Fairfield Breeders: Ash Creek and environs

Despite a good amount of catch-up school work this month, I have still found time now and then to sneak out and continue conducting breeding bird surveys at Fairfield’s best sites. My goal is to continue these surveys (when I can) for at least the next twenty days, in hopes of getting a better understanding of the status and distribution of Fairfield’s avifauna. Looking ahead to the next couple of years, I hope to continue the surveys up until my year-long tenure in Fairfield expires (i.e. I leave for college). Next year, I hope to increase both the sites surveyed and the observers conducting the surveys, in order to produce a thorough town-wide census of the birds residing here. Stay tuned for more info on that!

During the past week, I have been able to get out for two formal surveys, one at Ash Creek with birding friend Paul Pinto on the 12th and the other just this past morning on the 16th at Jennings Beach (less than a quarter of a mile from the Ash Creek Open Space). Both surveys produced over 30 species (36 and 33, respectively) pointing to a terrific diversity of possible breeders at each site.

The two highlights of these surveys were finding a nest of Orchard Orioles (complete with four nestlings) at Ash Creek, and noting a record-number of singing and paired Brown Thrashers at Jennings Beach.

Confirmed breeders at Ash Creek sites included: Canada Goose, American Robin, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Brown-headed Cowbird, and House Sparrow.

Confirmed breeders at Jennings were: Downy Woodpecker, Warbling Vireo, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, and House Sparrow.

To read up the species seen and how breeding was confirmed, refer to my eBird checklists for Ash Creek and Jennings Beach.

And now for the formal reports:

Ash Creek is experiencing what looking to be a stable breeding season (by comparing previous years’ data). Orchard Oriole, an uncommon species in Connecticut, is again nesting, with breeding confirmed for the first time. Numbers of Brown Thrasher, a species of Special Concern in the state and a Connecticut Audubon Society Conservation Priority, remain at average or slightly below-average levels with 1-2 pairs present. Marsh Wren, a bird restricted to saltwater and freshwater marshes has appeared at this location for the first time in the breeding season, with one singing in the marsh to the north of the open space area. Clapper Rails also remain more vocal than in years past, with up to two calling on the 12th. In addition, two Willow Flycatchers, likely members of two separate pairs were recorded. What is likely the same bird that has occupied the point trail since late May remains on territory. Heron and egret numbers appear normal, with just slightly below normal counts of Yellow-crowned Night-Heron noted, although this could certainly just have been an anomaly, and many of the birds perhaps chose a different location to forage that day. Finally, in what is probably the strangest sighting of the two surveys, a Great Crested Flycatcher was recorded on Tuesday, the 12th. Whether this bird is a failed breeder, an incredibly late migrant or actually attempting to breed I’m not sure, and thus it will be one to look for during the next visit.

Song Sparrow (juvenile) — CONFIRMED BREEDER! Recently fledged young present

Gray Catbird — probable breeder; territory held for 7+ days.

Willow Flycatcher — probable breeder; territory held for 7+ days.

Cedar Waxwing — possible breeder; in appropriate habitat.

Orchard Oriole — CONFIRMED BREEDER! Nest with young. This is the highest possible indication of breeding. Notice the bill of the female sticking out of the nest.

Due to a lack of records, I’m not sure how to judge the current breeding season at Jennings Beach. However, the number of species recorded during my visit, as well as the overall ‘birdiness’ of the site certainly is a good sign. Definitely one of the two biggest highlights of these two counts was finding eight Brown Thrasher at Jennings Beach, the highest count of this species I’ve ever recorded at any one location anywhere. It was certainly a good sign to see that many birds present, with a number of pairs formed and even more heard singing. This species has declined 3.5% annually over the last few decades, an alarming rate. Not only was it nice to see or hear eight individuals of this special concern species in Connecticut, but finding the number of individuals I did also doubled my estimated number of thrasher pairs in Fairfield, from five to ten! Although the other 32 species are rather widespread, it is certainly nice to see such a variety at a rather unexpected location.

Brown Thrasher — probable breeder; pair in suitable habitat.

Downy Woodpecker (juvenile) — CONFIRMED BREEDER! Recently fledged young present.

Recommendations:

Simply put, the early mowing of the meadow at Ash Creek by the town of Fairfield was both a pretty bad move. I have little doubt this mow affected a number of nesting species, possibly including the Field Sparrow singing there on the 19th (which has now ‘disappeared’). Many nonnative grasses now inhabit the meadow, and Phragmites are beginning to dominate the ‘North Marsh’ where the Marsh Wren was heard singing. In addition, nonnative shrub species such as Japanese Barberry are also present. A little habitat restoration at this site (especially in the meadow and marsh areas) could go a long way.

One of the reasons I love Jennings Beach is because of the natural habitat still present. It remains very isolated, yet shares a border with the highly populated Penfield Beach area, and certainly serves as a buffer between the quieter South Benson/Ash Creek region of Fairfield and the crazy Penfield region. The fencing in of the dunes has allowed native habitats to prosper. Again, I believe some habitat restoration (both in the dunes and thickets), could allow this site to become even better.

-AB

References:

Anton A. Leenders, “The Connecticut Audubon Society Guide to Endangered Species,” Connecticut State of the Birds 2009 (2009): 30-31.

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4 Responses to Fairfield Breeders: Ash Creek and environs

  1. We definitely have some work to do at Ash Creek bro…… this summer.

  2. Jay Reed says:

    Alex,
    FYI, I did see a cedar waxwing emerge from a nest in one of the trees at Ash Creek (between Ash Creek and the marina) on May 30—not sure if this is precise enough to help. Same time and place, there was also a pair of brown thrashers working the sides of the path together (more or less). Thanks for your reports!
    Jay

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