Thursday, September 30, 2010

60 Days of the White-tailed Kite

Yesterday marked the 60th day the White-tailed Kite has been with us in Stratford and, occasionally, Milford. Tomorrow will be the third different month for the raptor, and with the remnants of tropical storm Nicole passing over bringing heavy rain and strong winds, it will not be going anywhere. It seems to be doing quite well in every regard. The weather has been, as always seems to be the case this year, full of above-average temperatures and sunny days, only making the kite feel more at home. Thanks to Kevin Doyle for all of the following great recent photos.

The kite stills spends most of its time, including early mornings and late afternoons or evenings, at Stratford Point. If there are only a few people on the site it will often stick around for the full day. It will sometimes go to the cedar trees far down on U.S. Fish and Wildlife property at Milford Point. Now and then, it can be found in the trees behind the tennis courts at Short Beach, or even on a snag in the scrub directly adjacent to the beach.

While the next week will bring some cooler weather to Connecticut, there still seems to be no departure date for the kite. Perhaps, if we can finally get a strong cold air mass to move in, it will decide to move out. We will keep you updated. The next couple of photos are a bit gruesome, with the kite carrying partially eaten prey - do not take a look at them if that sort of thing bothers you.

In the mean time, you should come see it, especially if you have yet to take the trip. A great time would be during the Yale Peabody Museum's Stratford BioBlitz, October 8-9. The gate will be open for all visitors on Saturday the 9th. You will be able to enjoy guided walks and, of course, the opportunity to see the kite at a convenient time. Let us hope it stays through then.

Photos © Kevin M. Doyle

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great Stratford Bird Festival - Boothe Park Hawk Watch #2

Jumping ahead to Sunday, the second Boothe Park Hawk Watch of the Great Stratford Bird Festival went much better than the first. I realized when I started writing this entry I did not take any pictures during this event - and while I wish that was not the case, it demonstrates the busy day we had. Many visitors stopped by and experienced an abundant raptor flight.

A weak cold front moved through Connecticut the night before. The high pressure to the west was slow to move in before an overrunning pattern set up. We had no cold air mass behind this front, and with the first overrunning system already coming in, we had nearly 100% cloud cover for most of the day. The fact the high did not move in kept the winds essentially nonexistent with a weak northerly flow that turned northeast for most of the day. Northerly winds are nearly required for diurnal raptor movement of any substantial kind. Winds turned east at 4:30 with the low pressure coming in and the day was essentially over.

I started the count at 9AM, knowing Boothe Park probably had some passerine migrants from the night before. Our friend Charles Barnard Jr. came down to observe with me and answer any questions while telling some great stories. Visitors started coming by right at 11AM as the hawks really started taking flight. We had some wonderful observations before most people started departing. However, things only improved from there. Around 2, we had an adult Golden Eagle come in low over the rose garden. We even had a few minutes to observe it before it soared away. If that rare sight was not enough, at around 3:30 Charlie and I saw a juvenile Northern Goshawk fly right over our heads.

In the late afternoon what I called a "parade of Merlins" started. The falcon species was spotted, for the most part, flying over low on a north to south track. While we have only been recording hawks officially at Boothe Park for two seasons now, our old record of 5 was shattered as we saw 21 go by us. I observed one Merlin eating a dragonfly on the wing. Charlie spotted another that we thought had a bird in its talons.

The day ended up also being the best recorded yet for Cooper's Hawk and Peregrine Falcon. Below is the complete list from the Boothe Park count site for the day. It adds up to 49 species. The Turkey Vulture, 1 Peregrine Falcon, 2 Osprey, and 2 Red-tailed Hawk were "local" birds not migrating. All of the other raptors were migrants. That total ended up being 262 on the day with some very nice records and an impressively diverse flight.

3 American Black Duck
9 Double-crested Cormorant
1 Great Blue Heron
1 Turkey Vulture
37 Osprey
3 Bald Eagle
5 Northern Harrier
126 Sharp-shinned Hawk
43 Cooper's Hawk
1 Northern Goshawk
5 Broad-winged Hawk
3 Red-tailed Hawk
1 Golden Eagle
12 American Kestrel
21 Merlin
6 Peregrine Falcon
4 Ring-billed Gull
9 Herring Gull (American)
3 Rock Pigeon
1 Mourning Dove
18 Monk Parakeet
28 Chimney Swift
1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Downy Woodpecker
2 Northern Flicker
1 Eastern Phoebe
47 Blue Jay
3 American Crow
1 Fish Crow
56 Tree Swallow
2 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
2 Golden-crowned Kinglet
2 American Robin
1 Gray Catbird
2 Northern Mockingbird
1 Brown Thrasher
650 European Starling
14 Cedar Waxwing
1 Chipping Sparrow
2 White-throated Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
130 Common Grackle
108 Brown-headed Cowbird
2 House Finch
3 American Goldfinch
30 House Sparrow

Thank you to everyone who came and helped us watch the skies. We hope to see you again soon. There are definitely some very large flight days yet to come this fall.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Great Stratford Bird Festival - Boothe Park Hawk Watch #1

I ran the Boothe Park Hawk Watch as an event for the Great Stratford Bird Festival from 11-2 on Saturday. A big crowd joined me the next day, but Sunday deserves its own entry. So far, in the fall of 2010 we, primarily I and expert birder Charles Barnard Jr., have put in 80.25 hours at the site. We have recorded 4,619 migrant raptors, 3,404 of which were Broad-winged Hawks. The site’s profile, with all of the data, is on the Hawk Migration Association of North America website and located here.

As I have written previously, Boothe Park is located at 5800 Main St. in the Putney section of Stratford. Our count site is between the award-winning rose garden and the historic clock tower, the latter being obvious in photo below. On Saturday, the conditions were horrible for migrating hawks, with gusty southwest winds in a very warm flow. I recorded a shockingly high temperature of 90 at noon with my very precise handheld anemometer.

Suffice it to say very little was flying. In the time I was there, I recorded a grand total of four raptors – one each of Osprey, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and American Kestrel. While these are always wonderful sights, spending hours in 90-degree sun only to see a brief distant glimpse of a raptor every 30 to 45 minutes is not exactly fulfilling. I am certainly biased because of some of my recent experiences, such as seeing 876 Broad-winged Hawks in one hour while I was alone at the site on September 20.

We are only at the site when we have a chance, and those moments are rare. Additionally, we often only count when continues are favorable. While this is a bit unscientific, we do not have the liberty of spending copious amounts of time there. I hope that in time we will have enough observers and time to be able to do so. Please feel free to visit and watch with us if you see us at the site. If you notice some strong northwest winds on a Saturday afternoon there is a good shot we will be there.

Photos © Twan Leenders

Monday, September 27, 2010

Great Stratford Bird Festival - Wings Over Wild and more

The Great Stratford Bird Festival continued after the Saturday morning bird banding with many more attractions. Several vendors set up at Stratford Point with everything from magnificent paintings, beautiful photography, birding equipment and books. The duck carving exhibits were opened to the public. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had set up their traveling exhibit and were on hand to answer any questions the public had.

Soon after we had a very special visitor stop by. The photo below is the host of the 2010 Great Stratford Bird Festival, Phil Donahue, a long-time friend and supporter of Connecticut Audubon Society. Here he can be seen touring the vibrant scene at Stratford Point with Milan Bull, CAS Senior Director of Science and Conservation.

Wind Over Wings put on an amazing live raptor show later in the morning. I had already departed for the Boothe Park Hawk Watch, but CAS Conservation Biologist Dr. Twan Leenders was there to watch and photograph the event. He described it as "fantastic" and a "must see".

As you can see in one of the above photos, Wind Over Wings was given permission by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to both posses and exhibit these birds. Both nocturnal and diurnal birds of prey were present.

They are moving their operation to Maine next summer, and will be doing a farewell tour of Connecticut starting next June. If you have not seen their presentation yet, try to catch one before they leave the state. Thanks to all of these wonderful guests for their contributions to the Great Stratford Bird Festival.

Photos © Twan Leenders

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Great Stratford Bird Festival - banding

One of the first events of the Great Stratford Bird Festival was bird banding at Stratford Point. Director of the CAS Coastal Center at Milford Point, Frank Gallo, opened the mist nets at 7AM to see what we could catch. He is an expert on not only the birds of Connecticut but banding as well. His expansive knowledge is unbelievable. Frank noted that the breezy morning with relatively few migrant passerines from the night before would likely mean we would catch very few birds, if any, in the nets. Don't worry about the birds though - Frank and my fellow blog author Twan are federally licensed bird banders who are specially trained and authorized to do this sort of scientific research. This is definitely a "don't try this at home" sort of thing.

Hey, what do Frank and I have?

Luckily we were able to get some, and by 8:45 we had a Song Sparrow and a Swamp Sparrow. Both of them were in the one section of net spanning basically east to west. It would catch birds going, in effect, towards the mouth of the river or away from it.

Frank holding the Song Sparrow

A closer look at the Song Sparrow

After we extracted these birds from the net we went and checked all the nets, pulling out any plants or insects that had been caught. While doing this I spotted another Swamp Sparrow flying by and actually saw it fly into the same net that caught the others. We took this one back with the other two.

CAS Conservation Biologist Dr. Twan Leenders getting a Swamp Sparrow

And here is that Swamp Sparrow

Frank banded all three, completing everything from wing measurements to weighing them to checking their age. Here he is going through the motions with one of the Swamp Sparrows.

I learned a lot from Frank simply by watching and listening, and I know everyone would appreciate watching his talent in action sometime. We did not catch any other birds before closing the nets. However, we did leave them up for use in the Stratford Bioblitz at the very least. I have to imagine we could find some very interesting fall sparrows in them in October...

Over the next few days I will post more in depth accounts and photos of some Great Stratford Bird Festival events after a very successful weekend. Stay tuned.

Photos 1-2 © Twan Leenders; photos 3-6 © Scott Kruitbosch

Friday, September 24, 2010

Birdcraft Connecticut Warbler and Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Early Thursday morning the amazing banding crew at the Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary in Fairfield captured a female Connecticut Warbler in their mist nets. This is the prime time for the species to be heading through the state. Despite the name, they are rare in Connecticut, for the most part occurring only in September and October. They pass through our state from the boreal forest in Canada on their way to spend the winter in the northern half of South America. Their spring migration pathway concentrates them nearly exclusively over the central U.S. While this is still the case for most individuals in fall, some make their way to the Atlantic coast. The large warbler is a shy skulker, preferring to stay hidden in leaf litter, the behavior only adding to their overall elusiveness.

I squeezed some time into my morning to try to relocate it, and while I was searching, I discovered a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. They are not particularly rare and breed across Connecticut, but can be tough birds to find and actually see due to their secretive habits. This individual was the most cooperative I have ever seen, feeding on the edges of the pond, even pausing for a moment to allow me to snap a few photos. It even took a good long look at me even though I was still about 30 feet away.

I mentioned it was around the "pond", and unfortunately, I am using the term loosely. This is the current state of the pond. While we are not in an official drought, localized areas of Connecticut are in desperate need of rain. Clearly this section of Fairfield is one of them despite the fact strong thunderstorms had passed through the area only about 15 hours earlier.

Let us hope the rain comes soon before the conditions become even more dangerous. Back to the birds - I put Yellow-billed Cuckoo sighting out on the public CT birding list and departed, intending to return later for another quick warbler search. I arrived to see our friend Tina Green looking for it, having already seen the seemingly sociable cuckoo. To my great surprise, I was able to locate the Connecticut Warbler within about a minute while we discussed it. It was in the perfect spot for the species, an area where Ovenbirds often show up in spring, a seemingly "forested" leaf litter area along the pond. It skulked around and disappeared after giving us a nice close look. We did not see it again, and I could not get any photos.

This is the second Connecticut Warbler that the Birdcraft crew has banded this fall. Can they go for three?! Stop by soon to see if you can pick one up. Perhaps today's birds will still be there tomorrow...

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Thursday, September 23, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 53

The White-tailed Kite is still at Stratford Point. I know many people from other New England states, the Mid-Atlantic, and maybe even some in Connecticut have not seen the raptor and are still looking for the time. There have been people from all over the nation still coming for their first visit. This weekend is your big chance. The kite was present Wednesday evening, and will therefore be there today. As we have the cold front that came by earlier tonight lifting back through as a warm front later Thursday there is no real conducive weather to move. The odds are very high it will be there Saturday and Sunday (at this point when would they not be?).

The kite sitting in its favorite tree before eating a meal (see it?)

So why is this weekend your shot? The Great Stratford Bird Festival. As previously mentioned, it takes place from Friday through Saturday, with many events at Stratford Point. This means it will be open on a fairly regular basis. Considering all of the activity the kite may be pushed out to Short Beach or during some of the time. Nevertheless, if you come by early or late you have a good chance of seeing it with the gate open and staff on hand to help you out. Even if it is not on the property, we may be able to locate it for you. You can also enjoy various exhibits, bird banding, guided walks, and live raptors (other than the White-tailed Kite, American Kestrels, Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, Northern Harriers - Stratford Point has been busy lately!).

A tired-looking kite preening just after dawn

If you have not seen the kite, believe me, it is worth your time. The Great Stratford Bird Festival will make that time even more enjoyable. Please come visit us and participate in some of the activities.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I see a Red-breasted Nuthatch...everywhere

Nocturnal passerine migrants continue to pour into Connecticut. Though I have not had the chance to go out and find these birds on the move most mornings, it is obvious that the Red-breasted Nuthatch is in the middle of an irruption. An irruption is a rapid and often seasonal population increase in areas where a species is only rarely or infrequently seen. It is largely due to ecological factors such as a lack of the preferred food sources in the normal wintering range. The birds head south to find more to eat. This happens for species spanning the spectrum from crossbills to raptors, with Rough-legged Hawks and Snowy Owls having had irruptions in the state in the past few years.

I didn't have time for photography in the middle of the survey at Fairfield University, and this Red-breasted Nuthatch was quite active, foraging all around me but not cooperating and pausing for any decent shots

Sizable numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatch are continuing a journey south through Connecticut. If you have not seen or heard one yet this year you probably will soon. Yesterday I heard one in my yard near my feeders as I walked out to my car. From there I heard another on a large spruce near the Boothe Park hawk watch site. Finally, I heard and saw yet another while surveying a portion of the Fairfield University campus. In southern Connecticut this is a species you could expect to see one or two of in the fall, if that. You would likely have to be outside very often to get lucky enough to have one every year, or know a precise location where they appear annually. In the past couple of weeks I think I have encountered more Red-breasted than White-breasted Nuthatch, which is completely absurd. If the trend continues we may have so many that they end up as a common feeder bird this winter. They are quite tame, so if you have not had them visit in your yard before you may be in a for a treat.
Maybe you will get one to take seed from your hand. Listen for their loud distinct calls that sound like a stronger and more nasal version of the White-breasted Nuthatch.

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A day at the Boothe Park Hawk Watch

Here is an account of a hawk watching day at Boothe Park in Stratford. The following data and information is from yesterday, September 20. This ended up being a remarkable day because of the late afternoon. It shows how much very specific weather conditions impact every single part of diurnal migration.

Start Time
End Time
Frank Mantlik, Scott Kruitbosch
ObserversCharlie Barnard, Frank Mantlik, John Marshall
WeatherA weak cold front passed through last night. As it approached Hurricane Igor and Igor approached us the pressure gradient increased our winds early today, making for variable 8-12MPH winds with higher gusts for the duration of the day. Mixing was not enough to create any clouds. A totally blue sky was the constant problem. Temperatures went from the mid 60s to mid 70s in very dry air.
Observation NotesFor such a great flow on a wonderful calendar day it was ridiculously and frustratingly very quiet from 8 through when I left at 12, and this continued until 1:30. Despite other nearby watches, like Lighthouse Point, getting hundreds of raptors before 10AM we had next to nothing. When I returned at 2:15 things slowly improved. This culminated in the best hour ever recorded during the short time we've been at the site from 3-4 when all the Broads finally descended to visible levels/came over our area. Specifically, 3:30-3:45 had probably about 500 raptors. I was alone and likely missed a lot. After a lull from 4-4:30 things picked back up again through about 5:15.
Non-Raptor NotesNotable residents included 1 COMMON RAVEN attacking a Bald Eagle over the river and 3 BLACK VULTURE. Migrants included 2 BLUE-WINGED TEAL, 1 LINCOLN'S SPARROW, 1 Palm Warbler, 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1 Magnolia Warbler, 12 Chimney Swift, 18 Cedar Waxwing, 1 Eastern Wood-Pewee, 1 Eastern Phoebe, 1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 1 House Wren, 1 Gray Catbird.

The "I" in the above piece is me. I sure needed some help late yesterday! Once again, let us hope that the Boothe Park hawk watch is under ideal conditions behind a cold front Saturday for the Great Stratford Bird Festival.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stratford Birding Festival

The Great Stratford Bird Festival takes place next weekend, September 24-26. Of course, it is set in Stratford, with the vast majority of the events taking place in one of Connecticut's best birding towns. You can find full information on the event on this website. The Connecticut Audubon Society is one of the main donors, and many of the scheduled events take place right at Stratford Point. If you are still looking to see the White-tailed Kite (which is still here!) come down for that and so many other wonderful programs.

This schedule by day shows you exactly what is taking place where. You can see that Stratford Point is hosting live raptor shows, bird banding, decoy carving displays, falconry, bird walks, photo contests, and so much more. Whether you are taking in exhibits in one of the buildings or walking around seeing what you may have only read about in this blog I am sure you will enjoy your time there. Also, note that many of the events are free of charge, especially those at Stratford Point. Charges are only made for costs otherwise, or very special events such as a dinner with Phil Donahue. Yes,
the Phil Donahue, who is a very caring donor and contributor who has a particular interest in the Purple Martin.

I will be at Stratford Point for a good portion of the weekend, as will Twan. We will be happy to talk to you about the White-tailed Kite or address any other topic or question you may have. On Saturday and Sunday, I will also be at Boothe Memorial Park to host the Boothe Park Hawk Watch, a viewing of migrant raptors. You can find information on our Boothe Park site on the Hawk Migration Association of North American website, where I record all of the data for scientific use, at Additionally, the official website for Boothe Memorial Park is located here:

My only hope is that we have weather conditions conducive to a big flight. If you are wondering how productive the site can be...well, last Wednesday, with only 1-3 observers, we recorded 2,055 raptors including 1,848 Broad-winged Hawks. It was a spectacular sight. That is an exceptional day, and not a typical one, but I would not be surprised to get a day of hundreds of raptors next weekend. Long-range models have a cold front passing through next Friday, which would mean Saturday would be a fantastic day for hawk watching.

So if you have never been to Stratford and always wanted to take the trip, or learn more about the best birding spots, Stratford Point, the White-tailed Kite, anything - this is the time!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


The White-tailed Kite is still at Stratford Point for day 45, showing no immediate signs of departure. However, Tuesday night lead to some more craziness there, and another possible mega east coast rarity - this time from Europe. Unfortunately, the possible White Wagtail was not rediscovered today. I was not there for this one, arriving after the only sighting of it. An all-star lineup of birding experts, some with experience with the species, could not relocate it even later that evening at Stratford Point, Short Beach, Long Beach, or anywhere in between. The following is a quick summary of the possible White Wagtail sighting put together late last night by Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo along with Conservation Biologist, and the other author of this blog, Dr. Twan Leenders - they saw it!

Twan Leenders, Paul Fusco, and I were standing at Stratford Point near the buildings waiting for the Kite to return, when we heard an odd double-note chup, chup, or chip, chip, sort of raspy but loud call coming from behind us. It was not the sound of any North American bird that I recognized, and we turned to look as a slight larger than pipit-sized bird came over the building (it came in off the Long Island Sound) flying rather pipit-like but with longer intervals between dips, and flew right over our heads above the trees. In silhouette, it was fairly slim with a long square-tipped tail that was white below. The bird looked dark gray and white in flight and when it turned it had a dark body and black and white on the head. My impression was the black was on the crown and behind the eye and possibly on the throat. Twan saw black and white on the head, as well. One of the most striking and obvious things about the bird was the long undulating roller coaster flight pattern which both Twan and I noted. Our impression was that it flew and sounded like some form of White Wagtail. Several subspecies of White Wagtail occur throughout Europe, North Africa and SE Asia. I have seen and heard White Wagtails during my travels in Europe and Twan, being from The Netherlands, is quite familiar with this species as it is a common summer resident where he has lived much of his life.

After it flew over our heads, the bird dived into the grass near the entrance to Stratford Point, but we were unable to relocate it. While searching the neighborhood adjacent to the facility we found a white budgie with a flock of starlings. This bird showed a tapered white tail and flew fast and straight without undulating in flight and looked very bright white, although photos showed it to have some pale gray bars on the back and face. It was later relocated by Frank Mantlik on nearby Short Beach. After looking through videos of both white wagtails and budgies, and listening to many recording of both, we could find none showing a budgie undulating in flight - they fly fast and straight with wings below the horizontal, nor do they make a regular & repeated chip chip, and we found several recordings of white wagtail that matched the call we heard. Wagtails are a bird that enjoys half-open country, lawns, beaches and other open areas where it hunts for insects. We feel it's worth checking the dunes, rocky beaches, lawns and fields in area, including Short and Long Beach, Sikorsky airport and the around Stratford Point. Let's hope we can re-find it and get a photo. Look for a boldly marked black-and-white bird that constantly wags its tail as it chases insects (hence its common name), and look for its distinctive undulating flight. I haven't had a chance to check, but there are at least a couple of eastern records, including one, I believe, from Virginia.

This is a tough one, and quite frustrating for everyone involved. I, for one, am certain that Frank and Twan, experts who have a great deal of experience with the conspicuous species, were right in their ID. Everything they said to me while we frantically searched for it last night sounded perfect in terms of careful, considerate, thoughtful, and objective identification. Apart from that, this is the time of year that White Wagtails migrate in Europe. From what I have read they are long-distance diurnal migrants. It is probably the best window of time for one to come to North America. Additionally, we had a stiff easterly wind on Sunday and Monday.

With so many people busy at work on a Tuesday there were not too many eyes in the field today. Even Twan and Frank were occupied with other CAS work. There is definitely still a chance to find it again. Please come out and take a look everywhere in the area in and around Stratford Point. I hope that it will turn up somewhere nearby soon, perhaps after resting and staying out of sight more than usual because of a highly stressful and taxing journey across the Atlantic Ocean. If it is found once again you can be sure any photos will be right here. Keep your fingers crossed!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

White-tailed Kite FAQ #2

I did a FAQ blog entry about the White-tailed Kite and Stratford Point over a month ago. Since things have changed a bit in that time I thought it might be a good idea to do version 2, which is below. Thanks to our friend Kevin Doyle for all the great photos!

1) Where should I go to see the White-tailed Kite?
Stratford Point is the place to go in the early morning or evening, when it is likely to be hunting. The next best choice would be mid to late morning or late afternoon at Stratford Point where, because fewer people stop by to see it, the kite may be roosting or relaxing, or even hunting as it eats more than it used to. This may be because it is colder and the raptor requires more calories in the cooler weather, or because it is preparing to take a journey back south or west. Otherwise, it is occasionally at Short Beach in Stratford or very far down the beach at Milford Point (this is often viewable from the Coastal Center tower).

2) So what and where is Stratford Point?
Stratford Point is what we call the 28-acre coastal grasslands management area that is managed 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.

3) So when does the gate at Stratford Point open?
There is no set time or schedule, though it is usually open during business hours on weekdays. This is approximately 8 or 9AM until around 4 or 5PM, sometimes a bit earlier or later. This is not a guarantee. Sometimes it is not open at all. It is also not open on the weekend. Despite the beautiful property and buildings, please remember that Stratford Point is not a) owned by the Connecticut Audubon Society or b) one of our centers. It is a piece of private land with some buildings that are used for offices.

When the gate is closed you are welcome to watch the White-tailed Kite 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. It is private property and a coastal grasslands management area. The birds, including the kite, benefit greatly from everyone respecting this.

4) Why was the gate open before and not now?
As said, it is open during the time described above. Otherwise, the only reason it was open was that I took the time to go there, open it, and stay at the site, or return in the evening to close it. I can no longer maintain that schedule. Unfortunately, life must go on, and the kite cannot be the center of attention. I wish it could, believe me. Doing nothing all day but watching the birds at Stratford Point was a highly enjoyable time.

5) OK, but where do I go once I'm there?
If the gate is open drive up very slowly, watching for people, birds, and the kite. Proceed to the visitor parking area by the second building. If you do not see the kite hovering or flying around over the grasslands anywhere, check the third tree from the beach behind the second building. Then scan every tree there. Be sure to keep a distance while looking or you will flush it off or scare it away to Short Beach. It is a very uneasy raptor, and does not tolerate close approaches by people on foot or any vehicle. Always talk to any visitors there as they likely have experience with the kite, or CAS staff if they are outside and not in the offices. If none of this works, give it some time. The kite may be at Short Beach or Milford Point.

6) I missed the kite before and I can't find it now, what do I do?!
Do just what I said. As with every chase, nothing is guaranteed. I am very sorry you missed it before and are having trouble, but it seems like you had some bad luck and nothing more. If you go to Stratford Point on any given day early or late for a substantial period you have a high (over 90%) chance of seeing it. Coming to see the White-tailed Kite is as easy as it gets for mega rarities, but that does not mean it is without a chance of failure. Perhaps a Peregrine chased it away around sunrise. Maybe the afternoon or evening hunt is fast, for 10 minutes and nothing more. Things happen, but the vast majority of people have success with it.

7) I thought you said the kite was leaving, right?
It was...probably. A few of the regular visitors and me noted how much more it was feeding in late August. Instead of one kill in the evening, it would grab two, three, or four rodents. I also watched it take a tremendously high flight thousands of feet into the air, then start heading southwest, only to stop and return back to Stratford Point. This test flight was in the middle of a lot of feeding, and near what we thought was the end of a molt. Not long after the tail went through a molt, and feeding returned to normal levels. In the past week, it has once again been feeding much more, though I suspect it could be because temperatures are rather cold for the species. This is in relative terms. If it was living in south Texas or south Florida then it is used to warmer days than, say, a high of 65 and a low of 52. Perhaps one of the upcoming cold fronts will push it south. My original prediction was that a strong and cold September front in the middle of the month would push it out. We are just about there now.

As always, if you enjoyed a trip to see the White-tailed Kite, please consider
donating to the Connecticut Audubon Society. It makes all of this possible. Please consider joining us as a member here too. Thank you!

All photos © Kevin Doyle

Friday, September 10, 2010

More fall events

Here are some more upcoming fall events are three more Connecticut Audubon Society centers. Please take a look to see if you or anyone you know, especially children, may be interested.

At our Glastonbury Center...
(1361 Main Street, Glastonbury, 860-633-8402)

"Pee Wees" programs on Tuesdays, 10-11 a.m. are for 1-3 year olds with an adult, beginning with "Bugs, Slugs, Worms and Life Under a Log!" on Sept. 21, 28, Oct. 5, 12; "Native American Customs" on Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23; and "Winter Gift" on Dec. 7. Please pre-register. Fee: $10 CAS members (or a series discount), $13 Non-Members.

"Wees" programs on Mondays, 1-2 p.m. are for 3-5 year olds, beginning with "Bugs, Slugs, Worms and Life Under a Log!" on Sept. 20, 27, Oct. 4, 18; "Things That Go Bump in the Night!" Oct. 25; "Native American Customs" Nov. 1, 8, 15, 22; and "Winter Gift" on Dec. 6. Please pre-register. Fee: $10 CAS members (or a series discount), $13 Non-Members.

Our "Fall Discoverer Series" is for 5-9 year olds. If YOU were an animal, how would you prepare for fall and winter? And how do we mammals handle seasonal change? Each week we'll decide whether to migrate, hibernate or stick around. Tuesdays, 4-5 p.m. on Sept. 14, "Frogs, Toads, Turtles"; Sept. 21, "Backyard Birds & Bugs,"; Sept. 28, "Squirrels & Chipmunks,"; Oct. 5, "Coyotes & Foxes"; and Oct. 12, "Bats!." Please pre-register. Fee: $10 CAS Members (or a series discount), $13 non-members.

Landscaping for Wildlife on Sat., Sept. 18, 3-4 p.m. Find out which native plants and trees can be used in your yards, gardens and business landscaping to attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Our presenter is Robert Wirtanen, B.S. Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University, AA.S Natural Resource Technician, Central Lakes College, Level IVE Rocky Mountain Raptor Program. Fee: $20 pre-paid, light refreshments.

At our Pomfret Center...
(189 Pomfret St., Rte 169, Pomfret Center, 860-928-4948)

Saw-whet Owl Banding at 7 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 23, Sat., Oct. 30 and Fri., Nov. 5. It's our fourth year banding Northern Saw-whet Owls as they migrate south: don't miss it! (Our record year was 2007 when we banded 25 different Saw-whet Owls.) Pre-registration required; limit of 20 people per program. Bring your cameras! Program fee: $15 CAS Members, $25 Non-members.

Trails For Toddlers, Tuesdays, 9:30-10:30 a.m. on Sept. 28, Oct. 5, 12, 19, 26, Nov. 2. For children 6 months to 3 years old accompanied by an actively participating adult. We begin with a "Circle Time" of songs, poems and books followed by a short walk on one of Bafflin Sanctuary's trails. Program fee (1 child & 1 adult): $5 CAS Members, $7 Non-members. 6-program series: $25 CAS Members, $35 Non-members.

Bird's-Eye View: Tethered Balloon Rides! Mon., Oct. 11, 4-6 p.m. Have you ever wanted to ride in a a hot air balloon? This is your chance. Head up over the corn maze at Fort Hill Farms in Thompson (Exit 99 off Route 395). Proceeds benefit our Center at Pomfret. Call 860-923-3439 for information and conditions. Fee: $10 per person per ride.

At our Trail Wood Sanctuary...
(93 Kenyon Road, Hampton, 860-928-4948)

After School Nature Club for Grades 2-5 on Wednesdays, Sept. 15, 22, 29, Oct 6, 13, 20, 3:30-5:15 p.m. If you child needs to blow off steam after school, send them to Trail Wood. We'll fill their afternoons with fresh air and hikes on our 168-acre sanctuary and some lessons on wildlife. 6-program series: $50 CAS Members, $60 Non-members.

Guided Tours of Edwin Way Teale's Trail Wood on Sat., Oct. 9, 10 a.m. & 2 p.m. and Sun., Oct. 10, 10 a.m. & 2 p.m. Bring family and friends and join us for a leisurely, two-hour walk along the trails that Edwin Way Teale and his wife Nellie named at their former home. Learn how Monument Hill got its name, why the Old Colonial Road is a part of Connecticut's history, what the writing cabin was for and how and why the Teales named the places they traversed almost daily on their 168-acre homestead. Meet in the Visitor's Parking Lot at 93 Kenyon Road in Hampton. Recommended for those 8 years & older (children must be with an adult) who are accustomed to hiking two or more miles. Free although donations are always appreciated.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

White-tailed Kite Day 38

I still wonder how high that day total is going to get. The White-tailed Kite is still at Stratford Point, and occasionally at Short Beach or the Coastal Center at Milford Point. I have not had a good look at it since Sunday night, though I suspect the tail molt still has a fair amount of time to go. We will indeed have a strong cold front passing through on Wednesday. Definitely get out there Thursday morning for southbound migrants! It should be a great morning. The front and ensuing northwest winds should then send you to the closest hawk watch site. It will undoubtedly be the best day yet this "fall" season. This is the perfect weather for the kite to depart in, but we suspect it will remain because of the ongoing molt. I feel like I have said that about 631 times in the past month plus, but it is still the case.

So here, as always, are several more contributed White-tailed Kite photos. The first three are from Kevin Doyle.

And these three photos are from Scott Vincent - thanks to both of them!

The last photo below, also from Scott Vincent, is of the first Northern Harrier at Stratford Point this "fall/winter" season.

It will obviously be fascinating to see how these two raptor species interact, especially because they are hunting the same prey - small mammals. Peregrine Falcons attack the White-tailed Kite on sight, while American Kestrels occasionally go after it, and Merlins largely leave it be. Ospreys, not sharing any prey with the kite whatsoever, only rarely interact with it. I imagine the kite will try to avoid any harriers, but we'll see what happens soon enough. Many Northern Harriers are seen at Stratford Point each year. Even after the kite should come visit to see these raptors up close.

Photos 1-3 © Kevin Doyle; photos 4-7 © Scott Vincent

Sunday, September 5, 2010

White-tailed Kite video #5

The White-tailed Kite continued to be seen at Stratford and Milford Points this evening for day number 36. Below is the fifth video I have taken of the White-tailed Kite. It is footage assembled from the last week while hunting at Stratford Point, soaring and interacting with some other birds.

White-tailed Kite 5 from Connecticut Audubon Society.

I'm sure, as always, we will have some more amazing photos soon. A strong cold front should pass through our area Wednesday night. It is just the sort of front that should lead the kite back to its home. However, because of the ongoing tail molt, I do not believe it will leave us quite yet. If the molt takes a while and we continue to have above-normal temperatures (and a lack of cold fronts) we may be able to make a run at having it through October.

Video © Scott Kruitbosch

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fall events

Here is a rundown of upcoming events at three Connecticut Audubon Society locations: the Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary and the CAS Center in Fairfield, as well as the Coastal Center at Milford Point. You can find more details and contact information on each center's page, linked above.

First, Birdcraft...

Nature Nursery, Wednesdays, 10-10:45 a.m. on Oct. 13, 20, 27, Nov. 3, 10, 17. -- Ready, Set, Sleep! Who's staying up all winter, who's getting ready to sleep and who's going somewhere else? Discover how nature prepares for winter. For 2-3 year olds accompanied by an actively participating adult. Advance registration required. Program fee (1 child & 1 adult): $12 CAS Members, $16 Non-members. 6-program fee: $66 CAS Members, $90 Non-members.

Bird Banding Demonstrations, Wednesdays, Sept. 15, 22, 7:30-8:30 a.m. -- Our bird banding station's research shows that on average 120+ different species visit our 6-acre Birdcraft Sanctuary as a resting and refueling stop along their migratory route. Discover which birds are stopping over this fall. Advance registration required. Single program fee: $7/person (family max. $21) CAS members, $12/person (family max. $36) Non-members. In case of inclement weather, program is postponed to Thursday.

At the Fairfield center...

Nature Nursery, Mondays, 9:30-10:15 a.m. on Oct. 18, 25, Nov. 1, 8, 15, 22. -- Fall in the Forest" series is for 2-4 year olds accompanied by an adult, We'll explore the changes in our Larsen Wildlife Sanctuary during the fall. Each program includes an outdoor exploration, stories and craft. Advance registration required. Program fee (1 adult & 1 child): $12 CAS Members; $16 Non-members. 6-program series: $66 CAS Members; $90 Non-members.

Science Sleuths & Nature Nuts on Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.-noon on Oct. 16, 23, 30 and Nov. 6, 13, 20. -- Ornithology. Entomology. Ecology. Zoology. Join our teacher-naturalists for this great introduction to the different areas of scientific study. We'll explore Larsen Wildlife Sanctuary from the point of view of a different "-ologist" each week. For children in grades 3-5. Advance registration required. Program fee: $12 CAS Members, $16 Non-members. 6-program series: $66 CAS Members, $90 Non-members.

Family Campfire and Goodnight Walk on Fri., Sept. 24, 6:30--8 p.m. -- Join us for an evening around a campfire with stories and s'mores. We'll take a short walk to experience the sights and sounds of our Larsen Wildlife Sanctuary. Suitable for all ages. Advance registration required. Fee: $7/person (family max. $21) CAS members, $12/person (family max. $36) Non-members.

Finally, at Milford Point...

Guided Family Canoe Tours, Sat., Sept. 11, 12:30-3 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 1:30-4 p.m.; or Sat., Sept. 25, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. -- Take one of our tours and explore the 840-acre Wheeler Salt Marsh. CAS naturalists will describe the area's long history and point out the Marsh's many bird species and other wildlife, while you enjoy the beautiful vistas and paddle and relax. Advance registration required. Fees using our canoes for CAS Members: $25/person, $65/canoe (up to 3 people). For Non-members: $35/person, $95/canoe. Fees using your own canoe or kayak: $19 CAS Members, $29 Non-members.

"Sea Squirts" programs on Thursdays, 10:30-11:30 a.m., are for 3-5 years olds accompanied by an adult. They begin Sept. 9 with "Hoot for Owls!"; Sept. 23, "Going Batty at the Beach!"; Oct. 7, "Falling Leaves"; Oct. 21, "Migrating Monarchs"; Nov. 4, "Wonderful Webs"; Nov. 18, "Traveling Seeds"; and Dec. 2, "Animals in Winter." Each features an outdoor discovery walk or live-animal presentation, stories, songs and crafts. Advance registration required. Single program fee (1 child & 1 adult): $10 CAS Members, $15 Non-members; add $5 for each additional child.

Charles Island Explorations on Wed., Sept. 8, 5 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 8 a.m.; Thurs., Sept. 23, 5 p.m.; and Tues., Oct. 12, 8:30 a.m. Discover the natural history and folklore that make this special place the "treasure" of Milford. Advance registration only. Daily fee: $10/adult, $6/child CAS Members; $15/adult; $10/child Non-Members; $5/seniors.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

White-tailed Kite month #2 and early Earl pics

The White-tailed Kite has entered its second month at Stratford Point. It is beyond amazing. I do not know of anyone that thought this length of a stay probable or even considered it a possibility. Some people thought it would depart instantly, while others pointed to the molt and said it would have to stay for some long as it ate well. Yet here we are. It does need to replace some tail feathers, as you can see in the great photos below, so perhaps that will keep it around some more.

Thanks to Paul Fusco and Scott Vincent for those pictures. The past week was very tough, with record-setting hot and humid weather yet again. It was not a conducive week to depart on a long journey. When you consider the fact the White-tailed Kite will be leaving in a general direction, not knowing where to stop on the way for any source of acceptable habitat for feeding, you have to think it will leave when it is in perfect shape in optimal weather conditions. This will probably include a sunny, clear day that can build thermals (rising warm air that raptors utilize in migration), moderate temperatures, perfect visibility, and a heck of a tail wind from the north. We will have a couple days exactly like this one coming up soon. The next week will feature two cold fronts, the first in the wake of hurricane Earl.

I have not posted on Earl because, well, any discussion on a tropical cyclone can easily get out of hand and out of date. It is not particularly suited to the blog format. Suffice it to say we were spared a big hit once again in New England, and it seems on nearly the entire east coast. I took these photos of hurricane Earl on Thursday evening around 7PM from Stratford!

That is less than exciting, huh? Well, I was not lying - it is Earl. Those are cirrus clouds from Earl's outflow, the air flowing out from the storms embedded in the hurricane. No one would ever know they were the first "signs" of a hurricane if they looked at those pictures without being told. It is not exactly a flashing billboard. Thankfully, none of us needs that billboard, as the effects should be minimal and at worst comparable to the routine storm system we had early last week. We will see if it is strong enough to bring in rare birds from the sea or the south. Can Stratford Point score another big name species?

Photo 1 © Paul Fusco; photos 2-3 © Scott Vincent; photos 4-5 © Scott Kruitbosch