Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Q&A with Our Pomfret Sanctuary Manager

Ever wonder what the good parts of the job are for someone who works as a land manager for a conservation organization? And the bad parts?

According to Andy Rzeznikiewicz, the sanctuary manager at our Grassland Bird Conservation Center at Pomfret, the answer is pretty much the same: being outside. The Norwich Bulletin ran a nice Q&A with Andy in today's paper, and here are two of the questions they asked him:
Q: What’s the best part of your job?
A: Being outside and the job changing throughout the seasons. It’s not the same thing every day throughout the year.
Q: What’s the hardest part?
A: Probably dealing with the extreme temperatures, when it’s really hot and humid and when it’s really cold and windy. And the ticks and things like that.
You'll learn a couple more things about Andy as well. For one thing, he's a wheat farmer. For another, the Working Lands Alliance recently honored him with the Farmland Preservation Pathfinder Outstanding Individual Award. Congratulations, Andy!

You can read the Q&A here.

And if you're wondering how to pronounce Rzeznikiewicz, it's just like it's spelled.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gray Catbirds in January and changing seasons

As I was on my way to Stratford Point today after a morning of field work, I saw a Gray Catbird feeding in the bushes along Oak Bluff Avenue. I discovered it after spotting a bunch of more typical birds in the area (House Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, White-throated Sparrows, Northern Mockingbird) while slowly driving by, stopping for a moment to see if anything else was lurking in this warm patch. This is the road that borders Stratford's Great Meadows Marsh on the east side, and the one many birders and beach goers are familiar with as it leads to Long Beach and Pleasure Beach.

It was cooperative for only a moment before dashing back into brush far from the road and my camera. There's always something awesome about finding a very common bird out of season like this one. This particular Gray Catbird has been living the good life in Connecticut as the winter of 2011-2012 has consisted of one moderate snowfall that melted with temperatures in the 50s mere days after. From what I have read and heard, it is not alone.

Look at this eBird map of Gray Catbird sightings in only January 2012 across the northeast and nearby regions, whoa! The birds are definitely concentrated on the Atlantic coast, though that is also where the most birders are.

Connecticut has had plenty, and our friend and excellent birder John Marshall told me he has actually seen one in each county already! There are certainly some Gray Catbirds that spend the winter here each year, but this is an abnormally high total. It seems obvious that they and other species, from a variety of warblers to even some Northern Rough-winged Swallows, are able to survive because of the little snow and very warm temperatures. If this were last winter - well, even if approximately the same number attempted to remain here, few would have survived all the way to spring with feet of snow and frigid temperatures being commonplace.

We have had two extreme winter seasons in a row, exactly what climate change should be bringing more of. The birds will have to adapt as best as they can. Overall, we can expect more and more attempting to remain here through the colder months as long-term temperatures will be on the rise, and monitoring weather and climate conditions will become even more important. This rapidly changing reality also means the survey work we complete on a daily basis is even more critical to the application of our best management practices in a variety of habitats across the state.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch; map courtesy of eBird.org

Friday, January 27, 2012

Big January 2012

One of the most exciting parts of the New Year for birders is starting a new list of species seen for the upcoming 12 months. However, some people take this up a level by participating in the Big January competition, a friendly and fun game to see who can spot the most species in the month. In the past, this was essentially left to each person to complete on their own, though in 2012 we have internet list servs, eBird, cell phones, and so many other ways to keep in touch and spread bird sightings around. This means average total is going up each year, and with a warm season like this one, I am guessing there may be some never before seen species in January in Connecticut.

This competition is not limited to a small group of elite birders - anyone can join in! Our friend Frank Mantlik usually moderates the event, but as he will be unable to this year, I have taken up the duties. Check out the 2011 results that we posted in the blog last year here.

If you have not heard about this, here are the rules as you may qualify even without knowing about it:
  • To qualify, one needs to have a minimum of 90 species for the month within
  • All species seen/heard need to have been counted on public property, your own
    property, or private property with permission.
  • Report your species list in the same order as the COA ARCC Official CT List:
  • Deadline for submission is Saturday, Feb. 4 at 10 pm. Send them to me here:
  • Digital photos you have taken, especially of rare species, are welcome.
    Note that smaller photo file size makes for easier/quicker emailing. Credit will be
    given on any photos used in the summary report.
  • Since this event is based on the honor system, please make every effort to be
    honest and certain of your identifications.
  • Provide the date and location for the first time each species was identified
    (optional, but encouraged).

I would also encourage everyone to think of conservation when birding this year. Instead of "chasing" down rare birds across the state every weekend perhaps you should see how many you could find in your own town, or at a given sanctuary or two. I have participated in some exceptionally exciting town competitions. You'll find a bird or two you never expected, a new patch to explore, and feel better for helping the environment and your wallet. Whenever I spend $40+ at the pump to fill up the car I think of how even donating the money saved from one tank a year from the thousands upon thousands of nature-loving Connecticut residents could help conservation in our state all while helping not pollute just a little more.

Remember, if you're participating in the Big January competition please send me your results by 10 p.m on February 4. If you do not qualify at 90 or more species but have a great sighting or wonderful photo please feel free to pass it along to me. Thank you and good luck!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Help conserve threatened beach nesting birds in Connecticut

Connecticut's shoreline provides critical habitat for the federally threatened Piping Plover. You can help us conserve this threatened beach-nesting species:

  • Do you have an interest in wildlife?
  • Do you enjoy walking along the beaches of Long Island Sound?
  • Can you spare at least two hours a month to help threatened birds in our state?

Please consider volunteering as a Piping Plover monitor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service!

For the last several years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Audubon Society, Audubon Connecticut, The Nature Conservancy and The Friends of Milford Point/Stratford Great Meadows NWR have partnered together to monitor beaches between West Haven and Stratford for nesting Piping Plovers.

These migratory birds return to the Connecticut coast each March from their wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast and stay here up to five months to nest and raise their young.  Located on the beach, their nests are extremely susceptible to human disturbance, destruction by predators, and tidal wash outs. Volunteer monitors make a big difference, enhancing the survival and productivity of plovers and terns in our state.

As a monitors, you will observe and record data about various beach nesting birds and their chicks at one of four locations: Milford Point near the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center; Silver Sands State Park in Milford; Long Beach in Stratford; and Sandy Point in West Haven. The primary duties involve assisting the USFWS with observation and data collection about nesting Piping Plovers, and helping to educate the public about these species. Volunteers work 2-hour shifts from April until the end of the breeding season (usually in August) and must donate a minimum of 2 hours per month.

If you are interested, please attend the training and orientation session held Saturday, March 10, 2012 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center at Milford Point.

The session will include piping plover natural history, the state of plovers in Connecticut, volunteer organization and logistics, reporting responsibilities, and beach training with simulated plovers and eggs.

For more information on the training session, directions to the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center, or to make reservations, please call USFWS Ranger Shaun Roche at (860) 399-2513 or email Shaun_Roche@fws.gov

Thank you!

Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbird Conservation, Audubon Connecticut and the Connecticut Audubon Society partnering to improve conditions for coastal waterbirds in Connecticut.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Red-shouldered Hawks at a Fairfield High School

It’s only January, barely the start of breeding season, but a pair of territorial hawks have been strafing students at Fairfield Ludlowe High in recent days, raising the level of angst among students and teachers. Last week one of the hawks reportedly landed on a student’s head; this week one swooped down and grazed another student’s head.

Police were called to the scene (although to do what is unclear). The Connecticut Post wrote about it twice, the second time catching the attention of the New York City media. Today, WCBS 880, Fox 5 News, and WCBS Channel 2 news were all at the school.

Coincidentally our Birdcraft Museum and Sanctuary is just up Unquowa Road from the school, and the reporters made the most of it, interviewing Milan Bull, our senior director of science and conservation.

Milan’s opinion? It’s very unusual behavior (the birds, that is, not the media).

“It’s rare that red-tailed hawks become aggressive on their territory, but it does happen. This particular pair became aggressive last year defending a nest that was right next to the high school. And now, although it’s early in the nesting season, they’re setting up their territory and are becoming aggressive towards people who are coming close to the nest.

“They’re trying to send a warning, but they will make contact. It’s a brief contact, but it’s a very surprising contact when you get hit in the back of the head with a couple pounds of red-tailed hawk.”

Interestingly, when Channel 2’s Mark Morgan showed up, he asked if we were sure the hawks were red-tails, as was reported. Nobody at Connecticut Audubon had actually seen them, so all we knew was what we were told.

Mark said he himself is a birder and that these hawks -- which he got a good look at -- had banded tails, rather than red tails, and that he was pretty sure they were red-shouldered hawks. He described them to Milan, who agreed that from Mark’s description they seemed like red-shouldered hawks rather than red-tails: Buteo lineatus rather than Buteo jamaicensis.

But his main opinion didn’t change: It was still very unusual behavior.

State environmental officials may try to remove the nest, assuming there is a nest and assuming they can find it. Milan’s advice for people in the area: stay alert and, if you see a hawk swooping towards you, put your hands in the air.

Here’s a link to the WCBS story, with audio; and here’s the latest Connecticut Post story.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

Monday, January 23, 2012

February Stratford Point bird walk

Connecticut Audubon Society Conservation Biologist Twan Leenders and Conservation Technician Scott Kruitbosch will lead a public bird walk at Stratford Point on February 21 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with an inclement weather date of February 28, same place and time. It will be a great chance to find more wintering water birds, from loons to scoters to gulls and grebes and much more. The coastal grasslands and dune habitat often attracts Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, and a variety a sparrows. It is also a good time of year to find irruptive raptors like Short-eared Owl or Rough-legged Hawk.

We will discuss the exciting habitat management and conservation projects that will be taking place at Stratford Point late this winter and into the summer. 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. Please meet in the visitor parking lot by the buildings. Stratford Point is located at 1207 Prospect Drive, Stratford. For more information, contact Scott Kruitbosch: skruitbosch@ctaudubon.org

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Name that bird answer

So did you have any luck naming that bird? I heard a bunch of guesses, in person, on Twitter, via email, but not many correct answers. It is a tough one, especially at that distance. By far the most common response was some type of sparrow, such as Savannah or Vesper. Here is the same photo again...

Followed by a larger version of it...

Any thoughts now? Keep in mind this bird is on a beach and it was in the winter, thus you are seeing non-breeding plumage. This is actually the only realistic way you would see this bird in Connecticut since it does not nest here.

Here are better shots of the same individual as it fed.

Do you have it now? It is a Lapland Longspur. They are very difficult to spot in Connecticut sometimes, this winter being one of those times. With that said, one or two are seen usually at least a few times on Long Beach or Pleasure Beach in Stratford and Bridgeport, respectively, each winter season. Seaside Park in Bridgeport is another good spot, as is Short Beach in Stratford, where I saw a lone individual a couple weeks ago. The bird pictured above was on Long Beach on January 5, 2010.

The best way to find them, aside from walking through coastal dunes on a frequent basis, are to seek out the much more obvious flocks of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks, as they will often associate with them, even if only loosely. It might be an even easier time to pick them out right now since coastal Connecticut was buried in several inches of snow yesterday. Always watch any part of the uncovered beach or nearby areas where grass has been ripped up along with plowed snow for a variety of good birds.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Name that bird

Here's another photo quiz for all of you busy January "listers" and casual conservationists - name that bird!

Even though I have done essentially no birding outside of work-required time in the field, it is on my January list. It would likely be found in open areas similar to the photo. It may be alone, as it is here in this photo, or it may not. This is the sort of view you might get through a scope or some strong binoculars.

It is not much to go from, but I have faith in the skills of our readers. I'll put the answer up in a few days.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Citizen science and the road less traveled

Birding can be of great assistance to conservation when the birder is a responsible and conscientious observer. This includes carefully recording all of the birds they see at every location they visit, the approximate distance they traveled, the time they take, and at least relatively accurate numbers of the birds of each species they identify. These types of citizen science surveys can enhance the more exhaustive, extensive, and detailed work done by organizations like Connecticut Audubon Society across the state. Of course, this information cannot help if it is not properly disseminated and examined. If these detailed notes are sitting in a book in an attic somewhere, it will not help conservation because we will never know about it.

Do you know of or possess such data you would like to share with us? We always appreciate it, whether it is 100 years old or from 2011, and it helps the birds of Connecticut and our natural world immensely. The best way for you to share that with us would be entering it yourself into eBird.org, but if you cannot do so, we can discuss other options. All of this came to mind after we received a wonderful box of journals full of carefully taken notes from a long-time Connecticut birder. It is a glimpse into a state much unlike our own in the current day.

In a somewhat similar citizen science birding survey sort of topic, I wanted to mention this eBird article: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/data_gaps_Jan_2012

Team eBird had a wonderful idea and filled in a map for every state at the county level with eBird data density levels to see how many checklists are submitted. It is a quick and easy way to see what areas are heavily birded and which are not. Very populated areas are well covered and, unlike parts of the Great Plains where there is little or no data whatsoever, Connecticut is no exception, as you can see in these maps of each state.

With that said, Windham County needs some help! If you are a birder in the area or simply want a good excuse to get out into the field, take a trip to the northeast part of the state. My suggestion would be to visit our Grassland Bird Conservation Center in Pomfret and its 700-acre Bafflin Sanctuary. Twan and I have been working on some of the data for it recently, and I noticed our total there went over 200 bird species already with limited survey efforts. It has some incredible birds that are often uncommon or rare elsewhere in the state. Please go discover them, tell us about your trip, and share your data with us on the Center's site on eBird!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bird Questions

One thing I didn’t quite realize when I started working for Connecticut Audubon Society in December is that when ordinary folks encounter a bird they don’t recognize or think is unusual or suspect is in the wrong place at the wrong time, they call or email the Audubon Society.
Another thing I didn’t realize is that it would be my job to respond. Not that I'm complaining. It's been kind of fun.

There was the day, for example, when I answered my phone at Connecticut Audubon’s state headquarters and a nice sounding gentleman wanted to know what was the biggest bird you would expect to see in Fairfield -- because he was sure he just saw it.

We talked it over and came to the conclusion that he had probably seen a great blue heron.

Or another day when a man called and wanted help identifying an owl. I asked why. Because there’s one sitting on the window shutter of my house, he said. I asked where that was.

Whitney Avenue in New Haven. It’s been here about a week, he said. It flies away at night and sits on the shutter during the day. It’s about a foot and a half tall, he said.

All of that seemed unlikely but not impossible (I guess), so I asked him to email me a photo. Unfortunately I never heard from him again.

This photo (at left) arrived in an email from a woman who lives in Lyme. The only words were in the subject line: “Strange junco?”

Nope. Brown-headed cowbird.

“You’re right,” she said. “I never thought of that. I’ve never seen one in the winter before, much less a lone wolf.”

A gentleman from Westport emailed: “There has been a flock of migrating birds at Compo Beach that I have been unable to identify. They are about half the size or smaller than our Canada Geese, have relatively long black necks and heads with a white ring on their neck about a third down from their head, white rumps, grey sides, and fly in a flock - not a V. I can't find anything like them in the books I've looked at. Can you help?”

I suggested they might be brant, and sent him a link to a page on the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s website. He responded:

"Thank you very much!!!! None of the books I looked at were any help other than finding that there were a range of Canada Geese sizes.

And finally this, which accompanied the photo above: “I took this picture of what I think is a Albino Chickadee in Coventry CT on 1-8-2012. I am not sure if this bird is uncommon in Connecticut or not. I have not seen one in the 45 years I have lived here.”

I forwarded the email to our bird experts and ... it turns out the gentleman from Coventry was just about right. It’s a leucistic chickadee, technically, rather than an albino, but close enough.

Got a bird question or identification problem? Let us know. We’ll try to help.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

Rare birds in the water

Many Connecticut birders are starting their 2012 by taking ferry crossings of Long Island Sound from New London to Orient Point to see sometimes dozens of Razorbills, a few Black-legged Kittiwake, and even a Common Murre! One has been seen repeatedly in Connecticut waters, representing the second...third...fourth? and so on...Connecticut record(s). It has yet to be sorted out, though several were seen in total on a recent trip in both Connecticut and New York waters.

It is out of season, but this made me think of a short local trip taken by our Senior Director of Science and Conservation Milan Bull in late September as he took his skiff through the Wheeler Marsh at the CAS Coastal Center at Milford Point. He found some fantastic birds in only a couple of hours, in terms of both species and numbers. It is already known as one of the best places in the state for birds and birding, but watching from our tower or down on the beach often doesn't even begin to show how wonderful the marsh is.

Here are some of his notable birds:
Green-winged Teal  42
American Bittern  1
Least Bittern  1
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  7
Black-crowned Night-Heron  3
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  2
Northern Harrier  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
Clapper Rail  3
Sora  60
Marsh Wren  32
Saltmarsh Sparrow  15
Bobolink  25

Even Connecticut experts can be happy with seeing one Sora a year, forget 60+ on one day! He thought there were likely many more. The same can be said for a Least Bittern, and the great views of an American Bittern he was able to get. 32 Marsh Wren is also a ridiculous total. I wonder what is left out there right now in this warm winter. I hope all of you remember this for next season and join the Coastal Center staff for a canoe trip through the marsh. It will be a pleasant thought as arctic air settles in to Connecticut this weekend.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Environmental Issues Seminars Open to Public at Three Rivers Community College

Christina Levere of Three Rivers Community College in Norwich asked if I would pass along information on free environmental seminars they are offering. Since they are no cost and the list of speakers and topics includes some names and information that may be of interest to many of you we decided we would pass it along.


NORWICH, Conn.—Three Rivers Community College is offering a series of environmental issues seminars, which may be taken for credit (as part of a paid program) or at no cost for personal enrichment. The seminars run from 6 p.m. - 7:45 p.m. and include an impressive slate of topical experts. The seminars will be held on the Three Rivers campus in room C101.

For more information or to register contact TRCC Professor Diba Khan-Bureau at 860-885-2383 or email dkhan-bureau@trcc.commnet.edu.

1.  Jan. 25thWilliam Leahy, Eastern Connecticut State University: “Electric vehicles and their potential contribution to a sustainable environment and economy”
2.  Feb. 1st  – Thomas Worthley, UConn Extension Forestry: “Forest ecosystem services”
3.  Feb. 8th  – Dr. David Bingham, President, Salem Land Trust: “The importance of  environmental stewardship”
4. Feb. 15hJudy Preston, Tidewater Institute: “A growing problem; coastal water quality challenges from lawns”
5.  Feb. 22thElizabeth Timpe, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology PhD Student, UConn: “Global amphibian declines: are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction?” 
6.  Feb. 29th  – Ed Jutila, State Representative: “Connecticut regulations and the environment”
7.  March 7th Anthony Irving, former president of the Lyme Land Trust: “Lessons from the Eightmile Wild and scenic river designation”
8.  March 14thGreg Bugbee, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station: “Invasive aquatic plants found in Connecticut lakes”
9. March 28st  - Brian Murphy, Conn. Department of Environmental Protection: “Stream restoration efforts in eastern Connecticut”
10.  April 4th  – Adam Ney, CBIA, Corporate Sustainability Operating in the Growing Green Economy: “Connecticut’s businesses enhancing their commitment to environmental stewardship, social responsibility, workforce development and ROI”
11. April 11thDon Gerwick, Gerwick - Mereen Engineering; Tom Wagner, Director Town Planner and Maureen Fitzgerald, Town Planner Inland Wetland Officer for the Town of Waterford:The Coca-Cola project: environmental planning and stormwater management”
12. April 18th Dr. Hedley Freake, UConn Nutritional Sciences: “Food, health and the environment”
13. April 25thMichael Beauchene, Conn. Department of Environmental Protection:
“Rapid bioassessment, benthic macro invertebrates survey and management”
14. May 2nd  - David Stokes, Conn. Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Waste Management: “Hazardous waste management and enforcement”
15. May 9thHank Gruner, Vice President of Science Center of Conn. & Biodiversity Coordinator, Connecticut Programs, Wildlife Conservation Society: “Construction design challenges to maintain biodiversity”
16. May 16th - Dr. Michael Dietz, UConn Extension office Program Director NEMO: “The Jordan Cove Project: stormwater and low impact design”


Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year avian presents

2012 has yielded a lot of great bird sightings already including a bunch of warblers like Nashville, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, and even a rare Yellow-throated Warbler that has apparently been hanging out at a feeder in Madison since October! There have been Great Egrets seen in numbers all over the coast. A Little Blue Heron is still around, and Nick Bonomo found a Northern Rough-winged Swallow yesterday at the East Shore Park treatment plant. The warm weather is definitely to blame for those birds. On New Year's Day Frank Mantlik found a Snowy Owl, possibly even the same one we had on November 30 based on appearance, at Stratford Point.

Snowy Owl at Stratford Point by Frank Mantlik

Whether or not it was the same bird it did not stick around for long, like the last time, and was not seen since that day. Despite all these lingering birds I mentioned to Frank and Charlie Barnard that I was surprised in all of our Christmas Bird Counts and New Year birding that no one had found an extreme rarity in Connecticut. The very next day Mike O'Leary found a Pink-footed Goose, a third state record, on Somersville Pond in Somers with a few hundred Canada Geese. It has been moving around the general area quite a bit, but once again Frank Mantlik was on it and provided us with these photos.

Pink-footed Goose photos by Frank Mantlik

Congratulations to Mike for the awesome find and thanks to Frank for the great shots of a very rare bird. The warmth, in relative terms, and snow-free days should continue so be on the lookout for more odd overwintering birds and the big passerine rarity I still feel the state is so due for. If you ever have any crazy sightings please email us!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos © Frank Mantlik

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Fewer Moose on the Loose

Moose are still active in our 700-acre Richard G. Croft Memorial Preserve, in Goshen, but our conservation biologist, Twan Leenders, confirms what the Connecticut DEEP is saying -- that there seem to be fewer around than in previous years.

"There has been less moose activity in our Croft preserve this past year," Twan wrote in an email, "but they are still there. I saw fresh tracks when I was there last -- just before the holidays."

The Hartford Courant reported that statewide there were a lot fewer moose sightings in 2011 than in 2010:

Andy Labonte, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said moose sightings from 2010 to 2011 dropped by more than half – from 201 to 61. "It's been a quiet year for moose in Connecticut," said LaBonte, a scientist with DEEP's deer and moose program. "Moose prefer colder climates and it just hasn't been that cold."

It's estimated that about 100 moose live in Connecticut, mostly in the northwest corner.

You can read the Courant report here. As for the Croft Preserve, it's an amazing place -- a true wilderness in the middle of thousands of acres of other preserved land -- and well worth a visit, although trails are minimal. Directions to it and all 19 of our sanctuaries are here.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

Friday, January 6, 2012

For Non-Football Fans Only

How's this for savvy communications planning? I will be on BirdCallsRadio at 1 p.m on 1490/WGCH AM on Sunday to talk about conservation in Connecticut and New York, conditions on Long Island Sound, the work Connecticut Audubon is doing, etc.

It's sure to draw a really big audience because nothing else is going on then, right?

Except of course the Giants have a playoff game at 1. Which three-quarters of the homes in the metropolitan area will be watching.

But if you happen to not be a football fan, tune in. You can listen live wherever you are on the planet, here. Afterwards BirdCallsRadio Archive will be available within three days here.

Go Giants!

Meanwhile, in a part of the state where there is no football until the Pats play next weekend, Kasha Breau and Mike Corcoran, of Connecticut Audubon's Center at Glastonbury, will be on WTIC's Garden Talk show, from noon to 2 on Saturday, January 7. WTIC is at 1080 AM. We'll provide a link to the podcast as soon as it's available.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

Town of Stratford bird walks with CAS

Connecticut Audubon Society is a fixture in the town of Stratford, from our presence at Stratford Point, to the Boothe Park Hawk Watch, several bioblitzes, the Great Stratford Bird Festival, and all of our decades of survey work in the McKinney Refuge and other important areas of habitat in town. We are enhancing and expanding our relationship in 2012 with the town of Stratford, one of Connecticut's best birding and most critical bird municipalities, and you can expect more collaborative efforts throughout the year. One of these expansions is joint nature walks with the town's recreation department and our friend David Wright as I will be taking part in many scheduled for this winter, spring, and summer.

Come join Connecticut Master Wildlife Conservationist, David Wright, for informative spring and summer discovery walks, "Exploring Natural Stratford - Forest to Shore". Walk Stratford's shore and trails and see them as you have never seen them before. Walks are free. Get in shape while enjoying the great outdoors. Advanced Registration is requested at the Recreation Department (203) 385-4052 or online at www.townofstratford.com/recreation

Stratford, Natural-ly
Nature Walks & Hikes - Winter/Spring/Summer 2012
Walk Date Location Time
Winter Wonderland 1/15 Far Mill River 9-11
Inland Winter Forest Walk 1/29 James Farms Road Open Space 3-5
Birds, Beans & Burgundy 2/12 Shepaug Dam/Vineyard 9-1
Late Winter Marsh Walk 3/11 Great Meadows Marsh at Long Beach Blvd 3-5
Early Migrant Birding Beach Walk 3/25 Long Beach 8-11
Spring Wildflower/Earth Day Walk 4/8 Veterans' Park/James Dillon Park 3-5
Greenway Walk 4/22 Academy Hill/Birdseye Dock/Greenway 8-11
International Migratory Bird Walk 5/6 Roosevelt Forest 8-10
Pequonnock Valley State Park 5/20 Pequonnock Valley/Jones Vineyard 3-5
International Trails Day Walk 6/3 Short Beach to Stratford Point 8-10
Inland Town Park Walk 6/17 Wooster Park 3-5
Housatonic Bridge Walk 7/1 Sikorsky Bridge 8-10
Beginning Birding Walk 7/15 Town Hall/Union Cemetary 8-10
Mid-summer Shore Bird Walk 7/29 Long Beach 3-5
Summer Migrant Birding Marsh Walk 8/12 Great Meadows Marsh at Long Beach Blvd 8-10
Lower Housatonic River Walk 8/26 Dock Parking Lot/Bonds Dock 8-10

It will likely be a relatively (for January) warm and snow-free walk next Sunday. You would be able to expect woodland birds for the most part, with sightings of species you may see at your feeders, some wintering raptors, possibly an uncommon forest interior species like a Pileated Woodpecker or Brown Creeper, and hopefully an insectivore or two hanging around. You never know, it may be a good time to find an American Woodcock or even something more out of season like a Gray Catbird. I hope you will be able to join David and I at some point during the year, especially if one of the walks takes place at a spot you have yet to visit in this amazing town.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Stratford Point bird walk 1/5 results

It was a cold and cloudy morning at Stratford Point today, with a steady westerly wind keeping all of our visitors bundled up while they scoped out waterfowl. Upland birds were quite quiet, though early in the morning Twan got a brief glimpse of a bird that was likely the Palm Warbler spotted during the Stratford-Milford Christmas Bird Count at nearby Russian Beach.

A couple of visitors saw likely Razorbills far off in Long Island Sound. There was also a Northern Gannet early in the morning. Otherwise, mostly everyone got very good views of birds like Long-tailed Duck, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Great Cormorant, Sanderling, and Surf Scoter.

 We had good views of both typical loon species - do you know which one this is?

Here's the full list:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan 
American Wigeon
American Black Duck 
Greater/Lesser Scaup 
Surf Scoter 
White-winged Scoter 
Long-tailed Duck  
Common Goldeneye 
Red-breasted Merganser  
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon 
Northern Gannet 
Great Cormorant 
Ring-billed Gull 
Herring Gull (American) 
Great Black-backed Gull 
Rock Pigeon 
Mourning Dove
Carolina Wren 
Northern Mockingbird 
Song Sparrow 
House Sparrow 

This continues to be a somewhat slow winter for uncommon upland birds that can frequent Stratford Point in winter like Eastern Meadowlark and Short-eared Owl. We still have a lack of any snow along with above-average temperatures in much of the region. It was frigid for a short time this week but that will be coming to an end with temperatures nearing 50 this weekend. Some species, like Mallard, American Black Duck, and Canada Goose were clearly moving south as waters to the north froze, but that will not be a problem.

What a strange season...keep an eye out for our February walk date which may come after the prescribed burn of the site.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The X in eBird

Happy New Year! 2012 has arrived, and with it comes a fresh start to the year lists for birders of all ages and experience, and a new year of entering data into eBird. Since January 2011 I have seen the total checklists and number of regular eBird users jump through the roof in Connecticut. If you are not putting in your bird sightings into the database, well, you may be alone soon!

We get a lot of questions about eBird during bird walks, from visitors, and via email and Twitter. Please feel free to ask for advice and tips, or get help with troubleshooting, whenever possible. For now, I wanted to briefly address something that comes up even with veteran eBird users - the dreaded X. It would be fantastic to not see any of those entered in the new year.

When entering checklists you put in the number of a given species seen. This can be easy, such as spotting two Black-capped Chickadees at your feeders during the half hour you sat down to watch them and count birds. Putting this sort of data in every day with these exact numbers is as valuable as any other. But let's make it a little more complicated and say you came down to the Connecticut Audubon Society Coastal Center at Milford Point for the day. Maybe you were lucky enough to see a Snowy Owl, whoa! That is an easy count, one bird.

You took a closer look and found some ducks, American Black. You might be able to count them off and come up with 27, or perhaps you noted about 30. That estimate would be fine. Suddenly you see a group of shorebirds go by, Sanderling! There were a whole lot of them, many tens, no - hundreds! You have no idea exactly how many, and who would really know if you saw a group flying by and heading over the Housatonic to Short Beach. So when you go home and enter all of the day's birds into eBird, you will want to check off the species, and many people would do so by using an X instead of a number.

That can be a problem, and it is a relatively easy one I would like to remedy. An X means you might have seen only one Sanderling, and surely that is wrong. It also means you may have spotted 1,487,392 Sanderling - um, I do not think that seems quite right, does it? It can be counterintuitive, but if you are unable to come up with a specific number for a species, or even a close guess to the nearest five or ten, please enter the best number you can. Even if all you could say was that it seemed around 200 birds that would be fine. Maybe the real total was 241 or 173. It is a lot closer than the X is, even if it does not seem like it "making up" a number is better.

While we're on the subject, please try to be exact with your locations, time, and effort, too. Entering data for an entire town has some use, but is much more limited than one list for each of the stops you made each day. Trust me, as someone who enters hundreds or thousands of checklists a year, I know it can get tiring. Keep in mind how much of a contribution you are making to conservation in the state of Connecticut as you are.

Don't forget, if you want to add to those January lists, join us at Stratford Point for a bird walk on Thursday, January 5.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Reply to "A Strange Thing Going On in Cheshire"

A couple of days ago we posted a query from a Cheshire resident who was wondering why there were so few birds in her town. Here's the gist of it:  

"Our birds have disappeared. Any bird smaller than a Large Blackbird have all left. At first I thought it was only occurring at my feeder … however a local Vet. called me last week and asked if I had noticed anything different about the birds at my feeders. He also has not seen a single bird for a few weeks."

You can read the email here. This morning, Twan Leenders, Connecticut Audubon's conservation biologist, replied to our correspondent. I thought it was worth quoting in full:

I understand your concern and although I cannot give you a definite answer, I suspect that the apparent lack of small birds at your feeders is seasonal and related to the weather patterns we have been experiencing. As you undoubtedly know, most song birds migrate away from our area in the fall, leaving a small contingent behind during the coldest months of the year. To some extent our wintering birds are usually supplemented by birds migrating in from our north when water freezes and snow covers the ground there. The snow and ice effectively make 'wild' food inaccessible to small birds. This is generally when feeders become busy because a steady supply of high quality food will be readily available there.

This winter has been very different than our past few and thusfar much of the land and water to our north is still open. As a result of the easy access to local food, the number of winter migrants moving into the state is greatly reduced this year. Combine this unusual winter weather with a bumper crop of tree seeds and nuts to our north and few birds have had reason to move south yet. I think that it is this combination of factors that has truly left us with a lower number of birds in the state so far this winter. Luckily this is not caused by any local detrimental environmental factor, but rather by the fact that things are fine elsewhere and local birds to our north have not had to embark on a dangerous and strenuous journey south because the conditions there have been just fine still. On the brighter side, if this mild winter holds we could be experiencing a fantastic breeding season in northern birds since they did not have to waste energy on trying to locate food, their populations will likely be larger locally since there is less winter mortality, and the breeding season may start early since all birds are in place already - leaving room for a possible second or third clutch next year.

I was in western New York over the holidays where conditions were also very balmy for their standards with no snow cover (they are already a stunning 70" of snowfall behind on last winter!). There were very few birds on the local feeders until one day a few inches of snow suddenly made the local, wild food supplies unavailable and birds immediately flocked to suet and seed feeders. I'm betting that in the next few days as our temperatures drop, activity at your feeder may pick up a bit. If we get a little snow to cover the ground, you will probably see even more activity. But still keep in mind that until the land to our north is white, we will have fewer birds around than in past winters.

Thank you for your concern over the local bird populations and keep your feeders stocked. There are birds out there and you will see them again if/when conditions are right.

I should add that there seems to have been quite a bit of lake effect snow in upstate New York this week, so maybe northern birds will start to move down toward the coast. -- Tom Andersen

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Strange Thing Going on in Cheshire

We get bird questions emailed to us year-round. Some we can answer easily; others are more baffling. Here’s the first question of 2012. I’ll be passing it along to our experts but if anyone in the greater Connecticut birding world has an answer, please let us know:
Thank you for taking the time to read this: 
I asked UCONN [to] recommend who to contact about a strange thing going on in Cheshire CT.  They suggested I contact you about this strange problem.
Our birds have disappeared.  Any bird smaller than a Large Blackbird have all left.
At first I thought it was only occurring at my feeder … however a local Vet. called me last week and asked if I had noticed anything different about the birds at my feeders. He also has not seen a single bird for a few weeks.

Also noted was that we both observed a significant decrease in Goldfinches. The previous year I would have 40 or more at my feeders at any given time. This year the most I had was 4!

It is eerie to go outside and not hear a single chirp. There is something very wrong going on and I wish to find some answers.

Can you shed some light on this problem?
Unfortunately, I can’t. I’ve got bluebirds and Carolina wrens singing in my yard. But maybe there’s something unusual in Cheshire. Any thoughts? -- Tom Andersen