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.

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.


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

A Cure for The Doldrums – Road Trip

In my last post I lamented about how slow birding had become – The Doldrums. So I had mentally prepared myself for the next 6 weeks to be rather slow. And in that last post I almost included, but didn’t, about the only way I knew to breakout of the Doldrums was a trip south to Florida or Texas or even farther south.

A Road Trip if you will.

But last Thursday Don asked if I wanted to go with Aidan and him on a different sort of road trip.  A trip to the Indiana’s Lake Michigan Lakefront. The Lakefront in winter is the only place and season I had left where I could make some big gains on my Indiana list. The 3 hour drive one way didn’t appeal to me but the birds and the predicted mild weather did. So I was in.

And how did the day turnout?

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13 new year birds that took me well over 100 species for the month of January.  Something I had never done before.

8 new state birds. I told you I had never been to the Lakefront in winter and to get those species in Johnson County would probably take a long time. If ever.

1 new life bird – Monk Parakeet.

Basically, without going into all the logistic details, we birded the west end of the Lakefront. From Calumet Park in Chicago to Jeorse Park in East Chicago.  And one stop further east at the Port of Indiana. So we spent time birding at the active sites and moving on from the slow ones. We also kept in touch with other birders in the area that let us know what was showing up, which lead to a few course adjustments.

We basically got all the birds we came to see but not all were cooperative. The first time we waited 45 minutes at the Hammond Bird Sanctuary for Common Redpolls without them showing.  Even when we got a call that they were showing and we headed back, it took another 15-20 minutes for the only one to show. We later spoke to someone who saw 12-15 first thing in the morning.

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It was tough to get a picture because the Common Redpoll spent most of the time with its head in the feeder. Hammond Bird Sanctuary -1/30/16

We saw good numbers of the expected Herring Gull plus several Great Black-backed Gulls, plus a Lesser Black-backed that I didn’t expect.

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A few of the variety of gulls, the Great Black-backed Gull is middle left. 1/30/16
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Doing what it does best, stealing food. A Great Black-backed Gull at the Indiana Lakefront. 1/30/16
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And one of two unexpected birds on the day. A Long-eared Owl that another birder came across. 1/30/15

We missed the Monk Parakeet early in the day but doubled back to a different, reliable location late in the day. All Parakeets are loud. We heard this guy long before we saw him.

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I thought we were in a pet store from the amount of noise that this guy made all by himself. Monk Parakeet – Griffith, IN 1/30/16

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And the Story of the Day

We had gone to Calumet Park in Chicago to scan back into Indiana waters.  Don had scanned the water pretty thoroughly and asked Aidan to take a follow-up look through his scope. It took about 5 seconds when Aidan somewhat casually announced, “There is a Western Grebe out there”.  It didn’t take long for Don and me to find the bird. When first spotted it was diving for long periods of time. So it was probably under when Don made his passes of the water.  It was too distant for photos but I noticed there were a few long distance photos embedded on eBird lists.

Another Indiana bird I didn’t expect on the day.

And this may sound like a business meeting but one of the main takeaways I had from the day, I need to “keep in touch” with all probable local species. I hadn’t looked at my field guide for gulls and scoters for a while.  I’ll chalk it up to complacency of living in an agriculture area. Luckily I still retained enough from my days in Illinois.

But a local walk on Sunday produced few birds. It appears The Doldrums aren’t ever far away in the winter…

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.

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.

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?

From the distance I initially thought these were the expected Dunlin. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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

A Great Black-backed Gull leisurely flies past. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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
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.

The center part of the long raft of Red-breasted Mergansers strung out along the shore. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
Several came close enough for a good view. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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.

The waves wind and waves were coming straight into South Beach. Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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.

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


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.

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



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.

Snow Buntings being super camouflaged. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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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.

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