1/16 – Bald is Beautiful

With a little free time on my hands this morning, I joined Jim Orrico for a couple of hours of birding in town. Our plan was to hit a couple of lakes and reservoirs in Northern Fairfield, in hopes that some would be unfrozen, before heading back down to the coast.

Our first stop was Hemlock Reservoir, near the border with Easton. During my initial binocular scan, I saw a large shape out on the ice that I passed over for a buoy. But upon taking out the heavier equipment, and zeroing in to 60x, I noticed that this “buoy” was in fact an ADULT Bald Eagle!

Bald Eagle, Hemlock Reservoir, CT

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

We spent the next twenty minutes or so enjoying the no-doubt “bird of the day” as it sat complacently out on the ice, unmoving, except for a few turns of its head here and there. Bald Eagles are uncommon at best in Fairfield, and this was my first in town in over a year. These birds are regularly found wintering at Hemlock Reservoir, but typically on the Easton side, so we were thrilled that this bird had “made the crossing”.

While watching the eagle, we noted a large flock of chickadees calling from a nearby pine. As the birds moved closer and to eye level, we noticed an imposter in their midst: a juvenile Pine Warbler!

Pine Warbler, Hemlock Reservoir, CT

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Although these birds are locally common breeders around Hemlock Reservoir, this bird (my first Pine ever in the winter in Fairfield) was completely unexpected. It would be fascinating to know if this bird had been born and raised at this location and decided to stick it out for the winter, or if it had been derived from somewhere else. But we’ll likely never know…

From Hemlock we moved south, finding Lake Mohegan and the northern portion of Samp Mortar Reservoir to be almost completely iced over. However, a calling Winter Wren in the wet, swampy woodlands at the latter stop was a nice surprise.

We finally located a small, ice-free patch on Samp Mortar next to Old Black Rock Turnpike, a patch that just happened to contain ten Ring-necked Ducks, all of which were males.

Ring-necked Duck, Samp Mortar Reservoir, CT

Ring-necked Ducks

Ring-necked Ducks

It was awesome to catch up with these variable winter residents in Fairfield, whose wintering population is ultimately determined by the amount of open fresh water present on the larger bodies of water in town.

After Samp, we moved on to our last stop of the day: Bulkley Pond, on the border of Fairfield and Westport. After a bit of persistent scanning (as well as two previous visits), we were finally able to connect with our target here, Green-winged Teal.

This bird emerged from hiding at the Fairfield side of the pond just long enough to provide us with a good, identifying visual, before slipping back into its brushy and well-vegetated domain.

Green-winged Teal. If you look closely, you can just make out that distinctive white bar and the flanks and chestnut head through all of the brush.

Green-winged Teal. If you look closely, you can just make out that distinctive white bar and the flanks and chestnut head through all of the brush.

Up to eight birds were present at this location last January, as opposed to the single Green-winged Teal noted on this effort, as the well as the complete lack of these birds on my previous two visits. Maybe a few teal were staying out of view, in the vicinity of the area the male had come from, or perhaps more are on their way over the next couple of weeks, in to provide this bird with some company.

On the way out of the pond, we noted a nice, adult Red-shouldered Hawk, perched right above Sasco Creek, literally straddling the border between Fairfield and Westport.

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding | 2 Comments

1/8 – Ash Creek

Sunset at Pine Creek, where we headed after Ash, and dipped on the previously-reported Rough-legged Hawk and Orange-crowned Warbler.

Sunset at Pine Creek, where we headed after Ash, and dipped on the previously-reported Rough-legged Hawk and Orange-crowned Warbler.

Before a frustrating dusk miss of both the Cackling and Barnacle Geese in the Southport area of Fairfield (although we would get redemption on the former over the weekend, and the latter on Thursday, January 9th), Jim Orrico and I birded the Ash Creek area for a couple of hours, late on the afternoon on Wednesday, January 8.

Our first stop was the Upper Ash Creek area, which due to the incredibly cold temperatures we’d been experiencing, was found to be mostly frozen. However, we were able to pick up one of the continuing male Eurasian Wigeon in some of the open water, as well as a nearby Killdeer, although the awesome waterfowl numbers I had found there previously were severely depleted, likely due to the conditions. They would rebound over the weekend, though.

We then headed down to the Ash Creek Open Space area, where we were able to view much of the marsh and creek beyond. The heavy tides in this area allowed all of the water to stay open, and thus we caught up with a great deal of waterfowl, dominated by Mallard (330 to be exact). We found this to be an interesting juxtaposition in comparison with the Upper Ash Creek area, which is usually dominated by American Black Ducks.

Highlights at the open space included decent numbers of waterfowl including the aforementioned Mallards, 35 Canada Goose, 4 Gadwall, one of the male Eurasian Wigeon that drifted down from Upper Ash, 40 American Wigeon, 50 American Black Duck, 1 American Black Duck x Mallard, 8 Greater Scaup, 6 Bufflehead, 10 Hooded and 8 Red-breasted Merganser.

Red-tailed Hawk, seven Killdeer and a nice count of eighteen American Tree Sparrow were some of the other highlights.

I was able to get a number of photos of the birds in the Ash Creek area, many of which are below (as always, click on the images for larger and clearer views):

American Black Duck

American Black Duck

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck and Mallard.

Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck and Mallard.

A portion of the large numbers of waterfowl present at the Ash Creek Open Space (dominated by Mallard).

A portion of the large numbers of waterfowl present at the Ash Creek Open Space (dominated by Mallard).

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Killdeer, Ash Creek, CT Killdeer, Ash Creek, CT

Killdeer

Killdeer

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding | 2 Comments

1/11 – 1/12: Fairfield Continues to Shine

I enjoyed another awesome weekend of birding in my awesome hometown, Fairfield, CT. Starting from foggy Saturday morning to windy Sunday evening, I birded more-or-less nonstop, putting together a nice total of species for the weekend, and noting a number of highlights.

In anticipation of getting a lot of birding in over the weekend, I slaved over six hours of homework on Friday night in order to be as free as possible. It wasn’t the most exciting experience at the time, but the birds over the weekend certainly made up for it!

My first stop on Saturday (January 11th) morning was the Metro Conservation Area, in the Ash Creek region of Fairfield. My primary target here was Savannah Sparrow, but after an hour of searching, I unfortunately came up empty. Nevertheless, birds like Gadwall, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler and American Tree Sparrow kept me busy and made the miss (of a bird that seemed like a given) more bearable.

After the Metro, I stopped by the main Ash Creek area, viewed from a parking lot off of the Post Road. I have visited this location this winter for Canvasback and have come up empty ever time. Until yesterday. An awesome flock of twenty-five Canvasback was hanging around the area, and became enshrouded in mist every so often, giving the group of sort of ethereal feel.

The Canvasback flock.

The Canvasback flock.

Canvasback, Ash Creek, CT

Canvasbacks

Canvasbacks

Terrific waterfowl numbers and variety continued at Ash, including: 27 Canada Goose, Mute Swan, 23 Gadwall, 87 American Wigeon, 145 American Black Duck, Mallard, Mallard x American Black Duck, Bufflehead and 1 Hooded Merganser. A Killdeer was also around.

Gadwall

Gadwall

The stars of the show, however, were the two continuing male Eurasian Wigeon. One Euro is nice enough, but we’re simply spoiled with two. I was finally able to get these awesome birds into the same scope view, and was able to capture a digiscoped portrait of the two of them before they drifted apart.

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon

After some fun with the waterfowl at Ash, I headed to the border of Fairfield and Westport and Bulkley Pond. Unfortunately, it was too foggy to see the waterfowl at the back of the pond, and thus we decided to retire home, just in time for the thunder storms and pouring rain to begin.

Sunday morning dawned sunny, with the wind scheduled to pick up a few hours after sunrise. I had the pleasure of leading Bill Asteriades and Rick Macsuga around portions of one of my all-around favorite birding spots in Fairfield: Pine Creek.

Before I split up from Bill and Rick, we covered the main landfill area down to the pond, noting birds like Winter Wren and Common Raven (vocalizing literally just after we finished discussing the status of corvids in Connecticut).

After parting ways, I spent the next three hours birding the remainder of the Pine Creek complex, noting thirty-eight species, including a slew of highlights. These were: Sharp-shinned and Red-shouldered Hawks, Belted Kingfisher, calling flyover Horned Lark and American Pipit, two Gray Catbird, American Tree Sparrow and flyover Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird.

Following another awesome morning at Pine Creek, Jim Orrico and I hit the road, visiting a number of spots throughout the southern part of the town.

Our first stop was One Rod Highway, in search of a raptor or two. We came away with nothing in the Accipitridae department, although an American Tree Sparrow among the regulars was nice.

Moving on, we hit Sunken Island, which we viewed from Fairfield Beach Road. A strong wind was coming off the water, and was certainly responsible for the best and most surprising bird of the visit: a nearshore Northern Gannet that actually appeared to be fighting just to maintain its position in offshore waters.

Other highlights at the island included: Brant, Greater Scaup, White-winged and Black Scoter (a single female among the scaup), Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser.

After stopping briefly at home in order to grab some lunch, we were on our way, headed to Southport. We noticed that the sizable goose flock that had previously contained the Barnacle I enjoyed on Thursday, was present on the Fairfield Country Club grounds, positioned right up against Sasco Hill Road.

We ended up enjoying forty minutes with this 525 bird flock, taking in point-blank views of Barnacle and Cackling Geese, terrific visitors to my humble little town.

Barnacle Goose, Fairfield Country Club, CT

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

Cackling Goose, Fairfield Country Club, CT Cackling Goose, Fairfield Country Club, CT

Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

As a dedicated Fairfield birder, I feel an enormous sense of pride, derived from the fact that my town is hosting such awesome birds, and that people are making the trek to Fairfield to see them. It is not every day that you see large numbers of birders (or any at all besides James and myself!) birding the Fairfield coastline, but this is exactly what we’ve experienced with the Barrow’s Goldeneye at the reef and the geese in Southport. To put my own spin on a popular bird feeding mantra: “if you give them good birds, they will come.”

Following a nice visit with the geese, we headed to nearby Bulkley Pond. Our biggest highlight here came not in the form of a bird, but a mammal. Peering through my scope, I was happily surprised to see one then two Muskrat, my first in a while!

Muskrat, Bulkley Pond, CT

Muskrat

Muskrat

It was a terrific experience catching up with these charismatic rodents in my own town, and proved that Fairfield is a great spot to enjoy the mammalian side of things as well!

Our last stop of the day was Fairfield University. It took a while, but eventually we caught up with our top target here: the Wild Turkey flock that is reliably found at this location. We enjoyed a group of eight birds works the grounds one of the university buildings just as the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon. It was the perfect ending to a sensational weekend.

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey on the run (notice the blurred legs).

Wild Turkey on the run (notice the blurred legs).

A close Wild Turkey.

A close Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkey plumage study.

Wild Turkey plumage study.

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding, Rarities | 1 Comment

1/9 – BARNACLE GOOSE, Fairfield

Barnacle Goose has been on my radar as a Fairfield birder for a couple of years now, beginning with the banded Scottish bird in Westport a few years back. That bird never made it across the border, but the saga of Westport Barnacle Geese continued last week, when one was found at Burying Hill Beach. James Purcell and I made a quick check of the Fairfield Country Club this past Sunday, hoping the bird had crossed the border, but unfortunately came away with nothing to show for our efforts.

My dreams became reality yesterday, however, when Frank Mantlik discovered the Barnacle Goose at the Fairfield Country Club, among a large flock of Canada Geese. I raced over there as soon as I heard the news, but it was unfortunately too dark for me to pick the bird out amongst the throngs of Canadas from my viewing location across Southport Harbor.

Today, just as the light was fading, I made another stab at the Barnacle Goose, and was finally able to catch up with it. The bird was hanging out with a nice flock of around 500 Canada Geese on the iced-over harbor, and spent most of its time sitting (including sleeping) on the ice, only standing and looking around briefly.

Our initial view of the goose, roosting in the center on the far bank.

Our initial view of the goose, roosting in the center on the far bank.

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

It was a real treat to finally catch up with this bird in Fairfield. Barnacle Goose might just be my favorite goose I’ve ever seen, and will enjoy a hard-won place on my Fairfield Town List, one that receives a new addition far too infrequently.

-Alex

In addendum: Barnacle Goose will join a nice list of goodies found by scoping the Country Club grounds in the past, including Snow Goose, American Golden-Plover and Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding, Rarities | 1 Comment

1/1 – Virginia Opossum, Hoydens Hill

While birding Hoydens Hill on January first, Jim Orrico and I came across a Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), perched low in the shrubby growth. This species is the only marsupial found in the United States and Canada. When we first encountered this guy, it appeared to be playing dead (as ‘possums so often do) be laying limp on the branch and remaining unmoving as we stood there. Eventually, it ceased the act and began staring us down intently, and also checking out the surrounding area. We discerned this animal to be a young one based on its overall size and coloration, although my experience with these beasts is rather limited and thus I could be perfectly wrong on that designation.

Virginia Opossum, Hoydens Hill, CT Virginia Opossum, Hoydens Hill, CT

Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossum

It was the first time I’d ever seen one of these guys alive in Fairfield, and a cool experience to boot!

-Alex

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1/5 – Penfield Reef Barrow’s

I received a call from James Purcell late morning on Sunday to alert me to a Northern Pintail in the vicinity of his house at the Penfield Reef. Despite the extremely treacherous and icy road conditions, I couldn’t resist heading over to look for my first pintail in Fairfield this year.

When I arrived, I found that the pintail had left the area. James and I spent a while searching for it, to no avail. Consolation came in the form of the awesome male Barrow’s Goldeneye that continues at the reef for its third week now. Likely thanks to the foggy and rainy day we experienced, the bird was foraging rather close to shore, which allowed us to get some pretty decent scope views and even a few photos.

Barrow's Goldeneye, in close proximity to the roosting gulls at the base of the reef.

Barrow’s Goldeneye, in close proximity to the roosting gulls at the base of the reef.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Barrow’s Goldeneye

This is one of only two Barrow’s at the reef I can remember in the last five years. The other bird, a male found by James, only stuck around for an afternoon, and I arrived home from school just a little too late to chase it. This bird, however, has been showing some staying power, allowing me to enjoy it for the second time after my initial look for the year on January 2nd.

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding, Rarities | 2 Comments

In the beginning…

There was the heaven and the earth. There was a White-throated Sparrow, 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.

Eurasian Wigeon (digiscoped)

Eurasian Wigeon (digiscoped)

Waterfowl numbers included 11 Canada Goose, 21 Gadwall, 102 American Wigeon, 106 American Black Duck, 11 Mallard, American Black Duck x Mallard, 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.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

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.

-Alex

Posted in Connecticut Birding, Fairfield Birding | 1 Comment