Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Snowy Owl at Stratford Point

During a waterfowl survey at Stratford Point this morning I came upon a Snowy Owl sitting on the rock revetment wall on the Long Island Sound side, not far from the lighthouse. It was resting out of the strong west wind, away from the maintenance work at the lighthouse and dune construction at Stratford Point. It sat there, barely moving, for over two hours, admired by birders and non-birders alike, only fully waking up and moving around some because of noise from the lighthouse. It flew from rock to rock, perhaps also interested in catching a snack there, too. Here are a bunch of photos and then HD video I took of it.

It was dozing off from time to time

 After it moved closer to the water

 Blends in so well

The HD video! (also available here)

Here are some of Twan's magnificent photos...those eyes and talons!

And a few from Frank Mantlik...

 Relative location to the lighthouse

Check out this timely eBird article on the big fall and soon to be winter Snowy Owls have been having and to learn more about the species!

Stratford Point is an excellent spot for them as it provides an open habitat full of small mammals. This was such a cooperative bird, allowing great looks for everyone who visited while we gave it enough room so as not to stress it out. It may stick around a few days or it may move on tonight - we will have to see tomorrow. If you visit and cannot find it, walk slowly and quietly to the revetment wall surrounding the site. Look along it and out on the breakwater in the mouth of the Housatonic, and check any perches, from trees to poles.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Video © Scott Kruitbosch; Photos © Scott Kruitbosch, Twan Leenders, and Frank Mantlik

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More late November birds

Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo sent me the following on another apparently record late bird and still more from the migrant trap that is East Shore Park in New Haven...

Patrick Dugan sent me these photos of a Philadelphia Vireo that he took in Newtown on the morning of November 28th. It's the latest New England record by at least a week. There was a Maine record this year around November 17th and one in Massachusetts around November 7th. October 11th is about Connecticut's latest previous record...amazing!

Here are record photos of three of the five species of warblers I found at East Shore Park this afternoon (November 28). There was one Palm (western), one Tennessee (very late), two Nashville (one bright, one dull), a Common Yellowthroat (probably a young male), and a new one for the list, Yellow-breasted Chat (so long as we still call the debated bird a warbler). They showed up around 3:30 p.m. down by the harbor in the tall vine tangle and behind it along the fence. We've now documented 13 warbler species for the park this November.

 Tennessee Warbler

 Common Yellowthroat

 Yellow-breasted Chat

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Monday, November 28, 2011

Name this bird answer

Have you been able to come up with the right species in the latest photo quiz, "name this bird"? It is one you could find in Connecticut in the fall, winter, and early spring. It may look brown in the photo, but it has a difference appearance come breeding season. It likes to pick at weeds and grass for seeds along driveways and areas of gravels at times like is shown in the photo, though it is very comfortable in the middle of a field, farm, dirt patch, or beach.

It is...

...a Snow Bunting! They can be tough to find outside of a very open space, but two good places to see them in Connecticut are our Coastal Center at Milford Point and Stratford Point. They have been especially common at the latter feeding on grass seeds that were replanted in some areas after repair work was completed on the seawall after Irene. If you walk the perimeter of the site, especially near the path to the Long Island Sound side, you may see them quietly feeding on the ground, anywhere from a couple to several dozen. I saw three right there this past Saturday.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Friday, November 25, 2011

Snow Geese flying by Stratford Point

We all have some sort of nemesis bird or birds, whether it is a species you have yet to add to your life list or one that you have not seen in a long time and "should" have at some point. After literally hundreds of hours spent hawk watching at Boothe Park in Stratford, besides thousands of other hours of survey work, I had not seen any Snow Geese, not one Goose, since a group of around 75 flew over our heads at Boothe on November 2, 2008. Thankfully, while I was inside at Stratford Point Wednesday afternoon, our friend Frank Mantlik was outside scoping Long Island Sound and called me out of the office when he found a large group of around 115 Snow Geese coming off the Sound.

They were heading north through the low level clouds of the system that was still clearing to our east. They were probably lost in the rain and rapidly moving cloud deck, finding themselves over water and now resetting their course. They came directly over Stratford Point heading north, then east, then west, and then north again. Getting back on track wasn't easy for that lead bird, but I am sure they found their way eventually. I did not have my camera when they came directly over (naturally, this often helps you find birds!) but I grabbed it out of my car as they moved away, snapping a few photos of them bending this way and that way through the sky.

Take a look at the shot below that I left a little larger so that you can see the details of some of the geese a bit better. While I was unable to pick out a Ross's Goose from the lines, I did pick out what looks like a juvenile blue morph Snow Goose, highlighted in the red box.

Apart from ticking off the species for the first time in three years, I was so glad to have them at Stratford Point. The only other time we had the species there was also the third week of November. I guess it is time for me to find another nemesis bird...

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Name this bird

Take a gander at the latest subject of our photo quizzes and every detail in the shot below. See if you can identify this bird that you can spot in the appropriate habitats around this time of year. Where it is and what it may have been doing in the photo will definitely help you.

Good luck! And Happy Thanksgiving! The answer will be coming on the weekend.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Monday, November 21, 2011

Embed photos in eBird

The people at eBird have come out with another great feature to tempt you in to using the database while also helping those of us who are already addicted to it. You can now embed photos into your checklists!

"We are excited to report that it is now possible to embed photos within checklists! This not only makes the checklists look more attractive, but also makes it easier for reviewers to review and confirm your rare sightings. These images will be viewable in eBird checklists (accessed via My eBird and point maps), in eBird Alerts online, and will be accessible to eBird reviewers, making their job much easier."

Please check it out in full detail here:

That link provides some very cool examples, guidelines for embedding your photos in your checklists, how to link to them via outside sources, and even how to include a link to sound or video which I hope will be able to be put directly into lists in the near future. This feature is not only useful for those people who verify rare birds on checklists submitted to eBird but to anyone who wants to help remember a day in the field, correlate their photos to their data, or share everything with a friend.

Please keep using eBird as much as possible! Later this week I will provide an example of what one can do quickly and easily with all of the data now being entered on a daily basis.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Saturday, November 19, 2011

December bird walk Stratford Point

Connecticut Audubon Society Conservation Biologist Twan Leenders and Conservation Technician Scott Kruitbosch will lead a public bird walk at Stratford Point on December 6th from 9-11AM. We will take a look at ducks and waterfowl, seek out any owls or raptors, look for hardy wintering songbirds, and we’ll discuss the exciting habitat management and conservation projects that are taking place at Stratford Point. The walk will be free and we suggest bringing binoculars and a spotting scope, if you have one. Make sure to dress for the season! It is usually safe to assume that this exposed coastal spot is windier and colder than much of the state, even in the heart of winter. Please meet in the visitor parking lot by the buildings. Stratford Point is located at 1207 Prospect Drive, Stratford. If weather conditions are not conducive we will move the walk to December 13th (same time & meeting place). Notification of cancellation will be posted on the CT-BIRDS listserve and the Connecticut Audubon Society website ( For more information, contact Scott Kruitbosch: skruitbosch AT

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Probable dark morph adult Broad-winged Hawk

Let me preface this by saying this summary is being written very quickly to get all of the details out of my mind as fast as possible. It includes some of what I wrote down shortly after the sighting.

Today was yet another exciting day at the Boothe Park Hawk Watch in Stratford as friend and expert raptor counter Bill Banks and I spent some time counting a few hawks behind a cold front. There was not much movement as an upper trough came over, bringing virga and eventually light showers with it, and the few raptors going by under nearly completely overcast skies were all low. We had a decent variety with Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks, several Turkey Vultures, a Peregrine Falcon, a Merlin, and a late Osprey moving directly south staying over the Housatonic River. That was a smart move for that bird, and we thought it was the highlight of the day.

However, at about 11:25 a.m., Bill spotted a dark bird heading right for us over the trees to the northeast, coming from the direction of the river. It took me several seconds to get on the bird as I looked through the gap between the blacksmith shop and the small storage building to its immediate east with him. Once I saw the raptor, I had initially no clue what I was looking at. It was not a falcon, vulture, or an accipiter, that was easy to see. It was definitely a buteo. It was small, in relative terms and as opposed to many Red-tails and Red-shoulders you see passing by right now, but had broad and stocky wings, short for a buteo. As it came over and by us, I picked out more identification points that we called out to one another during and after.

General flight path so you can see our position and the views/angles we had. Map is set at due north.

Looking at the undersides, breast, head...they all appeared completely dark brown, with only minor variations in intensity, almost a chocolate sort of color. Then I noticed the tail, and even from underneath, I could see distinct contrasting white and black thick bands. They were not differently sized - all the same - not like those of a Red-shouldered Hawk, for example, with multiple thin white bands. A second or two after I noted this the bird flared up at 80 or 100 European Starlings that dove at it, bringing the upper part of the tail, back, and wings into view, showing off those classic and unmistakable bands of an adult Broad-winged Hawk. The rest of the upper parts appeared exactly as depicted in Sibley's Guide to Birds on page 118. It is a perfect example of our hawk with one exception - the under wing did not appear to have that bright white as depicted for an adult dark morph Broad-winged Hawk. Otherwise, that is precisely what we saw.

Several seconds later, it was gone as it went over the trees to our west and continued on its journey. As it angled away, I thought there may have been a slight appearance of darker edges to the left wing, which was more exposed to us with the angle it was flying at, as it moved more parallel to us with the sun (behind clouds, as mentioned before). This was not much, darker against dark, and not nearly as obvious as the other marks.

It was surreal. Bill and I have both seen literally thousands of Broad-wings in the last two months during hawk watches at Boothe and Lighthouse Point, and simply, that is what that was to me. In my eyes, the only problem remaining was that lack of contrast of white or at least lighter color on the under wing against the dark brown. Lighting could have been an issue here, and this bird may not have had the bright white that is illustrated in some the field guides. What about other semi-rare or rare buteos? Swainson's Hawk and Rough-legged Hawk are both too large in size and wings and have the wrong shape. Having seen both morphs of Rough-legged Hawks on countless occasions living and working where I do in Stratford - this was not one. Moreover, definitively, neither of those species has the perfectly banded tail of a Broad.

Yes, it is November 17, but even eBird has records of Broad-winged Hawks going through the third week of November, let alone other sightings that have not been entered, such as three in the last 12 years on Christmas Bird Counts in Connecticut. On October 6 at Boothe, we counted 106 Broad-winged Hawks, and if that is not enough, we even added six more birds on October 28, just 20 days ago. I think that information is already more than enough evidence that we could easily have one Broad-winged Hawk go by the count site right now.

I know, that is easy to say and all good and well for a typical Broad-winged Hawk, but not a dark morph bird from way out west that should have been in Mexico two months ago. All I can say to that is look at the continuing theme of western rarities that have shown up in another fall full of incredible weather events and frequent west or southwest flow patterns. I do not feel it is inconceivable for one bird to have been brought up this way, like so many other species, only to be turned around and headed back south after the winds finally turned northwest today behind the cold front. Of note, this was the only buteo of any species we saw in 2.5 hours there today. There was not even a local Red-tail in the sky in these somewhat uncooperative flight conditions. I could even argue it was flying despite the conditions because it was so very late or far off course. It was not catching a thermal as it soared through 25 feet above the ground.

We went through all of the buteos and even the most improbable rare birds from the far south and Central America do not fit nearly as well as a regular adult but dark Broad-winged Hawk does. With all of that said, we welcome additional input. Bill and I feel relatively confident in what we saw, albeit unlikely, with that one noted problem in mind.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Housatonic Community College and Connecticut Audubon Society Continue Partnership

Summer 2011 saw the continuation of a unique collaboration between Housatonic Community College and the Connecticut Audubon Society. Eight Housatonic students undertook a fieldwork experience that found them collecting and identifying a variety of freshwater fish and collecting data on painted turtles. These eight students represented a doubling of the student group that worked during the previous summer. This year’s fieldwork was a continuation of the previous summers fish survey of the streams located at the Roy and Margot Larsen Sanctuary and the start of a life history project on the painted turtle population from the sanctuary’s Farm Pond.

The summer field experience had several goals:

  • Introduce a group of community college students to methods of fieldwork;
  • Have the students collect data on stream fish populations;
  • Learn techniques of collecting and identifying organisms and gathering the data a biologist would require to assess a fish or turtle population;
  • Become proficient in the use of a variety of measuring devices including dial calipers and weighing scales.   

The students working on this project were a self-identified group chosen from members of my General Biology class.  Students had to commit to working in the field one day per week, throughout the summer and adhere to this schedule despite the fact that no one was paid or given class credit for their efforts. It has always been my belief that students benefit greatly from academic activities that take them beyond the classroom. They experience real world applications of biology and put to practice what they learn in class.

 Some of the behaviors and skills that students take away from this project include:

  • A sense of responsibility by arriving at the project site in a consistent and timely manner;
  • Cooperating with each other to collect and identify organisms and record data. No individual serves as a permanent “secretary” simply recording numbers and names. All students are actively engaged in all aspects of the project;
  • The field site is a public area. Members of the public frequently come along and ask about our work. Students develop skills explaining, the research to the public;Handling an animal in a manner that minimizes stress to the animal and is safe for the students.

I would like to thank the staff of the Connecticut Audubon Society, particularly Dr. Twan Leenders, Conservation Biologist and Mr. Robert Martinez, President, for allowing us to use their facilities at the Roy and Margot Larsen Sanctuary. Dr. Leenders advice on trapping and marking turtles was invaluable to the project.

Dr. Tony Pappantoniou
Assistant Professor of Biology
Housatonic Community College
Bridgeport, Connecticut

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

October global climate events

In the past week, I have been spending a good deal of time remembering and researching weather events over the last few years at Stratford Point while working on coastal restoration and management plans for the property. Stop for a moment and think of how much Connecticut has experienced since just 2008 - multiple tornadoes, several blizzards, countless nor'easters, dozens of days with winds gusting well past 30 or 40 or even 50 to 60 MPH along the shoreline, record amounts of rainfall and snowfall, the hottest day ever, Tropical Storm Irene, the most snow depth recorded, several brutal straight-line wind and supercell thunderstorm events, the recent October storm that shattered every snowfall record for the month nearly everywhere, and so much more.

The month of October was notable across the country and even the world, and this graphic, courtesy of NOAA, shows you what was going on in other parts of the globe in the eighth warmest October since 1880.

Global warming does not mean the end of snow and cold temperatures, and it is a misnomer. We use the term climate change because that is what results from the warming of the Earth - a changing climate. As average temperatures increase across the planet we will continue to see unbelievable events such as these increase as well. What we know as weather is primarily driven by temperature and moisture differentials on the Earth, and when this gap widens, there are going to be more potent and more frequent storms of various types. This will often involve extreme events like heavy snow in October or record-breaking heat in the summer. What we are seeing is only the beginning of what could be a frightening ride.

I do not think many people in Connecticut are skeptical of a changing world after what we have experienced this year alone. At Connecticut Audubon Society, we continue to monitor our weather and climate, adjusting our planning and management practices as needed.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Western Kingbird continues

The Western Kingbird at our H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve continued to be seen on Monday. Check it out now while you can on this beautiful day before a cold front moves through tomorrow, bringing some rain and a much colder air mass for Thursday. I had to share this spectacular photo of it from our friend A.J. Hand who frequents the preserve on a regular basis - our thanks to him!

Update: another shot from A.J.!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Western Kingbird at H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve

A Western Kingbird was reported to eBird late yesterday by an unknown observer who I will give credit to when I learn their name(s) at the Connecticut Audubon Society H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Preserve and Christmas Tree Farm. Our thanks go out to them. I was there early this morning and sure enough, here it is!


Our sanctuary is on Sasco Creek Road in Westport. You can read about it in more detail on our website here - these are directions to the property:

Directions: FROM I-95 Eastbound: Take Exit 19 – Southport. Go left off exit and proceed to traffic light at Rt. 1. Turn left onto Rt. 1 (Post Rd.) and go to second traffic light. Take a left and follow from * below.

FROM I-95 Westbound: Take Exit 19 – Southport. Stay straight off exit to traffic light at Route 1 – Post Road intersection. Take a right onto Rt. 1 and at third traffic light, take a left. Follow directions from * below.

* At fork, take right and proceed straight on Green Farms Rd. Take a left onto Sasco Creek Rd. Preserve and Tree Farm are 0.1 mile on left.

The sanctuary consists of three parcels: a 24-acre Christmas tree farm, a 14-acre field habitat, and a 36-acre evergreen plantation that has remained virtually undisturbed for the last 30 years. The Western Kingbird is in the field habitat across the street from the Christmas tree farm. It was flycatching from tree to tree while I was there, snacking on some rather large insects, and even chasing a few Eastern Bluebirds angrily. It called with an upset tone after flushing one from a branch near it, probably not wanting them to take any of the insects it has its eyes on. We have worked hard to rid the property of mile-a-minute vine, and the planted grasses that now fill the field have been very productive this year, this bird being the highlight.

A Connecticut Audubon Society property snags yet another awesome rarity - keep them coming, please! Connecticut was due for a western rarity as many have been spotted in other states in the northeast. What's next?

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Friday, November 11, 2011

Multiple banded Canada Geese

While walking around my neighborhood on November 1, I spotted a group of 11 Canada Geese in a pond adjacent to my yard. Considering I once found a Purple Gallinule in this pond, I always check it out. You never know what you will find even in your own yard!

As you can see in the photo, three of these Canada Geese had yellow neck bands.

The bands read C279, C286, and C295. After entering all of the birds into eBird as usual, I went to to enter the bands. You are lead to a form where you have to provide information including band type and placement, color of the band and letters or numbers, positioning of these characters, and so forth. You also provide the location with GPS coordinates, the status of the birds, and all of your own information.

When I received the band information back from USGS, I learned that all three of these birds were banded on June 23 of this year. They were all adults at banding, two males and a female, and all three of them were banded at Beardsley Park in Bridgeport by the DEEP. Considering the fact these three banded geese were together when I spotted them and the band numbers were close I had surmised they were banded together.

Despite the fact many Canada Geese fly south for the winter these birds are obviously still here. Perhaps they are residents and will remain in the general area year-round. Nevertheless, it is still important to learn how banded birds move around, whether it is by a few miles like this or much more.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stratford Point bird walk 11/10 results

Thank you to everyone who came to Stratford Point's first free public bird walk, held this morning from 9 a.m. to about 10:30 as showers started moving in. We were lucky to be able to avoid much in the way of fog or rain and even wind, allowing for some very good viewing conditions of Long Island Sound. We had a good variety of birds as well, totaling 44 species on the day. That is a very strong number considering the date and the fact that, somewhat surprisingly, many species of waterfowl and ducks have yet to arrive in any numbers beyond a handful spotted here or there. This is probably due to continued warm weather to our north.

An adult White-crowned Sparrow, seen this morning by the group

We were also treated to some uncommon and rare Connecticut species, which are listed in capital letters in our tally for the day below:

Brant  68
Mute Swan  2
American Black Duck  6
Red-breasted Merganser  3
Red-throated Loon  5
Common Loon  16
Double-crested Cormorant  12
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Merlin  1
Black-bellied Plover  123
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER  3 - late birds for November
Sanderling  58
Dunlin  345
Laughing Gull  2
Ring-billed Gull  15
Herring Gull (American)  25
Great Black-backed Gull  3
Monk Parakeet  45
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  1
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  1
Horned Lark  3
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Carolina Wren  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
European Starling  65
Cedar Waxwing  42
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  2
Savannah Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  6
White-throated Sparrow  4
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
House Finch  2
American Goldfinch  3
House Sparrow  8

We will be having a bird walk each month, so stay tuned and we will announce the December date soon. Here are a couple more birds seen at Stratford Point this week. The first is an "Ipswich" race of Savannah Sparrow, a state-listed bird we see relatively often along our beach and dunes. Note the lighter overall tones than your typical Savannah Sparrow, the much bulkier size, and less streaking on the breast.

The second bird is another state-listed species, a Vesper Sparrow, with three great photos taken by Twan Leenders.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician