Hello all! Nicolas Main writing. Some of you may not know me, but I have been an avid member of the Connecticut Young Birders for almost a year. Recently another member, Will Schenck, has taken up writing the summaries although, i’ll be filling in. I hope that my first club trip write up will consist of good storytelling, that both entertains and excites!
Considering that I am one of the only young birder’s who resides as far inland in Litchfield County as I do, I am usually faced with a grueling journey to attend most of our club trips. Despite the long drive, I was determined to meet up with both Jory and Aidan for our annual February outing, eager to assist with the round up of wintering birds at some excellent local spots. Although there was a disheartening forecast for rain later in the day, we wanted to give local birding areas in both Stratford and Bridgeport a chance.
To start off the trip, we thought it was important to stop at a hotspot known as Long Beach. Due to the fact that this is such an excellent location for birding, we knew we would come across some amazing birds. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a group of hyperactive Long-tailed Ducks. This assured us that with the warm weather and active birds, that it was going to be a successful trip.
Adding to the promising conditions, sea watching was going to be that much easier with the calm, and clear waters. Continuing onto the beach, the real birding began. Before Jory and Aiden could set up their scopes we were immediately swarmed with a flock of Horned Lark which produced a great photography opportunity. While trying for a decent shot of the larks, a quick scan with scopes produced diving Common Goldeneye, and group of Greater Scaup. These amazing conditions seemed to be sending the birds into a frenzy as well. Flocks of Dunlin and Sanderling frantically flew back and forth looking for a place to land, sea ducks dove desperately all while a massive group of Brant called in the background. With a final scan, we came across two Iceland Gull’s sitting far out on the jetty, accompanied by Snowy owls. Racking up 22 species, we thought that Long Beach had resulted in some notable birds and decided to move on to another hotspot.
Deliberating in the car ride about new cameras, and lenses, we made our way to Seaside Park. Immediately pulling into the park, we were greeted with a massive nest created by an introduced exotic species known as Monk Parakeets. Surprisingly, the Parakeets were mingling amongst the European Starlings on the ground. By moving further into the park, we scanned for a flock of foraging birds which can sometimes consist of multiple species. Within a minute of searching, Aidan was able to pull out the flock which consisted of Horned lark, Snow bunting, and a Lapland Longspur all scurrying their way about the field. We also scanned a small group of gulls looking for anything unusual, and with nothing intriguing, we moved on.
Next, we proceed with the trip to a nearby energy plant which tends to hold massive groups of gulls; and they were everywhere. On the ledges of the building, in high concentrations on nearby rooftops, and even riding along on the moving garbage trucks. A Red-tailed Hawk flew from each corner of the rooftop of the plant and thankfully shuffling the gulls as it flew by. After a few minutes of scanning through a chained fence, we came across our third Iceland Gull for the day, which sat on a rooftop. Although not a rare gull, this species can be somewhat uncommon but always exciting to find!
Our next stop was “The Reef”. Thankfully the high tide was receding which opened up not only the sandbar but provided great opportunity to find some exciting birds. When walking onto the beach we were instantly meant with a massive raft of 700+ Greater/Lesser Scaup, where we eagerly scanned the group in hope of Tufted Duck. Sadly the raft moved further and further out which limited our ability to find the rare duck. Despite the missed opportunity, we managed to locate our fourth Iceland Gull, which was intermingled with the Ringed-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls. In conclusion, this hotspot was far from a dud, with White-winged Scoters along with some far out Great Cormorants which were both new for the day.
Granted we didn’t get too many species at our next location, Sunken Island, we still obtained one of our trip highlights. A beautiful male Harlequin Duck which was found by Aidan swam amongst the group of White-winged Scoters. Because this rare bird has such astonishing plumage, it is always a treat to find along the Connecticut coast. Not picking up anything else too exciting other than a dozen of Horned Grebes, we proceed on.
Thoroughly birding most of Bridgeport and Stratford, we went on to some area in Westport. Bulkley Pond tends to be an easy stop for the club, where we can pick up a resident male Northern Pintail that mixes with Mallards and sometimes Green-winged Teal. After the quick pitstop for the ducks, we moved on to some other small and quick locations.
Disappointingly the sun was swallowed up with clouds which reminded us of the impending rain, we had to move fast. Quick 15 minute stops at Southport Beach and Gorham Island resulted in Red-breasted Mergansers, some Common Loons, along with Gadwall and Hooded Mergansers. Admittingly these spots we hurried, we managed to save some time for our final spots.
Having been focusing so much on the seabirds, it was refreshing to hear Black-capped Chickadees calling when we arrived at Burying Hill Beach. As they sang, we were thankfully meant with a up close Lesser-backed Gull. Although this birds seemingly simple appearance, it is an always exciting bird to come across. As this bird waded further down the shoreline, Jory and Aidan came across a Red-throated Loon in their scopes, along with a large group of Long-tailed Ducks. Spending 20 minutes here, we thought it would be a smart idea to move on as the clouds appeared to become darker, and more menacing.
The forecast stated that at 2:00 pm, the rain would start. Although the days had begun to start getting longer, my fellow members and I were disappointed that we would not be able to bird until sundown. Due to the short winter days, the past couple have trips have ended seemingly too fast. Although running out of time, we had to make the best of it.
Saugatuck Shores was our next location and final location. Although residential, small spots that opened up to the beach provided a spot where we could set up the scopes.While scanning an older man on his bike stopped and asked what we were up to. On occasion we are stopped by a curious passersby and we are questioned. It is always fun and somewhat rewarding to educated a curious person. Jory explained that we were bird watching and in search of any rare or uncommon ducks. Unfortunately we told the man, we haven’t found any yet. At the next open spot leading towards the beach, I was astonished by the amount of Long-tailed Ducks that stretched from Sherwood to Norwalk. Several massive rafts held up to a total of a whopping 600 birds. While Aidan scanned the shoreline, Jory was busy looking for a Barrow’s Goldeneye. After we celebrated finding the 5th Iceland Gull of the day along the beach, Jory managed to find an interesting looking Common Goldeneye. Having the day started off with great conditions, they now began to worsen. Rain started, a haze in the scope, and over 400 Goldeneye all together, it was impossible refind the peculiar female Goldeneye. With the misfortune of missing a new bird, the Goldeneyes still managed to provide an incredible experience. We not only watched but listened to the Goldeneye take simultaneous flight. The roaring sound of the birds lifting off was a better experience, to me, than getting a new bird. Satisfied with our excursion at Saugatuck Shores, we took a break from birding to take pictures of the beautiful landscape, Jory taught both me and Aidan some excellent landscape photography techniques.
Racking up a total of 50 species, we had a decent day. Although we had to rap up the trip early to weather, it was a successful trip that resulted in two lifers for me. I look forward to the warblers that will soon start to make their way back to the wonderful state of Connecticut, and hope our next few trips will result in some great passrine birding!
– Nicolas Main