“Savannah Sparrow” I said, as we walked the marsh at Sherwood Island State Park. Our first bird of the day; at 1:40 AM. It gave a single flight note as we worked the edge of the marsh in our knee high rubber boots. While many may think we are a bit crazy, we were birding at this God forsaken hour for a reason: to beat our previous record of 110 from last years town big day. Sherwood supplied a nice variety of bird, and was a great place to start the day. We added Osprey, Clapper Rail, and Mockingbird, among other species that were active at night. Later that night, we had Barn Swallows at 4:00 in the morning, feeding along the Saugatuck River, and a surprising number of Black-crowned Night-herons around town. We also nabbed Eastern Screech Owl and Barred Owl (both were misses last year) at Partrick Wetlands. We reached out dawn chorus spot a little bit early, but were disappointed by the lack of birds. In hindsight, I should have insisted more heavily that we change our dawn chorus spot to Earthplace, but next year we won’t make that mistake again. Sherwood was our first stop after dawn chorus, and I felt the slowness was a start to a bad day, but boy was I wrong. Sherwood yielded Canada Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Least Flycatcher, Nashville Warbler, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and a flyby Greater Scaup at the beach! As we were walking towards the West end viewing platform, I heard the distinct song of a White-eyed Vireo, and called it out to Preston. After a little bit of looking, we managed to find it singing from a tall shrub. This was a life bird for Preston.
With the wind starting to pick up, we decided to leave Sherwood a little earlier then we planned to get out on the water. AJ Hand generously offered to take us out for a short time to sweep on the lingering ducks and migrating shorebirds, as well as anything else that may be out there. We added many new birds between visiting Cockeone Island and East White Rock, such as Bonaparte’s Gull, Dunlins, Ruddy Turnstones, Purple Sandpipers, and Red-throated Loon. After hitting a couple mildly unsuccessful birding stops, we stopped at Preston’s house to get a tall glass of ice water, while also picking up two thrush species; the continuing Gray-cheeked in Prestons driveway and a singing Wood Thrush in the backyard. After this refreshing pit stop, we made it to Earthplace. This was a very productive spot, even in the middle the day. We added birds such as Bay-breasted Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Scarlet Tanager, and Indigo Bunting. Unfortunately, we missed a couple other birds like Pileated Woodpecker and Blue-winged Warbler, that were scouted there. After Earthplace, we went to the other side of town to Newman Poses, where we made history by tying, and breaking our previous record of 110. Here, we added Lincoln’s Sparrow, Cooper’s Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk. After this, we birded around the Tree Farm, and both Upper and Lower Smith Richardson Preserve. These were very successful birding spots, as we added Eastern Bluebird, Wild Turkey, Wilson’s Warbler, Ovenbird, and Merlin. We also had a flock of three male Bay-breasted Warblers all together in a stand of trees, all calling to each other at Lower Smith Richardson Preserve! With mid afternoon upon us, we pulled a very dangerous and risky move by diverging from our original plan, and hitting a couple other locations on our way to our third trip to Sherwood. It ended up being worth it, as we pulled out a pair of Wood Ducks at Bulkley Pond and our 5th Bay-breasted Warbler of the day at Longshore. The Wood Ducks were a relief after missing the ones at 55-57 Greens Farms Road. Our third trip to Sherwood was magical, as we added Semipalmated Sandpiper, a flock of 47 White-winged Scoters flying West over the 9/11 Memorial, and (possible the best bird of the day) a Piping Plover, spotted by Preston, on the beach at Sherwood. This is an extremely rare bird in Westport, and was a new town bird for both of us. We also re-found the Greater Scaup at the 9/11 Memorial. We stayed at Sherwood until about 8:15 PM, hoping for a flyover Lesser Yellowlegs or Common Nighthawk, but had no luck with either. With the last minutes of daylight, we decided to try for marsh birds, Woodcock, and Wilson’s Snipe at Nyala Farms. We were surprised to hear a singing Marsh Wren and see two Little Brown Bats, but did not add anything new. We ended the day at Bedford Middle School to try for American Woodcock, Virginia Rail, and NFCs, but all we had was a nocturnally migrating Spotted Sandpiper flyover calling and a Striped Skunk run across the road. Overall, it was an extremely fun and successful day, with a total of 11 species of mammal and 125 species of birds. To my knowledge, the all time record for any town big day in CT is 127 in Fairfield (set by fellow young birders James Purcell and Alex Burdo), but next year Preston and I hope to break that and reach 130. I highly recommend other CT birders try to plan their own big day in their home towns.
Here’s the eBird Checklist for the day:
President Elect of the CTYBC