4 Gull Species at Once

The local patches have been slow the past couple of weekends and with the rain and cold not many highlights or photos. So I’ll throw in the other half of the Connecticut Holiday trip. Always several highlights when you are away from home but I’ll go with 4 gull species at once.

Before I discuss the gulls I’ll recap the rest of the afternoon.

Brant
After earlier seeing the Brant flight I came across three at Long Beach in Stratford. I spent time viewing Brant since we don’t encounter them in the Midwest. 12/26/16
brant flight
The small group kept close before swimming out.
A comparison showing Brant are about the same size as Herring Gull.
A flock of Horned Larks are just as camouflaged on the beach as they are in a Midwest cornfield.
I was searching for Dunlin or Ruddy Turnstones along the rocks and finally came across a small group of Dunlin.
I thought this was a decent photo showing Dunlin in winter plumage and its down-turned bill.

Gulls

Being from the cornfields I spent time watching and photographing the Gulls at both locations.

The gulls were obviously used to people and wouldn’t stray far. Like this Ring-billed Gull. 12/26/16
This Herring Gull didn’t seem to be sea shell hunting but he did like to stand on them. 12/26/16
The only Lesser Black-backed Gull of the day was hanging out with a mixed flock. 12/26/16
One of several Great Black-backed Gull on the day. 12/26/16
4 gull species
And now for all 4 gull species at once. The smaller Ring-billed Gull, the darker backed Lesser Black-backed Gull, and several different aged Herring Gulls. The large youngster to the right is a Great Black-backed Gull. 12/26/16
I have forgotten how large Herring Gulls are. It didn’t take long for a couple of close flybys to remind me. 12/26/16
With freezing rain forecast for late afternoon it was time to cut the visit to the coast short and head back to the interior of the state. 12/26/16

Brant Flight – Weekend Highlight

Before I continue with posts from my recent Colorado trip I’ll have to inject a post or two from birding Connecticut this past weekend. The weather was a little cooler than last year’s 70F temperatures but was still pleasant with the highs in the upper 40’s. I birded the local reservoir a couple of days and made my usual holiday trip to the Long Island Sound. There were several personal highlights but I’ll go with the Brant Flight as the main highlight.

We did enjoy a White Christmas. The area had received 8″ of snow the previous week.

As with all of the Northeast the continuing drought lowered the water level at the local reservoir. I’m not sure this had an effect on birding but I didn’t see any loons as in past years. Since most of the species I saw there are the same as the Midwest I’ll jump to the ocean.

The red lines are the normal waterline. I’m guessing the reservoir has dropped a good 8-10 feet.

I overdressed both days birding the reservoir. Unlike the Midwest I think it has to do with the hills and trees blocking the wind. So of course I under-dressed at the ocean where the winds were coming off the water dropping the temperature 10-20 degrees. I managed to layer up with some old clothes in my nephew’s trunk and made a day of it.

A view to the east where the strong SE winds were originating.

As usual I spent most of the day at Sherwood Island State Park since it has a pond, marshes, wooded area, and an ocean each. One of those spots I could see birding every day. The woods held the usual suspects and the pond had Mute Swans, Gadwall, and American Black Ducks.

brant flock
I’ll throw in a photo of American Black Duck since it’s a species we don’t see in large numbers in the Midwest.
The surprise of the day was a Greater Yellowlegs that made its presence known by giving its tu-tu-tu call. Checking a range map, it winters as far north as New England.
Common Goldeneye had the largest count on the water with several flocks flying by and landing. Red-breasted Mergansers were the other main species.
Not as many Long-tailed Ducks as in past years.
A distant photo that appear to be Scaup from the white wingbar. I’m leaning towards Greater since they are the expected species.

Brant Flight

After walking the park for almost three hours I was about ready to leave. I was going to climb over the break-wall, take a quick scan, and make the short walk back to the car.

brant flight
The last hurdle, the main break-wall in the park. Up and over and out of the cold!

As I get to the top the break wall I’m jolted by an eruption of birds with a strange call taking flight.

Brant!

BRANT Flight flikr

They had been on the other side of the break wall.

I have never experienced a Brant Flight. The sudden flight and calling was like the Great Horned Owl experience from last week. A captivating scene that keeps one birding.

The quicker wing beats and more agile flight show the difference between Canada Geese and the smaller goose’s flight. More of a duck type flight than a goose’s.  I watched them until they were out of sight far to the east.

I wished they would have turned back but when they didn’t I headed to the car and on to my next stop.

Trees are Gone, Now Observation Stand?

This post is directed to birders in Johnson County who might have observed birds from the observation stand at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. If you aren’t around Johnson County maybe it relates to something that’s happened in your local area.

Back in November I thanked the DNR for taking down the trees at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. It was a good thing since it opened up the pond to viewing from the observation platform.

Observation Stand - Atterbury
The wooden observation stand with a clear view overlooking Honker Haven at Atterbury FWA.

The stand was helpful in seeing and photographing birds in the pond, especially the far NW corner.

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A photo of a Common Loon Taken from the top of the observation deck. 3/25/16

Most Saturdays I would try to time it so I was at the observation deck around noon to scan for soaring raptors. That extra bit of elevation made a real difference.

RSHA Atterbury
A Red-shouldered Hawk soaring over the observation deck on a clear Saturday. 8/22/15

It was extremely helpful in the fall when the water level dropped and shorebirds would be on the small islands that formed on the pond.

DUNL
A pair of Dunlin in the center of Honker Haven. 11/2/13

But after successfully removing the trees the stand has also been removed.

ATTERBURY DECK
The Observing Stand is no more. From this angle you can see there is slight rise around the pond which should help from startling the birds.

Granted, the stand was getting a bit up in the years. I have seen people take one step on it and turn around. My guess is it was removed for safety reasons.

ATTEBURY DECK
I can always observe from the top of my car which I have resorted to at other locations in the past.

But honestly most of the time I didn’t go up on the deck because it seemed to spook the birds. What I did like about the stand was using the bottom posts for a “blind”. The birds never seemed to fly when I used that strategy.

I guess I’ll have to use the adjacent trees as a “blind” now.

A December Three Species Shorebird Day

A couple of things.  First, not one of the shorebirds was a Killdeer. And second, as you might have guessed, I wasn’t in Indiana.

Over the holidays we usually spend a few days with relatives in Connecticut. And as is my usual practice I spent the 26th walking along the Atlantic Ocean.  I don’t really care where, I just want to be birding the ocean for a day. It’s a good chance to see several species that I don’t usually get to see.  And it was even more important this year since, like the rest of the northern US, the reservoir that my relatives live on was devoid of waterfowl. Most years I get to spend time studying loons and gulls on their reservoir, but not this year. So to the beach.

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Not much happening on the local reservoir. Canton CT 12/24/15

With less birds moving south I decided to visit closer beaches in southern Connecticut instead of driving north of Boston as I have done a couple of times. Which means less chance for something uncommon but always a good day to be out.

To the beach.

I spent most of the day at Sherwood Island State Park outside Westport, CT.  From there you can easily Long Island across the sound.

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A power station on the New York side of Long Island Sound. About 12 miles across. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

The first birds encountered were gulls, of course, but I immediately saw some shorebirds on an old pier.  First thought was the expected DUNLIN but a closer look and they were RUDDY TURNSTONES. They weren’t moving much. They seemed cold even in the unusual warm 50 degree weather?

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From the distance I initially thought these were the expected Dunlin. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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A closer view shows they were Ruddy Turnstones. Even in bad light the bright, orange legs stand out. Not an uncommon species in CT in winter. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

And the expected Gulls

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A Great Black-backed Gull leisurely flies past. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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And a Herring Gull kept giving the long call about something, though I never figured out what. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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Not many birds on the land portion of the park but I did have a Song Sparrow jump out. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

On these jaunts I rarely see people since the temperature is usually in the 10’s to – 20’s. But this year it was in the a fore-mentioned 50’s so there were numerous people out walking dogs or kids trying out new bikes.  So I headed to the other end of the beach. Not much happening there except a large raft of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and the occasional LONG-TAILED DUCK flying by in the distance.

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The center part of the long raft of Red-breasted Mergansers strung out along the shore. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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Several came close enough for a good view. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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And sometimes you just wonder. What would a piece of watermelon be doing on a beach in winter? Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

Time to head to the other 2 beaches I frequent on my trips to Connecticut.

First was South Beach in Stratford. With the wind out of the east and blowing right into the beach, not much there.  I have been there before during calm seas and have seen numerous waterfowl that I usually don’t get a chance to see.

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The waves wind and waves were coming straight into South Beach. Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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But across the channel were numerous gulls – Great Black-backed, Herring, and Ring-billed. Too bad I didn’t have my spotting scope. South Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

I checked out the gulls and on to the other beach in Stratford – Long Beach.

It was now getting late in the afternoon and with cloudy skies it was getting dark. I walked the beach checking the gulls and waterfowl flying by. On the second breakwall there were a flock of shorebirds.  The expected DUNLIN!  And mixed in were several SANDERLING.

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Mainly Dunlin, but the obviously whitish, grayer Sanderling mixed in on the breakwall. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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The gulls don’t seem to bother the shorebirds. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

 

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One of the Dunlins decided to give a good view of its wing pattern. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

The DUNLIN were as inactive as the RUDDY TURNSTONES had been but the SANDERLING in their normal behavior couldn’t sit still.  It was fun to watch them run along the beach picking at things.

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A few photos of one of the Sanderlings picking and running along the beach. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

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When I turned to head back I saw a flock of small birds land in the grass along the beach. It had to be SNOW BUNTINGS. And they were really tough to see in the grass. No wonder Mike and I couldn’t see them along the shore of Lake Michigan.  They are tough to see.

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Snow Buntings being super camouflaged. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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Where’s Waldo?
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Finally one of the Snow Buntings came out in the open. Still darn tough to see. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

And with a slight rain beginning to fall I called the end to another winter Connecticut Beach walk.

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Ring-billed Gull thought it would pose for a photo right before I got in the car. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15