November 2017 Trip Report

November in Connecticut is often a season that brings several reports of rarities across the state to the inboxes of delighted birders, and the trip on Sunday, November 26, was planned to follow this likely influx anywhere it fell. But by the time the weekend rolled around, there was not a peep of a rarity anywhere, no matter how many times we refreshed the listserve.

But do you think that the Connecticut Young Birders’ Club was going to sigh, pack our bags, and resign ourselves to a couple of hours of depressing inland birding? Not in a million years!!!!! No, we’d set out to the coast with binoculars raised to the skies and find ourselves those rarities! And just look what happened…

The day began brightly at Shippan Point, unique as though it is a suburban peninsula of the city of Stamford and has no actual viable bird habitat, it juts very far into the Long Island Sound, making it the sight of many amazing pelagic sightings for Connecticut, including rarities such as Northern Fulmar and Manx Shearwater. I arrived as the sun rose at the end of the point, directly ahead on the horizon, casting its brilliant lemon reflection into our scopes. Gale Ulsamer, a club member who joined us relatively recently, was there as well. Starting out, the action out at sea was slow, with the better sightings being close to shore American Black Ducks and Great Cormorants. Slowly, the other members began to arrive, toting their own scopes upon their backs. Soon James Leone, of whom this is his only second trip, Nicolas Main, and our club president Jory Teltser had joined us. When Aidan Kiley arrived, our posse was complete and the real seawatching began.

Quickly, Jory was able to pick out the huge, stretching silhouette of a Northern Gannet against the skyline. Shippan Point is a great place to see gannets; they were my very first lifer on a CTYBC trip, having gotten them in January of this year at the same place. All of the club members got nice views of this bird; though very far away, it was still large, clearly showing just how sizeable these sulids really are. It provided great opportunities to compare its ponderous, vertical, bowed flight style with the steady, constant flaps of the Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed Gulls that surrounded it.

One of our top priorities at this location were the winter sea ducks which had already established themselves at this season, because many of the club members needed them as life birds. Despite the intense glare from the sun and the distance between us and the sound, we were able to pick out a bobbing white Long-tailed Duck moving between the rocks, many Red-throated Loons that flew as straight as arrows across the surf, and finally, two White-winged Scoters rapidly traveling south. Though all of these birds were lifers for James and the scoter a lifer for Nicolas, the views were very subpar, though we were hopeful for more satisfactory views at some of our many later seawatching locations.

Next, we headed east to Sherwood Island S.P of Westport, which (as usual) has been a host as of late to interesting specimens including an uncommon Eastern Meadowlark, its usual Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Connecticut’s latest ever Canada Warbler, found by our very own Jory.

Immediately, it seemed the weather was good for us, with the bright glare lessening some, with a cool breeze blowing over the marsh. We began at the airfield, where we quickly spotted the caramel-brown female Northern Harrier that has been hanging around here lately, giving good looks for everyone. Then, Aidan and I led the group around a small hedge to see if any interesting sparrows were about while Jory hung back, but only the expected Song, White-throated, and Savannah Sparrows were about. As we were ready to leave, a medium-sized bird flew above our heads, against the sun. “What was that?” Asked James. Identifying the bird by its compact shape, wide tail, and stocky bill, both Aidan and I responded instantly, “Starling”. But it was Gale who caught us in our mistake, having followed the bird as it dropped into the field. “No, guys. That was the meadowlark!”

Aidan and I quickly realized that she was right, and, with Jory having joined us at this point, made a plan to move closer to the model airplane field where it was bunkered down, following the edge of the marsh.

At the saltmarsh, the wind was blowing strongly, and both Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures rode on the gusts. Hooded Mergansers and Greater Yellowlegs both sat on the muddy edges, and as we scoped out these ducks, somebody realized that one of them was not like the others. “It’s a Pied-billed Grebe!” shouted Jory, and we all quickly got our optics on it. Though not terribly uncommon in Connecticut in general, it’s a very unusual visitor to Sherwood Island; Jory’s first in his many years of birding here. It was a life bird for Nicolas and a state bird for myself. Unfortunately, the bird would’ve been a life bird for James, but he was not able to get his bins on it in time before it disappeared behind a wall of reeds. We all assured him that he would have many opportunities to see it later, and took the time during our visit to refind it without success.

At the airfield, we all got great views at the Eastern Meadowlark that foraged among the short grass and the tall tussocks that lay between, alternating between periods of glorious views and mouselike secrecy. We also had time to discuss the unfortunate decline of this melodic and characteristic bird from Connecticut’s grasslands; as its breeding habitat is of native grasslands is very specific and declining due to agriculture and urbanization, it is only now found breeding in a few preserves in inland Connecticut. We all felt very lucky to enjoy such great views of this species; perhaps we won’t be having the opportunities to see it as well again.

We then headed to go seawatching; unfortunately, a combination of cloudy seas and winds did not make for good conditions, as opposed to the clear land we stood on. We all did, however, get good lucks at the park’s signature Lesser Black-backed Gull, a lifer for Nicolas. At the windy mill-pond, we picked up a few more duck species including Bufflehead and Mute Swan, and a fruitless search for the continuing Canada Warbler was the bookend of our good run here at Sherwood.

Staying in Westport, we decided to visit a local location Jory had recently discovered; a large suburban pond called Held Pond. The last time he had gone there, he had discovered sizeable flocks of Ruddy Ducks, which James needed as a life bird. Sure enough, as we sneaked our scopes through the scraggly brown trees that divided the neat houses from the water, we all got good lucks at the little rufous-brown, stub-tailed Ruddy Ducks. This was a short visit for one species, and after ten minutes we moved on to our next location in Westport.

At this point, the whole group was getting hungry, and lucky for us that our next location, Bulkley Pond, was accessed from the parking lot of a Shake Shack! After Nicolas, James, and Gale had gotten great views at a beautiful lifer adult male Northern Pintail, we all enjoyed some hearty hamburgers, hot french fries, and simply delicious shakes. At this point, Jory had discovered a very interesting bird among a flock of Green-winged Teals – a bird that he had identified as being a possible Common Teal, the Eurasian subspecies (sometimes considered its own species) of Green-winged Teal. These birds have showed up among flocks of American teals before, so the possibility was definitely there. However, this bird was quite secretive, and Jory only got looks for a few seconds and resolved that he was “60% sure it was a Common Teal”. He resolved to check this hometown location later for this interesting individual.

We had gotten wind that an Iceland Gull was being seen at Southport Beach, which would be a new Westport bird for Jory, an avid town-lister. We sped over there and sure enough, among a group of gulls at the place where the tidal creek emptied into the ocean, a ghostly pale Iceland Gull stood against the blue. We all got great scope views at this interesting individual who are just beginning their annual winter irruptions into Connecticut.

At Penfield Reef in Fairfield, we were treated to a much different kind of sea-watching. Penfield Reef is a massive sandbar, extending almost a fourth of a mile into the sea, giving it the characteristics of another great seawatching destination. Here, we were treated to much better views of White-winged Scoters bobbing up and down in the sandside surf, bracing themselves against the cold. Long-tailed Ducks also made good appearances. Both Common and Red-throated Loons were spotted above the gray sea, and on land, Sanderlings huddled among the massive gull flocks. As we added our third, and then our fourth Northern Gannets of the day, we headed to what would be our last birded town of the day, Stratford.

We started at the Stratford marina, a small boat dock. There, we found a rare and unexpected bird – a Short-billed Dowitcher, roosting alone on the pilings! This plain little bird, with almost no distinguishing features but for its long bill and white eyebrow, was the subject of much fascination to the veteran birders of the group for its uncommonness, especially to photographers Aidan, Gale, and Jory, who managed to spend over twenty minutes photographing this stationary, immobile bird in unchanging lighting; I contented myself with a couple digiscopes. Also of interest to us were the continuing Yellow-crowned Night Herons which, though common visitors to the state in summer, are quite rare in winter. These beautiful birds were four in number and exhibited to us both adult and juvenile plumages, useful to James and Nicolas, to whom they were lifers.

After finally picking up and leaving the dowitcher to its lonesome, we decided to take a very brief detour to nearby Birdseye Boat Ramp to get James a lifer in the flock of coots that lived there. By very brief, I’m not exaggerating – we drove into the boat ramp parking lot and did not stop the car as we swung by the harbor’s edge. James got fine looks at some close American Coots as we swung back out of the lot once again, Jory’s foot still on the pedal. As we headed up the drive, a white Great Egret flew above us – a bit late for this spring, summer, and fall denizen of Connecticut.

Finally, with the sun setting so soon on this early winter day, we decided on our last location, Long Beach. Long Beach is always full of surprises at this time of year – only a week or so before that, I had birded the beach with Jory, and had one of my best days of birding ever, filled with rarities including King Eiders, a Short-eared Owl, and even an American White Pelican!

While there, we immediately did have a surprise; right by the parking lot surf, our second Iceland Gull of the day, swimming through the turquoise-gray waves. This one was much closer than our first, and we all got great views of its uniform, pale ashy-gray plumage and its little hard black bill.

As the photographers in the group got great pictures of this interesting gull, one of the passers-by on the beach noticed our distinguishing field marks that marked us as birders (binoculars, fleeces, perpetual warbler neck) and told Aidan about how as he had been walking his dog earlier that morning, he had found an “Arctic Owl” that he had seen fly into the marsh. An Arctic Owl.. sounded a lot like a Snowy Owl to me.

On our way down, we searched hard for Snow Buntings, birds both Nicolas and James needed for life, that we had missed at Sherwood Island and at Penfield Reef. Though we were unable to find them, there were other birds hiding in the scraggly scrub, including big, pale Ipswich Savannah Sparrows, a New England winter specialty that’s always pleasing to see.

Still, we couldn’t find either buntings nor larks, so as some of the group stayed down beach to seawatch, I led James and Nicolas up through more vegetation – but there was no luck. Sighing, my eye strayed to the bronze-hued windblown marsh, where hundreds of Black Ducks accompanied by Hooded Mergansers and Buffleheads swam. “Wait here,” I told them. “I’m going to look for the Snowy Owl.” My scope moved back and forth over the marsh. Every time I saw something white, my heart jumped. Gull, signpost, signpost, signpost… wait. Sure that’s a signpost? I moved back and focused and… yes! Though far away, there could be no doubt that the little figure I saw was indeed a Snowy Owl! I picked up the phone and called Jory to let me know what I was seeing, who immediately started jogging towards me. In the end, all of the group got good looks at this awesome winter visitor, a long-awaited lifer for myself and James. There can be no doubt that this was the bird of the day.

As the sun set over the Long Beach, we managed to locate a very confiding juvenile Horned Lark, again a lifer for James and Nicolas. The light at this point was gorgeous, unbelievable, a fantastical mix of deep oranges and rich scarlets spilling over the horizon. It was the perfect lighting for some great group shots and some individual shots of Jory, who was in good need of some new profile pictures.

As the group assembled together to walk back to the car, discussing the many highlight birds of the journey, I couldn’t have asked for a better end to this awesome trip. The CTYBC has done it again, organizing an amazing day of observing nature in interesting and varying locations alongside our fellow friends and enthusiasts.

 

-Will Schenck

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October 2017 Trip Report

The club trip for this October 27th had a tumultuous start because of very limited availability. Originally, the trip had been planned to be an overnight at Cuttyhunk Island of the Elizabeth Islands off of Cape Cod. Unfortunately, with the new school year coming to a rapid crescendo, very few club members could find the time to take that much time off of their schedules, and thus, the trip was planned to be a full-day trip at a location in coastal Connecticut – a good choice for late October, a season on the coast which flits between early winter arrivals and the last denizens of fall migration. But Jory Teltser, who as our President would usually be leading the trip, was away in Cape Cod to visit former President Alex Burdo (and do some awesome Mass birding). So the duty of the leader fell to me.

I was really excited to plan my first club trip. Everything was new and a bit frantic – emailing parents, texting members, finding the right locations and everyone’s target birds. I was even more excited to have a new member on the trip – James Leone of Norwalk. It’s always so awesome to get another young birder for the team, so I wanted to make James’s first club trip memorable. The only other member joining us was Nicolas Main of Litchfield, who joined the club in April and has been a regular attender. We would be meeting at Greenwich Point Park to spend the entire day birding my home town.

7:00 a.m in the parking lot at Greenwich Point, and the wind was blowing strongly overhead, giving a wintry cast to the gray sky. The birds seemed of winter too; as James, the first to arrive, stepped out of his car, we observed a quick rapid-fire sequence of lifers for him – he had only started birding this summer. A sleek, silver-starred Red-throated Loon swam in the choppy harbor, and the throaty warbler of Brants echoed from the west beach. Nic arrived soon after, jumping out of his car to see a flock of Great Cormorants pass overhead, a lifer for both Nic and James. As we prepared to begin our coverage of this massive, birdy park, we could hear the wispy, shrill calls of a Golden-crowned Kinglet rising out of a bare-branched shrub. Both Nic and James got their eyes on this little mite of feathers, another lifer for both of them, before it fluttered off into the ashy dawn. We had barely been in the field for 15 minutes and James already had seen four lifers! His first club trip was off to a good start.

As we walked the seaside sassafrass forest, little brown shades of Song, White-throated, and Savannah Sparrow – a bird which Nic needed for life that he would later get better views of – darted in and out of the brushline. The angled silhouette of an Osprey, a little late for the park at this time of year, flapped over the harbor, and another raptor, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, another interesting bird for James to study more closely, surprised us with a rapid flyby.

As we walked, I got a better idea of who James was as a birder. Though he had only figured out his interest this summer, his rapid assimilation of birding knowledge, technology, and lore was truly remarkable. Along with Nic, he participated very well with two relatively experienced birders in discussions of extinct birds such as Heath Hens and the differences between Connecticut bird populations and habitat types currently and historically. As a young birder with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of life birds to pick up along the way, I am so excited to have him as a new member!

Eventually, we emerged from the woods to meet Greenwich Point’s tiny, fragmented saltmarsh that was surrounded by shrubland. Though it isn’t much, and certainly doesn’t host any breeding marsh birds such as Clapper Rails or Seaside Sparrows, I knew from experience that it would be just the place to pick up multiple life birds for James, who hadn’t done much coastal birding. The shrubland was quickly productive at first glance, providing good looks at Northern Mockingbird, a bird with which James has not much experience with, and a gorgeous female Cooper’s Hawk. Seeing both of the common Accipiter hawks in a short time provided a great discussion on the identification characteristics of these often confusing species.

Our main target bird for the marsh was Nelson’s Sparrow, a bird though is an Ammodramus marsh sparrow like Saltmarsh Sparrows, only occurs in Connecticut on migration and does not require pristine or extensive habitat. As an American Black Duck, new for James, and three Snowy Egrets, pretty uncommon in Greenwich in these numbers at this time, walked the gritty edge, we set off on a tiny mud path that wended its way through the grass. Though we nearly got stuck in the deep sediment multiple times or cut ourselves on the Spartina’s sharp edge, some pishing and flushing got everyone on the team nice looks at an interior-subspecies Nelson’s Sparrow.

After all had had satisfactory looks, we headed up to the coastal forest and the Seaside Garden which rises above the beaches. While curving through the parkland that lies around the shore, the irritated jangle of a House Wren crossed our ears, almost immediately followed by a beautiful flyover American Kestrel heading out over the sound, my first for the Point and a generally uncommon bird in coastal Greenwich. While on a fruitless search for Hooded Mergansers at Eagle Pond, the machine-gun rattle of a Belted Kingfisher rang over the water, an additional lifer for James.

Unfortunately, the woods of the Seaside Garden were quiet as the dead. Only forest sparrows, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, and robins could be heard here. However, some new birds for the trip were encountered, including flyover flocks of both Red-winged Blackbird and Common Grackle. It was the actual garden garden that showed some good species, including nice looks at Yellow-rumped Warbler and Cedar Waxwings spotted by Nic in the tall ornamental trees, and multiple Golden-crowned Kinglets that perched and flitted flickering on the leafless branches. A White-breasted Nuthatch could be heard, calling a nasal yenk yenk from deep in the forest. All in all, however, the seaside woods were unimpressive, and we quickly decided to do a quick check of the sandy west beach.

There, we started at the little stand of marsh grass at the beach’s north end to find two more Nelson’s Sparrows, providing more looks at this interesting species. I didn’t really expect to see much in shorebird numbers today, but we were lucky in that a group of many Ruddy Turnstones, one of James’ favorite birds, were picking their way along some of the few scattered rocks on the beach. In addition, two Killdeers called loudly from upon the sand, which were digiscoped impressively by Nic. The most interesting sighting for my two fellow club members had to be the amazing looks at Brant, lifers for them both, which swam right on the surf. We discussed their identification and life history as they foraged nearly within reach. After taking some pictures and Snapchatting with Brendan Murtha, a former club member who I hadn’t talked to in a long while, we decided that it was time to go. We walked the marshy edge to see even more Nelson’s Sparrows (two to be exact) and ended up back at the parking lot.

At my house, we had fun eating some homecooked penne all’arrabiata (courtesy of yours truly) and testing our identification skills with our Sibley guides. We decided that the best place to bird next would be the nearby Cove Island Park in Stamford, as forest birds were few and Rosa Hartman Park, our other option, was solid beech woodland and would likely not provide much.

At Cove Island, we headed out into the grassland to attempt to find some interesting sparrows for the day. As we were in a time limit for James, we decided that it was probably best if we stuck to the inland part of the park as we had gotten most of our available coastal species previously. In the dry meadows, we immediately encountered several species of sparrows, including great looks at several Savannah Sparrows – a long-awaited lifer for Nic, and Swamp Sparrows, a similar lifer for James. The woods were quiet but for the huge, noisy flocks of Fish Crows patrolling overhead and the rollicking chant of a Carolina Wren, new for the day. When we emerged to once again walk the rustling yellow grasslands, we were treating to awesome looks at Monk Parakeets – a gorgeous species, one of every member’s favorites and yet another lifer for James! Soon, however, the trip ended as the sun began its slow descent over the park, framing new Mute Swans foraging gracefully in Holly Pond.

After all of my fellow members had departed, I made my way back home. It wasn’t a huge day for bird numbers or diversity, but we fleshed out a good number of species, over 60, on a generally dreary day. But more important than my numbers were James’s and Nic’s, who both got lots of life birds today, James in the double digits! It’s hard to beat leading trips to cool locations alongside young people who have just gotten interested in the endlessly awesome world of birding.

 

-Will Schenck

August 2017 Trip Report – 3rd Annual Shorebird Day

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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

July 2017 Trip Report – 7/22/17

It’s been just about a year since I’ve been able to be a part of a CTYBC trip, so I was really excited when everything worked out for me to make it down to the shore for the July trip this year. This trip would be centered around shorebirds, and Jory Teltser would be leading this day-long quest for rare fall migrants. We would begin in New Haven and move west, ending around Westport where Jory lives. Jory, Preston Lust and I arrived at Sandy Point at 6:30 to meet Grace Bartunek, a new club member. Grace got into birding recently but she has spent lots of time working with falconers and raptor rehabbers, making that group of birds her favorite.

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Mute Swans were found in many locations today. Photo by Michael Aronson.

Sandy Point immediately began to produce cool birds, as a Clapper Rail poked its head out of the marsh near the parking lot. We walked out onto the beaches where we hoped to see some migratory shorebirds, and we ended up seeing some breeders as well. Piping Plovers were quite abundant on the beaches, and these adorable little birds seemed to have had a good summer at Sandy Point. We got good views of a mudflat that in this morning’s low tide was full of shorebirds. Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers dominated the flocks, as they almost always do this time of year. The search for a Western Sandpiper was on, but nothing jumped out at any of us. One of the highlights of our time at Sandy Point was when Grace spotted a young Clapper Rail in the back of this mudflat near some marsh grass! The four of us all got great looks at another one of these elusive birds before it quickly retreated to the safety of the marsh. Other notable birds in the marsh included good looks at a Saltmarsh Sparrow, a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers, and a good number of Semipalmated Plovers.

Moving down the beach we kept running in with more Piping Plovers. Some Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings were on the beach as well, and since it is still quite early in the migration period, these birds had preserved most of their lovely breeding plumage. A bunch of swallows, including a few Bank Swallows, were feeding on the beach as well. Ospreys and Common Terns flew out over the ocean, and we also noticed a Least Tern faintly calling out over the water. Sandy Point had not disappointed at all this morning! We made our way back to the parking lot, as a few more yellowlegs and dowitchers flew over, to wait for the arrival of some other club members. A distant Peregrine Falcon was spotted from the parking lot, sparring with some terns in midair over the ocean.

A couple other members, Will Schenck and Michael Aronson, arrived, and now that we had everyone, we were clear to leave for Milford Point. This is a spot I have been to numerous times in my time as a birder, so I was not surprised to have a hoard of Purple Martins surrounding me as soon as we got out of the car. A quick scan of Wheeler Marsh revealed that the tide was just too high behind the Audubon Center for any shorebirds. This pushed us out to the main attraction at Milford Point, the expansive sandbars.

With recent reports tallying hundreds of shorebirds, we knew we would be faced with some ID challenges when we reached the Milford Point sandbars. We immediately got our scopes out, but before we did, a Bank Swallow (a lifer for Will!) flew over. Once we peered into our scopes at the sandbars, we realized that the reports showing hundreds of peeps were very accurate. Along with some Brants and American Oystercatchers, the beaches were draped with Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, with a sprinkling of Semipalmated Plovers as well. Scanning through these birds proved to be difficult, especially when people walking out on the beach flushed hundreds of birds at once. We decided that a relocation was in order, and we moved farther to the left, where we could see the other side of the beach. Even more shorebirds were here, but we still couldn’t find anything special hidden in the flocks. As we left, our overall Semi-Sand count totaled up to about 400 birds.

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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron by Michael Aronson

We crossed the county line in to Fairfield County shortly after leaving Milford Point, where we would spend the rest of the day. This part of the trip would be mostly composed of shorter stops of variable birdiness. The Stratford Marina, a small area that usually hosts good shorebird numbers, was our first of these many stops. Yellowlegs and dowitchers filled up the docks, standing near the water. Both species of night-herons were also quite abundant here, and differentiating the juveniles of both species was a great learning opportunity for Grace. We then checked the Birdseye Boat Ramp, Stratford Greenway and the Animal Control Marsh, all of which were fairly quiet. Probably the most interesting part of those locations was a distant tire that we though was a large snake! Our next stop, Stratford Point, would hopefully be a little more profitable, as we planned to spend more time there.

Upon arrival at Stratford Point, we immediately encountered a medley of swallow species on some powerlines near the parking lot. This included Barn, Bank, Northern Rough-winged and Purple Martin. As far as shorebirds went, it was the same as everywhere else; massive quantities of Semipalmated Sandpipers and little else. One of the other main attractions at Stratford Point though, was the terns. Recent reports of Gull-billed, Royal and Caspian had our hopes up for this spot, and when Preston began waving his arms at Jory and I from a distance, we got a good feeling that a rare tern was moving over the water. Our predictions were confirmed when we got our eyes on a pale, beautifully clean tern. This was a Roseate Tern! It was only my second time ever seeing this rare bird, and it was a great find for the trip.

After Stratford Point, we took a little break to hang out at Jory’s house in Westport, get some food and beverages, and talk about birds. It was a fun time to bond with the new members that had joined in the year that I had been gone. I also enjoyed hanging out with Jory and Preston, who I had not seen in such a long time. A few short stops in Westport followed, highlighted by Gorham Island. Here we got great looks at an adult Bald Eagle, which I’m sure Grace was happy to see. We also began to hear a lot of Marsh Wrens, and a bout of pishing brought them in for some brief views. Our trip ended not long after that, and we parted ways by discussing everybody’s favorite bird and favorite moment of the day. From Bald Eagle to Clapper Rail, the choices were very diverse. It’s certainly great to be birding with other young people who have the same interest as you.

– Peter Thompson

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Snowy Egret in flight, by Michael Aronson

Coventry Big Day 2017

Wow, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted on this blog! I was away at school but I did a big day in my home town of Coventry a couple weeks ago as soon as I got home. Jory’s amazing post inspired me to share my own Big Day experience, even though I didn’t do as well. I also don’t have any pictures since my camera died, but I’ll try to make up for that with imagery to describe my day.

I got home from college on Thursday, May 18 around 2:00 PM. It was a couple hours after that when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do my big day that weekend, and I decided to do it the next day. It was a lot all at once, but I decided to scout some areas that afternoon before going to bed extra-early Thursday night. My goal for Friday would be 90 species.

I woke up on Friday at 3:00 AM, excited and ready to go. I planned to begin my day by checking off the easy Barred Owls outside my house, but nothing was calling. I had to move on to Creaser Park, where I would try for Great Horned. In an ironic twist, I heard no Great Horned there but a couple Barred Owls began calling. After striking out on owls at a couple more spots, I headed to a marsh on South Street Extension to search for rails. When I got there Swamp Sparrows (a big miss from last year) and Yellow Warblers were already calling, and when I played the grunt calls of the rail it didn’t take me long to get a response. I officially got Virginia Rail – and I was already on a roll. My next stop was Brigham Road, where I would listen for owls as some songbirds began to wake up and sing. Once again Barred was the only owl calling here, but Louisiana Waterthrushes, Veeries, Eastern Wood-Pewees and Scarlet Tanagers had begun to sing. After spending so much time on a college campus, hearing the natural chorus of breeding birds was very refreshing. Unfortunately, I was too early for the Black-throated Green Warblers and Blue-headed Vireos that breed here, so I had to come back later.

A large chunk of my morning would be spent at Hop River Road, where the lovely trails there offer for some great migrants. The beginning of the trail was somewhat annoying, as I had trouble finding anything interesting. As I headed back to the parking lot, I heard and saw a Northern Parula singing – a bird I didn’t get last year. After that I was in the zone. I got great looks at a Worm-eating Warbler singing, chased down a male Blackpoll Warbler in the treetops, and picked out a Belted Kingfisher flying over. I also saw another Barred Owl, along with nabbing Pine Warbler and Canada Goose at the end of the trail. Really the only thing I missed there was Field Sparrow, which I could deal with. This success at Hop River set the tone for most of the morning, as I quickly got Black-billed Cuckoo, Alder Flycatcher and Canada Warbler at Creaser Park. I was amped to be getting tons of birds I missed last year, and felt that 90 or 95 would be in reach.

However, I felt that it was already time to alter my plan. Missing Black-throated Green Warbler was an unprecedented problem, and I had not added another visit to Brigham Road in my itinerary. But I figured that I would have time for it, so I stopped home to get some breakfast (adding Hairy Woodpecker and Eastern Bluebird in the process) and moved on to Brigham for the second time that day. The BT Greens were singing now, but I still couldn’t hear any Blue-headed Vireos. Maybe they just weren’t there this year? Whatever the case, it was time to check on some waterbirds. This was a horrible shortcoming last year, as I had not seen a single gull, cormorant or sandpiper during my entire 2016 Big Day. I would check off the sandpiper, getting a Spotted Sandpiper at Eagleville Lake. Missing Mute Swan was annoying, but hopefully Coventry Lake would add some species I didn’t get last year.

That would not happen. Checking from multiple viewpoints, I found that Coventry Lake had one Mallard on it and nothing else. I realized that Ring-billed Gull may have been less of a terrible miss and more of a bird that doesn’t show up here in May. I headed back to the Virginia Rail marsh to see if any marsh birds were around. Wood Duck and Green Heron were two other birds I didn’t see last year, but they both had a chance to be seen now. Unfortunately neither of them were around, but a singing Northern Waterthrush and two dozen Bank Swallows made up for it. The Bank Swallow numbers were truly impressive; they were the most abundant bird there! I think they’re coming from a colony a few miles south in Columbia, but I didn’t see nearly as many here last year.

Heading into the dreaded mid-day nap period, I was still doing pretty well. As the temperature climbed into the 80s, I stopped at the Babcock Hill Road powerline cut in search of Prairie Warbler. I heard it before I even got out of the car, and a bonus Field Sparrow put my total up to 76. As I watched a Black Vulture fly over the landscape below me, I began to hear a weird sequence of calls coming from a bush. It sounded like some sort of mimid, but did not resemble a mockingbird, thrasher or catbird. These raspy calls intrigued me, but in the back of my head I realized that it may just be a catbird messing with me. Nevertheless, I pished a little bit and waited for a few minutes as this bird eventually revealed itself, and when it finally did, I gasped.

Yellow-breasted Chat. Holy sh*t.

I assumed I would see some good birds on my big day, but I never thought I would get a life bird. I never thought I would see a bird that hasn’t been recorded in the spring in northeastern CT since 2012. But here I was, eyeing a lovely Yellow-breasted Chat that quickly disappeared into the brush once again. As it continued to call, I stood there speechless; this was one of the rarest birds I’d ever found by myself. This was one of the defining moments of a great morning of birding, and as I headed to Silver Street with utmost confidence my day list was already above 80.

Silver Street was another defining moment of my morning; I had four targets there that I got within one minute of leaving the car. Before I even got out I noticed a Bobolink on the power line, and once I opened my door, I could hear Northern Mockingbirds and a Willow Flycatcher calling. Shortly after that, a Killdeer flew over the car, announcing its presence with a loud call. It was about 11:30 AM, and it was time for lunch. I headed to my mom’s house and ate my lunch outside, hoping a raptor would fly over. I only had 3 hawks on the day (Turkey and Black Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk), and I got my Red-shouldered Hawk last year at my mom’s house. Sitting at 84 species, I was already only 3 birds short of last year’s total, and I felt pretty safe about beating it. However, the afternoon would be very slow.

The long, hot afternoon saw me work at a pace of roughly one bird per hour, and I was working hard. Beginning to feel the effects of waking up at 3:00 AM, I headed to Creaser Park to do a thorough examination of all the trails. I earned a Pileated Woodpecker, Ring-necked Pheasant and Yellow-billed Cuckoo from this, but it took nearly two hours. I was excited about the cuckoo, which was my biggest miss from last year. They’re honestly hard to find in Coventry, but with all the great habitat I’m really surprised we don’t see more. After that I returned to Babcock Hill, where the chat was still calling. I also heard a Magnolia Warbler singing (bird number 88!) but I was really looking for hawks. Babcock Hill is a great place to hawkwatch as it overlooks a huge portion of south Coventry, but nothing was in the air.

After moving around a little bit more, I realized that it was pointless to actually look for hawks. I don’t know where these birds are nesting, so if I’m going to see them I just have to let it happen. I moved to Hop River to check on migrants there as it had cooled down a little. It was dead, so I stood on the bridge by the river to kill some time. I remember patience being a virtue for me last year, but standing on this bridge for 20 minutes got me nothing of note. I moved on to Brigham Road, in my final search for the Blue-headed Vireo. Sitting in the forest for a good amount of time got me nothing, and when I reached the end of the road I was annoyed. I decided to turn around and go back up, and this would prove to be influential. Just as I turned around a Broad-winged Hawk flew across the road and into the woods! My total now stood at 89. I picked up my dad so he could see the chat, and we got looks at it once again at Babcock Hill.

After that we drove to Creaser, when on the way there I heard a probable Blue-headed Vireo. With a car tailgating us, we couldn’t stop or turn around easily, and we would never encounter the bird again. I didn’t count it at the time, but listening to more recordings later that night made me realize that no Red-eyed Vireo sounded like that. So I had got to 90 but I didn’t know it at that point. Anyways, Creaser Park itself was boring and we headed back to my house to drop my dad off before the second night shift began. Going into that night, my worst misses were both raptors: Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawk, along with Green Heron and Ring-billed Gull.

I planned to spend my twilight at the Virginia Rail marsh, where hopefully some marsh birds would begin to call. But before that, I noticed a duck flying over the marsh. This bird was too small and chunky for a Mallard – it was a Wood Duck! Exited to get my 90th bird and meet my goal, I couldn’t believe I had finally got this bird that had eluded me for all of last year and most of this one. As the swallows and blackbirds quieted down, I played the tape for Marsh Wren, Least Bittern, Sora and Eastern Screech-Owl. Unfortunately, none of them responded. But in the 45 minutes I spent there, I noticed that the Virginia Rail numbers there were truly impressive. Some of these birds were doing grunt duets, a strong indication that they may breed there. I was excited to see breeding Virginia Rails in my town, as this bird had not been reported in Coventry before.

After striking out on those rare marsh birds, I headed to some other marshy spots in search of them. It soon became clear to me that these places were all too populated, as cars driving by made it difficult to call in a Sora or a Marsh Wren. I decided to focus on Great Horned Owl, a bird I had seen many times in Coventry, for the last part of my big day. I drove around North Coventry for a while, but nothing but Barred Owl was calling. Heading back to Nathan Hale State Forest seemed promising, but I couldn’t get anything but Barred there either. (Barred Owl was very common in case you couldn’t tell.) At around 10:45 PM, I decided to call it a day, finishing my total at 90 species. The total would actually become 92; the Blue-headed Vireo I added on later as well as a counting error in my list gave me two extra ticks.

Highlighted by a chat and an amazing morning, this was one of the best birding days I’ve ever had. I had some regrettable misses (Red-shouldered Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Cooper’s Hawk, Ring-billed Gull) but the good birds I found definitely outweighed the misses. I’m particularly excited about the possibility of Virginia Rails nesting in Coventry, as well as finding a rarity in my own town. If I can get home around May next year, I figure 95 is a good goal, but I still think 100 is a possibility. It’d require a nearly perfect day, but I’ve seen 98 species in the last two years, so I don’t see why not. More scouting will be done and improvements will be made to the plan, and I think it’s definitely possible to get to the century mark.

-Peter Thompson

Westport Big Day 2017

34957592056_ceecfba77d_o“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:

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37030648

Cheers,

Jory Teltser

President Elect of the CTYBC

World Series of Birding 2k17

On May 6th, for the second year in a row, the Connecticut Young Birders Club Darth Waders competed in the World Series of Birding, an annual big day birdathon run by New Jersey Audubon. The event attracts teams from all over the region (and the world) in a 24-hour long, caffeine fueled race for conservation. Each team raises money for a bird-related recipient of their choice, and this year the CYBC gathered donations for the Clark Fund for Avian Research at UConn, a critically important resource that provides backing for research on Saltmarsh Sparrow, Ovenbird, etc. As with last year, our team made the decision to bird only within the confines of Cape May County. Having no time to scout, we understood this to be the logical choice– a full state run would like driving blind. With most of us having prior experience in the Cape May area and eBird providing detailed info on the region, we felt confident we could best our 2016 total of 150 species. Of course, we were also painfully aware of the previous year’s errors– we did lose three prime hours of birding time after all (In short, we got our car stuck in a swampy rut in Beaver Swamp and had to get towed back to civilization.)

Our team this year was similar to last year’s, with one swap-out. Brendan Murtha, Alex Burdo, and Jory Teltser all returned for a second year, with Preston Lust joining the ranks for his preliminary run. We also again enlisted the commitment of Sean Murtha, our diligent driver. In the days leading up to the World Series, despite being swamped in AP Test preparation, our team managed several phone conferences where we sketched out a rough draft of our route and meticulously scouted eBird for info on target species. When Friday rolled around, we piled into the car after school and began the traffic-plagued trek down to Cape May, during which we finalized our route. The goal this year was to maximize birding time and minimize time spent in the car. That goal was largely achieved, and our final plan resembled a large loop through Cape May County, requiring only short hops from place to place.

After reaching our campground at around 8 PM, we got an hour or two of sleep before getting up at 11:15 and heading out to our first spot: the South Cape May Meadows.  We rolled into the parking lot just at the stroke of midnight and raced down the path out to the wetlands, where we quickly added our first bird: Least Sandpiper, calling creep from the marsh. Very quickly we realized the wind would be an opponent of ours– it whipped across the marsh, making listening difficult. Despite it, we heard two Virginia Rails calling and at least some nocturnal migration was occurring as Indigo Bunting and Chipping Sparrow called down from overhead.

We then raced to the State Park, where we listened for nocturnal migrants from the hawk watch platform. No luck– too windy. We did the same thing at Coral Ave., and just managed to add Swainson’s Thrush as it went over. We then did the muddy, buggy walk out to Pond Creek Marsh from behind the magnesite plant and heard both Saltmarsh Sparrow and Sora call briefly. Some staked out owls in West Cape May did not cooperate, and Higbee Beach was absolutely silent (aside from the ever present whistle of the wind.) A little disappointed with our pace, we decided to head up the bayshore to the reliable habitat around Jake’s Landing and Stipson’s Island. We left Cape Island at 2:00 AM and, after one of the longest drives of the day, arrived at Jake’s at around 2:30. There we began a rather lengthy vigil, picking up several night calling birds: Laughing Gull, Black-crowned Night Heron, Clapper Rail, Seaside Sparrow, Marsh Wren, Veery (NFC), etc. Our next vigil at Stipson’s was even better, producing Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Common Nighthawk, Yellow-breasted Chat, and a slew of shorebirds including Semipalmated Plover, both Yellowlegs, and Willet. Alex’s incredibly sharp ears also picked up a distantly singing Nelson’s Sparrow, a really awesome pull. At 3:45, we packed up and made a quick swing through the Pea Fields outside Belleplain, where we added night-singing Horned Lark and Chuck Will’s Widow. Entering Belleplain, we were dismayed to see the wind had permeated even the densest reaches of the forest. We hadn’t heard a single owl all night, and as the day began to break we realized we’d have to leave all three expected species to the second night shift. We crossed our fingers and, clearing that issue from our minds, opened our ears to greet the dawn chorus (only after tallying several Eastern Whip Poor Will’s however.) As low, gray light accentuated the silhouettes of towering oaks and crooked pitch pines, birds began to join our list in quick succession: Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, Great Crested Flycatcher, Carolina Chickadee, Pine Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-throated Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, etc. We put ourselves in position to pick up Belleplain’s specialties, and soon they began to sound off: Acadian Flycatcher and Prothonotary Warbler came first, followed by White-breasted Nuthatch (yes, that’s a tough bird in Cape May,) Eastern Wood Pewee and Summer Tanager. We made a pass by Lake Nummy and added Eastern KingbirdFish Crow, and a flyover Common Loon, then swept through the campground, tallying Hairy Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireo, and Louisiana Waterthrush. On our way to a reliable Blue-winged Warbler spot, we finally heard a Hooded Warbler. The Blue-winged never sang, and, a little behind schedule, we headed out to the meadows on the eastern end of Belleplain. Here, we picked up Black-and-white and Prairie Warblers, both Orioles, and American Goldfinch (a bird we actually almost missed last year.) With the clock approaching 7 AM, we swung by a gas station to pick up both gas and coffee (necessities) and heard Northern ParulaWhite-throated Sparrow and Chimney Swift while doing so. Next we returned to Jake’s Landing in the daylight, adding Blackpoll and Black-throated Blue Warblers on the way in and a plethora of new birds on the marsh: both Egrets, Great Blue Heron, American Black Duck, Osprey, Forster’s Tern, Glossy Ibis, Spotted Sandpiper, and Bald Eagle. We left Jake’s Landing at 7:45 AM, with our list already over 100 species. We’d forgotten about our lack of Owls. We were going strong.

We briefly returned to the Pea Fields and added Blue GrosbeakEastern Meadowlark, and Black Vulture. Then we began our journey south, back down to Cape Island. We added a Wild Turkey along the road, and a minute long stop at the CMBO Goshen Center added us Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Brown Thrasher. Then we shot off to Reed’s Beach, where all of our targets materialized in short order: Boat-tailed Grackle, Red Knot, and Ring-billed Gull. We also added Brant, Dunlin, American Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, and Semipalmated Sandpiper before continuing south again. In Villas we stopped on the side of the road to check out some flowering Oaks, adding Black-throated Green Warbler. We were already painfully aware of how few migrants were around, so even a common migrant like BTG Warbler was a relief.

Next up, we did a brief walking loop through the paved trails of Cox Hall Creek (Villas WMA,) trying to scrounge up whatever migrants we could find. Although it was pretty quiet, we managed to add a few good species including Red-shouldered HawkRuby-crowned Kinglet, Magnolia Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, and Purple Martin.

It was now mid-morning, and around 10:45 we rolled back into Cape Island, where we’d stay until early afternoon. Our first stop was Higbee Beach, where we went straight to the jetty to look for the ever reliable Purple Sandpipers that linger there. It took some work, but we eventually scoped out two birds near the end of the jetty as they flew up from the rocks. We then took a brief walk through the meadows, but the lack of migrants was so absolute we left after a short time, picking up Field Sparrow as our only new bird. A staked out spot for Belted Kingfisher on our way to the Meadows did not produce. Neither did the Beanery, where a collection of good migrant warblers had been reported.  The Meadows did, however, and we added Least Tern, Killdeer, Gadwall, American WigeonShort-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Eastern Towhee and Solitary Sandpiper on our circuit around the wetland. We stopped by the State Park, but Bunker Pond was devoid of any new birds and zero hawks were moving. Cutting our losses, we zipped over to the Coral Ave. Dune Crossing for a seawtaching stint. The ocean was also pretty devoid of birds, but I finally managed to pick out a flock of Black Scoter and Jory locked on to a nice close Parasitic Jaeger. We stopped by Sunset Beach for a little more sea-watching, where I was surprised to pull out a very unusual Great Cormorant among a large raft of Double-crested. On our way out, a Cooper’s Hawk went over the car, our only accipiter of the day. We stopped by the Cove Street Pools to look for Blue-winged Teal with no luck, but did add Bank Swallow and Cedar Waxwing. With our slated time on Cape Island running low, we made a frantic attempt at the lingering Iceland Gull on the beach of 2nd avenue, but despite some hard looking couldn’t make the bird materialize. We were compensated, however, in the form of both Lesser Black-backed Gull and Royal Tern.

We’d missed some key birds on Cape Island, but our schedule demanded we head north up the Atlantic coast. We were wary, too, as a large storm system was moving into the area. It loomed behind us as we crossed the bridge onto the barrier beaches of the Atlantic coast, and as we swung by two-mile landing to pick up Common Tern the winds and clouds picked up in imminent fury. However, we were not deterred. A sea watch from Hereford Inlet netted several Northern Gannets. We moved onto the Nummy Island causeway, where under spectacular lighting we pulled off on the roadside and picked up Whimbrel, Black-bellied Plover and Tricolored Heron. Around this time, our phones began to light up with reports of good birds being pushed in by the storm system: both White Ibis and Anhinga had been spotted making landfall in the area. We were on high alert for a rarity, and as we peeled off down the causeway Preston yelled out: “Red-necked Phalarope!!”

Woah! We jumped out of the car and enjoyed point blank looks at at a gorgeous, high-breeding plumage female RN Phalarope foraging in a roadside puddle. We knew there was a mini influx of these birds on the bayshore (outside the county at Heislerville) but this find was spectacular surprise. We knew right there and then what the bird of the day would be, and we spent a disproportionate amount of time admiring it. We couldn’t escape the ticking clock, however, and had to reluctantly pull ourselves away after a few minutes of observation. Our next stop was the Wetlands Institute, where we added Little Blue Heron, Red-throated Loon, and Peregrine Falcon. Preston, already on a roll, had what he thought was a Marbled Godwit, but it disappeared from view before anyone else could confirm it. Racing just north of the inclement weather, we jumped up to Avalon and hit a staked out night heron rookery. We saw plenty of Black-crowns, but no Yellow-crowns. Feeling a bit defeated, and worried we’d miss a typically easy bird, we walked back to the car, but just before we ducked inside Preston again yelled out- “Yellow-crowned Night Heron!” as two birds flew over the trees and alighted in the roost. Phew.

We stopped by a reliable beach for Piping Plover and had a bird within minutes, as well as a cool Eagle just inches from the surf, eating a fish.

At this point it was getting late, and with only two or so hours of daylight left we had some decisions to make. Our original plan had called for us to continue north to the very top of the county, where we’d get a staked out Raven nest, and end the day in the extensive marshes of Tuckahoe WMA. However, we were aware we’d missed several birds in the south, and reports kept flowing in of action picking up south of the canal. I made an executive decision to change the plan and turn back to Cape Island, spending the last moments of daylight at the Meadows instead of Tuckahoe. This is the gamble of a big day– snap decisions will need to be made, routes altered, birds sacrificed. Ultimately, I believed we’d get more birds back on Cape Island than we’d get if we continued north.

We turned around and cut inland on our way south in order to stop by Beaver Swamp for Wood Duck, but the normally reliable stop was empty. This is the second year we’ve missed Wood Duck… I sense a vendetta forming.

At this point we were driving back into the storm that had been dogging our tail, and were met with torrential rain as we pulled back into two-mile landing. Wiping water from my scope lens, I finally picked out a Red-breasted Merganser in the channel. Fortunately, en route to the state park the rain abetted and the skies began to clear. We breathed a collective sigh of relief, and then raised a collective cry of elation as we spotted Cape May’s celebrity Northern Bobwhite foraging in the shrubs under the lighthouse. This bird was most likely released (somewhere, by someone) but had been deemed countable and was a wonderful bird to see regardless.

With daylight receding quickly, we took one last spin through the Meadows (our third visit of the day, fitting for such a consistently good location.) We diligently picked through every muddy pocket available, and managed to turn up Green-winged TealWhite-rumped Sandpiper and Stilt Sandpiper in the last few moments of daylight.

As the sun faded from the sky and waterfowl came in to roost, we watched the sky frantically for Blue-winged Teal or Green Heron, both birds we were missing, but they never appeared. We were consoled, however, by the two American Woodcock that began to peent after dark.

Having entered our second night shift, our thoughts returned to owls. We had spots for Screech and Great Horned in the northern part of the county, and were preparing to take the haul back up (granted, we were all very tired and didn’t want to endure an hour-long car ride) when we stumbled upon reports from the Beanery that seemed promising. Still intending to head north, we stopped by just to see what was up. Within minutes, Barred Owl and Eastern Screech Owl both sounded off. Woohoo!

Great Horned was the only real target left. We’d received word they were also in the area, although we didn’t know exactly where… until one suddenly sounded off from the woods across the street from the Beanery’s entrance. We were ecstatic– a trip north had just been avoided. And with that, we concluded our day with all three owls at one spot. It was 10:30 PM, and we pulled into the finish line in good spirits. We finalized our checklist over good food, and there it was– our final tally! 162 species.

We were satisfied. And, as it turned out, that result would have satisfied many others– we came in 3rd place overall in the youth category (up against teams that did full state, meticulously scouted) and, had we been competing in the Cape May County sector (only open to adult teams) we would have come in 2nd. More important than placement, however, we raised a good amount of money for a cause near and dear to our hearts and spent a wonderfully intense day in the field. All our team members had fantastic finds and shone in their own niches.

As this is my last year as Club President (and also my last year doing the WSB– at least with the club,) I am optimistic about the years to come. I’m sure that future Club teams will handily best the record we’ve set this year. To all who’ve contributed their support, thank you so much. And to my Dad, our intrepid driver, thank you for putting up with our frantic directions and sometimes seemingly illogical decisions. Also a huge thank you to NJ Audubon and the Cape May Bird Observatory for orchestrating and operating this crazy, awesome event for so many successful years.

– Brendan Murtha, Club  President

(*addendum*– On our way home the next day, the Club birded Brigantine for several hours and enjoyed a plethora of species new for the trip list. Highlights included Black-headed Gull, Black Skimmer, Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Snow Goose and Blue-winged Teal.)