The club trip for this October 27th had a tumultuous start because of very limited availability. Originally, the trip had been planned to be an overnight at Cuttyhunk Island of the Elizabeth Islands off of Cape Cod. Unfortunately, with the new school year coming to a rapid crescendo, very few club members could find the time to take that much time off of their schedules, and thus, the trip was planned to be a full-day trip at a location in coastal Connecticut – a good choice for late October, a season on the coast which flits between early winter arrivals and the last denizens of fall migration. But Jory Teltser, who as our President would usually be leading the trip, was away in Cape Cod to visit former President Alex Burdo (and do some awesome Mass birding). So the duty of the leader fell to me.
I was really excited to plan my first club trip. Everything was new and a bit frantic – emailing parents, texting members, finding the right locations and everyone’s target birds. I was even more excited to have a new member on the trip – James Leone of Norwalk. It’s always so awesome to get another young birder for the team, so I wanted to make James’s first club trip memorable. The only other member joining us was Nicolas Main of Litchfield, who joined the club in April and has been a regular attender. We would be meeting at Greenwich Point Park to spend the entire day birding my home town.
7:00 a.m in the parking lot at Greenwich Point, and the wind was blowing strongly overhead, giving a wintry cast to the gray sky. The birds seemed of winter too; as James, the first to arrive, stepped out of his car, we observed a quick rapid-fire sequence of lifers for him – he had only started birding this summer. A sleek, silver-starred Red-throated Loon swam in the choppy harbor, and the throaty warbler of Brants echoed from the west beach. Nic arrived soon after, jumping out of his car to see a flock of Great Cormorants pass overhead, a lifer for both Nic and James. As we prepared to begin our coverage of this massive, birdy park, we could hear the wispy, shrill calls of a Golden-crowned Kinglet rising out of a bare-branched shrub. Both Nic and James got their eyes on this little mite of feathers, another lifer for both of them, before it fluttered off into the ashy dawn. We had barely been in the field for 15 minutes and James already had seen four lifers! His first club trip was off to a good start.
As we walked the seaside sassafrass forest, little brown shades of Song, White-throated, and Savannah Sparrow – a bird which Nic needed for life that he would later get better views of – darted in and out of the brushline. The angled silhouette of an Osprey, a little late for the park at this time of year, flapped over the harbor, and another raptor, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, another interesting bird for James to study more closely, surprised us with a rapid flyby.
As we walked, I got a better idea of who James was as a birder. Though he had only figured out his interest this summer, his rapid assimilation of birding knowledge, technology, and lore was truly remarkable. Along with Nic, he participated very well with two relatively experienced birders in discussions of extinct birds such as Heath Hens and the differences between Connecticut bird populations and habitat types currently and historically. As a young birder with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of life birds to pick up along the way, I am so excited to have him as a new member!
Eventually, we emerged from the woods to meet Greenwich Point’s tiny, fragmented saltmarsh that was surrounded by shrubland. Though it isn’t much, and certainly doesn’t host any breeding marsh birds such as Clapper Rails or Seaside Sparrows, I knew from experience that it would be just the place to pick up multiple life birds for James, who hadn’t done much coastal birding. The shrubland was quickly productive at first glance, providing good looks at Northern Mockingbird, a bird with which James has not much experience with, and a gorgeous female Cooper’s Hawk. Seeing both of the common Accipiter hawks in a short time provided a great discussion on the identification characteristics of these often confusing species.
Our main target bird for the marsh was Nelson’s Sparrow, a bird though is an Ammodramus marsh sparrow like Saltmarsh Sparrows, only occurs in Connecticut on migration and does not require pristine or extensive habitat. As an American Black Duck, new for James, and three Snowy Egrets, pretty uncommon in Greenwich in these numbers at this time, walked the gritty edge, we set off on a tiny mud path that wended its way through the grass. Though we nearly got stuck in the deep sediment multiple times or cut ourselves on the Spartina’s sharp edge, some pishing and flushing got everyone on the team nice looks at an interior-subspecies Nelson’s Sparrow.
After all had had satisfactory looks, we headed up to the coastal forest and the Seaside Garden which rises above the beaches. While curving through the parkland that lies around the shore, the irritated jangle of a House Wren crossed our ears, almost immediately followed by a beautiful flyover American Kestrel heading out over the sound, my first for the Point and a generally uncommon bird in coastal Greenwich. While on a fruitless search for Hooded Mergansers at Eagle Pond, the machine-gun rattle of a Belted Kingfisher rang over the water, an additional lifer for James.
Unfortunately, the woods of the Seaside Garden were quiet as the dead. Only forest sparrows, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, and robins could be heard here. However, some new birds for the trip were encountered, including flyover flocks of both Red-winged Blackbird and Common Grackle. It was the actual garden garden that showed some good species, including nice looks at Yellow-rumped Warbler and Cedar Waxwings spotted by Nic in the tall ornamental trees, and multiple Golden-crowned Kinglets that perched and flitted flickering on the leafless branches. A White-breasted Nuthatch could be heard, calling a nasal yenk yenk from deep in the forest. All in all, however, the seaside woods were unimpressive, and we quickly decided to do a quick check of the sandy west beach.
There, we started at the little stand of marsh grass at the beach’s north end to find two more Nelson’s Sparrows, providing more looks at this interesting species. I didn’t really expect to see much in shorebird numbers today, but we were lucky in that a group of many Ruddy Turnstones, one of James’ favorite birds, were picking their way along some of the few scattered rocks on the beach. In addition, two Killdeers called loudly from upon the sand, which were digiscoped impressively by Nic. The most interesting sighting for my two fellow club members had to be the amazing looks at Brant, lifers for them both, which swam right on the surf. We discussed their identification and life history as they foraged nearly within reach. After taking some pictures and Snapchatting with Brendan Murtha, a former club member who I hadn’t talked to in a long while, we decided that it was time to go. We walked the marshy edge to see even more Nelson’s Sparrows (two to be exact) and ended up back at the parking lot.
At my house, we had fun eating some homecooked penne all’arrabiata (courtesy of yours truly) and testing our identification skills with our Sibley guides. We decided that the best place to bird next would be the nearby Cove Island Park in Stamford, as forest birds were few and Rosa Hartman Park, our other option, was solid beech woodland and would likely not provide much.
At Cove Island, we headed out into the grassland to attempt to find some interesting sparrows for the day. As we were in a time limit for James, we decided that it was probably best if we stuck to the inland part of the park as we had gotten most of our available coastal species previously. In the dry meadows, we immediately encountered several species of sparrows, including great looks at several Savannah Sparrows – a long-awaited lifer for Nic, and Swamp Sparrows, a similar lifer for James. The woods were quiet but for the huge, noisy flocks of Fish Crows patrolling overhead and the rollicking chant of a Carolina Wren, new for the day. When we emerged to once again walk the rustling yellow grasslands, we were treating to awesome looks at Monk Parakeets – a gorgeous species, one of every member’s favorites and yet another lifer for James! Soon, however, the trip ended as the sun began its slow descent over the park, framing new Mute Swans foraging gracefully in Holly Pond.
After all of my fellow members had departed, I made my way back home. It wasn’t a huge day for bird numbers or diversity, but we fleshed out a good number of species, over 60, on a generally dreary day. But more important than my numbers were James’s and Nic’s, who both got lots of life birds today, James in the double digits! It’s hard to beat leading trips to cool locations alongside young people who have just gotten interested in the endlessly awesome world of birding.