Archive for the ‘Passerines’ Category


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!!!

16th September- CALL MY BLUFF!

September 17, 2012

Observers ready to be humbled by the Bluff Point morning flight spectacle

Mid-september, Bluff Point, CT, the day after a cold-front is a perfect recipe to witness the spectacle of morning flight of passerines, predominantly wood-warblers as they funnel through the so-named “hot corner”. This phenomenon of concentrated visible diurnal migration was first discovered in the late 90s by Dave Provencher, and astute and sharp local observer. Standing at the edge of the railroad tracks at the northern end of Bluff Point State Park, thousands of birds pour out at daybreak offering would be gladiators the challenge of identifying these projectiles in flight.

A longtime birding friend of mine, Patrick Baglee, visiting from the UK had his retinas well and truly wrecked by his first-ever morning flight spectacle.

Today was a c.5000 bird day, involving a combined total of 26 species of warbler! The most interesting were a Prothonotary Warbler and 2 Connecticut Warblers.

Nick Bonomo and I positioned ourselves to the north of the tracks to try to get a better vantage point to identify them in flight and to attempt some “fun flight” photography. There were some surprises least of all a Connecticut Warbler. Nick was far better on the draw with this one and his photographs of the bird in flight make mine look silly!See here:

How nearly all of my images turned out of warblers in flight!!

Red-eyed Vireo, one of the more numerous birds of the flight.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Apparent Blue-headed Vireo migrating with prey


Swainson’s Thrush – no problems iding this baby!

Surprise Yellow-throated Vireo!


My sub-par Connecticut Warbler shot!

Here is a run down of some the species seen (in some instances numbers are conservative estimates):

Northern Flicker (60-70)

Eastern Wood-Pewee (10)

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (1)

Eastern Phoebe (3)

Great Crested Flycatcher (4)

Yellow-throated Vireo (2)

Blue-headed Vireo (4)

Philadelphia Vireo (3)

Red-eyed Vireo (25)

Red-breasted Nuthatch (20)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (15)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (5)

Veery (2)

Swainson’s Thrush (15)

Cathurus thrush sp (20+

Cedar Waxwing (100+)

Blue-winged Warbler (2

Tennessee Warbler (7)

Nashville Warbler (3

Northern Parula (200+)

Yellow Warbler (3)

Chestnut-sided Warbler (10)

Magnolia Warbler (20+)

Black-throated Blue Warbler (15) surprisingly low number

Yellow-rumped Warbler (10)

Black-throated Green Warbler (200+)

Blackburnian Warbler (10+)

Pine Warbler (1)

Prairie Warbler (4)

Palm Warbler (4)

Bay-breasted Warbler (1)

Blackpoll Warbler (100+)

“Baypoll” Warbler (400+)

Black-and-white Warbler (50+)

American Redstart (400+)


Ovenbird (2)

Northern Waterthrush (1)


Oporonis species (1)

Common Yellowthroat (10)

Wilson’s Warbler (2)

Canada Warbler (2)

Unidentified Warblers (approx 3,000 to 3,500)

Scarlet Tanager (15)

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (15)

Indigo Bunting (1)

Baltimore Oriole (1)

Purple Finch (75+)


October 1, 2011

1st October – Lighthouse Point

Overcast with wind out of the north bode well for birds and I headed out to Lighthouse Point to go migrant hunting. I decided to check the edge of the woods by the entrance, my so-called “hot corner”. I walked into the wood to try to id. an empid I had seen as I parked the car, when I caught a glimpse of a bird near the leaf litter.  BAM! –  found myself shockingly looking at  bird that had a more surprised look on its face than me – CONNECTICUT!!

Get a load of that eyering- Connecticut Warbler, Lighthouse Point, New Haven, CT (Click for larger image)

Only my 2nd in the state, it was only 4 ft away and just sat there motionless. After watching it for a few minutes, I ran back to the car to retrieve my camera. The bird was still there, walking around like they do, when a low-flying sharpie caused it to rocket into the canopy. Despite the grim weather and no light, I managed a few record shots in the gloom by setting my ISO to the “really, are you kidding” setting. Cool bird!

Typical view of an oporonis

A few great looks at Blackpoll, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, plus lots of sharpies, Coops, an adult Bald Eagle, Peregrine, a few Broad-wings as well as gobs of Blue Jays made for an enjoyable morning.

Don’t Miss Out….

May 10, 2011

Warbler Walk- May 15th

The migration window is still wide open and we have one last Warbler Walk left!

*Do you want to improve your field id. skills?
*Do you want to gen up on your warbler songs and calls?
*Do you want to learn how size, structure and habitat can help your identification?
*Do you want to have fun with like-minded birders?

If the answer is yes, yes, yes and yes! then register for our last Warbler Walk at East Rock Park, New Haven on May 15th. Group size is limited to 10-12.

Pre-register here:

More information about the park and a map of the park is online at:

The fee for the walk is $10/per person payable at the beginning of the walk. Dress for the weather. Bring binoculars, water to drink or snacks and any personal items you may need.

Please be sure to review the Terms and Conditions for Sunrise Birding Programs:

Panama in August?

Also, don’t forget about the fantatstic value for money trip we are running to Panama in August. Compared to other tour operators this trip is THE best tour at the best price.
Panama is one of the premier central American destinations that offers unbelievable birding at a casual and relaxed pace. Places are limited but still available, so in order not to miss out, don’t delay, sign up today.

See here for details:…ucks-tour-2011/

May 8th – East Rock Warbler Walk

May 10, 2011

A full house- East Rock Warbler Posse

Another great turn out for our spring walk around the local hot-spot of East Rock Park. Although numbers of warblers were on the lower side, a sharp group picked out ones and twos of several species. It was a glorious morning with good birds and good company. Great to meet new faces and hope to see you again.

 The morning kicked off with nice looks at Blackpoll, American Redstart and a super male Blackburnian as well as some of my best ever looks of at least two Wilson’s Warbler and another heard on the island by the covered bridge.

Black and White’s showed well – interesting trying to try and age them in the field, sometimes tough and perhaps more difficult than I thought, especially when not being able to see tail pattern and shape….comments welcome???? Click for larger image.

Pale auriculars and white throat sex this as a female. Blackish primary coverts (as opposed to brownish) would imply this as an adult (or ASY)? Stratford, CT May 08

Black auriculars and throat sex this as a male. Brownish primary coverts (as opposed to blackish) contrasting with the blackish-centered greater coverts would imply this as SY (or ASY). Milford, May 2011

Other highlighs included:  Wood Duck, Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned night Heron, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, American Crow, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Parula, Black and white, Common Yellowthroat, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Blackpoll, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Wilson’s Warbler, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, American Robin, Wood Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak,Northern Cardinal, White-breasted Nuthatch, Belted Kingfisher, White-throated Sparrow, Rufous-sided Towhee, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Northern Oriole

7th May- Walker’s Pond, CT

May 8, 2011

A relaxing wander around the pond produced good looks at several warblers; BT Green, BT Blue, Chestnut-sided, Ovenbird, Magnolia, Parula, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-rumped, Yellow, Ovenbird, several confiding Black ‘n Whites and a super-showy, eye-level Blackpoll!

One Yellow-rumped – possibly a first cycle bird showing brownish remiges. Many often show a moult ‘step’ in the greater coverts too (inner greater covert feathers are new, adult-like feathers and are longer than the worn and retained outer coverts). However, in Yellow-rumpeds, Howell (2010) notes that both adult and first-summer Yellow-rumped’s can show this pattern so it’s not as helpful as an ageing character as it is in other species.

A couple of the Black ‘n Whites were feeding in the leaf litter allowing frame-filling looks, including one first-cycle/first-summer bird (missing half a tail). Note the brown primaries and greater primary coverts (retained juvenile feathers) contrasting with the greater coverts. Also, note the new, rounded blackish tail feathers coming in on the right side which contrast with the worn, retained feathers on the left – this pattern seems to suggest the bird is replacing  lost/damaged feathers.

Male Black 'n White

30th April – Orange Crush!

April 30, 2011

Pass the sunglasses!! Full-on male Blackburnian Warbler!! (Julian Hough)

An early morning jaunt to Birdcraft Sanctuary, Fairfield to get some time in the field was rather quiet but a few birds were evident – Yellow-rumped’s, Yellow, a couple of crippling Parula’s, Nashville, Yellowthroat and a singing Prairie.

Moving on to Milford, Walker’s Pond was the hotspot, with reported Bay-breasted and Yellow-throated – the latter a scarce bird in Connecticut. A couple of hours here were rewarded with a small flock that consisted of Black and White (3), Yellow-rumped (6), Parula (3), Black-throated Green (1), Palm Warbler (2), Chestnut-sided Warbler (1), Yellow Warbler (2), a dull, grey 1st-summer Pine Warbler and best of all..2-3 Blackburnian’s giving “crippling views” for over an hour!!!

24th April – East Rock Park, New Haven

April 25, 2011

The Sunrise Birding Group, East Rock Park

A foggy morning didn’t dampen our spirits for my walk around East Rock. Eleven keen birders and I spent a couple of hours around the river trail, completing a loop back over the iron bridge back to the parking lot. The first tall trees after the covered bridge held a nice flurry of warblers, mainly Yellow-rumped’s, a couple of Yellow’s and a singing Black and White Warbler – a nice start.

Light wasn’t the best due to the fog but it gave everyone a chance to concentrate on size and structure and behavior – all important  aspects of warbler id. that often get by-passed in spring when bright patterns of color are used to pin names on birds. Other highlights included:  Wood Duck, Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Palm, Parula (2), Black and white (2+), Northern Waterthrush (2), Yellow (6), Warbling Vireo, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Robin,  Eastern Kingbird, Brown Thrasher, Northern Cardinal, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird.

Male Yellow Warbler beltin' it out

22nd April – East Rock warblers

April 23, 2011

A chilly morning at East Rock didn’t bode well for migrants, but as soon as I walked over the covered bridge, a cracking little Black-and White slinked around the nearest tree, giving awesome views!

Black 'n White Warbler - a crippler!! A "streaky" throat and brown-washed primaries hint that this bird may be a SY male..

A small flurry of Palms and Yellow-rumped’ s were along the river trail with a single safforn male Yellow Warbler singing at the “corner”. A few Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a couple of “chayying” Blue-grey Gnatcatchers provided birds to watch. Another few weeks and the leaves will be on the trees, but for now, any migrants are uncloaked and visible.

I am leading a walk tomorrow at East Rock (see previous post for details) as part of Sunrise Birding, so if you haven’t registered please do or just turn up and let me know.

Rhode Island Rigmarole

January 30, 2011

Rhode Island bunting, December 2010 (P. L'Etoile)

An “Indigo-type” Bunting was discovered  in early December at Sunset Farms in Narragansett, RI and Paul L’Etoile kindly allowed me to use some images from his collection here:

The initial images seemed to show a bird more in line with Lazuli (whitish upper wingbar, warm buff tones to the throat, lack of obvious streaking and overall pallid color) than Indigo.

However, subsequent photos, and comments from observers in the field stated that the bird was streaked on the breast which favored Indigo.  Clearly the exposure of the photos affected the bird’s appearance to suggest either species, but on first looks, some observers commented the bird looked good for a first-winter Lazuli (winter Indigo’s are rare).
Also, PL commented that, in the field, the flanks looked bluish, which in itself is diagnostic and identifies it not only as an Indigo but thus a male! One problem with this, is that at this time of year, male Indigo’s are much further along in their preformative moult (Peter Pyle, pers. comm). So, it should be exhibiting a much “bluer” plumage than the RI bird, which if you discount the suggestion of blue flanks, is admittedly rather more female-like.

Rhode Island bunting (P. L'Etoile). Probably the most troubling image for the id. as a Lazuli since it seems to show an Indigo-like paler throat and blurry breast streaks.

Rhode Island bunting (P. L’Etoile). Note fluffed-up feathers revealing darker (blue?) feather bases. Breast pattern sows indistinct muted streaks, but are these indicative of either species and do they rule out Lazuli?

Speaking with other observers, I found myself going back and forth on the identity of this bird, especially since some images seem to show a bird with a slighty whiter throat and fine breast-streaking – both features not exactly kosher for a Lazuli.

A perplexing scenario. Unfortunately, the interest seemed to die-off and the debate disappeared into oblivion with no clear resolve. For reference, here are a couple of reference shots of the Connecticut bird that was present at Hammonassett in the winter of 2008. An educational bird in itself.

1st-year male Lazuli Bunting, Hammonasset S.P, 1/20/07 (JulianHough) The throat is buffish,not white as in Indigo Bunting and is concolorous with the head and breast. The bill is also not as obviously two-toned as in many Indigo Buntings, but it’s unknown if this is a consistent difference. The underparts are uniform and lack the blurry streaks shown by f-w Indigo Buntings. The subtle plumage tones of this individual could easily be altered by the light conditions, but when seen well, the upperbreast was strikingly honey colored and characteristic of this species.

Can the RI bird be confidently identified? Not to discount any field observations, but let’s consider (hypothetically) if these “blue” flanks are not exactly blue, but grey bases to the flank feathers then everything else would line up with the bird being a female. So the question if this is a female, what features are useful in separating Indigo and Lazuli??

Pro-Lazuli features:

  • overall pallid-color, lacking warm upperpart tones
  • white median covert wingbar
  • warm tones to the throat in some images
  • no obvious greyish malar and pale throat

Pro-Indigo features:

  • some photos show a paler, more whitish throat
  • muted streaks are visible on the breast

Bunting specimens, courtesy of the Peabody Museum, New Haven (JulianHough) Note the pale throats and diffuse breast streaking on the Indigo Buntings (right) compared with the Lazuli Bunting (left).The Lazuli Bunting shows the characteristic uniform buffy throat and upperbreast identical to the Hammonassett bird.

Is it OK for first-year Lazuli’s to show fine pencil-streaking on the breast? I think a determination if the presence of streaks is an issue, or whether the shape and density is the main issue. A real puzzler, but I’m not convinced that Lazuli can be confidently ruled out based on the photos.

Rhode Island bunting (P. L'Etoile)

The hammo bird- compare to the picture above of the RI bird.

The hammo bird- compare to the picture above of the RI bird.

Thanks to Paul for capturing shots of this bird and for allowing me to post some of them here. Comments welcome!