May Madness: 5/7 – 5/13

At the time of the writing of this second ‘May Madness’ post, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve reached the peak of spring migration. Later migrants, like Blackpoll Warblers, have begun arriving en mass, while earlier migrants, like Nashville Warbler, can still be found with a little work. The week leading up to this peak was an exciting one at that, all culminating in a weekend where I was able to achieve one of the most coveted of all spring migration goals.

The week’s birding started bright and early on Monday, May 7th, with one of my first Red-eyed Vireos of the season singing outside the house. After school that afternoon, I again made my way to the Birdcraft Sanctuary, which had been absolutely fantastic the week before. It was a rather slow visit, with only 5 warbler species recorded including my first, and so far, only Prairie Warbler of the spring at Birdcraft. Other highlights included only my second Wilson’s Warbler of the year.

Wilson’s Warbler

A singing Rose-breasted Grosbeak at school made for a nice start to the morning of Tuesday, May 8. Other than noting the singing grosbeak, I really didn’t do any other birding on Tuesday. I suppose it was partly due to the fact that I just needed a break after an exhausting weekend!

I was back into the swing of things on Wednesday, May 9th, however. A nice little movement of birds the night before, coupled with showers, made for the possibility of fallout conditions. And although I had no such luck, I was still able to encounter a nice variety of birds.

The first goodie of the day, and arguably one of (if not the best) birds of the day was a singing Cape May Warbler at school. Because it was Wednesday, we were let out early from school, and upon arriving home I headed off to Sherman (namely the ornamentals and town green) to see what I could find. Although Sherman didn’t produce completely in the way I would’ve hoped, I was nevertheless able to procure a total of no less than 48 species, with many highlights.

These included 10 species of wood-warbler including Ovenbird, Magnolia, Wilson’s and Prairie (possibly one of the individuals from last week?). Other good birds included Solitary Sandpiper, Least Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, half a million Gray Catbirds, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Savannah and Swamp Sparrows. A flyover Belted Kingfisher provided a first record for this species at Sherman!

Prairie Warbler

Another look at the Prairie

Magnolia Warbler

Swainson’s Thrush

Swamp Sparrow

Warbling Vireo

Least Flycatcher

After covering the entire Sherman area for the second time in two weeks, I headed through the now thick fog to the scrub behind the ball field at Pine Creek. Although the fog prevented me from looking over the marsh, my main targets were close enough to not be obstructed by the soup. My 34 species total included 6 wood-warbler species. Among them were Black-throated Blue, a couple of pretty tame Magnolias, and Ovenbird. Other highlights and surprises during my visit included a calling Ring-necked Pheasant (only called once; took me completely off guard!), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher and Wood Thrush.

Greater Yellowlegs

Magnolia Warbler

The next morning, I arrived at school to the robin-like, throaty song of a Scarlet Tanager. That afternoon, I once again made my way to the Birdcraft Sanctuary, where Tina Green had found a Yellow-breasted Chat that morning. I admittedly didn’t look too hard for the chat and ended up missing it. Although I managed 34 species overall including 10 wood-warblers, I found the birding at the sanctuary to be rather slow, at least as compared to last week.

Highlights included Swainson’s Thrush, Warbling Vireo, Scarlet Tanager and Gray Catbird. The 10 wood-warbler species included Wilson’s Warbler and two very nice male Black-throated Blues.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

Fast forward to the afternoon of Friday May 11th, and a scouting trip to Sasco Pond Open Space, mainly to look for White-eyed Vireo. It was my first visit to the area and I dipped on my target, finding the entire area rather unbirdy. I hoped the large gusts of wind had something to do with it, as the spot really did contain some very nice habitat, including a rather extensive wetland.

My 20 recorded species included highlights such as Least Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwing, Baltimore Oriole and Gray Catbird. Common Yellowthroat was the only wood-warbler recorded.

The scouting trip proved to be quite successful in the end, when a stop at the Harbor Road Bridge between Southport and Fairfield yielded 6 Purple Martins, no doubt nesting in the nearby boxes as I saw several individuals perched there from time to time. The swallow show at the bridge was quite good, with Tree, Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows also well-represented.

As far as I know, this is the only nesting location of Purple Martins in Fairfield, although there are several vacant boxes (and plenty of suitable habitat) a ways down Fairfield Beach Road. Perhaps these ‘condos’ are being used by something other than House Sparrows and European Starlings this year?

The Purple Martins at the bridge were certainly the beginning of a very memorable weekend.

I awoke on the morning of Saturday, May 12th feeling quite exhausted after a long week of school and birding. Instead of running out at 5:30, I hung around the yard, pulling together a nice list of species. Highlights included the only Prairie and Nashville Warblers on the day, as well as a nice singing Scarlet Tanager.

Dave Hursh, my trusty companion for the Fairfield Big Day, arrived to begin the scouting for that special event. Our first stop was the Larsen Sanctuary, where we enjoyed one of my best visits ever to this location. We covered much of the sanctuary, well over two miles, during our 4+ hour-long visit. 61 species were totaled with many surprises and highlights.

13 wood-warbler species were encountered including breeding Ovenbird, Blue-winged, Yellow, American Redstart and Common Yellowthroat. Probably one of the biggest highlights of the day was finding no less than 4 Louisiana Waterthrushes on territory and singing! It was quite interesting to hear both Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes singing within earshot of each other. Other warbler highlights included Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

The highlights didn’t end with warblers, though. Just a few of the many fun birds we enjoyed that day included two calling Yellow-billed Cuckoos (!), Yellow-throated Vireo, Orchard Oriole, Scarlet Tanager, Swamp Sparrow (two birds acting very much like a pair on territory),Veery, Swainson’s and Wood Thrushes as well as many more.

It was a terrific visit, and scouting-wise was quite successful, as we were able to nail down a couple of difficult-to-find species (namely the cuckoo, waterthrushes and Red-shouldered Hawk) that will be crucial to surpassing last year’s big year total. A recording of one of the singing LA Waterthrushes, is below.


Black-capped Chickadee

Chipping Sparrow

Eastern Garter Snake

In the interest of focusing on scouting as much as possible, I ended up leaving the camera behind for the rest of the day, thus the absence of photos from the rest of the stops.

Our next stop was the Hemlock Reservoir area, where we again enjoyed more scouting success, nailing nesting Cliff Swallow as well as a Chestnut-sided Warbler on territory. Other highlights included Wild Turkey, Red-shouldered Hawk, Pine Warbler (a number singing and on territory) and Swamp Sparrow.

Our next location after Hemlock was Lake Mohegan, where we only covered a small portion of this fantastic open space area, namely the hillside in the vicinity of the old Lake Residence. Once again, it was another successful scouting trip, as we were able to pin down White-eyed Vireo on territory here for the second year in a row. Other highlights included Cooper’s Hawk, Blue-headed Vireo, Blue-winged and Blackburnian Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and drop-dead looks at Baltimore Oriole.

In just an hour of birding this very small portion of the open space area, we managed a startling 39 species. Due to its diverse habitats, wealth of species and thus fantastic birding, Lake Mohegan might just once again be slated as the first day stop on this year’s big day.

Following Lake Mohegan, we moved on to a new location, Oak Lawn Cemetary, where we again enjoyed some fantastic birding and scouting. Probably the highlight of our scouting was two Green Herons (an uncommon species at Fairfield) at a nearby wetland. Other good birds included Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Baltimore Oriole.

Following Oak Lawn, we made a quick stop at Perry’s Mill Ponds as we descended into Lower Fairfield. Our total of 24 species included Black-crowned Night-Heron, Wood Thrush and Baltimore Oriole, among others.

Our last stop of the day was at the olde reliable Birdcraft Sanctuary, which continued to produce. We ran up a count of 43 species included 13 species of wood-warbler including Worm-eating, Canada, an absolutely breathtaking Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Green. Other highlights included Black-crowned Night Heron, Swainson’s and Wood Thrushes.

Overall, Saturday was probably the most successful and most exciting day of birding I enjoyed so far this month. A final count at dinner yielded a total of 87 species on the day. The addition of 20 easy coastal species would’ve allowed us to surpass last year’s Fairfield Big Day total, but hopefully we’ll still able to set a new Fairfield record this weekend.

That final count also revealed a total of 20 wood-warbler species on the day, the first time I’ve ever reached this coveted mark in one day in Fairfield! It was also the first time for me since 2010 that I’d reached this awesome total during one day of birding. As I mentioned in the previous May Madness Post, Parulidae is my no-doubt favorite family of birds, and reaching 20 species in one day is one of my favorite birding challenges and one of the most exciting to overcome.

But the weekend wasn’t over. The next morning, I spent a little over an hour at the Birdcraft Sanctuary. Although not as productive warbler-wise as I’d thought after watching the radar the night before, I nevertheless was able to record over 40 species including 11 wood-warbler species. The three highlights for me were three stunning parulids in the form of Blackburnian, Canada and Chestnut-sided Warblers. Other good birds on the day included Veery, Swainson’s and Wood Thrushes and Baltimore Oriole.

Eager to join my mom for what would turn out to be a beautiful mother’s day, I departed the Birdcraft sooner than usual, ending an awesome weekend and another fantastic week of birding.


Note: each eBird checklist for every spot is attached to the species total. Simply click on where I mention the total number of species or the location name to view the checklist. I don’t mean to create the illusion that the species total per location means so much to me. It’s merely away to attach the eBird checklist to the paragraph besides sticking it in an awkward place at the end.

Also: I’ve replaced last week’s poll with a new one. The results of the previous poll will be posted soon!

Additionally: additional photos from the previous week will be posted on my flickr page in the coming days. Check back soon!

Lastly: Please support the Fairfield Big Day effort! More information can be found by visiting the above page: ‘Support the Fairfield Big Day!’ or by contacting me directly.

This entry was posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to May Madness: 5/7 – 5/13

  1. Helen Iwanik says:

    Good job, Alex! Superb writing as well as birding. All the best to you! –Helen

  2. Betsy Hermann says:

    Hi Alex,

    Wow!! A very impressive birding record.

    We had a great view of a Broad Winged Hawk one morning this week He perched in a tree by the woodshed. No wonder our resident Chipmunk and Red Squirrel were not hanging out at the bird feeder.

    A pair of loons are frequenting our shore on Rangeley Lake. So beautiful to watch. Hope they have little ones as time goes on.

    Get some much needed & deserved rest after your birding marathon. Congrats to you.



  3. Deanna Becker says:

    Another great read, Alex! Spring is such a wonderful time for birding–I truly enjoy your photos and comments on all the migrants who have returned to CT for the summer months. Looking forward to the next blog.

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