I had spent much of the latter part of December anticipating a certain local birding outing I planned to take in the coming days. Sure, my dad and I only planned to hit Pine and Ash Creeks, my two main patches that I cover numerous times over the course of the year. But unlike any other random day in the year, this outing was scheduled for January 1st.
For most birders, the first day of the new year holds a special place in their hearts. When the clock strikes midnight, all year lists revert to zero for the coming year, and all species once again become new. It’s a sort of clean slate, a chance to write a whole new chapter in one’s birding life.
Thus, this trip presented my first opportunity to get out there and start adding to my newly born 2013 list. It was also the first field birding I’d done since a recent surgery, which had limited my action for most of December to random checks of the bird feeders here and there.
Now New Years Day, I looked out at those same feeders for that oh-so-special first bird of the year. The bird that would set the tone. Just as the poles, baffles, and feeders were becoming visible, I noticed a few small sparrow-like birds quickly moving about in the snow, searching for the seed I had scattered there the day before.
Even without binoculars, I could clearly tell that these were Dark-eyed Juncos, a favorite winter visitor of mine, and a great bird to start off the year.
Soon, more birds joined the juncos. Opening my notebook, I recorded Mourning Dove, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and House Sparrow, all before stepping out the door.
Moving along to Pine Creek, my dad and I worked both to pick up the rest of the ‘low hanging fruit’, and to secure more uncommon birds that we knew were present.
We first worked the entire landfill area, from Old Dam Road to Veres Street and back. We then walked the dike out into the marsh before heading down to the Old Dam Road feeding station. Later, we hit the open space area behind that feeding station, and then returned to the car by walking down Old Dam Road.
In three hours of birding, we picked up thirty-six species, including thirty-one for the year. Our highlights included: Brant, Common Loon, Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawk, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
However, on this day, we were also happy to record many of the expected common species, which were arguably almost as exciting as some of the more unusual finds.
We then moved on to Ash Creek, viewed from a parking lot off the Post Road just before the bridge into Bridgeport.
Emerging from the car, I was both surprised and delighted to find a female Northern Shoveler among the more expected Bufflehead, Red-breasted Mergansers, American Black Duck, and American Wigeon.
All of the species named above (excluding American Black Duck which we’d seen at Pine Creek) were new for the year. My FOY Great Black-backed Gull and White-breasted Nuthatch were also present.
After Ash Creek, we headed home for a while. A couple of hours later, I made it out into the field again with some friends (the Pintos). Our first stop was the Scandinavian Club (part of the Pine Creek complex), a spot my dad and I hadn’t visited that morning.
There, I enjoyed my first Fox Sparrow of the year, which spent some time singing, providing a hint of spring in the cold temps. A nice American Tree Sparrow was also present.
After some time with the Fox Sparrow, we moved on to the Old Dam Road feeding station, which my dad and I had visited that morning.
When we arrived, four calling Cedar Waxwings (sometimes a tough bird to get at this time of year) were present above the feeders.
Much the same was present at the feeders and open space area during my second visit as when my dad and I had first come around that morning. After a while, we decided to get lunch.
Upon returning home later that day, I added Northern Flicker and Monk Parakeet by way of the feeders, two species that can be pretty hit-or-miss at this time of year.
The next day, I first stopped at an undisclosed location somewhere in Fairfield. Here I was in for a treat in the form of a Long-eared Owl, which quietly gazed at me while I took photos at a safe distance.
Moving on, I visited the Ash Creek Open Space Area, with the highlights being my first Gadwall and Killdeer of the year. Two female-type Northern Shoveler (one possibly being the bird from the day before) were also present.
I was still so pumped to see the Long-eared that I took the time to head over to Pine Creek for the third time in two days. Here, a staked-out Barred Owl performed beautifully, and made January 2 a two-owl day for me.
It was then back over to the Ash Creek area, thanks to a report from James Purcell of nine Snow Buntings at Jennings Beach. The buntings were right where he said they would be, foraging in the grassy shoulder of the parking lot. A large flock of 50 Horned Larks then made its way over, which took my gaze away from the buntings. When I looked back, the buntings were gone, replaced with ten Horned Larks foraging in exactly the same spot. A flyover Red Crossbill seconds later upped the number of winter notables at Jennings to three.
After the excitement in the parking lot, I spent some time scanning offshore from the Jennings Beach pavilion. The cold, nippy conditions kept me from staying long, but I did notch my first Horned Grebe and Greater Scaup for the year.
Overall, January first and second had seen my year get off to a great start, adding both common and desirable species to my growing list of birds seen. It was a great beginning to what has so far been an awesome month of birding, in Fairfield and beyond.