It’s been just about a year since I’ve been able to be a part of a CTYBC trip, so I was really excited when everything worked out for me to make it down to the shore for the July trip this year. This trip would be centered around shorebirds, and Jory Teltser would be leading this day-long quest for rare fall migrants. We would begin in New Haven and move west, ending around Westport where Jory lives. Jory, Preston Lust and I arrived at Sandy Point at 6:30 to meet Grace Bartunek, a new club member. Grace got into birding recently but she has spent lots of time working with falconers and raptor rehabbers, making that group of birds her favorite.
Sandy Point immediately began to produce cool birds, as a Clapper Rail poked its head out of the marsh near the parking lot. We walked out onto the beaches where we hoped to see some migratory shorebirds, and we ended up seeing some breeders as well. Piping Plovers were quite abundant on the beaches, and these adorable little birds seemed to have had a good summer at Sandy Point. We got good views of a mudflat that in this morning’s low tide was full of shorebirds. Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers dominated the flocks, as they almost always do this time of year. The search for a Western Sandpiper was on, but nothing jumped out at any of us. One of the highlights of our time at Sandy Point was when Grace spotted a young Clapper Rail in the back of this mudflat near some marsh grass! The four of us all got great looks at another one of these elusive birds before it quickly retreated to the safety of the marsh. Other notable birds in the marsh included good looks at a Saltmarsh Sparrow, a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers, and a good number of Semipalmated Plovers.
Moving down the beach we kept running in with more Piping Plovers. Some Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings were on the beach as well, and since it is still quite early in the migration period, these birds had preserved most of their lovely breeding plumage. A bunch of swallows, including a few Bank Swallows, were feeding on the beach as well. Ospreys and Common Terns flew out over the ocean, and we also noticed a Least Tern faintly calling out over the water. Sandy Point had not disappointed at all this morning! We made our way back to the parking lot, as a few more yellowlegs and dowitchers flew over, to wait for the arrival of some other club members. A distant Peregrine Falcon was spotted from the parking lot, sparring with some terns in midair over the ocean.
A couple other members, Will Schenck and Michael Aronson, arrived, and now that we had everyone, we were clear to leave for Milford Point. This is a spot I have been to numerous times in my time as a birder, so I was not surprised to have a hoard of Purple Martins surrounding me as soon as we got out of the car. A quick scan of Wheeler Marsh revealed that the tide was just too high behind the Audubon Center for any shorebirds. This pushed us out to the main attraction at Milford Point, the expansive sandbars.
With recent reports tallying hundreds of shorebirds, we knew we would be faced with some ID challenges when we reached the Milford Point sandbars. We immediately got our scopes out, but before we did, a Bank Swallow (a lifer for Will!) flew over. Once we peered into our scopes at the sandbars, we realized that the reports showing hundreds of peeps were very accurate. Along with some Brants and American Oystercatchers, the beaches were draped with Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, with a sprinkling of Semipalmated Plovers as well. Scanning through these birds proved to be difficult, especially when people walking out on the beach flushed hundreds of birds at once. We decided that a relocation was in order, and we moved farther to the left, where we could see the other side of the beach. Even more shorebirds were here, but we still couldn’t find anything special hidden in the flocks. As we left, our overall Semi-Sand count totaled up to about 400 birds.
We crossed the county line in to Fairfield County shortly after leaving Milford Point, where we would spend the rest of the day. This part of the trip would be mostly composed of shorter stops of variable birdiness. The Stratford Marina, a small area that usually hosts good shorebird numbers, was our first of these many stops. Yellowlegs and dowitchers filled up the docks, standing near the water. Both species of night-herons were also quite abundant here, and differentiating the juveniles of both species was a great learning opportunity for Grace. We then checked the Birdseye Boat Ramp, Stratford Greenway and the Animal Control Marsh, all of which were fairly quiet. Probably the most interesting part of those locations was a distant tire that we though was a large snake! Our next stop, Stratford Point, would hopefully be a little more profitable, as we planned to spend more time there.
Upon arrival at Stratford Point, we immediately encountered a medley of swallow species on some powerlines near the parking lot. This included Barn, Bank, Northern Rough-winged and Purple Martin. As far as shorebirds went, it was the same as everywhere else; massive quantities of Semipalmated Sandpipers and little else. One of the other main attractions at Stratford Point though, was the terns. Recent reports of Gull-billed, Royal and Caspian had our hopes up for this spot, and when Preston began waving his arms at Jory and I from a distance, we got a good feeling that a rare tern was moving over the water. Our predictions were confirmed when we got our eyes on a pale, beautifully clean tern. This was a Roseate Tern! It was only my second time ever seeing this rare bird, and it was a great find for the trip.
After Stratford Point, we took a little break to hang out at Jory’s house in Westport, get some food and beverages, and talk about birds. It was a fun time to bond with the new members that had joined in the year that I had been gone. I also enjoyed hanging out with Jory and Preston, who I had not seen in such a long time. A few short stops in Westport followed, highlighted by Gorham Island. Here we got great looks at an adult Bald Eagle, which I’m sure Grace was happy to see. We also began to hear a lot of Marsh Wrens, and a bout of pishing brought them in for some brief views. Our trip ended not long after that, and we parted ways by discussing everybody’s favorite bird and favorite moment of the day. From Bald Eagle to Clapper Rail, the choices were very diverse. It’s certainly great to be birding with other young people who have the same interest as you.
– Peter Thompson