The Red and White-winged Crossbills that had been present at Hammonasset Beach State Park since November have been missing in action since the start of the year. Finally a small flock of both species returned to feed in the west end pines last week, allowing more satisfying looks than the fly-over white-wings I saw at Barn Island a week earlier.
Clockwise from top left, male WW Crossbill, female Red Crossbill, female WW Crossbill and male Red Crossbill.
Also feeding in the pines was a noisy group of Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches.
Crossbills are usually very approachable and will sometimes fly down to drink from a puddle right at the feet of the people watching them. Last fall I saw one land on the head of a photographer (John Schwarz) who was standing a few feet away from me. This time was no exception as the crossbills fed conspicuously on the outer cones. The nuthatches flitted chattily from cone to cone, prying out seeds then flying off to stash their prize in the rough tree bark. Chickadees, also very tame, were everywhere around me, landing a few feet away with no fear, loudly announcing their presence. For a photographer, that fly-on-the-wall feeling is a rare one. I wish it was always that easy to capture birds and animals (and people for that matter) behaving naturally as if I were not even there.
I went on another ill-fated wild "goose" chase this weekend, heading to Stratford to try for the White Ibis (very rare in Connecticut) that has been seen there for weeks. I checked all the spots it was reported from several times with no luck. Surely, the strong winds blowing off Long Island Sound kept the birds hunkered down, hindering my quest. I saw a few new ducks though, including American Wigeon and Gadwall and was able to get a few pictures of a Canvasbak and Ruddy Duck at Frash Pond. On the way home I stopped in New Haven at Long Wharf, for Lesser and Greater Scaup and East Shore Park for the Northern Rough-winged Swallows wintering at the adjacent sewage treatment plant.
Clockwise from top left - Golden-crowned Kinglet (Old Saybrook), female Ruddy duck (Stratford), Red-breasted Nuthatch (Madison) and male Canvasback (Stratford).
I checked on a skittish flock of Rusty Blackbirds I have been watching for a few weeks in a wooded marsh in Lyme. I spent about 10 minutes waiting for one to pop out into the open as it hopped along on the ice, feeding in the edge of the reeds when I was surprised by a male Wood Duck as it took flight about 20 yards away. No good pictures of the Rusty Blackbirds resulted, but a few distant shots showed that the males were already in breeding plumage while the females were still in their rusty non-breeding attire.
There has been a lot of discussion this winter on New England birding websites about owls hunting during the day, because a crash in the rodent population has led to a food shortage. Many people have reported Barred Owls out in the open during the day, including in cities like Boston and New Haven, and there were a couple reports from different spots in Connecticut last week of them hunting during the day. While driving through Old Lyme in the afternoon, I saw some deer in a field and stopped to take a few pictures.
As the deer stared at me I noticed a large bird fly from the shaded edge of the field, directly over them. My first thought was a Red-tailed Hawk, but the wing beats were unmistakably owl like. The bird flew to a tree in the middle of the field, revealing its identity, a Barred Owl.
I watched as it scanned the field for several minutes from its lofty perch while the deer wandered off, then flew to a much lower perch on the opposite edge of the field. It peered intently at the ground below, before dropping into the grass. It remained out of sight for more than a minute, then flew up to another low branch about 50 yards away and repeated the process. I'm not sure if the hunts were successful, but it does seem to coincide with the many other reports. Then, over the weekend, a photographer friend and I saw another Barred Owl hunting in midday, this one in Old Saybrook. This seems to confirm that owls are severely stressed this winter.
Other new sightings this week included Pileated Woodpecker and Golden-crowned Kinglet (Old Saybrook), Rough-legged Hawk (Nott Island - Essex), Northern Gannet, (Stratford), Northern Pintail (Old Lyme and Stonington), Fox Sparrow, Field Sparrow and White-winged Scoter (Stonington) and a first ever sighting of a Brown Creeper in my back yard. Current Total - 106 species including 3 from Rhode Island.