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

 

 

Beach Bunting

Mike and I headed to the Lake Michigan last Saturday in hopes of a good lake movement with plenty of loons and gulls and who knows what else.  It didn’t happen. The winds were too calm. But when you work you can’t pick and choose what day you get to take birding adventures.

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Pretty much how the day went. What birds we saw were distant. A flock of ? against the Chicago skyline. Miller Beach – 11/7/15

At every stop though we heard a group of small birds flying over giving a distinct call that we were not familiar. But ID’ing the birds in flight as Snow Buntings was relatively easy from their unique colors. Here is the flight call of the Snow Bunting we were having a hard time identifying.

Sibley points out that when Snow Buntings are in flock they give out a short, nasal zrrt. That is the call that is heard in the recording and we heard on the beach.

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Mike got a photo of the only Snow Bunting that we saw on the ground. The rest were always noisily flying about. Michigan City, IN 11/14/15

 

 

 

Wondering About Horned Larks

This is short post to on a couple of things.

1. Even when the weather stinks, the snow is deep, and I can’t do birding by foot without a lot of hassle, there are still birds to be found.  In this case Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings along the roads of Johnson County.  Actually hundreds of Horned Larks, a few Lapland Longspurs, and only one Snow Bunting.

The photos aren’t the best since the day was pretty dreary.

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A few of the hundreds of Horned Larks I saw on the day. This group flew over to a field and waited for cars to pass. Johnson County 02/22/14
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I posted this picture to show that it really isn’t so hard to pick out Lapland Longspurs at a glance. I used to have problems picking them out of a flock of Horned Larks but once I got used to the color difference, not so difficult. Horned Lark center, Lapland Longspur right. Johnson County 02/22/14
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An out of focus picture but still one that shows the differences in color patterns of a Lapland Longspur and Horned Lark. Johnson County 02/22/14

Plus some sparrows and friends along the plowed roads of Johnson County Park.

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American Tree Sparrow – Note the bi-colored bill. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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White-crowned Sparrow. Compare head pattern with the next photo. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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White-throated Sparrow – compare head pattern to previous White-crowned Sparrow. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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Dark-eyed Junco – Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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A Fox Sparrow got in on the action. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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OK, Mr. Robin, I will post a picture of you. He wouldn’t move to let me see the Fox Sparrow. He wanted all the attention. Johnson County Park 02/22/14

2. And I have wondered about the following for some time.

I’m not the guy that tracks up the most hours in the field, especially the past year. But I’ve put my share of hours in the field.  So where are Horned Larks in the summer? Sunday I must have seen 5 or 6 flocks of 150-200 Horned Larks along the road.  In the summer I  hear a few but might go weeks without seeing one. I know they are in the fields but besides one gravel road in Illinois that always had 10-20 I never see many in the summer. Just wondering?

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This Horned Lark posed nicely for a for photo. Where will it be hiding in July? Johnson County 02/22/14

 

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