May. In the birding world, that single word is ’nuff said when it comes to conjuring up images of spring migrants, all decked out in their gorgeous breeding garb. If you’re a big wood-warbler fan like me, this month presents the opportunity to hit 20 species in one day, which is always a fun challenge.
Although not as crazy nor birdy for me as last May, the 2013 version still had its share of good trips along with some great birds, including those seen on this year’s record-breaking Fairfield Big Day effort.
Heading into the period, the main push of warblers and other neotropical migrants was significantly stalled by prevailing east winds that held for the first ten days of the month. This prevented large-scale migration to occur across the region, which in turn delayed the opening of the floodgates in New England.
I spent the first weekend of May scouring the local areas for whatever arrived breeders and migrants that I could turn up. Both categories of birds were scarce, although local breeders were a bit more common, as was expected. If a migrating songbird uses coastal Connecticut as part of its bi-annual route, it can easily divert to the west if conditions are not conducive for migration in the area. But resident breeders must continue pushing into their breeding areas, despite the unfavorable conditions, thus the fact that I turned up more breeders.
I started my weekend of birding on Saturday afternoon, hitting the Pine Creek complex in Fairfield. Pine Creek was definitely birdy during my visit but hardly any passerine migrants were recorded, save for singles of both Yellow-rumped and Worm-eating Warblers.
The next morning, I continued my run up in northern Fairfield, visiting Brett Woods and Grace Richardson Open Space areas. Bird-wise, conditions at Brett were much the same as at Pine Creek the day before. Breeding highlights included Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, Pileated Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated and Blue-headed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Veery, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler and Scarlet Tanager. Some of these individuals might have been migrants, but because all of these species breed on location, it’s pretty tough to tell, especially early in the year. Despite the nice diversity, numbers of all these species were extremely low, with singles of many. The only real migrant highlights came in the form of a singing Winter Wren (possibly an overwintering bird) and Prairie Warbler.
I then moved on to Grace Richardson in the late afternoon. The place was pretty dead, but birds like Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush and Blue-winged Warbler were nice.
The next week saw the lackluster migration conditions remain quite the same. With conditions slightly improved by the end of the week, I stopped by the Birdcraft to see what was around on Thursday, recording just 29 species. Notables included my third Worm-eating Warbler of the year, as well as Blue-winged, Black-and-white, Yellow, Blackpoll, Black-throated Blue and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Parula and American Redstart for a 10-warbler day. Seeing Blackpoll and Yellow-rumped Warblers together was weird.
Dave Hursh and I returned to the Birdcraft the next evening, to get some relaxed birding in before the big day started. With 47 species recorded, our visit was more what you’d expect at this time of year. Highlights included Wild Turkey, Yellow-throated Vireo, Veery, Hermit and Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Northern Parula and Swamp Sparrow. Now that’s more like it!
The next day, Dave and I embarked on our Fairfield Big Day, besting the previous record of 116 by two species.
The next week saw the number of migrants in the region peak for the season, with some fantastic mornings to be had across the state. I was unfortunately out of commission for much of this time, although I did sneak in a short afternoon visit to the Birdcraft on Thursday (the 16th), picking up Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Veery, Swainson’s Thrush, Canada Warbler and Scarlet Tanager for that location’s month list. The highlight of the visit was most definitely a nice, crisp adult White-crowned Sparrow, an uncommon migrant through Connecticut during the spring.
I wasn’t able to make it out into the field at all the following week, as school took up most of my time. Memorial Day weekend was also largely uneventful for me birding-wise, although I did get to finally writing up a few blog posts :).
So that was my month. Not much compared to the incredible birding during this time last year, but this is all that school and treatment allowed. I missed some pretty common warblers (most notably Wilson’s!) but notched a few uncommon species here and there. Hopefully I can get in a lot more birding once school lessens down for the summer.