Archive for the ‘CT Birding Journal’ Category

Warblers-finally!

September 11, 2017

Adult female Black and White Warbler

A cold-front, with light N/NW winds sets up, raising the hopes that conditions over a weekend would allow me to collect some wood-warblers! But where would I go? Bluff was the obvious choice – but out of the question – I had Alex, so it had to be somewhere local. Despite a dearth of habitat, spots for consistently concentrating and holding passage warblers are few and far between in central coastal CT. Lighthouse Point it would have to be – it would be funneling birds and although birds are high, it would at least be a spot that would produce migrants. Although I didn’t have high-hopes for a lot of birds “on-the-deck”, I was about to be pleasantly surprised!

Sat 9th September
at 7am, I took up position at the NE boundary of the park. I was flanked by the harbor to the west and it overlooked the last line of trees before the park switches to a suburban development.

It was evident that birds were moving – small incessant “chips and chups” high overhead in the azure sky, could be heard as soon as I had exited the car. The birds were coming thick and fast, foraging and then moving along the line of trees before launching themselves out over the harbor. It was evident that the sky was layered and peppered with neotropical migrants, notably American Redstarts and Blue gray Gnatcatchers  – the biggest flight of that species I has ever seen. The distinctive “blink-blink” of Bobolinks formed a backdrop, moving high above the warblers and invisible to the eye.

I was the only birder present, so numbers are a conservative estimate and I am sure I missed more than a few things.

Eastern Wood-Pewee  6
Great Crested Flycatcher  5
Red-eyed Vireo  50
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  180    A huge passage of this species occurred on the back end of a cold-front.
Swainson’s Thrush  1
Ovenbird  1
Black-and-white Warbler  4
Tennessee Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  30
American Redstart  110
Northern Parula  4
Magnolia Warbler  5
Yellow Warbler  1
Chestnut-sided Warbler  1
Blackpoll Warbler  2
Black-throated Green Warbler  3
Wilson’s Warbler  1
warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.)  50+
Scarlet Tanager  1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1
Dickcissel  1
Sunday 9th September
With similar conditions to yesterday but with lighter winds out of the north, I knew there would be birds today. I got there early and took up a position about 6:45 am, slightly more north of where I was yesterday, hoping to get a “warbler id in flight” refresher course. In the 80/90s, when I resided in Cape May, and free from the confines of a day-job, I was able to witness almost every fall cold front!  However, those days are long gone for me and you quickly get out of practice. It can be humbling in conditions, like today,when birds are high and small. That is the case at Lighthouse..birds are already in the stratosphere, so pinning a name to many is tough…but sometimes you get lucky with a few. Assuming you can track these and lock focus with a camera, it provides some “after the event” clues to the dashing dot’s identity!

Uncropped from the camera – this was one of the close birds!

Adult male Cape May Warbler – same bird as in the photo above

Bay-breasted Warbler

American Kestrel  2
Eastern Wood-Pewee  3
Least Flycatcher  1
Red-eyed Vireo  12
Common Raven  3
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  160    Again unusually high numbers after another night of N winds
Northern Waterthrush  3
Black-and-white Warbler  6
Tennessee Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  30
American Redstart  120
Cape May Warbler  2
Northern Parula  10
Magnolia Warbler  3
Bay-breasted Warbler  1
Blackburnian Warbler  1
Yellow Warbler  1
Blackpoll Warbler  4
Black-throated Blue Warbler  4
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Canada Warbler  1
warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.)  80
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1
Dickcissel  1
Bobolink  60
So, over two mornings, in one spot I managed 19 sp of warbler – and never saw another birder!! This was surprising since the flight was rather predictable in its occurrence, if not the magnitude. It ranks as one of the best (biggest) flights in many years – certainly the best since I’ve lived here. Bluff Point, our well-known migrant trap totalled 9000 warblers in three hours!!!
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Ardenna Overload

September 2, 2017

19th-20th August Cape Cod, Massachusetts

L to r: Nick Bonomo, Phil Rusch, Me, Luke Seitz, Peter Trimble and Dave Provencher

(Click on Images for Hi-Res versions)

With our annual overnight pelagic being weathered out, several of us decided to head up to the Cape to do some birding, especially as we had kindly been given floor space at Peter Trimble’s home.

So, Dave Provencher, Phil Rusch and myself met up at 4 am in Mystic, CT and drove up to Race Point, Provincetown, meeting Nick Bonomo and Luke Seitz en route. There had been a nice showing of shearwaters at Race Point, along with jaegers and, as we had found out, even a South Polar Skua had been seen flying up the beach!

Stopping for a quick coffee, we soon arrived at the parking lot that was lightly shrouded in fog – not good, since that would hamper visibility offshore. Nick had called to say that they were two miles down the beach. We were saved from a long walk by Blair Nikula who kindly came and picked us up and brought us back down to the beach. When we arrived, we had no idea what an amazing spectacle we were about to experience. Feeding right in the surf was a mass of feeding Great Shearwaters, thousands of them…there were birds everywhere. They were feeding on a huge amount of small fish, bunker or Menhaden, that had been pushed inshore.

Blair Nikula and Jeremiah Trimble ankle-deep in Great Shearwaters

Great Shearwater over oily water

As we all stood there, not quite being able to take it all in, we noticed there were not just Great, but Cory’s, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters! Then somebody shouted “SABINE’S!!”

Adult Sabine’s Gull – a dapper bird!

A dapper ad Sabine’s Gull flew out of the gloom and alighted in the water in front of us. My first east coast Sabine’s, it showed well during the morning. Several Roseate Terns and Black Terns paraded by, all against a swarming melee of shearwaters. Foggy conditions made for tough photography, but standing in the surf, surrounded by Great Shearwaters while Cory’s flew up the beach behind us was a surreal experience.

Who needs a boat?

“Hey..get out of the way!” Cory’s Shearwater in the surf..

Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

The rest of the crew went to check out a shorebird, and Blair and I stayed by the car. At this point, I noticed a small, slim-winged Cory’s-type shearwater, which from photos looked good for Scopoli’s! It was distant, but the underwing seemed to fit! Almost at the same time, Blair shouted, “SABINE’S”. Surprisingly, this time it turned out to be a fresh juvenile!! It flew close and landed offshore.

Juvenile Sabine’s Gull..my first Sabine’s in the east…

I texted the others, who soon rejoined us, and over the next hour we photographed a few more apparent Scopoli’s, surely one, if not the only time, this species/subspecies has been identified from shore?

Apparent Scopoli’s Shaearwater (top left) with a Cory’s Shearwater. Apparently no plumage or size differences are useful (except for some small females?) and the underwing pattern of many Scopoli’s-types is variable. Some have extensive white extending onto the primary bases, but hiow much is enough…

We walked down the beach back to the main parking area, noting a 2nd-cycle Parasitic Jaeger, more Roseate Terns and thousands and thousands more shearwaters!

Second-cycle Parasitic Jaeger

Click here for the ebird checklist

We stopped for lunch and continued to Chatham to try for a Little Stint that had been present for several days. We soon found the bird feeding in a shallow, wet area. We essentially had the bird to ourselves and with some crawling and scurrying through the mud, we were able to field craft the heck out of it and obtain some nice images.

Adult Little Stint, Chatham, Mass. A pretty straightforward identification. I always remain skeptical of claims of juveniles in the east in fall. I am not aware of any except for a bird at Cape May in September 1982. I wonder if that record would stand up to review today in lieu of any other sightings..

Nick getting up close and personal…

20th August – Monomoy

So, after some early morning fun with a brazen skunk, the plan was to take Nick’s boat out to Harwichport and zoom out to Monomoy. This used to be more accessible back in the 90s but unless you have a boat, you can’t get out there now. This has to be one of the best shorebird spots in the east. I had seen a Bar-tailed Godwit out here way back when, and it is known as a July staging ground for Hudsonian Godwits before they jump off into the Atlantic and head south.  We anchored the boat and headed off to the powder hole, a brackish, tidal  pool good for shorebirds. It was a great, birdy spot we had to ourselves, but diversity was low.

Birding the Powder Hole on Monomoy

We had good looks at some Roseate and Black Terns, and a sprinkling of commoner species, but nothing of note. It had gotten hot, so we headed back.

Lunch anyone?? Nice bit of baked Seal…yummy!!

Stopping off at Minimoy, there were tons of birds on the falling tide. Unfortunately, we had no time for landing, especially since we may have gotten the boat stuck. Luke jumped out to scope the distant flock, picking out Marbled and Hudsonian, but they were really distant. We had to be back that night, so we decided not to risk it.

So, although disappointing we never made it offshore, the weekend;s birding was more than a fitting consolation!

31st July – Falkner Island, Guilford

August 4, 2017

Click on images for Hi-res versions

On July 28th  two tern researchers, Cedric Duhalde and Alex Heuschkel, discovered CT’s second Bridled Tern, on Falkner’s Island, 3.5 miles off Guilford, CT in Long Island Sound. They quickly posted info on their discovery and allowed birders to mobilize themselves.

The first record, also on Falkner’s Island, was 25 years previous and untwitchable. So this was essentially a second bite of the cherry for everyone. The problem is that the island is off-limits due to nesting terns, specifically endangered Roseate Terns, so it would be a boat-only jaunt, made more difficult because I don’t have a boat! Nick Bonomo has a boat, and together with his girlfriend, they decided to make a dash for it the same evening, pitting his luck against fading light, wind and the unpredictable nature of nature. His story can be found here.

None of CT’s top listers, with a fervor for new state birds, knew of anyone with a boat, so I decided the only way to see it would be to find a boat in Guilford and organize it myself. After calling around and coming up empty on the charter front, the bird was not seen at all on Sunday, so I went about my business and resigned myself to tackling other issues in life. However, that changed on Monday 31st July at 7:15 am, when Capt Lou returned my message and said he was interested in taking people out and he could go that night. That’s great, but with no positive report, I was about to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”, when I get a text:  “Bridled’s back on the jetty!”.  Game on!!

I had several birders keen to go out if I found a boat, so on the way to work, I texted them all to say I knew a man with a boat and Roy Harvey, Frank Gallo, Dave Provencher and Greg Hanisek were to meet me at the Guilford town dock at 4:30pm.

On the way to the dock, it transpired that some webs of allegiances were being spun and, with the potential for conflicts bubbling just under the surface, it started to go all Game of Thrones.

Suddenly, people interested in being on the only organized charter  – and who had been allocated a spot – had already apparently found a boat, been out there that same morning and ticked it – all before we had even arrived at the dock. Of course, having “friends with boat benefits” was obviously at play here, and now filling that slot last minute on our charter with overflow people was easy, but more delicate because I had more friends than seats. People with boats – who weren’t going, or had gone already – were now going again, and people who had boats -who had offered to split costs with passengers, but couldn’t sail on a particular day – were now gripped off when those same passengers found passage on another “friend’s” boat. Some birders even “forgot” they were part of a work party that actually had permission to land ON THE ISLAND that you weren’t actually allowed to land on!

Capt Lou was enthusiastic and interested and soon we were off. A text from one observer alerted us to the fact that the bird was there, but had been flushed by a Peregrine and was not present! Flushed is better than eaten, but it dialed-up the anxiety meter a tad! It didn’t take long to get there, and the evening was calm with blue skies – a wonderful evening on the water.

Watching the bird! It is visible in the picture just below and to the right of the lighthouse.

We anchored in position and started scanning. I moved up to the bow, and was scanning when the bird suddenly appeared in front of me, winging- in from the right. “Here it is!!” The bird made a beeline for the rocks and settled in place, allowing for brilliant views over the next 40 mins! Reeeesssuult!!

Adult Bridled Tern, Falkner Is., CT July

Luckily, on the one pass, it allowed a few shots in flight. The white bleeding onto the primary bases is different from Sooty Tern and useful in flight when head pattern may be hard to discern.

With several of us having chartered a boat to a spot that had previously been “off-limits”, suddenly the bird was twitchable for the masses, remaining faithful to the rocks and jetty on the west end of the island and was subsequently seen by many people over the next few days.

Roseate Tern. A worn individual and not immediately an easy id. Note worn, blackish outer primaries contrasting with greyer inners and long outer tail feathers lacking any dusky grey on the inner/outer webs.

Roseate Tern, Falkner Island, CT. Note white impression, especially of the underparts, long pointed and all white tail. The bill is half black, typical of many breeding birds, but will wear characteristically darker as the season progresses. The pink flush that gives them their name is quickly worn off due to the rigors of breeding.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset SP, CT 12/10/2016

December 11, 2016
Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Medium-size bill, pale grey breast and washed-out lemon-tinged belly are all good pro-Ash-throated Flycatcher features. Well-defined white edgings to tertials are often mentioned as a feature more typical of Great Crested Flycatcher, but as can be seen here, Ash-throated can show rather contrasting white edgings. Wing formula visible here rules out similar Nutting's Flycatcher (unrecorded in the east).

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Click for hi-res image.
Medium-size bill, pale grey breast and washed-out lemon-tinged belly are all good pro-Ash-throated Flycatcher features. Well-defined white edgings to tertials are often mentioned as a feature more typical of Great Crested Flycatcher, but as can be seen here, Ash-throated can show rather contrasting white edgings. Wing formula visible here rules out similar Nutting’s Flycatcher (unrecorded in the east).

After having some new spark plug wires put on my car, I had time before picking Ingrid up at the train station so headed off to Hammo to try for the Ash-throated Fly that had been found last week by people on a local bird walk (but frustratingly put out vaguely as a flycatcher seen briefly with few other details) and had been co-operative in the interim. Withing minutes of arriving, I settled into the lee of the copse by Meig’s Point.

After a short while, the bird appeared and was quite actively foraging along the edge of a copse, chasing and catching insects on the tideline, giving great looks. This was much more satisfying than the bird at Sherwood last year and very photogenic.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Note pallid, washed out underparts.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Note pallid, washed out underparts.

Small bill, underpart color and saturation, outer tail feather pattern were all typical of Ash-throated Flycatcher, the expected early winter myiarchus to be found in the east. Several have been seen in CT, but until the recent Sherwood Island bird that stayed for a while, previous ones were hard to catch up with.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough). Note pattern and extent of dusky tip bleeding onto inner web. Typically best assessed from below.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough).
Note pattern and extent of dusky tip bleeding onto inner web. Typically best assessed from below.

The Hammonasset bird was incredibly confiding, performing well for both photogs and birders.

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough).

Ash-throated Flycatcher, Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut 10th Dec 2016 (Julian Hough).

A day out with the Circus

October 27, 2016
Juvenile female Northern Harrier, Branford, CT November 2015 (Julian Hough). Note unstreaked underparts and solid boa, often more typical of females than males.

Juvenile female Northern Harrier, Branford, CT November 2015 (Julian Hough). Compared to European Hen Harrier, note unstreaked underparts (particularly vent) and more solid-looking “boa” – features often more typical of females than males in Northern Harrier. (Click for larger image)

It’s late October and the past few days have seen a good blow of NW winds, bringing with them a good bounty of raptors moving through Connecticut. As usual, I have been stuck at work, living vicariously through those counters camped out at Lighthouse Point, New Haven – the state’s premier watchpoint.

Northern Harriers (Circus c. hudsonius) are staple birds at the hawkwatch, charismatic and dashing – a favorite of mine. The NA race hudsonius has become something of a regular vagrant to the UK, with birds becoming annual in the past few years – a surprising turn of events since the first record on the Isles of Scilly in 1982 produced no other records, until a bird that Alex Lees saw on North Ronaldsay in 2008, prompted scrutiny of “Marsh Hawk” characters. After some back and forth and me nagging him incessantly, I believe he was able to have the bird finally accepted. Several others have followed since, including multiples in England and Ireland, some including adult males.

Confusion with “rufous” juvenile Hen Harriers is still a problem from a European context, but with good photos, many seem to fit the classic “Terry’s Chocolate Orange” appearance of juvenile Northern Harrier. Some birds will remain difficult and unidentifiable in a vagrant context –  especially birds like this in Germany!

While split as a separate species by the Europeans, the Americans have yet to adopt this split, although it was proposed in 2015. A paper published by my old friend, Dr. Graham Etherington,  proposes that science supports the recognition of C. cyaneus (Hen Harrier) and C. hudsonius (Northern Harrier) as distinct species.

Hen Harrier is currently unrecorded in the US – except for a wing found on Attu in 1999. However, a bird caught at Cape May would seem to tick all the right boxes as Hen Harrier. I have uploaded the paper here for those interested.

10/23/2016 Sprague’s Pipit in Connecticut..whoa!!

October 25, 2016
Sprague's Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough)

Sprague’s Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough). Click images for larger versions.

Hey Kids! Get in the car…NOW! We’re going on a twitch.

“Don’t ask what that is or where we are going…you won’t care! Get in the car…we gotta leave…NOW!! Alex, why aren’t your shoes on? Where’s your coat? Please..Come Onnnn!!!!”

Sunday 23rd October had been a great day. Ingrid and Indra had left after a lazy breakfast to do family stuff. Lighthouse had been slow for hawks and I returned to the house with Alex’s pal Benny in tow. While they entertained each other I set about sanding the rear hallways to prep them for some painting. By 2pm, I had gotten everything prepped and happened to check my phone and saw a missed call from Greg Hanisek. A garbled message was all that was left. Calling him back, he answered and deciphered his voicemail for me, “Sprague’s Pipit at Sherwood Island..I am already on RT 8 now.”

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What a mega!

I made a few calls to spread the news and we were off but traversing I-95 on a Sunday afternoon in New York traffic would be like Cannonball Run …grrr!

Sprague’s Pipits are difficult birds to get in the US and, away from the breeding grounds, they are a monster rarity in the east. There’s only a couple of late fall/winter records from Massachusetts (Provincetown and Wachusett) and I don’t believe New York or New Jersey has any records, and until today, it was absent from the CT list.

I made really good time despite folk who can’t drive for @@!! You people (you know who you are), remember that the left lane is for passing, not maintaining synchronized speed with people in the right lane. Executing this simple decision will prevent you from pushing birders in full twitch mode (i.e. me) to the brink of homicide. 🙂

I arrived and parked by the model airplane field and frantically ran over to the small group huddled together in one corner. Breaking the circle, my gaze followed an outstretched arm and finger pointing downwards to small patch of grass. No more than 5ft away, a sandy-colored form broke cover, revealing a staring dark eye and a sparsely-streaked breast that belonged to a full-on Sprague’s Pipit. Holy crap…it was so close! It sensed it was corralled and suddenly flew-up and landed about 30 ft behind us.

Sprague's Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough).

Sprague’s Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough). Very reminiscent to me of Blyth’s Pipit from Asia, a vagrant I have seen a few times in the UK and abroad.

Clearly the bird was tame and confiding. We circled around and with the sun behind us several of us crept closer to the spot where it had landed. We waited…and waited…but nothing appeared.
Edging closer, Frank went ahead and tried to coax the bird out, but the little bugger was like a little furtive mouse, running along the ground like an Old World locustella warbler.

Crippling Views! (Frank Mantlik)

Crippling Views! (Frank Mantlik)

Sprague's Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough). Look at that long hind toe adn equally long hind claw!

Sprague’s Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough)

We finally relocated it further away, and the bird performed beautifully for us in the late afternoon sunlight. What a cracker!! The kids were not as impressed as I was. But who cares!!

It was a lifer for many seasoned birders! This was only the third one I had seen, my previous ones being one in a stubble field in Texas in 2006 and an unsatisfying one in flight calling on my tour to Laguna Atascosa during last year’s Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.

Hands up those that have seen Sprague's Pipit in CT. Frank Gallo has! (Julian Hough)

Hands up if you have seen Sprague’s Pipit in CT. Frank Gallo has! (Julian Hough)

Sprague’s pipits winter in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. In the United States it occurs from southern California (casually), south-central and southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, central and eastern Texas, occasionally found in southern Kansas, southern Oklahoma, very rarely in southern Missouri, Tennessee and northwestern Mississippi south through Arkansas and Louisiana

Found in mixed or short grass prairie throughout the central northern Great Plains of North America. In Canada, Sprague’s pipit breeds in southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, and southwest Manitoba. In the United States, they breed in northeastern and central Montana, western and central North Dakota, northwest South Dakota, and in the Red River Valley of Minnesota.

Sprague's Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough)

Sprague’s Pipit, Sherwood Island, CT 10/23/2016 (Julian Hough)

Ageing these is easy. You really can’t! I thought I would be able to age this one on median covert pattern (as is often the case with other pipits, especially Old World ones) but reference to Pyle revealed that there really aren’t any plumage clues to ageing them. Sometimes a Sprague’s pipit is “just” a Sprague’s Pipit…unless it is in CT!

Kudos to young birder Preston Lust for a great find, having the wits and sharpness to work out what it was and be brave enough to put the word out. The bird had gone by morning, so this really was the only chance to twitch it. Amazingly this little field has also hosted Smith’s Longspur and CT’s first (and only) Western Meadowlark!

Going to California….again!

October 3, 2016

Nick and I birded some spots around Madison and Guilford and saw little of note, except for a cool-looking adult hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron in boulder pond at Hammo.

A cool hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron showing well at Hammonassett. One of originally two birds that turned up as juveniles.

Returning home, I checked the local boat ramp looking for gulls, knowing Nick had refound the spring’s California Gull at Sandy Point a few days prior – we assumed it had long gone, but it had obviously been loitering in the area. A collection of gulls sheltering from the NE wind and high tide included a fresh juv Lesser Black-backed, but no sign of any California.

A fresh juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull sheltering from the inclement weather

I had to leave to do some errands, and while driving down the beach about 1/2 mile away, I noticed a lone gull sitting on the beach. “Ello!” I recognized the bird straight away and pulled on to the kerb to find the California Gull resting on the beach. I got out and grabbed a couple of shots, but the bird was rather skittish. It was now scrappy-looking and undergoing its complete molt into 2nd-basic plumage. Surprising to see the bird still around, but great to see it again locally. I checked again the next day but was surprised to relocate it back at the boat ramp where it had been foraging in the spring.

2nd-cycle California Gull, Sandy Point, West Haven.

 

2nd-cycle California Gull, Sandy point, West Haven.

Californication 2016

April 9, 2016
First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT, April 2016 (Julian Hough)

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT, April 2016 (Julian Hough)

After it had gone missing for a week, I bumped into the California Gull still visiting the boatramp. It remained fairly regular giving great views and photo-opps.

I met Brooklyn birding acquaintance Sean Sime and his wife Sarah down there today (9th) to see if I could nail it down for them as they passed through on their way from Rhode Island. It was quiet when I arrived with few gulls – it was not looking good! Alex and I started to throw some bread and within a few minutes Sean picked up the bird flying around. Mark Szantyr arrived at that moment and we all had ridiculous views as usual. (Click for larger images)

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California Dreamin’

March 30, 2016
First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). Without direct comparison, some of the structural features are not clearly evident. The small size, intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gull, with disproportionately longer wings, short, narrow tail and shorter legs were quite obvious. The glaucous-like bill pattern was similar to other 2nd -cycle Herring Gulls but the darker grey mantle feathers coming in and dark greater covert panel were typical California. In flat light the pale, anemic legs were grey-green toned on the shins, another feature charactersitic of CAGU.

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). Without direct comparison with other gulls, some of the structural features are not clearly evident. The smaller size, intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gull, with disproportionately longer wings, short, narrow tail and shorter legs were quite obvious in the field. The glaucous-like bill pattern was similar to other 2nd -cycle Herring Gulls but the darker grey mantle feathers coming in and dark greater covert panel were typical California. In flat light, the pale, anemic legs were grey-green toned on the shins, another feature characteristic of CAGU.

Act #1

Well, as if Eurasian Common Gull and (Short-billed) Mew Gull at Hammo wasn’t enough, Stefan Martin, while looking for both these birds the day after I saw them,  photographed a first-cycle bird on the beach at Meig’s point which he identified as a California Gull!!

A long-awaited state first, this was a bird on several peoples’ radar for a long time – a real birder’s bird! The identification is compounded by the vast array of Herring Gull mimics, which makes picking out a California Gull not for the faint of heart – it is a bird that would be easily overlooked by many birders, so Stefan receives big kudos for this one!

Thankfully the bird remained faithful to the beach and boulder pool area at Meig’s point, showing well and  allowing many people to catch up with it before it disappeared by Wednesday.

Act #2

On my way home from work on 24th March, Nick Bonomo and I were discussing on the phone what other new gulls were lurking in the sound – still to be found. He was out checking the local areas. Sitting in the Yale University Gym, New Haven,  I was just about to work-out when I get a call from him, “I’m at the West Haven Boat Ramp – I have the California Gull here!”

This boat ramp is on the west side of New Haven harbor, close to my home and a spot I check regularly, one I had planned to check in the morning! It is 20 miles west of Hammonasset, so Nick’s re-finding was amazing-even better when it was right next to the house.

Leave gym. Get bins and camera. Arrive at boat ramp. See California Gull sitting nonchalantly on the beach. It is dusk, so light isn’t great but Nick, myself and Tony Amato enjoy great views of this bird. Who’d have thunk!

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). The long, rakish wings are not as evident in this shot, but in flight the longish, spiky bill, relatively narrow tail and Long-tailed Jaeger-like shape to the undercarriage were classic California. The best feature on this image is the nice dark primaries, lacking any pale inner window, dark trailing edge and a second dark bar formed by extensively dark greater coverts, is a must-have for any putative California. The dark tail and heavily barred rump is very Herring Gull-like, but the thin white outerweb to the tail and pale terminal tips are subtle differences from Herring Gull.

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). The long, rakish wings are not as evident in this shot, but in flight the longish, spiky bill, relatively narrow tail and Long-tailed Jaeger-like shape to the undercarriage were classic California. The best features on this image : the nice dark primaries, lacking any pale inner window; dark trailing edge; and a second dark bar formed by extensively dark greater coverts – all ‘must-haves” for any putative California. The dark tail and heavily barred rump is very Herring Gull-like, but the thin white outerweb to the tail and pale terminal tips are subtly different.

Postscript: the most interesting part of all this, is from photographs, it appears that this is the same bird that was seen, and photographed, by a single observer in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn in January 2016, before being refound across the sound in CT at Hammonasset and then in New Haven in March 2016.

Two Rabbits – One Hat!

March 29, 2016

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough). Note very narrow bill, nicotine-stained blotchiness extending from crown around in a shawl onto the upperbreast. Very extensive grey tongues P8-7 with broad white subterminal "spots". Broad trailing edge.

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough). Note very narrow bill, nicotine-stained blotchiness extending from crown around in a shawl onto the upperbreast. Very extensive grey tongues P8-7 with broad white subterminal “spots”. Broad trailing edge very striking! (Click on images for hi-res version)

Sunday March 20th saw me leisurely sipping my fourth cup of java in Park Slope, Brooklyn, contemplating getting Alex and myself together to leave when my phone rang. It was Nick Bonomo, calmly informing me with news that he had found (another) Common Gull in CT, at Hamonassett State Park.

“I know you need it for CT, so wanted to let you know..but..it’s not in view right now”. Appreciative of the personal shout-out about a state Nemesis bird, it kick-started our exit strategy.

We were on the road by 11:30 and had got onto the Brooklyn Bridge when I get another call from NB..”Hey..I am pretty sure there’s two Mew-type Gulls here and the one I just refound in the flock is a !@#### Short-billed!!”.

AAARRGGGHHHHH!!!!

The first documented state record of the west coast race brachyrhyncus, which, if the current treatise on the complex by Adriaens and Gibbins 2016  is anything to go by, may be split in the near future.

Motherfather! Well done Mr. Bonomo – a two-fer!!

It seems that every weekend I am in Brooklyn, someone finds a rare bird in CT. This has necessitated a frantic, white-knuckle, cannonball-type run from the ‘burbs of the Big Apple to the tax-hiked landscape of Connecticut.

Thankfully, I blasted out of Brooklyn and up I-95 into CT not encountering any traffic at all. A mere two hours after leaving Brooklyn, including a quick pit-stop in New Haven, to grab the scope and camera, I Tokyo-drifted into the Meigs Point parking lot at 1:32pm!

I ran down and joined some familiar faces that were overseeing an expansive flock of gulls. The problem was that most were all jibber-jabbering away and not really focused on the prizes at hand. Damn them..I expected to look in one scope and see a brachyrhyncus, and then move on to the next scope and see a canus.

Panicked and fuelled by adrenaline and in full twitch mode, I was ready to commit some GBH at any second, when John Oshlik mercifully said “I’ve got the Short-billed in my scope”.  BOOM…Mew Gull #1!

Note slightly darker mantle, long wings with broad white tertial crescent at rest.Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough).
Note slightly darker mantle, long wings with broad white tertial crescent at rest

The bird showed briefly on the water then quickly took flight, showing a whopping broad trailing edge to the wing and obvious white subterminal “spots” which gave the bird a much different wing pattern than nominate Canus. The bird circled around and alighted on the stone jetty.

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough).

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Within minutes, the bird belonging to the nominate Eurasian race, canus , was found bathing in the water in the lee of the rocks, showing a much cleaner head and a staring, black eye. BOOM…Mew Gull #2!

Holy crap!

With both birds safely under the belt I settled in to take a good look at the canus, noticing the much whiter-headed, dark-eyed look and, in flight, the narrower trailing edge (especially on the inner primaries) and darker areas on P8 lacking extensive grey tongues and with black extending 3/4 up the feather shafts.

_MG_9515 copyCommon Gull, nominate canus, Little Lever, UK, February 2008 (Julian Hough). Note dark subterminal mark to bill, P8 largely dark with no extensive grey “tongue”. Relatively narrow trailing edge, especially on the inner primaries. This individual has a dark, blackish eye in the field.

Growing up in the UK, canus was a North American tick, but a species I was familiar with, but the brachyrhyncus was the main prize. It had been lost for a while in the swirling melee, but thankfully I locked into it as it flew back in to join the plankton-feeding flock in front of us, giving great, prolonged looks. It subsequently took flight, passing reasonably close in front of us giving a decent photo-opp. Excellent stuff.

For a personal account of a great find by Nick, check out his blog here;http://www.shorebirder.com/2016/03/two-gulls-one-flock.html