Sunday, February 27, 2011

Connecticut State of the Birds 2011 press conference

Here is a CAS press release from our Senior Director of Science and Conservation, Milan Bull:

Connecticut Audubon Society to Issue " Connecticut State of the Birds 2011" report:
Conserving Our Forest Birds

What: Press Conference
When: Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.
Where: Legislative Office Building, Room 1A, Hartford, CT
Who: Robert Martinez, President, Connecticut Audubon Society (CAS); Milan Bull, CAS Senior Director of Science & Conservation and Editor, Connecticut State of the Birds; Linnea McHenry, Animal Care Supervisor, CAS Center at Fairfield with "Bella,"a Broad-winged Hawk; State Representative Richard Roy, Environment Committee Co-Chair; and State Senator Edward Meyer, Environment Committee Co-Chair (invited)
What: Release of "Connecticut State of the Birds 2011" report

The Connecticut Audubon Society is committed to the conservation of our native birds and their habitats. With nearly 50% of Connecticut's bird species in decline, we undertook an important endeavor seven years ago and took the lead in culling the best scientific information currently available on important conservation issues affecting birds and their habitats right here at home in Connecticut. Each year since have delivered an important report on the State of the Birds. The "Connecticut State of the Birds 2011" report reveals new and startling information about our forests and the birds that depend on them.

Did you know that for the first time in over 150 years our forest resources are declining permanently? Fragmentation and parcelization are reducing our forests into smaller and smaller blocks that can no longer support productive populations of forest-dependent birds. Unlike the past changes in our forests, when they have been converted to agricultural and wood product use, then regrown when abandoned, today our forests are disappearing due to "hard development," such as highways, residential and commercial expansion that permanently destroy forests that may never return.

The eight contributing authors to the State of the Birds report 2011 include leading experts from CT and around the East who have identified the problems and have recommended strategies and solutions to end this negative trend of declining bird populations. Copies of the Connecticut State of the Birds Report 2011 will be on hand. Our 2006-2010 "Connecticut State of the Birds" reports are also available on our website; click here to read them.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beach erosion

I thought the following article on beach erosion was worth a read:

Essentially it details how over the past 150 years 68% of beaches in New England and the Mid-Atlantic (650+ sites) have been eroding at an average rate of -1.6 feet per year. The article details some of the reasons behind this and that the past few decades seem to be reversing the trend slightly with the possible solution being beach restoration activities. This has been one of the feared outcomes of climate change for quite some time. As the sea-level rises and takes more of the beach with it the sand or marsh may naturally move inland as it comes. However, between the incredibly fast rate this is occurring (in relative terms) and the fact that many beaches and marshes are surrounded by human development these habitats cannot spread inland and will end up disappearing entirely.

Beach erosion seems to me to be one of those occasionally under-appreciated conservation issues. Let me use Long Beach and Pleasure Beach in Stratford and Bridgeport as an example. This extensive barrier beach hosts several pairs of Piping Plover and often tens of pairs of Least Tern each summer. These ESA birds are protected by the Connecticut DEP and volunteers who watch over their nesting sites and track their progress. String fencing is put up to prevent humans from impacting them too much yet allowing people passive recreation nearby. Cages are put over the Piping Plover nests so protect them further from predators. All of this is a well-tested and very successful system.

What if these birds do not have the available real estate to make a home? When the sandy beach erodes all the way to the dunes covered in vegetation, they will not be able to construct their nest. High tides and storm waves will wash out nests that are not a sufficient distance from the water. Beach erosion can essentially render all of our efforts meaningless. Last year a major March storm washed away a sizable part of Long Beach and Pleasure Beach, putting some of it in the parking lot and temporary USFWS road and more in Great Meadows Marsh. Too many of these storms and sea-level rise will eventually mean the end of nesting on beaches like this one if we do nothing to combat it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Richard G. Croft Preserve and its inhabitants in winter

This morning I finally had a small window to make a quick dash into our 700-acre preserve in Goshen to look for signs of New England Cottontails - or more accurately: to look for their droppings. The New England Cottontail is the only mammal species endemic to New England and is currently being considered for inclusion in the federal Endangered Species Act because of its low numbers and unknown population status. It competes for habitat with the introduced Eastern Cottontail, from which it is very difficult to distinguish by sight alone. The only reliable way to tell both species apart is through DNA analysis - hence my quest for bunny droppings or other analyzable samples, such as fur.

New England Cottontails prefer early successional habitat in forested areas and we have been actively managing the habitat in the Croft preserve to reflect these habitat conditions. I have seen Cottontails in the preserve and the nearby Goshen WMA is currently the only area in the state known to only harbor New England Cottontails and no Eastern Cottontails, so the odds are pretty good that they inhabit the Croft Preserve. However, we want to be absolutely certain that the woodland habitats in the preserve are managed correctly to provide suitable conditions for our target species.

Of course, the preserve is still covered in at least a foot and a half of snow (even more in the dense hemlock stands where the forest floor receives hardly any sun). This was actually the main reason why I headed in now, because it is much easier to find tracks (and bunny droppings) in the snow. As I snowshoed into the preserve I noticed a pair of coyote tracks following the main logging road into the sanctuary.
I followed their tracks for more than a mile before they veered off into the woods. As I went along, my path was crossed by relatively few other tracks; squirrel tracks darted back and forth between closely spaced trees and only a single set of deer prints was seen crossing the woods on my 2-mile hike in.
Here and there sets of small rodent prints radiated out from a burrow in the snow

One of our managed early successional habitat plots is looking good with its relatively open canopy. As soon as the snow melts a dense shrub layer will form on the forest floor to provide cover for all sorts of wildlife.

In spite of the 8 degree F temperature and thick snow pack there was still open water in some of the streams.

Since I was near the area where I have an infrared wildlife camera set up, I decided to swap out its memory card to see who had been utilizing the wildlife trail it is set up on for the past few months.
The camera is nearly invisible on this tree trunk and utilizes an infrared flash that allows it to take pictures in the dark while not startling the animal(s) that are being photographed. Images on the card I collected today were taken since mid-October of last year. About 57 animals were photographed in that time, and I wanted to show you a selection of some of the highlights:

A flock of Wild Turkeys looks for food in the snowy northwest hills

This fast-moving Bobcat almost walked out of the frame before being immortalized, but its white-tipped short tail gives away its identity without any doubt!

Most of the pictures taken by the trail camera displayed White-tailed Deer

Although several pictures of these deer-on-steroids were in the batch as well. We have been monitoring a small moose population on the property for the past two years. Even though we have evidence that these animals have given birth to and raised young here and although I have collected dozens of photographs of moose in the preserve in recent years, we still had not seen a bull moose here. Therefore, it was quite a highlight to find the following shot this morning:
It doesn't get much better than this!
Alas, I did not find any bunny droppings today. In fact, there were hardly any rabbit tracks in the area at all. Clearly conditions are still too cold and harsh for these animals to be out much. However, we now have confirmation again that all kinds of animals utilize the woodland and early successional habitats in our Croft preserve - even when we don't always see them. We'll just have to keep surveying!
All photographs copyright Twan Leenders

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Initial GBBC reaction

I looked through the Great Backyard Bird Count data for a while today to see if any interesting sightings had been reported, as well as to examine some of the population levels observed. At the time of this writing 102,063 birds have been reported from 133 species on 1,402 lists. This is down on all counts from last year's 153,705 birds of 141 species on 1,994 lists. While 2011 numbers will increase a bit more, it seems certain the persistent snow cover, Saturday's extreme winds, and a light snowfall Monday morning definitely seemed to keep people indoors and a few more birds in hiding apart from possible losses this winter.

I went into this examination thinking that many species, especially those that persist year-round or do not move during the winter, would be reduced in number because of the historic snow depth and snowfall rate during January. Comparing the number of individuals can be somewhat silly when you do not have the same number of checklists submitted as of course there are fewer birds! One way to combat this is to take all of the totals and divide each species by the number of checklists submitted that included that species. For example, 15,467 Canada Geese were seen on 231 checklists last year, while 6,585 were seen on 167 checklists this year. That is 66.96 per list in 2010 and 39.43 per list in 2011. Fewer Canada Geese and less per sighting makes perfect sense to me as they are prone to feeding on open lawns, of which there are less than usual right now.

Carolina Wren is always a good species to test the severity of the winter. So far in 2011, 370 were reported from 267 lists, a number which will increase some still. This is much less than the 631 on 421 lists from 2010. A species like Gray Catbird - easily identified and more often overwintering in Connecticut - also provides an interesting look into the season. 2010 had 37 on 27 lists while 2011 had only 9 on 7 lists. Here are some more intriguing things I noted:
  • The entire warbler total was 4 Yellow-rumps from one list in Madison, very likely Hammo; 2010 had 93 on 17 lists and one each of Yellow-breasted Chat and Orange-crowned Warbler (actually, I found that bird at Frash Pond in Stratford, and a very satisfying find it was)
  • There were a couple thousand more Common Grackles this year, but over a thousand less Red-winged Blackbirds, despite their appearance on more checklists
  • Nearly all of the common "feeder" birds had lower totals and averaged less in average number on checklist per species, from woodpeckers to nuthatches to the sparrows, representing a drop from the tough winter
  • Common Redpolls started moving this weekend, ironically enough, with hundreds seen compared to only one in 2010
  • Not one Ruby-crowned Kinglet was seen and only 11 Golden-crowned were spotted
  • Herring and Ring-billed numbers were down dramatically just ahead of their expected date of movement, but in an odd way; Herring Gulls were seen on more checklists despite their total being less than half of 2010's 7,971
  • Owl numbers can move around a bit due to detection (or lack thereof), but Eastern Screech-Owl dropping to 7 birds on 6 lists this year from 35 on 18 in 2010 is quite a big fall
  • Some shorebirds took a tumble, too, as not one Black-bellied Plover was seen, fewer Sanderling and Dunlin were noted, and Ruddy Turnstones went from 179 last year to 11 this year
  • Not a single Northern Goshawk was found, and while raptors numbers were lower overall, we will need to calculate them as a percentage of total checklists to get the best idea as they are typically found one or two birds at a time
  • American Robin numbers were down by about a third in all regards but...
  • ...Cedar Waxwings tripled in number and were on a few more lists than last year as well
  • Eight species seen this year but not last included Eurasian Wigeon (Stratford Point and Bridgeport), Redhead, American Bittern, Black-headed Gull, Eastern Phoebe, Lapland Longspur, Dickcissel, and Evening Grosbeak
  • There were fifteen species seen last year but not on this GBBC - Harlequin Duck, Black Scoter, Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe, Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Glaucous Gull, Red-headed Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Thrasher, American Pipit, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat
This may change some as late checklists are entered, and I will post more on it sometime soon. All of this basic analysis of public information shows how important data-based conservation efforts are, from using eBird as much as possible to participating in counts like this one.

Monday, February 21, 2011

More GBBC birds

The highlight of my GBBC was still those Common Redpolls, but there were some other great birds around during the past four days. As previously mentioned, Stratford Point has another male Eurasian Wigeon. Today, I saw a lone Snow Bunting picking at the plowed lawn along the sides of the driveway. While I did see Savannah Sparrows there recently, no sparrows of any sort were with it. A few fresh inches of snow and some strong winds made Long Island Sound and the coastal grasslands relatively quiet.

On Friday, I enjoyed seeing some nice ducks at Raven Park Pond. One was this male Wood Duck.

Multiple pairs of Northern Pintail have been frequenting the pond as well, with this male allowing me a decent shot.

This Merlin was not far from Stratford Point - at Short Beach - when I caught it preening after a meal of some sorts.

Finally, it is already blackbird time! Hundreds and thousands have begun to return to Connecticut just in time to be counted for the GBBC with many, many, more soon to come. While small numbers spent the entire winter here, my feeders have not seen this many since the fall.

There were even more in the trees and other parts of the yard. Groups like this make me hope for a Yellow-headed Blackbird, a species I would love to add to my town list or a CAS sanctuary list. If you visit Stratford Point be sure to watch for migrant blackbirds flying in from Long Island Sound. Witnessing birds coming in from the water on their journey north is always exciting.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Sunday, February 20, 2011

GBBC - Common Redpolls

If you are unaware, The Great Backyard Bird Count started on Friday and will continue through Monday. You can find more information on this annual and important bird count conducted by the National Audubon Society on its website above. Keep in mind that the Connecticut Audubon Society is an independent organization (which is why we need your constant support), so while we are not involved in running projects such as this, we still make an effort to promote these science and conservation efforts. I spent some time surveying Stratford on Friday and today, entering all of my data in eBird, our own internal CAS records, and on the GBBC website.

It was great to get into the field for once. Tomorrow I will post more images and observations (like another male Eurasian Wigeon at Stratford Point!), but right now I wanted to put up a bunch of shots from the surprise highlight of this weekend. Frank Mantlik called me early this morning to report that he saw around 40 Common Redpolls feeding on the dunes at Long Beach in Stratford. I headed over there this afternoon and found all of them still feeding, and snapped the following photos in the cold and strong wind.

(look how well it blends in!)

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eastern Bluebirds in winter

A few days ago on the CAS Twitter account, we got into a discussion with other users about Eastern Bluebirds. Long story short, it prompted me to examine their distribution in winter via eBird's mapping capability. The following is an image of that map with all Eastern Bluebird sightings in Connecticut so far in 2011 - yellow markers are sightings less than 30 days old and red are 30+ days.

Notice anything? There are many sightings, but they are conspicuously absent from Stamford up the coast and into Hartford, despite the fact these places are some of the most heavily birded areas. Norwalk through Milford, in particular, is teeming with birders and visitors from around the state. Why does the Eastern Bluebird, one of Connecticut's more common winter sightings, stay out of there? I think part of the reason is this - the same map but for the European Starling.

Even in winter, it seems Eastern Bluebirds want nothing to do with the more developed areas. There are places in the suburban/urban corridor for them to find food, and some habitat to their liking, trust me - but the European Starling may scare them away even when it is not the breeding season. It is just something to ponder, as we do with many things on Twitter.
And isn't eBird helpful?

Images via eBird

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gazebo Phil's Purple Martins

I want to introduce everyone to our very good friend Gazebo Phil. He is a huge fan of the majestic Purple Martin and a Connecticut Audubon Society benefactor. His website is here:

Purple Martin at Stratford Point in 2010

There you will find live streaming video of two Purple Martin colonies on the shore of Long Island Sound during the breeding season. Purple Martins will arrive in Connecticut around mid-April. They will lay eggs in the end of May that will hatch near mid-June. The young will fledge and all birds will form flocks and depart in early to mid-August. On Phil's website you will see amazing live shots from both within a Purple Martin gourd and on the colonies themselves. You will see eggs hatching, bugs being caught, feeding, aerial acrobatics, and much more.

The two colonies fledged approximately 170 birds in 2010. All of us hope the Purple Martin colonies we have set up at the Coastal Center at Milford Point and Stratford Point will be used this year, too. We will be updating you frequently here, on our website, and on Gazebo Phil's website all spring and summer. If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to submit them via the forms on his website. Please visit our two locations when you can and check in on what will be nonstop action at Gazebo Phil's every day.
Bookmark his site - you will not regret it and probably become an addicted Purple Martin viewer like so many thousands of others.

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Toby's conservation lesson

I had a strange experience this past weekend. It involved my cat, Toby, and offers us an important conservation lesson. He was a stray that I captured in Stratford in 2007 and ended up keeping after he became attached to me during his stay in quarantine. All of the cats you get should be strays (though you should probably not capture them yourselves). I do not know his age, though I think he is somewhere around 5 or 6 years old. He stays indoors at all times unless he is in a cage on the porch to enjoy a warm day or when being carried. One of his thrills is taking a trip into the garage, and since it is not climate-controlled, it feels like he is "outside" to some degree.

Not long after being captured, when he was young and still in quarantine; as you can see he was already willful

That feeling became even more realistic for him late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Toby came back in from the garage carrying a large House Mouse that he promptly deposited on the floor as a gift. Cats nearly always love their owners, and this sort of thing is actually a sign of affection. Perhaps he was thinking of Valentine's Day. What was even more thoughtful of him was keeping it alive, as it was did not appear to have any major injuries and quickly scurried away after a moment of shock upon hitting the carpet. It ran out of the den, down the hallway, and into the living room. Its whereabouts were unknown as it could be there or elsewhere. This was going to be a problem, and after closing off as much of the house as possible, it was time to assemble a hunting party.

My father, the very excited Toby, and I prepared to track it and somehow snatch it without making too much of a mess. It could have been sufficiently injured to render it immobile soon, or potentially have minor wounds infected by Toby's saliva. Apart from the fact a mouse running around the house is not my idea of an acceptable state of living, there was a good chance it could die somewhere, making this an even more unpleasant problem. First, the humans moved around what they could - rugs, cushions, small pieces of furniture, and so forth. I put sneakers on, because it is always a good idea to have the proper footwear in weird situations such as this, while my dad got some gloves to grab it if we had the chance, albeit unlikely.

I have been around many cats in many situations my entire life, but this was a unique and surprising experience. Toby turned from a cat into something like a hunting dog. He was not in just in “cat wants to kill mouse” mode; he instantly knew methods of how to track his prey, and even more amazingly, how to work with his hunting companions. He is particularly insolent and willful at times, though obviously very intelligent having survived on his own as a stray for a long time. This changed despite his superior abilities as he acknowledged me as having rank on him in the hunting party, once again like a hunting dog.

He started by going to the beginning of the trail, sniffing and inspecting where he dropped the mouse, following its path to near where it was “lost”. He looked over the area and looped back to the start of the path, going through much of the room in the process, around and under furniture. He was briefly puzzled, taking a moment to lay down on his side in a strange posture, considering what to do. He was pondering what had happened to it and also watching us move things around, keeping a close eye if we flushed it out. At my command, he would get up and go back to the start, and examine any areas I told him to.

Here he is bit older, again somewhere he should not be

Suddenly, he became interested in getting under the largest couch in the living room. I knew immediately he was really on to something rather than simply searching. I even asked him if he found the mouse and he responded back by meowing very quickly and assertively, the only time he had spoken during the ordeal thus far. Unfortunately for him, the bottom of the couch nearly reaches the floor, and he could not squeeze under it beyond his shoulders. While we were on one end my dad was on the other, and Toby suddenly frantically ran around the other side towards him.

As I processed what he was doing, the mouse ran out – Toby was right. In a flash, it bolted across the carpet up the hallway, with Toby a foot behind it, grabbing for it as best he could. It went into the kitchen and hugged the base of the wall, able to use the overhang of the cabinets to its advantage to help block Toby. When Toby hit the kitchen floor he slid a little, and that combined with the mouse’s ingenuity allowed it to somehow avoid the predator as it turned the corner and leaped off a step into a room behind the kitchen. Toby jumped into the room fast enough to pin it under a large reclining chair and ottoman. It was now stuck in this room and under this chair. As the humans moved all nearby objects and furniture, ensuring it would be trapped on this “island”, Toby circled the chair and examined how best to get under it. That would once again be a difficult task. At one point, the mouse felt bold, edging out, but Toby nearly slashed it as it dove back to its temporary refuge.

The prey, courtesy of Wikipedia

Now it was time for a plan. If we moved the chair it would obviously come out, but then Toby would either have to kill it there (not exactly a desirable option) or it would make a dash for the huge couch in the corner of the room, which would be exceptionally difficult to move and impossible to get under. During this discussion, I located the mouse sitting by one of the chair legs. Toby kept trying to get at it, reaching for it and ultimately scaring it out. It pinned itself against the wall and froze. Because it did not move and he had not seen it come out, Toby did not know it was there despite me pointing it out to him. Animals never seem to understand pointing. This mighty predator is very susceptible to the freezing tactic, just as many raptors are. However, he figured it out quickly enough, backing off it and moving behind it (on the same side as my dad) for the leaping kill. The problem was this left me all alone to defend it from going across the room to the dreaded couch.

It made another run, and despite the fact I was right in front of it with essentially no reaction time, I somehow threw my foot out as fast as possible and pinned it. My father came around, picked it up, and tossed it out the door. Good thing I put those sneakers on, huh? I do not know how I was able to secure it or how I was able to do so without squashing it. If I had tried to grab it, I would have been too late. The mouse scurried away once it was outside, and poor Toby was left somewhat unsatisfied. It was still obviously one of the best nights of his life. Even with all of those details, it is very difficult to impart how skilled he was at all aspects of this hunt.

They may be cute, sweet, and a lot of fun, but cats are natural killers. It is in their blood. Whether they are feral or belong to a caring family, all outdoor cats will hunt and kill birds and mammals. The most conservative estimates by the American Bird Conservancy have cats killing upwards of 532 million birds each year in the United States. It is may well be over 1 billion. That sort of total does not need any further comment. It is a sobering problem with no easy solution, but we can all do our part by adopting stray cats and ensuring everyone keeps the family pet in the house. I once read a study that said indoor cats live around eight times as long as those who are allowed outside. It is better for everyone if our lovable but invasive predatory mammals stick to the occasional House Mouse who sneaks indoors.

Say, that House Mouse is yet another invasive species...ugh!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Adirondack Night/Summer Camp

It is that time again - you can register for CAS Summer Camp 2011 online right here!

Additionally, you may have seen this on
our Facebook page, but if not, here is some information on the upcoming special Adirondack Night.

Time: Thursday, February 17 from 6:30pm - 9:30pm

Location: The CAS Fairfield Center, 2325 Burr Street, Fairfield

We'll transform the Center at Fairfield into an Adirondack Lodge for a wonderfully casual and fun-filled evening that will shake off the winter blues! Enjoy live music, hors d'oeuvres, CT Audubon's famous chili, desserts and, of course, some cocktails! Our staff naturalists will be available for a personal view of our birds of prey. Lucy the Barred Owl and Mille the Barn Owl will be among the guests. A Silent Auction is also scheduled. Proceeds from the evening will support the Connecticut Audubon Society, its mission and its programs. Tickets for this exciting evening are $45 per person. For tickets to this event or further information call 203-259-6305 ext. 109.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Historical storm research and today

We all know climate and weather have a big impact on the birds. This harsh winter has shown us what the snowiest January ever and historic snow depths does to bird populations. Soon the spring warmth will allow migrants to reclaim what has become our own arctic tundra. In the fall, cold fronts signal ensuing large raptor flight days. Individual low pressure systems and thunderstorms, isolated weather phenomenon like this amazing event I chronicled last June, are very underrated in terms of impact in my opinion. We can monitor some of the direct outcomes from storms, like seabirds being blown in by a hurricane, relatively easily. Others, like what will happen this spring because of the damage to the McKinney Refuge and Stratford Great Meadows, are more difficult to gauge and require devoted field work and careful surveying.

On April 29, 2007, I found a very rare vagrant Purple Gallinule in a pond in Stratford. It was hypothesized rather quickly that it had arrived here from the southeast U.S. via a strong nor'easter on April 16th. It came from the Gulf of Mexico area, exiting off the Carolina coast and riding up through New England. The surface map from 7AM on the 16th is below.

That was easy enough because we witnessed it. Finding out what happened in the past, when much less was known and recorded about birds and the weather, is much more difficult. One can occasionally come up with nice answers. There is a record of a Purple Gallinule in Bridgeport on June 26, 1903. I wanted to see if I could come up with a storm to explain that bird's arrival in nearly the same location. I did - the following image is a surface plot of a storm on June 12, 1903.

This storm was weaker, but followed nearly the exact same path. It also moved very quickly, able to carry that gallinule up here before it was severely injured or killed. One of the keys of both storms was that the low pressure center came nearly due south of this part of the state, pushing the birds in to us perfectly as it rotates in a counter-clockwise direction. Imagine all of its winds and rain spinning in that manner and you can visualize how any collected birds would make landfall right on our doorstep.

In 2011, we have all of the pieces of the puzzle in front of us. We only need to put them together to start determining every single one of the links between birds, climate, and weather events. I really hope we can devote the time and acquire the money we need to study what will happen in the McKinney Refuge this spring after all that destruction.

Images via and copyright NOAA and the NWS

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Find the bird answer

So did you find the bird in this photo? Take a look below!

That would be our Short-eared Owl peering back at Twan from a distance. It flew from this area around Stratford Point for a while before going back into hiding. Despite being early in the morning, quite hazy, and backlit, Twan got this great in flight photo.

It keeps eluding me! I have not seen one since October 18 at the Boothe Park Hawk Watch, when ironically it was another subject of name this bird.

Photo © Twan Leenders

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Find the bird

Here is a photo Twan took at Stratford Point a few days ago. Can you find the mystery hidden bird? And we don't mean the duck in the water...

Photo © Twan Leenders

Monday, February 7, 2011

Barrow's X Common Goldeneye hybrid on icy Stratford Point

This morning I was fortunate enough to find the flock of Common Goldeneye and its associated hybrid Barrow's Goldeneye fairly close to the Stratford Point shore. Scott found this fascinating bird, as well as an adult male Barrow's Goldeneye, last Friday. He described these birds and his discovery in a previous blog post but was not able to get better pictures at the time. Hopefully these images will supplement his excellent description.

Note the different head shape and color, presence of an incomplete "spur" and the white markings high up on the back. The bird was still present late this afternoon (2/7) and may remain visible for those interested in seeing it in person.

On the day that Scott found these unusual ducks, I took a few scenic pictures of a completely ice-encrusted Stratford Point. Everything down to the smallest blade of grass was covered in about half an inch of ice, making it extremely treacherous to walk around there. However, the surreal scenery made it worth the effort.

The only way to walk safely was by stomping through the ice cover.

Every blade of grass was covered in ice

In some places ice-covered branches and twigs had separated from their cold encasings due to the strong wind

The lighthouse and surrounding chain link fence turned to ice sculptures

Pretty as it looks, I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Stratford Point today after a few balmy days had exposed some of the grass in places. Signs of spring are becoming increasingly obvious!

All photos copyright Twan Leenders

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Big January 2011

Below is the Connecticut Big January 2011 report courtesy of Frank Mantlik.


In recent years, many of the most active CT birders start the New Year by participating in a friendly birding competition called the Big January. It’s a way to get afield after the hustle and bustle of the Holidays, and to start one’s new Year List. The internet and “smart” phones definitely aid in the effort. This year I received by the deadline the lists of twelve participants.

This year two participants (Meredith Sampson and yours truly) concentrated their efforts in their home towns, in an effort to be more environmentally-conscious and to save some gasoline costs ($3.40/gal). Both did remarkably well. One perennial participant, Mardi Dickinson, elected not to submit her list due to other commitments and time constraints. Bill Banks was unable to send his list due to a family emergency.

It was definitely a very challenging month to wander afield, given the many winter snow storms, bitter cold temperatures, and short day length. Nevertheless, a cumulative 154 species were reported by the group, including a state first Common Murre! Many other rarities and uncommon species were tallied (see the individual lists). There were good varieties of waterfowl, hawks, owls, gulls, and sparrows, though the latter required much searching, given the deep snow cover. Species not detected at all included Northern Goshawk, Brown Thrasher, any warbler other that Yellow-rumped, and Eastern Meadowlark.

And now for the participants and their lists. Congratulations to all, especially to Bill Asteriades, who tallied a remarkable total. And thanks to Bill and to Sarah Faulkner for sharing their photos.

1. Bill Asteriades 144

2. Tina Green 141

3. Sara Zagorski 131

4. Denise Jernigan 120

5. Kris Johnson 118

6. Greg Hanisek 115

7. John Marshall 114

8. Frank Mantlik 113 (101 in Stratford)

9. Carl Ekroth 109

10. Bill Banks 100

11. Ray Belding 99

12. Meredith Sampson 96 (Greenwich only)

State first Common Murre! Photo courtesy Sarah Faulkner

Rufous Hummingbird - photo courtesy Frank Mantlik

Yellow-headed Blackbird - photo courtesy Bill Asteriades

Our old friend the banded Barnacle Goose - photo courtesy Frank Mantlik

Two female King Eiders - photo courtesy Frank Mantlik

American Woodcock - photo courtesy Bill Asteriades