I conducted my first Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) of the month at Hoyden’s Hill Open Space in Fairfield yesterday morning, recording 42 species. Breeding Bird Surveys are important in monitoring the status of trends of our breeding bird populations. Besides having a great time, protecting the avifauna of Fairfield was one of my many goals in launching my local birding efforts a couple of years ago, and veering off the typical ‘all-over-the-state’ path.
A breeding bird survey is a terrific way to conjure up good hard data to use in making decisions about how to best protect Fairfield’s birds. It also gives us an idea of how these birds are faring and also whether the quality of habitat in the town is increasing or decreasing. Over the next several years (up until college), I plan to keep up these surveys, in order to produce data that we can compare from year to year.
Hoyden’s Hill Open Space, containing the highest point in Fairfield (at 443 feet above sea level), is home to one of the most unique avifaunas in the town. According to Walking Through Fairfield’s Open Spaces, “vegetation types include fallow farm fields, an abandoned orchard, hardwood hedgerows, old fields, and woodland. The fields set amidst the woodland of Hoyden’s Hill provide an important edge community and diversity of habitat for wildlife.” Quality shrubland and edge habitats are rare in the town of Fairfield, and Hoyden’s provides the no-doubt best examples of these ecosystems in the town.
As mentioned in the guide, Hoyden’s Hill does contain woodland and about half of the property is heavily wooded. Trails are being planned for the “Barbieri” Open Space parcel to the west of Hoyden’s Hill which should open up even more exciting birding opportunities.
The habitat at Hoyden’s is changing rapidly, however, and not just due to forest succession. Already home to a golf driving range that takes up nearly a sixth of the open space area, plans have been laid and are now being executed to take the old field habitat to the east of the entrance and turn it into a softball field and road. When I was there yesterday, I walked over to take a look at how it was going and was quite sad to see the beloved old field, once home to Blue-winged Warblers, Song Sparrows, and Indigo Buntings, being converted into an ugly tar road and disgusting softball field.
I need not describe the pure anger and disgust I felt, when girls showed up in their softball uniforms last fall and forever turned the tide of the debates in favor of development. Would they had felt differently if they had been forced to watch the beautiful habitat getting destroyed? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
Thus, my surveys at Hoyden’s take on an extra bit of importance: they aim to see how the alterations of habitat will affect the birdlife, and whether habitat quality will diminish due to the encroachment of development. I’ll make sure to share some of the incredibly sad and depressing images of the work taking place yesterday in the near future.
I covered nearly the entire open space area, at over 50 acres. I was able to confirm six species of breeding in just under four hours including Tree Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, European Starling, Gray Catbird, and Brown-headed Cowbird (eh). Many other species were listed as probable breeders including such Hoyden’s specialties as Brown Thrasher, Orchard Oriole, Blue-winged Warbler, Eastern Bluebird, and Indigo Bunting, among others.
I have little doubt that most or all of these probable species are breeding, but was not able to find further evidence of the fact. Rather than go through my entire visit, I’ve posted my notes on some of the more notable species taken during the survey below. To follow along, click here to view the map on the “Save Hoyden’s Hill Website.” To view the results for all species (including confirmed breeders), click to view the eBird checklist, which contains all of these notes plus those for species not mentioned here.
The species highlighted below are either shrubland/edge specialists and breed at few-no other places in town or are ‘Top Priority’ species in Connecticut.
1 Alder Flycatcher
*Second in Fairfield this spring; in the open shrubby area (west side) just north of the driving range. The only probable migrant found during the survey. First located by call, I was able to pish this quite vocal bird out into the open, where it proceeded to perch up in plain view. This individual was much more vocal and acting much more like it was on territory, than the other definite migrant I found earlier in the week, responding to my vocalizations immediately and calling quite vociferously. Any chance this bird could be breeding here? Not seen again on a later check around 9:00 o’clock.
3 Wood Thrush
**CAS CONSERVATION PRIORITY. All three of these birds were singing males in the wooded section, one right off of Beer’s Road, one near the sign for the water company’s land, and the other deeper in, near the intersection of the two forest paths.
1 Brown Thrasher
**CAS CONSERVATION PRIORITY; singing bird in the orchard. This species persists at Hoyden’s, despite nearly disappearing from all of its haunts north of I-95 in Fairfield. This singing individual was heard on the way in at its usual spot in the orchard, although it was not heard later, on the way out. It also sang quite briefly in the morning, and not heartily and for long periods like I’m used to from this species. Although singing birds remain here, I’ve never seen two birds together, nor two here at all. Is it possible that one male has just kept returning the past couple of years? I certainly hope not.
2 Indigo Bunting
Two singing birds; on at the north border of the orchard, the other at the edges of the bluebird meadow. One or two pairs have consistently occupied the orchard (especially preferring the north end) for years now. Others have been present random edges and borders. One was singing in the parking lot on our last visit.
1 Orchard Oriole
conservative count; likely more. Forgetting what the song of Orchard Oriole exactly sounded like, I played the vocalization low in my ear near the southeast edge (border) of the northeast meadow. When I looked up, a gorgeous adult male Orchard Oriole was less than ten feet from me, looking around. Although I’m not a big fan of playing tapes, this ‘accident’ allowed me the pleasure of getting terrific looks at this bird, one my favorite oriole species in North America. As I was making my way out, I thought I heard another Orchard singing in the vicinity of the old orchard, although I was in a bit of a rush and could not stop to confirm. There were likely two male Orchards present, one at the border between the two north meadows (especially preferring the southern end) where this species nested last year, and in the old orchard, where this species was also heard during the previous summer.
7 Blue-winged Warbler
**CAS CONSERVATION PRIORITY; Singing on territory. 6 of these 7 Blue-wingeds were singing males, while the other was the female half of a pair seen along the shrubby trail leading to the road (a pair often occupies this location). Other places this species was seen include the north border of the orchard, in the vicinity of the ‘Alder Fly area’ and on the western border of the southeast meadow.
A few photos below:
More photos and recordings and video of the Alder Flycatcher, Wood Thrush and Orchard Oriole can be found at my flickr account. To read more about Hoyden’s Hill Open Space visit Save Hoyden’s Hill.com. Also on the website are fantastic bird images captured by A.J. Hand on the site, including two species I was unable to detect yesterday: Black-billed Cuckoo and Chesnut-sided Warbler. While both cuckoos breed at the spot from time to time, this was my first visit during the breeding season that I was able to confirm nor find Chesnut-sided Warbler in the vicinity.
I’ll be posting more news and information on Hoyden’s Hill in the future, including the results of Atlases conducted by others, etc. Stay tuned for that.
Rice, Frank J. (compiler). Walking Through Fairfield’s Open Spaces: A Guide to Fairfield’s Walking and Hiking Trails.