There was the heaven and the earth. There was a White-throated Sparrow, a Northern Cardinal and a Dark-eyed Junco, my first three birds of the year! I’ve been keeping a year list for a number of years now, and have really been enjoying it. New Years Day truly feels like an extension of Christmas; every bird is “new” in a sense, even the lowly House Sparrows and European Starlings. It’s exciting to wait until midnight, then high tail it out just a few hours later to start getting that year list off to a good start. This past Wednesday, I did just that.
I awoke early on Wednesday morning, and made a quick check of the feeders just as light was beginning to increase. Dawn on New Years Day is always the most crazy time for a year lister. Your heart beats as you watch the light increase, waiting for little shapes to appear around the feeding station. As always, I was in heightened anticipation of my first bird of the year, something that came soon enough, in the form of an innocent White-throated Sparrow scratching about under the feeders. A Northern Cardinal was doing the same nearby, and a Dark-eyed Junco soon flew in, completing m initial trio of birds for the year!
After bagging those initial birds, I headed to my first spot on a clear but very cold New Years Day, Pine Creek, arguably the best winter birding location in all of Fairfield. I’ve begun my last three birding years at Pine Creek, including 2014. It always provides thirty or more species, allowing me to enjoy a good variety of “new” birds and get things rolling in quick succession.
I was able to tally thirty-five species on this morning, including a number of good birds such as: Sharp-shinned Hawk, my first American Coot at Pine Creek, three of the wintering Winter Wrens, Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a female Eastern Towhee at the fantastic Pine Creek feeding station, American Tree, Fox and Swamp Sparrows.
Overall, it was a great winter visit to Pine Creek, and a great way to start my new year of birding. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera along for this stop, as I was really hoping to just enjoy those “first” looks at these birds, but it probably would’ve come in handy for notables such as American Coot, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Eastern Towhee. Oh well, guess I’ll have to make another visit to this awesome spot!
After Pine Creek, I joined up with Jim Orrico, and together we hit Upper Ash Creek. We found that terrific numbers of the commoner waterfowl remained from the weeks prior, numbers that tend to include a surprise or two. On this visit, that surprise was one of the continuing male Eurasian Wigeon, one of two individuals that has been seen here lately.
Waterfowl numbers included 11 Canada Goose, 21 Gadwall, 102 American Wigeon, 106 American Black Duck, 11 Mallard, 1 American Black Duck x Mallard, 1 Bufflehead and 3 Hooded Merganser. A nearby Killdeer was living up to its scientific name, Charadrius vociferus, continually calling from the edge of the marsh.
Moving on, we headed up to the highest point in Fairfield, Hoydens Hill Open Space, another one of Fairfield’s best winter birding locations. Although our visit was cut short by a bit of crazy locals lighting off frighteningly loud and disturbing fireworks, we still managed to nail our two targets here, in the form of six (!) Field Sparrows in the brush at the edge of the softball field, and two Eastern Bluebirds in the hedgerows along the meadows of the main open space area.
We also ran into a number of awesome birds, many of them new for the year, including, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Pileated Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Fox Sparrow. The biggest surprise, however, was likely a first winter White-crowned Sparrow, a rare winter visitor to Fairfield, hanging out with Song and White-throated Sparrows.
With daylight receding, we departed Hoydens and raced back down to the coast in order to reach the Penfield Reef before dusk, in hopes of netting the continuing male Barrow’s Goldeneye.
Upon arrival, James Purcell alerted us that many of the ducks had cleared out thanks to the presence of a waterfowl hunter on the reef, who luckily departed the area soon after I arrived. With the hunter gone, we hoped we could catch the Barrow’s in the failing light, but it was unfortunately no joy on this day.
However, we did enjoy some other new birds for the year including Greater Scaup, Great Cormorant and a flock of twelve Snow Buntings on the reef.
With unfinished business at the reef, I returned the next day, and together James Purcell and I located the drake Barrow’s Goldeneye, swimming and diving with Common Goldeneyes in the more turbulent waters.
We also caught up with three other new year birds in the form of Long-tailed Duck, White-winged Scoter and Sanderling, although I failed to nail the Dunlin seen by James earlier in the day.
I enjoyed a great start to 2014 on the first two days of the year, netting sixty-two species, quite a total considering I restricted my birding to my hometown. I find these early days of the year, and catching up with old birds that have suddenly become new again, thanks to the game of year listing, to be one of the most satisfying and enjoyable times of the birding calendar.