Birding Irene: During and Post-storm

Many people are surprised to hear that hurricanes offer good birding, but in fact many storms offer great birding….if you can brave the elements, of course! The increased potential for rarities, coupled with the fact that almost anything can show up make such storms opportunities not easily passed up.

I was able to stick it out at the mouth of Pine Creek in Fairfield for a few hours during the peak of the storm Sunday, and was rewarded with a few goodies including, 2 Sooty Terns (both adults), 1 Leach’s Storm-Petrel, 2 Whimbrel, 4 Laughing Gulls, and 2 Roseate Terns. Wow! WTH! Two of these species are absolutely UNHEARD of in CT and I was definitely not the only one who was able to put up such tallies. Nick Bonomo, for instance, also had a crazy day with 10 (!) Sooty Terns and the pending state-first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel among others.

Sooty Tern is called a “tropical tern” for a reason. This birds’ closest breeding range is at the Dry Tortugas in far southern Florida, while in the case of Leach’s Storm-Petrel, it’s a pelagic species often seen off Mass and New Hampshire but hardly ever ventures into the shallow Long Island Sound. But that’s hurricane Irene for you! What a storm!

Photos below (as always click for larger views!)

Sooty Tern - note how the white forehead does not extend past the eye, a good mark for distinguishing Sooty from Bridled

Note the uniformly BLACK back. In contrast, the back of Bridled Tern is a dark gray.

Sooty Tern head-on

From below: if possible, note the all dark primaries contrasting with the white coverts. On Bridled Tern, from below, only the primaries tips are only dark.

The next day, I ventured to Southport to get a view of the Fairfield Country Club across the harbor, which had flooded during the storm. As predicted, the pools created by the rainwater were shorebird magnets and I was able to notch ten species in a little under an hour, including nailing two rather uncommon species for Fairfield: American Golden-Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper. List below:

5 AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS — a nice group of birds, all adults still retaining a lot of their breeding garb. These birds were quite jumpy, moving around a bit and finally took off along with the Willet to the northeast.
40 Killdeer
3 Semipalmated Plover
12 Greater Yellowlegs
4 Lesser Yellowlegs
2 Solitary Sandpiper
1 “Western” Willet
2 PECTORAL SANDPIPER
35 Semipalmated Sandpiper
22 Least Sandpiper

Although many of these birds may not have been storm-related, the habitat created on the course definitely was! The American Golden-Plovers were the definite highlight, a personal first for me in Fairfield and another great bird for the Fairfield big year-NUMBER 200!

Lastly, yesterday James Purcell and I  headed out yesterday morning for the first considerable movement of passerine migrants in CT since the storm began. Although not a terribly birdy morning, we were still able to notch a few highlights including a nice Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, another new bird for the big year effort and only my third time seeing this species. They just seem to try to avoid me!

We hit the Birdcraft Sanctuary first, then split up with James doing Lake Mohegan while I covered Hoyden’s Hill. We then met again and discussed the final few months of the big year effort. Highlights/migrants below:

Birdcraft Sanctuary:

1 YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER–a really nice bird, my first for Fairfield; seen well in the pondside vegetation
17 Gray Catbird
6 Cedar Waxwing
1 Black-throated Green Warbler
1 Prairie Warbler
7 American Redstart
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Canada Warbler

Lake Mohegan Open Space:

1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 Wilson’s Warbler
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
+

Hoyden’s Hill Open Space:

1 Pileated Woodpecker
1 Eastern Kingbird
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
2 American Redstart
5 Common Yellowthroat
+

What a weekend! Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Sooty Tern and American Golden-Plover in the same 3-day period! Don’t think that’s happening anytime soon…..

-Alex

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