and in the middle.

The rose garden next to the hill with the tree in the background. The garden brings in many migrants during the hawk watch as well. Last fall it had an adult male Cape May Warbler along with a likely "Calaveras" Warbler, the old name of a western subspecies of Nashville Warbler.

The buildings and trees on Long Beach and Pleasure Beach look like they sustained some damage, mostly minor, though it is hard to measure the impact without being physically there because of their already dilapidated state. I viewed these areas from down in the parking lot of Long Beach and across Lewis Gut from behind the warehouses on Long Beach Blvd. Many Ospreys were perched in odd areas as most of the nests, probably 8-10 active, had been blown apart, off telephone poles, or collapsed with other structures. The movement of the storm and the way the winds came in would likely spare those areas from the worst damage, but it seems as if it took an unfortunate toll on the nesting Osprey population.

A team from the National Weather Service is surveying areas in Easton, Trumbull, Bridgeport, and Stratford today to determine if and where a tornado touched down. Although I have not seen it first hand, my guess would be that one briefly touched down in Bridegport. As previously mentioned, I believe all of Stratford's damage was from straight-line winds from a microburst, or macroburst. I will post more on this soon. We will definitely be getting a better look at everything once the repair and cleanup is complete, and will check to see if any of the habitat was greatly altered. I am already very concerned about the loss of or damage to many trees in the McKinney Refuge area, as it is so important for and popular to spring migrants.

2:24PM update: The NWS team confirmed a tornado touchdown in Bridgeport, as suspected, and reinforced what I hypothesized above.




Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When We Were Just Kids - Part II

Here is the second installment of Frank Gallo's story for his weekly contribution to our blog -- Frank is Director of the CAS Coastal Center at Milford Point.

I remember my first birds from when I was 3 or 4. They were a blue jay and a robin, shown to me by my cousin in a friend’s backyard. I saw my first bobcat when I was 6 in my neighbor’s backyard. It came out on a fallen log to chase a bird. They’re gone now, but we saw several in the woods over the years. There was a red fox den in what’s now a condominium complex that bears their name. We’d go and watch the pups play in the grass. I nearly stepped on a snipe in the seep that still runs behind the buildings. The resident great horned owl nested in the hill-top pines near the burned-down Boy Scout lodge. The chimney was all that was left of the building. To see it we’d have to sneak past the "mean man." He chased us once with a gun and fired it to scare us; we ran like rabbits. We were so scared we hid in the storm drain for hours before daring to run home. The concept of trespassing was beyond us; there were too many mysteries to unravel in the woods. In our wanderings we saw deer and skunks, rabbits and woodchucks. My youngest brother John found a roosting long-eared owl and a hooded warbler, and we all found a barred owl and a red-tailed hawk nest. The red-tailed hawks still nest in our woods, although the wood lot is much smaller than it once was. I’m glad at least a bit remains.

We tried living in the woods for awhile in a primitive tent camp on the hill. Later we built a fort in the woods, our first real club house, using wood scraps acquired from a completed housing project. One board, however, was acquired while the project was still running. The piece was a full 8x12 sheet of plywood; it was to be the backbone of the structure. It had a crack in the middle and had been discarded in a heap of lumber, so we felt justified in using it. It was sort of my first introduction to recycling. The question was how we were going to get it the mile down the road to our house. Running down the road in the middle of the day with a sheet of plywood over our heads seemed imprudent, so we did it at night. It never occurred to us to ask permission. It made a fine wall.

This collecting habit of mine continued into college. My ornithology teacher had taught me to skin birds for the teaching collection at the University. Periodically road-killed songbirds would find their way into my mother’s freezer, neatly sealed in labeled plastic bags. I don’t know what my mother thought, but at that stage, she’d long since resigned herself to my little idiosyncrasies. I guess she figured that small birds were no worse than frozen chickens or turkeys. Whatever her true feelings, she never said anything, at least not to me. I just figured she understood, being a member of the club, so to speak. Her stoic acceptance of my "freezer pet" collection did not, however extend to everyone. One of my prize acquisitions was a perfectly preserved barred owl. It was so large that its talons spilled out of its plastic bag. While the bird was residing in the freezer, my mother hosted a friend for the weekend. It must have been about 2 a.m. when a scream from the kitchen brought us all tumbling from our beds. Assembling hastily, we discovered my mother’s friend, one hand clasped to her mouth, the other waving violently at the open freezer. Apparently, in an attempt to get some ice, she’d met my owl. "Oh, that’s just Frank’s Owl," said my mother, as she shut the freezer and quietly led her friend back to bed. I don’t recall ever having that particular friend stay with us again. My birds moved back with me to school. I have my own place now, and I keep most of my freezer pets at work - one of the advantages of doing what you know and love.

To get a true sense of what I was like as a kid I have to tell one last story. When I was in sixth grade, two friends and I were at recess. We’d drifted into the woods and were turning over logs looking for salamanders. I flipped over one log, and beneath it was a garter snake and a dollar bill. Both my friends were afraid of snakes. One ran for the playground at top speed; the other jumped for the dollar. I jumped for the snake. We all did what made us happy. I find it interesting that we’d all do the same today.

(Dedicated to my Mom for letting me grow up to be me. Happy Mother’s Day! And to my brothers, partners in everything important.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Piping Plover: Marsh Bird - Diamondback Terrapin: Road Herp

I filmed the Piping Plover in the video below today at Long Beach in Stratford while checking on them and the condition of the United States Fish and Wildlife temporary road. It is intentionally zoomed out and in to show the bird's location. It also shows how they frequently hide in small depressions when there is no grass in the immediate area. This could be a danger to them now that the Stratford Police Department is using the USFWS road that runs the length of the beach.

Piping Plover from Connecticut Audubon Society.

The Piping Plover is on the Great Meadows side of Long Beach. The species uses all of land, and not simply the sandy Sound side. This is critical information that must be a part of habitat management and conservation planning. Protecting only the beach is not enough for the threatened species.

Prior to recording this, I saw two Piping Plovers, possibly a young one, fly from the marsh side over the temporary road to back to the beach. One can only hope that they stay off of the road now that it is being used so frequently

The only "rare" bird I saw today was a single Brant. While this goose species is a common sight in the Stratford Great Meadows IBA during the winter and some of spring, this is a very late date. I stayed far from the individual, and only watched it briefly, but it looked healthy.

I also took note of two Diamondback Terrapins on the road, very likely there to lay eggs. They nest every year in the sands of Long Beach. Ground predators, such as raccoons, dig up many of these nests. You will frequently find eggshells next to slight holes in the sand or dirt throughout the IBA. As you can imagine ground-nesting birds also have this problem with predation. Even the Piping Plovers suffered through it this year as something dug under one of the nest enclosures and devoured the eggs.

Once again, I hope that the police and town vehicles now using this road to patrol the cottage area of Long Beach are mindful of what they are driving over.

Photos and video © Scott Kruitbosch