For starters: hi everyone! Will Schenck writing. I’ve been coming on CTYBC trips since January of 2017- this is my 6th club trip. However, this is my first time writing on the site, something I hope will become a more regular occurrence. For many of you reading this post, this is your first time hearing about me. I hope I will get to meet (and bird with) those of you whom I haven’t yet had the opportunity to.
I was really excited to take part in one of the biggest annual club trips this year; a day of intense shorebirding in its peak season, guided by one of Connecticut’s top birders, Nick Bonomo. In reminiscences past, these littoral extravaganzas are never painted in a light falling short of extraordinary but it really took a first-hand experience to understand why.
The day started very early for myself and fellow members Jory Teltser, Preston Lust, and Aidan Kiley with a rendezvous at Jory’s house at 4:40 AM. Despite our early-morning (late night?) daze, the birding began almost immediately with Preston and I listening for Nocturnal Flight Calls on Jory’s porch. With almost indetectable chips and buzzes, Chestnut-sided Warblers, American Redstarts, and Bobolinks were among the birds we heard migrating in the night, as well as a local Barred Owl.
After an hour of driving, we arrived in Old Lyme to meet other CTYBC members Nick Main and John Correia, as well as the trip leader Nick Bonomo.
The first spot on the roster, infrequently-birded Griswold Point of Old Lyme, immediately began to produce cool birds in the form of overhead migrants which included Common Loon, Northern Waterthrush, and large movements of both Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Bobolink. The mudflats were also good, giving expected species such as Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, and side-by-side comparisons of Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers that were very interesting. However, it was the marsh that really showed up. It started with over 15 Ospreys, the highest nesting concentration in the state. While looking at these lively birds, Jory picked out another marsh raptor – a beautiful cattail-colored Northern Harrier gliding shakily over the green horizon. As we proceeded further into the wetlands, the shorebird numbers were low but diversity was high; quick flybys of Pectoral Sandpiper and Solitary Sandpiper were real highlights but “on-the-ground” Willet, Spotted Sandpiper and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were another bonus. Saltmarsh Sparrow, a personally long-awaited lifer, really took the cake with killer views of both adults and juveniles on bare mudflats and pallid driftwood rising smoothly above the Spartina.
Our next stop was Watch Rock, another under-birded site. These marshes gave super interesting birds as well. A White-rumped Sandpiper among a flock of Semis was a great sighting, accompanied by more shorebirds such as Short-billed Dowitchers. A Cooper’s Hawk, later accompanied by yet another belligerent Northern Harrier, was a non-shorebird highlight and a massive flock of Tree Swallows – over 1,200 birds! – was a true spectacle.
Our run in New London County was done, and Hammonasset Beach SP in New Haven County was next. Sadly, Hammo was not as productive as expected, and continuing rarities such as Baird’s and Buff-breasted Sandpiper were nowhere to be found. The long-staying Little Blue x Tricolored Heron hybrid was a notable sighting, a 350+ flock of Tree Swallows was impressive, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird whizzing across the sound was an interesting migrant but shorebird numbers and diversity were completely lacking,
However, the trip was far from over. A stop at the Long Wharf for lunch- thanks again for the tacos, Nick B! – with a Bald Eagle preceded our stop at Sandy Point. Sandy Point has been lit up over the past week with birds like Caspian Tern, Baird’s Sandpiper, Sora, and Bonaparte’s Gull.
Almost as soon as we stepped out onto the point, the shorebirds were on our side. Two White-rumped Sandpipers, the second sighting of this uncommon migrant today, were one of the first shorebirds we saw, as well as great looks at an adorable juvenile Piping Plover and our first beachside views of some clean-cut Sanderlings. While scoping out a rock jetty, Nick found side-by-side views of Common and Forster’s Terns for all the members. Preceding down the beach, we reached the mudflats where two fantastic species found us – a beautiful juvenile Red Knot and a Baird’s Sandpiper, a lifer for Preston and Nick M. We got to watch these wonderful birds for a long time, discussing identification characteristics right alongside their confusion species, ie Least Sandpiper with the Baird’s.
At long last, it was time to leave Sandy Point. As we cut through the marsh, birds like a flyover Glossy Ibis and a close Spotted Sandpiper were good closing species at this productive spot.
Our next location, Milford Point, did not disappoint either. Waterbird numbers in all respects were high; and the marsh was full with both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night Herons. The sandbar we walked across abounded with both the “Semi’s”, Sandpipers and Plovers. But the real reward came when we reached the very end; in a large flock of over 50 Black-bellied Plovers was a gorgeous, fresh juvenile American Golden-Plover, a lifer for myself, Nick, and Preston. This uncommon species was dazzling in the afternoon sunlight, and the sighting was even more remarkable considering the birds surrounding it, including over 60 (!) American Oystercatchers and 5 Brant, unusual considering that only 4 of these rare summering visitors have been seen in the past months. Despite the plethora of species, our run at Milford Point was not over yet. Returning from the golden-plover, we once again scoped the large flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Plovers. This time around, our careful searching gave us another gem – a classic juvenile Western Sandpiper. All of us got fantastic looks at this oft-confused species, noting its bright rufous scapulars and long bill. Another peep in the flock was a possible second Western, but Nick’s careful analysis proved it only a bright Semipalmated, showing how valuable a comparison between the two species really is.
Two great shorebirds, but Milford Point hadn’t had its last word yet! After taking our fair share of the Western, we ascended the tall Wheeler Marsh viewing platform. As four gull species and a Belted Kingfisher circled over the cordgrass, a very distant shorebird was spotted on a sandbar, backlit by the descending sun. After much consideration due to its difficult position, it was eventually agreed that the bird was a Whimbrel. Though it took some members, myself included, a long time to spot it through the glare, distance, and heatwaves, we all eventually saw the bird as it picked its way slowly across the shore.
A few short pre-point stops in Stratford gave us some interesting species, including an opportunity to differentiate the calls of both night-herons as well as over eighty Greater Yellowlegs at the marina. Stratford Point was productive in songbird species; a pale peach light gave a cast to the coastal meadow where Tree, Barn, and Bank Swallows all flew overhead, giving a good identification lesson, along with “on-the-ground” Indigo Buntings and Bobolinks giving their calls from the wildflowers. Preston and I snatched a couple of the delicious wild blackberries growing along the path as we left our final shorebirding stop.
We ended the day at Sikorsky Memorial Airport once again, watching a smoldering red sun set over Stratford through the chain-links. 21 shorebird species was our final total for the our big day – a new record for this annual trip! As a Field Sparrow juvenile fluttered along the fenceline we said our goodbyes, thanking Nick Bonomo, our wonderful leader, and Jory, our club president, for organizing yet another mythical day of birding alongside our peers.
– Will Schenck