Monday, August 30, 2010

Gulls hawking insects

While waiting for a possible return for a second feeding of the night by the White-tailed Kite yesterday Stratford Point visitors were treated to another entertaining sight in the form of gulls catching bugs. The phenomenon is not new to me, but it is to many people who do not live in coastal areas, or frequent certain spots when it often occurs in the late summer or early fall. Essentially hundreds or even thousands of gulls took to the air like swallows to devour insects flying over our heads at Stratford Point and Short Beach. At first, I thought something had spooked up a group at Short Beach - maybe someone feeding them or a raptor - until they stayed in the air. It was obvious feeding time was on as they ascended at Stratford Point as well.

We could see the seemingly limitless insects in the air against the sunlight. Plenty of sand flies and other nasty bugs were biting us as well. The gulls were primarily Ring-billed, though a fair number of Laughing Gulls and some Herring Gulls also participated. This went on for over an hour and lead to some great photographic possibilities, which you can see below. Thank you to our friends Townsend P. Dickinson and Scott A. Vincent! I do not know what the insects were. If anyone has a definitive answer please comment on it for us. The last photo is your prototypical bug catcher, Barn Swallows. We had many there today in place of the gulls.

And that White-tailed Kite of ours? As of tonight it is still here...

Photos 1-5 © Townsend P. Dickinson; photos 6-8 © Scott A. Vincent

Sunday, August 29, 2010

White-tailed Kite Video 4

The White-tailed Kite continues for the 29th day. Since I put up more photos yesterday I figured why not a fourth video today! This is the longest so far, nearly 2 minutes shot from August 17 through August 28. It features, almost in order, the kite diving, interacting with gulls and terns, hovering, scratching itself in mid-air, sitting on the beach, and ends with it perched on a tree snag. All but the last parts of it sitting on the snag are from Stratford Point, with that being from Short Beach in Stratford.

White-tailed Kite 4 from Connecticut Audubon Society.

Video © Scott Kruitbosch

White-tailed Kite pictures

Here are some White-tailed Kite photos...because, well, it's a White-tailed Kite in Connecticut. Even though this is the beginning of day 29 it is still staggering to think of this bird even being within 500 miles of New England. The first two are from me while the other three are from, once again, Scott Vincent - thanks! Mine were shot on August 28, one in the morning on the beach at Stratford Point and the other on a snag in the evening at Short Beach. Mr. Vincent's are from the evening of August 27 at Stratford Point.

Photos 1-2 © Scott Kruitbosch; photos 3-5 © Scott Vincent

Friday, August 27, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 27

The White-tailed Kite has a secret I have slowly let out the last few days. It is, without a doubt, spending much more time at Stratford Point. This is because it is feeding more than it did for the first 20-25 days. The kite never had more than one meal at night, but it has had multiple kills in the late afternoon evening in the past four days. The mere fact it is actually at Stratford Point at, say, 11AM or 4PM is out of character. It is eating nearly as much as it can, still hunting with a full crop.

On Thursday night, August 26, we had an interesting event. After the kite hunted for a long time, putting on quite a show for everyone, it took a vole to eat on the beach. This in itself was a bit strange, though not unheard of - it has fed on the seawall at times lately. After it landed, I noticed a Great Black-backed Gull land near it. The gull went right up to the kite, circling it, pacing around waiting for a chance to take the vole. The weight class was not even close as the kite looked tiny compared to the massive gull. The raptor bobbed its tail repeatedly and mantled the prey. It was able to intimidate the gull just enough, eating the vole slowly. Once it took off the gull chased it closely for another minute.

A poor distant shot of the action as we watched it, White-tailed Kite on the left and Great Black-backed Gull on the right.

But what's the biggest news? Around 4 this afternoon the kite snatched and ate a vole. It sat in a tree at Stratford Point, occasionally flying around the property, thinking about another meal. Around 5:30, the kite took off, flying high near west side of the property. It used a thermal to climb hundreds of feet into the air...and then thousands. It passed an Osprey on the way up, becoming invisible to the naked eye in the sky and barely in binocular view even though it was directly over Stratford Point. When it turned and headed south, I was literally saying "goodbye!" as the three of us there thought we were witnessing the departure. Conditions were very favorable with a northerly flow after yesterday's cold front. The only odd thing was that it was so late in the day. A minute later, it slowly came back to sea level, ending up in the same tree it sat in most of the day. It later hunted and then left around 7:30 in the usual way.

Showing off the new feathers.

There seems to be no doubt the White-tailed Kite is preparing to leave. My best guess was that it would leave in September after a cold front (and after the molt was complete). The molt is nearly done, and nearly all the new feathers have come in. Outside of tomorrow, the next week will not be conducive to movement. We will have a warm and tropical-feeling southerly flow with winds going in the opposite direction it needs to go. This may keep it here. I have the feeling the kite is thinking about leaving tomorrow or in the next couple of days. What it does not know is that after tomorrow it is going to be tough. We'll see! Speaking of that, if you have not seen the kite, the time is clearly now.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Thursday, August 26, 2010

25 days of Stratford Point

Here is a list of the species I have recorded at Stratford Point during the first 25 days of White-tailed Kite mania. This only includes official surveys completed by myself. It does not include some sighted outside that time by others such as the Wilson's Storm-Petrel seen a few days ago. The official tally is 88, but it is likely over 90 on the site as a whole. Did you visit and see something not listed? Please email it to me! We would love to hear about it. This goes for any "good" sighting you have there or at any of our sanctuaries or centers (PDF file).

1. Mute Swan
2. Green-winged Teal
3. Brown Pelican
4. Double-crested Cormorant
5. Great Blue Heron
6. Great Egret
7. Snowy Egret
8. Cattle Egret
9. Green Heron
10. Glossy Ibis
11. Turkey Vulture
12. Osprey
13. White-tailed Kite
14. Sharp-shinned Hawk
15. American Kestrel
16. Merlin
17. Peregrine Falcon
18. Black-bellied Plover
19. American Golden-Plover
20. Semipalmated Plover
21. Piping Plover
22. Killdeer
23. American Oystercatcher
24. Spotted Sandpiper
25. Greater Yellowlegs
26. Willet (and “western” subspecies)
27. Lesser Yellowlegs
28. Whimbrel
29. Ruddy Turnstone
30. Sanderling
31. Semipalmated Sandpiper
32. Least Sandpiper
33. Short-billed Dowitcher
34. Laughing Gull
35. Ring-billed Gull
36. Herring Gull
37. Great Black-backed Gull
38. Least Tern
39. Black Tern
40. Roseate Tern
41. Common Tern
42. Forster's Tern
43. Royal Tern
44. Black Skimmer
45. Rock Pigeon
46. Mourning Dove
47. Monk Parakeet
48. Chimney Swift
49. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
50. Downy Woodpecker
51. Northern Flicker
52. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
53. Willow Flycatcher
54. Eastern Kingbird
55. Blue Jay
56. American Crow
57. Fish Crow
58. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
59. Purple Martin
60. Tree Swallow
61. Bank Swallow
62. Barn Swallow
63. Cliff Swallow
64. Tufted Titmouse
65. Red-breasted Nuthatch
66. Carolina Wren
67. House Wren
68. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
69. American Robin
70. Gray Catbird
71. Northern Mockingbird
72. European Starling
73. Cedar Waxwing
74. Yellow Warbler
75. Prairie Warbler
76. Common Yellowthroat
77. Song Sparrow
78. Northern Cardinal
79. Indigo Bunting
80. Bobolink
81. Red-winged Blackbird
82. Common Grackle
83. Brown-headed Cowbird
84. Orchard Oriole
85. Baltimore Oriole
86. House Finch
87. American Goldfinch
88. House Sparrow

I would bet a couple more warblers were here, too. If someone had been there to see it fly by Stratford Point we could add a Caspian Tern from Milford Point seen a couple weeks ago. That is exactly why we have seen so much more, from the Brown Pelican to Cattle Egret to many other more common birds - more time and more eyes in the field. Caspian Tern is one we still missed. What else could have gone by without us knowing? I don't think I want to ponder question that too much...let's just hope it wasn't any better than a White-tailed Kite.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Courtesy of WTNH, the following video details a Manatee that was seen in Clinton Harbor.

This is yet another southern visitor to Connecticut this summer. Apparently, a Manatee was seen in Bridgeport and perhaps Fairfield last week as well. This is very likely the same one. I am certainly not a marine mammal expert, but with that said I imagine this sighting was either because of climate change, or at the very least made more likely to occur because of it. The fact we may be in the midst of the hottest year ever certainly helps. This of course comes right after our discussion on the Striped Burrfish found at the Coastal Center at Milford Point.

Video courtesy WTNH

Monday, August 23, 2010

White-tailed Kite and Cattle Egret

Day 23 of the White-tailed Kite watch was a tough one for the poor raptor. After a night of torrential rain this morning started with still more rain. The bigger story was the wind. Right on the coast, and on Stratford Point property, wind gusts were well over 30MPH, nearing 40 at times. This northeast wind was sustained at around 20 to 25 or even 28MPH. Twan spotted the kite this morning over Great Meadows Marsh in the Stratford Great Meadows Important Bird Area. This was by the airport just to the northwest of Stratford Point. It has been seen in this area several times in the past. Obviously, this is a more sheltered area to hunt in, protecting it much more from the elements. However, the salt marsh habitat does not have near the quantity, density, or variety of small mammals the kite almost exclusively feeds on.

I spent some time measuring the wind speeds at Stratford Point while watching for rarities like Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, as our friends Bill Banks and Greg Hanisek saw one earlier in the day. This type of storm system, with such strong northeast winds, is perfect at bringing birds to the coast that you would normally only find out on the water. I was also waiting for the White-tailed Kite to return for its evening meal.

Not the White-tailed Kite. From last week, the infamous banded Milford-born juvenile Peregrine Falcon asking me "Where's the kite now?" while looking for it for another fight.

Sustained winds were in the 25-28MPH range, gusts to the mid-30s. At about 5:08PM I saw what I presumed was a distant Snowy Egret flying towards the point with the wind, going southwest. As it came in closer, I noticed with the naked eye it had all very dark legs and feet - not a Snowy. Staring at it in my binoculars as it passed close in front of me over our Purple Martin gourds, I noticed it was small, had a short black bill with some light yellow only near the base, and had quite a thick, large chest and neck for its small size. However, the size and shape cannot be relied upon fully with the strong wind making for some oddly shaped flying birds. For what it is worth it stood out to me. The legs and bill were wrong for a juvenile Little Blue, and it was obviously not a Great. It was a juvenile Cattle Egret.

In that wind and with the limited observation time there was no way to get a picture of it and still get the important great looks at it that I had. Unfortunately, it kept going past the Stratford lighthouse that is next to Stratford Point, so the only hope now is to keep an eye out for it on the coast to the west. You cannot come see this one, similar to the Brown Pelican. I wish everyone could. While I went inside to check for more information on what I had just seen the kite reappeared. A subsequently happy man named Tom said it came in around 5:15. It hunted for about five minutes before seemingly flying off. I do not know if ate or not. Obviously, it was very difficult to fly or hover with the winds, even for the kite.

It goes without saying that tomorrow, as windy and rainy conditions continue, will be a great day for shorebirds and rarities of all sorts on the coast. Please come to the seemingly unstoppable Stratford Point to see what you can find - you know, besides the White-tailed Kite. What a ridiculous month. Here are a couple more White-tailed Kite photos via Karen Fung - thanks! I receive many of them each day, but please send some if you like and perhaps I will put them in an entry.

Diving for prey...

...and flying with prey.

Photo 1 © Scott Kruitbosch; photos 2-3 © Karen Fung

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Striped Burrfish

Last Sunday something very strange was discovered by a young boy on the beach of the Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center at Milford Point. This non-avian discovery made its way to Director Frank Gallo. Our own Conservation Biologist and fellow blog author, Dr. Twan Leenders, took the following photographs.

He, in consultation with scientist friends and former colleagues, identified it as a juvenile Striped Burrfish. This is a species of puffer fish. We are still waiting to hear back from experts about its frequency of occurrence, and whether or not this sighting is rare or simply uncommon in this part of Long Island Sound. Twan did tell me that it shows up in the New York area in late August and September. He therefore assumes that there is some cyclical cycle, whether it is seasonal or reproductive, behind its appearance in more northern east coast regions.

A nice summary of the species is available here from the South Carolina aquarium website. Their species profile also suggests it is “rare north of North Carolina”, though the definition of rare can certainly vary. I would surmise it is infrequently found inhabiting some of the warmer waters of the Mid-Atlantic, and that it is indeed rare in Long Island Sound. I would also take a leap and hypothesize that during the hottest year ever recorded by humans the warm water temperatures are allowing many species to move a bit more north. A recent article in the Connecticut Post discussed how research in Long Island Sound has shown more warm-water and tropical species occurring in the waters. This is climate change in action. Just like the birds around us the countless lifeforms in the Atlantic Ocean are quickly adapting and changing to this new reality.

Photos © Twan Leenders

Friday, August 20, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 20

The White-tailed Kite has altered its schedule a bit lately, spending more time at Stratford Point in the morning and less in the evening. This is likely because it is able to be there without too many people around, if any. It is becoming well versed in our schedules and habits. While I do not think anyone bothers it, and certainly not in the evening, it would be silly to ignore the discernible pattern that has emerged. It is a highly-intelligent raptor. It knows how to avoid the crowd by this point of its stay. At least we can all be happy it is still here, eating plenty, and offering some good views at times.

Here is an amazing shot of the kite's eyes from David Speiser:

In my last video I showed the kite scratching itself, and Lou Spero got a shot of it:

Big thanks to them! If you have not come out to see the White-tailed Kite get here while you can. It will likely stick around a bit longer, but you never know. Stratford Point and the Coastal Center at Milford Point will be open this weekend.

Photo 1 © David Speiser, photo 2 © Lou Spero

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Raptor updates: White-tailed Kite and Osprey

Well, Scott just let me know that the White-tailed Kite was not seen tonight by the small group of kite-spotters waiting patiently at Stratford Point, nor was it detected in its regular hangouts at Milford Point. However, several people got great looks this morning and the bird was unusually visible on-and-off all morning as it hunted over the coastal grassland management area at Stratford Point. I guess it just deviated from its routine a bit - which was not entirely unexpected after hunting unsuccessfully last night. The cooler weather this morning allowed it to chase prey for a longer time and perhaps it just called it a day with a full stomach by lunchtime? I last saw the bird around 11:30AM flying past my office window, but did not have time to keep an eye on it after that. Hopefully it will be back again tomorrow morning. Time will tell...

Meanwhile on the other side of the river, daily routines are getting crazy too. The young Osprey at Milford Point are getting rowdier with each day as they learn to catch fish or fight over the food that mum and dad bring in. Of course these babies are now the same size as their parents and things are getting a little crowded in the old homestead (keep in mind that an adult Osprey has a 5+ ft wingspan!). As you can tell from Kevin Doyle's photos below, their nest is slowly starting to fall apart from all the use and abuse it suffered in the last few months.... all signs are there: the time for these guys to head south on their first big journey is approaching rapidly!

Chunks of debris fall off the Osprey nest as one of the birds takes off
The rowdy bunch!

Another quick Osprey update is in place here too: I spoke with one of the owners of "Wildlife in Crisis" this morning to get a status update on the Osprey that Scott and I rescued from Pleasure Beach a while ago. The bird suffered a dislocated shoulder and is recovering but only slowly. Apparently it spent a long time early on escaping from its bandages, which slowed down the recovery process. Even though the shoulder is now healing well, the bird has been in a fairly small cage still to facilitate its feeding (it has to be hand-fed, which is hard to do in a larger enclosure!). As soon as its shoulder has sufficiently healed it will be allowed to move into a flight cage where it can rebuild its strength - which will hopefully be very soon. At this point it is not clear yet whether the Osprey will be fit to be released before its migration window closes, or whether it will need to sit out the winter in its temporary home in Connecticut. We'll keep you updated here!
Photographs by Kevin Doyle

Monday, August 16, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 16

The White-tailed Kite continues! Our own Dr. Twan Leenders reported that, as usual, it was hunting at Stratford Point this morning. I will be there this evening as more visitors stop by for a chance to see it up close. Last night was the first evening since August 7th that it did not return to hunt for one last meal, disappointing many people who could only see it about 1.25 miles away on the cedar trees of Milford Point before it flew off for the night. I am sure everyone remembers the two battles the kite has had with juvenile Peregrine Falcons. The first was an unbanded young falcon, while the second had a band I was able to read to send into the DEP.

You may be able to see the band on the leg of the Peregrine, just a dark larger than usual blob on its left leg, in the shot above. Julie Victoria of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection banded this bird at the nest box on May 25, 2010. It was at the NRG energy plant that is in the Devon section of Milford, Connecticut. This is only three to four miles up the Housatonic River, which of course forms the estuary that Stratford and Milford Points surround. Julie also told me that, due to construction, she has not been able to band the young Peregrines from the nest box in Bridgeport that is on the I-95 bridge. She surmises that the unbanded juvenile attacker is likely from this nest.

Peregrine Falcons are known to move about quite a bit, though it was not too much of a surprise to learn this young raptor was still close to its birthplace. One Peregrine I had at Long Beach in Stratford on January 3, 2009 was a female who was banded on a building in Providence, Rhode Island in May 8, 2006. Tracking the dispersal of young is important beyond our curiosity, too. It will be fascinating to see if the banded individual remains in the area.

Finally, here is some other information on Connecticut Audubon Society events at Milford Point from CAS Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo - maybe you will see the kite up close while in a canoe!

It was a full house on our canoe tour, Saturday, with 10 canoes and 3 kayaks joining us. Late summer and fall are exiting times to paddle the marsh; you just never know what will turn up. Saturday's intrepid paddlers were treated to great views of roosting herons and egrets, including 17 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (our high so far this season), 1 Black-crowned Night Heron, 9 Great Egrets, 1 Snowy Egret, as well as quick looks at a Saltmarsh Sparrow and views of a number of different shorebirds. The swallow migration is in full swing, and Barn Swallows along with a few Tree Swallows were streaming by during the entire trip. Ospreys were everywhere and our resident young Red-tailed Hawk was screaming to be fed from the trees near Court Street.

Our next canoe tour is Aug. 28, 12:45-3:15 p.m. It is filling quickly, so please call soon if you would like to reserve a space. There are several tours in September, and the full fall schedule is listed on the Coastal Center's page on the right. There will be a special fall foliage tour on Sunday, October 24, 11:00-1:30 p.m. that should also be good for waterfowl. We're looking forward to it. If you're planning to attend the Stratford Bird Festival on Saturday, September 25, spaces have been reserved for birders on our 11:30-2 p.m. canoe tour.

Our first birding class of the fall is:
Sorting Out Bird Songs
Wednesday, September 15, 7 – 9 p.m.
Birdsong can be an incredible aid to finding and identifying birds. Instructor Frank Gallo, an avid student of birdsong, will introduce the basics of birding by ear, using sound resources, as well as the tips, tricks, and even pitfalls to identifying birds by sound. Is that an oriole or a tanager singing? Could that be a hermit thrush calling or a catbird? Come find out, as we delve into the basics of birding by ear. Meet at the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center at Milford Point. Fee: $35.

...and our first Charles’s Island walks are:

Charles Island Explorations
Wednesday, September 8 at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday, September 12 at 8:00 a.m.

Check the Coastal Center's page for details or call Louise at 203-878-7440 x 502

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch

Saturday, August 14, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 14

Tomorrow will be two weeks since the kite was discovered at Stratford Point by Dennis Varza. It is in a perfect routine at the moment, having becoming accustomed to the human schedule while setting one for itself. It hunts early while we give it space, having a few meals from around sunrise to 8AM before leaving Stratford Point for Short Beach or Milford Point. It will come to Stratford Point once again for one meal later in the evening, between 5:30-7:30 mostly, sometimes staying until nearly 8. Visitors from many states keep making the trek to see this amazing raptor. Those who come during the previously mentioned hours nearly always leave with a big smile on their face. I may post more pictures soon, but since there have only been two videos from me compared to so many pictures from fantastic photographers, I thought more video was in order.

If memory serves (and it may not) I believe it is the first video of the kite perched. Keep in mind you can hover over the right-hand corner video of the video for the full-screen option. The shot shows it sitting on its feeding perch after a meal. This is where it takes most of its kills when it does not go to a telephone pole (because people or vehicles are there). After that is a hovering and soaring shot with a twist as it amusingly shows the kite scratching at its face in mid-air at a bug.

Video © Scott Kruitbosch

Thursday, August 12, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 12

The White-tailed Kite is still here! However, there has been no sign of the Brown Pelican since the evening of August 10. A Black Tern, possibly the same bird, was seen today at Milford Point. This is the nature of pelican sightings in Connecticut, especially Brown. They are often seen and never relocated. The fact we saw the pelican land in water in Milford and a few people were actually able to get to Stratford or Milford to scope it to see it fishing or flying was amazing. Not being able to find it yesterday did not surprise me. Many of Connecticut's well-known names with decades of experience in conservation and birding have never seen a Brown Pelican in the state, including our own Senior Director of Science and Conservation, Milan Bull. My point is that while the bird is rare, the toughest part of seeing one is the fact only those lucky to be wherever one is get a fleeting glimpse. No one else can usually "chase" it. He was certainly envious of me and everyone who was there Tuesday night, to say the very least.

Here is a second high definition video of the White-tailed Kite shot last night, August 11.

White-tailed Kite 2 from Connecticut Audubon Society.

The kite was at its favored hunting grounds and the closest thing it has to a home, Stratford Point. The beginning of the video shows it hover-hunting and soaring a bit, which can be tough to see, let alone shoot. Notice some Common Terns and Barn Swallows attacking or pestering it. Towards the end I left in three kind of tough shots of it diving for prey. It is a very fast, agile, and stealthy bird when it wants to be.

Here are a few photos of the kite with a vole, first from the Director of the Coastal Center at Milford Point, Frank Gallo:

A couple more soaring shots from Paul Fusco:

Thanks to them! Let's hope the White-tailed Kite keeps finding plenty of food. The next week should not feature any major cold fronts, the prominent trigger to fall raptor movements, and the most likely way I believe it would depart. It seems like it will be here for a while longer. If you have not come to see it stop by Stratford Point or Milford Point soon!

Photos 1-3 © Frank Gallo; photos 4-5 © Paul Fusco

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Brown Pelican at Stratford Point with the White-tailed Kite

The White-tailed Kite continued to be seen today at Stratford Point, Short Beach, and Milford Point. I went back tonight in hopes of seeing it hunting, as I do nearly every late afternoon or evening, and to allow visitors in to the site. Twan was still there, doing work mapping spartina growth around Stratford Point, an exciting development in itself. A group of around 12-15 people was present, some of us waiting as we do each night. We saw the kite about 1 1/4 miles away at Milford Point, sitting in a cedar as it usually does. My hopes for its return were low.

While all of us relaxed and chatted, and I faced towards Long Island Sound and the Stratford Lighthouse, myself and another man saw it flying along the shore. I screamed out something slightly inappropriate while he said "Pelican!" as I was already running to the sound side of the building. The group followed and a few of us quickly snapped off photos. I got one decent one considering the spur of the moment run, kneel, and shoot with only an optical zoom:

A Brown Pelican!

Scott Vincent's amazing photos, thank you!

We watched it fly further towards Milford, eventually landing in the waters just on the Milford side of the large breakwater. We emailed and called people frantically. We checked the field guides we had to verify that this was a young Brown Pelican while looking at it through scopes. American White Pelicans are a very rare sight, and we were fortunate enough to have a group of eight that a few of us tracked down the Connecticut coast to locations including Stratford Point last December...but a Brown Pelican? This is exceptionally rare, and a notable state record.

As we were in total shock the White-tailed Kite flew in right in front of our eyes, only about 50 feet away. It hovered for food as the Common Terns attacked it. Even those of us who had seen the kite, or someone who has every day like myself, was in awe of the looks we had over the next few minutes. The Brown Pelican, albeit far away, was in the same plane of view. It is still mind-blowing to think of. I have never had two more rare Connecticut birds at the same moment in my life, and I likely never will again.

The kite captured a small mammal and took it to its favorite perch when people are there (and it cannot use a telephone pole), the Juniper tree in the corner of the site. It ate while we watched the Brown Pelican. Not to be outdone it then flew to a tree near the middle building, very close to all of us. I have also never had a moment where it was so difficult to divide my attention. All of us enjoyed breathtaking views, the best in days - trust me, I have been here constantly. A bit later, we added a Black Tern to the day's list, which, while not exceptionally rare, I believe is the first seen in Connecticut this year. The pelican was last seen heading towards Milford Harbor. It may very well be in the same area tomorrow morning. We have a good chance, though it is highly unlikely it will stick around in the way the kite has, or for any substantial amount of time.

I will add pictures of the Brown Pelican if I receive more soon from the other guys. It was an absolutely unbelievable evening.
As I have mentioned lately these other wonderful sightings make me wonder what we have been missing at Stratford Point with only a few eyes there for short periods of time until now. If not for the White-tailed Kite none of us would have been there at the time tonight. We have it to thank for finding the Brown Pelican.

Photo 1 © Scott Kruitbosch; photos 2-4 © Scott A. Vincent

Monday, August 9, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 9

The White-tailed Kite has passed the one-week mark in Connecticut and was seen this morning at Stratford Point. It has quickly acclimated to its new home at the mouth of the Housatonic River, going being Stratford Point, Short Beach in Stratford, and Milford Point on a constant basis. It also takes an occasional trip by the old Army engine plant, the airport, and the Stratford Great Meadows Important Bird Area. You can still get fantastic views in the early morning and evening hours, when it hunts the most. The best bet is the early morning (sunrise to two hours after) at Stratford Point. The pictures below are of it fighting another juvenile Peregrine Falcon on Sunday night. Having to literally run my cheap camera without a large lens was able to get a couple decent shots.

The Peregrine started the fight. I was with a sizable group of people at Stratford Point, watching it on a pole just above our heads. While chatting and taking photos, remarking on the bands, the kite sneaked in and started hovering for a meal in front of the main building. We did not even see the Peregrine hop up - it was attacking the kite before you could blink. The rather ferocious battle lasted around three minutes, both birds going further and further out over the water until they went up the Housatonic a bit, barely in range of my 12 power binoculars. The White-tailed Kite maintained air superiority, staying above the falcon nearly the entire time, doling out several sharp attacks on the aggressor. The Peregrine broke to Short Beach after it had enough, with the kite going back to Milford Point, staying there for the night rather than returning to Stratford. It was incredible.

Another fun part will be finding out where this juvenile Peregrine Falcon is from. I sent the band information to the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. When I have the background on the bird I will post it. Stratford Point has had hundreds if not thousands of visitors over the past week. I have spent probably upwards of 70 hours there since the kite first appeared. Apart from the fact I would be able to write a book on it, we have seen many other fantastic birds at Stratford Point and the Coastal Center at Milford Point, an already well-known birding hotspot.

The word on Stratford Point as a wonderful place to come visit apart from the kite is getting out. Please keep it in mind as a birding destination even after the kite leaves...whenever that will be. It seems to be well fed and quite content here now, even though it is avoiding people more than it used to. As the visiting crowds dwindle in size the longer it stays this may only encourage it to stick around even more. I am hopeful that the only thing to trigger the kite's departure will be cooler weather, and we are quite far away on the calendar from cooling down significantly.

Below is a list of the species, 74 in all with several rarities, seen from August 1-8 at Stratford Point. Today, August 9, added a Merlin. A notable subspeices, "western" Willet, was spotted last week too.

Mute Swan
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Least Tern
Roseate Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Royal Tern
Black Skimmer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Monk Parakeet
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Willow Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Saturday, August 7, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 7

Yes, the White-tailed Kite is still here at Stratford Point, Milford Point, and between at Short Beach. Tomorrow will be one week since it was found. I have been getting a ton of questions via email and in person, so here's more information on Stratford Point and the White-tailed Kite. Please pass this along to anyone and everyone. Here are some more contributed photos of the ever-amazing but more elusive kite and then the FAQ.

1) What and where is Stratford Point?
Stratford Point is what we call the 28-acre coastal grasslands management area that is manged by the Connecticut Audubon Society and owned by Sporting Goods Properties, a subsidiary of DuPont. It is located at 1207 Prospect Drive in Stratford, Connecticut. You cannot miss it on a map or if you come to that address in person. It is a very spectacular and unique property situated on the mouth of the Housatonic River and Long Island Sound. It is open to many forms of passive recreation, including all birding, when the gate is open and we are here.

2) So what's the gun club?
Stratford Point was for decades a Remington gun and skeet shooting club where millions of lead shots were fired into the waters of the Housatonic and Long Island Sound. Remediation is making progress but ongoing. That pollution is the only current sign of the past, and being 24 years-old I do not remember the club at all. Hopefully we can forget about that unfortunate history in this beautiful natural habitat. For ease of understanding it is referred to as Stratford Point now.

3) Where's the kite usually?
This is complex. It roosts near Stratford Point and moves around quite a bit during the day now. We do not know the exact tree or even small area, and have only a general idea. If we did it would understandably not be public information. Suffice it to say if you come to Stratford Point in the early morning you have an exceptionally high chance of at least seeing it, probably getting great views. It always comes back in the evening, most of the time hunting briefly, a couple times going right to the trees in the back and staying out of sight. In the early part of the week (August 1-3) it was exceptionally conspicuous and stayed at Stratford Point nearly all the time. It has since explored a lot more, and it goes to Short Beach and Milford Point for prolonged periods. It also occasionally stops over in the Stratford Great Meadows Important Bird Area. Between its supreme hunting skills (not needing to hunt or be visible for too long), the knowledge it now has of the area, and the people with shiny things chasing after it or staring at it, I think it moves around to keep away from the crowds and relax. On the hotter days it sometimes stays out of view completely in the shade of a cool tree.

4) When does the gate at Stratford Point open?
When I open it. All this means is that most of the time, some weekdays aside, I am the first or only one there. There is no set time or schedule. I open the gate when I arrive. When Twan or Miley get there they may open it earlier. I do not open the gate mostly until later in the 7 o'clock hour so the kite can be left alone to hunt and feed after sunrise. This is critical to keeping it here. It needs to feed a lot in the early morning, and it seems like now it cannot or will not do that properly with crowds on the property itself. You are welcome to watch it from outside of Stratford Point property on Prospect Drive, or down on the beach, but please do not venture onto the site when it is not open. Let the kite hunt. The gate is open roughly from 7 to 7 lately, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, and sometimes closed. But as said the kite is spending much more time away from the coastal grasslands management area.

5) Where can I find these supposedly amazing pictures of the kite?
The infamous photos, including those taken while it fought a Peregrine Falcon, were taken by several great photographers and are on this Connecticut Audubon Society blog. Check entries below this one or in the archive to the right. You will also find more information on the bird, how it was found, a HD video I shot of it last Sunday, Stratford Point sightings, etc.

6) What else can I see at Stratford Point?
Nearly any kind of bird you like. Fall migration has been underway here since early July. Swallows are moving through every day with Chimney Swifts. Yellow Warblers, and sometimes anything from a Common Yellowthroat to Prairie Warbler, are going through too. Earlier today I had a group of 8 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher feeding before going towards the Stratford Lighthouse to keep migrating. Bobolinks and Orchard Oriole are common. Falcons, from the infamous Peregrine to American Kestrels, are often seen. Right now we have a ton of shorebirds either feeding, roosting, or flying by, nearly every kind you can imagine all the way to an occasional fly-by Whimbrel. We have terns from Common and Least to Roseate and Forster's, even once in a while a Royal or Caspian. You can see nearly anything during this migration period, and I totaled over 50 diverse species yesterday. We are finding a lot more lately with prolonged periods of time spent there and so many more eyes.

7) Where is the kite RIGHT now?!
I can probably answer this in the moment, but keep your eyes on this CT birding email list, and please help me and us out by posting information or at least passing it along to someone like myself in Stratford or anyone at the Coastal Center in Milford. This helps everyone.

8) How was the kite discovered?
Dennis Varza, a legendary and well-known name in Connecticut, found it flying around Stratford Point from Short Beach on Sunday, August 1 around 8AM.

9) Who are you?
I am the young guy with a white Audubon Science and Conservation staff t-shirt and a Yankees hat. So please feel free to ask me where the kite is, tell me you saw it, inquire about something else, or simply introduce yourself.

10) Thank you so much!
If you want to thank me or the Connecticut Audubon Society please donate to the Connecticut Audubon Society. It makes all of this possible. Please consider joining here too. Either way you would be doing a great service, and we thank you. We are all thrilled that so many people have had a great time with this spectacular raptor.

Photos 1 © Julian Hough; photos 2-4 © A.J. Hand

Thursday, August 5, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 5

I found the White-tailed Kite at Stratford Point this morning around 7:45. This is the fifth day it has been present here in Stratford. It popped up from a tree near the second building at Stratford Point, flying to a smaller tree by the entrance. It sat here for only a minute while I got my camera set as a truck drove down the to the end of Prospect Drive. I saw it turn its head to watch it coming, then hop up and fly east, going all the way to Short Beach. It was still early, and I told a group of birders that came a bit later to remain at Stratford Point and hope that it would come back.

The best photo of the perched kite I have seen - thanks to Jim Zipp for this and the next picture!

The kite came back about an hour later, putting on quite a show, flying and perching and being mobbed by Common Terns and Herring Gulls. After around 30 minutes of exposure, it went back to Short Beach and disappeared low to the ground near the haze. It was seen around noon and during the early afternoon at Short Beach. I do not know what its whereabouts were after or what they are right now. However, as I learn how the kite behaves and its daily schedule, I can surmise it returned to Stratford Point about an hour ago. I would guess it already had dinner and went to roost, though it may still be hunting for a late snack.

Another amazing fight picture, White-tailed Kite vs juvenile Peregrine Falcon

I say this so that out of state and more local visitors can understand that the easiest times to see the White-tailed Kite are early morning and the late afternoon or evening. These are the most active hunting hours. At other times, especially on warm days, it is less active and stays out of the sun and heat. I am often asked if I know where it is at X time - probably not. If the kite is in a tree somewhere around Short Beach, or even near Stratford Point, it hides very well. It is larger than you may think but it is still on the small side for a raptor. If it wants to cool down, rest, and not be found it is very capable of eluding everyone. It has a couple trees it favors over others to perch on, but even then, it will go anywhere it feels like. There is no discernible pattern for roost trees because it is simply not found very often.

Thanks to Mark Szantyr for this amazing field sketch!

Many people reading this do not know much about the coastal grasslands management area at Stratford Point. It supports a great deal of infrequently found or rare birds during every part of the year. Today it also had the juvenile Peregrine Falcon pictured above (though the photo was from Tuesday), an adult male American Kestrel, a Green Heron, a couple Bobolink and Purple Martin, a few Orchard Oriole, and migrants such as Eastern Kingbird, Yellow Warbler, House Wren, and more. We have large concentrations of swallows and shorebirds as well. Please stop by in the future for other great sightings, as you can see some amazing birds here - even if they just fly by.

I have a request from Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo for everyone who visits Milford Point to see the kite (or the many other great birds) to drive slowly, as neighbors were upset with visitors speeding down the road. It is a 25MPH street. Please respect this and be safe, as we need to stay on good terms with our wonderful neighbors. Keep this in mind in Stratford please - besides the neighbors there, the White-tailed Kite absolutely hates vehicular traffic, too. Drive up carefully and watch for people and the kite. Thank you in advance!

Photos © Jim Zipp; field sketch © Mark Szantyr

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More White-tailed Kite fighting Peregrine Falcon

The White-tailed Kite was seen for a fourth day at Stratford Point and Short Beach. Later on I will have more about its day, but for now here are some more pictures of it fighting with a juvenile Peregrine Falcon from yesterday courtesy of Scott Vincent. Thanks to him! See the post below for other battle pictures from yesterday.

Photos © Scott A. Vincent

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 3

The White-tailed Kite continued for a third day. It was found once again very early this morning at Stratford Point. While I spent a lot of time at Stratford Point, most of it was while the bird was absent. I did not witness these events - friends and birders have passed on the general stories. It hunted for rodents not long after sunrise, eating a mouse and a vole from around 6AM to 8AM. It even sat on a telephone pole for one of its meals. A huge highlight of this increasingly prolonged visit was an encounter with a juvenile Peregrine Falcon. The two birds tangled at Stratford Point, attacking one another and even locking talons in mid-air. The impression I got from eyewitness accounts was that it was not particularly vicious, but these stunning photos from Tom Sayers portray a lot.

Thanks Tom! What amazing pictures. The kite flew across to Short Beach and spent some time in the trees around the playground before disappearing before 9AM. No one could locate it for quite some time, though the general thought was that it had gone east and was between Short Beach and Connecticut Audubon Society's Coastal Center at Milford Point. A few hours later, it was located, oddly enough, on a sand bar. This worked out wonderfully for many people as they could visit the CAS Coastal Center and take a short walk to scope it on the sand bars. It certainly loves the Connecticut Audubon Society. Milford Point also had a Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, and various counts of Red Knot.

Apparently the kite spent from around 9AM to around 5:20PM going from bar to bar, progressively moving west. It ate something on one of these bars in the mid-afternoon, mantling and protecting its kill. I have no idea what it caught out there, though it seems unlikely to be a rodent. The species rarely eats birds, but there were many shorebirds in the area that seem like possible prey. High tides and fading daylight must have encouraged it to return to Stratford Point. Upon arrival, it quickly caught and ate a large vole, disappearing until dark, having gone to roost for the night (presumably) in one of the trees near the property.

Photos 2-4 © Tom Sayers; photos 1 & 5 © Frank Gallo