Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Plankton feeding time for gulls

As we enter March we also move into a month known to many birders for its gull feeding extravaganza. Up to tens of thousands of gulls can be seen feasting on plankton in western Long Island Sound in the next few weeks, especially around the full moon. I referenced this phenomenon in the information about our next Stratford Point bird walk at a time when thousands of gulls could be resting on sandbars in the mouth of the Housatonic River.

The food source involved in this feeding frenzy has been debated for some time, though intelligent and intrepid birders have come to somewhat of a consensus in that the meal of choice is almost entirely barnacle larvae. A few have collected samples of what the gulls were eating. Last year Charlie Barnard brought samples to our own CAS Conservation Biologist Twan Leenders who took a look at it and passed it on to other scientists. Here are a couple of shots Twan had taken...

There was, as usual, some debate, though our belief is still that these are barnacles in the cyprid stage. Others, including Dennis Varza, Larry Flynn, and John Barclay have done a tremendous amount of work in collecting samples and researching this, coming up with that conclusion. All credit goes to these great birders with inquisitive minds and commendable efforts. If an expert in the field has anything they would like to contribute we would love to hear it.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos © Twan Leenders

Monday, February 27, 2012

Shorebird Identification Workshop

The Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds and the Peabody Museum present an indoor Shorebird Identification Workshop.

Come sharpen your shorebird identification skills and learn how you can help track their distribution and abundance in Connecticut. This seminar will consist of a presentation by Frank Mantlik followed by an opportunity to view the shorebird collections of the Peabody Museum:

Shorebird Workshop - Monday, April 9th at 6:30 PM Yale University Environmental Science Center, New Haven CT (behind the Peabody Museum)

Leaders: Frank Mantlik, Patrick Comins, Scott Kruitbosch and Twan Leenders

This seminar is limited to 30 participants.  To register please email:

Hope to see you there!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Our 2012 Agenda for Statewide Policy, Advocacy and Conservation

Advocating for issues of statewide importance on behalf of state residents is one of the three main ways (along with education and conservation work) we try to fulfill our mission of conserving Connecticut’s birds and their habitats.

We recently released our policy, advocacy and conservation agenda for 2012. Our three priorities are:
  • Reforming Connecticut’s land preservation program;
  • Reducing bird mortality through a Lights Out program;
  • Increasing outdoor educational opportunities for Connecticut’s children.
We've provided a complete account on our website, which you can read by clicking here.

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications
     & Community Outreach

March Stratford Point bird walk

March is an exciting month of change in Connecticut as we get the first bulk of returning migrants, including new species for the season and greatly increased numbers for some of our year-round birds. This bird walk is geared specifically for the latter and could be an incredible sight. I hope to see you there..


Connecticut Audubon Society Conservation Technician Scott Kruitbosch will lead a public bird walk at Stratford Point on March 8 from 4 p.m. to sunset with an inclement weather date of March 9, same place and time. It will be a great chance to find some migrant waterfowl and new ducks for the season, a handful of newly arrived shorebirds and long-legged waders, and to see possibly thousands of gulls in the mouth of the Housatonic River at low tide. March 8 is the date of the full moon when there should be a great number of barnacle/plankton blooms on the waters of Long Island Sound, bringing in gulls to feed on them that will then rest on the sandbars between Stratford Point and the Coastal Center at Milford Point at low tide. Two years ago, a similar event saw upwards of 10,000 gulls present here. While numbers that day may not surpass that total, it is a good bet that we will have a bunch of birds to see.

We will also discuss the conservation projects that Connecticut Audubon Society will be involved with in the coming spring and summer. The walk will be free and we suggest bringing binoculars and a spotting scope, if you have one. This is especially needed to help identify the many gulls we may be looking through. 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:

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Long-eared Owl finally found

In this hot winter season, we have been without many of our owls for a few reasons, that being one. There seems to have been little to no Northern Saw-whet Owl irruption this year demonstrated by both a lack of sightings from birders and word from the experts who band them as they pass through our state. Short-eared Owls have been spotted very infrequently instead of casually at places like the Great Meadows NWR or Stratford Point. Long-eared Owls have not been reported to eBird in Connecticut thus far in 2012 or on the state's list serv.

While there may be an individual or two out there that have not been reported to protect the location of a roost, there can be no doubt our state has far fewer of these raptors than we used to. If you take a stroll with an expert birder who is a long-time Connecticut resident they will likely have a list of locations these birds used to roost, sometimes with multiple owls in the same spot. This was apparently commonplace a few decades ago, though I have never seen more than one at a given location in my life. These roosts used to be in everywhere from a rural area to the heart of a developed town like Fairfield. However, these roosts are empty now, with development and human traffic becoming too much, more frequent passes by other creatures or dogs, or overzealous birders of the past scaring them out of such areas permanently. This is why they are rarely reported publicly now.

I know of several areas that were recently used in the state, some even within the last couple of years, that are without Long-eared Owls now. This is why it was such a pleasure to hear that our friend Barney Bontecou had found one in an unexpected location (one I will not divulge, so please do not ask).

Long-eared Owl by Barney Bontecou

That beautiful bird can hopefully remain undisturbed by everything and everyone. If you ever find a rare roosting or breeding owl, please let us know. Your information will not be given out, and I would encourage you not to tell anyone about it. The roost may be in an area we would like to protect. Even those with the best intentions and cautious ways can unintentionally harm these owls when they are flushed or upset enough so that they do not return to the spot. Despite knowing the location I have not gone out to see this Long-eared Owl because I do not want to bother it in the slightest. If you can log such owls in eBird in a way that shields them (such as entering it in a location a mile or two from the actual sighting) that would be tremendous, too.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo © Diane Bontecou

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Razorbills and other alcids continue

Razorbills continue to be seen in Long Island Sound since December sparked a massive influx of the species in our waters. Yesterday I saw at least four of them off Stratford Point, with one only about 20-30 feet off the revetment wall at times! I got some great views but...the problem with photographing and viewing Razorbills is that they surface in a different location from where they dive, and when they finally do come up, it is only for a few seconds at a time. I literally had three to five seconds to point, zoom, focus, and shoot my camera at a bird surfacing at a spot tens of feet from where it went under, and I could not do so. Dang.

I finally zoomed the camera out and took a wide shot when it came up producing this so-so photo. It is cropped from a very large size, but it gives you a sense of what they look like on relatively calm water.

They were seen regularly at Stratford Point the last three months, mostly if one was there early enough with a scope and a bit of perseverance. Occasionally they would be close enough for good views even with binoculars, but this was the closest pass for me. They somewhat slowed down in sightings in late January through early February, but picked up again just as quickly in the last week or two. Our friend Frank Mantlik spotted at least 25 (!) of them off Long Beach in Stratford, and last week Neil Currie and Tom Hook spotted two Common Murres there!

If you have not seen one head down to the shore before this event finally ends. Be on the lookout for the other alcid species, too. If you see anything from Milford Point or Stratford Point, we would love to know about it.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CAS staff helps train future conservationists in Envirothon competition

Bright and early this past Saturday morning, high school students from across Connecticut gathered at the Sacred Heart University campus in Fairfield to participate in the Aquatics Workshop of the Connecticut Envirothon. Several hours filled with talks, presentations and hands-on sessions were offerd by a wide range of environmental professionals to help prepare these students for the the final Envirothon competition on May 24.

Envirothon is a fun natural resource-based education program for high school students, who work and train in teams guided by a teacher/advisor- usually based out of a school's science class or after-school program. Each team prepares for the Envirothon in its own way, but workshops on different aspects of the environment and natural resource issues highlighted in each year's competition are offered on a few days in late winter. Such workshop days not only give students a chance to get valuable hands-on experience to improve their chances at the final competition, but also allow them to interact with people who have made a career in an environmental field. Something that is usually in the back of many Envirothon participant's minds.

Connecticut Audubon Society Conservation Biologist Twan Leenders participated as an instructor for two amphibian workshops on Saturday, together with Greg Watkins-Colwell and Alex Dornburg from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Students learned how to identify Connecticut's native amphibians, studied the special habitat requirements that several species have, learned how to take relevant measurements on amphibians, and generally had a great time. Hopefully, they will all do well in May!


For more information on the Connecticut Envirothon, visit the website:  

Twan Leenders
Conservation Biologist

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stratford Point bird walk 2/21 results

Today we held a bird walk at Stratford Point at a different from usual time, from 11 a.m. to near 1 p.m., in an effort to allow some more folks who need to take a long drive to join us and some others who can only sneak outside during their lunch hours. This is a good time of year for it as the waterfowl and shorebirds we are primarily focused on are always around and visible, only moving in or out a bit, sleeping or eating depending on the tide (high and low for the most part, respectively).

A high total of four Connecticut Audubon Society staff members were on hand as Senior Director of Science and Conservation Milan Bull, Conservation Biologist Twan Leenders, and our new Director of Education Michelle Eckman joined me with a great group of visitors. The best part of today was the total lack of any significant wind (rare for the property) and calm waters, allowing fantastic scope and binocular views of a variety of ducks on Long Island Sound and in the mouth of the Housatonic River.

Here is the list of species we saw at Stratford Point today, nearly all during our walk:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Surf Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Northern Gannet
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull (American)
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
American Crow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

We will determine a date for our March walk soon and post it once it is finalized. There may be many gulls around at that point, with more shorebirds trickling in and ducks on the way out. Sparrows will be moving then and you might be able to spot one of the first Tree Swallows. I cannot wait.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pink-footed Goose photos

Mark Szantyr and Steve Morytko found a Pink-footed Goose on Day Hill Road in Windsor this morning. As far as I know it continued to be seen throughout the day in the general area. Our Coastal Center Director Frank Gallo snapped these photos of it:

UPDATE: And here's a great shot from Mark Szantyr, thanks to him as well...

The third state record was found in January, and I would have to think this would be a fourth if it cannot be proven that it is the same individual. Thanks to Frank for the great shots and Steve and Mark for the wonderful find they got the word out on quickly.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos 1-3 © Frank Gallo; photo 4 © Mark Szantyr

Conservation notes this week

Here are several points on some notable Connecticut Audubon Society conservation events and news items that I felt were worth reiterating:

  • It feels like it has been a while so don't forget there is a public bird walk at Stratford Point tomorrow, February 21, from 11am to 1pm. I will post the results later in the day.
  • Please help threatened beach nesting birds in Connecticut by becoming a Piping Plover monitor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Let's make this a record year in terms of monitors and stewards as well as fledged Piping Plover, Least Tern, American Oystercatcher, and other coastal waterbirds.
  • There will likely soon be a controlled burn of the coastal grasslands at Stratford Point that are filled with high amounts of fuel and sorely in need of this safe and effective management practice. You can find more information on that when it was first mentioned by Twan here over a year and a half ago. Suffice it to say, an unbelievable amount of planning goes into a process that should take less than a couple of hours to complete. Stay tuned.
  • Speaking of Twan, he helped complete some great work in Panama recently and has a tremendous amount of stories, photos, and information to pass on to everyone here. Watch for that post and do not miss it!
  • I received an enormous amount of feedback on this post concerning dogs and birds, likely more than anything else I have written in the conservation blog. I hope everyone passes it along to whomever they feel would benefit from reading it, whether it be a hardcore birder who hates dealing with dogs or a dog lover who doesn't understand what the big fuss is about. I was thrilled to see that so many birders and conservationists did love dogs as much as me. I encouraged them all to use their own personal stories when confronted with difficult or awkward situations, and I hope everyone does the same.
  • Lastly, do not forget to pick up a copy of Connecticut State of the Birds 2012 by becoming a member today. You can read more on it and view a PDF version via a link in this post.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Warm winter? Hot winter

Much of today's news is based on narratives as we attempt to fit what we see into a nice storyline primarily because of the increased discussion and communication via the internet and social media. This was always the case to some degree, but each year it seems that we want to cram things into a collectively accepted and proven storyline more and more, a dangerous endeavor when it comes to the sciences. The past few months we have seen a bunch including, "Where are the birds in my backyard and at my feeders? They're all gone!" (much more common than usual this year) and "This is an incredible season, winter has been so warm!" So how accurate are they?

We have addressed the former to some degree in this space, discussing why many of the more typical backyard birds are around in lesser numbers, including the fact this is not an irruptive season for much except Snowy Owls to the lack of snow. What about the weather? Is this truly so aberrant a season, or has it been a bit warmer than usual?

The answer tells us a great deal including what we can expect this spring from the health and success of vernal pools to the leaf-out of plant life. It will affect the mosquito population and help some resident birds get an early start on the breeding process. Here are the temperature departures from monthly averages for two climate stations in Connecticut (in degrees Fahrenheit, via the National Weather Service):
November: +4.3
December: +5.7
January: +5.6
February (through 18th): +6.3

November: +3.9
December: +5.9
January: +5.5
February (through 18th): +7.0

It has not been a warm winter - it has been a hot winter! Those are absurdly high deviations from the norm. I almost feel as if this is not a big enough story right now as I went in to that expecting something more along the lines of a 2-4 degree difference for the past few months. You have to imagine a prolonged change so far from climate averages will mean our environment will end up with some unusual changes in the next few months, especially if this continues through the spring (as it should at least in the near future). We may be in store for dry forest floors and trees full of leaves in mid-April with fledgling Black-capped Chickadees hopping about not long after.

Be on the lookout for ticks as their population should be higher than usual as well. They have been biting the entire fall and winter this year as I found out when I pulled a deer tick off my leg on the day after Christmas. I am sure we could name odd events and possible changes for paragraph after paragraph - suffice it to say it is another extremely abnormal weather event, albeit less memorable or mentally scarring to humans as last winter.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Friday, February 17, 2012

Casual vole

Twan and I were chatting in his office this week after a day of meetings when he noticed a little visitor outside the window. This was not of the bird variety (February sure can be one quiet month) but was still welcome at the coastal grasslands. It was a new addition to the Stratford Point list yet had been seen on innumerable occasions already and is likely one of our most abundant residents - huh?

Well, the Meadow Vole below was never noted on its own as a species on the property, as they rarely creep out into the open for any type of prolonged viewing. The little rodent was frustrating me, as I could not get a good shot with the setting sun, the vole's quick little movements and position in the shade. I also had to shoot through a window. This was the best I could do.

It was likely creeping out only because it could scurry right back under our porch that was less than two feet from where it wanted to be. I realized I had indeed seen many voles at Stratford Point before but they were always in the talons of a bird like the White-tailed Kite, a fact Twan had recalled a moment earlier. Isn't it incredible that it could feed off of them for over two months yet this is the first time I had ever seen one in thousands of hours there in the past few years?

We had a couple Snowy Owl visits in the late fall and early winter, though none since January 1, and occasionally we see a Harrier or two around. Otherwise there have not been any raptors specializing in small mammals present. Perhaps, if this one could be bold enough to be seen in broad daylight in such pleasant and easy to cope with weather conditions, we have a strong population going again. Or maybe just a number of complacent, cozy, and now casual voles. Cue the Snowy Owl again, please...or even our White-tailed Kite.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Owl pellet at Larsen Sanctuary

I spent several hours hiking about 8.75 kilometers of Connecticut Audubon Society's 155-acre Roy and Margot Larsen Wildlife Sanctuary adjacent to our Center at Fairfield yesterday morning and afternoon, finding and recording all of the life that I could along the way. I covered nearly the entire sanctuary, not passing through the same area more than once. I tallied 30 (or 31) species of birds along with spotting or finding signs of 10 mammal species. I only saw evidence of that 31st species as I found this owl pellet near the end of my hike.

This photo was taken after I had picked it up and pulled it apart a bit. It was approximately 1.5 inches long and quite fresh and compact initially. Take a look at all the tiny bones in there among a lot of fur to see if you can identify specific parts. It looks like you could piece together a small mouse. From the size and composition of the pellet and its prey, I believe it came from an Eastern Screech Owl. That would also fit in with the habitat and location that it was found in - wet woodlands.

Some of the common bird species were seen in high numbers. In particular, Tufted Titmice seemed to be everywhere as I encountered a few groups of 6, 8, or even more individuals foraging together, totaling 36. There was also a fair number of White-breasted Nuthatch for the area at 14, and quite a few Dark-eyed Junco adding up to 72. I know many people have wondered where their feeder friends are in this warm winter, and the answer may be no further than your own local forest patch.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo © Scott Kruitbosch

Monday, February 13, 2012

How Dogs Affect Birds

It is likely hundreds of people around the state of Connecticut would classify me as a “dog hater”. I absolutely loathe the filthy vicious mutts and everything they stand for. If they ever have to come into the environment of Connecticut they had better all leashed tightly the second they leave the door and not permitted on any sorts of public properties. There is no chance my constant demands to leash the canines when outdoors and prevent them from setting paw into certain areas is due to any other reasons.

The funny thing about all of that is those people would be more wrong than you can possibly imagine. I, Scott Kruitbosch, and we, Connecticut Audubon Society, love dogs unequivocally contrary to a portion of the public belief. Personally, I would have to tell you that I care more about dogs than birds and the rest of nature. To me, the right dog for the right people means it will become a member of the family, not simply a pet, a guardian, or a play toy. However, this is at odds with the fact that I regularly must request dog owners and walkers to keep their dog on a leash, away from breeding birds, out of sensitive habitat, off dangerous areas, and so forth.

I was fortunate enough to have a wonderfully special dog for all of my teenage years well into my 20s, a Shetland Sheepdog named Molly. After a mortifying several weeks with cancer in multiple parts of her body, having gone deaf and blind, she had to be put to sleep on October 17, 2011, which will always be one of the worst days of my life. She became an enormous part of me and my every day routine, and I do and will miss her constantly forever. She was a unique part of me, irreplaceable, beside me in my formative years through the beginning of the rest of my adult life. This is what makes it so painful and difficult to have the beliefs I outlined above permeate the minds of those who oppose conservation actions that affect dogs even in the slightest way, and why I so dislike to hear anyone think Connecticut Audubon Society is being overly inconsiderate or ignorant of dogs and their owners.

Rough Encounters

While many people are more than considerate when approached concerning their dog, I cannot express to you how vitriolic the reaction from some owners can be. Being mocked and showered with expletives or physical threats of violence may not commonplace but it is far from unheard of. Sometimes I will be forced to call the local police or enforcement officers from the Connecticut DEEP or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, within my rights and duty as I am suggesting whatever individual(s) obey the law, while other times I will try to ignore the unfortunate situation and move on with my day.

I dislike having to take on this role and be the “bad guy”, but this is an enormous problem as a vast number of people are either ignorant of or ignore easements, health codes, ordinances, land regulations, and so forth. As an example, Stratford Point allows dogs on the property provided they are on a leash at all times and remain on the mowed pathways and driveway. I would approximate that 20% of visitors with dogs follow the guideline that is posted in multiple locations. The privately owned land has a conservation easement on it that dictates it is to be utilized for passive recreation only, the primary purpose being for the preservation of bird and wildlife habitat and education. It is not a dog park, or an open space for dogs to run through the sensitive coastal grasslands, across the dune, or up and down the potentially dangerous revetment wall.

Additionally, while many people know anything below the median high-tide water line is public property where anyone can pass, they are not aware that dogs present a health and public safety risk, and are thus not legally permitted below this line. I would have to believe many people do not bathe with their dogs, or where they go to the bathroom, so this is relatively straightforward. Even speaking to some of the worst law-breaking offenders on private land such as this makes myself and others the “bad guys”, cruel power-hungry environmental zealots bent on global domination. At least that is how we seem to be perceived. So what is the problem with dogs?

Man’s Best Predator

Your little and adorable puppy or beautiful, sweet, loving full-grown enormous dog may not be a threat to anything except a bowl full of food or a squeaky toy, but guess what – birds and other wildlife do not know this (and sometimes small children or even adults do not either!). They have not met before, and all birds may see is a large predator that could be considering how best to murder them and devour their babies. I say this in a flippant manner in hopes that it hits home in a more meaningful way, but this is a major problem with dogs apart from those that do inflict actual physical harm on the environment, birds, their nestlings and fledglings, or the habitat in which they reside. Even a tiny toy breed can make a mother uneasy about her situation and, as a recent study showed, only fear is necessary to have a negative impact on breeding success.

This study, conducted by ecologist Liana Zanette of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada and her colleagues, discovered that the reproductive success of Song Sparrows dropped when they were simply exposed to the noises of predators on their breeding grounds. Both the number of offspring and their survival rate fell when calls and sounds of predators were broadcast in constant cycles. This portion of the story that I linked to is truly revealing:

“Female birds exposed to the sounds of predators showed drastic changes in behavior. They built nests in denser and thornier plants, spent more time watching for predators and less time collecting food, and produced fewer eggs—something that has been linked to lower food consumption in the past. Once their eggs hatched, the mothers provided less food to their nestlings—making fewer than eight feedings trips an hour, on average, as opposed to the standard 11, and only straying half the distance from the nest as usual to find food-and fewer babies survived. In all, the birds exposed to predator sounds produced 40% fewer fledglings than birds exposed to nonpredator sounds, the team reports online today in Science.”

A typical reaction to that would be that it is not only obvious but normal as well since predators are a natural part of life for birds. This is true, and they have evolved to cope with such threats, though not to the point of overcoming the overwhelming number of dangers in our changed world. Millions of dogs were not roaming the woods with their owners 500 years ago. There was not forest fragmentation on a continental scale allowing predators easier access to a smaller number of birds in a limited or already sub-par habitat, and humans were not helping some of these predators survive – raccoons, feral cats, and so on.

Protecting Natural Habitats

This means that it is incumbent upon us to ensure our actions match the best management practices we recommend at a given location. A constant stream of loose dogs on one path in the woods at the Aspetuck Land Trust’s Trout Brook Valley Conservation Area is going to discourage much, if not all, of the bird life from nesting there or using it as a foraging area while damaging the habitat to a severe degree. Why would they inhabit an area full of potential predators running amok? Even if they did nest there their success would be far less than it would be in an area with less intrusion as the above study concluded. This in effect destroys the productivity of enormous blocks of potentially suitable, and perhaps pristine, habitat in multiple ways. It may still look appealing to the eye but it is nothing more than a scenic background with little life.

Certainly, some people will say they saw an American Robin here or a Gray Squirrel there, but these are exceptionally common species well suited to human development and intrusion. This is a common argument that misses the point entirely and focuses on backyard creatures that we are not concerned about in the least. What you do not see is most important – many of the more rare and/or conservation priority species, perhaps dozens or hundreds of forms of life – displaced by the unchecked dog and human activity. I am not even beginning to address issues like protecting critically important vernal pools that an expert like Twan would be able to detail much more appropriately.

However, this does not mean there is nowhere to walk a dog in the woods. We have to balance human usage and what is best for the environment, and as always, there is a peaceful middle ground to be found. It is likely that parts of Trout Brook Valley will be found suitable for dogs as they are not deemed critical habitat or lack important species that we are most concerned with. Again, any dogs on leash or roaming through those woods will disturb the native habitat in a multitude of ways, but we are realistic about discovering a healthy balance of recreation and conservation and certainly not ignorant or cruel enough to desire all of nature fenced-off to everyone who is not a scientist or researcher.

Let’s Shake

My intent in writing this piece was to express my (and our!) true feelings towards dogs, their actual impacts on the natural world, and to hopefully come to an agreement in nearly every regard when it comes to allowing those wonderful companions their rightful place in our lives. When I am monitoring Piping Plovers, Least Terns, and other threatened beach-nesting Connecticut waterbirds this summer I hope to be able to speak to people about how much they need our help and consideration, why their protection is important, and how such simple actions like picking up litter, giving the birds some space, and keeping dogs leashed can be a tremendous help. I do not want to have to call law enforcement officers, wasting everyone’s time, energy, and money, and doing something I really dislike in a job that I otherwise thoroughly enjoy. The phrase ‘there is a time and place for everything’ has never been more apropos than it is in this case in regards to loose and roaming dogs.

The day after my Molly had to be put to sleep, I went out with Twan to survey much of the Trout Brook Valley Conservation Area. While this seems inappropriate and unfeeling considering all I said, after those horrific weeks, I needed to get out of the house and do something I otherwise would have enjoyed with my boss and friend. We encountered many people walking dogs or letting them run loose despite the temporary ban on it. We received some disgusted looks and discourteous responses to our good wishes, though many people were polite or quickly leashed up their dogs (despite the fact we did not ask anyone to do so). It was startling to realize how no one involved knew one another, and to see how presumptions can be blown out of proportion, as no one knew what had happened to me the day before when they likely saw me as someone who despised their dogs. I can admittedly at times be quick to assume some folks are being intentionally malicious instead of ignorant as often as they assume I am outraged by their mere presence.

It was disturbing to live every day without a dog by my side, though equally disconcerting to think of having another companion that was not Molly. Nevertheless, I came up with a solution that filled all of my emotional needs, and two months ago took home a puppy who is her grand nephew. I named him Zach, and he is very much like his great aunt in some ways, though the complete opposite in many others. While nothing will ever replace her, I love all of him already. He will be accompanying me for hopefully many years of field and stewardship work, helping to find some birds and bridge the gap of knowledge between dog owners and environmentalists who disregard our four-legged family members. If you see us in the field somewhere, in the woods or on the beach, or at the office at Stratford Point, please come up and introduce yourself, especially if you have a dog as well.

Thank you to everyone who is already so very considerate with their dogs and to those who are willing to have a listen to why we have to be careful with our furry children. Education and communication, in this case and many others, seems to be the answer to all of our collective dilemmas. Your careful and balanced conservation efforts matter more I can possibly impart to you here.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Friday, February 10, 2012

Connecticut State of the Birds 2012

We had a good crowd at our Fairfield headquarters today for the release our Connecticut State of the Birds 2012 report and a slate of recommendations and action steps based on the report’s findings.

Connecticut State of the Birds 2012 examines the dwindling amount of time kids are spending outdoors and its implications for the future of conservation of birds and their habitats. Based on the report’s findings, we at Connecticut Audubon Society will be increasing our emphasis on outdoor environmental education for young people and reaching out to our partners in government, education and the environment to collaborate on the endeavor.

We've been providing high quality environmental education since our founding in 1898. But Connecticut State of the Birds 2012, titled “Where Is the Next Generation of Conservationists Coming From?” shows that we need to concentrate on creating more outdoor educational opportunities with more partners for more children.

The goal is to help create a deeper, long-term commitment to conservation, as well as to contribute to the health and academic success of our state’s children.

We were pleased that Susan Frechette, assistant commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, was able to come down from Hartford to join us. Rep. Kim Fawcett of Fairfield was there too, as was Michael Tetreau, Fairfield's First Selectman.

We made a point of reaching out to the education community too. Pamela Iacono, chair of the Fairfield Board of Education, joined us. Len Tavormina, headmaster of the Eagle Hill School in Southport, was there, along with Gary Rosato, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for Fairfield public schools and Tony Vogl, Director of Development and Marketing, the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Among the many highlights was a short speech by Amanda Flanagan, chair of the John Patrick Flanagan Foundation, a supporter of our education work. And Julia Serrano and
Neyra Benoit, 10th graders at Stratford's Bunnell High School, almost stole the show with their account of how their time at Connecticut Audubon Society inspired them to want to make a career of conservation.

This is our 7th annual Connecticut State of the Birds report. It has become the leading research-based assessment of conservation conditions in Connecticut. 

We will soon be mailing the report to CAS members. If you are not a member, we encourage you to join (which you can do by clicking here). 

You can find a full summary of Connecticut State of the Birds 2012 and a PDF of the report on our website, here.

Here's news coverage of the event:
Connecticut Post

Norwalk Hour 
New Haven Register 
Main Street Connect

Tom Andersen
Director of Communications and Community Outreach

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wilson's Snipe Shot

This cool Wilson's Snipe photo comes in to us courtesy of Ross Allen. He took this shot on January 30 near the Birdseye Boat Ramp in Stratford.

 Wilson's Snipe by Ross Allen

This is a classic spot to see them in the winter months, though typically you would get lucky enough to see only one or perhaps two. Ross was able to capture four in this photo alone while also spotting two more nearby. It sounds to me like we have another example of a species with increased numbers spending the winter here in Connecticut and enjoying the above-average temperatures and ice-free water. It is hard to imagine the Housatonic River is ever frozen in the winter when we have weather patterns such as the current one in place. Feeding must be a breeze for these snipe right now even if the water does get a little too close for comfort at high tide.

Thanks for the shot, Ross! Please feel free to send in your own photos for more information and identification or simply to show us a neat sighting like this one. We may even put it up here in the conservation blog.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo © Ross Allen

Monday, February 6, 2012

Big January 2012 results

Many of Connecticut’s most active birders hit the field each January in search of the most species they can tally in the month. This friendly competition, called the Big January, can be a lot of fun between friends, a great way to start a list for the year, a method of learning about birds and where to find a given species, and a means to make even more birding acquaintances. Twenty years ago, this would have meant one would have to search through habitats across the state using only their own knowledge and experience. At most, a phone call to a good friend or local bird club meeting may have helped disseminate information.

In 2012, list servs, eBird, blogs like this one, Twitter, smartphones, and so much more also help to spread the news about what rare or out of season bird is here or there, helping people assemble much larger lists. With that said, we are all still limited by what species are actually in the state able to be found by someone. Excuse the Yogism, but if a bird isn’t here, then it isn’t here! Last year featured nonstop historic snowfall events as January 2011 went down into the record books in multiple weather categories. Nevertheless, a whopping 154 species were seen by the twelve birders submitting lists, including a state-first Common Murre.

This balmy January, setting records for high temperature on multiple days, featured only one moderate to minor snowfall event depending on where you reside in the state. Many out of season birds were able to remain here through the winter. As it turns out last year’s group total of 154 is rather insignificant as one of this year’s participants broke that collective total from last season by herself! Tina Green saw 156 – yes, one hundred and fifty-six – species of birds in Connecticut in January. Sara Zagorski’s total of 152 was not far behind. The collective reported species for January was 170. Rarities included an alcid bounty with Thick-billed Murre, Common Murre, and so very many Razorbills, plus a Pink-footed Goose, Harris' Sparrow, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Barnacle Goose, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Yellow-throated Warbler, and more. Out of season birds included birds like Northern Rough-winged Swallow to Nashville Warbler to Saltmarsh Sparrow.

Between a fortunately warm season, the affect of climate change, more reports coming from more birders in the field, and advancing technology, will someone eventually crack 200 species in January? Congratulations to Tina for her incredible mark and to all of the participants for putting up big numbers. Meredith Sampson’s list is quite impressive considering she limited herself to only birds in the town of Greenwich. Charlie Barnard and Frank Mantlik largely did the same in Stratford. Each individual's list is linked to in their name (this includes Word, Excel, PDF, and TXT files).

  1. Tina Green - 156
  2. Sara Zagorski - 152
  3. Renee Baade - 138
  4. Denise Jernigan - 132
  5. Greg Hanisek - 131
  6. Frank Mantlik - 122 (97 in Stratford)
  7. Kris Johnson - 120
  8. Bill Banks - 119
  9. John Marshall - 118
  10. Bill Asteriades - 117 - TIED WITH
  11. Paul Wolter - 117
  12. Jay Kaplan - 110
  13. Meredith Sampson - 105 (Greenwich only)
  14. Jonathan Trouern-Trend - 102
  15. Ray Belding - 100
  16. Charlie Barnard - 99

Here are some photos of the many birds seen thanks to Bill Asteriades, Meredith Sampson, and Charlie Barnard, each credited to the appropriate photographer.

 Yellow-throated Warbler by Bill Asteriades

 Common Murre by Bill Asteriades

 Harris' Sparrow by Bill Asteriades

 Northern Shrike by Bill Asteriades

 Bonaparte's Gull by Bill Asteriades

 Razorbill by Bill Asteriades

 Razorbill by Bill Asteriades

 Black-legged Kittiwake by Bill Asteriades

 Razorbill by Bill Asteriades

 Common Murre by Bill Asteriades

 Yellow-breasted Chat by Meredith Sampson

  American Bittern by Charlie Barnard

 Baltimore Oriole by Meredith Sampson

 Green-winged Teal by Meredith Sampson

 American Pipit by Meredith Sampson

Cooper's Hawk by Meredith Sampson

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos © their respective photographer

Friday, February 3, 2012

Federal Mercury Standards Aid Birds

Twan and I wanted to pass along this New York Times article to make sure all of you had seen this great development for conservation. It may not have been a direct action, but the new federal mercury standards to help prevent human exposure to the pollution from power plants also helps birds and other wildlife. Our section of the country is in particular trouble...

"Methylmercury, the most toxic form of the heavy metal, was found to be widespread throughout the Northeast — not just in lakes and rivers, as had already been known, but also in forests, on mountaintops and in bogs and marshes that are home to birds long thought to be at minimal risk.
The new study found dangerously high levels of mercury in several Northeastern bird species, including rusty blackbirds, saltmarsh sparrows and wood thrushes."

What else do you notice about those three bird species? They are three very diverse songbirds in a great deal of trouble. Their numbers are plummeting for a multitude of reasons, from sea-level change (Saltmarsh Sparrows) to habitat loss and forest fragmentation (Wood Thrush) and, honestly, reasons that are largely unknown (Rusty Blackbird). Mercury has been suspected as a potential cause of the Rusty Blackbird decline, one of the most precipitous of any bird on the continent.

Mercury makes it way up the food chain and adversely affects the breeding success of birds that have even miniscule amounts in their blood. When you reduce nesting success rates by any amount, especially some of the high rates mentioned in the article, you are adding to an overwhelming set of problems already taxing various species. These standards could help the birds in our backyards tremendously.

They could also mean a great deal for bats who are in deep trouble in Connecticut and neighboring regions under the stress of white-nose syndrome. This deadly fungus is devastating entire populations and going largely unnoticed by the general public. Anything that can help them is a welcome change for conservation.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Leucistic Northern Cardinal

Check out this oddity and see if you can figure out what is going on! A visitor to the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at Glastonbury named Jane sent these photos of a female leucistic pied Northern Cardinal to Director Cynthia Bartholomew, who passed them along to the conservation department.

Jane did not need our help to figure out what was going on with this gal as she determined the cause of the aberrant appearance herself. Leucism is essentially a reduced pigmentation as normal colors still occur over much of the feathers. It is not the same condition as albinism, a mutation that prevents melanin from being produced at all. You'll notice I said this bird was pied, a term for birds with patches of white. Others are called pale as their entire body has a reduction in pigmentation, though in the same manner or to the same degree as an albinistic bird.

Leucism is rare in birds, and albinism is exceptionally rare. If you feed your backyard birds for many years you stand a good chance of seeing a leucistic bird at some point. I once had an American Tree Sparrow that closely resembled the look of Jane's bird, with the head and only a couple small patches on the body being affected by the mutation. That would be another pied individual, the more common type of leucism.

One good thing about such genetic conditions - for bird watchers at least - is that you can easily track this bird. This can help you get an idea of how long one individual remains in your yard each day, what times they come and go, if they are a year-round resident, if they come by feeding young in the summer, and so forth. Such a marked and unique individual can provide a lot of insight into the life of a specific bird you might not otherwise be such attention to.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician