New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Highlights from 2014 and Starting 2015, Part 2-

   April 23, 2014, Stratford, CT- "Blue-Winged Teal"- Small fall flights of Blue-winged Teal migrate through the State from late August through early October with the largest numbers appearing in mid-September. They don't hang around long, according to the old Waterfowlers from years past...."When the first frost comes, Blue-wings head south"! There is also a small window of migration in CT in mid-April. Many Blue-winged Teal pass through the State on the northbound journey often stopping off for a day or two before continuing their migration. There are few ducks that rival the breeding plumage of a drake Blue-winged Teal. Since the drakes don't attain their full breeding plumage until late in the winter (usually January-February) the only time we get to see them in this plumage in CT is in the spring. This pair of Blue-winged Teal were in the company of Mallards, Gadwall and a small flock of Green-winged Teal at the boat ramp in Stratford. -

      July 12, 2014, Tillies Bank, off Gloucester. Mass.- "Shearwater-a-palooza"!!- On Friday, I went cod fishing with my Father-in-Law. This was the first time I had a chance to go cod fishing since I returned home two weeks ago from my teaching engagement near Marquette, Michigan on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. As it turned out, the fishing was very good, but an unexpected flurry of thousands of Shearwaters was a tremendous bonus! Usually, I may have a good day by seeing a few hundred Shearwaters (mostly Greater and lesser numbers of Cory's) and a few handsfull of Wilson's Storm-Petrels. However experiencing non-stop Shearwaters all day long in all directions was spectacular! As it turned out, this was the absolute best day I have ever experienced with Shearwaters, especially from the deck of the cod boat. My two favorite species of Shearwaters are Sooty and Cory's and I saw a few hundred of each today. Cory's Shearwaters were a little shy today and seemed to want to stay at a distance form the vessel. The Sooty Shearwaters which are usually the shy ones were not shy today and often flew only a few yards from the vessel.

     Shearwaters were literally covering the sea near and around Tillies and were constantly on the move flying in all directions. Most were in small groups with many singles, pairs triples keeping me occupied and busy. I Because of the constant Shearwater action, I eventually put up my cod rod in the railing holder and positioned myself on the upper deck to enjoy the Shearwater-a-palooza! With the sea covered and dotted with swimming Shearwaters and the area busy with flying birds, it was hard to keep track of just how many birds I was seeing......but I do know there were a lot of them!  For the entire day, my estimates are: 4350 Greater Shearwater (very conservative estimate), 235 Sooty Shearwater (the highest count I have ever had on a cod boat), 165 Cory's Shearwater, 1 Manx Shearwater, 350 Wilson's Storm-Petrel, and the most unusual sighting of the day, a single Leach's Storm-Petrel did a distant fly-by heading north. Humpback Whales gave a great day long show, and the Cod and Haddock fishing was very good. My Father-in-Law filled up his cooler, and I quit early to watch the amazing Shearwater show!

     We started seeing the first Shearwaters within a mile of shore, which is extremely unusual. Normally you won't see land when the first Shearwaters appear. You can see the wind turbines from Gloucester in this image while a Cory's and Greater Shearwater upstage the portrait-

     The only Manx Shearwater of the day appeared shortly after and while still a mile or two from shore-

     Sporadic Wilson's Storm-Petrels appeared in singles. pairs and trios.-

     The all-day Humpback Show was amazing!-

     Shearwaters on the sea everywhere I looked such as this Sooty pair and Greater...part of a large group spread out over the sea-

     Sooty passes by-

    More and more Greater Shearwaters moving out of the way of the headway of the Yankee Clipper, still only forty-five minutes out from Gloucester Harbor-

     Sooty passes by the bow-

      ......and lands off the stern as the vessel passes by.-

      Another Sooty passes by the bow-

     More and more Greater Shearwaters.....a continuous line of them!-

    One of the few Cory's that came within a hundred yards of the vessel-

     While fishing, this Greater Black-backed and three Greater Shearwaters were fighting over a small tossed-back fish. They were joined by a small group of Wilson's Storm-Petrels looking for tiny scraps. It was concerning to watch those Storm-Petrels mingling with that Gull...a Gull that could grab one and swallow it very easily, which many of us who sea bird watch have seen happen!-

     More Sooty Shearwaters......

      ......and more!-

     A few Storm-Petrels came real close to the stern of the boat-

     This Greater Shearwater retrieved a hunk of tossed-over clam bait-

     I love when they look underwater looking for food before a dive-

     Good close-up study shots of a Greater Shearwater only a few yards from the stern of the vessel-

     Under water it goes!-

    My favorite part on a cod boat is the ride back. The mates cleaning the fish (assuming it was a good catch day) and tossing over the fish remnants attracts large numbers of hungry sea birds looking for an easy meal. This day there were at least fifty to sixty hungry Shearwaters following behind the boat. Many would fall behind and others would fly in to replace them. All the while the sea was covered with hundreds and hundreds of Shearwaters that were quite content (or full) just loafing on the sea. Some would join the feeding procession behind the boat while others apparently full and satisfied re-joined the loafing birds on the sea. A single Gannet joins the hungry Shearwaters following the Clipper-

     The Shearwater show from the stern is amazing. Shearwaters are incredibly agile and acrobatic, and are very quick to dive for a small piece of tossed over fish.-

     The Shearwater Show continued all the way back to the mouth of Gloucester Harbor from Tillies Bank (about two hours plus ride), spectacular!-

       August 3, 2014, Hammonasset Beach SP, Madison, CT. "Baird's Sandpiper and Whimbrel pair"-  The Baird's Sandpiper was reported a few days ago in Meig's Pond and that's just where we found it. It was on the farther back side of the pond, but you could still see it clearly in extreme range in the cropped images-

      The two Whimbrel were reported earlier in the day. They changes locations a few times from the west end of the park to the Nature Center parking lot, back to the west end, and back to the Nature Center parking lot. Jen and I ran into Patrick Comins who was there also looking to photograph the Whimbrel, but no one had seen them for a few hours. While we were culling through the Semi-palmated Sandpipers in the pond for a Western Sandpiper, a birder walked up to us and mentioned that he just saw the Whimbrel in the Nature Center parking lot. When we got there, of course they were gone!

      When we were standing there thinking about taking a run down to the western end of the park to look there.....Jim Link drove up and told us that the Whimbrel were indeed there. When we arrived, there they were next to the middle parking lot near the "shorebird puddles" close to the edge of the parking lot. We watched these birds for quite some time, and often they walked very close to us for really good close-ups! Today was also a good day to try out my new camera which I just bought, a Canon SX50. It was a little awkward at first getting use to the zoom, but after a few really bad wasted shots, I got the hang of it. These are the images with the Canon SX50.-

     August 25, 2014, Leetes Pond, Guildford, CT, "Western Sandpiper Quest"- with a bonus Wilson's Phalarope and White-rumped Sandpipers- One of the Shorebird species that always eludes me is the Western Sandpiper. I have had bad luck with them as far as photographing them. Every time I try and photograph them either the sun is in the wrong position, they are too far out of range, I have the wrong exposure set on my camera, or simply I took lousy pictures of them!

     I have birded the Guilford area for many years, especially Leetes Pond (aka Leetes salt hay field). This pond has always been a good place to scope for migrating waterfowl, and even a Black-headed Gull that wintered here a few years ago, but never really known as a good Shorebird spot. There are usually small numbers of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and a Kildeer or Pectoral Sandpiper or two, but that is usually about it. This year however, Leetes Pond/marsh became one of Connecticut's Shorebird hotspots. A variety of Shorebirds were reported here: Besides the usual Greater Yellowlegs and Kildeer, large numbers of Lesser Yellowlegs, Semi-palmated and Least Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plover, Pectoral Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers, Baird's Sandpipers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, Red-necked and Wilson's Phalarope topped off the list......quite impressive for such a small marsh.

     A Wilson's Phalarope was reported a few days ago, so I decided to run down there this morning. I walked across the road and spotted a rather large concentration of Semi-palmated and Least Sandpipers in cove close by the road. I didn't even need to use my binoculars or the closest bird to me in this flock was a plump Western Sandpiper! That was easy!! Well, it became easier, because a second Western Sandpiper was nearby in the large Peep flock. I was there one minute, and already found two Western Sandpipers....and was able to take a few decent photos.

     As I was shooting the Sandpipers, I caught a movement out of the corner of my left was the Phalarope, it flew right in and landed just to the outer edge of the Peep flock. Leetes Marsh is also a hunting ground for a pair of local Peregrines, migrating Merlins, and bird hunting Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawks. Of course that makes these shorebirds very nervous and "edgy" so they move around constantly circling the marsh a few times and often land right back in the same feeding spot from where they just left. When this happens it was easy to spot the several White-rumped Sandpipers in the flocks.-

      The Wilson's Phalarope lands near a very young second hatch Mallard duckling-

      The Phalarope and Shorebirds were feeding on small emerging Black Flies-

     The first Western Sandpiper very close to the road-

      Western Sandpiper #2-

        September 5, 2014, Sandy Point Sandbar, West Haven, CT.- "ONE hundred degrees F and ONE Shorebird"- Buff-breasted Sandpiper!-  Well, this turned out to be an interesting Shorebird experience! All week I was tied to my carving bench working hard on a complicated project I was working on. This sculpture required my full attention and many hours to reach a point that I could take a break from it. All week I read the listserv reports of really exciting Shorebirds being reported on Sandy Point: an Avocet, a pair of Wilson's Phalarope, a Whimbrel, Red Knots, Knots, Baird's Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Western Sandpipers, and all I could do was read about them!

     Finally after a few days of reading these reports, I was able to take a day off and spend a day on Sandy Point enjoying these wonderful Shorebirds. Well it was going to be a hot one this day with the tempos reaching nearly 100 degrees and HUMID!! I am not much of a summer birder.....I am not a fan of heat! I am a winter birder and I really enjoy winter; the colder and windier the better! Actually I am more comfortable at 10 degrees F than 100 degrees F! But I love Shorebirds, and this is the time of year to see them, and yes it was hot today!! :^)

     I pulled into the parking lot at Sandy Point, enjoyed the last blast of arctic cold air from my air conditioner. Packed my two bottles of water in my shoulder bag, grabbed my camera and scope and opened the door. I was greeted with a surge of really hot air like opening up the door to a blast furnace.....and off I went!

     My first stop was the small cove inside by the Treatment Plant where the Avocet was reported all week. I peeked over the dune grass and.....nothing! Actually, not one Shorebird was there, not even a Yellowlegs. That's strange, maybe in the Lagoon? It was low tide, that mudflat should be covered with Shorebirds.....nothing! To make the long story short.....I walked all the way out to the jetties......NOT ONE SHOREBIRD!! That was hard to believe. The heat was stifling, and as I chugged a bottle of water. I looked to the high mound at the "end" of the sand bar and figured, since I was here, I was going walk right to the end!

     And that's just what I did! There were good numbers of Laughing Gulls here, probably the most I have seen here, but still not one shorebird! Well, I stand corrected. When I was approaching the last few yards of beach on the high sand mound at the end of Sandy small peep ran out ahead of me, finally a Shorebird! It was the Buff-breasted Sandpiper, one of the more beautiful Sandpipers. It was very cooperative and stayed very close to me allowing me to take many pictures of it. This species is amazingly beautiful!

     After fifteen minutes in the really hot sun, and after guzzling down my second bottle of water, I figured the long three quarters of a mile walk back to my truck and that wonderful air conditioning would come much sooner if I got my butt in gear. All the way back I kept thinking about that special Shorebird....that made me walk all the way out to the last few yards to see it. And it was worth every step in that blazing sun. And on the way back....not a single Shorebird!

       Part 3 including "Costa Rica- Part 1" Continues, Click on "Newer Posts" Below left-

  To View "Highlights from 2014 and starting 2015, Part 1" click on "Older Posts" below right-