New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Friday, September 23, 2011

Shorebirding Post-post Irene

No “tropical rarities” – just enjoying the usual seasonal visitors..with a few surprises   

   Irene left its mark on CT., with widespread damage and extensive power outages. But on the positive side the hurricane carried with it many feathered tropical treasures considered very rare and some never recorded in our state.  These birds included Sooty and Bridled Terns, Leach’s and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, and even a first record White-tailed Tropicbird.  Some tenacious birders were able to reach the coastline and observe many of these unusually rare tropical species through the heavy weather. Many compelling reports were written about their experiences with these misplaced species; some carried hundreds of miles from their last roost.

   Unfortunately, many of us were stranded during the storm due to downed trees and a network of downed power lines.  Jen and I lost our power late Saturday night just as the storms fury reached our area. Between the fallen trees along our street in both directions, and having to start the generator every few hours to keep the sump-pump  going…….any hopes of “storm birding”  was vanquished.  In fact it was four days (ten days until the power was restored) before our street was made passable because of good neighbors with chain saws clearing many of the fallen trees. It wasn’t until then that I was able to get out for an hour or two (between pumping intervals) for a bit of coastal shorebirding. Since many of my favorite coastal birding areas are within twenty minutes from my house, I could sneak in a little birding each morning.  Unfortunately, all of the rarities had long since departed, my post-post storm birding did yield many seasonal visitors with a few less common species. With the combination of good numbers of birds, interesting species and gorgeous weather, the coastal birding was very enjoyable.

   Instead of a lengthily detailed report, I decided to feature images from my birding from both last week and this past week highlighting the species. The locations I birded were in Clinton, Westbrook, Guilford, Madison, West Haven, Woodmont and Milford.   The areas included:   Grove Beach, Clinton Point, Clinton Harbor, Hammonasset State Park, Fence Creek, East and West Wharf, Middle Beach, Weaver Beach, Circle Beach, East River and Marsh, Neck Beach, Grass Island, Guilford Harbor, West Woods Creek, Great Harbor, Great Harbor Marsh, Shell Beach, West Haven Beaches, Oyster River Beach, Milford Point, Knells Island and Stratford marshes.

   The species noted:  Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored heron, Green Heron, Black –crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Herring/, Greater black-Backed/ Ring-billed/ Laughing and Bonapartes Gulls, Common/Forster’s/Caspian Terns, Brown Pelican, Black Skimmers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Golden/Black-bellied/Semi-palmated Plovers, Kildeer, Least/Semi-palmated/Pectoral/Buff-breasted/ White-rumped Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Long-billed Dowitcher (1), Red Knots, Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Whimbrel,  American Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, Dunlins, Ruddy Turnstones, Snipe, Double-crested Cormorant, Black Ducks, Green-winged/Blue-winged Teal, Common/King Eiders, Common Loons, Pied-billed Grebe, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Sharp-shinned and Coopers Hawks. Kestrel, Osprey, Harrier and Redtail Hawk.

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Caspian Tern (first of two) - Milford Point- (second one at Oyster River)
The Milford Tern appeared from the river and flew over the “low stones” heading due south for Long Island.  On my way back home I made my usual stop at Oyster River beach. The second Tern was sitting on the outer sandbars with a small gathering of gulls on an incoming tide.

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Forster’s Tern - Meigs Point Jetty, Hammonasset.  There were approx. fifty Common Terns feeding on baitfish driven to the top by bluefish in the “rip” at the end of the jetty at Meigs.  There was one Forster’s Tern mixed in with the Commons.

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Two Harbor Seals (D C Cormorants in foreground) - east end Moraine Trail, Hammonasset.

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Harbor Seal (digiscoped) east end Moraine Trail, Hammonasset

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Drake King Eider (digiscoped) east end Moraine Trail. This bird has been a summer resident and is often seen in the rocks at the extreme end of the Trail. I first noticed the bird preening on one of the “outermost” rocks. It preened for a while and then swam and fed inside the same exposed rocks only coming out into the open a few times.  I managed a few long range digiscoped shots.

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Drake King Eider with Herring Gulls (digiscoped)

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Black-crowned Night-Heron with Laughing Gulls, Snowy Egrets, Greater Yellowlegs and Double-crested Cormorants- Great Harbor Marsh (Lost Lake outpouring) (digiscoped). I was watching the interaction of the feeding Egrets, Yellowlegs and Cormorants at the mouth of this small feeder creek on an incoming tide.  A school of small baitfish was trapped in the basin and the birds were frantically feeding, the Heron suddenly appeared.

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Lesser Yellowlegs (digiscoped) - Shell Beach

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Bonapartes Gull- Milford Point. I was watching  feeding Terns in the small ponds in front of the Beach platform, and this single juvenile Bonapartes Gull appeared and flew around the pond a few times (often very close) and then flew over my head to the marsh.

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Least Sandpiper- Hammonasset. This bird was accompanying a single Pectoral Sandpiper in the puddle at the west end of the Park.

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Sanderling- Circle Beach, Madison

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Semi-palmated Sandpiper- Circle Beach, Madison

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Great Blue Heron- Great Harbor dike, Guilford

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Snowy Egret- Great Harbor (Lost Lake outpouring)

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Greater Yellowlegs- Great Harbor flats

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Buff-breasted and Pectoral Sandpipers-Hammonasset. These two pairs of birds (also accompanied by a pair of Least Sandpipers) would land in the large puddle at the west end of the Park, only to be flushed by a hunting Merlin. The birds would evade the Merlin and then settle back into the puddle only to be chased by the Merlin again five minutes later. This would be repeated for the hour while I was there.

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The Merlin….

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Resting Buff-breasted Sandpiper- Hammonasset. These two birds were quite cooperative…they would approach very closely, often too close for my lens.

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Feeding Buff-breasted Sandpiper- Hammonasset

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Scratching Buff-breasted Sandpiper

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Walking Buff-breasted Sandpiper

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Preening Buff-breasted Sandpiper

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Striding Whimbrel- Hammonasset. This Whimbrel was present at the same time as the pair of Buff-breasted, Pectoral and Least Sandpipers. While the Sandpipers occupied the large puddle, the Whimbrel hunted for grasshoppers along the edge of the western field (near the bat-box).

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Whimbrel with grasshopper

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Whimbrel swallowing a large grasshopper

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The Whimbrel was often flushed by joggers and dog walkers….but it would only fly a short distance (twenty-five feet at the most). 

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Laughing Gull (with nearly developed hood) - Guilford Harbor (about thirty Laughing Gulls present).

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Yawning Laughing Gull- Great Harbor flats (over sixty Laughing Gulls present)

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Adult and juvenile Laughing Gulls- Great Harbor flats

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Little Blue Heron- Fence Creek, Madison

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Tricolored Heron- Moraine Trail marsh, Hammonasset

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Golden Plover- Meigs Point jetty, Hammonasset. There were a pair of Plovers at the end of the jetty sitting with a small group of Terns and a few Least Sandpipers.

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Pair Short-billed Dowitchers- Shell Beach. There was a group of one hundred Shorebirds feeding on the low tide mudflats which included Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, Semi-palmated Plovers and Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and this pair of Dowitchers. Also present were thirty-five Laughing Gulls and three Green-winged Teal.

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Same pair Short-billed Dowitchers moving to outer mudflat.

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Lesser Yellowlegs- Great Harbor flats. There were approx. fifty Yellowlegs present (mostly Greater) in a flock of over two hundred and fifty Shorebirds including five Oystercatchers.  There were also a large group of sixty Laughing Gulls and forty plus Egrets (mostly Snowy).

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Willet (with yellow/green legs) - Great Harbor flats. This bird was very small in size just slightly larger than a Lesser Yellowlegs and noticeably smaller than a Greater Yellowlegs. When I spotted the bird it was associating with a flock of both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. I first noticed its bright yellow/green legs.

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Flying Forster’s Tern- seen from the observation platform (marsh side) Milford Audubon Coastal Center. This was the first of five Forster’s Terns I saw that day.

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Approaching flock of Black Skimmers, Common Terns and assorted Shorebirds  Milford flats.

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Landing juvenile Black Skimmer

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Beautiful flying portrait of a juvenile Black Skimmer

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Landing juvenile and adult Black Skimmers (one of two adults present)

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Pair settled in

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Second adult Black Skimmer

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Portrait of a spectacular juvenile Black Skimmer

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Another Forster’s Tern (with a Common Tern and a pair of sleeping Black Skimmers)

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Red Knot and a Black-bellied Plover- Milford Point

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Juvenile Common Tern portrait- Milford Point

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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron- behind the Coastal Center, Milford

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American Avocet- The bird was present in the marsh side in front of the observation platform at the Coastal Center in Milford. The tide was coming in quickly (after the three day rains-post hurricane) and a strong westerly wind. The bird kept moving deeper into the marsh ahead of the tide. I managed a few “not-so-good” long distance digiscoped images. At one time the bird flew deeper into the eastern side of the marsh and out of sight. As I was leaving the Coastal Center, I stopped (as I always do) at the boat launch in the Wheeler Refuge hoping to (maybe) get a possible look and see if the Avocet was near the area. When I walked down the ramp the bird was feeding out in front of the ramp with a group of Greater Yellowlegs. I was able to get a few pictures before it walked into the bright sun shimmer on the water making pictures and views impossible. As far as the Black-necked Stilt, I was only able to get long distance (blurry) scope views on 60x….digiscoped images proved feudal.

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American Oystercatchers- Oyster River, Woodmont/West Haven. There were seventeen Oystercatchers present on the outer sandbars and rocky ledges.

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Osprey with herring prey- Oyster River

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Green Heron- Sandy Point, West Haven

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“Up from a dive” D C Cormorant- West Haven boat ramp

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Another dive

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Semi-palmated Sandpiper- Hammonasset, in the puddle at the west end of the Park

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Pectoral Sandpiper- Hammonasset, puddle west end of the Park (one of two birds with the two Buff-breasted Sandpipers)

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Northern Harrier- Hammonasset

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Semi-palmated Plover- Middle Beach, Madison

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Black-bellied Plover- Middle Beach, Madison

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Ruddy Turnstones- Grassy Island, Madison/Guilford (at the mouth of the East River). This is part of a small flock of Turnstones that was present with a few Semi-palmated Plovers and Sandpipers, and a few Least Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plovers.

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Golden Plover- Shell Beach, Branford. This single bird was mixed in with a small flock of Black-bellied and Semi-palmated Plovers.

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 Interesting Semi-palmated Sandpiper- Weaver Beach, Madison. This bird had underdeveloped primaries/secondaries/tertials. P9/10 were fully developed and normal, but the remaining primary/secondary/tertiary remiges had only the visible rachis’ and only a very narrow web to each feather. It was mixed with a small flock of Sanderlings, Semi-palmated Plovers and only one other Semi-palmated Sandpiper.

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 Brown Pelican- New Haven Harbor. After two unsuccessful tries and after the bird was reported again on CT Birds, but this time in the inner harbor at 4:00 pm, I decided to give it another try.  I dropped my paint brushes and off I went. Heading into New Haven during the 5:00 pm rush was nothing to look forward to, but this bird was worth it! The bird was last reported roosting on a barge near the bridge. When I arrived at Long Wharf at the Amistad pier, I was at the end of the pier in seconds. I looked all around the inner harbor on both sides but couldn’t locate the bird. I feared that I had missed it again. I looked across the harbor in my binoculars assuming that it might be fishing.  Immediately I saw the bird flying along the water on the opposite shore. It apparently had just left its roost and was heading out of the harbor. It suddenly rose up in its flight and made a plunge dive.

    The Pelican began fishing in the area across the harbor just offshore from East Shore Park between the UI docks and the Coast Guard jetty. I watched the bird fish for twenty minutes and was able to take quite a few long distance shots. I decided to go over to East Shore Park for hopefully closer looks (and closer photos). At the beginning of the pier I ran into Julian Hough and we both watched the bird for a few more minutes. This was my first Brown Pelican in CT.
(Note) In speaking with a mate from the R/V Quinnipiak, I was told that the Pelican had been spending time in the inner harbor since Irene. It would often roost on the barge where it was reported and fish the harbor.  UI has a daily warm water  release which keeps the fish in the area….the same area where the Pelican was always fishing; between the UI outpouring and the Coast Guard docks.

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Great Blue Heron-  Amistad Pier,  Long Wharf, New Haven. Walking back from the end of the pier, I noticed this Heron fishing under the pier at the R/V Quinnipiak dock. The Heron snatched a snapper blue with lightning speed.

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Spotted Sandpiper- East Shore Park, New Haven. After moving over to East Shore Park for (hopefully) better views of the diving Pelican which then landed on Sandy Point, a pair of Spotted Sandpipers flew across my view, backlit from the last bit of light of the day.

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Pied-billed Grebe- West Haven boat ramp. It was just after dawn and a single juvenile Pied –billed Grebe was struggling with a pipe fish. It took a few minutes before the Grebe swallowed the fish.

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Red Knots, Black-bellied Plovers and a Semi-palmated Sandpiper- Milford Point

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Red Knot- Milford flats.  Time for a little stretch. (digiscoped)

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Red Knot- Milford flats. (digiscoped)

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Dunlin- Milford flats (digiscoped)

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Shorebird flock and Harrier- Milford flats. A Harrier flew across the flats sending all the shorebirds into a panicked flight only to settle back in after the Harrier flew by. This happened twice with a Harrier and three times with a Peregrine while I was there.  There were 450+ Shorebirds present this morning. The species I noted were: Black-bellied Plover, Golden Plover (1), Sanderling, Red Knot, Semi-palmated Sandpiper and Plover, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper (1), Oystercatcher (5), Pectoral Sandpiper (11), Dunlin (5), Ruddy Turnstone (9) and (1) Whimbrel. Also  Black Skimmer (1 juv.), Forster’s Tern (3) and many Laughing Gulls.

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(Closer look) at the Harrier

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The single Whimbrel was scared off by the Harrier. It flew along the beach, and then over the houses into Knell’s Island.

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Pectoral Sandpiper- Milford Point.

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Golden Plover- Milford Point. Single Golden Plover with a small flock of
Black-bellied Plovers which originated from the outer sand bars.

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Mixed flock of feeding Shorebirds- Stratford. The part of the flock that I could see contained 37 Greater Yellowlegs, 5 Lesser Yellowlegs, 5 Semi-palmated Sandpipers, 13 Short-billed Dowitchers and a single Long-billed Dowitcher.

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Peregrine Falcon- Long Wharf, New Haven. While I was looking for the Pelican, (two days later after spotting it on Monday), this Peregrine flew across 95 and made two dives into the flocks of panicked gulls and Sanderlings that were spread out along the low tide shore of Long Wharf. The bird missed it target and then flew off back over 95 and disappeared into the city of New Haven.

   Keith Mueller     Killingworth, CT