My friend Tom Robben is doing research on the Natural History of Long Island Sound focusing on the declining numbers of birds and other life in the Sound over the years. I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce him to my Father-in-Law who was a Lobsterman for over seventy years. Growing up on the Madison shore, Dad has an incredible knowledge of Long Island Sound fishing, and has unfortunately seen it's decline first hand over the years.
Tom came down to their beach cottage in Madison, and while waiting for Dad, we were able to watch a few birds on the beach in front of the cottage. These two Laughing Gulls were the first ones I have seen this year. >
This immature Herring Gull was quite small just a little larger than a Ring-billed Gull >
The adult and the immature Laughing Gulls land closer to the deck looking for a handout >
Dad telling Tom (right) how fishing in the Sound "used to be"! >
The small immy Herring Gull compared to a normal sized one >
While we were having dinner, a Bald Eagle passed over the cottage heading towards the East River marsh >
Wednesday, August 28, 2013-Sandy Point, West Haven, CT, Baird's Sandpipers- This past weekend, John Oshlick had reported a Baird's Sandpiper on Sandy Point. I contacted John and he directed me to where the bird was seen on the sandbar. My plan was to walk out there on Monday. However the weather looked bad for Monday morning with forcasted rain and fog, so I decided not to go. As it turned out, the weather report was wrong, so I missed out. I had commitments for Tuesday, but Wednesday morning looked good.
But the hot weather would be returning, and I am not a fan of summer....I really hate heat!! I love winter, in fact the colder and windier the better! So I packed my three bottles of water, my phone, cameras, binoculars (I chose to leave my scope behind) and started the long walk out onto the sandbar. I thought it might be best to walk out on the short bar (harder sand-easier walking) and cross over onto the longer bar once I got to the lagoon inlet creek. But I had read the tide wrong, and the inlet was still too deep to cross. So rather than waiting for an hour and a half in the hot sun to be able to cross the inlet (falling tide), I decided to walk back to the parking lot, and then start again walking down the beach to the long sandbar. Yeah, it was HOT!! On the way back to the parking lot, there were only a few birds to keep the walk interesting including this immature Ring-billed Gull >
The only Shorebirds on the short bar were a few Black-bellied Plovers >
And a few Laughing Gulls >
After returning to the parking lot, I started walking down the beach on the long sandbar. There were no Shorebirds along the way except until I reached the flats at the "low stones". I started seeing a few groups of Sanderlings with a few Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plovers and a handful of Black-bellied Plovers mixed in. At the outer edge of the flats near the high sandbar I spotted a single Shorebird that was a bit larger than the Sanderlings, but not as large as the Black-bellied Plovers....it was a single juvenile Red Knot. >
Red Knot, a truly handsome Shorebird. >
On the last section of the outer and high sandbar were a few gathered Herring, Greater Black-backed, Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls and a few Black-bellied Plovers. >
Another immature Ring-billed Gull >
And Laughing Gulls in all transitional plumages >
Black-bellied Plover >
By the time I had walked all the way out to nearly the end of the sandbar, the morning heat was making the walk less enjoyable. But I was nearly as far as I could go on the outer "high" sandbar and I still didn't find the Baird's. I figured that since I only had about 100 feet to go and I had come all this way in the really opressive heat, I would go to the last foot of real estate on that sandbar! Well as I walked over the crest of the sandbar with only a few feet to go, a single dark peep with long primary extensions appeared out in front of me. You guessed it: it was the Baird's standing on the last foot of sandbar! >
After I took a few shots of the Baird's, the "CF card full" light blinked in my camera viewfinder. I changed the card as fast as my hands could fumbling to get the fresh card in that tiny slot on the side of my camera. When I had loaded the new card and safely placed the used card in my wallet, I looked up to take a shot of the peep hoping it was still there. It was, and it had a mate! There were two Baird's feeding in the wrack line just a few yards ahead of me. I just kept taking pictures not knowing if any of them were going to be OK because of all the perspiration that was running in my eyes. Everything I looked at was blurry, so I just prayed that I had the camera settings fixed correctly for the brght sun conditions, and my autofocus was working perfectly since I couldn't see a damn thing! >
The two Baird's Sandpipers kept feeding in the wrackline in front of me....here are some of the cropped images >
What a spectacular peep! >
The two Baird's had gotten use to me and fed all around the area where I was standing often coming within twenty feet of me. >
A Semi-palmated Sandpiper joined the pair. >
A good view showing how small the Baird's Sandpipers are when compared to a Semi-palmated Sandpiper. Their longer and attenuated silhouette is very obvious. >
They eventually walked down to the edge of the water >
Semi-palmated Sandpiper >
Beautiful Baird's Sandpiper >
Good view showing those very long primary extensions >
They occasionally flew a short distance up the edge of the sandbar showing off their wing stripe and markings >
The Knot was still there >
And more Laughing Gulls flew in from the Sound >
Lovely Black-bellied Plover >
Tuesday, Sept. 3- Hammonasset Beach SP, Madison, CT., Odd Laughing Gull- I had to ship some decoys this morning. Since UPS is only a short drive from Hammonasset, I decided to spend the first hour there before the UPS store opened. The first bird of interest I saw was this "unusual" Laughing Gull taking a bath in the puddles at the west end of the Park. There were a few handfuls of Laughing Gulls there and also a few handfuls of Ring-billed Gulls. This particular Laughing Gull was hanging out with the Ring-billed Gulls. It was much larger and more robust that the other Laughing Gulls......being somewhere in size between a Laughing Gull and a Ring-billed Gull. Its plumage was much darker, and it had a huge square shaped head. I watched the bird for fifteen minutes and took quite a few shots. My best guess is a very unusual Laughing Gull for the reasons I listed above. Interesting bird just the same. >
A solitary Least Sandpiper in the puddle in the East Beach parking lot. >
And of course...more Laughing Gulls. >
A Fish Crow joined the Laughing Gulls and found and guarded a humerus bone in the puddle.
Wednesday, Sept. 4, Gloucester, Mass.- Tillies Bank Codfishing and Seabirding-
"Stellwagen Pelagic Ghost Town continues........!" --
I think the best way to describe this short blog report is to refer to it as the Stellwagen Bank Ghost town! It seems that the waters off Massachusetts and New Hampshire this summer have become vacant of seabirds......Storm-Petrels and Shearwaters are basically non-existent!! For whatever reason.....these legendary seabird-rich waters have produced very few sightings this summer.
The Gloucester codfishing reports however have been more compelling; so maybe a day codfishing with my Father-in-Law would take some of the edge of the lack-luster seabirding.....(well maybe I would be a little lucky and find something)!! We drove up to Gloucester and were on the Yankee Clipper in plenty of time to reserve our usual port stern rail positions. We were ready for a great day fishing (hopefully) and maybe a rare seabird find.......(Sabine's Gull)??!!
The clipper left the dock right on time at 7:00 am and we were underway. Plenty of Double-crested Cormorants near the docks. >
Nice way to spend the morning rowing around Gloucester Harbor in a classic Banks Dory from the Dory Shop made on the Harbor! >
Plenty of Eiders in the Harbor >
And a few Gulls begging handouts from this Lobsterman! >
Just outside Eastern Point, the first Gannet of the day heads south. >
One of the few Laughing Gulls I saw today >
Another Laughing Gull sitting in a large flock of resting Gulls >
As we were underway heading for Tillies Bank, this Gannet just "popped-up" under the bow....these overexposed images show just how close it was >
A few more Gannets >
As we approached Tillies Bank we were greeted with seven foot waves. I was standing on the pulpit, and spotted a pair of small birds swimming in the big waves. As we got closer, they took off. I tried to take a few pictures, but hanging on to the railing seemed more important to me. I did manage a few blurry shots.....
......and these highly cropped images revealed the two birds were a pair of Black Terns. Prior to reaching Tillies and this pair of Black Terns, four Red Phalaropes jumped out in front of the bow of the Clipper, I was never able to take any images, I couldn't locate them in my view finder; it was too difficult for me while I was hanging on to the railing)! >
Dad with Captain John waiting for his fish to break the surface. >
It did, and was a small throw-back Cusk! >
You always get a few Greater Black-backed Gulls hanging around the vessel (waiting for handouts)! >
A small distant group of Common Terns head south out to sea.....
.....followed closely by the first Parasitic Jaeger of the day. >
This Gannet was flying by the stern of the vessel when it spotted a small throw-back Pout......
.....it made a plunge.....
.....and grabbed the two and a half pound Cusk.....
......and began swallowing the fish......
It was slow of birds for nearly two hours, when this Parasitic Jaeger flew by the port side of the Clipper >
Then a few more Gannets >
On the trip back to port, we kicked up two pairs of Red-necked Phalaropes >
Back in the Harbor, Eiders >
Two eclipse drakes >
A donation for the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art- I made this pair of Red-breasted Merganser decoys for a special donation for the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art. Proceeds from these birds help fund the Musuem and Wildfowl art!
September 12 and 13, Hammonasset Golden Plover and Upland Sandpiper and September 14 Wilson's Phalarope continues.....
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