James Purcell and I spent the entire day Sunday (1/19) birding the majority of birding locations throughout the town of Fairfield on a winter big day of sorts. Our primary goal aside from numbers of species was to connect with as many year birds, or in James’ case Big Year birds (James is currently in the midst of a Fairfield Big Year effort), as possible, and maybe turn up something rare or unusual in the midst of our wandering.
I am happy to report that our day’s efforts were hugely successful, and that James added five new birds to his growing list. I personally tacked on six species for my year list, which now stands at 93 species, all of which were seen in Fairfield. The passing of the arbitrary number of ninety species allows me to qualify for the Connecticut Big January effort, which is a friendly competition among Connecticut birders to see how many birds they can see during the darkest and coldest month of the year. Although I most certainly won’t win (nor come close), I am glad to say that Fairfield will be represented in the final standings.
Our day began at Pine Creek Open Space, where I’ve spent at least one day a week during this month birding this fantastic location. It was on this visit that I failed to pass the thirty species mark at this spot for the first time in a while. We came in just one short, at twenty-nine, with the top highlight for me being a flyover Red-throated Loon, a new bird for the year. Perhaps the wind and chilly conditions had something to do with the dearth of birds.
Other highlights included a female Common Goldeneye, swimming in the creek (an odd spot to find this bird), Sharp-shinned Hawk and American Tree Sparrow. On the way out, we nailed eight Wild Turkey, a new year bird for James, at a nearby feeder.
However, we found the nearby Scandinavian Club (part of the “Pine Creek Complex”) to be chock full of good birds. During our short ten minutes there we came up with birds such as a beautiful male Eastern Towhee, Fox Sparrow, and the highlight of the visit for me, a Brown Thrasher, completing my mimid trifecta for January.
We then hit spots like Pine Creek’s Salt Meadows, and Sasco Beach and the Harbor Road Bridge in Southport, which held little of note. The Canada Goose flock on the Fairfield Country Club failed to hold recently-seen rarities like Cackling and Barnacle Geese, although we did score a Turkey Vulture soaring in the vicinity of our lookout point in Southport.
Moving on through Southport, we found more of the same. Bulkley Pond held the male Green-winged Teal I had enjoyed the other day. This time, though, the bird was foraging and showing nicely out in the open, even providing a few digiscoped photos.
Six Gadwall were also present on the pond.
Following our experience with the teal, we hit the neighborhood north of the pond in search of a large blackbird flock that has been recently seen in the area. We were unable to catch up with these birds on this visit, but a surprise Pileated Woodpecker, a new year bird for James, was most certainly the highlight of our little detour.
After Southport and a quick drive down One Rod Highway, we returned to James’ house (with a view of the Penfield Reef) for lunch. It was here that I picked up my ninetieth bird of the year, in the form of at least two Lesser Scaup among a flock of Greaters.
Another big highlight was having all three Bucephala species in view at once, including the continuing Barrow’s Goldeneye, foraging right off the end of the reef.
It was now time to add some insurance, and we set off for what would be a terrific afternoon. Picking up a White-winged Scoter at Sunken Island, we advanced to the Ash Creek area, with our first stop being Jennings Beach.
With little of note at Jennings, we hit the Ash Creek Open Space area, where we netted Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks. We found the creek to be mostly (and surprisingly) devoid of waterfowl, which was the same case at Upper Ash Creek. The long-staying Eurasian Wigeons were not among the few birds that remained.
After a short stop at the Metro Conservation Area that included a nice count of twelve Gadwall, Red-tailed Hawk and American Tree Sparrow, and uneventful visits to the Birdcraft Sanctuary and the wet area behind Ludlowe High School, we cut our losses and began our circuit of northern Fairfield.
Our first stop was the Perry’s Mill Ponds, which ended up being a lot birdier than expected with eighteen species recorded on our brief visit, including a new bird for the year in the form of a Pied-billed Grebe on the first pond. The Pied-billed was also joined by two male Ring-necked Ducks among others.
Other highlights included Turkey Vulture, a Belted Kingfisher with a nice catch, Hairy Woodpecker and a calling Winter Wren, which was a nice surprise after missing this bird at Pine Creek.
Samp Mortar Reservoir yielded three Ring-necked Ducks, down from the ten I had a few days ago.
Following Samp Mortar, I enjoyed another hugely successful visit to Hemlock Reservoir, yielding three female Common Merganser, a new species for the year, as well as the continuing adult Bald Eagle, soaring majestically over the opposite shoreline.
After such an awesome day of birding, we were riding “on high” from our success, and thus it was appropriate to finish off our day at the highest point in Fairfield, Hoydens Hill Open Space. Here we enjoyed a beautiful view of the meadows and edges of this awesome location in the fading light. It was a fitting ending to a sensational day of birding our sensational town.
In addendum: James and I also took the chance to enjoy a beautiful Great Horned Owl in the midst of our efforts, my ninety-third bird of the year.