It would take a big attraction to draw the spotlight away from the Snowy Owls presently invading the state and region. Well, that's exactly what the Fork-tailed Flycatcher being seen for more than a week now at the Hadlyme Ferry Landing has done. It's as much about where it's from as it is the bird's stunningly long tail plumes that has birders from far and wide flocking to the tiny, potholed gravel lot. Three years ago, at about the same time of year, another Fork-tailed Flycatcher spent a few weeks in Greenwich, Connecticut. I don't usually chase rare birds that draw big crowds, especially to the opposite end of the state, but I made an exception for that bird. Since they are usually only found in Central and South America, I thought it would likely be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Who knew I would see another one a few years later fifteen minutes away from my home?
The Hadlyme Ferry Landing would usually be pretty quiet this time of year, actually all of Hadlyme would. The ferry stopped running in November, and the road dead ends at the Connecticut River. But, on the three different visits I've made to see and photograph the bird, there have been at least a dozen birders and or photographers there, coming and going all the time, all day long. Even some local residents stopped by to see the star attraction that was drawing visitors from far and wide to their quiet community. I spoke to people who drove from Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania to see it. One resident thought it might even be an economic boom for the Hadlyme Country Store, where he had run into a number of birders here to see the wayward wanderer.
I doubt anyone visiting went away disappointed, either. This bird is not a camera shy, and often sat perched in the open at various spots around the tiny parking lot and lawn, posing for the crowds. Given its behavior, and the amazing number of people with cameras, it's probably one of the most photographed birds in state history. And it's not a bird you need to get that close to, either. On my second visit, while the crowd was at the far end of the little park looking for the bird, I waited near a tangle of vines in the middle that it frequented. As the bird flew in, I heard someone from behind me call out "there it is" and then "it's right over your head". The bird landed on a post right in front of me, too close to fit the whole tail in the frame. I took a couple shots and quickly tried to remove the teleconverter on my lens as the group from the far end closed the distance quickly. Just as I got the converter off and the camera back on, the pack closed in and the bird flew off.
Fortunately, on my next visit I planned accordingly and was able to get the shot I'd missed days earlier.
It's strange to think that these birds, whose normal range is thousands of miles farther south, and whose diet is primarily insects could wind up in Connecticut, twice in three years, just as winter is about to get going. The theory is that instead of migrating south during spring in the southern hemisphere, one will occasionally head in the opposite direction, winding up more than 1000 miles to the north instead. As with the one in Greenwich, this one seems to be finding enough insects considering the time of year. It's also supplementing its diet with berries, like pokeberry, pictured below.
On one of the warmer afternoons, there were definitely some bugs buzzing around and the bird was flying out and snapping at them. I was hoping to get pictures of the bird in flight, especially flycatching. Taking my camera off the tripod, I trained it on the bird as it perched in the branches and tried to anticipate which direction it would fly out. All I got were some tired arms from handholding the camera and a few marginal flight shots for the effort, but it was fun to watch. I only hope the bird has the sense to head south before winter really sets in.
The Snowy Owls in Connecticut didn't completely take a back seat. Most of the sightings lately have been in the southwestern part of the state, but there have been a few reported from Hammonasset Beach State Park, in Madison, as well. I was able to photograph one there last week on the jetty at Meig's Point, along with a whole group of photographers.
This one was a lightly barred bird that sat calmly on the rocks, allowing a group of photographers to shoot from the beach at a respectful distance. I used two teleconverters, a 1.4x and a 2x, stacked together to get tighter shots while it sat quietly. As it started to stretch and preen, I took the 2x off in case the bird flew. The time stamps on my pictures show that I was there for more than 15 minutes before the bird took flight, and many were there long before I arrived. I don't think anyone moved any closer to the owl the entire time I was there. Over the weekend, another was spotted off Cedar Island and there were dozens of people out there looking for it. There were also an amazing number of photographers toting big lenses, and it's fascinating for the few of us "old timers" to see how many more people there are now that share our craft.
At Hammonasset, I saw the Clay-colored Sparrows reported in the campground, mixed in with a big flock of juncos. While looking for them, I also saw a Pine Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo.
So far, the female King Eider at Harkness State Park, in Waterford has eluded me on two occasions, but I did see a flock of 17 Purple Sandpipers there while looking for it.
I added three new birds in the past week, including Clay-colored Sparrows, Snowy Owl and Fork-tailed Flycatcher, bringing my year total in Connecticut to 236.