3/14 – Florida

My family and I returned a week ago from a nice six-day trip to Florida. I was able to get a good amount of birding done on that trip, and I’m hoping to write about it here sometime soon (that is, if junior year and spring migration allow!).

Stay tuned and thanks for holding on a little while longer!

-AB

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90!

James Purcell and I spent the entire day Sunday (1/19) birding the majority of birding locations throughout the town of Fairfield on a winter big day of sorts. Our primary goal aside from numbers of species was to connect with as many year birds, or in James’ case Big Year birds (James is currently in the midst of a Fairfield Big Year effort), as possible, and maybe turn up something rare or unusual in the midst of our wandering.

I am happy to report that our day’s efforts were hugely successful, and that James added five new birds to his growing list. I personally tacked on six species for my year list, which now stands at 93 species, all of which were seen in Fairfield. The passing of the arbitrary number of ninety species allows me to qualify for the Connecticut Big January effort, which is a friendly competition among Connecticut birders to see how many birds they can see during the darkest and coldest month of the year. Although I most certainly won’t win (nor come close), I am glad to say that Fairfield will be represented in the final standings.

Our day began at Pine Creek Open Space, where I’ve spent at least one day a week during this month birding this fantastic location. It was on this visit that I failed to pass the thirty species mark at this spot for the first time in a while. We came in just one short, at twenty-nine, with the top highlight for me being a flyover Red-throated Loon, a new bird for the year. Perhaps the wind and chilly conditions had something to do with the dearth of birds.

Other highlights included a female Common Goldeneye, swimming in the creek (an odd spot to find this bird), Sharp-shinned Hawk and American Tree Sparrow. On the way out, we nailed eight Wild Turkey, a new year bird for James, at a nearby feeder.

However, we found the nearby Scandinavian Club (part of the “Pine Creek Complex”) to be chock full of good birds. During our short ten minutes there we came up with birds such as a beautiful male Eastern Towhee, Fox Sparrow, and the highlight of the visit for me, a Brown Thrasher, completing my mimid trifecta for January.

We then hit spots like Pine Creek’s Salt Meadows, and Sasco Beach and the Harbor Road Bridge in Southport, which held little of note. The Canada Goose flock on the Fairfield Country Club failed to hold recently-seen rarities like Cackling and Barnacle Geese, although we did score a Turkey Vulture soaring in the vicinity of our lookout point in Southport.

Moving on through Southport, we found more of the same. Bulkley Pond held the male Green-winged Teal I had enjoyed the other day. This time, though, the bird was foraging and showing nicely out in the open, even providing a few digiscoped photos.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal and Mallard

Green-winged Teal and Mallard

Six Gadwall were also present on the pond.

Following our experience with the teal, we hit the neighborhood north of the pond in search of a large blackbird flock that has been recently seen in the area. We were unable to catch up with these birds on this visit, but a surprise Pileated Woodpecker, a new year bird for James, was most certainly the highlight of our little detour.

After Southport and a quick drive down One Rod Highway, we returned to James’ house (with a view of the Penfield Reef) for lunch. It was here that I picked up my ninetieth bird of the year, in the form of at least two Lesser Scaup among a flock of Greaters.

Another big highlight was having all three Bucephala species in view at once, including the continuing Barrow’s Goldeneye, foraging right off the end of the reef.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

It was now time to add some insurance, and we set off for what would be a terrific afternoon. Picking up a White-winged Scoter at Sunken Island, we advanced to the Ash Creek area, with our first stop being Jennings Beach.

With little of note at Jennings, we hit the Ash Creek Open Space area, where we netted Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks. We found the creek to be mostly (and surprisingly) devoid of waterfowl, which was the same case at Upper Ash Creek. The long-staying Eurasian Wigeons were not among the few birds that remained.

After a short stop at the Metro Conservation Area that included a nice count of twelve Gadwall, Red-tailed Hawk and American Tree Sparrow, and uneventful visits to the Birdcraft Sanctuary and the wet area behind Ludlowe High School, we cut our losses and began our circuit of northern Fairfield.

Our first stop was the Perry’s Mill Ponds, which ended up being a lot birdier than expected with eighteen species recorded on our brief visit, including a new bird for the year in the form of a Pied-billed Grebe on the first pond. The Pied-billed was also joined by two male Ring-necked Ducks among others.

Other highlights included Turkey Vulture, Belted Kingfisher with a nice catch, Hairy Woodpecker and a calling Winter Wren, which was a nice surprise after missing this bird at Pine Creek.

Samp Mortar Reservoir yielded three Ring-necked Ducks, down from the ten I had a few days ago.

Following Samp Mortar, I enjoyed another hugely successful visit to Hemlock Reservoir, yielding three female Common Merganser, a new species for the year, as well as the continuing adult Bald Eagle, soaring majestically over the opposite shoreline.

Two of the three Common Mergansers.

Two of the three Common Mergansers.

After such an awesome day of birding, we were riding “on high” from our success, and thus it was appropriate to finish off our day at the highest point in Fairfield, Hoydens Hill Open Space. Here we enjoyed a beautiful view of the meadows and edges of this awesome location in the fading light. It was a fitting ending to a sensational day of birding our sensational town.

-Alex

In addendum: James and I also took the chance to enjoy a beautiful Great Horned Owl in the midst of our efforts, my ninety-third bird of the year.

Great Horned Owl, Fairfield, CT

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding | 1 Comment

1/16 – Bald is Beautiful

With a little free time on my hands this morning, I joined Jim Orrico for a couple of hours of birding in town. Our plan was to hit a couple of lakes and reservoirs in Northern Fairfield, in hopes that some would be unfrozen, before heading back down to the coast.

Our first stop was Hemlock Reservoir, near the border with Easton. During my initial binocular scan, I saw a large shape out on the ice that I passed over for a buoy. But upon taking out the heavier equipment, and zeroing in to 60x, I noticed that this “buoy” was in fact an ADULT Bald Eagle!

Bald Eagle, Hemlock Reservoir, CT

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

We spent the next twenty minutes or so enjoying the no-doubt “bird of the day” as it sat complacently out on the ice, unmoving, except for a few turns of its head here and there. Bald Eagles are uncommon at best in Fairfield, and this was my first in town in over a year. These birds are regularly found wintering at Hemlock Reservoir, but typically on the Easton side, so we were thrilled that this bird had “made the crossing”.

While watching the eagle, we noted a large flock of chickadees calling from a nearby pine. As the birds moved closer and to eye level, we noticed an imposter in their midst: a juvenile Pine Warbler!

Pine Warbler, Hemlock Reservoir, CT

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Although these birds are locally common breeders around Hemlock Reservoir, this bird (my first Pine ever in the winter in Fairfield) was completely unexpected. It would be fascinating to know if this bird had been born and raised at this location and decided to stick it out for the winter, or if it had been derived from somewhere else. But we’ll likely never know…

From Hemlock we moved south, finding Lake Mohegan and the northern portion of Samp Mortar Reservoir to be almost completely iced over. However, a calling Winter Wren in the wet, swampy woodlands at the latter stop was a nice surprise.

We finally located a small, ice-free patch on Samp Mortar next to Old Black Rock Turnpike, a patch that just happened to contain ten Ring-necked Ducks, all of which were males.

Ring-necked Duck, Samp Mortar Reservoir, CT

Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked Ducks

It was awesome to catch up with these variable winter residents in Fairfield, whose wintering population is ultimately determined by the amount of open fresh water present on the larger bodies of water in town.

After Samp, we moved on to our last stop of the day: Bulkley Pond, on the border of Fairfield and Westport. After a bit of persistent scanning (as well as two previous visits), we were finally able to connect with our target here, Green-winged Teal.

This bird emerged from hiding at the Fairfield side of the pond just long enough to provide us with a good, identifying visual, before slipping back into its brushy and well-vegetated domain.

Green-winged Teal. If you look closely, you can just make out that distinctive white bar and the flanks and chestnut head through all of the brush.

Green-winged Teal. If you look closely, you can just make out that distinctive white bar and the flanks and chestnut head through all of the brush.

Up to eight birds were present at this location last January, as opposed to the single Green-winged Teal noted on this effort, as the well as the complete lack of these birds on my previous two visits. Maybe a few teal were staying out of view, in the vicinity of the area the male had come from, or perhaps more are on their way over the next couple of weeks, in to provide this bird with some company.

On the way out of the pond, we noted a nice, adult Red-shouldered Hawk, perched right above Sasco Creek, literally straddling the border between Fairfield and Westport.

-Alex

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1/8 – Ash Creek

Sunset at Pine Creek, where we headed after Ash, and dipped on the previously-reported Rough-legged Hawk and Orange-crowned Warbler.

Sunset at Pine Creek, where we headed after Ash, and dipped on the previously-reported Rough-legged Hawk and Orange-crowned Warbler.

Before a frustrating dusk miss of both the Cackling and Barnacle Geese in the Southport area of Fairfield (although we would get redemption on the former over the weekend, and the latter on Thursday, January 9th), Jim Orrico and I birded the Ash Creek area for a couple of hours, late on the afternoon on Wednesday, January 8.

Our first stop was the Upper Ash Creek area, which due to the incredibly cold temperatures we’d been experiencing, was found to be mostly frozen. However, we were able to pick up one of the continuing male Eurasian Wigeon in some of the open water, as well as a nearby Killdeer, although the awesome waterfowl numbers I had found there previously were severely depleted, likely due to the conditions. They would rebound over the weekend, though.

We then headed down to the Ash Creek Open Space area, where we were able to view much of the marsh and creek beyond. The heavy tides in this area allowed all of the water to stay open, and thus we caught up with a great deal of waterfowl, dominated by Mallard (330 to be exact). We found this to be an interesting juxtaposition in comparison with the Upper Ash Creek area, which is usually dominated by American Black Ducks.

Highlights at the open space included decent numbers of waterfowl including the aforementioned Mallards, 35 Canada Goose, 4 Gadwall, one of the male Eurasian Wigeon that drifted down from Upper Ash, 40 American Wigeon, 50 American Black Duck, 1 American Black Duck x Mallard, 8 Greater Scaup, 6 Bufflehead, 10 Hooded and 8 Red-breasted Merganser.

Red-tailed Hawk, seven Killdeer and a nice count of eighteen American Tree Sparrow were some of the other highlights.

I was able to get a number of photos of the birds in the Ash Creek area, many of which are below (as always, click on the images for larger and clearer views):

American Black Duck

American Black Duck

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck and Mallard.

Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck and Mallard.

A portion of the large numbers of waterfowl present at the Ash Creek Open Space (dominated by Mallard).

A portion of the large numbers of waterfowl present at the Ash Creek Open Space (dominated by Mallard).

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Killdeer, Ash Creek, CT Killdeer, Ash Creek, CT

Killdeer

Killdeer

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding | 2 Comments

1/11 – 1/12: Fairfield Continues to Shine

I enjoyed another awesome weekend of birding in my awesome hometown, Fairfield, CT. Starting from foggy Saturday morning to windy Sunday evening, I birded more-or-less nonstop, putting together a nice total of species for the weekend, and noting a number of highlights.

In anticipation of getting a lot of birding in over the weekend, I slaved over six hours of homework on Friday night in order to be as free as possible. It wasn’t the most exciting experience at the time, but the birds over the weekend certainly made up for it!

My first stop on Saturday (January 11th) morning was the Metro Conservation Area, in the Ash Creek region of Fairfield. My primary target here was Savannah Sparrow, but after an hour of searching, I unfortunately came up empty. Nevertheless, birds like Gadwall, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler and American Tree Sparrow kept me busy and made the miss (of a bird that seemed like a given) more bearable.

After the Metro, I stopped by the main Ash Creek area, viewed from a parking lot off of the Post Road. I have visited this location this winter for Canvasback and have come up empty ever time. Until yesterday. An awesome flock of twenty-five Canvasback was hanging around the area, and became enshrouded in mist every so often, giving the group of sort of ethereal feel.

The Canvasback flock.

The Canvasback flock.

Canvasback, Ash Creek, CT

Canvasbacks

Canvasbacks

Terrific waterfowl numbers and variety continued at Ash, including: 27 Canada Goose, Mute Swan, 23 Gadwall, 87 American Wigeon, 145 American Black Duck, Mallard, Mallard x American Black Duck, Bufflehead and 1 Hooded Merganser. A Killdeer was also around.

Gadwall

Gadwall

The stars of the show, however, were the two continuing male Eurasian Wigeon. One Euro is nice enough, but we’re simply spoiled with two. I was finally able to get these awesome birds into the same scope view, and was able to capture a digiscoped portrait of the two of them before they drifted apart.

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon

After some fun with the waterfowl at Ash, I headed to the border of Fairfield and Westport and Bulkley Pond. Unfortunately, it was too foggy to see the waterfowl at the back of the pond, and thus we decided to retire home, just in time for the thunder storms and pouring rain to begin.

Sunday morning dawned sunny, with the wind scheduled to pick up a few hours after sunrise. I had the pleasure of leading Bill Asteriades and Rick Macsuga around portions of one of my all-around favorite birding spots in Fairfield: Pine Creek.

Before I split up from Bill and Rick, we covered the main landfill area down to the pond, noting birds like Winter Wren and Common Raven (vocalizing literally just after we finished discussing the status of corvids in Connecticut).

After parting ways, I spent the next three hours birding the remainder of the Pine Creek complex, noting thirty-eight species, including a slew of highlights. These were: Sharp-shinned and Red-shouldered Hawks, Belted Kingfisher, calling flyover Horned Lark and American Pipit, two Gray Catbird, American Tree Sparrow and flyover Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird.

Following another awesome morning at Pine Creek, Jim Orrico and I hit the road, visiting a number of spots throughout the southern part of the town.

Our first stop was One Rod Highway, in search of a raptor or two. We came away with nothing in the Accipitridae department, although an American Tree Sparrow among the regulars was nice.

Moving on, we hit Sunken Island, which we viewed from Fairfield Beach Road. A strong wind was coming off the water, and was certainly responsible for the best and most surprising bird of the visit: a nearshore Northern Gannet that actually appeared to be fighting just to maintain its position in offshore waters.

Other highlights at the island included: Brant, Greater Scaup, White-winged and Black Scoter (a single female among the scaup), Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser.

After stopping briefly at home in order to grab some lunch, we were on our way, headed to Southport. We noticed that the sizable goose flock that had previously contained the Barnacle I enjoyed on Thursday, was present on the Fairfield Country Club grounds, positioned right up against Sasco Hill Road.

We ended up enjoying forty minutes with this 525 bird flock, taking in point-blank views of Barnacle and Cackling Geese, terrific visitors to my humble little town.

Barnacle Goose, Fairfield Country Club, CT

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

Cackling Goose, Fairfield Country Club, CT Cackling Goose, Fairfield Country Club, CT

Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

As a dedicated Fairfield birder, I feel an enormous sense of pride, derived from the fact that my town is hosting such awesome birds, and that people are making the trek to Fairfield to see them. It is not every day that you see large numbers of birders (or any at all besides James and myself!) birding the Fairfield coastline, but this is exactly what we’ve experienced with the Barrow’s Goldeneye at the reef and the geese in Southport. To put my own spin on a popular bird feeding mantra: “if you give them good birds, they will come.”

Following a nice visit with the geese, we headed to nearby Bulkley Pond. Our biggest highlight here came not in the form of a bird, but a mammal. Peering through my scope, I was happily surprised to see one then two Muskrat, my first in a while!

Muskrat, Bulkley Pond, CT

Muskrat

Muskrat

It was a terrific experience catching up with these charismatic rodents in my own town, and proved that Fairfield is a great spot to enjoy the mammalian side of things as well!

Our last stop of the day was Fairfield University. It took a while, but eventually we caught up with our top target here: the Wild Turkey flock that is reliably found at this location. We enjoyed a group of eight birds works the grounds one of the university buildings just as the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon. It was the perfect ending to a sensational weekend.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey on the run (notice the blurred legs).

Wild Turkey on the run (notice the blurred legs).

A close Wild Turkey.

A close Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkey plumage study.

Wild Turkey plumage study.

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding, Rarities | 1 Comment

1/9 – BARNACLE GOOSE, Fairfield

Barnacle Goose has been on my radar as a Fairfield birder for a couple of years now, beginning with the banded Scottish bird in Westport a few years back. That bird never made it across the border, but the saga of Westport Barnacle Geese continued last week, when one was found at Burying Hill Beach. James Purcell and I made a quick check of the Fairfield Country Club this past Sunday, hoping the bird had crossed the border, but unfortunately came away with nothing to show for our efforts.

My dreams became reality yesterday, however, when Frank Mantlik discovered the Barnacle Goose at the Fairfield Country Club, among a large flock of Canada Geese. I raced over there as soon as I heard the news, but it was unfortunately too dark for me to pick the bird out amongst the throngs of Canadas from my viewing location across Southport Harbor.

Today, just as the light was fading, I made another stab at the Barnacle Goose, and was finally able to catch up with it. The bird was hanging out with a nice flock of around 500 Canada Geese on the iced-over harbor, and spent most of its time sitting (including sleeping) on the ice, only standing and looking around briefly.

Our initial view of the goose, roosting in the center on the far bank.

Our initial view of the goose, roosting in the center on the far bank.

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

It was a real treat to finally catch up with this bird in Fairfield. Barnacle Goose might just be my favorite goose I’ve ever seen, and will enjoy a hard-won place on my Fairfield Town List, one that receives a new addition far too infrequently.

-Alex

In addendum: Barnacle Goose will join a nice list of goodies found by scoping the Country Club grounds in the past, including Snow Goose, American Golden-Plover and Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

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1/1 – Virginia Opossum, Hoydens Hill

While birding Hoydens Hill on January first, Jim Orrico and I came across a Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), perched low in the shrubby growth. This species is the only marsupial found in the United States and Canada. When we first encountered this guy, it appeared to be playing dead (as ‘possums so often do) be laying limp on the branch and remaining unmoving as we stood there. Eventually, it ceased the act and began staring us down intently, and also checking out the surrounding area. We discerned this animal to be a young one based on its overall size and coloration, although my experience with these beasts is rather limited and thus I could be perfectly wrong on that designation.

Virginia Opossum, Hoydens Hill, CT Virginia Opossum, Hoydens Hill, CT

Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossum

It was the first time I’d ever seen one of these guys alive in Fairfield, and a cool experience to boot!

-Alex

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