8/13 – Chatham Pelagic

On Thursday I enjoyed my first Chatham “Mini” Pelagic of the season. I’ve done a few of these trips over the past couple of years, and have always had a blast out there. Birding nearshore waters on a boat limited to seven people is a much different experience than trudging out to the continental shelf waters on a one hundred foot party fishing vessel. An observer is much, much closer to the water level on the Chatham trips, and often much closer to the birds. Opportunities for photography are unbeatable.

The Chatham Pelagics are organized by veteran Cape Cod birder Blair Nikula, who often leads these trips. Over the past few years they’ve recorded such species as Sabine’s Gull, South Polar Skua, and Long-tailed Jaeger. A similar trip chartered by Blair out of Provincetown earlier this year recorded a Fea’s Petrel (!!), only the second (?) record for Massachusetts.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect over the course of our voyage, and we enjoyed fantastic seabirding throughout. The highlight of the trip was absolutely killer views of two awesome Pomarine Jaegers (one apparent second and one apparent first summer; another “Pom” was seen more distantly). Other highlights included all four shearwater species (Cory’s, Great, Sooty, and Manx) in a single raft (something that I’ve enjoyed on every trip), triple-digit numbers of Red-necked Phalaropes, three distant Parasitic Jaegers, a couple of Northern Gannets, twelve Lesser Black-backed Gulls representing a variety of plumages, and abundant Wilson’s Storm-Petrels. An eBird checklist with a photo of our route can be found here.

Photos below (click for larger, clearer views):

Cory's Shearwater

Cory’s Shearwater

Great Shearwater, East of Chatham, MA Great Shearwater, East of Chatham, MA Great Shearwater, East of Chatham, MA

Great Shearwaters

Great Shearwaters

Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

Wilson's Storm-Petrel, East of Chatham, MA Wilson's Storm-Petrel, East of Chatham, MA Wilson's Storm-Petrel, East of Chatham, MA Wilson's Storm-Petrel, East of Chatham, MA Wilson's Storm-Petrel, East of Chatham, MA

Wilson's Storm-Petrels

Wilson’s Storm-Petrels

A Wilson's Storm-Petrel with a divided rump, a trait rarely shown by this species.

A Wilson’s Storm-Petrel with a divided rump, a trait rarely shown by this species.

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet

Red-necked Phalaropes

Red-necked Phalaropes

Pomarine Jaeger, East of Chatham, MA Pomarine Jaeger, East of Chatham, MA Pomarine Jaeger, East of Chatham, MA Pomarine Jaeger, East of Chatham, MA Pomarine Jaeger, East of Chatham, MA

Awesome looks at two Pomarine Jaegers. The other photos show the older bird.

Awesome looks at two Pomarine Jaegers. The other photos show the older bird.

Pomarine Jaeger chasing a terrified Laughing Gull.

Pomarine Jaeger chasing a terrified Laughing Gull.

Third cycle-type Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Third cycle-type Lesser Black-backed Gull.

-Alex

Posted in Cape Cod Birding | 2 Comments

7/12 – P’town and environs

Back on Sunday, July 12th, I made my way up to the Provincetown area to get some birding in before work started. Per usual, I’ve been spending my summer on Cape Cod, and this year have been working at one of my favorite places: The Birdwatcher’s General Store in Orleans.

Trying to get in as much time as I could, I began my day at sunrise at Race Point. Birding in the Provincetown area is always fantastic, and maybe surprisingly, the dog days of summer are  right up there with the rest of the year. The area is home to summering first cycle Black-legged Kittiwakes, Bonaparte’s Gulls, and Arctic Terns, as well as nearby breeding Common and Roseate Terns, plus transient Royal and Black Terns. The shorebirding isn’t too bad either, and any visit to a Provincetown beach is the equivalent of an onshore pelagic.

I walked a good deal of the beach toward Race Point itself, covering a little over two kilometers. Activity was steady along the entire route, highlighted by the first ‘lagoon’ area, which had a nice concentration of gulls and terns to poke through. Highlights at Race Point included eight Cory’s Shearwater and two Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, all extremely close to shore, Piping Plovers, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Least, Roseate, and Common Terns, and a nice flock of six Horned Lark (postbreeding individuals?). My main target at Race Point, Royal Tern, remained elusive, but I nevertheless had a great time with the birds there. Photos below (click for sharper views):

Piping Plover, Race Point, MA

Piping Plovers

Piping Plovers

Bonaparte's Gulls

Bonaparte’s Gulls

Least Tern, Race Point, MA

Least Terns

Least Terns

Roseate Tern

Roseate Tern

Common Tern

Common Tern

Great Black-backed Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Bottling Gray Seals

Bottling Gray Seals

After Race Point, I started heading south toward Orleans, stopping at Moon Pond Meadow in Truro along the way. It was at this location last year that I had enjoyed fantastic looks at both adult and juvenile Virginia Rails right along the roadside.

That experience was not to repeat itself this year, as I had but one briefly calling Virginia Rail at a distance. I surmised that because my visit was a couple of weeks earlier this year, the rails may have not been so bold, as the young may not have fledged. Either that, or they were just enjoying a different portion of the marsh for the day.

Other fun birds at Moon Pond included Green Heron and a nice flock of nine Lesser Yellowlegs.

-Alex

Posted in Cape Cod Birding | 3 Comments

7/18 – BBC Pelagic #1

On Saturday I joined fifty fellow birders on a pelagic trip out to the continental shelf edge and canyons, far south of Nantucket, MA. This trip was run by the Brookline Bird Club (BBC), which operates a slew of great trips out of Hyannis annually. Having not been pelagic birding this year, I was looking forward to getting back out on the water.

Hopes were high for a rarity following sightings of Black-capped Petrel and Bridled Tern in the warm water area that we’d be visiting. Unfortunately, we never did luck into any unexpected species, although we ran up a respectable total of both seabirds and cetaceans. Personal highlights included: five species of shearwater (Cory’s, Great, Sooty, Manx, and Audubon’s), three species of storm-petrel (Wilson’s, Leach’s, and my life Band-rumped), Red-necked Phalarope, and Pomarine Jaeger.

On the marine mammal front, we picked up such species as Short-beaked Common, Bottlenose, and Risso’s Dolphins, and Fin Whale. Other wildlife highlights included Basking Shark, Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola), Portuguese Man ‘o War, and a number of flyingfish.

Photos below:

Cory's Shearwater, Nantucket Shoals, MA

Cory's Shearwater

Cory’s Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

Manx Shearwater, Nantucket Shoals, MA

Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

Audubon's Shearwater

Audubon’s Shearwater

Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Hydrographer Canyon, MA

Wilson's Storm-Petrels

Wilson’s Storm-Petrels

Leach's Storm-Petrel, Hydrographer Canyon, MA

Leach's Storm-Petrels

Leach’s Storm-Petrels

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Red-necked Phalarope, Nantucket Shoals, MA

Red-necked Phalaropes

Red-necked Phalaropes

Pomarine Jaeger

Pomarine Jaeger

Short-beaked Common Dolphins

Short-beaked Common Dolphins

Risso's Dolphin and Wilson's Storm-Petrel

Risso’s Dolphin and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

Fin Whale

Fin Whale

Basking Shark

Basking Shark

Portuguese Man o' War, Hydrographer Canyon, MA

Portuguese Man o' War

Portuguese Man o’ War

-Alex

Posted in Cape Cod Birding | 4 Comments

2/28 – HOARY REDPOLL, Fairfield

3/5 Note: After a lengthy period of discussion and review of photos, we have concluded that this bird is actually a Common Redpoll, instead of a Hoary as originally thought.

3/2 Note: We are still trying to wrestle with the identity of some of these birds, and whether or not any of the photos below show the true Hoary. Therefore, I would take each photo with a grain of salt, and try to exercise your own judgement, rather than going by what the captions say.

Yesterday morning, Aidan Kiley and I found an adult male Hoary Redpoll in a flock of around twelve Common Redpolls at Pine Creek in Fairfield. We were able to observe the bird nearly consistently during a period of roughly five hours. In that time, we were able to get good looks (including scope views for a time), at all of the necessary features to distinguish this bird from Common Redpoll, take some documentary photos, and even show the bird to a number of birders that had arrived on the scene.

While I have seen Hoary Redpoll four previous times (three of them in Canada), this was nevertheless an extremely tedious identification process, that required lengthy periods of study, and review of photos. Eventually, after viewing this bird for over an hour, and talking it over with friend Nick Bonomo, I felt confident enough to put the word out to CTBirds. Over the next few hours, eight other birders came and went. All of them were able to get good looks at the bird, which was a life bird for multiple people.

All in all, spending an extended period of time with this bird amounted to an incredible learning experience in the tricky nature of redpoll ID, and mirrored my initial encounter with Hoary in Ottawa, Ontario as being extremely illustrative in this subject.

Notable field marks used to distinguish this bird from Common Redpoll included:

  • Noticeably paler overall
  • Slightly larger and bulkier (“fluffier” was the way some people described it)
  • Almost a complete lack of streaking on the undertail coverts (only one distinguishable streak)
  • Lightly streaked flanks
  • Limited rosy coloration on the breast
  • Slight buffy wash to the face (not necessarily crucial in telling this bird apart from CORE, but a feature that many Hoary Redpolls show)
  • Overall very pale below
  • Short, stubby, “pushed in” look to the bill
  • White rump with no streaking (this feature took a LONG TIME to milk out, and it wasn’t until the very end of our visit that it was finally visible in the scope)

The only thing we’re really lacking on this list are distinctive upperpart features. Unfortunately, looks at this area of the bird were extremely difficult to come by, as it spent its entire time feeding in a birch directly above our heads, really never providing an unobstructed, clear view of its upper half. Limited views of the upperparts were consistent with the general points noted above (that is, noticeably pale and whitish).

Below, I have posted some photos of the Hoary, photos of redpolls that raise questions, and finally some pictures of the adjacent Common Redpolls:

First up, some photos of the Hoary Redpoll:

Hoary Redpoll; note the sparse flank streaking, the single streak on the undertail coverts, limited rosy of the breast, and overall paleness.

Hoary Redpoll; note the sparse flank streaking, the single streak on the undertail coverts, limited rosy of the breast, and overall paleness.

Wow - look at that bill! How does that guy get anything in there?

Wow – look at that bill! How does that guy get anything in there?

Hoary Redpoll

Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT

Note the paleness and slightly larger size in comparison to the adjacent Commons. Despite these birds' consistently close proximity to each other, comparison photos were slightly difficult to obtain, especially with my fixed lens.

Note the paleness and slightly larger size in comparison to the adjacent Commons. Despite these birds’ consistently close proximity to each other, comparison photos were slightly difficult to obtain, especially with my fixed lens.

Now, a look at two birds that are really quite frustrating. The Hoary is presumably the lefthand bird, but quite honestly, were I at a slightly higher latitude, there’s a good chance I would’ve called both of these birds Hoaries. If you have any thoughts on these birds, please comment!

Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT

Hoary Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT

Also, a pale female Redpoll that was floating around for a while. Comments on this bird are welcome as well.

Redpoll, Pine Creek, CT

Lastly, here are a couple of Common Redpoll photos:

Note the very brownish, streaky appearance of this bird, approaching something like Pine Siskin.

Note the very brownish, streaky appearance of this bird, approaching something like Pine Siskin.

An out-of-focus shot of the rumps of one of the same bird. A Hoary's rump would be completely white, lacking the streaking found on this bird.

An out-of-focus shot of the rumps of one of the same bird. A Hoary’s rump would be completely white, lacking the streaking found on this bird.

Comments on any of these photos would be much appreciated. Redpoll identification is a tricky topic, no matter what the skill level, and any input would be helpful to the knowledge of the identification of this difficult group for all of us.

The Hoary Redpoll continued into today, where it was seen by more than twelve others. Jory Teltser was there to see the bird, and picked up a few shots that show the field marks well:

This photo shows many of the field marks mentioned above very well, including the very limited streaking on the flanks and undertail coverts, stubby bill, and overall paleness and bulky shape (even if there are no Commons in the photo with which to compare it).

This photo shows many of the field marks mentioned above very well, including the very limited streaking on the flanks and undertail coverts, stubby bill, and overall paleness and bulky shape (even if there are no Commons in the photo with which to compare it).

All in all, a really fun weekend. I was supposed to be spending my Saturday and Sunday concentrating on my upcoming Cuba trip, and not digging into the world of Redpoll ID, but you can blame the Hoary Redpoll for that.

-Alex

Posted in Fairfield Birding, Rarities | Leave a comment

Closing Out 2014

2014 was a pretty consistent year for me birding-wise. I got out nearly every weekend, enjoyed a nice trip down to Florida in March, a jaunt up to Northern New England with my dad at the end of June-beginning of July, and a good slew of time spent in Cape Cod over the summer and Thanksgiving Break. However, this year was most certainly the most inconsistent for me in terms of blogging.

Over the course of the year, I posted all but twelve times, which is sad. My lack of blog posts is evidence of just how crazy this year has been. When I haven’t been dedicating my life to school and treatment, I’ve been birding, with little time for anything else.

Unfortunately, things are unlikely to get better, at least for the next few months. Although I’m currently a senior in high school, my treatment has unfortunately pushed back my college application process, so that I will now be doing things typical of junior year during the second half of my senior campaign.

In addition to my school and treatment schedules battling for control of my life, the next few months will feature ACTs, APs, and college visits. A lot of my former birding time is likely going to get squeezed out of the picture.

Everything will change in June, however. On June 12th to be exact. In just 173 days from now, I will be graduating high school, and although I’ll still have the college application process to deal with, things will become a lot calmer.

The calm on the school front will proceed into the fall and spring of 2015 and 2016, respectively, where I’ll be doing a gap year. The gap year has been forced by my situation, but I look at it as a blessing nonetheless. My plan is to work and then travel, using my savings to provide for trips to some of the places I’ve always dreamt of visiting, although that’s a long way away, and plans and situations can certainly change. I currently intend to chronologue my journeys over the course of the year right here, which should be a blast.

In the meantime, however (i.e. in the next 173 days), posts will probably be few and far between. I’ve considered even closing the blog ‘for the season’, and ‘reopening’ in June. Although that might be going a little too far, I realistically don’t expect my posting pace to increase.

It’s all about holding my breath from now until June, taking in air whenever I get an opportunity to bird. After that, it’s go time, and the next 14 months after June 2015 will certainly be like none I’ve ever experienced.

However you want to look at it, I won’t be getting much sleep in 2015.

I look forward to getting back on the blogging bandwagon soon! Happy New Year!

-Alex

Posted in Updates | 5 Comments

Late July on Cape Cod

Apart from the weeks I have received treatment, I have spent a good deal of my summer on Cape Cod, home to great food, great people, and of course, great birding.

I enjoyed quite a bit of time in the field during my tenure up here, especially during the bookend weeks of July. But I need not leave home to get a dose of birding. Our cottage is surrounded by water on three sides, and abuts “Water Street Marsh” in Yarmouth Port, which in turn borders Barnstable Harbor.

This combination of habitats regularly yields hourly totals of over thirty species, and always delivers a bevy of good birds. The yard list includes such highlights as Northern Bobwhite and Lesser Black-backed Gull (one of the former was seen strolling through our property last summer, while the latter was out on the flats of Barnstable Harbor). These birds display the draw that both the yard itself, and the surrounding area have for birds. I will definitely be devoting more time to this wonderful location in future posts.

I’ll begin this catalog of my birding on July 22nd, when Cape Cod neighbor and good friend, Jonathan Schickler, and I hit Cow Yard Road in Chatham, hoping for a Hudsonian Godwit, or another fun shorebird out on the flats north of Tern Island that are visible from the road.

An hour of scanning didn’t yield any godwits, but assorted shorebird species including Piping Plover, Willet and Greater Yellowlegs, kept us busy for a time.

The highlight of our visit to Cow Yard came in the form of three calling Northern Bobwhites, which were audible for the entirety of our time here. A life bird for Jonathan, we devoted a good portion of time trying to catch a glimpse of one, an effort which finally payed off in good scope views of a nice male perched and vocalizing in a pine.

Following our visit to Cow Yard, we stopped off at the Chatham Fish Pier for some of the best lobster rolls on the Cape. It is a stop I intend on repeating…often.

Thursday, July 24th found me in the High Head area of North Truro, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Virginia Rails that have been seen there throughout the summer.

It didn’t take me long to catch up with an adult-and then a juvenile-Virginia Rail, both of which were seen at close range as they worked the wetland right along the side of the road.

(As always, click on the photos for larger, clearer views).

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail

Juvenile Virginia Rail

Juvenile Virginia Rail

Other highlights at this spot included American Black Duck, Green Heron, a family of four Belted Kingfishers, and two young Baltimore Orioles.

American Black Duck

American Black Duck

Green Heron

Green Heron

Following my time with the rails, I continued north, toward my next stop: Herring Cove Beach and Hatches Harbor in Provincetown.

I had a blast at Herring Cove, as I always do, and I spent the next three hours combing through the masses of birds present in Hatches Harbor, and scanning offshore.

My top highlight came in the form of two 1st cycle Little Gulls, whose seeing marked the end of frustrating string of misses of this species (including two prior visits to Herring Cove).

Little (center birds) and Bonaparte's Gulls

Little (center birds) and Bonaparte’s Gulls

Little Gull

Little Gull

Other highlights included two Cory’s Shearwater and a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel offshore, the continuing summering Bonaparte’s Gulls, a 3rd cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull, five tern species including Roseate (many with juveniles), one of the continuing ‘Portlandica’ Arctic Terns, and an adult Forster’s Tern.

The biggest surprise of the visit, however, was a singing Horned Lark that appeared virtually out of nowhere on the beach besides the dunes. I was able to catch a quick glimpse of the singing bird (my first here during the summer) before it promptly disappeared. It was one of the few times I have heard this species sing, and it was definitely a treat to get further experience with this cool species’ song.

Two days later, on the 26th, Jonathan and I were at it again, hitting nearby Hallet’s Mill Pond to check on the situation there. Our visit was rather quiet highlight-wise, although we were able to pick up an odd congregation of seven juvenile and first year Black-crowned Night-Herons flying low over our position on the west side of the pond. These birds remained airborne for some time, flying about the entire vicinity. A small pond is present in the scrubby woods across the road from Hallet’s, and it’s likely that most (if not all) of these birds were derived from there, and were either spooked from their hiding places, or were simply enjoying the feeling of the wind on their feathers.

Following Hallet’s, Jonathan and I returned to the yard and ran up a nice total of thirty-two species on the property, including such highlights as an American Oystercatcher out on the flats in Barnstable Harbor, two Bank Swallow amongst the abundant Trees and Barns, and the first Saltmarsh Sparrows ever for the yard.

Bank, Tree, and Barn Swallows

Bank, Tree, and Barn Swallows

A couple of days later, I headed back to Connecticut to receive treatment, thus ending another fun week of birding the Cape.

-Alex

Posted in Cape Cod Birding | 3 Comments

Fairfield BIG Day 2014

In birding there are those rare days when everything falls into place. Those days when the birds are throwing themselves at you in such numbers and quantity that even when you’re just a few hours into it, you know something historic is in the works. May 17, 2014, this year’s Fairfield Big Day, was that kind of day.

Backing up a little, this year’s big day team was somewhat changed from previous years. Instead of my stalwart big day companion, Dave Hursh, I was joined by my Fairfield Birding partner in crime, James Purcell. With James heading off to Cornell University next fall, and this spring thus being his last in Fairfield, we thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to hopefully put an exclamation point on what has been a memorable childhood of birding the town together. Besides, Dave was preoccupied with preparing for an Alaska trip. Yep, I’m jealous.

Last year was mine and Dave’s second straight year of besting a previously-held Fairfield Big Day record. Thus, when preparing for this year’s effort, I knew that a setback might be possible, be it from weather, migration conditions, or just dumb luck.

As with the year before, weather was certainly on my mind when I fell asleep the night of May 16. Due to incessant rain, thundershowers and heavy winds, I didn’t make it out until the weather cleared at 2:30, and there were still a couple of brief passing showers that occurred over the next couple of hours.

James and I intended to still play by all of the big rules, including that all team members must see or hear 95% or more of species seen or heard. He wasn’t joining me until 5 am, however, so I was on my own for the night shift, and thus hoping that we’d be able to catch up with some of the birds I picked up later on.

The first bird of the Fairfield Big Day, like last year, was Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, in the form of one of our nesting pair, sitting on its nest at the end of the street. As I made my way back to the car, I picked up a calling Gray-cheeked Thrush, the only one for the big day. Although the conditions had put a literal damper on our nocturnal plans, they had allows for the birds to fly a bit lower, and thus for us to pick up this species thanks to flight calls.

By the time the rain abated for good, it was 4 am, and high time to make my way up to Northern Fairfield to begin the day shift. I started things off at Hemlock Reservoir around 4:30, still a half hour before I was supposed to meet James. Although my hoped-for target here, Wild Turkey, did not call, I still was able to pick up birds like Barn Swallow, Pine Warbler and Song Sparrow, all new species for the big day list, and all birds we would see later on.

I then headed to Lake Mohegan, where for the fourth straight Fairfield Big Day we’d be working this location at sunrise. Meeting James, we spent some time listening in the parking lot, picking up species like Wood Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Orchard Oriole.

When we had enough light to begin our trek through the open space, it was still cloudy, and it was not yet obvious how unbelievable the day was destined to turn out. Only residents were singing, with many of the migrants staying quiet. Finally, about halfway through our hike, the sun appeared from behind the clouds and the volume of singing birds increased dramatically. This in turn lead to us leaving Lake Mohegan 20 minutes behind schedule, but with species like Common Loon, Green Heron, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Canada and Wilson’s Warblers to show for it.

Migrants and residents alike were singing in earnest by the time we left the lake, a trend that would continue at our next stop, Grace Richardson Open Space area. There we picked up respectable species like Solitary Sandpiper, Louisiana Waterthrush and a late Yellow-rumped Warbler. But all of these terrific highlights were outshined by the bird of the day, and possibly the most exciting moment ever in my years of birding in Fairfield. It was when James and I were rounding a bend in the meadow, walking down the main trail back to the entrance, that the unmistakable song of a Kentucky Warbler rang out from what seemed like mere feet away.

Immediately halted, we stood and waited for a good while, waiting for the bird to call again. In the meantime, we put a call regarding our find into our good friend Charlie Barnard, who then posted the information of the sighting to the Connecticut Birding List. Despite the fact that other birders were present at the location for much of the day, and the notion that James and I put as much as our precious big day time as we could into listening for it, the Kentucky Warbler never sang again, much less ever provided a visual. It was one of those magical birds that you just had to be in the exact spot for, at the exact time, a combination that James and I were lucky enough to enjoy throughout the day, both with the incredible Kentucky Warbler, but also with less rare, but other unexpected species.

By the time we departed Grace Richardson, we were over a half hour behind schedule. And as we turned on to the eastern portion of Hoydens Lane, en route to our next stop, it seemed the birds were not finished delaying our pace. While driving along, we were halted by the song of a Black-throated Blue Warbler, which was followed in quick succession by my first Tennessee Warbler of the spring, as well as our third Chestnut-sided Warbler of the day. Incredibly, we had already reached twenty warbler species on the day, and it was not yet 8 o’clock. If the notion that this was Fairfield’s finest hour didn’t completely sink in with the Kentucky Warbler, any doubts that we might’ve had were crushed by our pickup of the Tennessee.

Arriving at Hoydens, our list of migrant species we were lacking had dwindled by so much, that we were actually able to concentrate on residents for a change. During our forty minutes here, we netted birds like Savannah Sparrow and Indigo Bunting, as well as huge pulls like White-eyed Vireo and Field Sparrow. The former species was not present in its normally dependable spot within Lake Mohegan, and thus this was an enormous pickup for the big day effort. A somewhat worrisome miss at Hoydens came in the form of Eastern Bluebird, one of our major targets at this location, which has always provided this bird in past big days.

Moving on we hit Hemlock Reservoir, picking up Cliff Swallow and James’ first Pine Warbler of the day.

Following Hemlock, we made our way to the Larsen Sanctuary, where we undid our harrowing miss at Hoydens with a clutch pickup of Eastern Bluebird, but added another big miss to the table in Wood Duck. Other new birds included Wild Turkey, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks and Great Crested Flycatcher. We also notched our fourth Blackburnian Warbler of the day, a singing male in the trees at the edge of Wildlife Pond that spoiled us with terrific looks.

The more touted east side of Brett Woods failed to provide any new birds for the effort, but the west side came through with some pretty lucky finds in Yellow-throated Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush and Nashville Warbler.

Cutting out most of our allotted time at Brett Woods, as we had simply picked up the vast majority of our possibilities there, we found ourselves back on schedule when we arrived at our next stop, Morehouse Lane in Southport. Here we picked up our first Turkey Vulture and Fish Crows of the day, along with another singing Field Sparrow.

Continuing south, we stopped at Bulkley Pond in Southport, cutting out Wood Duck from our list of misses.We also notched our first Mute Swans and Black-crowned Night-Herons of the day. But like a game of whac-a-mole, with one miss there comes another, and as we left Bulkey we realized we had yet to see Great Blue Heron.

Up next was Southport Beach, our first true coastal site of the day, and with it birds like Brant, Osprey and Least Tern. We took the time to finally tally up the birds we had seen thus far, and when I was done counting, I said, “ninety-eight.” James responded with, “ninety-nine, Common Tern.” Soon after, we picked up bird #100 in the form of a Great Egret flying over the beach.

We kept the Southport trend going, heading east from the beach to the Southport Harbor area, in order to get a view of the harbor and the nearby Fairfield Country Club. It was there that we finally picked up our first European Starling of the day for bird #101, as well as birds #102-104, respectively, in the form of Greater Yellowlegs, Willet and Killdeer.

Moving on we hit the Southport Harbor Bridge, where bird #105, Purple Martin, soon fell. Surprisingly enough, Purple Martin was our 104th bird on each of the previous two big days. Because the 2013 route was nearly identical to this year’s, it can be surmised that we were nearly on the same pace as the previous year at the time, despite feeling (in the midst of the day) as if we were crushing all previous totals.

After the bridge, we again moved north, this time to the house of our friend Kathy Van Der Aue, who graciously allowed us to enter her beautiful property to view her hummingbird feeders, in hopes of picking up Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a species that we did not yet have for the day, and which had eluded us on previous big days. While waiting for the hummers, we picked up a flyby Broad-winged Hawk, an incredible surprise, as well as flyover House Finches. An exquisite male Ruby-throated Hummingbird soon flew in, putting us at 107 species for the day, allowing us to surpass the initial Fairfield Big Day Record set in 2011.

Bidding Southport farewell, we headed across town to the Fairfield Metro Conservation Area, ready to begin a new portion of our big day route. Fairfield Metro again came up big, delivering four new species: Snowy Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper, birds #109 – 112, respectively.

We then moved on to Upper Ash Creek, which was rather quiet. Ash Creek Open Space gave us bird #113, a sharp male Black-bellied Plover roosting out in the marsh.

The craziness of the Jennings Beach Carnival could not deter us from reaching 115, as we picked up our top two targets here, Willow Flycatcher and Brown Thrasher, despite the crowds.

Two uneventful stops, at Sherman and the Birdcraft, followed Jennings. This is now the third straight Fairfield Big Day in which the Birdcraft has utterly choked. Granted, we already had most of the birds we could pick up there, but it wouldn’t have helped us out if we weren’t in such good a place species-wise. It might be time to reconsider the Birdcraft’s current importance, in terms of time allotment, in the big day plan.

Pine Creek was up next. Typically, this is the spot we save for the end. It’s usually terrific in the evenings, and the marsh birds, big targets here, seem there most active at that time. But because of how the tides were positioned, we found ourselves at Pine Creek hours before one’s definition of “evening” would begin.

Soon after arriving, we picked up bird #116, American Black Duck, tying the 2012 Fairfield Big Day record. We then surpassed it with Marsh Wren. Unbelievably, we had tied a very respectable big day record, and it was only 4 o’clock. With hours left to go, we had high hopes of smashing the 2013 mark into oblivion as well.

We matched 2013 with Clapper Rail, with a couple of calling birds out in the marsh. At this point, we were well into our Pine Creek visit, and it appeared as if we would once again miss Belted Kingfisher. Having checked all of their favorite sites, we planned on working the Old Dam Road Open Space area adjacent to the Pine Creek Golf Course before departing. It was while walking along the canal in the aforementioned open space area, that I heard the record-breaking bird, Belted Kingfisher, faintly calling in the distance. It was bird #119, setting a new Fairfield Big Day record. But James had not heard it, which was similar to when Dave didn’t see last year’s record breaking bird.

So much like 2013, we needed a bird that we could both enjoy, one that could cement the record in both of our minds. And we soon got that bird at our next stop, Sasco Beach, in the form of a flyby White-winged Scoter, our 120th bird of the day. Great Black-backed Gull fell soon after.

Moving on to the Sunken Island, we made a short detour to the Pine Creek Marsh, adding Saltmarsh Sparrow and one of the best pulls of the day, Bank Swallow, first spotted by James, amongst the throngs of its congeners foraging out in the marsh.

Sunken provided us with our 124th bird of the day, Red-breasted Merganser, and the Penfield Reef gave us #125 with American Oystercatcher.

Up until that point, we still had not seen or heard Monk Parakeet. With time dwindling, we stopped at Jennings Beach, for a last-ditch effort at this glaring miss. It wasn’t long before we heard two calling Monks, erasing another big miss.

By this time in the day, we still had over an hour of daylight left. We had completed all of our coastal routes, and thus decided to deviate from our plans (which has never happens on Fairfield Big Days), in order to return to the Grace Richardson Open Space Area. There we hoped to hear and even see the Kentucky Warbler, and also to pick up an Alder Flycatcher that had been seen there during the day, but which we had missed in the morning.

As we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, reveling in our insane success, we notched our 127th, and final bird of the day, in the form of the aforementioned Alder Flycatcher working the edge of the meadow and occasionally vocalizing. It was a fitting end, the icing on the cake to such a glorious day; with hardly any daylight left we were still picking up new birds, keeping our rampant pace going.

Things changed once the second night shift began, however, and over the course of the next several hours, we proceeded to dip on all three of Fairfield’s breeding owls. Those three species included Barred, a species that we had a staked-out nest site for, and is practically a given in any of the well-forested parcels of preserved land in Northern Fairfield.

By the time I returned home at midnight on May 18th, I was utterly exhausted. Yet, I was immensely satisfied, the feeling a result of not only beating a previous record, but destroying it.

Upon waking up the next morning, the first thought that came in to my head was, “jeez, this is going to be a tough one to beat in 2015.” Yep, it’s already time to start thinking about next year…

Scouting: Scouting was fairly limited this year, not truly beginning until the onset of May. But unlike previous years, the fruits of my scouting labor were far more bountiful for the time I put in. Multiple raptor nests were found, and many possible breeders noted. Like 2012, I once again embarked on a Fairfield Big Scouting Day on the weekend before the big day, putting up a total of 21 Wood Warbler species, besting my total on that day during the aforementioned year by one. I should note, however, that I don’t believe any of my scouting allowed for us to add an extra species to the list. Such was the luck of the day that most scouted birds were seen before we even arrived at the scouted locations, and thus those spots were either cut out entirely, or we simply didn’t put in the effort for the scouted bird.

Weather and Migration: As one can tell just by looking at our Wood Warbler total for the day, the weather and migration conditions before and during the big day were nearly perfect. Weather was only an issue at the very beginning of the day, when thunderstorms and heavy rain caused us to make a somewhat delayed start. Nevertheless, birds were still moving through the difficult conditions, as evidenced by the morning we enjoyed.

The fact that James and I both reside in town was also a big help. We were able to be somewhat flexible with dates, keeping both weekend days (May 17 and 18) open, and thus allowing us to choose the one with the more optimal conditions. In the past, Dave and I would normally have to choose a Big Day date well in advance, in order to ensure that it worked with our schedules, and that he could make the drive down from Massachusetts before our planned Big Day. The little sliver of added flexibility this year was huge, and certainly aided in our breaking of the record.

As opposed to last year, the scheduling of a Big Day on the third weekend of May, instead of the second, allowed us to pick up some of the later migrants, including Willow Flycatcher, Saltmarsh Sparrow and Indigo Bunting, all of which were missed in 2013. Thanks to this year’s pace of migration, it also allowed for a much greater volume of migrants to be seen. It is my belief that migrants may have singlehandedly put us well ahead of the record this year, as they were out in force over the course of the day. This year was a major deviation from the Fairfield Big Day norm in that regard, as I have often found migrants difficult to come by on previous efforts (as evidenced by the fact that we have never broken 20 Wood Warbler species on a Fairfield Big Day before this year).

Planning: This year’s Big Day plan was nearly identical to last year’s, with just a couple of spots, such as Morehouse Lane, Kathy’s and Sasco Beach, added in. Our friend Charlie Barnard was once again instrumental to the planning process, and graciously provided tips and advice leading up to the big day. Many of the same resources that have come in handy in previous years were again useful this time around. These resources include the indispensable Walking Through Fairfield’s Open Spaces: A Guide to Fairfield’s Walking and Hiking Trails by the Fairfield Conservation Commission.

As noted last year, “eBird and CTBirds were, as always, extremely helpful, so thanks to all of those that posted a report from the Fairfield area over these last few weeks.” Also, as I’ve said in the past, “If you’re hoping to do a big day in your town and looking for advice on the planning process, don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Changes for Next Year: With our unbelievable big day total from this year, we have certainly put quite the challenge in front of us going into next year’s effort.

The name of the game will once again be scouting, as we will have to pin down as many breeders and lingering wintering birds as possible in order to have any hope of surpassing the total.

My Big Day Team will also be altered. With James off at college, and Dave again scheduled to be in Alaska, I will have to take the time to look into putting another record-breaking team on the ground. Brendan Murtha, expect a call!

This year’s Big Day pointed to a notion that I have held for some time now: that 130 species is definitely possible in one day in Fairfield. With a lot of preparation and a little bit of luck, 2015 could be the year in which we finally see that come to fruition.

Best Bird: Kentucky Warbler.

Biggest Miss: Barred Owl. Great Blue Heron isn’t too far behind though.

-Alex

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