Archive for the ‘CT Birding Journal’ Category

Sometimes it’s just that easy!

November 21, 2020

October 29th was a shite weather day; raw, windy, and set against a canvas of an all-day deluge of horizontal rain. A good day to be inside, and that’s where I was, catching up on some adulting.  But not veteran CT birder, Frank Mantlik. He was out, “beating the bushes” around Stratford. His late afternoon text alert of a Hudsonian Godwit on the runways at Sikorsky airport, felt “right” given the date and weather. His other report of “an adult American Golden Plover with Black-bellieds” was intriguing given the date. As someone that’s tried to prime CT’s birders, and arm them with the fore knowledge to identify the confusingly similar Pacific Golden Plover, the main window of late July/early August occurrences for that species seemed firmly nailed shut at this point in time.

The initial pic (Frank Mantlik)

However, when viewing the pic he sent, an admirable feat given the conditions, I instantly spat my freshly-brewed cup of British tea all over my phone! Doug Gochfeld replied at the same time, putting words to my actions, “Pacific?”

Yes. Yes it was. The bill, the neckless-look with worn, faded wings screamed Pacific Golden Plover. Hours of pouring through golden plovers expectantly looking and hoping for CT’s first Pacific Golden had come to an unexpected end on this gloomy late October day. Panic set in. I hadn’t even finished absorbing the minutiae of the image as I did the proverbial headless chicken routine running around the house. I grabbed my gear and headed out the door, frantically urging others to do the same.

Frank had to leave, so when I arrived 30 minutes later, I was on my own. It was gloomy and the weather was atrocious. Black-bellieds were scattered across the runway, along with the Hudwit, which was quickly given the tip of the hat and then discarded in search of the bigger prize. After a panic-scan of the small group, I couldn’t find any sign of a golden plover. !!@@##. Was it the only bird NOT here? A few birders began to arrive and started to scan. Suddenly birds got up – a small mixed group of plovers and dunlin flew left and alighted on the runway some distance away. And there, in the middle of the flock, was “the bird”, “Got it. It’s in the flock on the runway. The small, dark one”. Views were horrific, but the hunched and leggy look with a somewhat truncated rear-end hinted at the identification as Pacific was correct.

Over the next hour the bird finally came closer and allowed for better looks. It still retained a decent amount of summer plumage- with black underparts splodges and the distinctive white neck stripe snaking down along the flanks ghosting the pattern of fresh adults. The worn primaries only projecting a short way past the tail tip were classic Pacific. The long bill was a good pro-Pacific Golden feature, and overall the shape was subtly different from the more long-necked and long-winged look of American Golden Plover.

Adult Pacific Golden Plover with Black-bellied Plover (Bruce Finnan). Note the long-billed, somewhat small-headed look with primaries projecting only a small way beyond the tail tip. The slightly broader nape stripe is evident here as is the longish bill giving this a subtly different gestalt from American.

Adult Pacific Golden Plover (Bruce Finnan). The pale stripe snaking down the flanks ghosts that of a fresh adult. Pacifics moult earlier than Americans and are often in full breeding plumage by April when many American’s are still in basic-type plumage. As such, that these tertials and primaries are so worn would seem to fit Pacific too and is probably a good clue in late fall. Pacifics often begin primary moult on the summer grounds, while Americans, being long-distant migrants, begin primary moult on the wintering grounds. An adult golden plover molting inner primaries in late fall would also be suggestive of Pacific. On this photo, the retained bright yellow notches to the scapulars are large and again are pro-Pacific features.


Kudos to Frank Mantlik for doggedly getting out and birding the area and locating this bird that was a long-awaited first for CT, especially since surrounding states have all recorded this species. While it was on several people’s radar, separating both species of golden plovers, as well as eliminating the similar European Golden Plover, can be difficult and luckily being aware in the moment allowed this bird to be identified within a minute and allowed a lot of people to connect.

Common and Roseate Terns in Flight

August 17, 2020

Juvenile Common Tern (left) and juvenile Roseate Tern, West Haven, CT August 2020 (composite: Julian Hough). Note the stout, blackish bill and hood of the Roseate and the body proportions compared to the Common Tern and the paler mid-wing panel, broader white trailing edge to the primaries and the diagnostic whitish outer web to the outermost tail feather on the Roseate. Click to view hi-res.

A good number of juvenile terns are mixing in with the post-breeding flocks at Sandy Point, New Haven, CT. Juvenile Roseates are not frequently seen here, but several have been present and afforded me a nice chance to study them.

On the deck

  • Standing juvenile Common Terns have pale orange bill bases and pale orange-flesh legs with a clean white forehead.
  • Juvenile Roseate Terns have dark blackish-brown legs, a complete black bill and a finely streaked blackish forehead that often extends all the way to the bill base, giving them a characteristic “hooded” look.

In Flight

In flight, especially at a distance, they can be hard to identify in a large mixed flock of flying terns. Their distinctive, di-syllabic “Chrr-uitt” call is often a clue to their presence and it is definitely a call any would-be searchers should memorize.

In flight, like adult Roseates, juveniles often look a bit skinnier and more “pure white” compared to Common Terns. With experience, they look slightly longer-necked, narrower winged and longer-tailed behind the wing (probably due to their shorter wings than longer tails) compared with the more even proportions of Common Tern. The more whiter plumage, especially the rump and tail and the paler mid-wing contrasting a bit more on average with the dark outer wing may be noticeable. These features will be hard to discern in a mixed flock, flying around, so look for the more rapid, shallow wingbeats of Roseate that is often helpful with experience. The dark, hooded look should also be noticeable at a distance helping cement any identifications.

On closer views, some minutiae, that helps differentiate these two species are:

  • the outer web to the outermost tail feather is blackish-gray in Common Tern and white in Roseate (both adult and juvenile). If the tern you are looking at has a dark outer edge of the outermost tail feather it isn’t a Roseate.
  • on Roseate, the tips to the secondaries and particularly the primaries are broadly edged white unlike in Common Tern.
  • the upperpart markings in Roseate are more contrasting, giving a “black and white” pattern formed by broad blackish “c” marks to the rear scapulars. In Common, the dark subterminal marking are less dark and often the whole mantle is washed with ochre-brown.
  • the outer primaries often contrast with a paler mid-wing panel in Roseates while in Common Tern the whole wing tends to be a more even gray.

Lost Travelers from the West

February 17, 2020

A quarter of a century ago, in late February 1995, my 28-year old self, en route to Cape May for the weekend, emerged from a subway station in Brooklyn, New York. Locating the street information given to me by friends, I soon found myself furtively skulking around some block of flats in a sketchy area of Flatbush Avenue. With a variety of colourful characters peppering the neighborhood, I felt quite anxious to say the least. With my bins hidden under my jacket to avoid being a mugging victim, I tried to blend in and look confident that I had some purpose for being there. I couldn’t help thinking, “What the bloody hell was a Varied Thrush doing HERE!!”

There were no trees in sight in this urban jungle of masonry and high-rise tenements. A mild stench of a mixture of exhaust fumes, urine and garbage pervaded the air. I thought about just calling it quits and high-tailing it to perceived safety, but there was a bird to chase. I wandered around for a little while, turning down an alley between two buildings, not really having any idea of where to look for a rare thrush from the West coast. Of all the places for a denizen of lichen-clad Ancient forests to find itself, this spot seemed the exact opposite. This one’s wiring was certainly knackered to say the least.  As I emerged from the alley, I looked across two fenced off areas. At the back, was a tall tree, silhouetted against the sky. At the top of it, was a lone starling, sitting upright.

Looking around, I unzipped my coat and discreetly raised my bins to look at the Starling, since something looked a bit “off”. I was more than shocked to find the Starling was orange and black. “Holy crap…that’s it!!”

It was distant, but there was no mistaking the clear lines of a male Varied Thrush. The black mask and breast band contrasting sharply with orange supercilium, wingbars and underparts – a stunning thrush!

Male varied Thrush, Brooklyn, NY, Feb 1995.

I soaked up the bird but a minute later, and without warning, it dropped from the treetop and disappeared out of sight. Job done, I decided not to tempt fate with any further exploration and high-tailed it out of there.

Life is indeed strange and often circuitous. Fast forward to today, February 16th 2020, and for the past four years, Brooklyn has strangely become my second home of sorts, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time driving down Flatbush Avenue, often within a few blocks of that sighting all those years prior. This past weekend, while hanging out at the apartment of my partner, Ingrid, I took the opportunity to head a few blocks up to Prospect Park, where another Varied Thrush had been hanging out. I had tried for it back in December, but the bird was elusive and I had dipped. It had become a little more cooperative in the past few weeks and while far-ranging, it was favoring leaf-littered slopes around the Nethermead Arches.

As luck would have it, as I left the apartment, I got a text that the bird was showing. I was onsite quite quickly and met Brendan Fogarty who had seen it briefly but had since lost sight of it. I wandered up and down the path along the ravine and pond on the south side of the bridge, but ½ an hour of looking drew a blank. There was bird activity and the thrush had been hanging around with Blue Jays and White-throated Sparrows, so I felt encouraged that the bird was still around. A quick call from Sean Sime helped flesh-out the favored areas in the immediate vicinity to check. There were no other birders around, and the area was clogged with people and dog-walkers. On the other side of the pond, I could hear some American Robins, so I walked over and found a few feeding in the leaf litter. A glance through them twice revealed nothing. I continued to watch from this one spot. Scanning again, I was jolted out of despair by the bold white supercilium and orange underparts of the Varied Thrush tossing over leaves. Boom! Light was great and the bird was close, giving great views. Suddenly something spooked them and the bird flew up, perching thankfully in good light. I hastily squeezed off a few shots before the bird dropped and flew out of sight.

Female Varied Thrush, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Feb 2020

I spent a few hours in that area, and twice more the bird came back to the same triangular area of leafy understory and I was able to get a few other local birders onto it. It was quite obliging and performed well.

Female Varied Thrush, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Feb 2020. The greyish-brown earcoverts and greyish breast band sex this as a female. The tail was brownish-grey, and with no obvious moult contrast in the wing-feathers, I felt ageing it accurately was not possible.

My second Brooklyn Varied Thrush under the belt. This one though was a female – quite killer looking, but not as crisp and dapper as the previous male.

Cold had penetrated my bones at this point so I left to get some lunch and try for the Painted Bunting at Brooklyn Bridge Park, again only a three minute drive from the apartment. I was not so lucky with that, views being the arse end of it flying away never to be relocated. However it was a good opportunity to check out Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Brooklyn Bridge park against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.

10/4/2019 Lighthouse Point Park and Ecology Park, New Haven County, CT

October 6, 2019

Juvenile male Northern Harrier sneaking in low off the beach at Lighthouse.

A slow-clearing cold-front with strong 18-38 mph NW winds meant that Friday was setting up for a good hawk flight. The rainy overnight conditions didn’t bode well for a big diurnal movement of passerines, so I opted to go in to work early and take a half-day. I arrived at Lighthouse at 10:15 am ready to do some birdspottering.  Nick Bonomo was at Ecology Park, 10 miles or so to the east and said birds were moving in good numbers. I texted him and said, “It’s a perfect day for a Swainson’s”. This buteo was a nemesis bird for both of us. Not even annual in the state, they are hard to catch up with!

The strong winds kept birds in the low airspace and great views were had of all the local suspects, and it was obvious it was a big Osprey and kestrel flight.

Today was a river of kestrels

Nick left at midday to fulfill social obligations and I decided to change it up a bit and head over to Ecology Park to see what was happening there. First I needed to stop and pick up lunch.

Cooper’s Hawks, gave some close fly-bys

A falcon “two-fer” – male American kestrel being harried by an adult male “Bluejack” Taiga Merlin

With scope packed, and coat thrown in the back seat, I was climbing into my car when I looked out over the distant trees and saw a buteo. Instinctively raising my bins, I saw the bird, a large buteo and thought, “Damn, that looks like a Swainson’s!” The bird was distant and I couldn’t make much out since it was silhouetted and side-on, so any gestalt-laden clues were off the table. I still had my camera in my hand so I rattled off a few frames for insurance purposes. It looked dark below, but the distance, and shadow made any plumage marks hard to discern. At that moment the bird kited up and hung in the wind like a Red-tailed. What?! Really?  It then flipped over and again, I registered a Swainson’s-like tail, before it rose up hung in the wind, with wings pulled in and no features visible. It ducked behind the trees, leaving me wondering which impression was right, but in those brief seconds the hovering had suggested the bird, weirdly was perhaps a Red-tail. It happened in a matter of about 30 seconds and the bird had been lost behind the trees.

I left the park to get a sandwich from the local deli. As I was leaving, I get a call from a local birder, “We just had a Swainson’s Hawk come right through the park!” Mothershirting !!@@@##$$$$. I rushed outside and being north of the park, I gazed skyward in vain. I drove to the overpass on i-95, and watched birds track up the shoreline – Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Boad-wing…but no Swainson’s. Nothing.  At that point, I figured the coincidence of a bird being seen 20 minutes after I had seen what I thought was one was too much. I checked and zoomed-in on the images, and sure enough my instincts had been right. Although distant, two shots sure indeed showed the bird to be a juvenile, intermediate-type Swainson’s Hawk. Reeesuullt!

Optimized digital shots of the distant bird…check out the ebird checklist from shots 20 minutes later!

Ebird checklist with images:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S60351089

This bird was almost identical to a bird myself, Richard Crossley and Dave Sibley had seen back in 1988 that dropped out of the sky at the Cape May meadows one September. It unfortunately dropped right into Chris Schultz’s banding station and we got to see it up close and personal.

Juv dark/intermediate morph Swainson’s Hawk, Cape May, sometime in September 1988

20 minutes later, I arrived at the top of the defunct landfill at Ecology Park. Birds were everywhere…at 3:00pm, at a time when the flight is usually slowing, birds were still going!!

360 degree view from Ecology Park

Bald Eagles came thick and fast with up to 7 in view at one time!

Red-shoulders were more prevalent here than at Lighthouse

A count of birds from 3:30-5:00pm yielded over 230 birds:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S60381000

An excellent, bird-filled day!

Mexico-November 2017

January 6, 2018

This won’t be a great piece of  literary birding prose, but just a few notes and pix of a recent trip to Mexico for a Thanksgiving break. Ingrid and I wanted to escape the northeastern cold and so we headed for the Yucatan, Mexico for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Oh…and birding…definitely some of that!

We planned to head for Cozumel for a few days, before heading down to Tulum. The island of Cozumel has a few endemics and some local races that may be future splits (e.g., Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Western Spindalis, Bananaquit, etc.) and also offered a chance to partake in some snorkeling.

18th -21st November –Cozumel
We landed in Cancun, headed outside the terminal and took the ADCO bus to Playa Del Carmen. The bus departed from right outside the arrival terminal. It took about 45 minutes, dropping us off a block from the ferry. We found our way to the ferry, and found that there were a couple of ferry operators. Arriving in the afternoon, there were no ferries between 1pm and 5pm which was a surprise to us, and something to be aware of, if arriving at the ferry in the mid-afternoon. The other, slightly more expensive operators offered a 3pm ferry, so we took that. Return tickets cost two of us 180 pesos total and took an hour or so. Don’t expect to see many birds on the crossing.

We were staying on the west side of the island which is the tourist strip. We were at the Iberostar, an all-inclusive hotel Ingrid had booked, which, as it happened, was right next to the road to the village of El Cedral, about 20 miles south of the ferry port. This was, by pure coincidence, a spot Chris Benesh had given me as a good spot to grab some endemics. Score one for the awesome girlfriend! The hotel was great, right on the beach and for a birder used to living on Twinkies and chips on a birding trip, this was top-shelf stuff!

Our cool digs at the Hotel Iberostar, Cozumel.

The grounds were well-wooded and held a good assortment of wintering warblers, the most abundant being American Redstart, Magnolia, Yellow-throated, ‘Golden” Yellow and the odd Cape May Warbler. Black Catbird was a shoe-in and Tropical Kingbirds sallied from almost every exposed perch.

Magnolia Warbler -one of the commoner neotropical migrants

An easy, slam dunk tick…Black Catbird

After a long day of travel we relaxed in our room, took in the sunset and indulged in the dinner buffet.

The sun sets on Cozumel (Ingrid Ducmanis)

19th November – Cozumel
The following day, I was excited to bird and was up at first light. Walking out along the main road, Northern Waterthrushes skulked around the parking lot, white-crowned Pigeons swooshed overhead and Summer Tanagers called from the dense trees lining the Hotel driveway.  It was birdy, with Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yellow-faced Grassquits and Black Catbirds in the roadside trees.

Yucatan Woodpecker – smaller billed than the similar Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The track down to the beach, through low dense jungle, offered looks at both Yucatan and the endemic Cozumel Vireo, Yucatan Woodpecker, Caribbean Eleania, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Tropical Mockingbird. I bumped into Chris Benesh and Cory Gregory leading their FieldGuides group. After exchanging pleasantries, I left them to it and carried onwards.

I made it back to join Ingrid for breakfast. We then made our way to the hotel dock and were picked up for our afternoon snorkeling excursion. We booked with Cozumel Cruise Excursions and for $50 per person, we can recommend them for a great couple of hours snorkeling – we visited three spots and saw Sting ray, barracuda, nurse shark and a variety of fish. The water was crystal clear and the snorkelling was fantastic and freshly-prepared guacomole and a beer made it even better.

Downtown San Miguel, Cozumel

Instead of dropping me at the dock, I had the boat drop me off in San Miguel where I picked up a rental car from rentadoraisis@prodigy.net.mx  The car was an old VW bug…no A/C, hand-crank windows, etc. I was unsure it would ever start back up every time I turned it off! That night, after Ingrid and I had dinner, I set off on an outing to try for some night birds. Cozumel was the only spot that seemed to have spots for Yucatan Nightjar in November, but I was unable to pinpoint any reliable spots. And, given the somewhat sketchy nature of the rental car, I was hesitant to go further afield. I headed for the nearby sleepy town of El Cedral. The road out to El Cedral started right across from the hotel. As I got into town, there was nobody around, no lights, and it was kind of eerie…like a ghost town. As I turned down each lane, dull amber light from the street lights barely penetrated the unpaved edges. The second road I turned down, I noticed the unmistakable shape of a caprimulgid silhouetted on the road. Common Pauraque. It seemed everywhere I drove in this town they danced in and out of the streetlights, giving phenomenal views!

Common Pauraques performed well in El Cedral

20th November – Cozumel
Dawn saw me heading north in the VW Bug, destined for the sewage plant area in the NW part of the island. This area was known as the best spot to see Ruddy Crake and a selection of the island endemics. The track at the north end of the island was notoriously pot-holed and in bad shape. It took me a while to navigate the road before arriving, finally, at the Water Treatment plant. Unfortunately my journey was halted by a huge flooded area that spanned the road. As I pondered what to do, the FieldGuides crew passed me by in their high-clearance vehicles, waved at me, crossed the pool  and vanished into the distance, bound for certain crake success.  As I stood looking at the pool, wondering how I was going to see Ruddy Crake now, I was more than surprised when one walked out of the roadside vegetation, looked at me, and continued walking across the road. Ree-sult!! A few other birds were seen: White-collared seedeater, a brief Green-breasted Mango, Caribbean Dove, Palm, Yellow-throated Warbler and American Redstart. Melodious Blackbirds perchedup in the distance and despite searching, no Western Spindalis (of the Cozumel race) were seen.

Sewage Plant
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40631877

As I headed back, I found a few Hooded Warblers in the bushes, and a few pewee sp. I was unsure what species were likely here, and given the difficulties of their id, my brief views were inconclusive. A brief stop at the El Presidente Grid – an area of overgrown roads and housing development, produced few birds.

My ISIS-sponsored VW bug birding in the El Presidente grid

Good views of Cozumel Vireo, several Hooded and Parula Warblers were had, but few birds of note were seen. I returned the car, took a taxi back to the hotel and chilled out on the beach with Ingrid.

21st November – Cozumel and Tulum
My last morning was spent birding the road down to the beach adjacent to the hotel. A confiding Yucatan Vireo fed out in the open, several Summer Tanagers flitted around with some Caribbean Eleanias, and the ubiquitous Tropical Mockingbirds and Black Catbirds foraged out on the forest edge. Yucatan Woodpeckers, a Northern Waterthrush and a vocal Northern Beardless Tyrannulet showed well, but not so the only Mangrove Cuckoo of the trip that only called once from deep within the jungle. A Tennessee Warbler was seen briefly but the highlight was walking back and seeing the familiar shape of a hummingbird perched up ahead of me – Cozumel Emerald, my last endemic and at the last hour!!

At the last hour, managed the endemic Cozumel Emerald..a female, beggars can’t be choosers!

Iberostar
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40607976

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40640063

The Watcher

We left Cozumel and picked up our car rental in Carmen Del Playa. We rented from reservas@america-carrental.com for $190 (including all the insurance necessary in Mexico) for 6 days. As many had noted when picking up a car here in Carmen Del Playa, the company is not organized, and despite repeated confirmation from them that someone would meet us at the designated spot, they never showed up and we had to call them. It all worked out, but I would recommend taking a taxi directly to the office to save aggravation. Aside from the pick-up, the car was great.The best part was that we were able to drop this off when we were leaving at Cancun airport, which was convenient.

We headed off south for the hour drive to Tulum, our base for the next 6 days. After a drive through a built up part of town, ticking off Collared Aricaris flying across the main road, we drove down a narrow coastal swathe of road and ended up at Kira’s Beach House.

Kira’s Beach House, Tulum. Incredibly chill and charming

Tulum was idyllic, quirky, charming and absolutely beautiful. The beach house accommodations were awesome and our room was surprisingly modern and spacious. The sand was like powder and the sea was warm, aquamarine and clear.

Ingrid – beautifully rocking the hat

This was just what the doctor ordered and Ingrid was more than happy – this was definitely her kind of place. She had scored two out of two on the accommodation front!

22nd November – Tulum
Spent the day relaxing with Ingrid.

Obligatory vacation selfie. Enjoying the tranquil beauty of Tulum

Doing her thang!

23rd November – Muyil
I headed off at the crack of dawn to Muyil ruins. The ruins were not open until 8 (despite other reports stating that entry was possible prior to the official opening). Heading south on Rt 307, as you enter Muyil, the ruins are on the left. Shortly after, on the left is a bus stop, and right next to that, on the left is a narrow unpaved road that runs down the western side of the ruins and ends at a boat launch. I turned down this road and parked in a gravel parking lot on the right. It was evident that this road was very birdy, with Northern Barred, Ivory-billed  and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, two calling, and well-seen Mexican (Mayan) Anthrushes, Eye-ringed Flatbill, my first cool Yucatan Jays and a great view of a Stub-tailed Spadebill. Despite many calling, they were incredibly difficult to see. A mixed flock of warblers included Black and White and Louisiana Waterthrush, while other species included a female Rose-throated Tanager and a striking Grey-headed Tanager,

At the boat ramp, two Russet-naped Wood Rails paraded around in the open giving great looks.

Russet-naped Wood Rail showing really well at the boat launch at Muyil

Muyil
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40711921

After relaxing back at the beach house, we got dressed and walked down the beach for a cocktail before taking a Thanksgiving dinner reservation at the beach restaurant La Zebra. Amazing ambience, great food and beautiful company made for a memorable evening.

A fantastic Thanksgiving meal at La Zebra restaurant with my beautiful lady.

24th November – Punta Laguna and Coba
An early morning 5am start today. Ingrid agreed to get up at zerodarkthirty and take a trip out with me. The Spider Monkey reserve at Punta Laguna seemed to be a good destination to do some birding and for her to see some native wildlife. We planned to stop at Coba afterwards to check out the Mayan ruins and again, hopefully add a few good species to the list. After a brief pre-sunrise, yet unsuccessful, stop to check for Yucatan Poorwill, we continued on and found the reserve quickly. I had high expectations based on previous reports but it was rather quite in the trees surrounding the parking lot. Ruddy Ground Doves and our first Green Jays were seen. Paying our entrance fees, I declined to take a guide to show us the monkeys. After 50 yds down the path, a spotted a troupe of Spider Monkeys overhead, moving quickly through the trees.

Spider Monkeys performed really well for us at Punta Laguna!

Urging Ingrid to follow me, we kept pace with them until they stopped and fed above our heads for 20 minutes giving great looks. Ingrid was thrilled. On the way back I pointed out a few birds, but I was keen to find the cave that had hosted roosting Mottled Owls in the past – although one of the commonest Neotropical owls, it has eluded me, a real nemesis bird. After some trial and error, we had just found the cave when Ingrid suddenly shouted, “What’s that…something just flew out of the cave”. Figuring it was likely a Mottled Owl, her final directions got me on a life bird…but not the one I expected. A Lesson’s Motmot, not a Mottled Owl, sat motionless on the branch, showing well, and right out in the open. I’ll take it! It would be the only one of the trip!

Ingrid made it quite clear where she was not going, but I descended into the cave and despite looking, no Mottled owls fell into the beam of my flashlight. Dang!!

“Come out, come out wherever you are!”. My descent into a cave looking for roosting Mottled Owls. (Ingrid Ducmanis)

On the way back, several skulking Green-backed Sparrows, a smart Pale-billed Woodpecker and an Eye-ringed Flatbill were seen, and then a couple of low “chup-chup” calls alerted me to my only Kentucky Warbler of the trip, seen really well, but briefly.

It was getting warm, so we headed back to the car, and made a beeline for Coba. As we left, about a mile down the road, flashes of black and orange halted our progress. Several adult male Orange Orioles, a Yucatan endemic, crossed the road but didn’t give great views. But a splendid male Black-cowled oriole did! While parked up, a small passerine flit up briefly and although I could see just the head, it belonged to a female Grey-breasted Chat! Another Yucatan endemic but hardly satisfying views.

Coba
It was unavoidable that we would arrive at the ruins later in the morning, and as expected, the place was packed with tourists. We paid our entrance fee and checked off the requisite ruins. Impressive though they are, the event was mired by the busloads of tourists.

Too many people and not enough ruins!

However, several birds made their presence known: Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Lesser Greenlet, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Couch’s Kingbird, Brown Jay, White-breasted Wood Wren and Red-throated Ant Tanager and my only Yellow-throated Euphonias.

Watching several hundred people scale the top of the highest ruin, did nothing to instill excitement, so we left and headed for the nearby lake to try for the secretive Spotted Rails.

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40733665

We drove to the end of the road on the west side and parked the car. Scanning the reed bed fringes produced nothing! A pair of Orchard Orioles, a few Groove-billed Anis and a lone Limpkin were present, while out on the lake Pied-billed grebe and Anhingas were seen.

Snail Kite showed really well by the lake edge, even taking a Snail just to show Ingrid why they are called what they are called!

Since it was midday, several vultures began to appear and scanning the distant trees, I was shocked to see the distinctive black and white form of a King Vulture. Despite trying to get Ingrid on the bird, it disappeared and never reappeared. A close vulture swooping over the water right in front of us was not typical Turkey Vulture behavior and it was quickly identified as a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and gave great views and photo opps, as did a young Snail Kite, showing off with a Snail just to prove to Ingrid how they get their name!

Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture

Adult Zone-tailed Hawk providing awesome views!

Just then, appearing right over our heads, doing its best Turkey Vulture impression was that old mimic, Zone-tailed Hawk. It gave great views before disappearing behind some houses.

Spotted Rail was apparently not going to show, so I gave up and we headed off into town for some lunch. We made our way back to Tulum, glimpsing several Brown Jays crossing the road as well as the distinctive shape of several Keel-billed Toucans.

Keel-billed Toucan

After a long, but successful trip, we chilled out on the beach, soaking up the beautiful weather, swimming and relaxing with a refreshing Mojito from the beachside bar. Tremendous.

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40733783

25th November – Muyil
Suffering from a head cold, I only made a brief stop at Muyil this morning, which did not provide as much excitement as before and was rather quiet. Birds of note included Brown-crested and Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, several flocks of chaetura swifts, which based on range were Vaux’s. A Gray-headed Dove, White-bellied Emerald, Yellow-backed Oriole, Red-throated Ant Tanagers and Clay-colored Thrush were easy to see, but a highlight was finally seeing a trogon – two Black-headed Trogons chased each other around the treetops giving good views. A search of the scrub and village across the road from the entrance to the ruins produced a Zone-tailed Hawk, a Swainson’s Thrush and several Hooded Orioles.

http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40762418

26th November – Camino Vigo Chigia Road, Felippe Carillo Puerto
This was to be my big birding day out. Feeling much better after a good night’s sleep, I left at 4:45am to drive the hour to the area of Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. The road that leaves the town of FCP and travels through prime jungle habitat, is well-known and probably THE best single spot for birding on the Yucatan. I left early to try for night birds. I decided to try the track that leads south into the reserve from Hwy 307, some 35 km from Tulum. I found the turn off and despite being great habitat I was bummed not to flush any poorwills off the road. After four km, I reached the unguarded entrance to the reserve and turned around figuring it wasn’t worth going any further. On the way out, just before I reached the main highway, I played the tape of poorwill and nightjar and all I heard was a distant, brief call of a Mottled owl. It neither responded nor came in! Grrr.

Boat-billed Flycatcher was only seen at Viga Chigo road.

I hurried to FCP and arrived at first light and began my exploration of the road. Despite high hopes of a birding avalanche, the area was generally quiet. I stopped at various spots and all was quiet…a Kiskadee here and a Least Fly there, but the trees were silent-ish! I stopped and walked, drove and walked, and gradually began to pick off a few birds one by one. An unseen, calling Mayan Anthrush, hinted at unseen hidden treasures deep within the forest. Two myiarchus-type flycatchers raised hopes they were Yucatan Flycatcher, a difficult identification given the similarities with the local subspecies of Dusky-capped. I had started to get my eye in and figured these were not meeting the grade for Yucatan and the id as Dusky-capped was confirmed by their mournful “weeuu” calls.

Pressing on, birds included Rose-throated Tanager, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila and great looks at a Canivet’s Emerald and a Wedge-tailed Sabrewing. Birds were starting to add up including Ruddy and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers, White-bellied Emerald and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. At one spot, I thought the habitat looked good for Gray-breasted Chat, so I played the call and BOOM! In flies a male..awesome views and much more satisfying than the head of a female!

The heat was increasing, and as I stood quietly on the road looking at a rather barren group of trees, I noticed the silent flicking flight of a trogon – another Black-headed! I happened to turn around, just in time to see a Great Currasow walk quietly across the path, some distance away, and disappear into the forest. Further hard work finally turned up a Yucatan Flycatcher, or at least a bird I was happy fit the mold! Stopping one last time on the way out provided views of some skulking wrens, and in a matter of feet had nailed Long-billed Gnatwren, White-bellied and Spot-breasted Wrens.

I couldn’t help but stop-in at Muyil again on the way back. It was getting later in the day, but still it delivered a few birds. This was probably my favorite birding site. Small parties of chaetura swifts passed overhead, again likely Vaux’s but despite thinking they would appear different to Chimney Swifts, and knowing their size and subtle wing shape differences, I still couldn’t confidently put a name to them on sight, only on range. I’ll post some pix later.

Birding the village area across from the ruins entrance produced Brown Jay, Masked Tityra, Grayish and Black-headed Saltator and a small flock of Northern Rough-wingeds that didn’t show characters of Ridgway’s Northern Rough-winged.

Muyil
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40779768

Back at Tulum, I was happy to chill out and relax on the beach and enjoy some r&r, a highlight being my only Cave Swallow of the trip flitting over the rooftop. That evening we ate at the nearby La Onda restaurant for another fine Tulum meal.

27th November – Tulum to Cancun
The last morning Ingrid and I rose early to watch our final Tulum sunrise and what a spectacular send off we had.

Enjoying a pre-coffee sunrise outside our room (Ingrid Ducmanis)

We drove back to Cancun, dropped off the car and headed home, An amazing trip, an amazing place and great birding. Even though I was only birding for a few hours a day, some good planning and hard work managed to produce 90% of the birds a full-on trip might record, so I was happy with over 130+ species, despite missing some wanted birds such as Mottled owl, Yucatan Poorwill and Yucatan Nightjar.

Probably one of the nicest beaches we’ve been on..powder-soft sand and warm, crystal clear water made for a chill time!

I can’t recommend the Yucatan enough as an affordable destination for a birder/non-birding couple. Ingrid had a fantastic vacation and we both got to do the things we both enjoyed. We will be back! Thanks to Megan Crewe, Chris Benesh, Abby Darrah, Larry Sweetland and Niels Larsen for pre-trip help!

Snowy Owls 2017

December 14, 2017

(Click on images for larger, hi-res versions)
Arriving back from Mexico, it was evident there was an incursion of Snowy Owls Into CT. A widespread arrival across the Mid West had hinted at an irruption year and several birds were found at Long Beach in Stratford – a typical “go to” spot for this species.
Alex and I took a ride down and immediately found a bird sat on one of the closest jetties giving great looks in the scope and decent photo opps. (A dark, female- type bird had accompanied this bird but had been flushed twice by a woman with a point and shoot camera. Grrrr!)
A week later, with continued reports of multiple individuals, I made a predawn assault and obtained some decent shots of both individuals. The birds attracted a lot of attention!
 
Studies by Josephson (1980) and others (see below) have outlined the difficulties in ageing and sexing Snowy Owls. Birds after their first year are in first Adult plumage.  According to studies of known returning birds, it may take four-five years for an adult to reach a definitive basic plumage.
Ageing and sexing Snowy Owls is clearly difficult. In December, First-year (first-basic) males and adult females can overlap in plumage but first-year (first-basic) females are often the darkest and adult males the lightest. However, while that simplistic general wisdom may hold for many birds, some known-aged females never got darker with age, while some known-aged females became as white as older adult males –  clearly field sexing will lead to some mistakes!
Even I had published a note on ageing and sexing them based on a bird seen in Lincolnshire, UK in 1991 (Hough, 1992). In hindsight, and with a lot more Snowies under my belt, that note was perhaps a little simplistic in dealing with ageing and sexing…it is way more complicated than I could ever have known at that time.
While many individual birds won’t be able to be confidently aged and sexed in the field, studies done on the breeding grounds (Seidensticker et. al) and of museum skins hint at certain helpful criteria to focus on:
  • vermiculations on the scapulars, primary tips, and inner greater coverts.
  • barring on the nape
  • presence of barring or spotting on the inner secondaries
  • number of tail bars
  • any molt contrast in the primaries
  • density of barring on the upperparts and crissum
While it is clear that field views may not provide accurate clues to age and sex, some birds can present with enough features that a good guesstimate of age and sex can be attempted.
First-basic birds sport primaries and secondaries of the same generation and have relatively pointed primaries. Tail is similar, though many of these young birds can show growth bars that while visible in the hand, are not visible under normal field conditions. Males generally show spot-like markings on the secondaries that do not touch the rachi, while females tend to show more bar-like markings, often broader and blacker. Males show 2-3 broken tail bars while females typically average more, usually 3-6.

Apparent first-basic male Snowy Owl, Stratford, CT, Dec 2017

Apparent first-basic male Snowy Owl, Stratford, CT, Dec 2017 (same bird as above). a) Pointed primaries with slight mottling; b) three tail bars; c)brownish mottling on tertials and spot -like markings on secondaries.

To summarize, while the darkest, heavily marked birds are likely to be first-basic females, first-basic males can be variable, being dark first-years or light first-year birds. These birds typically have mottling in the scapulars, tertials, greater coverts, and between the bars on the primaries, that will help separate them from adults.
However, some first-year birds may show reduced mottling – a lack of such markings may not indicate that the bird is necessarily an adult.

Apparent first-basic male Snowy Owl, Stratford, CT, Dec 2017 (same bird as above). A rather pale bird, with unmarked nape, narrow barring on underparts, rather extensive white bib (compared to female). Mottling on rearmost scapulars, tertials and primaries suggest a first-basic bird.

I’ve included a few pictures of the recent birds, and past birds from neighboring states that may be helpful. The captions hone in on certain aspects of plumage that may hint at age and sex, but these are by no means definitive and I welcome comments on anything here that is incorrect. Again, these are just suggestions based on the current literature.
 

Apparent first-basic female Snowy Owl, Stratford, CT, Dec 2017. Larger size, typical of females was apparent in the field. Very heavily barred with reduced white bib, brown mottling on tertials and heavily barred nape. Barring extending onto the vent is also typical of females, especially first-basic individuals.

Apparent first-basic female, Stratford, Dec 2008. Note a)densely barred nape; b)extensive mottling on greater coverts, tertials and some rear scapulars;c) bar-like markings on secondaries; and d) 5 tail bars, with barring extending across both vanes.

Apparent first-basic female, Stratford, Dec 2008. (same bird as above).

First-basic Snowy Owls retain their primaries, tertials and tail until the early summer when they are essentially one year old. By the time we see these birds in Nov/December, they will be second-basic plumage having completed or nearly completed their first primary moult (usually starting with p7). Older birds (e.g.,third-basic) subsequently follow the same molt schedule with p7 being one of the first to be replaced.
So, how do you know in December, if the bird is a first-basic or older? Looking for visible signs of a first-year (see above) and then examining the primaries to see if there is any molt contrast between new, replaced primaries (typically p7) and secondaries. Apparently the differences are subtle, but possible on good close up images of the wing. Also, the newer primary tips often show a more rounded shape with a wider, white terminal fringe.)

Apparent first-basic male Snowy Owl, NY, December 2008. a) Pointed primaries with dark bars reaching to tip; b) spot-like markings on secondaries; and c) three narrow tail bars, Also, shows a noticeable white bib and unmarked vent, further pointers towards a male.

The following references conatin a wealth of information, but as Snowies seemed to be still showing up, hopefully this will help point people in the right direction if they are interested in trying to age/sex birds.

References

Cramp, S. (ed.) 1985. Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 4 – Terns to Woodpeckers. Oxford University Press.

Hough, J. 1992. Snowy Owl plumages. Birding World 5(3): 96-97.

Josephson, B. 1980. Aging and sexing Snowy Owls. Journal of Field Ornithology 51: 149-160.

McGowan, K.J. 2001. Snowy Owls (Nyctea scandiaca): some recent visitors and thoughts on aging and sexing [online]. Available from: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/snowy.htm [Accessed December 2009].

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification guide to North American birds – part 1. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas CA. 

Sangster, G., Collinson, J.M., Knox, A.G., Parkin, D.T. & Svensson, L. 2004. Taxonomic recommendations for British birds: second report. Ibis 146: 153-157.

Witherby, H.F., Jourdain, F.C.R., Ticehurst, N.F. & Tucker, B.W. 1952. The Handbook of British Birds, Volume 2. H.F. & G. Witherby Ltd., London.

 Mathew T. Seidensticker, Denver W. Holt, Jennifer Detienne, Sandra Talbot, and Kathy Gray. 2011. Sexing Young Snowy Owls. Journal of Raptor Research 45(4):281-289. 2011  https://doi.org/10.3356/JRR-11-02.1

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!!!

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).