Litchfield County Big Year 2020

Litchfield Country: home of rolling hills and farmlands, expansive freshwater marshes and unique waterways, pastures, and old growth forests. A place to take in the beauty of the outdoors while experiencing an amazing variety of birds. Growing up in this beautiful area has been a truly rewarding experience, an experience that has shaped me into who I am as a birder. As my last year of Highschool approached and it was time to start thinking about college, I knew that my last year here had to be amazing. So, as a last hurrah I decided at the end of 2019 to give it my all and compete against myself in a Litchfield County Big Year.

I didn’t realize till now that it wasn’t all about the number or total of species I saw. The most fulfilling thing about it was the experiences I had along the way. Birding through a global pandemic, a tropical storm that knocked out power for a week, endless rainstorms and massive snowfall, I saw birds that I never expected I would see. I gained lots of valuable information and now have plenty of amazing stories to tell. 

I’ve only been a serious birdwatcher for the past three to four years, so my knowledge of the identifications of certain species was limited. I also needed to improve on learning what habitats birds frequent, along with visiting obscure spots in my county. Therefore I made sure to focus on these topics going into the challenge. 

I started off the year spending my time in search for the tough overwintering species. One of the first “good finds” was a Field Sparrow buried deep in a cluster of bushes on the edge of a farm. Once I learned what specific habitat this bird frequented in the winter, I was able to find more individuals at other locations later in the month. Another tough January find was a small group of Savannah Sparrows feeding on seeds at Swendsen Farm. Common at coastal locations during winter, it’s actually quite the tough bird inland. I also managed an American Kestrel and a Gray Catbird along another farm’s edge. At the end of the first month of the year I had tallied a total of 68 species, which I was very proud of. 

February started off great with a loud Northern Saw-whet Owl crashing into a roost on a cold early morning, foreshadowing a great irruption for this species towards the end of the year. Despite the great start, February proved to be a slow month regarding new additions. Adding only eight species, I was optimistic for some good birding in March. Little Pond Boardwalk Trail was my best friend during the start of spring. If you’re the first on the trail for the day, you will definitely be greeted with an amazing show from Wilson’s Snipe. On a foggy morning the trail can feel like some distant and foreign planet, making for an immaculate vibe. 

Little Pond also held two early arrivals: both Virginia Rail and Marsh Wren hunkered down in the reeds. While easy to get during the breeding season, seeing these species was a nice taste of the upcoming spring. Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and Pine Warblers also joined in on the party. Closing out the month, Aton Forest yielded two Sandhill Cranes, which was a long sought after lifer. 

The big year continued to be quite successful with plenty of goodies during the end of April. Bantam Lake being one of the largest inland bodies of water in the state it often holds quite the variety of birds, especially during migration. Rainstorms will often force many species out of the sky to get shelter and rest on the lake, which results in somewhat of a fallout. With a good storm on its way on April 27th, I decided to head to the lake. I was greeted with a flock of 15 Boneparte’s Gulls sitting on the water just off the tip of Point Folly. I’ve always been told that when you run into a flock of BOGU on an inland lake, start searching for terns. I knew I was up for a challenge as Terns can have a very similar flight style to BOGU. So everytime the flock picked up off the water, I made sure to thoroughly check every bird. With myself and my optics now drenched, I was elated to find a rare Common Tern! It is never expected in Litchfield County to find terns, so this was quite the treat. Little did I know that as the year progressed I’d come across two more species of tern.  Another great surprise from the lake was yet another difficult species for Litchfield County. A Snowy Egret accompanied a Great Blue Heron for a brief moment before taking off and disappearing. The following day more rainy conditions yielded White-winged Scoter and Red-necked Grebe on Tyler and Bantam Lakes, respectively. A Eurasian Wigeon was also located at Jones Pond during April, which was a second county record! Aside from the rairites, certain migrants and breeders started to arrive. Bank Swallow, along with Cliff Swallow, passed over the lake. Warblers such as Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart and Black-and-white Warbler were in the area as well. By the end of the month my total for the big year now reached 122 species. 

One similarity between the coast and inland Connecicut is the overwhelming amount of species diversity that May brings. Between the drive to get every migratory and breeding bird possible and endless scouting for my second annual Litchfield big day, May was a sleepless month. Deciding what day to execute my town big day is always challenging. Weather plays a huge part and with the help of Dave Tripp, May 15th was the day to pull the trigger. The night started off with heavy rains, making it difficult to look for rails, but I managed to stir up a Sora at Little Pond. Other than that, the night was drowned out with rain. But as dawn approached I heard a bird that was a sure sign the day was going to be a good one. As the chorus of Marsh Wrens, Gray Catbirds, American Robins started to pick up, a Long-eared Owl asserted its presence, giving 3 deeply chilling and separate calls off in the distance. After hours of time and energy put into finding this species, I was overcome with an amazing sense of both relief and accomplishment. This rewarding feeling, in part, is the reason I became a birder.

At daybreak I was meant with perfect fallout conditions. With rain starting at around 1 am and ending right at sunrise, I knew that whatever had been knocked down by the weather was still yet to take off. I figured it would be best to check Bantam Lake. I was greeted there by a flock of 15 White-winged Scoters, 7 Long-tailed Duck, and 4 lingering Buffleheads all emerging from the edge of Point Folly. Being as uncommon as they are in the county it was a great relief to be able to add these few additional species to my day list. Throughout the rest of the day I managed 19 warbler species including Cape May Warbler, 6 shorebird species including Lesser Yellowlegs, White-crowned Sparrow, as well as breeding Bobolinks and Field Sparrows. Passing my previous record of 103 species, I was ecstatic with my final total of 113. 

Ending off a beautiful month, I found yet another new county bird. Birding during a rainstorm on inland lakes can be hit or miss. But on May 29th, I lucked out yet again. After checking the weather and seeing the distant thunderstorm coming in with the combination of southerly winds, I figured it would be good to check Tyler Lake. When I arrived at the boat launch I did a quick scan of the water with my scope. About 40 seconds into the scan, I had two small terns flying about 10 feet above the water. Watching them for about as long as it took to spot them, I eventually lost sight. Although the sun had set there was still good enough lighting to make the ID; Two Black Terns!! In total I was able to tally 58 new year birds during May, and observe over 146 species! 

There were lots of other species from the month worth noting. One being Eastern Meadowlarks singing and giving unique call notes. Following the exciting year bird, Sharon Audubon held my first ever Common Gallinule, which was presenting itself quite nicely among the reeds. Greater Yellowlegs, American Bittern, Orchard Oriole, and Eastern Whip-poor-will were spread out through the county as well. The Russell Street Common Raven nest in Litchfield also returned this year; a pair with 5 offspring. They always put on a show! 

June was the time to find whatever remaining breeders I needed. Although River Road in Kent was productive for many birders, I kept striking out on Cerulean Warbler. I decided that it was best to start looking in other areas. While scouting eBird, I saw a report of Ceruleans from a random dirt road in Cornwall. Deciding to check it out, I was discouraged by the lack of activity in the area. But, once the sun warmed up the trees and the insects started getting active, so did a bright blue male. Litchfield County is often known and birded for its Cerulean Warblers and with their striking appearance, I can understand the drive to see them! On the same day I also managed a Least Bittern singing deep in the reeds along an uncharted backroad. Giving a unique fast song it was a treat to hear, along with the fact that it was a potential breeder! Summer Counts were also another exciting part about the month. One count resulted in my lifer White-eyed Vireo, which did not want to pop up from the dense shrubbery. Eastern Screech Owls, Willow and Alder Flycatchers were singing in the dead of night, along with both Yellow-billed and Black billed Cuckoos giving unheard of songs at 3 am. One other notable was a Black-crowned Night-Heron along Isaiah Smith Rd in Morris. Although somewhat expected this time of year in the county, it’s still very uncommon; only showing up about once every other year. A bird that I was expecting for sure to get during migration, and more specifically breeding was Magnolia Warbler. Although, to my surprise, this species gave me a hard time. All the spots I’ve had them on territory in the past were vacant. Evidently, though, I lucked out on a trip to Great Mountain Forest in North Canaan, and to my surprise, one popped out in some low shrubs on the side of the road. Shortly thereafter me and fellow young birders located another warbler. A male Nashville Warbler singing on great habitat! This was yet another migrant I had missed. By this point in 2020 I had seen/heard 189 species! 

Again, being a relatively new birder, I have not gotten the chance to birdwatch in a storm any larger than a thunderstorm. I’ve heard the stories of Bantam Lake during Hurricane Irene plenty of times. Fran Zygmont finding a Leach’s Storm-Petrel along with other obscene rarities was mind-boggling to me. An area that I bird so often holding species that frequent the deep ocean. It sounds horrible to wish for a storm of this caliber to hit the Northeast, but from my birder perspective, it’s all I wanted. Then, to my excitement, I heard of Tropical Storm Isaias. Although I describe myself as a serious birder ready to take on any conditions, I bit off way more than I could chew with this storm. 

Once the storm hit, Fran and I headed to the lake. After a brief phone call, Fran informed me that he was birding from the camp store near Point Folly and was considering hitting South Bay on the other side of the lake. I started at Litchfield Town Beach where Fran had his storm petrel back in 2011. Annoyed with my car fogging up and not being able to see through my wipers, I decided to quickly jump out of my car and scan. That decision was possibly one of the stupidest I’ve made. After scanning the water for about a minute I turned back to my car to dry off. But my car decided to lock itself while still running. With my phone in my car I was trapped in the horrible tropical storm conditions. Large branches and trees began to fall around me and, scared for my life, I made the tough decision to run half a mile to Fran. Fearful that he would head to the other side of the lake I had to move quickly. Covering my head as I ran, I eventually made it to Fran whose expression was priceless.

 Now in the comfort of Fran’s truck, we headed back to Town Beach where he dropped me off and went to the nearest hardware store. Returning with a wire and a hammer I began to try to unlock my car. After several frustrating attempts to break in and almost managing to pull the latch up, I quickly dropped everything when Fran yelled “BIRDS!”. A total of FIVE SOOTY TERNS fell from the sky. This was a moment that I’d never forget: wind gusts up to 50 mph, heavy rain and the forest falling around us, my 300th lifer on Bantam Lake. 

August and September continued to result in some exciting rarities. Lacking on the shorebird front at this point in the year, this was my time to get some more obscure species. The first and one the best was a Baird’s Sandpiper along Colebrook River Lake. This spot was very productive this year and with such little rainfall, there were plenty of mudflats. This made for a great feeding opportunity for birds on the move. I also managed to locate Semipalmated Sandpipers and Plovers at this location in the same week. A Eared Grebe also made an appearance on Bantam Lake at the end of August. A species that hasn’t been seen in the county since 2010! Furthermore in September, I found a Red-necked Phalarope which was avidly feeding in Cemetery Pond. It’s not often you find your own lifers, and this time was especially exciting as it has become way more difficult for me to get lifers in Litchfield. This time of year was also a chance to some additional species that I missed during May. The last warbler of the year ended up being a Tennessee Warbler. Which Fran and I located at at Lower Greenwoods Recreation Area in Barkhamsted towards the end of September. I also found the one remaining thrush I missed in May, Gray-cheeked Thrush in White Memorial. 

Approaching the final few months of the year I frankly had no idea what other new additions to expect. 2020 had been such an amazing year for birding already, and it was going to be topped off with an irruption year of winter finches! Finch researchers were calling this winter a “superflight”. And they were right – many species irrupted, including both species of crossbill, siskins, purple finches, both species of redpolls and both species of grosbeaks. Due to a lack of food in the Boreal Forest all these species approached the Northeast in droves. The first finches species for me was a flyover flock of 20 Pine Siskins in my own backyard! But this flock was just the start of this species. For many birders in the middle to late parts of October, siskins became more common than American Goldfinches. Over the course of October and November I saw two different massive flocks. The first being at White Memorial Conservation Area, where a flock of 125 individuals were avidly feeding and covered practically the entire dirt road. The second flock being 110 at Mt. Riga in Salisbury. Over the course of these two months I saw a total of 557 individual siskins! The second irruptive finch I got was a lone male Evening Grosbeak calling atop a tree one morning on my way to school. I later had some flyover flocks and totaled 14 individuals for the year.

 During the summer a few reports came in of Red Crossbills in more northern spots of the county.  Unfortunately I struck out on finding these potentially breeding birds, however I was happy to see over 30 individuals later in the year. 10 of which were feeding around my yard! Common Redpolls also came in swinging. The largest flock being 25 at Mt. Riga where Caleb May and I got to watch them for about 5 minutes. Will Schenck, Preston Lust and I had some amazing finch extravaganza to Mt. Riga as well, which you can read about on CT Audubon’s website here: https://www.ctaudubon.org/2020/11/a-young-birders-exhortation-fellow-connecticut-birders-go-north-there-are-birds/  

The most incredible finch experience the “finch crew” had was at Great Mountain Forest. While exploring a spruce stand in hopes for Boreal Chickadee, a flock of 5 White-winged Crossbills came crashing in above us. We all stood in awe while observing this flock, which took off after about 1 minute. With the irruption in full swing at this point we knew it was only a matter of time before they showed up in the state. All the time and effort we put into finding this species finally paid off, which warranted a celebratory dance, hugs, and high fives. Being the first flock in the state this year, it made for a very rewarding experience! 

The species that was the most difficult to locate was Pine Grosbeak. With a few reports starting to trickle in we were hopeful that we would get lucky like we did with the WW Crossbills. Unfortunately Will, Preston, and I were unsuccessful in our attempts. Personally, I put in over 20 hours in the field searching for this species, and with the year quickly coming to a close I began to worry that I might miss the last possible finch. Thankfully though other birders managed to locate a flock of about 5 individuals at Great Mountain Forest in the last week of December. The following day, about 7 other birders and I put in over 3 hours of effort into finding this flock. At around 10am we heard one individual Pine Grosbeak respond to playback. Racing to where we heard the call, we found a male and female feeding in a spruce tree. While they were difficult to see at times, I was still happy with the experience and extremely thankful to finish off the year with an amazing lifer. 

Outside of the winter finch explosion there were a few other species remaining to be added to my final total. A noteworthy species was a group of 5 adult Tundra Swan on Bantam Lake. In poor conditions this ID was definitely a tough one, but it ended up being a great learning experience.  It was apparent that these swans had a longer more sloped head/bill compared to nearby Mute Swans, in which the head and bill dropped much more. I was also able to pick out a uniform black bill, along with a Canvasback-like head and bill shape. Adding to the rare waterfowl, I was able to pin down Surf Scoter and Red-throated Loon. During winter, Barkhamsted Reservoir tends to hold some unique and difficult birds for Litchfield County. Again many of the species that are frequent the coast are, in turn, a challenge in inland CT. While somewhat expected on inland bodies of water during migration, neither of these species are a guarantee. 

Considering the small size of Connecticut, it’s surprising how some species are polar opposite on the coast and inland. For instance Common Merganser on the coast is very uncommon and Red-breasted Merganser is extremely common, and vice versa inland . Red-breasted Merganser gave me an extremely difficult time this year. On multiple occasions I got tripped up on the ID. But thankfully on the Lake Waramaug CBC birders found 3 female Red-breasted Mergansers. Successful in my chase, I finally realized the major pointers in the ID. A thin bill, dark throat and breast, and a dark eye stripe extending far past the eye to the back of the head. Aside from the waterfowl, a very exciting species showed up around this time , which many birders across the state got the chance to see. A juvenile Northern Shrike made an appearance on Anderson Road in Morris. A state bird for me! 

All in all 2020, ended up being a stunning year for birding. In writing this summary of my Litchfield County Big Year, I hope to inspire and or challenge future young birders of Connecticut to get out and push themselves to become a better birder. Granted, while this year was full of ups and downs on the birding front and in my personal life, it was well worth the blood, sweat, and tears that I put into birding. While this competition was very list oriented, I really want to stress the importance of birding in the moment. I had so many fulfilling experiences: moments of pure joy when finding that one species I was looking for, and moments that were so fulfilling and rewarding that they drive me every day to get out and go birding.

The new standard for Big Years in Litchfield County is 215 species!

Written by: Nicolas Main

Edited by: James Leone

  1. Canada Goose 
  2. Mute Swan 
  3. Mallard
  4. American Black Duck
  5. Ring-necked Duck
  6. Lesser Scaup 
  7. Hooded Merganser
  8. Ring-billed Gull
  9. Herring Gull
  10. Bald Eagle 
  11. Red-tailed Hawk
  12. Red-bellied Woodpecker 
  13. Blue Jay 
  14. American Crow 
  15. Black-capped Chickadee 
  16. Tufted Titmouse 
  17. White-breasted Nuthatch 
  18. Carolina Wren 
  19. American Goldfinch 
  20. American Tree Sparrow 
  21. Dark-eyed Junco 
  22. White-throated Sparrow 
  23. Northern Cardinal 
  24. Mourning Dove 
  25. Downy Woodpecker 
  26. Pileated Woodpecker 
  27. European Starling 
  28. American Robin 
  29. House Sparrow 
  30. Song Sparrow 
  31. Common Raven 
  32. Horned Lark 
  33. Savannah Sparrow 
  34. Eastern Bluebird (1/1/20)
  35. Red-shouldered Hawk 
  36. Common Merganser 
  37. House Finch 
  38. Field Sparrow 
  39. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  40. Rock Pigeon (1/5/20)
  41. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1/6/20)
  42. Harry Woodpecker 
  43. Brown Creeper 
  44. Golden-crowned Kinglet 
  45. Swamp Sparrow 
  46. Northern Harrier 
  47. Cooper’s Hawk (1/8/20)
  48. Ringed-necked Pheasant 
  49. Hermit Thrush 
  50. Brown-headed Cowbird (1/11/20)
  51. Eastern Screech-owl
  52. Red-winged Blackbird 
  53. Common Grackle 
  54. Wild Turkey 
  55. Cedar Waxwing 
  56. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  57. Gray Catbird 
  58. Peregrine Falcon 
  59. Winter Wren (1/12/20) 
  60. Common Goldeneye (1/14/20)
  61. Wood Duck (1/21/20)
  62. Great Horned Owl 
  63. Barred Owl 
  64. Rusty Blackbird 
  65. Northern Flicker 
  66. American Kestrel 
  67. Northern Mockingbird (1/26/20)
  68. Black Vulture (1/27/20)
  69. Snow Goose (2/9/20)
  70. Turkey Vulture 
  71. Northern Pintail (2/17/20) 
  72. Bufflehead (2/18/20)
  73. Northern Saw-whet Owl (2/21/20)
  74. American Woodcock (2/23/20)
  75. Greater White-fronted Goose (2/24/20)
  76. Killdeer 
  77. Green-winged Teal (3/3/20)
  78. Fish Crow (3/5/20) 
  79. Belted Kingfisher (3/7/20) 
  80. American Wigeon 
  81. American Pipit (3/8/20)
  82. Ruddy Duck (3/11/20) 
  83. Greater Scaup 
  84. Purple Finch 
  85. Fox Sparrow 
  86. Northern Shoveler 
  87. Wilson’s Snipe 
  88. Marsh Wren (3/13/20) 
  89. Pied-billed Grebe (3/14/20) 
  90.  Sandhill Crane 
  91. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 
  92. Eastern Towhee (3/15/20)
  93. Virginia Rail (3/17/20)
  94. Great Blue Heron (3/19/20)
  95. Horned Grebe (3/21/20)
  96. Eastern Phoebe 
  97. Osprey 
  98. Tree Swallow (3/24/20) 
  99. Northern Rough-winged Swallow 
  100. Pine Warbler (3/31/20) 
  101. Common Loon (4/1/20) 
  102. White-crowned Sparrow 
  103. Double-crested Cormorant (4/5/20)
  104. Chipping Sparrow (4/7/20)
  105. Palm Warbler 
  106. Red-necked Grebe (4/8/20)
  107. Eurasian Wigeon (4/10/20)
  108. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (4/12/20)
  109. Barn Swallow 
  110. Merlin (4/18/20) 
  111. Broad-winged Hawk (4/19/20) 
  112. Louisiana Waterthrush 
  113. Yellow-rumped Warbler (4/20/20) 
  114. Bonaparte’s Gull 
  115. Common Tern 
  116. Blue-headed Vireo 
  117. Cliff Swallow (4/27/20) 
  118. Purple Martin (4/28/20)
  119. Ruffed Grouse 
  120. Black-and-White Warbler (4/29/20) 
  121. Snowy Egret 
  122. Yellow Warbler (4/30/20) 
  123. House Wren 
  124. Northern Waterthrush 
  125. White-winged Scoter 
  126. Bank Swallow 
  127. American Redstart 
  128. Eastern Meadowlark (5/1/20) 
  129. Sora 
  130. Greater Yellowlegs 
  131. American Bittern 
  132. Wood Thrush 
  133. Ovenbird 
  134. Black-throated Green Warbler 
  135. Warbling Vireo 
  136. Rose-breasted Grosbeak 
  137. Veery (5/2/20) 
  138. Chimney Swift 
  139. Least Flycatcher 
  140. Brown Thrasher 
  141. Baltimore Oriole 
  142. Northern Parula 
  143. Bobolink 
  144. Common Gallinule 
  145. Orchard Oriole 
  146. Prairie Warbler 
  147. Yellow-throated Vireo 
  148. Chestnut-sided Warbler 
  149. Eastern Kingbird (5/3/20)
  150. Black-throated Blue Warbler 
  151. Least Sandpiper 
  152. Common Yellowthroat (5/4/20)
  153. Eastern Whip-poor-will (5/5/20) 
  154. Spotted Sandpiper 
  155. Solitary Sandpiper (5/6/20) 
  156. Great Crested Flycatcher 
  157. Blackburnian Warbler (5/7/20) 
  158. Green Heron (5/8/20) 
  159. Red-eyed Vireo 
  160. Scarlet Tanager 
  161. Swainson’s Thrush (5/11/20) 
  162. Worm-eating Warbler 
  163. Hooded Warbler (5/12/20) 
  164. Ruby-throated Hummingbird (5/13/20) 
  165. Cape May Warbler 
  166. Canada Warbler (5/14/20) 
  167. Long-tailed Duck 
  168. Lesser Yellowlegs 
  169. Long-eared Owl 
  170. Blue-winged Warbler 
  171. Blackpoll Warbler 
  172. Wilson’s Warbler 
  173. Indigo Bunting (5/15/20) 
  174. Bay-breasted Warbler 
  175. Eastern Wood-Pewee
  176. Alder Flycatcher 
  177. Willow Flycatcher (5/19/20) 
  178. Common Nighthawk (5/20/20) 
  179. Black-billed Cuckoo 
  180. Black tern (5/29/20) 
  181. Nashville Warbler 
  182. Magnolia Warbler (6/1/20) 
  183. Mourning Warbler (6/2/20) 
  184. Yellow-billed Cuckoo (6/4/20) 
  185. Acadian Flycatcher 
  186. White-eyed Vireo (6/6/20) 
  187. Least Bittern 
  188. Cerulean Warbler (6/17/20) 
  189. Black-crowned Night-Heron (6/27/20) 
  190. Sooty Tern (8/4/20) 
  191. Great Egret (8/11/20) 
  192. Blue-winged Teal (8/18/20) 
  193. Baird’s Sandpiper (8/22/20) 
  194. Eared Grebe (8/30/20) 
  195. Semipalmated Plover (9/1/20)
  196. Semipalmated Sandpiper (9/2/20) 
  197. Red-necked Phalarope (9/12/20) 
  198. Tennessee Warbler (9/13/20) 
  199. Gray-cheeked Thrush (9/18/20)
  200. American Coot (10/1/20)
  201. Lincoln’s Sparrow (10/4/20) 
  202. Pine Siskin 
  203. Redhead (10/12/20) 
  204. Evening Grosbeak (10/22/20)
  205. Gadwall (10/27/20)
  206. Tundra Swan (10/29/20)
  207. Red Crossbill (11/8/20)
  208. Common Redpoll 
  209. Surf Scoter 
  210. White-Winged Crossbill (11/14/20) 
  211. Iceland Gull (11/26/20)
  212. Red-breasted Merganser (12/21/20)
  213. Northern Shrike
  214. Pine Grosbeak (12/24/20)
  215. Red-throated Loon (12/26/20)

Mt. Riga Winter Finch Extravaganza

Salisbury, Sunday 11/11/20 — myself, Nicolas Main, and Preston Lust headed up to
one of the highest and northwesternmost birding spots in Connecticut, Mount
Riga in Salisbury, to search for northern specialties, as this winter is
proving to be one of the best in decades for finches and other irruptive
birds. We were amazed at what we found!

Finches were indeed extremely abundant. PINE SISKINS were the most numerous
species, with a few flocks numbering over 30. Over 100 were observed in the
course of the day. Many (15+) COMMON REDPOLLS were interspersed in these
flocks; one stand of birches along Mt Washington Rd was especially
productive, and flyovers were relatively frequent.

However, the clear finch highlight must have been the double-digit numbers
(~18) of RED CROSSBILLS we encountered on the mountain. Our first finch of
the day was a flyover flock 7 at South Pond; one other large flock
followed, with scattered small numbers later. We were not able to see any
of these birds perched (there are few large pine stands that we could see),
but they afforded great flight views.

The non-finch highlight was a euphoric experience with a RUFFED GROUSE, a
rarely seen northern specialty, feeding in the road in front of the car.
Other notables included a very small number of EVENING GROSBEAKS, high
numbers of FOX SPARROW, and one RUSTY BLACKBIRD flyover. There was a
possible encounter with flyover White-winged Crossbill that sadly went
unresolved.

I really must personally urge birders to get out to the northern (and
especially northwestern) parts of the state, which are
desperately underbirded, but during this winter, are sure to hold many
truly exceptional experiences, beyond our own extravaganza. Reports of Pine
Grosbeaks are starting to trickle in, and Bohemian Waxwing and White-winged
Crossbill are already in Massachusetts. Mount Riga, much of the Appalachian
Trail, Canaan Mountain (Great Mountain State Forest), Haystack Mountain,
Aton Forest, around Colebrook River Lake, and Mohawk Mountain are all
exceptional high-elevation northwestern spots that have low coverage. Who
wouldn’t want to get the glory of finding a cooperative flock of
White-winged Crossbills eating grit along a pine forest road, or an apple
tree covered in Pine Grosbeaks? Or…. and with these birds present as
rarities in MA, it’s not all pipedream fantasy… a Boreal Chickadee? First
state record Canada Jay? Fellow CT birders: go north! There are birds!

Checklist with media and pins here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S75992107

Will Schenck
Greenwich

November 2019 Trip Report

Hi everyone! This is Eli Holton writing; I’ve been going on club trips for just under a year now, but I am very excited to be writing the Trip Reports for the YBC now! I hope this report is descriptive and fun to read, and that it makes you want to go birding! Our apologies for the lack of recent Trip Reports; 2019 has brought many changes, and the YBC is still working to establish a consistent flow of reports. However, we are slowly making progress on the website and will have everything updated soon!

Since the club hadn’t gone birding together in two months, we were all excited for the November club trip, which was focused on finding winter ducks and coastal birds. At 7:30, the club gathered outside the gates of Sherwood Island State Park, an excellent place to start the day! As soon as the gates were opened, we drove to the Model Airplane Field to look for sparrows and check the feeders for anything unusual. Before long, Nic heard a group of American Pipits flying over us and a few Horned Larks landed in the grass, providing us with great looks. Then, a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew from the bushes and all the sparrows scattered immediately. Next, we drove over to the shoreline and pulled out our scopes. Soon, Nic had spotted a  Horned Grebe, and we found multiple Common Loons and several flocks of Long-tailed Ducks. We scanned over all the gulls, hoping for the Iceland Gull that had been hanging around, but unfortunately, we could not find it. We did however find the resident Lesser Black-backed Gull, a lifer for one member! Moving on to the Mill Pond, we saw several Buffleheads, a few Gadwall, and a single Ruddy Duck. Sherwood ended up providing us with some great birds, and just under 40 species! 

We then decided to go over to 14 Acre Pond, a great spot for wintering ducks. On our way there, we stopped off at the Fairfield County Hunt Club to look for the Greater White-fronted Goose that had been hanging around, but unfortunately, it wasn’t there. When we got to 14 Acre Pond, we walked down a small trail that led us to a good viewing spot. As soon as I set up my scope, a pair of Northern Pintail swam into view, giving me great looks at a long awaited lifer! Soon after, we saw a large group of Wood Ducks and few American Wigeons. But the real treat came when we spotted the rare Eurasian Wigeon, a bird that had been hanging out for a couple of weeks! This bird, (as the name suggests) lives across the ocean in Europe, and to see one in Connecticut is a nice surprise. A couple of minutes later, a pair of Ring-necked Ducks popped into view, and a large group of American Black Ducks popped out of the reeds. Nic then spotted a late Eastern Phoebe hanging out on the other side of the pond, providing us with great views of this bird’s unique hunting style. After spending some time marveling at the Eurasian Wigeon, we decided that we had gotten some great birds there, and that it was time to move on.

The next place we decided to check was Frash Pond, a small spot known for it’s ducks. Nic quickly found the usual male Canvasbacks, another lifer for me! A couple of small flocks of Hooded Mergansers and Red-breasted Mergansers were also present. We searched the large flock of Canada Geese for a rare Cackling Goose, but none were to be found. We then sat down at a Dunkin’ Donuts to refuel and plan the next location. A Snowy Owl had been seen that morning on someone’s roof in Stratford, but all plans were dropped when we got the news. Jory Teltser, the previous President of the club, had seen a photo of a sparrow identified as Clay-colored sparrow and recognized it for what it really was: a MEGA Rare Brewer’s Sparrow! This was the First State Record for Connecticut, and only the 3rd for New England! 

We immediately abandoned Dunkin’ and drove straight to Hammonasset Beach State Park, where it was seen. When we got there, a large group of birders were all surrounding a small area, so we rushed over to them. A pale gray sparrow with fine streaking on the back sat in the grass calmly. The First State Record Brewer’s Sparrow hopped in front of us, eating happily among the Song Sparrows. A lifer for all except Grace, we had trouble suppressing our joy. For fifteen minutes, we stood and stared at this small sparrow. This bird usually lives in sagebrush habitat in the Western United States, so to see one on the coast of Connecticut is astounding! Sadly, it marked the end of our club trip, but we sure ended with a bang! I look forward to the next club trip and hope that everyone is able to take part in one of the Christmas Bird Counts! Until next time!

Eli Holton

Mega Bowl 2019

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!  

Silver Sands Sunrise

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.

Young Birders walking to Meig’s Point

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.

Barred Owl

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

Nicolas Main

February Trip report

Hello all! Nicolas Main writing. Some of you may not know me, but I have been an avid member of the Connecticut Young Birders for almost a year. Recently another member, Will Schenck, has taken up writing the summaries although, i’ll be filling in. I hope that my first club trip write up will consist of good storytelling, that both entertains and excites!

Considering that I am one of the only young birder’s who resides as far inland in Litchfield County as I do, I am usually faced with a grueling journey to attend most of our club trips. Despite the long drive, I was determined to meet up with both Jory and Aidan for our annual February outing, eager to assist with the round up of wintering birds at some excellent local spots. Although there was a disheartening forecast for rain later in the day, we wanted to give local birding areas in both Stratford and Bridgeport a chance.

To start off the trip, we thought it was important to stop at a hotspot known as Long Beach. Due to the fact that this is such an excellent location for birding, we knew we would come across some amazing birds. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a group of hyperactive Long-tailed Ducks. This assured us that with the warm weather and active birds, that it was going to be a successful trip.

Adding to the promising conditions, sea watching was going to be that much easier with the calm, and clear waters. Continuing onto the beach, the real birding began. Before Jory and Aiden could set up their scopes we were immediately swarmed with a flock of Horned Lark which produced a great photography opportunity. While trying for a decent shot of the larks, a quick scan with scopes produced diving Common Goldeneye, and group of Greater Scaup. These amazing conditions seemed to be sending the birds into a frenzy as well. Flocks of Dunlin and Sanderling frantically flew back and forth looking for a place to land, sea ducks dove desperately all while a massive group of Brant called in the background. With a final scan, we came across two Iceland Gull’s sitting far out on the jetty, accompanied by Snowy owls. Racking up 22 species, we thought that Long Beach had resulted in some notable birds and decided to move on to another hotspot.

Deliberating in the car ride about new cameras, and lenses, we made our way to Seaside Park. Immediately pulling into the park, we were greeted with a massive nest created by an introduced exotic species known as Monk Parakeets. Surprisingly, the Parakeets were mingling amongst the European Starlings on the ground. By moving further into the park, we scanned for a flock of foraging birds which can sometimes consist of multiple species. Within a minute of searching, Aidan was able to pull out the flock which consisted of Horned lark, Snow bunting, and a Lapland Longspur all scurrying their way about the field. We also scanned a small group of gulls looking for anything unusual, and with nothing intriguing, we moved on.

Next, we proceed with the trip to a nearby energy plant which tends to hold massive groups of gulls; and they were everywhere. On the ledges of the building, in high concentrations on nearby rooftops, and even riding along on the moving garbage trucks. A Red-tailed Hawk flew from each corner of the rooftop of the plant and thankfully shuffling the gulls as it flew by. After a few minutes of scanning through a chained fence, we came across our third Iceland Gull for the day, which sat on a rooftop. Although not a rare gull, this species can be somewhat uncommon but always exciting to find!

Our next stop was “The Reef”. Thankfully the high tide was receding which opened up not only the sandbar but provided great opportunity to find some exciting birds. When walking onto the beach we were instantly meant with a massive raft of 700+ Greater/Lesser Scaup, where we eagerly scanned the group in hope of Tufted Duck. Sadly the raft moved further and further out which limited our ability to find the rare duck. Despite the missed opportunity, we managed to locate our fourth Iceland Gull, which was intermingled with the Ringed-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls. In conclusion, this hotspot was far from a dud, with White-winged Scoters along with some far out Great Cormorants which were both new for the day.

Granted we didn’t get too many species at our next location, Sunken Island, we still obtained one of our trip highlights. A beautiful male Harlequin Duck which was found by Aidan swam amongst the group of White-winged Scoters. Because this rare bird has such astonishing plumage, it is always a treat to find along the Connecticut coast. Not picking up anything else too exciting other than a dozen of Horned Grebes, we proceed on.

Thoroughly birding most of Bridgeport and Stratford, we went on to some area in Westport. Bulkley Pond tends to be an easy stop for the club, where we can pick up a resident male Northern Pintail that mixes with Mallards and sometimes Green-winged Teal. After the quick pitstop for the ducks, we moved on to some other small and quick locations.

Disappointingly the sun was swallowed up with clouds which reminded us of the impending rain, we had to move fast. Quick 15 minute stops at Southport Beach and Gorham Island resulted in Red-breasted Mergansers, some Common Loons, along with Gadwall and Hooded Mergansers. Admittingly these spots we hurried, we managed to save some time for our final spots.

Having been focusing so much on the seabirds, it was refreshing to hear Black-capped Chickadees calling when we arrived at Burying Hill Beach. As they sang, we were thankfully meant with a up close Lesser-backed Gull. Although this birds seemingly simple appearance, it is an always exciting bird to come across. As this bird waded further down the shoreline, Jory and Aidan came across a Red-throated Loon in their scopes, along with a large group of Long-tailed Ducks. Spending 20 minutes here, we thought it would be a smart idea to move on as the clouds appeared to become darker, and more menacing.

The forecast stated that at 2:00 pm, the rain would start. Although the days had begun to start getting longer, my fellow members and I were disappointed that we would not be able to bird until sundown. Due to the short winter days, the past couple have trips have ended seemingly too fast. Although running out of time, we had to make the best of it.

Saugatuck Shores was our next location and final location. Although residential, small spots that opened up to the beach provided a spot where we could set up the scopes.While scanning an older man on his bike stopped and asked what we were up to. On occasion we are stopped by a curious passersby and we are questioned. It is always fun and somewhat rewarding to educated a curious person. Jory explained that we were bird watching and in search of any rare or uncommon ducks. Unfortunately we told the man, we haven’t found any yet. At the next open spot leading towards the beach, I was astonished by the amount of Long-tailed Ducks that stretched from Sherwood to Norwalk. Several massive rafts held up to a total of a whopping 600 birds. While Aidan scanned the shoreline, Jory was busy looking for a Barrow’s Goldeneye. After we celebrated finding the 5th Iceland Gull of the day along the beach, Jory managed to find an interesting looking Common Goldeneye. Having the day started off with great conditions, they now began to worsen. Rain started, a haze in the scope, and over 400 Goldeneye all together, it was impossible refind the peculiar female Goldeneye. With the misfortune of missing a new bird, the Goldeneyes still managed to provide an incredible experience. We not only watched but listened to the Goldeneye take simultaneous flight. The roaring sound of the birds lifting off was a better experience, to me, than getting a new bird. Satisfied with our excursion at Saugatuck Shores, we took a break from birding to take pictures of the beautiful landscape, Jory taught both me and Aidan some excellent landscape photography techniques.

Racking up a total of 50 species, we had a decent day. Although we had to rap up the trip early to weather, it was a successful trip that resulted in two lifers for me. I look forward to the warblers that will soon start to make their way back to the wonderful state of Connecticut, and hope our next few trips will result in some great passrine birding!

– Nicolas Main