Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve feeder watch

I thought I would end the year with a somewhat simplified play by play of several hours of watching the bird feeders in my yard on the final day of 2012. As many birders know this is one of the best times of the year to be watching your own backyard for unique and exciting avian surprises. I started out watching bird feeders and yard birds as a child. It is often the point of origin in a life of birding for people of any age, where we began to craft our identification skills and foster a genuine appreciation of the environment. After Saturday's snowstorm left an average of several inches of white fluffy stuff across Connecticut, from a few by the coast to a foot in other areas, the birds had to adapt quickly to their reduced foraging opportunities. This often takes the form of checking out someone's full feeders making it the right time as well as the right conditions to find some special birds.

I have been anxiously awaiting a visit from a Rusty Blackbird or two as they are one of the special species that always seems to find me at home after snowfalls in the heart of the winter season. They will pick at a few seeds but definitely seem to prefer any cracked corn. I did not see any today but I will remain hopefully for a New Year's Day tick of the tough to find species to start off 2013. However, I did find a bunch of wonderful birds, and I will recap the day while adding a few photos of the birds I saw today as well.

From about 9AM to 3PM I was able to observe 25 species of birds at or around the feeders. This was a decent count, though there were definitely some additional birds that could have been added to the list (which I will put at the conclusion of this summary). Yesterday a Carolina Wren was poking around by the house, possibly trying to pick at insects in the warmer and less snowy spots near the foundation. A couple Herring Gulls went over and dozens and dozens of Canada Geese went by, probably well into the hundreds throughout the day. All of the now frozen waters and snow-covered fields obviously pushed them as well as other ducks and geese to our south very quickly. Keep an eye out for increases in waterfowl in Long Island Sound and other coastal or unfrozen and uncovered areas. I saw none of these species today. I also missed others that could be seen at this time of year like Wild Turkey, Eastern Towhee, Northern Mockingbird, American or Fish Crows, European Starlings, Pine Siskin, and Purple Finch, with the last two species having pushed out of most of the state as quickly as they poured in.

Besides lacking Rusty Blackbirds I missed any of the blackbird species. Some of you may think this is not such a surprise, and most of that group of people would probably live in inland Connecticut. On the coast I am typically able to find Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, and Brown-headed Cowbird year-round. This year they are all but absent from the state, hanging on in a few immediate coastal areas like Short Beach and nearby Stratford Point. There are definitely no warblers to be found in my neck of the woods this season either. One may sometimes find a Common Yellowthroat or a Pine Warbler hanging around, and more likely a Palm Warbler. Other times you'll come up with the expected Yellow-rumped Warbler or two, but the damage to the coast from two years of two powerful tropical systems combined with other storm damage has taken away much of the little foraging habitat that remained for them.

The day started off well at the feeders. Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers were at the suet cages right away, with two of each being seen quickly after 9. Not much time went by before a male Red-bellied Woodpecker joined in, and later a female as well. Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows have been around in lesser than usual numbers in my experience, both typically hitting double digits but rarely surpassing 20. There are some years that I struggle to count them all as 30, 40, or over 50 may be around at times. American Goldfinch numbers crept up throughout the day after starting at around a half dozen. Tufted Titmice and Black-capped Chickadee moved in and out, while a handful of Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinals sat around snacking.

In the 10 o'clock hour I was able to spot a female Northern Flicker coming in for a snack. The species is a less frequent but reliable visitor, taking several trips to the feeders during the day instead of dozens. A male also came by later to complete the expected woodpecker pairs for the day. I also saw two White-breasted Nuthatches finally stop in for a meal. More unexpected was spotting a few American Tree Sparrows, the first that had visited the feeders this season, and very likely due to the snowfall. It took only a few more minutes for me to also notice a Chipping Sparrow!

That is a tough bird to find in December or January, and it was skittish around all of the action. Things were a little difficult here with the addition of both a Cooper's Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk patrolling the neighborhood as well as flyovers of a Red-tailed Hawk and two Turkey Vultures during the day. When you pile in so many little birds into such a small area it attracts the attention of every bird that passes by to the point where they flit back and forth from cover to the feeders with atypical visitors like the Chipping Sparrow hiding more than eating. Thankfully I was able to spot another new for the season at the feeders bird, a Common Redpoll!

After another one of those dashes I described above I noticed a Fox Sparrow had returned with the mass of birds! That would be the fourth new to the feeders for the season bird of the morning, and one that is expected every couple of seasons here in the winter. Last year I do not believe I had one. I typically see migrants in the yard or occasionally taking a snack whether it is in November or March, but occasionally a bird will come in during December or January during inclement weather. I guess the word was officially out on this party, but some invitees were still not here.

By midday I was outside to refill the feeders and replenish what I had scattered on the ground. I was able to hear the Red-breasted Nuthatch that has been here for months while doing so. I have had the species in the yard since July (!), though one cannot be sure if this individual was present since then. At the very least it has been the same one since the migration peak ended a couple of months ago. This bird seems to enjoy taking a snack or two when it is quiet, but always keeps its distance during the busy commotion of a day like this one. After I went back inside and the birds went back to their meals I saw I now had two Common Redpolls here. Monk Parakeets would make the early afternoon worrisome, taking over all of the feeders and the suet, scaring off any other bird from feeding. They may be attractive but they are not a welcome guest with their voracious appetites and poor manners.

I counted up to seven Blue Jays today after an odd no-show from the species yesterday. Regardless of that anomaly from one of the most common birds in the state, they do seem to be reduced in number this season in my observations. Thankfully I only have a few House Sparrow here, and they seem to be dropping in number each year for me, too. However, there are sizable concentrations on the immediate coastline as we saw during Christmas Bird Counts. From here on out everything was essentially status quo with what came before it, and thankfully the Monk Parakeets left for the day. The raptors backed off their constant attacks, though we have to keep in mind they need food as well. While their prey may be the little friends we're trying to attract to our yard, survival of the fittest ensures that these attempts on their lives are going to make them only healthier and stronger as species in the long run.

My full list of the birds on the day:
Turkey Vulture 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Mourning Dove 16
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 2
Monk Parakeet 14
Blue Jay 7
Black-capped Chickadee 4
Tufted Titmouse 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
American Robin 12
American Tree Sparrow 4
Chipping Sparrow 1
Fox Sparrow (Red) 1
Song Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 13
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 19
Northern Cardinal 7
House Finch 9
Common Redpoll 2
American Goldfinch 22
House Sparrow 3

I will be doing some feeder watching on New Year's Day to add to my 2013 list, but I will also be hitting the field and completing survey work elsewhere at places like Stratford Point. Good luck to you if you are participating in a Big January count. Happy New Year!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Razorbills continued

In the previous post I wrote about the Razorbill incursion into Long Island Sound again this year on the heels of sizable and significant increases by the species throughout our part of the Atlantic waters. As they have moved in to feed and rest in the Sound they have moved south all the way to the Gulf Coast as well. For the most part sightings of Razorbills are well offshore beyond our cameras, but occasionally one can come in close enough for a shot. The best views you are going to have of alcids is likely in a boat, but from Stratford Point you can get some nice looks with a scope. Here are some digiscoped photos I took using my iPhone of birds visiting us in December.

Here's a photo I took with my regular camera zoomed all the way in of a few birds offshore. Can you spot them?

The more obvious and closest individual is in the lower left, but if you take a look at the upper right you will see two more together. All of these birds were diving for food, presumably fish, as the prey was swallowed immediately.

Razorbills are notorious for being incredibly adept swimmers while underwater. If you think of a Common Loon diving for food and surfacing a short time after you will in all likelihood think of watching the spot where it went down and then finding the bird nearly at the same location when it comes back up. Razorbills are tricky because of that talent of theirs as they will go down then surface, after what seems like an eternity, at a spot tens of feet away. Sometimes they end up a couple hundred feet from where they were originally. When they're actively diving for fish it is almost impossible to even raise your binoculars to get a decent look at them, let alone take a photo. I have had individuals doing precisely this while swimming in the low tide zone of Stratford Point, preventing me from taking what would have been some sensational shots. They remind me of the Whac-A-Mole game at amusement parks...

Anyway...I'll keep trying for better photos, but please feel free to send me any awesome ones you take and I will put them up.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Razorbills in Long Island Sound

It seems that the 2012-2013 fall and winter season will be duplicating much of the incredible 2011-2012 alcid season. This consists primarily of reports of Razorbills moving in Long Island Sound on a regular basis that are being seen and enjoyed by birders in Connecticut and New York. These birds are doing more than flying by at a considerable scope distance with sometimes several individuals near the shore swimming, diving, preening, and resting. A few years ago I would have been utterly thrilled with seeing just one bird a half a mile away as a little blur moving through my scope for several seconds. Now our standards have changed nearly overnight and seeing one flying out in Long Island Sound in such a manner is just like checking off any other common type of waterfowl. It's still very exciting to see them up close though!

Using eBird data and mapping capabilities we can easily examine graphically how the population of Razorbills has suddenly jumped into Long Island Sound. There have not been extremely high numbers reported, and most sightings are of one, two or occasionally several birds at most in a given spot in one day, so while we cannot see quantity on these maps, the focus is more on occurrence and the change in number of sightings overall. If you're interested in how they are moving up and down the Atlantic coastline, invading Florida (!) in unbelievable numbers that boggle the mind, check out this piece by the eBird team. It contains some fascinating thoughts on sea surface temperatures that may influence prey abundance and where the birds are foraging, and this may tie in to some of our sightings as well.

Here is an image of the Razorbill sightings so far this fall and winter from October (basically none) to December (where most come in) depicting the strong start to the season that should go well into 2013. The orange arrows indicate sightings within the last 30 days, and I took the screenshot of the selected data today on December 26. Larger arrows are birding "hotspots" while smaller ones are personal locations.

This is a look at the data from the 2011-2012 season showing how well we did last year. With a few months to go and more pelagic trips to be taken this year's map should fill in and correlate well to this one.

The 2010-2011 map shows a very noticeable lack of sightings along the Connecticut coast compared to the previous two years. However, there are definitely birds in the area and plenty moving around just outside of Long Island Sound, albeit reduced in number.

This does not last for long as the 2009-2010 map shows an astonishing lack of birds in the waters of Long Island Sound with fewer sightings in neighboring states and in the nearby Atlantic waters as well.

What a change! The only Connecticut sightings are focused around New London at the entrance to Long Island Sound, and Montauk Point is as far as the birds make their way into the New York side of the Sound as well. Occurrence decreases all over the map. Jumping back one more year to 2008-2009 shows us what is almost like a do not enter line from Long Island to Block Island to eastern Rhode Island, and even fewer sightings overall again.

Take a look at this final map - there are a few more sightings on it as you would expect considering it is of all the Razorbills logged into eBird with dates from 1900 to 2007!

One of the problems with an examination like this one is the decrease in observers compared to now as we move backwards in time. Obviously no one was punching in their data in the early 20th century, but there are many records that have been put into the database from past decades across the country. Connecticut Audubon Society has added thousands of historical records from our state to enhance eBird data and save these valuable sightings in a secure and permanent database. While there were fewer people eBirding in 2007 or 2009 than today, there were plenty of users who would have been logging Razorbills or entering records of them several years ago, myself included. There are many other folks that I know who regularly eBird their older sightings, having meticulously recorded every birding outing, and eagerly enter species like this one as soon as they can. Yet there are only a handful of records in over 100 years in the above image, and the 2008-2009 season had precisely zero birds.

As said initially, these maps generally portray an enormous shift in the population of wintering Razorbills in and around Connecticut's waters in an obviously very short amount of time at what appears to be an utterly unprecedented level. It is believed that shifts in their prey abundance has led them to venture into these new waters, and as more birds find more plentiful food they return to the same area throughout the season and into the next, occasionally with others in tow. The eBird team's explanation of warm waters in their typical winter range probably impacts us as well as some of those birds seeking better feeding areas enter Long Island Sound, too. Razorbills seem to be feeding almost exclusively on small fish, and perhaps prey levels are on the increase in the Sound due to human improvements in water quality and fishing. Northern Gannets are frequently cited as another once extremely rare bird that is now regularly found in Long Island Sound numbering sometimes into the dozens in several months of the year. Perhaps more Razorbills are being seen or forced into other waters because there are so many more of them as populations recover or spike due to higher levels of prey, almost like the Snowy Owl flight last season believed to be due to a "bumper crop" of small mammals. That would certainly be the most optimistic and welcome reason!

Climate change has been modifying the Sound already with more southern species found there in the summer and unexpected population shifts in all seasons. Combined with anomalies in their wintering areas Razorbills may see our area as what theirs used to be. I have noted that this season most of my sightings on calm and pleasant days, outside of strong storms that move birds around on a higher scale, have been of Razorbills feeding near shore in frequently utilized areas. They seem to favor the same spots that possibly have a strong food supply. Additionally, these birds are not flying in to the area in the early morning and leaving in the later day as they had much of the time in previous years. They appear to be spending their time and wintering lives here with us at this point, at least in my experience. Considering all that has happened for the species along the Atlantic Coast and Florida's superb sightings this may become the new norm...or it may change rapidly once again. Either way, as the eBird piece notes, it seems doubtful that any of this is good for the species, and the added stress may take a high toll. Many of these unknowns may be answered in time, and eBirding your Razorbills along with all of your sightings will help paint the picture for us.

Watch the shore in the next few days during and after the strong nor'easter that is about to impact the region with snow, sleet, rain, and winds gusting to over 60 MPH. These systems literally push alcids and other rarities directly into Long Island Sound. With a few Dovekie sightings here and there in the area a storm like this one is probably the best chance to find one in Connecticut waters. Other oddities can be had as well from more Common Eiders to Black-legged Kittiwakes or even other extremely rare alcids.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Stratford-Milford CBC 2012

I took part in the Stratford-Milford Christmas Bird Count on December 22 joining expert birder and naturalist Frank Mantlik for his section of the circle which is appropriately Stratford Point. The actual area encompasses the airport in Stratford, all of Lordship including the seawall, Russian Beach and Cove Place, plus all of Stratford Point and Short Beach Park. From there it continues up the Housatonic River to the Washington Bridge leading into Milford, with notable points in between including the boat ramp, the Stratford greenway, Frash Pond, and more. As is usual for CBC circles, the area is far too large to cover as thoroughly as one would like if you have only a small team and aren't split up for the entire day. With some scouting and a strong knowledge of the area we are able to cover a lot of it and hit most of the expected species. Thankfully we also scored a few of the unexpected and rare ones this year, too.

The day was a little tough in the weather department, but as is always the case, the conditions giveth and the conditions taketh away, meaning some birds will be found only because of the odd weather and some will be not found because of it. On Friday, December 21, Connecticut was soaked with heavy rain for most of the morning in unseasonably warm air and a powerful easterly flow. This produced a lot of superb waterfowl and alcids on Atlantic coasts, but the rain would have been a real pain to work with in terms of acquiring expected species. While the low pressure system cleared out the pressure gradient between it and the ensuing high pressure tightened making for powerful winds on Saturday.

Under a wind advisory we were able to feel gusts well into the 40 MPH range at times on the immediate coastline. Snow squalls and showers intermittently darkened the sky and decreased visibility while whipping the winds into a further fury. Frank and Tina Green got out very early (too early for this night owl, no pun intended despite its accuracy) to try for owls and did not come across any. Howling winds make it tough to find owls outside of those seen roosting, and Stratford, while known for an incredibly rich array of avian goods, is often very weak for the nocturnal raptors as it lacks appropriate habitat and roosting areas. I decided to go for owls the night of the count, though that did not work very well with the winds continuing in the darkness. My local Great Horned stayed quiet too despite the fact it can even be frequently heard inside a house with the windows closed.

The day started off with a nice flock of Horned Larks, one of those hit or miss species, across from the airport. A Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron had already flown by. Frank decided we should make a run to check for any roosting shorebirds near the marina, and on the way we stopped at the Stratford greenway and checked that and the wet marshy area behind the animal shelter. There were no rails present, but we did scoop an American Kestrel as a nice highlight and a small number of passerines. The little birds would be conspicuously absent for much of the day in terms of both quantity and diversity. This has not gone unnoticed for over a month now, and the CBC provided ample evidence that between a poor natural food crop and the damage wrought by Sandy, there is simply unacceptable habitat along much of the waterways in Stratford (elsewhere too) for many birds to winter in. There are certainly pockets of activity, but the overall numbers are down for many basic birds, and other more uncommon species that depend on natural vegetation like the Yellow-rumped Warbler are not present.

When we arrived at the marina we did come up with a Greater Yellowlegs, but no other shorebirds. I spotted a Northern Harrier working the Wheeler Marsh, the first of several for the day. As the sun climbed slowly into the sky we decided it would be best to head for Stratford Point to try and spot any alcids or other rarities still left in Long Island Sound after the previous day's storm. Razorbills have been regulars even without storms as they are feeding very successfully in the Sound again this winter. As we arrived and walked to the shoreline the Common Eider from this post was just off the bluff with a few Red-breasted Merganser, a great pickup for the day. With our scopes bouncing around and feeling the chill at our backs Frank found a pair of Razorbills heading west, and I found a single Razorbill heading east a short time later - check for another great species! Tina spotted a Northern Gannet, the first of several we saw in the day, the third tough coastal bird we had been hoping for. Excellent!

From there it was on to Cove Place and Russian Beach on the opposite side of Lordship to watch for anything else offshore and check out the upland area along the beach. It has been changed by Sandy, too, and a paucity of birds was obvious. When pulling up I thought I saw the shape of an American Pipit, and sure enough one was in the grass feeding by itself.

All alone and a little shy

Otherwise there was nothing except the most common backyard birds, and at the seawall the story stayed the same with typical gulls and a handful of the usual waterfowl. We moved on to what we knew would be a good spot for ducks, Frash Pond, picking up this great male Northern Pintail along the way in a flooded area of the airport.

Beautifully distinctive even from so far away

You can almost always count on Canvasback at Frash Pond in the winter season and they were there, though only seven. The presence of at least 192 (!) Red-breasted Mergansers was one of the most shocking sights of the day. While the species is common at this time of year and frequently found in any decent coastal lookout, I cannot recall seeing more than a few in the pond, and nothing near that total. While we were counting ducks some cormorants flew in that included one Double-crested, a good addition to the Greats you can expect to tick. We also had a Belted Kingfisher rattle over as we were wrapping up.

The next stop would be one of the longer and more impressive ones as we entered Short Beach Park. Like it's neighbor Stratford Point, Short Beach benefits greatly from its geography at the mouth of a major river where it meets Long Island Sound. It also has some artificial help with an old dump located behind it that was responsible for holding many of the species we added to the day's list. First we found some Brown-headed Cowbirds mixed in with a European Starling flock. Next we came upon a group of easily 20 Savannah Sparrow feeding in the grasses next to the tennis courts.

Spectacular camouflage

From there we went to the shore and added to our totals of waterfowl, finding some other goodies including Snow Buntings and Horned Grebes. Along the backside of the dump we used our eyes, ears, and pishing skills to call out all the birds we could. This was very successful in producing a few more new additions for the day including a Swamp Sparrow, a small group of Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Fox Sparrow. That Fox ended up singing a little on its own as they are prone to often even on cold days in the winter months.

We made the rest of the day into a divide and conquer strategy, covering other areas a little less frequently birded that could hold some very nice ones. I ended up adding yet more Great Egrets, Carolina Wrens that we had not had yet, and some more woodpeckers after a poor showing for all species along the immediate coastline.

Zoomed in from quite a distance but you can see this Great Egret resting in a quiet corner of Shakespeare Theater's pond (Selby's Pond)

I also found a Winter Wren, a seemingly abundant bird (in relative terms) for CBCs this season, a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets, and finally some White-breasted Nuthatch. One of the last species I added during the day were Monk Parakeets as they have seemingly dropped in number in some of their usually busy areas. Thanks to Frank and Tina for an enjoyable day and to everyone who participated in a Christmas Bird Count this season for helping enhance conservation. If you have yet to join a circle check out the list of count dates here as there are a few still to come.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

Friday, December 21, 2012

Annual Common Eider

The Common Eider is a rare duck for western Long Island Sound and one I would label more as uncommon in the east. However, they are increasingly and quickly becoming an annual occurrence for us, and Stratford Point has hosted a bird or two on a day or two each December in the last few years. Back in 2010 we had thousands upon thousands of sea ducks just off the coast of Stratford for a prolonged period in the fall and winter, leaving us with both Common and King Eider. Look back at this post to see a superb looking male in both photo and video form. Things were much quieter last year but I was able to snag this female Common Eider as she was literally blown in during a windy rainstorm while I watched for Razorbills and other alcids. This year I changed up both the age and gender in finding this first-winter male who is just starting to show some of the white peeking through all of that brown.

It kept itself among a few Red-breasted Mergansers while I observed it. I knew I had seen last year's Common Eider around the same date, and sure enough, both the 2011 and 2012 sightings were on December 15 - talk about predictable! It fed on both fish and crabs, alternating between diving for food, preening, swimming, and resting a little with its new friends. It was extremely comfortable on the quiet weekend day, and that is precisely how we want birds like this to feel for their health and well-being. Apparently it liked this part of Long Island Sound enough to stick around as yesterday Frank Mantlik saw what is very likely the same bird in just about the same spot.

Following today's storm, where we have been pummeled by southeasterly winds, we will be getting very strong winds from the southwest and ultimately northwest for a prolonged period. Tomorrow could be a big day for rarities with everything like more waterfowl being blown in from the east today and lingering through the weekend to Cave Swallows being pushed up the center of the country and then back south until they hit our coastline. We may see some other southern or western rarities with the strength of this system. Keep your eyes, and your mind, wide open. I am crossing my fingers for passable conditions and a cool bird or two for the Stratford-Milford Christmas Bird Count...

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

Thursday, December 20, 2012

White Ibis

In the months of November and December we in Connecticut typically seen our long-legged wader populations dwindle to nothing more than a handful of birds from a few expected species. Great Blue Herons certainly stick around through the cold, ice, and snow. They are still found frequently across the state, mostly along the coast in warmer pockets or in unfrozen waters, wherever they can feed themselves. Similarly but to a lesser degree the Black-crowned Night-Heron stays huddled in quiet and remote wet areas concentrated on the Connecticut coastline. As we have had increasingly warm winters with snow-free and even unfrozen conditions persisting through much of the season we have hosted Great Egrets and even Snowy Egrets when they would otherwise be far to our south. These state-listed breeding species are now finding it possible to function by feeding in and hanging around our tidal marshes, and this is yet another year where it is possible for them as we near the end of December having the only remarkable period of snow and cold temperatures in early November.

However, one long-legged wader that is a very rare find in our state even in the middle of the summer is the White Ibis, and on December 13 expert birder and naturalist Frank Mantlik found a juvenile of the species in and around the Stratford Great Meadows marsh. It was first seen in flight on the "railroad trail", then resting on a fallen tree over the pond on Long Beach Boulevard, then at a small pond on the north side of the warehouses, then on a pond on Access Road, and so forth. It moved nearly nonstop and was quite skittish. I was able to catch up with it on the Access Road stop, taking some record shots from a distance. The best one ended up being this digiscope snap with my iPhone.

Note the very long pink bill that curves downward, brown wings and otherwise white body as it will be turning nearly completely white except for black wing tips soon enough. Those big pinkish gray legs helped hold it firmly on the branches along as it preened with at least 20 Black-crowned Night-Heron while I snapped some more photos from a few hundred feet away with tough sun angles.

The most common time the species has been seen in the state according to the handful of eBird records present seems to be late August, with July through September birds and one November record being everything listed until now. The most exciting part is that this bird is still present in the area and has now been officially recorded for the "Count Week" of the Stratford-Milford Christmas Bird Count. With that said, this would amazingly not be the first of the species for the state on a Christmas Bird Count! That title goes to a bird recorded on the 1979 New London CBC at Rocky Neck State Park as according to the memories and information from Frank Mantlik, Phil Rusch, and CAS Director of Conservation Services Anthony Zemba. That White Ibis was actually found in October and stayed all the way through January.

Nevertheless, the southern species is a tremendous rarity that everyone should take a look around the Stratford marshes for whenever there is a chance over this holiday season. I hope it will remain here for two more days so we can have it on count day as well. Good luck to everyone participating in a count this weekend!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 Christmas Bird Counts: Westport

Good morning everyone! Before I get to talking about the 2012 Christmas Bird Count season and my participation in Sunday's Westport count, I wanted to say we have changed our approach a little here at Connecticut Audubon Society. I am going to be blogging in this space with a specific focus on our natural world, from birds to bugs to plants and mammals, weather and climate change, birding and citizen science events like this, identification quizzes and tips, and more. If you are looking for more information on conservation issues, advocacy, and specific updates concerning Connecticut Audubon Society projects, you should also be reading the CAS Conservation blog here. We feel this better divides all of the wonderful information we have to impart to you and makes it easier for our readers to find exactly what they are looking for.

On that note, I joined my friend and expert birder Charlie Barnard this past Sunday for his section of the Westport CBC, the Fairfield shoreline. Several more friends came along for parts of the count as well, though between the cloudy, rainy, windy, foggy, wavy conditions and some of us fighting off viruses, we knew it would be one of the tougher days to get the count up. We hoped to near 50 species in the area, with around double that being the number the entire circle should arrive at in a decent year. Charlie had given us a bump for the count week at least as he had found a Razorbill the day before (more on them in an upcoming post!).

I think we did about as well as we could. As many of you know the little birds - passerines that visit your feeders and the like - dislike very windy or wet conditions, and we had both going for most of the time.

These Sanderling didn't mind the weather

We came up with 48 species plus two for the count week. The alcid was not to be on Sunday as visibility on the coastline was limited to a half mile or a quarter mile at times with large rolling waves obscuring anything that was not in flight and caught up by the wind. That Razorbill and a Sharp-shinned Hawk were the count week birds plus these that we found on Sunday:

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
American Black Duck
White-winged Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Ruddy Turnstone
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Barred Owls were found in two locations, an unsurprising but cool discovery given their movements this fall (once again more in an upcoming post!). Fox Sparrows are always terrific finds and a favorite of mine, and the Brown Thrasher is a good bird to tick off as well. The Brown Creeper was a pleasant surprise considering their scarcity and our coastal habitats, and Winter Wrens came up in a few spots in a relatively warm and snow-free December. Last year we actually had multiple warblers, but that was not to be this time around. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable day and I am looking forward to next weekend's Stratford-Milford count. Join any Christmas Bird Count you can to help further bird conservation, sharpen your skills, and make some new friends.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photo by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Community Investment Act, An Important Source of Open Space Acquisition Funds, Is Threatened in Hartford

One of the only vehicles for funding land conservation in Connecticut right now is the Community Investment Act.

Since it began in 2006, the Act has funded 88 projects, permanently protecting 2,707 acres of open space and 15 community gardens. In addition, the money spent and its multiplier effect have been a tremendous economic benefit to the state.

Unfortunately Governor Malloy now wants to use the money in the Community Investment Act to help reduce the state's deficit. He will be asking the General Assembly next week for the authority to do so.

Connecticut Audubon Society and the rest of the conservation community in the state thinks this is a bad idea.

Please call or write the Governor and key legislators to let them know you don't want them to raid the community investment act.

Visit our Conservation Blog, here, for more information, including phone numbers and email addresses of elected officials.

-- Tom Andersen, Director of Communications and Community Outreach