1/5 – Penfield Reef Barrow’s

I received a call from James Purcell late morning on Sunday to alert me to a Northern Pintail in the vicinity of his house at the Penfield Reef. Despite the extremely treacherous and icy road conditions, I couldn’t resist heading over to look for my first pintail in Fairfield this year.

When I arrived, I found that the pintail had left the area. James and I spent a while searching for it, to no avail. Consolation came in the form of the awesome male Barrow’s Goldeneye that continues at the reef for its third week now. Likely thanks to the foggy and rainy day we experienced, the bird was foraging rather close to shore, which allowed us to get some pretty decent scope views and even a few photos.

Barrow's Goldeneye, in close proximity to the roosting gulls at the base of the reef.

Barrow’s Goldeneye, in close proximity to the roosting gulls at the base of the reef.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

This is one of only two Barrow’s at the reef I can remember in the last five years. The other bird, a male found by James, only stuck around for an afternoon, and I arrived home from school just a little too late to chase it. This bird, however, has been showing some staying power, allowing me to enjoy it for the second time after my initial look for the year on January 2nd.

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding, Rarities | 2 Comments

In the beginning…

There was the heaven and the earth. There was a White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal and a Dark-eyed Junco, my first three birds of the year! I’ve been keeping a year list for a number of years now, and have really been enjoying it. New Years Day truly feels like an extension of Christmas; every bird is “new” in a sense, even the lowly House Sparrows and European Starlings. It’s exciting to wait until midnight, then high tail it out just a few hours later to start getting that year list off to a good start. This past Wednesday, I did just that.

I awoke early on Wednesday morning, and made a quick check of the feeders just as light was beginning to increase. Dawn on New Years Day is always the most crazy time for a year lister. Your heart beats as you watch the light increase, waiting for little shapes to appear around the feeding station. As always, I was in heightened anticipation of my first bird of the year, something that came soon enough, in the form of an innocent White-throated Sparrow scratching about under the feeders. A Northern Cardinal was doing the same nearby, and a Dark-eyed Junco soon flew in, completing m initial trio of birds for the year!

After bagging those initial birds, I headed to my first spot on a clear but very cold New Years Day, Pine Creek, arguably the best winter birding location in all of Fairfield. I’ve begun my last three birding years at Pine Creek, including 2014. It always provides thirty or more species, allowing me to enjoy a good variety of “new” birds and get things rolling in quick succession.

I was able to tally thirty-five species on this morning, including a number of good birds such as: Sharp-shinned Hawk, my first American Coot at Pine Creek, three of the wintering Winter Wrens, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a female Eastern Towhee at the fantastic Pine Creek feeding station, American Tree, Fox and Swamp Sparrows.

Overall, it was a great winter visit to Pine Creek, and a great way to start my new year of birding. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera along for this stop, as I was really hoping to just enjoy those “first” looks at these birds, but it probably would’ve come in handy for notables such as American Coot, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Eastern Towhee. Oh well, guess I’ll have to make another visit to this awesome spot!

After Pine Creek, I joined up with Jim Orrico, and together we hit Upper Ash Creek. We found that terrific numbers of the commoner waterfowl remained from the weeks prior, numbers that tend to include a surprise or two. On this visit, that surprise was one of the continuing male Eurasian Wigeon, one of two individuals that has been seen here lately.

Eurasian Wigeon (digiscoped)

Eurasian Wigeon (digiscoped)

Waterfowl numbers included 11 Canada Goose, 21 Gadwall, 102 American Wigeon, 106 American Black Duck, 11 Mallard, American Black Duck x Mallard, Bufflehead and 3 Hooded Merganser. A nearby Killdeer was living up to its scientific name, Charadrius vociferus, continually calling from the edge of the marsh.

Moving on, we headed up to the highest point in Fairfield, Hoydens Hill Open Space, another one of Fairfield’s best winter birding locations. Although our visit was cut short by a bit of crazy locals lighting off frighteningly loud and disturbing fireworks, we still managed to nail our two targets here, in the form of six (!) Field Sparrows in the brush at the edge of the softball field, and two Eastern Bluebirds in the hedgerows along the meadows of the main open space area.

We also ran into a number of awesome birds, many of them new for the year, including, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Fox Sparrow. The biggest surprise, however, was likely a first winter White-crowned Sparrow, a rare winter visitor to Fairfield, hanging out with Song and White-throated Sparrows.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

With daylight receding, we departed Hoydens and raced back down to the coast in order to reach the Penfield Reef before dusk, in hopes of netting the continuing male Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Upon arrival, James Purcell alerted us that many of the ducks had cleared out thanks to the presence of a waterfowl hunter on the reef, who luckily departed the area soon after I arrived. With the hunter gone, we hoped we could catch the Barrow’s in the failing light, but it was unfortunately no joy on this day.

However, we did enjoy some other new birds for the year including Greater Scaup, Great Cormorant and a flock of twelve Snow Buntings on the reef.

With unfinished business at the reef, I returned the next day, and together James Purcell and I located the drake Barrow’s Goldeneye, swimming and diving with Common Goldeneyes in the more turbulent waters.

We also caught up with three other new year birds in the form of Long-tailed Duck, White-winged Scoter and Sanderling, although I failed to nail the Dunlin seen by James earlier in the day.

I enjoyed a great start to 2014 on the first two days of the year, netting sixty-two species, quite a total considering I restricted my birding to my hometown. I find these early days of the year, and catching up with old birds that have suddenly become new again, thanks to the game of year listing, to be one of the most satisfying and enjoyable times of the birding calendar.

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding | 1 Comment

Looking back: 2013

In terms of my treatment status, 2013 was a rather up-and-down year, characterized by periods of stability and instability. The former periods ran roughly between January-May and November-December, broken up by a long summer and early fall of no treatment, and frequent surgeries. My birding during the course of the year followed this periodical trend. I got out into the field a good deal during the stable times, but regrettably hardly ever during the unstable months. It was definitely a tough year, and one I’m more or less happy is over.

The highlights of my birding over the course of the year included another great trip out West, to Arizona and California in March, a record-breaking Fairfield Big Day Effort in May, a terrific tandem of short birding trips to Cape Cod and New Hampshire in June, a fun November of birding highlighted by a trip to Québec, and a fantastic end of the year in December, highlighted by a short trip to Florida that included some birding.

I broke out of the gates with a strong start to the year in January, highlighted by some great local birding. I noted a number of infrequent visitors to Fairfield, such as Northern Shoveler, Long-eared Owl, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Yellow-breasted Chat, Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

February started off with a great day trip to Central Massachusetts, the highlight being an awesome flock of Pine Grosbeaks.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak

I got out for a little birding in Fairfield and Westport during a week of treatment soon after, and enjoyed birds like Lesser Black-backed Gull at Burying Hill Beach, Green-winged Teal at Bulkley Pond and a male Northern Shoveler at Southport Beach.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

I spent my last weekend of February on an unbeatable trip to Québec. In just one weekend, we notched three Great Gray Owls and a host of other northern specialties, including Bohemian Waxwing and Hoary Redpoll.

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl

I finished up our shortest month was a fun morning at nearby Sherwood Island State Park, noting two different owl species, including Northern Saw-whet, a wintering White-crowned Sparrow and some quality waterfowl on the Millpond.

Before long, it was March. Just as the local residents were beginning to jump into the breeding scene, I was off to California and Arizona with my dad. Our whirlwind trip through the Southwest was largely successful, highlighted by birds like Scripps’s Murrelet, Mexican Chickadee and Black-capped Gnatcatcher.

Scripps's Murrelet

Scripps’s Murrelet

Mexican Chickadee, Pinery Canyon, AZ

Mexican Chickadee

Black-capped Gnatcatcher

Black-capped Gnatcatcher

We arrived home just in time for April, a month in which I continued my fanatic birding pace. The start of the breeding season culminated in a terrific day on April 14th, enjoying some newly arrived breeders, including Louisiana Waterthrush, Pine, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Towhee and Field Sparrow.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

I closed out the month with an exciting morning at Lake Mohegan, one of the best spring birding locations in all of Fairfield. Newly-arrived Neotropical migrants abounded, including seven species of Wood-Warblers, highlighted by my FOY Blackburnian.

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

May started off extremely slow in terms of migration, as prevailing east winds kept the floodgates completely shut for the first ten days of the month or so. I did enjoy some great local birding during this period, as I scouted for the upcoming Fairfield Big Day effort.

The floodgates surged open just in time for Dave Hursh and my Fairfield Big Day effort, which netted 118 species, besting our old record by two.

Although I was not able to make it out too much this past May, as opposed to my daily birding the year before, I kept the pace going, with periodic trips to the Birdcraft. The highlight of my May 16th visit was surprisingly not a warbler but a nice White-crowned Sparrow, a scarce spring migrant in Fairfield.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

May ended with some rough cancer-related news and my treatment, once so promising, ended abruptly.

With surgery scheduled mid-month, I spent the first half of June making up for all of the lost time I knew I would have, with trips to Cape Cod and New Hampshire, notching birds like Piping Plover and Black-backed Woodpecker.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

June turned into July and July into August, but my birding hardly picked up following a rough surgery. I enjoyed a tiny spurt in my dead graph of sorts during August, culminating in a late-month trip to Sandy Point in New Haven, highlighted by a nice Red Knot, a species I don’t often see in Connecticut.

I picked up the pace a little with a strong weekend in mid September, with birds like Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Bay-breasted Warbler and Blue Grosbeak to show for it.

However, this weekend was merely an illusion when compared with my local birding the autumn before. And following another surgery the next week, my birding took a long-term hit.

After a rough start to the fall, I got up and dusted myself off at the beginning of November, and embarked on a fantastic two months of birding.

It all started with a terrific Barnacle Goose in Bethlehem, CT and a mind-boggling Black-chinned Hummingbird, the first state record for Connecticut, in Fairfield the next day.

Black-chinned Hummingbird, Fairfield, CT

Black-chinned Hummingbird

I kept things going with a local trip the next week. Diving into the thickets at Pine Creek, I emerged with birds like American Kestrel, Brown Thrasher and Fox Sparrow.

Following my weekend at Pine Creek, a rare, after school chase found me in downtown New Haven, enjoying a first winter Red-headed Woodpecker.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

The next weekend, things really heated up with an unreal, life-affirming trip to Québec, highlighted by an adult Ross’s Gull, one of the most incredible and ethereal species I have ever laid eyes on.

Ross's Gull

Ross’s Gull

Thanksgiving break soon arrived, with a new treatment right along with it. I began a new life on Cabazitaxel with birds like Greater White-fronted Goose and Lapland Longspur in Connecticut. The break ended with another hugely successful Cape Cod birding day with Dave Hursh, highlighted by a self-found King Eider and Short-eared Owl.

King Eider

King Eider

After some treatment-related setbacks to begin the month of December, I was on the road again, headed for a fun weekend in Miami, Florida with some good friends. I was able to sneak in a little birding during our time down South, with birds like Short-tailed HawkYellow-chevroned Parakeet and Red-whiskered Bulbul to show for it.

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

The weekend before Christmas found Jim Orrico and I working the Connecticut shoreline, and coming out with Eurasian Wigeon, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Rough-legged Hawk and others.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

And although I wasn’t able to do much CBC birding this year, a short stint the next day with Charlie Barnard at his Stratford-Milford CBC territory, Seaside Park in Bridgeport, was fantastic consolation. “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gull, Common Raven, Gray Catbird and a Lapland Longspur were just some of the highlights on a great morning of birding.

2013 was certainly a crazy year, with some decent birding nonetheless. However, I’m more than happy to put this rough year aside, and begin anew in 2014, with a new treatment to boot. I’m sure I’ll see some of you out in the field tomorrow morning, where I hope to get that year list returning to its former pace.

2014, you couldn’t have come soon enough!

-Alex

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

6/8 – 6/9: New Hampshire

Black-backed Woodpecker nest cavity.

Black-backed Woodpecker nest cavity.

Just a day after returning home from a terrific excursion to Cape Cod, I was on the road again, headed up to New Hampshire for a weekend of birding with Jim Orrico. Our trip was centered in central New Hampshire, in the heart of the White Mountains. We only intended on visiting two main stops, one on each day, both of which proved to be excellent.

Our first stop of the trip, on Saturday, June 8th, was the Trudeau Road area of Bethlehem, New Hampshire, where a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers was known to be nesting. Thanks to the help of New Hampshire birder Zeke Cornell, we were able to locate the nest and obtain great views of the parents as they continually moved back and forth between the nest tree and surrounding forest in search of food for their hungry chicks, heard calling just inside the nest hole. It was truly an unforgettable experience. Getting to enjoy the domestic lives of such an uncommon and mystical species was quite a treat.

Black-backed Woodpecker, Trudeau Road, NH Black-backed Woodpecker, Trudeau Road, NH Black-backed Woodpecker, Trudeau Road, NH Black-backed Woodpecker, Trudeau Road, NH Black-backed Woodpecker, Trudeau Road, NH Black-backed Woodpecker, Trudeau Road, NH Black-backed Woodpecker, Trudeau Road, NH Black-backed Woodpecker, Trudeau Road, NH

Black-backed Woodpecker. Photos #1-5 are of the male and photos #6-9 are of the female. As always, click on the photos for larger and clearer views.

Black-backed Woodpecker. Photos #1-5 are of the male and photos #6-10 are of the female. As always, click on the photos for larger and clearer views.

Besides the woodpeckers, we noted a number of other highlights at this location out of a total of around thirty species. These included a number of awesome northern breeders, ten of which were warblers: Yellow-bellied and Alder Flycatchers, Blue-headed Vireo, Common Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrushes, Nashville, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green and Canada Warblers, Ovenbird, American Redstart, Northern Parula and White-throated Sparrow.

After a great experience with the woodpeckers and other denizens of the Bethlehem area, we moved on to our lodging for the evening.

We awoke before dawn on the morning of Sunday, June 9th, and headed to our principal location for that day’s birding, the Caps Ridge Trail in White Mountain National Forest. It was here that we were joined by Leslie, who was surveying the Bicknell’s Thrushes in the area and proved to be a wonderful companion throughout our entire hike.

We spent nearly six hours at the unbelievably beautiful and serene location, tallying an array of high mountain specialties, including the poster bird for this habitat, Bicknell’s Thrush.

Although we never laid eyes on this denizen of the stunted spruce forest as on our last visit to the White Mountains, we nevertheless got to revel in the ethereal and gorgeous song of these birds, with a voice that kept us full of wonder as it danced up and down the scale.

The highlights on the trail were numerous, many of which are uncommon or completely absent as breeders in Connecticut. Yellow-bellied Flycatchers were incredibly numerous and vocal on the middle and upper areas of the trail, with seventeen recorded on the morning. A single Boreal Chickadee, the rarer spruce-loving cousin to our familiar Black-capped Chickadee and one of my favorite boreal birds, was present in the vicinity of the Pothole Rocks. A male Mourning Warbler sang incessantly from an opening in the forest just below the aforementioned rock formation, providing us with a rare chance to hear this bird’s song in the field. Blackpoll Warblers were simply everywhere. With thirty-six recorded on the morning, we began hearing Blackpolls the moment we emerged from the car, and continued hearing their nonstop singing as high as we went. A singing male Purple Finch, positioned nearly equidistant from the parking lot and Pothole Rocks, reminded us that we were now more than halfway to our destination, be it on the way up or down.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Boreal Chickadee, Caps Ridge Trail, NH

Boreal Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

Other fun birds along the trail included Blue-headed Vireo, a possible Philadelphia Vireo that never provided a visual (but with a rather convincing song), Common Raven, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s Thrush, Mourning, Magnolia, Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Green Warblers, American Redstart, Northern Parula, White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. To me, a coastal birder from Connecticut, the Dark-eyed Juncos looked especially odd atop a mountain, instead of at one of the coastal thickets I regularly survey in the winter, or even in my own backyard for that matter. Alas, that is the nature of my coastal bias, but I was certainly ignoring the fact that some of the youngest members of the junco flocks I was seeing at my coastal haunts were derived from areas like the Caps Ridge Trail.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

After having arrived at the trail around dawn, we emerged into the openness of the parking lot at noon, the birdsong greatly diminished, but our excitement peaking, just like the mountain, high above, enshrouded in mist. It had been another awesomely successful couple of days in a whirlwind week of birding, transporting me from the pine barrens of Cape Cod to the stunted spruce forests of the White Mountains, from barrier beaches in Barnstable to bogs in Bethlehem. It was a week I would never forget.

-Alex

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

6/5 – 6/7: Cape Cod

Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown

Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown. As always, click on all of the photos in this post for larger and clearer views.

This past June, my dad and I enjoyed a couple of nice days up in Cape Cod. During that time, we split our hours between overseeing the renovations that were going on at the new house, and doing some birding.

Our trip began on Wednesday, June 5th. On the way out of our Connecticut neighborhood, we checked the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nest at the end of the street. The nest was coming along nicely, with one of the pair sitting on it as we pulled up, and the other bird preening on a nearby branch. It is likely that there were young in the nest at the time, although the foliage coupled with the bird on the nest, made it impossible to view any.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nest; notice the bird's head peaking out on the upper left.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron nest; notice the bird’s head peeking out on the upper left.

After spending some time with these awesome, and unique breeding birds, we continued on our way.

While on the drive up to the Cape, we stopped at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison in search of a few breeders and anything else that might be around.

Our coverage at the park was mostly limited to the Willard’s Island area. We missed our top year bird targets here (Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrow), but still noted a number of great birds during our time on the island, including: Red-breasted Merganser, Glossy Ibis, Clapper Rail, American Oystercatcher, Black-bellied Plover, ‘Eastern’ Willet, Peregrine Falcon, Willow and Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbird, Purple Martin, Marsh Wren, Brown Thrasher, Baltimore Oriole and others.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

After our stop at Hammo, we continued on to our house in the Cape, spending the rest of the afternoon supervising the renovations and talking to the workers.

I had been excitedly working on building up the yard list for this location ever since my inaugural visit the week before. Although I knew this was a good location for birds, nothing would prepare me for this crazy afternoon, enjoyed while sitting on a lawn chair and reading a good book.

Over the next couple of hours, I would record thirty species, many of them new yard birds and all of them enjoyed from basically the same spot. This Big Sit of sorts yielded such highlights as Turkey Vulture, Cooper’s Hawk and Least Tern as well as one of the most exciting birds seen in the yard thus far, a gorgeous subadult Bald Eagle, spotted soaring over the marsh.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The eagle would’ve certainly been the bird of the day had it not been trumped by one extremely special visitor to the yard. While reading outdoors in the late afternoon, I began to hear a few light rustles in the brush to my right. Turning around, I noticed a female Northern Bobwhite making her way across the yard, keeping at the edge of protective cover. I ran back to the car in order to retrieve my camera, and was able to obtain a few quick record shots as the bird made its way out of the yard, and onto the neighbor’s seawall, eventually disappearing into the marsh.

Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite

Taking into account all of the properties my family has ever owned, this was likely the most unexpected and exciting yard bird I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. This experience was made even more heartening by the fact that this species is undergoing huge declines across the entire Cape, and it was especially nice to see that Northern Bobwhites are still hanging on in my area (where a decent amount of habitat still remains), despite the possibility this bird might have been released.

After the awesome experience with the Northern Bobwhite, my dad and I moved on to the inn we were staying at, a short distance away from the house (the house was not yet livable).

Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

Bright and early on the morning of Thursday, June 6th we visited the house for a couple of hours. Then it was off for a day of birding. Our first stop was the renowned Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary late in the morning.

We ended up spending around two and a half hours at this beautiful spot, walking most of the main trails and noting nearly forty species, including: a female Mallard with six ducklings, Wild Turkey, Green Heron, Turkey Vulture, Broad-winged Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow and Orchard and Baltimore Orioles. 

Female Mallard and ducklings.

Female Mallard and ducklings.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

It was then off to Head of the Meadow Beach in North Truro. Upon arrival, we noted our second Northern Bobwhite of the trip in the form of a calling bird somewhere on the hillside to the south of the parking lot. Pine and Prairie Warblers were also heard singing from the same vicinity as the bobwhite.

On the beach, we enjoyed watching the antics of the nesting Piping Plovers and Least Terns, the latter doing some impressive aerial acrobatics. Many of these birds were also participating in fish offerings.

Piping Plover on the nest.

Piping Plover on the nest.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Least Tern, Head of the Meadow Beach, MALeast Tern, Head of the Meadow Beach, MA Least Tern, Head of the Meadow Beach, MA Least Tern, Head of the Meadow Beach, MALeast Tern, Head of the Meadow Beach, MA

Least Terns

Least Terns

After Head of the Meadow, we made our way to the beach at the end of Marconi Beach Road in the vicinity of the Marconi Station. Our highlights here included Common Loon, Northern Gannet, an alcid far offshore that avoided specific identification, Least Tern and Eastern Towhee.

After hitting the Marconi area we again moved north stopping at the MacMillan Wharf, which juts into Provincetown Harbor. This is one of my favorite winter birding locations that I had never visited in the summer. We netted our major target, Common Eider, with ease, and also enjoyed the antics of a few Brant and Bonaparte’s Gulls, that were foraging at the edge of the harbor.

Common Eider

Common Eider

Brant

Brant

"Moonwalking" Bonaparte's Gulls

“Moonwalking” Bonaparte’s Gulls

Bonaparte's Gull, Provincetown Harbor, MA Bonaparte's Gull, Provincetown Harbor, MA

Bonaparte's Gulls

Bonaparte’s Gulls

Our last stop of the day was Prince Valley Road in Truro where we hoped to catch up with a calling Eastern Whip-poor-will or two.

Our two-hour dusk vigil at this location failed to provide a Whip, although we noted species such as Hairy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush, Ovenbird, Pine Warbler and Eastern Towhee, all singing or calling before dark.

The next morning (Friday, June 7th), we headed home following a brief stop at the house to check up on the renovation. It had been another incredibly successful trip to the Cape and the first time I had visited this awesome area at the end of the spring.

-Alex

Posted in Cape Cod Birding, Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding | 1 Comment

12/21 – Fairfield to Madison

Ash Creek Waterfowl

Ash Creek Waterfowl

Jim Orrico and I spent the greater part of Saturday, the 21st, birding the Connecticut coastline, from our hometown of Fairfield east to Madison. Our primary goals for this day of birding were to catch up with a number of uncommon species in Connecticut, most of which were year birds.

Our day began at sunrise at a rather familiar location, Upper Ash Creek, viewed from the Jewish Home for the Elderly on Fairfield Avenue. Although viewing conditions at this location are typically excellent, sunrise is certainly an exception to this rule, as the rising sun tends to shine right in the observers face, bleaching out the surrounding waterfowl, and causing the overall view to be less than stellar.

Despite the conditions, we were nevertheless able to come up with some fantastic waterfowl numbers, some of the best I’ve ever recorded at this location: 8 Canada Goose, 28 Gadwall, 92 American Wigeon, 63 American Black Duck, 20 Mallard, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser and 12 Red-breasted Merganser.

The standout birds of this effort though, came in the form of a nice group of 10 Canvasback in their usual spot to the east of the parking lot, and two male Eurasian Wigeon, a high count for me in Fairfield.

Nine of the ten Canvasbacks present.

Nine of the ten Canvasbacks present.

A male (left) and two female Canvasbacks.

A male (left) and two female Canvasbacks.

Eurasian Wigeon #1

Eurasian Wigeon #1

Eurasian Wigeon #2

Eurasian Wigeon #2

It is likely that the high numbers of American Wigeon (nearly 100) were a contributing factor in the presence of the 2 Eurasian Wigeon. If these large waterfowl numbers persist, this spot will be worth watching for other uncommon species, such as Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal and possibly Redhead.

Moving on, our next stop was Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, where a couple of Rough-legged Hawks had recently been seen. It didn’t take us long to locate a nice light morph bird perched in a small tree out on the runway. After a minute or two, this bird took off and flew to the east, giving us nice in-flight views before disappearing behind one of the airport buildings.

Other highlights at Sikorsky included six flyover Horned Lark and five Savannah Sparrow at the edge of the runway.

After the airport, we made our way to the Birdseye Boat Ramp, noting a perched Peregrine Falcon at the other end of Sikorsky along the way.

Although Birdseye failed to produce our main target (Wilson’s Snipe), we still managed to connect with a few nice birds, which included: Green-winged Teal, Great Cormorant and American Coot.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

American Coot, Birdseye Boat Ramp, CT American Coot, Birdseye Boat Ramp, CT

American Coot

American Coot

It was then on to New Haven’s Edgewood Park, with our primary target being Rusty Blackbird. An hour and a half of covering the length of the park failed to yield our quarry, although we still managed to connect with thirty species at this fantastic location over that stretch. Highlights included: Sharp-shinned, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Fish Crow, Brown Creeper and Golden-crowned Kinglet.

After Edgewood, we headed off to the Brazos Road area beaches of East Haven, where it took a long, two-hour vigil to finally net our quarry: a nice male Barrow’s Goldeneye that had been present at the location for the past coupe of weeks.

Male Barrow's Goldeneye (right) with two male Commons. Note the leaning head shape, distinctive black "spur" on the flanks and the greater extent of black on the back.

Male Barrow’s Goldeneye (right) with two male Commons. Note the leaning head shape, crescent-shaped patch on the face, distinctive black “spur” on the flanks and the greater extent of black on the back, with its noticeable white spots.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

Other highlights included Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated and Common Loons and Horned Grebe.

We finished up the day at Circle Beach in Madison, searching for the previously reported Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. Although neither species showed itself, we enjoyed ending another great day of birding at such a picturesque location.

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Rarities | 1 Comment

CA/AZ – Day 9 (March 23): Phoenix

A Gambel's Quail at our Phoenix lodging.

A Gambel’s Quail at our Phoenix lodging.

With one last day of birding before our flight home late that night, it was time for my dad and I to do our best to nail down a few of our remaining target species. Our plan for the day included visiting the nearby Hassayampa River Preserve for our final opportunities for Red-naped Sapsucker and Cassin’s Vireo, before returning to Phoenix for its now countable exotic species.

Starting at Hassayampa a little later than usual, we spent nearly three hours birding this beautiful and unique location, notching twenty-nine species. And guess what?! We missed the vireo and sapsucker again. Now, I understand that Cassin’s Vireo is a difficult species to see in Arizona, but Red-naped Sapsucker?? C’mon now! That species is described as a “fairly common winter visitor” in A Birder’s Guide to Southeastern Arizona, and the eBird reports show it. Our missing of this species was saddening, but just like with the Ferruginous Hawk and Prairie Falcon, I will be back (sinister voice implied).

There were definitely some great birds around the preserve, though, including: Anna’s Hummingbird, Gilded Flicker, Say’s Phoebe, Vermillion Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Verdin, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Orange-crowned, Lucy’s, Yellow, Yellow-rumped and Wilson’s Warblers, Abert’s Towhee and two awesome Lawrence’s Goldfinch.

Anna's Hummingbird, Hassayampa River Preserve, AZ

Hassayampa River Preserve, AZ

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

Gilded Flicker

Gilded Flicker

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

After our visit to the preserve, we made our way back to Phoenix for our last birding stop of the trip: Encanto Park.

This location, in the heart of urban Phoenix, is one of the best spots for Rosy-faced Lovebird, a now-countable exotic species, established throughout the Greater Phoenix Area. It didn’t take us long to locate a group of eight of these charismatic psittacids, moving about the palms and other trees on one of the park lawns, some preening and others inspecting possible nesting locations.

Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, AZ Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, AZ Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, AZ Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, AZ Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, AZ Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, AZ Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, AZ Rosy-faced Lovebird, Encanto Park, AZ

Rosy-faced Lovebird

Rosy-faced Lovebird

Native urban fare at Encanto included Gila Woodpecker and American Kestrel.

After our time with the lovebirds, we headed for our last dinner in Arizona, before our drive to the airport for our long flight home.

In short, this trip was a great success. Despite some frustrating misses, we ended up recording 210 species on a whirlwind nine days split between California and Arizona, my highest trip list total ever. Along the way, we got to enjoy some awesome birds, as well as beautiful locations, and enjoyed a wonderful week together, the vast majority of it spent alone.

Our misses give my dad and I some terrific reasons to return, which we plan on doing, sooner than later…

-Alex

Posted in CA/AZ - March 2013, Uncategorized | Leave a comment