May Maddness: 5/14 – 5/20

With numbers of migrants dwindling across the state, I have begun looking ahead to the breeding season and past May. The bittersweet period of the last ten days of May has begun and with it the arrival of the last of the migrants: late warblers (like Mourning), flycatchers and thrushes such as Gray-cheeked. This bittersweet feeling has been especially heightened for me with the removal of a huge mental barrier: the Fairfield Big Day.

Yesterday, Dave Hursh and I conducted our second annual Fairfield Big Day, putting together a grand total of 116 species, seen over an eighteen hour period. Perhaps the usage of the word ‘barrier’ might seem negative to you, but in this case it simply means that I was too involved thinking about and planning for the big day (and thus migration) to focus on anything that was occurring after that momentous occasion. Thus, now that it is over, I’ve already begun turning my attention to breeders, versus migrants, although migration is far from over.

Due to the fact that the big day was such a major event, I will dedicate a single, special ‘May Madness’ post just to that special period and instead concentrate on just the last week.

In short, I did hardly any birding at all in this past week as compared to the past two weeks due to the big day. Wait – he did less birding because of the big day? While it seems counter-intuitive that I was able to do less birding in the week leading up to the big day, as opposed to the weeks before, there were a lot of pre-big day aspects that involved a large amount of non-fieldwork. In other words, much of my time was used spending hours on end putting together a solid plan for the big day and organizing the scouting information I collected, as well as info collected by others.

Nevertheless, I was still able to get out for one nice afternoon of scouting and birding along the shore, as well as having some nice sightings at school. From what I remember (which may not be correct), migrants, after being abundant the past week, sort of just petered out in abundance very quickly this week. Several nights showed good conditions, but the following mornings never seemed to produce as expected. However, some of the later species began showing up right on time in Connecticut, with multiple Gray-cheeked Thrushes and slews of Blackpoll Warblers being reported from across the state.

My birding week began with my FOY Blackpoll Warbler, singing at school on Monday, the 14th. I was unable to do any birding on Monday due to an afternoon hospital visit.

The story remained the same on Tuesday, with heavy rain this time being the culprit. However, I again had another Blackpoll Warbler singing at school. Possibly the same bird, possibly not.

Finally, on Wednesday, the 16th, things changed. The day began with a singing Wood Thrush and Blackpoll Warbler among the chorus of voices at school that morning. In the afternoon, I headed out for my first and only day of scouting for the Fairfield Big Day.

The first location I hit was Southport Beach. I spent nearly forty-five minutes combing shore and offshore areas for birds, not finding as many waterfowl and shorebirds as I would’ve liked, a theme that would hold true for the rest of the day. However, there were still some great birds to enjoy including a few FOYs. Some of these were Common Loon, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper and Common Tern. (eBird Checklist)

I then headed over the intersection of Rose Hill and Harbor Roads in Southport to view the Fairfield Country Club (no public entry), across the harbor in Fairfield. Here I enjoyed my biggest highlight of the day, in the form of a female Boat-tailed Grackle, possibly the first record for Fairfield! I first noted this individual perched in the marshy grass in a wet area of the golf course. It sat up for about two minutes, in the meantime being harassed and dive-bombed by Red-winged Blackbirds! Perhaps because of pressure from the Red-wings, this bird flew a bit, before diving back and out of sight into some nearby grasses. It was a very exciting bird to see, one I was able to put a name to quickly due to all of the time I’ve spent in Florida.

Other highlights included Least Sandpiper and Common Tern. (eBird checklist – with more Boat-tailed info)

Moving on to Fairfield, I hit Sunken Island before moving on to my last stop, the Penfield Reef. I was quite surprised to find little in the way of lingering waterfowl, save a few Common Loons at each location. Shorebirds were also surprisingly absent from the reef, something I hoped wouldn’t translate over to the big day as well.

The highlight at Sunken Island for me came in the form of an American Oystercatcher, a species I don’t see all that much in Fairfield. Unfortunately not nesting in town, the reef and Sunken are definitely the two best locations to find foraging individuals at lower tides. Over twenty Common Terns perched on and foraging around the island was another highlight. (eBird checklist)

My last stop was the Penfield Reef, which was only partially exposed. A pair of American Black Ducks was a nice bird to get, as this bird can sometimes being annoying to find at this time of year in Fairfield. Also of note were four flyover Common Terns and two flyover Least Terns, my FOY.(eBird checklist)

Overall, it was a rather fun day of hitting the coast, although the lack of shorebirds and waterfowl became worrisome because of the big day (Stay tuned for an upcoming post highlighting that special day to see how this plays out).

The last two days of the school week, Thursday and Friday, combined no birding with a bucketful of big day work. A singing Blackpoll Warbler at school on Thursday and Wood Thrush on Friday were nice bonuses.

The Fairfield Big Day took place Saturday, May 19th. Due to the fact that the big day was such a major event, I will dedicate a single, special ‘May Madness’ post just to that special period and instead concentrate on just the last week.

And, well, today, remains quite quiet bird-wise for me. No warblers are singing from the yard, with no other migrants making themselves easily detectable. The late May blues have definitely set in for me. After what seemed like yesterday, May 1st and is almost three weeks away and many of the birds I enjoyed that day, are already well-established on their breeding grounds.

After another week or so, shorebirds will begin to dominate the radar well into the second week of June. Now that the big day is over, I’ve begun to think more and more about my summer plans, which I’ll highlight here soon.

Tomorrow will begin the fourth week of May, what is one of the saddest, but definitely not worst, birding weeks of the year for me.

Crazy how this month always goes by so fast!

-Alex

Note: I’ve tried something different with the eBird checklists this week. Instead of posting about the species total when I talk about every location, I’ve instead stuck the checklist in parentheses at the bottom, where it is clearly visible. I’ll also likely experiment with putting the checklists at the bottom the entire post as well, to see which format works best.

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

Lastly: It’s not too late to support the Fairfield Big Day effort! More information can be found at the above page ‘Support the Fairfield Big Day’ or by contacting me directly.

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