Our apologies for the extended hiatus; due to the swarm of exams, college applications, and our overall busy lives, we haven’t had much of a chance to get on top of producing regular trip reports and updates to the website. Yet, with new changes to the club, I can assure you all that the website will, slowly but surely, get new and exciting updates such as new member profiles, an updated gallery with photos from club trips, and detailed visual reports that are appealing and fun to read. So stay tuned!
Saying that the club hadn’t gotten together in some time, we all were anxious to get back out into the field together. Thankfully, the New Haven Mega Bowl was coming up, and we all couldn’t be more excited for some fun competition. Although it is nice to have laid back club trips where we all have the freedom to bird at our own pace, we all were looking forward to a 12 hour day of birding, racing from location to location, and maintaining our winning streak. For the past two years, the Connecticut Young Birders have been reigning champions of this competition, so this year the pressure was on in order to keep our title. It seems as though that every year we face more of a challenge than we did the previous one. Last time we competed we were short staffed; this year, the amount of teams that we were facing had doubled. Hence why the preparation for the competition was just as important as our actual performance
The night before the big day, we all got together at our president Jory’s house down in Westport. We ordered some food, sat down and started planning out each and every location that could hold a possible bird. It was important that we planned this out because every species of bird we identified, would earn us a certain amount of points, and this ultimately decides the winner. The more uncommon or rare a bird is, the more points we would earn. However, we were out of luck because absolutely no rare birds were being in the county. Despite this, we were determined to find some rare birds on our own. These rare birds can sometimes be the deciding factor in the winner, so we were hoping to get lucky. Eventually, after a long few hours and much debate we finally had a route set in place. The agenda was open to change, of course, but we were happy with what we had.
When planning for a big day, dawn can play a very important role; that’s why it is vital that we choose a good first spot. First light is when birds are the most active, so what better place to start off than Silver Sands? This coastal state park holds open marsh, open ocean, abundant glasslands, dense vegetation, shrubs along with berries, and dense cedar groves, all of which make this site quite ideal. That’s why, despite the frostbite inducing temperatures, we were eager to try and start off the day strong. And that we did. birds such as American Tree Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and Song Sparrows were all in high numbers. Not only did we pick up on most of the common coastal birds, but we also found a few rare birds! Two White-Crowned Sparrows, which were pointed out by James, and the almighty Eastern Meadowlark who was hunkered down in the fields. Although we had spent a decent amount of time at this location, it was definitely worth it. We left with a a near total of 40 species!
While continuing on to our next spot, we had made a quick pit stop at a pond that hopefully would hold a Wood Duck. These birds can be hard to get in winter, so the possibility of getting on this species was a vital move. Disappointingly, however, the pond had frozen over, so we raced on to the next location. Thankfully, our next spot was a time saver. Not only was it close by, but we were also able to pull over and scan the water from the car. This made for a quick and speedy get away. We first started to scan the Greater Scaup flock and found the added bonus of a Lesser Scaup. We also got on Great Cormorants and Purple Sandpipers sitting on the gagid rocks, along with a pair of American Wigeon who responsively made an appearance from behind the rocks. Additionally, thanks to the birding gods, we came across a flock of Brant. Normally, Brant wouldn’t be a worry given how likely we are to get them, but last year we missed them. Just goes to show how unpredictable a big day can be!
Next came a quick stakeout at hidden pond behind an extremely overgrown fence. Upon arrival we were scared that it was all frozen, but fortunately the stream leading into the pond was open and filled with birds. A large flock of Ring-necked Ducks mingled with the Common Mergansers which was an exciting find, as they can be difficult to get along the coast. A skulking Great-blue Heron, and a flyover Pine Siskin were nice additions at this location, as well.
As we proceed further south along the coast, we had decided to stop at a location that Aidan had found last year while eBird scouting. Proto Drive has good marsh habitat that could hold Virginia Rails, and a known occasional resident, Marsh Wren. Last year we missed out, but thankfully this weird randomly placed marsh that was frozen over decided to produce a Marsh Wren for us! We were ecstatic because this bird gave us an extra five points. While exiting the strange ice path that lead into the marsh, a distant Common Raven gave us a nice parting call, along with a flyover Red-winged Blackbird.
Our first year of this competition we had great luck at Branford Dump; although, last year, due to the freeze, we missed out on a lot of the birds that we wanted from this location. Due to how productive this spot was our first year, we decided to give it another chance. However, to our surprise, the trial we had taken last year was overgrown, and unidentifiable. This trail in past years helped us a lot, because it gave us access straight into thick shrubbery, which made it easy for us to get on birds such as Fox Sparrows. Not only were we unsure of where to go, but also the sound of chainsaws rained though the dump, which made it challenging to hear anything. People were doing maintenance, cutting down trees, bushes, etc. We eventually found a way in, and lost the loud sounds from the machinery, but we were concerned about the new habitat loss, and how that would affect this spot in the future. Nonetheless, we did manage to get on some birds that could have very easily been missed, flyover Red-Tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Despite the lack of passerines, we luckily came across a flock of about 20 sparrows. This flock held mostly White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and, a saving grace, Fox Sparrow that quickly flew across the path. Although the site has now become disappointing and lacking, we were still happy leaving with the species we got on.
With the sun setting fast, we had to do our best to get on every possible species that Hammonasset State Park had to offer. This late in the day we were missing out on a lot of species so we had to do everything we could to catch up. Thankfully the open ocean, and dense woodlands provided us with a good chance of getting us on the birds we still needed. We first went to the section of the park that was holding some previous reported species such as Brown Thrasher and Gray Catbird earlier in the day. Both birds are worth three points on the Mega Bowl so we first stopped in a section of the park, Willards Island, where they had been seen. Once we walked into the Spruce grove, we picked up a Yellow-rumped Warbler which was great find. After sticking around for awhile, we finally picked up the Gray Catbird, but unfortunately the Brown Thrasher who was nowhere to be seen. After wrapping up at Willards, we headed over to Meig’s Point in hopes of getting on some waterfowl and shorebirds. The point provided us with some new exciting additions, such as Common Eiders, a flock of Black-bellied Plovers, Common Loon and Surf Scoters. Wanting to save time for the inland birding, we raced to get to the final stop at Hammonasset. Although simple, the nature center parking lot can tend to hold some goodies. Sure enough we were able to get on to Horned Lark, and Lapland Longspur, which was a new bird for James.
After finishing up at the park, we started the journey to the upper parts of New Haven County. This was a chance for us to get on some passerine species that we would have otherwise missed down along the coast. We were missing some simple species like White-breasted Nuthatch which some might think is easy, but on rushed competitions like these, it is sometimes easy to miss the common stuff. Once we arrived we did some birding along the rolling inland fields and snagged, thankfully, White-breasted Nuthatch, along with Northern Flickers and a surprise Black Vulture. Eventually, the sun began to set and it started getting close to the end of the competition. We began reflecting back on the eventful day, with the windows rolled down, cold air in our faces and took a moment to enjoy the beauty scenery around us. While we were taking it all in, we stumbled across a beautiful Barred Owl sitting on a fence post. It was a great bird to end our day with.
Wrapping up, we headed back down to the coast to meet up with the other competitors for a lovely dinner and review of the results. The Connecticut Young Birders finished in 1st place for the third year in a row with a total of 74 species, and 150 points. A big thanks goes to everyone who participated and Chris Loscalzo who orchestrated the competition